Sam Jones – River Esk Project Student
I was thinking about what I could share with you and found myself pondering the various enchanting and unexpected meetings I have had with wildlife since starting here in August. I decided to ask around the Conservation Department and gather together a number of recent stories and the odd picture to share.
It is amazing once you stand still how quickly wildlife often finds you. Whilst carrying out the Veteran Tree survey in Hawnby, Alasdair and Alex have been lucky enough to have several great wildlife encounters. While standing still, quietly surveying a fantastic old oak tree with lots of veteran characteristics a tiny Goldcrest started calling close by, this lovely wee bird was shortly followed by a flock of Long-tailed tits, chattering loudly in the canopy above them. They then heard the recognisable sound of a wood pecker drilling into old dead wood…to their surprise it was a rare Lesser spotted woodpecker, the first time either of them had seen one. It was surprisingly small compared to the more commonly seen Great spotted woodpecker and busied around for a good 10 minutes. They enjoyed watching it so much that neither of them thought to take a photo!
Whilst out conducting botanical surveys for the National Park’s habitat connectivity ‘Linking Landscapes‘ programme, Kirsty, Ami and Alex found some interesting creatures in the undergrowth.
Alex and Kirsty joined in with a bunch of volunteers to discover how to spot water vole signs around Fylingdales, and although they didn’t see any notoriously shy water voles, there was a female adder lurking nearby.
As well as adders, beautiful slow worms can often be found under stones, in and around dry stone walls, like this one found in a derelict wall near Cawthorn Camps.
Talking about Cawthorn Camps – from time to time, one of the tasks for Graham, our Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer, is to keep an eye on the Roman forts here. The site is owned and managed by the National Park Authority and Graham is watching out for erosion and encroaching vegetation problems. On a particularly hot, sunny summer’s day, he was showing a placement student around the site. Many of the visitors to Cawthorn walk around the main circular path, often exercising their dogs, but the interiors of the forts at this time of year are covered in long grasses and some heather. Because few people venture into the fort interiors, they are well-known as good adder habitat. In this sort of knee deep vegetation, generally the first sign of the presence of an adder is a fierce hiss just before you are about to step on it! On this most memorable occasion, Graham was pointing out the subtle internal earthworks of the site to the student when an extra loud hiss sent him into low earth orbit, badly jarring a frozen shoulder at the time – excruciating! He landed – unfortunately without a camera to hand – to the sight of a pair of conjoined adders which then – their coitus interrupted – serenely slid away while Graham + student stood there, recovering from the shock.
An excited Simon during his second summer of surveys for the Esk Pearl Mussel and Salmon Recovery Project found a “young” pearl mussel. Until then he had only found mussels which were 60-70+ years of age. This individual – the smallest live musseI that has been found in the river (75mm) recently, was approximately 20-25 years old. This proves that the mussels have bred successfully in the not so distant past, which gives encouragement to the aims of the Project, and all in all it was Simon’s best day out – ever.
As for myself, while sampling for bugs in Glaisdale Beck I spied a strange brown shape floating downstream in a very odd fashion. It turned out to be a common toad that drifted ungainly towards me and bounced off my waders before bobbing off downstream – a little bewildered.
As I was dipping a small pond beside the River Esk looking for smooth newts prior to hibernation I came across this enormous hawker dragonfly larvae at nearly two inches long, a top predator within the little pond.
The creatures we come across may not necessarily seem exotic or exciting (except maybe for Simon’s mussel) on an international scale, but each animal and bird is part of the biodiversity of this corner of the world – and that’s important to us.