So here we are at the end of October – and it feels like we are stuck in some sort of time loop – facing a four week lockdown again. Sadly the weather won’t be as good as last spring, but let’s enjoy any dry days during the autumn months, with some brisk walks and happy wildlife spotting (or – more likely – improve on our garden birds list from the kitchen window!). This is a summary of your best wildlife sights during August, September and October, from both our TDEG group Facebook page and our web site .
I’ve tried to summarise both any wildlife news, and list all the species mentioned in the list alongside (or below, if you are on your phone). I have not repeated those we mentioned in the last lists for both the spring and the summer. I will do a complete list for 2020 at year’s end.
As mentioned in the summer blog, we have to start with the most amazing visitor to our area for many years – Vigo, the bearded vulture. After spending many weeks in Derbyshire (including a brief flight along Cressbrook Dale), Vigo began to head south in September, spending a week or so in the East of England near Peterborough.
It was particularly interesting to hear that the Vulture Conservation Foundation had managed to obtain two feathers and tested the DNA in these for information. Vigo is a girl! She is a one year old bird from a wild nest in the French Alps.
Vigo finally left the country on 15 October, heading over the channel from Beachy Head. She has since been seen flying over Paris and Lyon, and therefore everyone is optimistic she will make it back to the Alps, her home territory. Maybe she will come visiting again next year.
On her journey south, Vigo again flew over Bradwell and Tideswell at the end of September, and some people were lucky enough to see her. The above photo is a still from a video by Steve John Byers (Bradwell Wildlife Group) and really shows the difference in size between the vulture and the jackdaws mobbing her. The other photo is a professional picture taken by John Wall, as Vigo left Beachy Head for her journey back home. It just shows that you never know what you might see if you keep your eyes on the skies!
As summer turned into autumn, there was plenty of action on our bird feeders and bird tables. Several of us were lucky to have nuthatches visiting regularly. It is also worth watching the mixed flocks of tits and finches that often come into our gardens at this time of year. We’ve had long-tailed tits, alongside the usual blue tits, coal tits and great tits. As autumn progresses, you might be lucky to see siskins or bramblings – so keep a look out for slightly different looking finches. Leonie Redfern and Lesley Burke also commented on the collared doves seen in their gardens.
Autumn also brings many migrant birds – coming down from colder northern countries to over-winter here. We often see lots of different thrushes in local fields, such as redwings and fieldfares. David and Gillian Horne saw their first redwing on 11 October, up at the Anchor crossroads, and we saw small groups of both in Cressbrook Dale later that month (along with some small groups of linnets). If we get really bad weather, both fieldfares and redwings sometimes visit our gardens to eat holly and rowan berries (we’re still waiting for some good photos of either for this year).
Another splendid spectacle is the flocks of pink-footed geese flying over us, often in their hundreds, and in their traditional V-shaped formations, calling as they fly. These birds are migrating from their breeding areas in Iceland and Greenland, down to our coastal estuaries. Joe Andrew in Tideswell captured a great video on a bright autumnal day, and this photo is a still from that video.
There were still plenty of wild flowers to see in late summer and early autumn – many of which we have recorded previously. A particularly exciting spot for us were some dark red helleborines and dune helleborines in a local limestone dale less than five miles from Tideswell, in early August. These delicate orchids are really very special and live in fragile habitats – so we’re not providing a specific location here. Suffice it to say that this dale is well known for its limestone flora. On the same day we also spotted small teasels – another quite unusual species.
Autumn, particularly October, is well known as the best time for fungi forays. Whilst our gritstone woodland to the north of our area is perhaps better known for these beautiful organisms (Padley Gorge and Longshaw Estate are particularly good), we’ve also had plenty of sightings in our area, particularly in the wooded limestone dales. I’m afraid we don’t seem to have any real fungi experts in our group and many of these are difficult to identify accurately – but we’ve had a go at some of the following examples (do send any corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will amend accordingly!).
Fungi really are extraordinary organisms. The fruiting bodies we see on the surface of rotting wood and in old grasslands are only a tiny part of the whole thing. A much more extensive system of `roots`, called mycelia, exist underground or running through the rotting wood. These can stretch for metres around the fruiting bodies – making fungi some of the largest organisms we know (and sometimes producing ‘fairy rings`, as the toadstools appear around the leading edge as the mycelium grows outwards). They are also an essential part of any ecosystem and our soil health depends on them.
Other animals continue to delight us. Several of you now have special night sensitive wildlife cameras, and these are really revealing the nocturnal visitors to our gardens. Hedgehogs and foxes have been seen in various locations in Tideswell and Litton, and several people have mentioned evidence of badgers (basically – poo!) near to their homes.
Mention of badgers brings us to one of the huge concerns of our group over the last three months – the government’s decision to extend the badger cull into Derbyshire to supposedly help control bovine TB in cattle (despite saying this would not happen last year). Bovine TB is a dreadful disease in cattle and a real problem for farmers. But many of us believe improved cattle movement controls and farm management will make a lot more impact on its spread, rather than the slaughter of so many wild animals. You can read more about the arguments against the badger cull from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust here . Many of us got involved with other wildlife groups in the area to lobby against this decision, and then again to try to persuade landowners not to allow the cull on their land. We were delighted when Derbyshire Dales District Council joined the National Trust, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, and the Peak District National Park Authority, in confirming they would not allow the cull on their land in early October. However, sadly, it will proceed on other private land. By the time you read this, the cull will have finished for this year, and up to 3000 badgers will have been killed in Derbyshire. Even worse – it is likely that the cull will be an annual event for years to come.
In more encouraging news, several of you have reported seeing bats in the local area, particularly behind Queen Street, on Pursglove Road and at Townhead. The very small, and more common, pipistrelle bats are likely to be the ones seen in our gardens. But other larger bats might be seen along the limestone dales in the area, particularly over water. If anyone gets a bat detector for Christmas, we might be able to bring you more information on our local bats!
There was also another sighting of a slow worm, this time near Litton Mill, and two common toads seen in gardens in Tideswell.
As the months go by, fewer moths and butterflies will be seen on the wing – although several do hibernate and occasionally re-emerge on warmer days. But it was great to see this splendid elephant hawk moth caterpillar – up on the Church Lane allotment of Nicky Whittle – we can look forward to seeing the stunning adult moths next summer. And we can’t finish without sharing this photo from Gerard Rogers of slugs mating – weird and wonderful wildlife!
As the nights draw in, and winter creeps towards us, there will be other wildlife to see. Birds often rely on our feeders – although do remember to clean them regularly, as the wet weather can encourage all sorts of diseases to flourish, which can harm many small birds. Other animals also benefit from roost sites, piles of brushwood and bird boxes around our homes. If you are interested in things you can do to help wildlife in your own garden, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has some useful tips here.
Our thoughts can also turn to other things we can do to help our local wildlife. After David Attenborough’s excellent BBC documentary “Extinction – the Facts”, we can be in no doubt that we face both an ecological crisis and a climate crisis. We must act. TDEG has lots of plans and ideas in the pipeline to do more locally to make a difference. Our next TDEG meeting on 9 December (on Zoom of course) will welcome Dave Savage from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to explain how we can all help nature recover. I hope we might see you there (on line – if not in person).
Stay safe – and enjoy nature.
Dark red helleborines
Birch bracket fungus (razor strop)
Sulphur tuft toadstools
Elephant hawk moth (caterpillar)