Tranquil woodland in the heart of Skipton

© Skipton Town Council 2016

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A Year in the Life of the Wilderness




Rod visited the Wilderness, often in the early morning, usually weekly and  mainly on a Friday. These are his observations:



A Happy New Year to all involved in the Wilderness Project. A walk out with Kieran, the new Conservation Officer for the Wilderness. As we strolled through, chatting about bird and bat boxes, flora and fauna still looking and listening for the wildlife, it happened – my first ever kingfisher, where we had crossed the stepping stones onto the other bank. A brilliant flash of blue came up the beck.  Wow! What a start to the New Year. We walked on to the bridge, and just like waiting for bus, along came another first – a dipper passed and flew up the beck. Who knows what this year will bring? A rarity perhaps. You never know with Nature.


10 JANUARY Dry after gale force wind yesterday. Blue, great and coal tits moving through the trees. Kingfisher flew up the beck again – fantastic!



Very cold week. Winter really here now. Lots of blackbirds turning over the leaves. Robins singing, also dunnocks in fine voice.  Snow forecast so next week will be hard for the wildlife.



Snow still on the hills. Melted here, very wet underfoot. Lots of leaf litter for black birds, robins and thrushes to turn over. Watching two brown rats along the beck. There have been quite a few around this winter. The cold will make them look for food, and Christmas and New Year with more waste by wheelie bins, makes this an ideal time to be scavenging.



Very cold week. Great time to track wildlife when there’s snow on the ground. Lots of heron tracks, and ducks’. Easy to tell with webbed feet. Small tracks near the paths of blackbirds and robins. Also very distinctive tracks where the grey squirrels are on the ground.



Frost on the ground. Snowdrops peeking through. Wrens searching for insects. Good activity around the nest boxes. Any warm weather or a rise in temperature will see blue or great tits choose their boxes for this season.



Not as cold this week yet nice and dry, feeling more like spring is just around the corner. Dunnocks in fine voice. Lots of blue, great and coal tits moving through the trees. Nice view of a gold crest flitting about, wrens and robin calling. Starling in great voice. Varied song, bubbling in parts. Great mimics as well, one using an oyster catcher call note.



Dry morning after the heavy rain yesterday. Mistle thrush singing from top of trees. The three birds calling and chattering sounds like an old football rattle used at matches. Very distinctive.



Dry crisp morning, sun breaking through. A bit wet underfoot after two days of rain. Blackbird in great voice and starlings calling from roofs of houses nearby. Wrens in the ivy, searching for spiders. Robins calling and plenty of blue and great tits foraging. As I am leaving five oyster catchers flew over, heading back to their breeding grounds up the valley.



Cold start to the week but spring is here now. And the iconic sound of spring in the Dales, the bubbling cry of the curlew flying over. Song thrushes and mistle thrush in great voice, to different sounds, the first with lots of phrases and the mistle thrush sounds a bit similar to the blackbird.



A cold wet week – last throws of winter? Early nesting birds will struggle as temperatures drop and heavy rain soaks the leaves and ground. Robin singing and songthrush in great voice. Blue and great tits busy, with starling calling and rook flying overhead.



Snow drops going over now as other spring bulbs rush through. Dunnocks, robins, blackbirds, starlings, song thrush. Blue and great tits, wrens, all singing in the morning sunshine – spring in full flow. Dipper feeding in the faster flow of the beck, and great spotted woodpecker looking for grubs on the tree trunks.



Another sound of spring as I enter the Wilderness walk, first chiff-chaff of the year. Small olive brown bird. Did breed here once but now drops in, sings a repetitive two-note song as the name implies, and moves on to a better stand of trees, with more under-storey, Bolton Abbey perhaps.



Easter weekend. Good Friday: After a cold week, a walk in the rain. A heron n the beck, fishing. A dipper flying through. Lots of small birds searching for food. Birds singing although it is raining. But this dawn chorus really kicks in this month and next.



What a week of fantastic weather. Lots of warm spring sunshine. Tree buds coming through. More birds singing. First swallow over the trees. Peacock, comma and orange tip butterflies emerging. On the ground, queen bumble bees emerging from holes in the ground.



Spring is in full flow, birds, butterflies and flowers. Leaves and buds on trees. Lots of bees and insects. A great time to be out listening to bird song and looking at the flora and fauna. House sparrows chirping, starlings, thrushes, robins and wrens in full voice. Lots of birds gathering nesting material.



Another superb week of spring weather. Great time to get out early and listen to birdsong. Robins, wrens, song thrush, blackbird, dunnock and blue and great tits all in fine voice. Starlings from the chimney pots – we are very lucky to be able to listen to Nature’s radio. Butterflies emerging all around, small whites, green veined whites, orange tips, peacock, comma, speckled wood, tortoiseshell.



A new month but a wet week predicted for the start of May. More buds and leaves – the canopy and understorey in full growth now. A few bluebells here but in most woods the carpet is spectacular at this time. Great and blue tits in and out of nest boxes. Jackdaws and starlings busy nest building. Magpies sat around watching, ready to snap up an easy meal, a typical urban predator well adapted to life in towns and gardens.



Mixed week, cooler and very wet at times. A very early walk through today, just as light begins to filter in. Robins singing first, followed by blackbirds and song thrush. Black headed gull calling as they fly overhead. The caw-caw of the carrion crow, mixed with the jack-jack of the jackdaws in the background. Starlings and sparrows coming into voice, with blue and great tits calling. Wrens full and vocal, and as I leave the dawn chorus behind, a tree creeper and a willow warbler sing. Nature’s radio is far better than any station on the air waves.


15 MAY

Mixed week, cooler, more like end of winter or early spring. Watching a magpie take out a blackbird’s nest with young. Parents alarming but can’t stop this predator. They will have another brood. Young robins being fed in the undergrowth and grey wagtails feeding young along the beck.


22 MAY

Week cold and wet. Great for the growing flora. The tree foliage is vibrant. Green understorey doing well. More wild flowers need planting. The young tawny owls are sitting high up in a tree – nearly missed them even though they are still grey and downy. If they keep still it is very difficult to see them. Speckled wood butterflies and small whites around with lots of flies and bees about.


29 MAY On holiday Wye valley.



It’s been a cold June after a warm, wet Spring. Back from holidays and the Wilderness looks lush and green. You need to know the bird songs at this time of year as you can hear them singing – or calling – using contact calls, such as the alarm. The young make different calls when begging for food and when predators move through, such as a sparrow hawk. Things go deadly quiet but that’s still a good sign for the naturalist to know what it is about.


26 JUNE Summer here. Butterflies everywhere, tortoiseshell, green veined white, small white, peacock, speckles wood. Song thrushes and blackbirds singing. Nest boxes empty as birds have fledged, but some birds have two or three broods, such as robins, blackbirds and thrushes.


3/10 JUNE - Holiday



Mixed week, warm and dry, then wet. Growing weather for fauna It’s that time of year when birds all over stop singing as the breeding season is over. But today is big butterfly count, so get out there over the next three weeks. A bit windy today but I’ve seen green veined, small white and speckled wood.



Very early walk through this morning. Tawny owl sitting in the trees. Heron in the beck looking for food. A few birds calling but on the whole quiet – but you wouldn’t want to give yourself away with a predator about such as a tawny owl.



Finally this week the weather has picked up but still cold for the time of year. Tortoiseshell, small white and peacock butterflies. Another month and summer’s over just about.  Lots of berries starting to colour on the trees and it’s a shame there’s not damson trees any more, a jam I like.



Very misty morning without cloud – should be a stunning morning. Heron in the beck. Magpies moving through the trees. Family of long tailed tits calling. Swifts calling high in the sky but can’t be seen because if the low cloud. They will be gathering now in numbers before migrating back to Africa shortly.



It’s been a glorious week weather-wise. That is until this morning. Heavy rain making the beck rise, swell and flow fast. Still, it’s a different time to walk and see how Nature copes with the elements.



After last week’s downpour a mixed week of sunshine and showers. Good number of speckled wood butterflies and small white. Summer’s almost over - swifts have gone, swallows, house martins gathering. Curlews calling, flying over to the winter grounds on the coast. Lots of pink footed geese calling as they fly in towards the west coast for the winter.


28 AUGUST France – holiday for the next three weeks.



Autumn is starting, leaves turning colour. Still a lovely warm morning . Lots of butterflies, whites and tortoiseshell, speckled wood. A few swallows in the wood, high in the sky. Birds are coming through their moult and feathers growing back to their full colour.



Mixed week of rain and sun. Temperatures dropping at night. Very early walk as it is that time of year when tawny owl are staking their claim for territory. If you sit quietly, owls will call around you and come and investigate, if you imitate a male calling. This morning I didn’t need to attract a male as two males were having a skirmish through the trees. Not for everyone, sitting in a wooded area with no one else around, but to experience Nature first hand it is well worth the effort.



Mild week – Autumn seems to have stopped before it has started. Lots of butterflies still on the wing. Resident birds singling, robins and blackbirds.



A few frosty mornings - great for seeing spiders’ webs. They glisten and change as the light catches them. Fantastic shapes and patterns across the branches.



Another nice autumn morning. Two roe deer moving through as the light begins to break through the trees.

Mornings are darker now so a good chance to see nocturnal animals still moving around.



Still warm enough for autumn. a few butterflies still flying and bees still collecting pollen from the last blossoms.

Redwings should be arriving soon, usually through the night. Easy to recognise their call as they fly over.



Wet week in Skipton – beck up, flowing fast. Heron standing waiting for a small fish or some other prey item to catch its eye.

Quite a commotion in the trees as several jays are squabbling, possibly over acorn as it’s that time of year for gathering and hiding a winter store.


6 NOVEMBER Very wet week. Beck in full flow. Dipper searching the ebb and flow and good view as a kingfisher flies through.



Well into autumn now, leaves off the trees, very damp and grey. Migration finished now. Just winter visitors to come through depending on how cold it gets in Russia. Could see waxwings again the year.



Very wet and still mild out of the wind for this time of year. Lots of wrens, robins, blackbirds, blue great and coal tits searching in between the showers. Corbies watching from the trees above in case of an early meal.



Cold winds from the north after a very wet week which has seen the Aire Valley flooded again. First redwings and fieldfare flying over today. As it gets colder, should see a few of these on the ground foraging or on hawthorn bushes and any berry shrubs nearby.



What a week! Very very wet and beck in full spate. Wildlife struggling with the conditions. Mallard ducks in the water and grey squirrels looking bedraggled, foraging in the leaves.



Very wet week again. Beck still in full spate. Brown rat swimming across near bridge. Their nests in the drains will be flooded. So this is the time you are likely to see them out foraging through the day. No frost, Very mild spring-like weather. Big flock of long tailed tits foraging in the trees. Dipper bobbing in the beck searching for grubs under the water. Lots of jackdaws calling, with carrion crows high up.



As it’s Christmas, early walk, and the rain just keeps coming. Everything is soaked in water but the birds are still feeding through the leaf litter and in the branches of the trees. Starlings in good voice at the bottom near the bridge and a grey wagtail bobbing by the beck.



Another year over at the Wilderness. Mild winter, wet spring and summer with dry autumn. Climate and weather have their effect on all our wildlife. It will be interesting to see what happens next year. “All the best” from Rod, your wildlife reporter. “Have a great Christmas and New Year.”