Wild Wharfedale
The Wharfedale Naturalists Society 

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

Send in your records online here

Walks in Wharfedale

 to the Wharfedale Naturalists Society

- and to the wildlife of Wharfedale

Looking forward to

March 11 Recorders’ Evening
March 20 Annual Dinner

Full programme here

Dales wildlife website attracts thousands of visits
Charity brands some Yorkshire and County Durham upland areas 'no fly zones' for birds of prey
Councillor’s fears over impact of visitors on Ilkley Moor
Further delay on Addingham farmland application
Trust to take over running of Buckden House and Ingleborough Hall
Environment secretary criticised over National Park schemes after speech in North Yorkshire

What's that butterfly?

Butterfly guide

Butterflies are back on the wing now spring has sprung! Download this free UK Butterfly ID Guide from Butterfly Conservation here.

Brush up on your ID skills in time for summer!

What's this?

Otter scat

Yes, quite right, that's what it is.

Not just your ordinary dog dirt though - this is an otter 'spraint' - droppings left to emphasise an animal's territory, at a regular spot. These are often prominent stones, or confluences of streams.

An otter spraint is much more lumpy than other dung, due to the type of food, typically fish and frog bones. It is also much bigger than its main rival at the waterside, the mink. Interestingly, it also smells sweet (really!).

This one came from Otley Wetland Nature Reserve, where otters have been seen occasionally. There's more about otters, and a tracks guide, here.

Toad time

Common toad

There's a delay between the mating times of frogs and toads - toads, which live mainly on land, mate a few weeks later than frogs. They mate at night and so the temperature is more critical.

In late March/early April, when night temperatures are around 7 to 10C, toads emerge from their hibernation holes and move to breeding ponds (males walk, females walk and hop as well!). It may be a long journey - some travel miles, over a number of nights. It is at this time that they are vulnerable when crossing roads, and Toad Patrols are needed.

At Gallows Hill in Otley we have one of the most important breeding sites for toads in the Leeds area. Here hundreds of breeding toads have been counted in one evening.

Gallows Hill web site here.

Say what you saw!

Bee orchid

Since its birth, ours has been a recording society, so part of the value of our records is that they form an unbroken series from 1946. Each year's records are published in the 'Wharfedale Naturalist.'

We welcome your contributions. You can now do this via the web site here , or contact the recorders direct, via the Secretary.

Wildlife in


  • Toads mating, at Gallows Hill Nature Reserve, Otley
  • The first butterflies - Brimstone traditionally, or will it be Red Admiral?
  • Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem by the Old Bridge at Ilkley; Purple Saxifrage on Pen-y-Ghent
  • Hares mating/fighting

    More here

Feather forecast


Oystercatchers are coming back to our rivers and streams. They are dramatic black-and-white birds with orange shell-cracking beaks and red eyes. Although the first annual record in our area is as early as January 24th, they can be seen in numbers this month - last year as many as 61 at Otley. This bird used to be a coastal breeder but over the last fifty years it has increasingly bred inland, and we see numbers of chicks in our area. The heavy bill is designed for mussels and cockles but inland it eats softer worms.

Chiffchaffs can be seen all year round in southern England but here they are mostly summer visitors. There are probably as many Chiffchaffs around now as there ever have been, national success which is mirrored in our own area. It is often confused with the very similar Willow Warbler - until it sings its distinctive song. It is also less bright in colour but the legs are darker. The distinctive tail-wagging movement is also a useful diagnostic feature.

Plants now

Wood anemone

The year is turning and perhaps we can say goodbye to the snow. Now the Windflower, the Wood Anemone, begins to push up in Middleton and other woods. It is a star-bright plant, illuminating the woodland floor in carpets which result from its spreading by rhizomes. As with many woodland plants, it grows before the leaves on the trees denies it light. The 'petals' are really sepals and are pale rose beneath. They close quickly if threatened by rain and were believed to open only in the wind. Since the wind was believed to fertilise animals, this was rather immodest and the plant is also associated with wantonness.

About the same time Lesser Celandine opens its golden flowers. Its heart-shaped leaves sometimes carry white marks. In the sixteenth century it was known as 'Figwort' - the cure for the figs, or piles. It was also used to cure the 'King's Evil', or scrofula. It has been used in recent years as a skin cleanser.

Nature Notes
by Society members
featured in Wharfedale Newspapers

Nest time

It’s definite. Blue tits have adopted our nest-box, and keep ducking in and out in the most promising manner. Over the years our box has usually been occupied. However, last year was we thought no-one had moved in. We were wrong. When I came to scald out the box at the end of the season to get rid of parasites, I found an almost completed cup, moulded together from moss, bits of grass, unidentifiable fur and scraps of feather. A pair of great tits had obviously been busy, yet, although the box is in sight of both dining and sitting room windows, we’d never seen them at it.

Birds are, understandably, extremely wary when nest building, avoiding the surveillance of both predators and bird watchers alike. Just wait till leaves fall or we cut the hedge at the end of the season. It’s amazing how often we find songbirds’ nests cunningly concealed within. And how beautiful they are! Designed to keep the eggs together, warm and safe, these cups of moss, grass, hair, feathers and, in the case of long-tailed tits, cobwebs, are woven together and moulded into shape so quickly and so secretly, veritable works of art. I remember watching chaffinches putting the finishing touches to their nest built into a fold of a tree branch over the river. The female was nestling into it, wriggling gently to perfect the shape as the male added touches of grey lichen to complete the camouflage.

Of course, not all birds need to be so secretive. Rooks are noisily busy now, protected from predators in their treetop rookeries with all those sharp eyes. Their vigilance is mainly needed to protect their sticks from thieving neighbours! And not all birds make such elaborate structures: the bulky wood pigeon’s nest is a flimsy affair of twigs on which its two glossy white eggs are balanced. They’ll be there now, I guess. Pigeon eggshells are usually the first I find, blowing over the garden in late March.

Whatever their habits, this is a busy and stressful time for birds. We can help – by keeping clear of nest sites and, perhaps, offering materials. Birds are great opportunists: long-tails scour our window frames for cobwebs and see the headless pigeon corpse on the lawn as a useful source of feathers. So – combings from pets, fluff from dusters, a little softened clay if it gets dry – every little helps!

More Nature Notes articles here .

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