Nature Notes

By Brin Best

Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society

MY wife and I took advantage of the beautiful early spring weather on Sunday to enjoy a walk around Swinsty Reservoir, in the Washburn Valley.

The calm, sunny day had tempted hundreds of other people outside and there was a purposeful atmosphere on the circular path around the reservoir as walkers, cyclists and dogs enjoyed the March sun on their faces.

Swinsty Reservoir - and the others in the Washburn Valley - are always worth a visit if you enjoy looking at nature, because the variety of habitats present guarantees interesting wildlife observations in every month of the year.

As we made our way along the western shore of the reservoir towards the ancient Swinsty Hall, the sound of birdsong accompanied us at every step. All sorts of songbirds were busy establishing territories following winter months focussed on survival, rather than music-making.

In one place on the route we enjoyed hearing the overlapping and quite different vocalizations of a song and a mistle thrush, the spotted members of the thrush family.

The repeated notes of the song thrush were drowned out by the plaintive phrases of the mistle, despite the latter being much further away. The extra few inches in size of the mistle thrush clearly give it helpful extra song power.

Then, something completely unexpected and exciting. My wife spotted a small green bird near a flock of long-tailed tits and I raised my binoculars, expecting to see a cute little goldcrest zipping about among the twigs in search of insects.

But no - this was no goldcrest, because its white eye stripes and bronzy shoulders were diagnostic of the much rarer firecrest, Europe’s smallest bird which weighs in at less than seven grams. This was the first firecrest that I’d ever seen inland in Yorkshire and was certainly cause for celebration.

The stunning and gem-like firecrest - named after the red and yellow streak of feathers on its crown - breeds and winters in the UK in very small numbers, and in Yorkshire is seen regularly only at coastal migration sites.

As if to heighten the sense of occasion our firecrest, now clearly a male, began singing a few metres away from us, as we gazed on in appreciation from the footpath. Wow!

As we completed the circuit back to the car, chatting all the way about our special feathered sighting, the still water of the reservoir created incredible reflections of sky, cloud and moorland. It was the perfect way to round off our Sunday nature walk.