Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bird Migration Champions

The Song Thrushes have been singing for the last few weeks. Within three weeks the first of the long distance migrants will be arriving from Africa.

Most of us marvel at the annual migration of well-known birds such as the Swallow and House Martin to and from Africa.

Many of us will also have heard of the long migration of some Arctic Terns which winter in the Antarctic and Summer in the Arctic this the longest know bird migration. Many of these and other birds are regular fliers in between migrations, so at least they have some flying exercise before they set off. If you consider the Swift for example, I doubt its migration to and from Africa causes much trouble at all. One ringed as an adult at a nest in England was caught later feeding the same day in Germany having followed a warm front across Europe to hunt for the increased insect supply. These birds spend almost their entire lives on the wing so I don’t see anything particularly difficult about flying to Africa. The same could be said for the Swallow and House Martin.

Amongst the contenders for super bird contenders might be the many warblers such as chiff-chaffs and the like. These spend a lot of time hoping around and taking relatively short flights in pursuit of food before eventually setting off to Africa.

Other birds which winter here and breed in the Artic such as the many waders and the divers also make long journeys much of it over the sea. Some make mistakes and are quite capable of crossing the Atlantic ocean in one go. Again the waders keep their hand in so to speak over winter and the divers at least can take a break on the sea. No, these birds don’t rate in my view.

There are however, two birds which do rate as Olympic champions and are quite capable of making the epic journey to and from Africa without any prior exercise. Many birdwatchers have never seen either two fly and many have never seen them either, but only heard them!!. These two species spend their entire lives on the ground and will fly only under extreme duress. Both are small birds and one is very small.

What are they? The Corncrake and the Quail!. These small birds (the Quail is little bigger than a sparrow) can literally take off one day and fly the whole distance from Africa, across open seas, after having probably never even flapped their wings once whilst in their summer or winter haunts. This is to my mind truly the feat of Olympic champions.

Monday, February 16, 2009

White Rabbits in Yorkshire

As all my friends know I'm a keen naturalist. Because I'm out and about a lot I get to see lots of wildlife and often, rare wildlife. Trish, Bernie a wildlife ranger from the national park, and myself were out on Saturday when we spotted this animal up near the Beck Hole/Goathland road junction.

We initially thought it might be a Hare but only mountain hares turn white in winter, and in any case they do not occur in the North Yorkshire Moors area. Hares even when they turn white always have black tips to their ears. So that meant it must be a rabbit but rabbits don't turn white. This was not an albino either as they have pink eyes and nose. This is a very rare giant wild white rabbit.

The shame is that this very, very rare rabbit, caught on camera for the first time ever, has now become extinct, the first North Yorkshire causality of global warming and the recent thaw.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chaos at Blue Bank

I spent an hour stuck on Blue Bank this afternoon, a well known hill into and out of Whitby. It was chaos and only an inch of snow. Just before the drop down I noticed several drivers stopping. I joined the queue. I was told "The roads blocked". Given that it had only started to snow a few minutes earlier and there was only an inch of snow I just had to get out of my car to investigate and took my shovel with me.

A look down the hill told me everything. Some drivers were carrying on like they were at Santa Pod, wheels spinning & smoke curling up from tyres, a 4X4 stuck in nearly an inch of the stuff. I asked her if it was in 4 wheel drive. "I wouldn't know, my husbands never told me where to stick it". The council worker who was helping me apread the piles of rock salt onto the road made the kind suggestion to her that he'd show her where to stick it. (Don't worry she declined that offer). Most of the drivers who got out of their cars simply wandered around looking like escaped sheep from a lunatic asylum. None did anything remotely constructive unless 'looking at the other drivers' could be included.

Others walked past me into the village at Sleights. "We've left our cars and we're walking home we've been told the roads blocked". Rubbish! I told them, " its an inch of snow and this rock salt will have it all melted. Go back to your car and wait".

Another lorry driver was causing more chaos by trying to turn around on the 1:6 hill and now no one could get up - or down.

Eventually the rock salt took effect and the traffic started to move. one driver attempted to drive on the snow rather than on the grit and rock salt. I suggested he drive on the clear bits which were now gritted and melted. "No way mate - I'm not ruining the body work". And promptly skidded into a car on the other side of the road.

Then I saw my bank manager who'd managed to skid into a ditch and was stuck. "Not my fault! I was coming down the hill and the blokes in front braked. The only way I could avoid them was to turn into this ditch" I told him in that case he was driving too close!!. I got my rope out of the car and my council friend got the lorry and we pulled him out of the ditch. "I want 5% for that" I told him. "You'll be lucky - we'll be charging you to keep your money soon", he replied, as he went his way.

As me and my council friend worked our way down the hill I noted only one other person out of their vehicle using a shovel. He turned out to be an old farmer I knew from years back and was about 85.

Three other drivers couldn't be bothered to wait any longer and over took my parked car. One of these pratts wound down his window and asked us why we couldn't work harder as he past me on his way down hill before skidding into the lorry slewed across the road around the bend. (Oh, yes I laughed!!!! - and he heard me!)

Then the gritter turned up. Of course it couldn't get by. So I helped the gritter tow the offending lorry out of the way. At which all the up hill drivers accelerated and wheels spinning proceeded to skid everywhere but up hill. I suggested to the first driver that he might like to use less speed and not skid his wheels. But he clearly didn't understand instructions and carried on wearing rubber off his tyres, as did several of the drivers behind. They got nowhere. I left.

Luckily my downhill side of the road had now melted enough snow so i carefully drove down the hill with most of the remaining cars following. As I reached the first of the islands in the road a car had managed to skid on to it and was now straddled over the now crushed sign telling us to keep left.

As I passed I gave him a nice cheery smile to keep his spirits up (he was one of three that couldn't wait earlier on) as he surveyed the damage. I stopped to speak to my council worker friend. "I'm not helping him - the boss has just told me to get back to work at the depot and collect more salt"

We went on our way promising to have a drink together later on at the Red Lion.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Skiing on The North York Moors (2)

Another fine Sunday and this time it's off to Blakey Ridge and the Red-lion. Much to my surprise the snow on the moors was still too soft to ski across without forever sinking into the heather, so with my skis waxed up it was down to the old railway track, northwest along the railway. Within minutes I outdistance the two struggling walkers in the snow as my skis run smoothly on the unmarked snow. An hour later I leave the track and carefully pick my way through the heather choosing the firmest bits of snow to reach Howdale Hill (410m).

This could be the arctic!

I sit and enjoy the panoramic views. Nothing but lovely snow. 11 miles to the North I can just see Boulby mine on the coast near Staithes.

Looking south I can see the clouds rising from the power stations of Drax and two others near the Humber. Drax is 50 miles away as the crow flies.

Lunch eaten in the sun.
The temperature is -- 4c but feels warmer. A couple of miles back down the track the two walkers struggle on. Skis back on and its a careful descent back to the old railway line and to Blakey. The 6km back take me an hour. It is chaos at Blakey. Cars and people everywhere enjoying the snow. A quick look around and there is not a single person more than 100 yards from the car park. The arctic is not quite like this!!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

X-Country Skiing on the North York Moors

A light fall of snow lay outside the house. Skis were put in the car and I headed off to Saltersgate in a fair snow storm which covered the road from Sleights to Saltersgate.
The car park was quite full even at 1030am. Setting off along Saltersgate Brow in a chilly wind I didn't stop until I got to Malo Cross.

(left) Plenty of snow lay in the Hole of Horcum

(Left) Saltersgate Brow

A very cold wind blew from the north and much of the new snow had been blown off leaving a very fast surface of old smooth snow to ski on.

The temperature was --3c

(Left) Me at Malo Cross

After a difficult descending traverse on the north side of the brow I arrived at Malo Cross. This cross has an unusual history in that it was stolen from this position many years ago and was eventually spotted in a garden in Pickering from where it was returned to its original spot.

One of the benefits of skiing in the forestry in Dalby forest is that logging traffic create very fast, stable ski tracks. Apart from the climb up onto Crosscliffe Brow from School Farm I was on skis for the whole of the trip and was back at the car just after 2pm covering around 19 km

Oh, and another highlight was seeing my first ever Goshawk soaring above Crosscliffe Brow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A cold walk around Goathland

Another cold sunday. At the car park in Goathland it was around freezing point. We walked down the incline towards Grosmont, up to Lease Rigg, along Randymere and along the beck to the Mallyan Spout.

This village which appears regularly in Heartbeat - but under the name Aidensfield has changed enormously over the last 15 years. The obvious one to me is how some of the shops and businesses have forgotten their real names, such as Goathland Village Stores and now call themselves Aidensfield Stores, even the Goathland hotel was called the Aidensfield Arms for a while. The garage once a real one, operated by someone I went to school with, is now dedicated to selling the kind of tat you can buy at the sea-side.

The village green now has footpaths from end to end as the grass was wearing out, where once it was shared by sheep there are now many cars parked.

Several of the larger houses are now occupied by brash newcomers. One such house, The Stone House now sports a tank and a helicopter in its garden which replace the once mature trees. I've been told by a friend that, "He's a wheeler dealer". Clearly the Dell Boy kind*.

Even on the surrounding moors evidence of increased usage is obvious as there are now cairns built along paths and many of these paths are very, very muddy.

The walk back to Goathland via Lease Rigg was in the face of a cold NE wind and a fair bit of snow. A solitary Golden Plover was seen rather close, in one field. A quick look through my ever present bins showed the reason - an injured foot. one field was full of Field Fares & Redwings. A Green Woodpecker could be heard in the distance.
The old peat cuttings at the south end of Randymere are now no longer used and are totally obscured and overgrown with birch and pines. I also remember on my last visit to Randymere the plantation of pines had just been cut down. The replacements - mainly larch are now well over twenty feet tall. It was a long time ago obviously!.
At the car the thermometer reads -2c A thin veneer of snow covers the road.
* Well it shows you how wrong you can be - I met him today(14 Feb 08). He's local and certainly not a 'Dell Boy' type.