David Bowie of the Bird World… Coming to a Town near You!

 

I'm standing in Ilkley Town centre on a Saturday afternoon. I have the train station to one side of me and the bus station on the other and I'm carrying a rather large and conspicuous lens around my neck. This is not the kind of situation I envisaged when I began my love affair with wildlife photography.

It seems at the age of thirty five I have finally relinquished any notion of being cool and have plummeted to the lowly ranks of looking like a train and/or bus spotter. But there’s something these passers by, with their quizzical, puzzled and slightly pitying expressions don’t know. They don't realise that the berry laden trees which divide the bus and train station are a prime location for spotting the David Bowie of the Bird World… The Waxwing!

Continue reading David Bowie of the Bird World… Coming to a Town near You!

Wharfedale on the Wing

The swifts have departed to undertake their epic journey to Africa, and the Martins and Swallows that remain won't be too far behind. Summer is inevitably coming to a close, but there is still plenty going on and with the warm weather still here we may just get a little longer to appreciate some of our summer specialists. This summer I found myself getting more and more fascinated by the world of butterflies. It started when I first noticed orange tips back in May by Sun Lane Nature Reserve. Then I'd notice the odd Speckled Wood near the weir and stepping stones. Before I knew it I was actively walking around Burley in Wharfedale with my butterfly goggles on! (Looking for butterflies that is, not literally wearing goggles with butterflies on!) Over the course of the summer I have spotted: Large Whites, Orange Tips, Peacocks, Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods, Commas, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Tortoise Shells, Small Heaths, a Holly Blue and not to mention several others I haven't been able to identify. This summer I set myself a challenge to see a Brimstone, it wasn't until last week that I finally spotted one at Sun Lane. Unfortunately the closest I've come to getting a photograph is a picture of the Reserve notice board! brimstone on reserve board Do You Separate Your Whites? White butterflies are the most common type of butterfly to be seen over the summer months. Most sightings of a white butterfly result in them being labelled as a Cabbage White. But the UK has 4 main species of white butterfly as well as several less common ones. These include the Large White, Small White, Orange Tip and Green Veined White. Less common species include Wood White and Cryptic Wood White as well as rare migrants such as the Black-veined White and Bath White. So next time you see a plain old white butterfly why not try and get a closer look... You might be surprised.
Green Veined White Butterfly
Green Veined White Butterfly
There are some great other winged creatures to spotted around Burley: dragonflies, Damsel Flies and a wide variety bees and hover flies. They're not going to be around for much more of 2013 so get out and enjoy them while you can! Here are some photos from my own sightings of winged creatures, all taken around Burley in Wharfedale over the last couple of months...

Head Turning Scarecrows

A slight distraction from the Wharfedale wildlife this week as my head has been turned by scarecrows, dogs and home grown veg! Last week, Burley in Wharfedale swelled with people and pride as crowds descended from all around to partake in our week long summer festival! Much to our annoyance, there was a great deal Mrs Walking Photographer and I missed. This couldn't be helped, but so impressive was the little that we did see, we'll be keeping the entire week free for 2014! Historic walks, vintage car show, Céilidh and a beer festival are just a few of the cool events that we missed. Here are some glimpses of what we did get to see:
scarecrows
Opening the week of festivities was the Burley Dog Show. Kids being dragged around by dogs half their size is always entertaining!
scarecrows
The 2013 Scarecrow competition saw loads of amazing scarecrows all over the village... some were even interactive, the bar has definitely been raised for 2014!
scarecrows
I've always been fascinated by allotments so I couldn't pass up an opportunity to go have a nosy...

What’s that in the Sky…

...Is it a bird? Is it a swift? Is it a swallow? Is it Superman?!

I was as nervously excited as the next film addict slash geek, at last week's announcement of a film featuring both Batman and Superman! But both Batman and Superman would look on in envy at the aerobatics of swifts, swallows and martins! I've had quite a few people ask me of late how you tell the difference between swifts, swallows and martins. I figured I would use this weeks Wildlife Weekly to help highlight the difference between these awesome birds...
Swift Illustration

Swifts

The swift is probably the easier of these birds to distinguish. Larger than swifts and martins and darker in their overall appearance. You won't see these guys on telephone wires; you're more likely to see them high overhead or, in the evening, darting about between houses with unbelievable speed and precision.
swallow illustration

Swallows

Swallows are arguably the more famous of these summer visitors. They are also the more ornate in appearance, with their iconic long tail feathers and deep red throat. They can be seen feeding low over fields and rivers as well as taking a breather on overhead cables.
house martin illustration

House Martins

House Martins are well known for building their mud nests below the guttering of houses. They are of similar size and colour to swallows. There are two main differences in appearance. The first is the tail which is shorter and less elaborate than the swallow, however young swallows can also have a shorter tail. The key to identifying them is the black hood and white front (they don't have the red face of the swallow or the dark bar of the sand martin)
Sand Martin Illustration

Sand Martins

Sand Martins are the smallest of our super flyers. They can be a little trickier to identify from House Martins. They are more brown in appearance but the key difference is a dark coloured bar that runs across their chest.

Illustrative pictures kindly provided by RSPB

In my own observations of these spectacular birds, I've noticed that mostly they seem to feed in different areas and altitudes. Swifts being highest swallows often centimetres above the grass or water which is really awesome to watch, while house martins can often be seen flying over and around tree tops. It's probably these different feeding habits that allows these birds to thrive together in one place, ensuring that they're not competing with each other over one resource. If only we humans could be this savvy! Burley in Wharfedale is lucky to have healthy numbers of all these birds. Swifts can be seen (and heard!) throughout the village but are particularly prominent around Peel Place green and the Sun Lane side of the village. The best place for swallows and house martins is Greenholme Mills, while sand martins can be spotted (in lesser numbers) along the Wharfe in either direction from Greenholme Mills. It's not uncommon to see all these species together (again at different altitudes and areas) by the weir and stepping stones. Burley really does offer great sightings of all these aerobatic specialists, this isn't the case for everywhere so we shouldn't take it for granted! Here's some recent photos of the swifts, swallows and martins we've been talking about...

Burley in Bloom… Part Deux

The wild garlic and bluebells have withered but their disappearance simply paves the way for a more diverse array of colourful and vibrant plant life. As the bloom of flora picks up pace in Burley so does the wildlife and there's so much of both out there right now. In my Heat Wave Hits Whafedale post a couple of weeks ago, I expressed my suspicions that there were a family of dippers (the bird species that is, not folks looking to cool off by immersing themselves knee high in water) around the weir but had not actually seen clear evidence to confirm this theory. I later got a comment from local wildlife photographer Richard Greenwood. He confirmed that he had seen a young family of dippers there. Taking his advice I headed to the weir a little earlier than usual. Sure enough, I immediately came across several dippers including a juvenile hunting (with limited success) and begging for food from a parent. dippers in burley in wharfedale Since then I have also caught sight (albeit for less than a second) of a kingfisher on several occasions. Hopefully at some point I'll get a longer encounter! Here's the photos from the week...

Burley in Bloom

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The last couple of weeks have been real scorchers. It seems the weather is making up for the summer we missed last year! All this sunshine has brought out the best of Burley in Wharfedale's flora. This abundance of plant life is great news for Wharfedale's wildlife scene. Since this bloom I have noticed a variety of bees and butterflies. I'm not well read enough to tell you what types of bees I've been seeing but I am observant enough to notice there's a real variety out there! The butterfly species that have hung about long enough to identify include: Orange Tip Gatekeeper Comma Large White Green-viened White Ringlet It's been a tough couple of years for butterflies but hopefully this summer can help revive numbers. People can help assess the butterfly number by taking part in the big butterfly count. I've also noticed that dragon and damsel flies are starting to make an appearance by The Goit and Coldstone Beck. Really looking forward to trying to capture (on camera) some dragon flies, I love a challenge! Here's some photos of Burley in bloom...

Heat Wave Hits Wharfedale!

summer photo Summer has arrived with a vengeance! We've been enjoying some stupendously good weather in the last week or so. I'm sure it wont be tool long though before we start to hear the cries of "e;It's too hot!" To those struggling with the humidity and high temperatures, I thoroughly recommend heading up to the moor where there's a cool breeze that (to me) is just perfect! The moor is just teaming with life at the moment. A short walk will often produce sightings of skylarks, curlews, oyster catchers, red grouse and with all this life about predators have started to appear more active too with kestrel and red kites commonly seen hunting. In other areas of Burley: I caught sight of a male red start by the stepping stones earlier last week which was the first time I've seen one there. I'm also sure there is a dipper nest near the weir but haven't been able to confirm my suspicions. With so much happening it's very difficult staying indoors. So, I'll just leave you with some photos from the week while I sign off and get back outdoors!

Wharfedale Wildlife Weekly (24th June): Blue Skies, Sun & Chicks

Female Red Grouse on Moor

Sunshine brings out the Chicks on Burley Moor...

OK so Burley Moor might not be the best place to hang out if you are looking for a date but if you're looking to spot some cute birds of the feathered variety I can thoroughly recommend it! There are currently a number of birds on the moor acting very protectively including lapwings, curlews and skylarks. This leads me to think that if there isn't already, there will soon be some pretty cool fledglings hopping about the moor! Recently I have had sporadic encounters with various red grouse chicks. These experiences tend to be more by accident than design. To me, they remain invisible until they're nearly underfoot! I was lucky enough to spot a single chick last week, as I knelt down to get a better camera angle three siblings, who had apparently been just centimetres away, made a break for it! It was a startling but very cool encounter. I was delighted to observe the arrival of bats feeding nearby our house last week. I noticed them through a window as we were heading for bed-ford-shire but couldn't resist grabbing my camera and trying to get a couple of photos. Still so much wildlife going on around Burley in Wharfedale so get out there! Also, it's Otley Walking Fest this week and there are some great walks planned. Here's some photo highlights from the week:

Wharfedale Wildlife Weekly (17th June): Had a Tough Week? Try Being a Bird!

mallard ducklings There is still so much wildlife going on here in Burley, I'm starting to think I should write to the BBC Springwatch team and suggest they use our house as a base for next years series! House martins arrived in significant numbers last week, I came across them by a natural spring near Greenholme Mills where they appeared to be collecting mud to build nests. Last week I became aware that I had got a little distracted slash obsessed with the weir near Greenholme Mills along with the goosander family, grey wagtails and my quest to take a good photo of a dipper. A concern quickly grew that I had neglected one of my favourite environments to ramble... Burley Moor. I hastily headed up to the moor and reminded myself the sense of freedom exploring the moor brings. I couldn't believe transformation that had taken place. In just a couple of weeks the landscape had dramatically changed and I was now entering a battle field. Birds darted passed in every direction, an array of battle cries were almost disorientating as several species determinedly marked out their territory and warned off potential predators. Red kite being attacked I can't recall experiencing so much wildlife activity in such a short space of time. Here is a highlights list of sightings in just 45 mins... Skylark Red Kite repeatedly mobbed by lapwing and curlews Close encounters with two curlews who must be nesting nearby Lots of young lambs Nearly stepped on a grouse and several chicks: they are so well camouflaged, as they often freeze to avoid detection, it's nearly impossible to spot them until they're literally underfoot! Later in the week I couldn't resist heading back to the weir (a couple of times in fact), all the usual suspects were about (grey wagtails, heron etc.) on an early morning I stumbled upon the Goosander mother and chicks resting in the pebbled island, they quickly headed out and disappeared. Goosander seem to be particularly cautious and shy. There are several young Mallard families by the weir now, all of which are particularly cute! There is also a young pied wagtail popping around too. There is literally so much going on at the moment it's impossible to record it all... Yet I continue to try! Here's some photo highlights from the week:

Wharfe Wildlife Weekly (10th June): Spring it on!

Spring it on...

Spring has a arrived! And I'm not just saying that because BBC's Springwatch is in its last week... My hard drive (not a euphemisim) has been struggling to keep up with my camera! There is action (again, not a euphemism) everywhere! This week you'd be hard pressed to find a corner of Burley where there wasn't some kind of wildlife occurrence...errrr... occurring?! Here's some highlights of what was occurring last week: Very excited to spot a female goosander along with 5 youngsters on the river Wharfe Also heard a cuckoo by the river Wharfe. Loads of small fry in the river keep hoping to spot a kingfisher but no luck yet. Swifts are still as mesmerising as ever and can be seen all over Burley in Wharfedale but are quite good to watch on the green by Peel Place in the evening. Keep catching glimpses of one dipper but very shy Plenty butterflies around the hedgerows including orange tips and speckled woods The week in pics...