Saturday, 19 December 2009

Holly Days

Female Blackbird picking a Holly berry
In the last few days I have watched a pair of woodpigeons and a Blackbird feeding on holly berries. This time of the year, Holly berries are an important source of winter food for of all British thrushes, including the Blackbird; robins, blackcap and woodpigeons also regularly feed on them. It is Holly tree defence by Mistle thrushes to feed on the berries that has the highest ecological significance. Holly berries keep very well even after strong frosts, and this makes them ideal trees for Mistle thrushes to defend. Mistle thrushes defence of the tree can be overwhelmed by flocks of hungry birds on periods of frost when the tree can provide emergency food than otherwise wouldn't exist. Berries on successfully defended trees can last until July, whereas undefended ones are already devoid of berries in January.
Holly berries
A bush or small tree, Holly can reach up 10 m of hight, it flowers in May and June and it is dioecious, which means that there are male and female trees and only female ones produce berries.
A large female Holly growing on a street in Hull
Holly male flowers and buds in early May
Hollies are pollinated by bees and bumblebees. Holly Blue butterflies also visit the flowers and in April the females of the Holly Blue can be seen laying their eggs on young shoots and buds at the tip of the branches.
Female Holly Blue laying eggs
Given that they are evergreen and well defended by their hard, spiky leafs, Holly is also used for shelter and as a good nesting tree by many birds.
Sources: Snow, B. and D. Snow (1988) Birds and Berries. T&AD Poyser, Calton.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A new wood for Hull: Wilberforce Wood

An oak sapling just planted
Today it was Tree O'clock, an attempt to beat the world record of most trees planted in one hour. We took a few oaks with us, some saplings we had grown from acorns we collected in Sherwood Forest three years ago, and some others we collected in a garden centre as part of the scheme. The day was promising, sunny sky, no wind and relatively mild. We chose to join forces with The Woodland Trust to help create a new forest in Hull, Wilberforce Wood. A few years ago the site was agricultural land with strongly boggy tendencies, according to the satellite photos by Google Earth, as it is right on the floodplain of the river Hull, in North Carr. We planted mostly Alder, a native species well suited to wet areas and that grows quickly. In all we managed to plant 1600 saplings in one hour, together with around 20 other volunteers. Many holes - filled with water to the rim - had been dug in advance so it wasn't back-breaking work, just very muddy. Many wolf spiders were active, Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches chirped and there were even some flowering buttercups to enliven the day.
A view of the site
Creeping Buttercup, Ranunculus repens
How to get there

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Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Deep

It's windy, cold and one feels more like hibernating than like going on a walkabout. A wonderful alternative is going to The Deep, OK, I am in the fringes of what I have allowed myself to write about in this blog, but The Deep is a good excuse to wander off limits. The Deep is Hull's aquarium. When it opened in 2002 it had what it used to be the deepest tank in the world (not sure if the record still holds now). A wonderfully colourful reef tank is still my favourite place. You can sit on the floor and imagine yourself diving in a bright, shallow tropical lagoon with rays, small sharks and fishes of all colours and sizes.


Giant Isopods
 The Twilight Zone is also quite good, with a tank with several Nautilus, fish with luminescent patches, and deep sea giant isopods and the life cycle of the jellyfish.

Atlantic Mudskipper

A reconstruction of the lobe-finned fish Tiktaalik
Recently, they have installed a new Mangrove swamp tank for Mudskippers, fantastic to watch too, and an exhibit with a  reconstruction of Tiktaalik, an ancient fish which was in the evolutionary line to the evolution of tetrapods. The exhibit is so realistic that you wonder from a distance if the fish is alive. These are the last part in the Evolution of Seas exhibit.

Clown fish and anemone

Garden Eels

A reconstruction of the jaws of Carcharodon megalodon, a giant fossil shark which dwarfs the Great White Shark

 Other attractions are a shark tunnel, garden eels and a North Sea tank. From The Deep's restaurant there are wide views of the Humber estuary and the mouth of the river Hull and its impressive tidal barrier.
The Deep Website

Monday, 23 November 2009

East Park

The Chestnut Walk
The weather forecast was sunny for the morning, so I headed off to East Park. Not many people around, some dog walkers, and parents/grandparents with young children. The wildfowl approached us, looking hopeful for a little bread, but they were disappointed.

I hadn't been to the little zoo for a while. The Rheas seemingly bred earlier in the year, and their young were forming a little group of 4, a little taller than a peacock. There was also a young, cream coloured alpaca amongst the grown up ones.

Usual birds for the season. The highlight were three pairs of Goosanders, which kept close to the island, therefore the photos were not great. They were preening and diving.
Mirror Mute Swans
Deer feeding
Feral pigeon enjoying the sun
Black-headed Gulls
Confiding Coot
  1. Crow, there are lots, it is easy to count 10 visible at any one time 
  2. Black-Headed gulls, the most common in the park, everywhere 
  3. Woodpigeons eating on the grass near the trees 
  4. Magpie 
  5. Canada Geese 
  6. Blackbirds feeding in rowan and hawthorn 
  7. Greylags, large flock on the feeding area 
  8. Wren, "Chrrr!" 
  9. Starlings 
  10. Coot, lots about 
  11. Mallards 
  12. Herring Gull immature flying over the lake 
  13. Moorhens, 2 
  14. Tufted Duck 
  15. Swans, pair, swimming with stunning symmetry. 
  16. Blue tit 
  17. GOOSANDERS, 3 males and 3 females, between the island and the bridge. 
  18. Pochard 
  19. Common gull, I see one. 
  20. A duck in the island I cannot ID, with white band on body, likely a Drake Teal 
  21. Collared dove

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The (almost non-existant) Holderness ancient woods: a virtual tour (1)

This is an unusual post. I haven't been out today, or the last few days. It's been raining a lot. Frustration. I usually vent my frustration of not being able to be out and about with two things - my favourite computer games if you like- : Google Earth and Geograph. Virtually flying over satellite imagery of the earth is the best thing ever if you like looking at maps, and I can spend hours looking at maps. Enter Geograph, where you can see down to earth photos of most sites in the UK, for free, and I am hooked. So I put together this virtual tour of the few sites thought to hold the last remaining ancient in the Holderness peninsula according to English Nature:
"Holderness was at one time cloaked in forests. From the initial colonisation of birch as the glaciers retreated, to a high forest of oak some five thousand years ago, early human settlers would have been faced with an extensive wildwood..."
Unfortunately, the soil left behind after glaciations is extremely fertile and the plains of Holderness are prime agricultural land (you struggle to see pastures as well as forest). This means most ancient woods were felled to make room for agriculture. A few tiny jewels survive

Burton Bushes

A satellite view of Burton Bushes, courtesy of Google Earth
Burton Bushes is the last remnant (11 ha) of the old Beverley Westwood, nowadays a surviving common land usually grazed by cattle. The horizontal bar is equivalent to 100 m to give you an idea of its size. The following excerpt gives some information on the puzzle of why the wood is now pasture and the bushes is the only significant area remaining of the wood:
"Near Beverley stood, some years ago, an extensive range of thriving oak-wood, though not of large size, called "The West-Woods." These were held under the See of Durham, and regular falls were taken by the lessees, or the Bishop, at stated periods, by which means a perpetual succession was preserved; and while the timber and underwood remained in an uniform state, a regular income arose from them to the See. But these woods were, by some means or other, taken down a few years since, though not without having become an object of legal investigation; but whatever might have been the decision of the law, the law could not make the woods grow again, or the land revert to wood; consequently it is now cultivated, and some one has thus obtained the whole capital value of the wood, who had only a right to the annual income arising from it, and with it has obtained the annual income of the land into the bargain."
(From A general view of the agriculture of the East-Riding of Yorkshire By H.E. Strickland, 1812; scanned by Google Books)
Still today there is some ecological interest in this tiny fragment of ancient forest and the place is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest, see this for more info).
Blue Bells in April. Photo by Carolyn Metcalfe from Geograph.
A description of a walk around the Westwood, inlcuding Burton Bushes, can be found at the Walking the Riding website (under "Beverley Westwood Bounds).

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Noddle Hill Fishing Lake and Community Woodland

If you look at a local map, the low-lying areas north of Hull, around the river, are littered with toponyms including 'Ings' and 'Carr'. This is evidence this area was is flooded in the past, and, despite being crisscrossed by drains and ditches, is still easily flooded today. A 'carr' is a waterlogged wooded terrain, where common trees are alder, willow and sallow, whereas 'ings' is an old Yorkshire word for water meadows and marshes. Some examples are North Carr, Nun Carrs, East Carr, Swine Carrs, Carr Hill, Turf Carr, Carr House, Skidby Carr, The Ings and New Ings.
A view of North Carr, the diagonal line towards he right is the Holderness Drain. Note the whitish areas that, despite being in the middle of crop fields, are temporary ponds where regular flooding occurs. Drains and ditches also mark the limits between fields.
The place where we went today is placed on an edge of North Carr. It is a fishing lake surrounded by fields that were planted a few years ago (1996-99) and now are developing into a woodland and wet grassland. Two names are used for the site, Noddle Hill Fishing lake and Bransholme Fishing lake. This site is likely to become the first local nature reserve in Hull. It is well known for its dragonflies, fourteen species have been recorded here (check this website from the British Dragonfly Society for info and the latest sightings).
Great Culvert Pumping Station next to Holderness Drain.
Foredyke Stream
A view of the lake
The resident pair of Mute Swans
There are several marked paths, a Woodland Path and a Pond Path, and several other shorter ones with suggestive names. The Woodland path is a circular walk around the perimeter of the site, there are broad views of North Carr and Foredyke Stream (a drain in fact). The paths are being improved for access, but there are still many muddy sections. There is a small educational pond surrounded by bullrushes and with a dipping platform and many benches and tables for picnicking.
 Foxes, rabbits, squirrels and harvest mice can be found in the site or nearby areas. As for birds, Barn Owls, Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Reed Buntings and Skylarks among many others have been sighted. A plant list can be found here.
Today there weren't many birds at the site. This is our bird list:
  1. Carrion Crow
  2. Blackbird
  3. Robin
  4. Mallard
  5. Moorhen, several immatures.
  6. Goldfinches
  7. Mute Swan, pair, not ringed.
  8. Wren
  9. Dunnock
  10. Woodpigeon
  11. Collared Dove
Where to find it:

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Monday, 9 November 2009

The Barmston Drain

Hull is surprisingly green from high up. The 7th floor of the University Library offers a unique vantage point to appreciate this. Parks, gardens, railway lines, cycle lanes, tree-lined avenues, the river Hull and drains, form a green network that allows wildlife to live right inside the city. One of such green corridor is the Barmston Drain (or Barmy drain, as is also locally known). You can walk, even cycle, on the banks on part of the drain. Is is crisp and sunny today and I head for the section of the drain between Stepney and Skulcoates lane via the disused railway track bed now a cycle-pedestrian path between Hull and Hornsea. As soon as we get there we see some Mallards and Moorhens feeding. A number of moorhens are immature, so they probably breed here in good numbers. The banks are well vegetated with reeds, willows, brambles and hawthorns. One of the sections has a line of good-sized poplars on one side. A Kestrel swoops down from one of the trees into a field. The drain water runs clear, with lots of submerged macrophytes. Something jumps from the bank into the water with a plop! and disappears underwater, a Water Vole, perhaps? These are known to live on the drain. Rabbits, foxes and Roe Deer have also been reported from the drain and nearby areas.
 If you ignore the odd supermarket trolley or rubbish here and there it makes a remarkably nice walk.

Grey Squirrel eating berries

Moorhen and supermarket trolley

A view of the drain towards Stepney Lane
Tales from the Riverbank, is an ongoing post with great photos of wildlife in the drain led by Bob Carter.
Where is it?

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  1. Great tit, pair with blue tits feeding on the lime
  2. Blue tit, pair
  3. Blackbird
  4. Magpies, a tidings of 8 magpies
  5. Goldfinches, 2
  6. Robins singing and ticking
  7. Common gull
  8. Woodpigeon, one sunbathing on a field
  9. Wren
  10. Sparrows
  11. Starlings, feeding on Cordyline buds
  12. Dunnock, cricket call
  13. Kestrel, next to the drain
  14. Moorhens, lots of adults and immatures in the drain
  15. Mallards, several pairs in the drain
  16. Long-tailed tits, group crossing near Skulcoates lane
  17. Herring gulls feeding on a field, they seem to dance on the spot and then feed
  18. Crow in the park, seems to be caching food
  19. Mistle thrush park, pair
  20. Chaffinches, pair feeding on the ground
  21. Canada geese, 28 including the hybrid and the lame one.
  22. Large flock of geese flying south in V, more than 50, high pitched call.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Birding in Pearson Park

It's been quite grey today, but mild for the time of year. A walk in Pearson Park gave a few nice surprises. Autumn is fully fledged: conkers on the ground, a rich brown carpet of leaves. Although most of the trees are still green, there are many branches with first tint or brown leaves. The Grey Squirrels were calling, chasing and busily burying goodies in the ground. A small flock of Common Gulls are back in the pond after returning from their breeding grounds. The pair of breeding Moorhens now sits together preening each other; the two grown juveniles nowhere to be seen.

Male Mallards are showing off their wonderfully bright new feathers. They are boringly common, but what beautiful birds they are. One male and female were courting, heads quickly bobbing. The female lowered its head and the male mounted her. Everything was over very quickly. The female fluffed its feathers and flapped her wings over the water at the end.

The female sign

Mallards Mating
There was a hybrid Canada-greylag goose with 5 Canada geese, paired to one of them. It looked a bit clumsy, but it had a good session bathing itself. Given the strong imprinting of Ducks and Geese to the adults tending them, hybrids are likely to result of nest parasitism (one species lays egg on another's nest) or brood amalgamation (a pair of one species 'fosters' a brood from a different species and they grow together. The individuals of the fostered brood become imprinted to the 'wrong' species and when adults pair with it producing hybrids. One of the parents of this hybrid -most likely a greylag- was likely to have got imprinted to Canada Geese and paired with one. See this article and this website for fascinating info and photos on hybrid geese.

Hybrid Canada-Greylag goose having a bath
Birds of the Day

  1. Robins singing
  2. Blackbird
  3. Woodpigeon
  4. Dunnock
  5. Goldcrest singing from the cypres
  6. Mallards mating
  7. Moorhen, pair cuddling
  8. Grey wagtail
  9. Common gulls, 20 indivs.
  10. Canada geese, 5 and a canada-greylag hybrid paired with one of them
  11. Great tit
  12. Herring gull, first winter juvenile
  13. Crow
  14. Sparrows

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Nut Wood & Wauldby Scrogs

Woods now cover less than 3% of East Yorkshire. They are tiny specs on a blanket of arable land. A few Woodland Trust woods try to preserve this dwindling resource. Amongst these is Nut Wood, a little ancient semi-natural woodland, parts of which date to the 13th century. I have always visited it in the autumn, but it is known locally as Bluebell Wood and the display of wild flowers in spring is worth a visit. Flora includes Lords & Ladies, Wood Anemones, Wild Garlic and Dog's Mercury. Amongst the trees there is Ash, Sycamore, Oak, Beech, Spruce and coppiced Hazel, and it is surrounded by hedgerows with Hawthorn and Elder. The northern section was planted more recently. There are remarkably big old stumps scattered in the wood, but the size of the living trees is no match for them. Today we went in search of hazel nuts nibbled by rodents. There is a Dormice survey going on at the moment, although, unfortunately, dormice are extinct in East Yorkshire so we knew we were unlikely to find signs of them. There were lots of hazel shells left over by Grey Squirrels, and possibly some by Wood Mouse. We saw a number of fungi as well.
For more info check the Woodland Trust management plan for this site.
A clump of fungi at the base of an Ash
A general view from the access point next to the road
For a 5 mile walk in the area see Walking the Riding.

Location map

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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sunny Spurn

A wonderful scorching summer day at Spurn. Clear sky and the lightest breeze. We stop by the visitor centre. A compact flock of twitchers have settled on top of the dunes overlooking a sea buckthorn bush. They are stalking a Booted Warbler, a rare accidental that hasn't been seen in many years.
A Small Tortoiseshell lets me a close approximation while it feeds in Cat's Ears.
In the dunes, grasshoppers chirp and hawker and darter dragonflies on the wing. A 7 spot ladybird lands on the sand. We see several others today. The sea bucktorn is covered in the tents of the Brown Tail Moth, the caterpillars we see are quite small, but they have devastated the branches around them. The buckthorn has already got berries.
 A large group of Starlings settle on the wires next to the visitor centre just to fly again in a flock. And every few minutes, little groups of Swallows fly low over the spit heading south. We are well into the autumn migration.
 After a picnic lunch next to the dunes we head for the point. We walk around the head of the Peninsula, a 2 km walk, and have the chance of watching groups of Swallows as they reach the edge. Some seem hesitant to cross the Mouth of the Humber and fly back and forth.
Sea Rocket Cakile maritima
Driftwood at the Point
Marram grass and Sea Buckthorn scrub at the Point
The bendy beach a the Point.