Spring 2020 has been a strange beginning to our wildlife sightings records. At the beginning of March, we had little idea what we were facing – then the Covid 19 crisis struck, and from 22 March onwards, we were stuck at home – only able to exercise outside, with little travel further afield. Many friends in our community have found the crisis extremely challenging, and our sympathies go to everyone badly affected, whether through work or through family illness. But we are also relatively lucky in this part of the world – there are few places I would rather be confined to, and nature and wildlife has continued to blossom all around us. We are also learning a lot about how important nature is to our health and well-being. Being able to escape each day, or even just observe wildlife from our kitchen windows, has been a great way to relax and gain some balance in these difficult times.
I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to contact us via our TDEG Facebook page or via email, to share with us some of the wonderful and fascinating sights they have experienced during this tricky time. You can now record your sightings via our new wildlife sightings web page – and I will try to summarise the highlights every couple of months or so. Please keep your submissions local, perhaps within five miles of Tideswell, and share locations where possible (I will not post the detailed locations of any fragile or vulnerable species).
I have listed all the species you have mentioned to us alongside this summary (or at the bottom of the page if you are looking at this on a phone!) – these are just some of the highlights. This is bound to be a long list in our first record of all your sightings. In later blogs, I will only include new records.
Our gardens are often the best place to see many different birds. Gardens can be a rich and diverse habitat for those birds which prefer woodland edges and other places to live and nest. It is always delightful to see many of our friendly garden birds returning to sing, attract mates, build nests and raise their families each year. The list on the right includes all the birds you have told us about this spring. Particular highlights for us were a goldcrest, ferreting around in our front garden (barely social distancing from the bus stop), and a tree creeper in the back garden. Many people also reported seeing birds nesting in unusual places – such as Claire McKenzie’s song thrush nesting behind their satellite dish. Baby birds were in abundance at the end of May – although many seemed to suffer during the very wet weather at the beginning of June. But people also reported many birds having two and even three broods, due to the earlier, very dry and sunny April and May. Blackbirds seemed to particularly do well this year.
Early in March, Leonie Redfern reported seeing her first curlews in Litton, and we have had good reports of these birds all around Tideswell since then. Often people hear their evocative call first. There appeared to be good numbers of curlew around Tideslow Rake and Wheston.
Whilst the birds in our gardens and on local farmland were all springing into action, we were also able to enjoy our lovely spring flowers.
The woodland in our limestone dales was carpeted with wood anemones, bluebells and water avens in April and early May, followed by wild garlic later. The rocky dalesides were equally colourful with cowslips, early purple orchids and mountain pansies. Tideslow Rake (an old lead mineral working – also known as the TV mast walk) had particularly abundant orchids and pansies this year, including some rare white versions of our early purple orchids. Kath Longden found a stand of the rare herb paris in one of our local limestone dales.
The blackthorn and bird cherry blossom seemed to be particularly `blossomy` this year (perhaps because of the fine weather). But it was also sad to see so much ash dieback reported, particularly affecting the highly protected woodland in our limestone dales. This is caused by a fungal disease ( called Chalara fraxinea) and looks likely to have a devastating and lasting impact on our local landscapes.
Your bird sightings continued to impress us throughout spring. Many people enjoyed hearing tawny owls as they proclaimed their territories around Tideswell, and Joe Walker managed a lovely photo of a baby tawny owl in Tideswell Dale. We think we’ve seen little owls near Wheston again this year – but no photo.
Other splendid birds included Jean Jackson’s grey wagtail at Water Cum Jolly, along with lots of dippers seen along Millers Dale. We have seen wheatears up along Manchester Road and over Summer Cross, and chiffchaffs calling repeatedly in our gardens.
David Horne reported an osprey flying high over Tideswell. Ospreys are often seen in the spring flying over Carsington Water and Ogston Reservoir – so this would not be so surprising. These are all early summer visitors to our area.
And we have regularly seen peregrines and ravens flying over several of the local limestone dales. These species seem to be increasing in numbers at the moment.
Of course there was much excitement in the area as we waited for our swifts to return, in the hope that they would nest in our new nest boxes. The first swifts were spotted earlier than ever before (possibly due to the very warm weather). Previously David Horne has recorded the earliest swifts returning in May, but we had reports this year of one or two around 30 April, and quite a few more by 3 May. Sadly, the numbers have not been high yet – so our nest boxes may remain empty until next year. Younger birds may still return in June, and birds which fledge this year will be prospecting for new nest sites in late June and July. There have been plenty of swallows though, particularly along Manchester Road, and house martins, particularly obvious at their nests in Wheston.
We should not neglect our other animals and insects. It is heartening to hear so many reports of hedgehogs in people’s gardens this year. There have been families feeding up at Townhead, on Sherwood Road, in Cherry Tree Square and in Litton – all good news. Phil Grainger captured some great video footage of hedgehogs for our Facebook page. Deborah Fulford is a keen observer of brown hares, and has been watching them on Water Lane, in the fields alongside Church Lane, and in the Meadow Lane/Sherwood Road area. We’ve also had reports of foxes and their cubs in Litton, as well as badgers and stoats in the same area. In terms of amphibians, frogs seem to do well in all our gardens – and really emphasise the importance of having a pond (no reports of any toads – yet). But it was great to hear about a palmate newt in a pond on the allotments off Meadow Lane from Lesley Burke.
We know our rivers are in excellent condition in the limestone dales around us. It was great to hear from Thomas Eccles that the River Wye is one of the only places in England where wild rainbow trout breed, as well as brown trout and grayling. Ruth Packer also had a freshwater critter experience, when a stonefly nymph crawled up her leg whilst sitting by the River Wye in Millers Dale! Stoneflies and mayflies are all good indicators of streams in excellent health (and also good food for the fish).
Thomas Eccles is also our resident invertebrate expert, and has been a great help in identifying many of the insects seen by others in the area. He is also an artist and has published several books on these animals – his paintings of the insects you may see around this area are truly beautiful.
Ruth Packer found this incredible cockchafer beetle in her garden (it is also known as the May bug), and this striking red cardinal beetle. Another of our keen invertebrate observers is Adam Saunders, who took many photos of a range of beetles and spiders, and saw this green hairstreak butterfly in Tideswell Dale.
It has been an unusual spring I suspect – with so many of us walking out in our surrounding hills and dales so regularly. But these sightings do tell us how wonderful our local fauna and flora are and how diverse. We are lucky to live surrounded by nature in this way. But we mustn’t be complacent. Scientific studies tell us that biodiversity in the UK is still in steep decline. The UK Government’s Progress Report on its 25 Year Environment Plan (published this June) indicates that the abundance of priority species remains in decline. We know we depend on nature for our food, clean water, and climate and flood regulation, as well as our health and well-being. So we must continue to do all we can to protect and improve nature in our local area – but also to celebrate it. Maybe in our next TDEG Wildlife Group summary, we will see more butterflies and moths, as the summer warms up (hopefully) – maybe even a reptile or two!
Lynn Crowe – June 2020
Great spotted woodpecker Black-headed gull
Early purple orchids
Jack in the hedge
Mouse ear hawkbit
Fox and cubs
Orange tip butterfly
Green hairstreak butterfly
Red cardinal beetle
Green dock beetle
Stone fly nymph
Nursery web spider
Black-rimmed snout hover fly