During the last few months, alongside everything else that has been going on, there has been the chance for additional up-close and personal nature experiences. Here’s a few from the (mostly) home life of the Conservation Department – some in pictures some in words.
“A golden ringed dragonfly let both our children [very gently] touch it. For me I guess one of the more striking things about this encounter was that we were in Cropton Forest – part of Forestry England’s ‘commercial conifer forestry’ which some people write off as having no wildlife value. My family and I have spent many happy hours in Cropton Forest during the past couple of months enjoying wildlife and cultural heritage and just for that time not seeing another soul.
There was a nesting blackbird squashed into a hole in a wall in my parent’s potting shed which successful fed and raised a brood of chicks. On our usual dog walk near home we came across a cobweb of small eggar moth caterpillars. We took some home for a week or so and they enjoyed living in our kitchen fed on blackthorn. We let them go back into the hedgerow when we realised that when they form a cocoon they stay in it overwinter and perhaps even for 2 or 3 winters! So much better off back in the hedge.”
“Last week after a dawn bird survey I stumbled across a fantastic small quarry … With three species of orchids; Bee, Butterfly and Fragrant (maybe Chalk Fragrant) … I was as they say Well Chuffed!”
“I’ve been seeing loads of wildlife; it’s photographing the pesky thing’s that’s the problem – for some reason they don’t seem to want to cooperate! There’s the barn owl that’s been hunting at the bottom of the garden and in our neighbour’s field almost every morning and evening for the past couple of months; I’ve seen more badgers this year whilst out running than ever before, including an adult with two cubs; then there’s the hare that’s taken up semi-permanent residence on the lawn; the herd of 10 fallow deer in the barley field next door that I see from the kitchen window most evenings; and I’ve been dived bombed by lapwings when running on the moor above Kepwick.”
“I came across this delightful critter in my garden yesterday – it’s a Nicrophorus Investigator – it is a burying beetle and like other burying beetles they bury the carcasses of small vertebrates such as birds and mice as a food source for their larvae. They are common and widespread (although I’ve never seen one before!). They have a very good sense of smell and are reputed to be able to smell a carcass up to two miles away (ewww!). It was quite a big bug – around 2cm long.”
“I had a rather unpleasant wildlife encounter at Falling Foss on Thursday when our friends dog ‘found’ a nest of agitated bees on the path and they swarmed and chased us. I evaded the inevitable but the others all got stung so that wasn’t fun. We did see a toad later on so that made up for it a bit!”
“Me and my family have spent hours watching the wildlife in our garden and in and around the village throughout lockdown, this is my favourite event because I love a happy ending…We have a troop of sparrows who eat their way through a big feeder of bird seed every day. I enjoy watching them line up on twigs waiting for a go and squabbling over the perches on the feeder. They have a dust bath under the hedge often alongside our chickens. The group fledged lots of young and my two children loved watching the fluffy youngsters hanging around under the feeder waiting for attention from their parents. Just before the children’s bath time one day we heard a loud thump on the lounge window. I ran out followed closely by the children and found a stunned just fledged sparrow lying on the ground. I picked up the little bird and we all peered down at her – she opened an eye! We decided to put her in a big cardboard box while the children had their bath and see what happened . . . After the quickest bath on record we opened the box and there she was standing up and looking up at us. The children carried the box out into the garden and off she went back to the troop…”
“Earlier in the year I had about 50 whooper swans fly low over the house! What a noise! I’ve had a pair of redstarts nesting in the eaves of the house…A pair of swallows built a nest in the chicken coop and the chicks fled the nest early to escape the temperature of a hot day (nest was very close to the tin roof). So I moved the nest, scooped up the chicks and popped them back – one got attached and found comfort under my beard for a while before I popped it back with siblings – happy to say all four have fledged! Good work mum and dad!
Being at home more has meant that I’ve gotten to see the green woodpeckers more often rather than just hearing them ‘yaffling’ in the woods…”
“My main experiences with wasps have mainly been negative…it normally involves providing a glass of sacrificial cider to keep them at bay in the beer garden on a sunny afternoon. They also act as play things for my cats when they invade my house. I don’t know much about wasps but never the less I know how important these little beasties are, although trying to explain that to anyone outside of the conservation sector can prove challenging. Whilst attempting to tackle my garden I noticed my log bird table had slowly started to shrink, once a solid round log was now two thirds of its size. I assumed I was not feeding the birds enough food and they had taken to destroying my table as a form of protest, until I noticed a wasp happily munching away at the wood. I was unsure why a wasp might have taken a liking to my bird table until I stumbled across an episode of Springwatch where Chris Packham was stood excitingly next to a wasp having a good old munch on his old shed door. I didn’t realise that this ritual was part of the nest building process until seeing that episode, so although my bird table is not as smart of it used to be, it’s great to see nature in action!”
“No major surprises but it’s been a lockdown pleasure to watch goldfinches, tree sparrows, magpies, wood pigeons, doves, crows, etc. pop into the garden and the occasional herring gull pop down to eat any scraps left out and remind me just how big they can get! We also have three cheeky hens who are resident in the back garden…We’ve also had a few visits from hedgehogs in the front garden, including one who popped by at 5pm for a quick snuffle in the soil – we haven’t actually seen a hedgehog in the front garden for quite a few years now, so our late afternoon visitor was quite welcome. There was also some distinctive paw prints left out on the front step one night and we think it had popped back for some more exploration. We’ve also had rabbits in the garden too, probably from the close-by cemetery which is home to a few. Last weekend I joined a small group of friends in a mates back garden to celebrate his birthday and at dusk we had the pleasure of watching the local bats pop out and skitter around the sky for insects – one bat came very close to brushing all of our faces with its wings as it did a loop around the table top! I’m presuming they were common pipistrelles, we have them at home too and they have been a delight to watch.”
“In my tiny garden I’ve had three blackbird nests, one thrush nest, and two robin nests … and the butterfly is a common blue seen in a quarry near my house.”
“I’ve had lots of red mason bees and leaf cutter bees using my solitary bee ‘hotel’ and holes drilled in the fence. While watching them a few weeks ago, an impressive parasitic ichneumon wasp called ‘Ephialtes manifestator’ visited and started laying eggs in some of the full nesting tubes. I’ve since found out that it’s only the 10th record of this wasp in Yorkshire, so I’m really pleased that I’m helping support these associated parasitic species as well.
I ventured on a few new footpaths not far from home, and on one came across a really nice veteran oak tree. While looking at it, I found a number of deathwatch beetles on it – which this far north are very rare in natural situations (i.e. not eating National Trust properties!) – so were quite an exciting find (for me anyway!).
When lockdown began to ease I spent some time looking for small eggar moth webs in the nearby hedgerows, and have also reared some caterpillars. They’ve all pupated now, but they kept me very busy as they ate an immense amount and needed daily supplies of fresh blackthorn!”
“I saw a hedgehog as I was leaving a site visit in Bilsdale last week, makes a refreshing change to see a live one rather than the many killed on the roads.”
Not all the species have been rare and not all the locations special – but each encounter made an impression.