Sunday, 25 June 2017

30 Days Wild day 15- Magpies and coot chicks

I had another day on campus today, and the weather was glorious. It felt like it would be a shame to miss out on the chance of another picnic (I think a theme for this year's 30 Days Wild is starting to develop). This time, I sat on the benches between the biology department and the lake. I was joined by a magpie, glorious in its iridescence. It bounced between the benches as though looking for leftover food, although with little success. After a while it moved back towards the lake and its mate. I wonder if they are nesting nearby- I've never found any sign of a nest, but I see the two of them there so often I think they must be close.

A magpie alongside the benches

The chicks from the coot nest on the fallen tree down at the side of biology are large now. They're almost the same size as their parents, although their feathers are still downy. This doesn't stop them begging incessantly for food- a soft, high peeping which feels like a constant by the lake at this time of year. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

30 Days Wild day 14- Dean's Yard

This evening I went to see some of my friends perform in the University Symphony Orchestra and Choir concert at York Minster. It gave me a brilliant excuse to do something I've wanted to do for ages- have a picnic in the Dean's Park.

The front of York Minster

Sadly, I didn't see the peregrines. But I sat in the sunshine surrounded by bickering blackbirds and pigeons and squirrels. It was lovely. It's so easy to forget how lucky I am to be studying in York. Things like this remind me that I need to make the most of it. 

York Minster from Dean's Park

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

30 Days Wild day 13- Heslington East

I spent the day on campus today, and while as normal there were plenty of ducks and geese, it didn't feel like I'd done anything in particular to qualify for 30 Days Wild. So, in the evening, a friend took me over to the Heslington East campus. I don't think I've been there since half way through my second year, as everything I do is on the main campus. I've been missing out.

It was beautiful. We arrived around 8.30; the light was a pre-dusk gold and the whisps of cloud looked like watercolours. It's a new campus, and there has been some really impressive habitat creation. There are a series of lakes, complete with natural, reed bound edges. Wildflowers have been sown too; whole swathes of the ground were covered with oxeye daisies, yellow rattle and brilliant blue cornflowers. There were, as on the main campus, lots of waterfowl- ducks and geese galore, with seagulls swooping overhead. But it became immediately apparent that it's much quieter and much wilder than Heslington West. As we got off the bus and headed towards one of the lakes there was a high, piping call, striking amonst the quiet duck noises. An oystercatcher flew overhead. A pair of common terns were nesting on a platform in the middle of the lake. As dusk drew in, a distinctive white shape glided along a line of mature trees before floating over to the meadow on the far side of the lake. It made 3 dives in quick succession before settling down on to a fence post, then it was airborne again. It made one final, successful dive then floated back down along the hedgerow to a tall tree and, presumably, its nest.

This is not the best barn owl photo which has ever been taken. One for #wildphotofails, perhaps? 
We walked further, up to the north, past grassy banks full of improbably tame rabbits, before heading back amongst the buildings. The oystercatchers were back, at least two pairs flying overhead. After a little patience it became apparent why. They were nesting on the flat roods of one of the buildings, safely out of reach of any terrestrial predators. The noise they made was unearthly.

There was one final treat as we headed back towards the bus stop. We were looking out onto the lake, watching the gulls dive and the mayflies dance., when a shape appeared. It was a bird of prey; at first I thought it was a kestrel.  But its wings were too long and its flight was very different- swooping and diving over the water, taking impossibly tight corners at the height of its circuit before diving back down to skim above the surface. It was a hobby hunting insects, and the first I've ever seen in this country. We stood and watched it until the light was too dim to properly make out its movements. It was a stunning moment.

30 Days Wild day 12- North Cave Wetlands

We stopped off at North Cave Wetlands nature reserve on the way back up to York today. It's a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve just north of the Humber on the site of restored gravel pits, and it's still growing; as more gravel is extracted, more land is being restored and will be given over to the nature reserve. We were drawn there by the prospect of avocet chicks, and it didn't disappoint.

Three avocet chicks with a parent. In the background a larger chick and another adult.

The nature reserve is made up of a series of lakes and wetlands, with a path around the perimeter of the original reserve site. Walking down the track which splits the reserve, the air was thick with swifts and gulls screaming, and the distinctive 'peewit' call of lapwings. Common terns swooped low over the water surface.

The Village lake at North Cave Wetlands with scrape and islands in the middle and grassland around the edge.

We saw the first avocets at the second lake we stopped at. There were several families on a scrape or at the edge of islands. The little fluffball chicks were racing along the edge of the water, while the elegant adults were frantically trying to keep up. Interestingly, the gulls there (and there were lots of them) didn't seem particularly interested in the chicks. Perhaps they had already grown large enough to be relatively safe.

Pair of avocet chicks with an adult nearby, head under wing

There were certainly plenty of gulls there. Black-headed gulls formed a big, noisy colony, mostly on islands at the far end of the lake. They were interspersed with pretty little brown birds which, from a distance, looked like an oval with a beak rather than an animal with defined head and body. It was only when I used the zoom on my camera (the three of us had all forgotten to bring binoculars) that I realised they were gull chicks.

Two black-headed gull chicks at the water's edge with adults nesting nearby