Monday, 16 May 2011

Skipwith Common, Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings

A friend of mine, who works for Natural England, invited me to take a day off work to visit these three interesting sites in North and East Yorkshire, between York and Selby. We also had a chat with the warden of Bank Island and Wheldrake (which along with North Duffield Carrs are known collectively as the Lower Derwent Valley NNR, or LDV) and heard about their efforts to catch and radio track Whimbrel and Quail.

Skipwith Common
Skipwith Common is one of the last remaining areas of lowland heath in the North of England, probably because it remained as common, non-enclosed land until 1901. During World War II it was an airfield, which probably protected the heath further. Remnants of its wartime use are obvious everywhere, particularly the former bomb bays, which now are great places to look for basking reptiles.

Bomb Bay - Skipwith Common, North Yorkshire

Unfortunately, the weather was a bit chilly the morning we went (Wednesday 11th May 2011) and the reptiles weren’t showing. We did, however, get great views of a Stoat as it bounded around one of the old brick structures. The other mammals seen were Roe Deer, Grey Squirrel, and Exmoor Pony (used to control scrub growth).

Exmoor Pony - Skipwith Common, North Yorkshire

The trees around the reserve were full of bird song, mainly of common woodland birds, plus warblers such as Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. The highlights, though, were the birds of the heathland. We picked out a couple of Tree Pipits from their memorable song, and were treated to great views of a pair of Woodlark on the open heath.

Bank Island
The path to Cheesecake Hide - Bank Island, North Yorkshire

The sun came out when we arrived, and so did the butterflies and damselflies. The brighter weather gave us clearer views into the distance too, allowing us good views of a Greenshank and an elusive Wood Sandpiper on the far pool from the Cheesecake Hide. We met a researcher in the hide studying Lapwing breeding and crow predation – as we watched, Lapwings mobbed a pair of Carrion Crows as they took eggs from a nest (probably a Coot’s).

Wheldrake Ings
We spent the remainder of the day here, a patchwork of hay meadows and pools bordering the River Derwent. The fields are regularly flooded in winter, providing a great wintering area for ducks, and rich grassland for summer visitors.

Unfortunately, the Tower Hide had been vandalised a couple of weeks before our visit, and was still closed; but there is plenty to see from the other four hides on the reserve.

Tower Hide - Wheldrake Ings, North Yorkshire

The trees along the path south from the car park are great fro warbler, and we heard and saw several Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat, and Chiffchaff. We’d had a heads up that Lesser Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warbler could be heard near the wind pump, but we couldn’t pick these up. In fact, it’s difficult to hear anything when that thing’s going round. Having said that, I hope they don’t oil it – it produces a wonderful sound, very mournful.

Wind pump - Wheldrake Ings, North Yorkshire

Near the Riverside Hide we saw two Hobby, catching insects overhead, and we watched a single Common Tern from the Pool Hide. We didn’t hear any Quail – another speciality of this reserve – but it was a little early in the year for these.

Swantail Hide - Wheldrake Ings, North Yorkshire

The Swantail Hide overlooks the lowest (and wettest) part of the reserve. Plenty of waders here - all Redshanks, Lapwings and Curlews on our visit. Four brilliant Yellow Wagtails pinging around us, occasionally resting on fence posts (although none for long enough for me to get a decent digiscoped image).

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