Sunday, 24 May 2009

Wharncliffe Heath, Sheffield (ENGLAND!)

I went to Sheffield to visit some friends and made a trip to Wharncliffe Heath with Richard, to look for Nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus) and bats (I got a loan of a heterodyne bat detector!).

Wharncliffe Heath is a VERY small area of heathland (about the size of a large field) with oaks dotted through it. The surrounding area is a patchwork of old oak/birch woodland (with lots of bluebells) and sheep fields. We walked through the woodlands from the Wharncliffe Arms, in the direction of the Wharncliffe Crags. The woodland was full of Speckled Woods (Pararge aegeria) and some were landing on muddy river banks to drink. Green-veined Whites (Pieris napi) were also on the wing and we found a rather ragged-looking Peacock butterfly (Inachis io).

Peacock (Inachis io)

The Wharncliffe Crags are popular with rock-climbers and are very dramatic. The rocks were baking hot, so we sat in the shade of the trees to eat our lunch.

Wharncliffe Crags
Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea)

There were lots of Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) hurriedly scurrying along the sandy path ahead of us.

Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris)
Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris) mating pair

We walked over the sheep fields as we had time to kill before dusk. Perching on a dry stone wall there was a plump Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa).

Once the fiery-orange sunset had faded, we began doing a circuit of the heath with the bat detector switched on. After about 30 minutes we began hearing our first bats! The sound they emitted was like a sputtering, wet-slapping, clicking sound. It took us awhile to get the hang of using the bat detector - estimating the frequency peak and range was difficult. The bats we heard were definitely one of three Pipistrelle species: Common Pipistrelle, Nathusius' Pipistrelle or Soprano Pipistrelle.

In the half-light we could see Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) circling above our heads and uttering 'tssick tssick!'. This shy bird is an unusual species of wader (Scolopacidae): being both a woodland species and nocturnal.

Soon the sky became pitch-black and we took our torches out. We waited until 10:30pm and then, just as we were thinking about heading home, we heard our first Nightjar! At first the churring was intermittent and seemed to be a single Nightjar but after awhile the churring was coming from several directions. We walked in the direction of the nearest churring but, in a grasshopper-like fashion, the churring stopped as soon as we came close and restarted again further away! Chasing nightjars in the dark is like following will o' the wisps!

It was impossible to work out which path we had taken through the forest as there were so many unmarked intercrossing paths on the map. The path we chose took us a longer route and we ended up walking along the side of the railway line, looking for the crossing which would save us time and allow us to catch the last bus home. Walking through the rough gravel took ages and eventually we had to concede defeat and we scrambled up the side of a railway bridge into Oughtibridge, where we phoned for a taxi outside The Cock Inn (feeling like prank-callers!).

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Balfron to Dumgoyne, Stirling

I got lost. That pretty much sums up today's walk :(

With the intention of walking from Killearn to Stockiemuir, I took the number 10 firstbus (Glasgow to Balfron) and got off at Blane Smithy roundabout. Instead of taking the road to the left, I took the road straight-ahead (Northwards). To make matters worse, I forgot to bring my map.

I followed the A81 up to Gartness where there were many fields full of Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) and Curlews (Numenius arquata). In flight you can see the lapwing's distinctive large rounded wings.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) female
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

When I reached Killearn Bridge I was able to leave the road and have my lunch on the banks of the River Endrick (and have a wee look for Otters!). Plenty of Lapwings nesting here too. Swifts (Apus apus) reeled through the air above, swinging low over the river in pursuit of insects.

Once I reached Balfron it was clear that I had taken the wrong turn-off, so I went back the way I came. Along the way I came across a dead Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) on the road.

Just after Blane Smithy Roundabout, heading Southwards, I suddenly heard the loud peeping of baby birds. The calls were coming from a chiselled hole, high up in an oak tree. I watched the nest hole and didn't have to wait long for a Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) to return. I had to stand a short distance from the tree for the female to enter the nest-hole (she was very wary of me).

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) female at nest 

Further along I took a detour to look at a little forest on the banks of the Endrick which was carpeted with delictae white Ramsons (Allium ursinum), also known as Wild Garlic. This plant is a wild relative of the cultivated Garlic (Allium sativum) and is very edible!

Ramsons (Allium ursinum)

In the sheep fields below Dumgoyne were more nesting Lapwings and, just at the roadside, a loudly piping Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) which tried to lead me away from its clutch of speckled eggs.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Shortly after this I managed to hitch a lift to Milngavie train station, where I caught a train home.