Monday, 21 September 2015

Wildlife Watching at St Nick's Field

One of the best ways to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon is nature-spotting, so I was pleased that there are regular opportunities to join organised wildlife-spotting walks at one of my favourite places: St Nick's Fields nature reserve in York. A few weeks ago, twenty of us enjoyed a pleasant walk with the help of expert volunteers who pointed out insects, plants and birds, including frequent stops to look at things more closely or get excited about something a little way off the path. 
The walk was at the start of the Big Butterfly Count, an annual fortnight-long initiative to record sightings of butterflies around the UK, and therefore understand the geographical spread and frequency of different species. Butterflies are particularly vulnerable to pollution and habitat loss, so make a useful marker for the health or otherwise of our natural world. 
With the help of an identifying sheet which you can download here, we spotted six kinds of butterfly: green-veined whites, large white, ringlets, a six-spotted burnet moth, gatekeeper and comma. We also found a huge southern hawker dragonfly resting on a tree (which dragonflies often do soon after hatching until their wings are dry). We saw and heard birds too: a black-headed gull, a greenfinch, a bullfinch sitting by the beck, a young dunnock, collared doves and woodpigeons.
The real highlight of the walk for me was seeing a family of water voles. Water voles are an endangered species, and I have read plenty of ecology reports for construction sites which have looked for potential water vole habitats, but until that day I had never seen one. Twenty minutes spent quietly watching next to Tang Hall Beck was enough to see several voles come out of their holes, go for a swim or walk around their various burrows. It was one of the most beautiful things I'd seen, and it's great to know that a beck that was once polluted by industry with no space for wildlife is now providing a much needed habitat to water voles.

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