Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Ice Station Rodley

 Upper dipping pond, viewed from the visitor centre, Rodley NR

Sometimes, I admit, I find it difficult to drag myself out of bed for the monthly WeBS counts. In the summer they can start at 5am. They're much later in winter, but by then it's dark and cold... But, I never regret it once I'm out there. These mornings have become the highlights of my birding month;  sometimes, when I'm busy, it's the only "real" birding I'll do. Every month I learn something new, about birds, mammals, the reserve, the weather...  And it's fascinating to watch the way the seasons change.

The December WeBS count at Rodley Nature Reserve took place this Sunday, and despite the relatively late start of 09:00, it was still really cold. The thermometer on the post outside the visitor centre confirmed it: -10˚C. Brrrr…

The lagoon was almost completely frozen over, with the birds sandwiched in and around a small area of open water no bigger than your average front room. Some 85 Black-headed Gull and 19 Common Gull jostled for space with Mute Swan, Pochard and Coot. Not much else about apart from the odd Cormorant overhead and a flock of seven Fieldfare (been a bit thin on the ground in these parts so far this winter, especially when compared to the vast numbers of Redwing and Waxwing dripping off every other berry-laden tree).

 The lagoon, viewed from the Lagoon Hide, Rodley NR

Taking account of the ice and snow, and the later start time, we changed our usual route around the reserve. By going around the back of the lagoon we’d be unnecessarily disturbing the birds, and any early visitors; so, after a count from the Lagoon Hide, we decided to concentrate on the river, where much of the waterfowl had relocated to get to open water.

 Rodley Weir, River Aire

The reserve staff had seen otter prints around the weir during the snow in late November. Unfortunately there were no tracks in the area this time, but that’s unsurprising given the size of a dog otter’s territory. Apparently, a dog otter will have a large territory, big enough to overlap several female territories. The male can move through this area very quickly: being at Rodley one day, and as far away as Keighley the next – a distance of 22km.

Apparently. there are plans by the reserve's landowners, Yorkshire Water, to install a fish pass at the back of the reed bed in 2011, at the behest of the Environment Agency. The plan is for a natural-type open channel to cut into the land north of the river, to allow trout and other fish to circumnavigate the weir. Once it's there it will enhance the wildlife on the reserve, though it's a shame it will be constructed during the breeding season.

In the area behind the reed bed is a Partridge feeder, one of many placed around the reserve, mostly in places away from pubic view. We found many Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge tracks going to and from the feeder as we walked, showing how important these were for the birds in winter.

 Pheasant, and possibly Red-legged Partridge, prints

Of course, it’s a good time to look for mammal tracks when there’s snow cover. We found fox and Roe deer tracks in many places around the reserve, particularly near the river. Birds can leave particularly interesting tracks, as they sometimes leave behind imprints of their wings when they take off. The tracks in the photo below were on the decking at the upper dipping pond - probably those of a Blackbird, judging from the impressions left by the primary feathers.

 Bird tracks, probably a Blackbird’s

My personal highlight of the morning was hearing the laughing yelp of a Herring Gull as it flew over the reserve. The call was loud and clear in the still air, and briefly brought the sound of sunny Blackpool to a frozen corner of West Yorkshire. The usual flock of 25+ Stock Dove was wheeling over the field behind the manager’s garden. These lovely doves are often overlooked, but there are one of my favurite birds. Plenty of activity around the feeders on the reserve, as you'd imagine during the severe winter weather, including the welcome sight of two red-listed Willow Tits.

 Work is progressing on the new education room at the visitor centre

Vistors don't usualy arrive too early at Rodley, and the only one was encountered on this quiet day was a chap sat drinking tea in the vistor centre. So, WeBS count all wrapped up by 11:30, with the thermometer now reading a balmy -3˚C…

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