by Steve Westerman

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

AT this time of year many ground (and low) nesting birds have made their homes in the vegetation on Ilkley Moor, and are busy laying and incubating eggs and raising their young. Most people are familiar with the Red Grouse, but Meadow Pipits are also widespread. They can be seen on both the lower and upper parts of the moor. At first sight these appear rather small and non-descript brown birds, but they have white outer tail feathers that can be eye-catching in flight. Reed Buntings are much less prevalent, but can also be seen and heard on upper and lower areas of the moor – particularly in places where the vegetation is … well, ‘reedy’!

Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs frequent many lower parts of the moor, where they sing from the scattered small trees. These two species are very similar in appearance but the song of the Willow Warbler is more melodic. Also on the lower areas of the moor are Stonechats. In previous years I have often seen them in the area leading from Rocky Valley down to White Wells. However, they seem less numerous this year – perhaps following the fire. Stonechats can also be seen alongside the path leading towards Panorama reservoir/woods, and sometimes in the area above the Cow and Calf.

On the upper parts of the moor (mostly above 300m) there are differences in the ground-nesting birdlife, and Golden Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, and Skylarks can be found. The areas to the north of (downhill from) Cowper’s Cross is good for seeing these species. The piercing, slightly eerie ‘piping’ of the Golden Plover can be heard amongst the heather, and Lapwings sometimes engage in aerial acrobatics whilst emitting their distinctive call.

On the ground, Skylarks blend in well with the vegetation and can be difficult to spot. They are similar in colour and shape to the Meadow Pipit – but somewhat larger and with a crest that can be raised (see photograph). The silhouette of a Skylark has been used on this year’s notices, that are prominently displayed in the car parks, advising dog walkers of the need to keep pets on leads during the ground nesting season. They engage in song flights (the skylarks not the dog walkers) in which they rise steeply into the air and hover over their territory.

Good luck with seeing these species. For newcomers, if there doesn’t seem to be much around it may be because they saw you first. Sometimes, finding a good spot and then staying quiet and still for 10 minutes produces surprising results.