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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Upper Teesdale - beautiful scenery, wild moors, old lead mines, limestone pavement and more!

Any area of the UK that's been recommended to me from not one, not two, but three guys I've met recently as a great place for wildlife and photography just had to be given some 'van time'! The area we're talking about is around Middleton in Teesdale in county Durham and those guys weren't wrong ... I spent an excellent few days there last week, just me and the van exploring the beautiful scenery, flora & fauna of Upper Teesdale. Oh and I had a piece of feedback from someone whilst I was working on Askham Bog .... 'like the blog mate but you need more photographs' .. and I suspect he meant less rambling discourse too but was too polite to say! Fair comment mate, more pics in this post and making a conscious effort right now not to babble on! Here's a few introductory scenic photographs.

River Tees with Mickleton and Romaldkirk Moor in the background

River Tees at Forest in Teesdale, upstream

River Tees at Forest in Teesdale, downstream

Looking South from Middleton in Teesdale towards Romaldskirk Moor

Bowlee Beck, Bowlees
 Pretty nice I think you'll agree, that last pic of Bowlees Beck is where I had a pleasant snooze in the sunshine and awoke to see a Sparrowhawk, one of several I saw during my time up there, swoop down the valley in search of some poor unsuspecting passerine.

Wheatear - immature female?

Ah yes, birds, my first love! Well the middle of August is never the best the times for bird spotting but I had a few good moments with resident breeders. I expected and got some reasonable distant shots of Wheatears .... this was one of a family party I stalked for ages looking for a decent shot but they were well shy. Think this is an immature female but not sure.

Good to see plenty of young Lapwings about on the upland slopes and moors ... it looks like they've bred well after a very poor year in 2012.

Hundreds of Starlings about too, I've noticed that they often hang around with Lapwings in the countryside and they often move around together ... if you look closely there's even one that's snuck onto the above shot!

Juvenile Mistle Thrush

Upland areas are also usually good for Mistle Thrushes too and at this time of year they gang together in big family parties. This one, probably a young un, was one of 26 in a single field.

Juv Spotted Flycatcher, Bowlees

Best of the birds I managed to snap was this Spotted Flycatcher, again it was one of a family group (of 4) and probably a youngster judging by it's tameness. Not the most picturesque of settings but they do like barbed wire fences as launching pads for catching passing flies, this one was taken just outside the visitor centre at Bowlees.

Spotted Flycatchers have declined rapidly in the UK over the past few years but I suspect this has been a good year for them. I had another family party on my way back to Yorkshire nr Riveaux Abbey and I know that they've bred at Askham Bog this year too.

A few other birding highlights of the trip that obviously eluded my lens included a single Black Grouse and a Hobby up at Cowgill Resevoir, a single Peregrine at Bowlees, Red Kite just outside Middleton and a fleeting but pretty special Merlin flying off a fencepost and away on Harwood Moor.
Bit of Flora anyone? No not margarine silly .... wild flowers and the like!

Always good to stumble across something you haven't seen before or you can't put a name to, and having not paid nearly enough attention to the plants and flowers I've walked past over the years (mainly because my head is usually in the clouds looking for birds), I'm finding that I stumble across allsorts of things that require a google search. How great is that ... a whole new raft of things to find out about, and that's without my new found interest in dragonflies, butterflies, moths!

Ok, yes my friend on Askham Bog, I'm rambling again and there have now been precisely 115 words of babble since the last photograph so without further ado here's my couple of flower ticks for the week.

First up is was this totally unexpected flower growing in some profusion alongside this little stream nr Bowlees. It looked so extraordinary, incongruously colourful in an otherwise bleak landscape of rock and moor. Its common name, somewhat disappointingly is Monkey Flower, and its a hybrid form of Mimulus, a native flower of North America.

Mimulus (Monkey Flower) hybrid

Mimulus (Monkey Flower) hybrid


Mimulus alongside a babbling brook in Upper Teesdale
I don't know enough about it of course, but from what I can gather it's a fairly common garden flower and maybe it's just escaped into the wild up here, but whether its an invasive or a semi naturalised species I love it and who can argue with its presence in such a setting?!

Here's a little flower I nearly trod on whilst I was walking a bit of the Pennine Way nr the Forest in Teesdale before deciding to have a closer look. Its called Bright Eye and one of those 'micro flowers' that often get overlooked but up close and personal it's a true beauty.

Bright Eye, beside the River Tees

Teesdale is also stack full of industrial and archaeological history, too much to go into any detail in a mere blog, but its amazing what you see around and about whilst walking about.

Take this for instance ...its an old and discarded lead mine. Hard & dirty business up here during the 19th century but 200 years on, easy pickings for us 21st century photo tourists!

Old lead mine, Ettersgill.
Even further back in time (and I think we might be talking really big numbers here!) here is a mighty fine example of 'Limestone Pavement' .... a geological phenomena caused by the scarring of the land by retreating glaciers during the last ice age some 10,000 years ago (told you we were talking big numbers!). Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales is probably the biggest and best known example in this country but this small area at Whorleton is a good example.

Limestone Pavement, Whorleton

 Whorleton was one of the places that was recommended to me to visit as a place of beauty, I wasn't expecting the limestone pavement, that was a bonus, and being the middle of the day there wasn't much bird action but wow what a beautiful place ....  so secluded, perfect for a swim, and I'd been on the road for 3 days without a wash so why not! 

Whorleton, Upper Teesdale
All in all a very pleasurable and profitable few days and for sure I'll be back now that I know where to find breeding Black Grouse and Merlin. For anyone that's interested this is the general area I explored (just click on this link .....Upper Teesdale) ... and many thanks to Robin Marrs for his hospitality on day 1, showing me around Fen Bog and for giving me an insight into Bing maps ... awesome mate! I'd be doing Fen Bog an injustice if I tagged those pics on to the end of this so will cover it a separate post.
Last but not least, here's the Van shot!
The van, just outside Middleton in Teesdale

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Burton Riggs nr Scarborough and an encounter with a Painted Lady

Still in catch up mode (story of my life!) after laptop crash and near miss of all my photographs. I've now done the sensible thing and bought myself an external hard drive to house all my images - I'm sure most photographers do this but if you don't do it now! All it took in my case was a silly click on a tempting email link and baboom, laptop out of commission ... backing up your data might sound like a chore but boy is it a heart ache when you think you've lost everything.

Ok, less of my gadget anxiety, here's a quicky post from a pleasurable half day at Burton Riggs just outside of Scarborough where I was lending a hand on a profile raising event for the reserve.

Not much of a chance to do any considered picture taking but once again it was the butterflies that caught the eye and in particular this nice Painted Lady, my first for many a year ...
Painted Lady, Burton Riggs

In the same patch of marginal scrub so favoured by the old lepidoptra we spotted this cracking male Common Blue
Common Blue, Burton Riggs

Burton Riggs is a site undergoing some improvement measures under the watchful eye of reserves manager Elizabeth Round and I can certainly see lots of potential at this gravel pit site. I also found out that Elizabeth plays a Kahon, in fact I saw her perform at last weeks show at Thornton Dale with her band,so naturally I enquired if she was available to play in my combo but sadly she has her hands full with them at the moment... the search for our beat section carries on!

Here's a parting shot from the Riggs ... literally as I was leaving in fact - a nice Common Darter conveniently resting on a fence.
Common Darter, Burton Riggs

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The straightforward beauty of Thorne Moor

Cracking good day out with my pal Mark on Thorne Moor yesterday ..... lots of laughs, chat and putting the world to rights in both of our respective universes and as we biked across this magical and thoroughly underrated expanse of reclaimed peat-land we concluded that no matter how much we try to lead a good and worthwhile life in our semi retirement years, its our children and their travails that matter the most and keep us from sleeping too easy. It was ever thus and always will be but always good to share the load!

Don't worry folks, I'm light years away from launching, its just not gonna happen.... no scope for good pics for a start! Nature in the raw has a knack of rendering down the most complex of human relationship problems to mere squabbles in the playground so before I get tempted to launch, just enjoy the straightforward beauty of Thorne Moor!

Here you go .... what a vista!

Thorne Moor is part of an extensive area of lowland peat / bog (nearly 3,000 hectares in size .. that's big!) and is the remains of a huge glacial lake that formed after the last ice age and covered a huge chunk of what is now South Yorkshire.

Go visit! .... its extraordinarily rich in wildlife and a truly primordial place.

Regular breeding birds include Common Crane, Hobby, Nightjar, Nightingale, Woodlark to mention but a few (there have even been breeding Bluethroat records here!). The insect life is very rich with many species of butterfly, moth, dragonfly recorded as well as unique flora. Several species of deer compete with other mammals such as fox, hare, water vole and there are also common lizards (we saw 20 or so of these) and adders in good numbers.

It was another warm and largely sunny day in this glorious summer we're having when we were there and being August the birds were skulking and scarce but we had good views of Hobby, Marsh Harrier and a few common warblers (Willow / Chaffs, Reed & Whitethroats). A family party of Shoveler ducks was nice and a single Stonechat was a good record. Green Sandpiper, Snipe and Lapwing were about too but my camera was once again focused on less flighty beings ... butterflies mainly and here's a few from the 15 species seen on the day.
Common Blue (male)
Small Copper
Large Skipper


Black Darter
As well as those beauties we also saw stacks of dragonflies, most of which I'm still struggling with in terms of identification but certainly lots of Southern and Brown Hawkers (far too quick on the wing to capture!) and also lots of Black Darters which were a little easier ....

The one thing to watch out for and certainly take precautions against on Thorne in Summer are the midges, mosquitoes and other biting nasties, especially the Clegg Flies ... actually quite interesting to look at but by jove do they bite! So if you do visit take some insect repellent and the strongest you can afford!

Hover Flies look as if they might bite you but are of course quite harmless and up close very attractive. Fascinating creatures, fascinating lifestyles and with over 270 distinct species in the UK alone they're a big challenge... so if you fancy a new hobby?!!

The common one in our gardens is the Marmalade Fly

 Got that? Another common one is the Sun Fly and there were lots of these on Thorne and they especially liked to hover round Ragwort petals. I spent a few minutes checking them out and got this pleasing image of one.... slightly overexposed to catch the fly's intimate details!

Sun Fly on Ragwort

Phragmite Reeds, Breighton (nr Selby)
And finally, dear nature lovers, on my back home on a gloriously sunny evening, the like of which reminded me of childhood days, I felt the need to prolong the wandering so I popped into Breighton by the river Derwent. Lovely stroll by the river bank, more butterflies, Sedge & Reed Warblers chattering and the reeds themselves looking tall and resplendent. Walking back up the bank I looked up and saw my van, and remembered a promise to myself that I haven't kept .... to take a picture of my van 'in situ' whenever I go anywhere good. Well I forgot again as far as Thorne Moor is concerned but hey I remembered, so here she is at Breighton!

The van that takes me places!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cracking good year for Butterflies!

As you might have guessed I've taken a bit of a break from blogging of late ... no real and present reason, just general 'busyness', being going through a serious music phase with the new combo and my recruitment for YWT has been hectic too with numerous summer shows, but hey I'm still out there, the camera is still seeing action, so here's a quick post!

Took myself off on a mini tour of a selected few South Yorkshire reserves a few weeks back, including Brockadale and Blacka Moor (nr Sheffield). The most noticeable thing for me recently has been the number of butterflies on the wing lately. I suspect and hope it's been a good year for them after last year's wash out and by all accounts (mainly from the keen lepidopterists from Askham Bog) this does seem to have been the case. I hope you've seen plenty in your garden and not just the common white variety!

Here's a nice Marbled White for starters.

That was one of several I saw at Brockadale nature reserve nr Pontefract and an absolute haven for butterflies at the moment.

Same location and not really butterflies there were hundreds of these Burnett Moths in the fields around the reserve.
Burnett Moths on Field Scabious
OOk, here's a proper butterfly and one that really does seem to have done well this year ... its a Comma, been very noticeable these beauties and I have some cracking pics of some at Askham Bog but not developed yet so here's one at good old Brockadale.

There's been some Purple Hairstreak's at Askham Bog, rare butterflies indeed and I hope to get some pics soon if they stick around but here's my contribution to scarce butterflies ... a Dark Green Fritillary I spotted and captured nearby Ladybower Resevoir in the Peak District
Dark Green Fritillary

Closer to home here's a couple of recent ones from Askham Bog ... a nice Brimstone and a rather scarce Large Skipper (really tricky to see, let alone photograph!)
Brimstone on Purple Loosestrife

Large Skipper

Ok, I'm going to leave you with a beautiful Small Tortoiseshell, another butterfly that has surely done well this year. This one was shot near Stannage Edge, Sheffield but I've seen 'em everywhere this year!
Small Tortoiseshell

Yup, been a great year so far for Butterflies .... what have you seen?

Still plenty about folks so check out you're nearest natural hay meadow and get flutterby hunting!