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On a wing and a prayer
Jono Leadley highlights the joys of spring.
After the cold, damp winter days we can now enjoy the cold, damp days of spring! Joking aside, the recent heavy rains have brought much needed relief to farmers, gardeners and wildlife alike.
A vibrant green has washed our countryside, with the drifts of blossom making both urban and rural landscapes a visual delight.
Woodland floors are becoming a haze of blue as countless bluebell flowers unfurl atop their erect green stems.
Old hedges and thickets betray their vintage with dog’s mercury and lesser celandines hinting at their ancient past.
Garbutt Wood nestling beneath Sutton Bank and Grass Wood near Bolton Abbey in the Dales are two must-see Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves at this time of year. The carpet of spring woodland flowers at these two places is breathtaking.
The Trust, with the support of many enthusiastic volunteers, spends the winter coppicing areas of trees which allows light in to the woodland floor, ensuring that these floral displays continue.
With all this new vegetation and nectar around it is hardly surprising that a multitude of insects and other invertebrates are emerging. In turn, these small creatures provide food for our resident birds, many of which are now actively feeding young.
Summer migrants are turning up daily, many arriving overnight as they end their epic journeys from far to the south.
Willow warblers, blackcaps and sedge warblers have now joined the chiffchaffs that arrived in March. They in turn will be joined by garden warblers and whitethroats, while overhead, house martins and swifts will begin to appear in the skies over our housing estates.
At the time of writing, poor weather has seen large numbers of Arctic terns moving through Yorkshire – birds have been seen at many lakes and gravel pits across the area – as they head back north to breed.
These birds make journeys of more than ten thousand miles each year, breeding in the Arctic before following the coast down to the southern oceans, some reaching Antarctica itself.
This truly is an amazing journey – Arctic terns are thought to see more sunlight than any other bird as they make the most of the long summer days at both poles. To see these graceful global wanderers floating over our local lakes is a real treat.
Arctic terns face many hazards on their journey, but once on their breeding grounds they also face tough times. Like most Arctic-breeding species, they nest on the ground and hence suffer the unwanted attentions of Arctic foxes and other predators.
While Arctic terns are known for their spirited defences of their eggs and young, whole colonies can be destroyed by a single fox, meaning that the immense effort to fly back to the Arctic to breed will have been in vain.
However, there is a natural balance in a healthy ecosystem and Arctic terns raise enough chicks to continue to prosper.
There aren’t too many Arctic foxes in Yorkshire, but red foxes, magpies and others all provide a similar threat to breeding birds – but this is all part of nature.
A large additional pressure comes from uncontrolled dogs. A surprising amount of Yorkshire birds nest on or near the ground; many ducks, geese, waders, such as lapwings and curlews, and small birds including warblers, robins and wrens.
All these birds can be very vulnerable to predation by our pets.
Besides the obvious threat of being eaten, the presence of a dog mooching about close to a nest site can cause excessive disturbance, leading to desertion of nests by the parent birds and subsequent chilling by poor weather or predation by other animals such as crows.
So for the next few months, please be really careful while walking your dog particularly in areas where there are birds nesting and keep your dog under close control and on a lead if possible.
For the next few months I will enjoy our spring wildlife as I walk my Labrador, Willow, who will be firmly on a lead. I hope you will do the same!