Birdwatching blog: Fantastic finds in flaming June

Exciting spot… a water vole at St Nicks. Photographs: Ian Traynor
10 Jun 2013 @ 10.31 am
| News

Exciting spot… a water vole at St Nicks. Photographs: Ian Traynor
Exciting spot… a water vole at St Nicks. Photographs: Ian Traynor
ian-traynor-headshotIan Traynor finds some wonderful wildlife both on the moors and in the city


As I’m writing this, I look back on a beautiful, almost summery, day. I was out early this morning helping to carry out the annual bird survey on the MoD land at Strensall Common.

The results from the five teams carrying out the survey have yet to be collated, but from an initial discussion, it seems that some of the key species normally recorded from the common, such as stonechat and tree pipit, seem to be missing. Sadly, this is a recurring pattern, as the State of Nature report, released last month, and which was compiled by 25 UK wildlife organisations, revealed, over 60 per cent of the species assessed have declined over recent decades. For example, the hedgehog population has shrunk from over 40 million individuals to about one million today.

There is a serious cause for concern.

But I don’t want this article to turn into a down-beat “doom-and-gloom” report! What we should all be doing is getting out into nature, and enjoying what we see – not what we fail to see!

On the second day of June, I spent a glorious day out in the North York Moors in the remote and seldom-visited area of Bransdale. I was rewarded by some truly awe-inspiring views of curlews and lapwings, both warning me to get the hell out of their territories! A male red grouse was protectively shielding at least two chicks, as were a pair of lapwings. Sometimes, a car makes a very good mobile hide, even if it’s not very eco-friendly!

A curlew above Bonfield Gill on the North York Moors
A curlew above Bonfield Gill on the North York Moors
A lapwing chick explores Bransdale
A lapwing chick explores Bransdale
A male red grouse keeps a beady eye on one of his chicks
A male red grouse keeps a beady eye on one of his chicks
A chiffchaff busies itself at St Nicholas Fields
A chiffchaff busies itself at St Nicholas Fields
The giant laburnum bush at St Nicks
The giant laburnum bush at St Nicks

Closer to York, I’ve spent quite a bit of time at the St Nicholas Fields reserve, just off Melrosegate. An early morning visit last week, in glorious sunshine, revealed a chiffchaff, carrying food – almost certain evidence of breeding on the reserve. Later in the week, a group of us found breeding evidence of another half dozen species including, excitingly, water vole, a nationally endangered rodent. And all this, just a mile from the centre of York!

On the reserve, there is a truly huge laburnum bush – at least 30 feet high! And it’s now almost in full bloom. It’s worth visiting St Nicks, if only to see this incredible specimen. Enquire at the Environment Centre for details of its location.

In the York area, members of the York Ornithological Club have been reporting recently sightings of both peregrine falcon and black redstart in the Blossom Street area. The peregrine record is particularly interesting, since many towns and cities in Britain have increasingly had nesting peregrines on city centre buildings, particularly churches and cathedrals. I wonder when we’ll get our first York Minster Peregrine nest?

Also in the York area, there have been sightings of ospreys, presumably passing through to their breeding grounds in Scotland. As always, it’s worth keeping one eye up to the sky!

Spring might have been delayed this year, but both flowers and birds are now developing well. I just love sitting out in my garden in Osbaldwick on an evening, and watching the swifts screeching overhead – not to mention the occasional pippistrelle bat flitting by!