September, 2013

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's
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Aire Valley - Fairburn Ings and St Aidan's

  • Wonderful wildflowers

    Although we’re fast approaching autumn, if you walk around the reserve you might notice that there are still quite a few wildflowers hanging about, lending us a few remaining splashes of summer colour.

    White dead-nettle, for instance, can still be seen alongside a lot of the visitor paths – particularly on the path to the Kingfisher screen from the visitor centre. Keep your eyes low to the ground to see this beautiful (and I think quite underrated) flower. The leaves are superficially similar to those of the common stinging nettle, but they don’t sting, hence ‘dead-nettle’!   In folklore, a distillation of the flowers is said to “make the heart merry, to make a good colour in the face, and to make the vital spirits more fresh and lively” – having never made tea from it myself, I can’t testify to this, but it sounds lovely doesn’t it!

    White dead nettle along the discovery trail


    Not only do we have white, but also red dead-nettle! This plant grows all the way along the wall leading up from the car park to the visitor centre – try squeezing the leaves a bit – they smell rather aromatic when bruised!

    Red dead-nettle by the visitor centre


    The tiny yellow flowers of Lady’s bedstraw can be seen in clusters within our wildflower patch in front of the visitor centre. In the past, the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses (hence the name), and were also used to add colour to the cheese double Gloucester.

    Lady's bedstraw in the wildflower patch


    Ragwort can be seen in odd clumps all around the footpaths, and is best known as the larval foodplant of the cinnabar moth. The caterpillars of this brightly coloured moth eat ragwort, which is toxic, thus accumulating the toxin in their own bodies; a defence against predators! As those who keep livestock will know, ragwort is extremely toxic to animals, and part of the work we do on the reserve is ‘ragwort-pulling’- essential so that our resident highland cows don’t ingest any.

    Ragwort along the riverbank trail


    The pretty pink flowers of Red Campion can be seen along the paths of the discovery trail. Red campion provides a valuable nectar source for moths and butterflies in the summer, and in the past the crushed seeds have been used to cure snakebites!

    Red Campion near Pickup Hide

  • Recent sightings: birds, butterflies and birch polypore

    It’s been another action packed week for wildlife sightings here at the reserve – birds seen lately include a bittern at the cut, ravens and house martins flying over the reserve, and ringed plovers, dunlins and spotted redshanks over the flashes. My walks home have been pretty exciting bird-wise too, as I’ve been lucky enough for the past few days to see charming groups of long-tailed tits along the riverbank trail. I also spotted two jays near big hole yesterday, and heard another one this morning!

    This warm weekend means we haven’t been disappointed with our insect sightings either. I got a photo of a speckled wood near the Kingfisher screen last night, and a visitor glimpsed a beautiful brimstone yesterday too! These big sulphur-yellow butterflies are a real treat to see on a sunny day.


    Speckled Wood Butterfly


    This morning as I approached the visitor centre, I saw two large dragonflies zipping through the air – I’m not great with my dragonfly ID, but I managed to stalk one of them long enough to get a photo, and identified it (with the help of a book and Beki) as a migrant hawker.



    This dragonfly is widespread and common throughout much of Europe, and often appears in large numbers in the UK in summer and autumn. This one is a female – the males are a pale blue colour – their dull colouration and distinctive yellow ‘nail’ mark below the wings let you know you have a migrant hawker!

    Given that they’re everywhere at the minute, I thought I’d try to identify a couple of our more common types of fungi as well – you’ll often see fungi growing on dead wood or in the decaying leaf litter layer along the sides of the paths.


    This is birch polypore, which you can see on standing and toppled birch trunks along the riverbank trail. This fungus attacks weakened trees and makes them rot – the fruiting bodies (the parts you can see) appear after the death of the tree.


    This is common earthball, which grows on the ground on chalk-free soils. Don’t go picking it though – it’s poisonous!

    You really never know what surprises you mught discover on a walk through this reserve, so get exploring!


  • A wild and wonderful weekend!

    Despite the weather being a bit dismal over the weekend, there was still plenty to see around the reserve, including some fantastic scenery thanks to the rain!


    Rainbow over Village bay


    Despite the fact that there’s a bit of a chill in the air lately, there are still plenty of brilliant insects around the place to spot. On a sunny Saturday morning I was lucky enough to see loads of Speckled Wood butterflies around the reserve, as well as Small Tortoiseshells, Meadow Browns and Common Blues.



    Speckled Wood and Common Blue butterflies over the weekend


    There were lots of grasshoppers hanging about in front of the visitor centre as well; we’ve had lots of exciting spots from the visitor centre lately, including juvenile Bullfinches, Willow tits and Coal tits, and a Sparrowhawk on the balcony!


    Grasshopper on the path outside the visitor centre


    I was very happy to see my first Kingfisher on the reserve over the weekend as I walked along the riverbank trail – as I only saw a bright flash of blue speeding away from me, I didn’t manage to get a photo, but I was thrilled nonetheless!   As the trees begin to lose their leaves, spotting the Kingfishers will only become easier, so we’ve that to look forward to despite the cold!

    I may be gradually getting over my spider phobia, as I spent ages photographing this beauty after she caught a fly – can anyone tell me what kind of spider it is?



    The latest news from the hides has seen Ringed Plover, Ruff and Dunlin spotted from Lin Dike, as well as Black Tailed Godwits, Pintails and Shovelers seen over the Flashes.

    There’ll be loads more to see on the reserve as the weather starts to turn – come and let us know what you spot on your wanderings!