The tracks through Strid Wood were uncharacteristically quiet on a recent walk, presumably as a result of the continued closure of the A59 restricting visitor numbers. The wildlife seemed to appreciate the lull and we saw the full set of riverside birds. The first dipper was swimming like a tiny duck, occasionally submerging. The second was on the rocks below the aqueduct down from Barden Bridge, a prime dipper territory where the nest can be safely situated on one of the aqueduct pillars.
A kingfisher flashed past, then perched before launching itself downwards, emerging from the water almost instantly to return to its perch, its dive unsuccessful. A flight of five mandarin ducks took off from the waterside, the only ones we saw. They congregate in Strid Wood during the winter, sometimes in numbers, lured by the promise of beech mast. They are hole nesters and it is always a surprise in spring and summer to find one in the trees.
Also spread along the river were three pairs of another hole nesting duck, the goosander (pictured). Both goosanders and mandarins do well along the Wharfe so there is perhaps little competition between them for nest sites. I suspect that both species may encounter more opposition from hole nesting jackdaws and in the past I have watched a female goosander being repelled by jackdaws as she made repeated attempts to settle in a tree.
Female goosanders seem good parents and will carry small ducklings on their backs rather like grebes. It is not unusual to see a female on the Wharfe at the head of a tight phalanx of almost fully grown juveniles, most of her brood reared to maturity. A pair of grey wagtails completed the set of riverside birds, soon to be supplemented by returning sand martins and common sandpipers.
Although still one of my favourite wild places, I do regret the growing popularity of Strid Wood and the consequent closure of the small footpaths that used to snake along its slopes. I think with nostalgia of my early visits over thirty years ago. On returning from one of those, my car was still the only one parked by the Pavilion. I was astonished to find my escape blocked by a police van that had sped across the bridge to intercept me, the officer then crestfallen to find no evidence of my supposed poaching activities in the boot.
These days I suspect that the woods would be too crowded for such villainy and the severely downsized police force might have other priorities.