September, 2010

Dove Stone

Dove Stone
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Dove Stone

  • The Kestrel

    A particular mention this week goes to the Kestrel.  Kestrels are regularly seen around Dove Stone.  This summer has given great views of a family of five Kestrels frequently over Alderman’s Brow as well as some good views of Kestrels from Ashway Gap. 

    One of the Kestrels we’ve viewed during this time has been distinctive due to having noticeable feathers missing.  Kestrels’ moult lasts all year and takes place in sequence;  between  May  and September they’ll gradually lose their main flight feathers with the most noticeable gaps appearing in August and September,  hence the appearance of this bird. 

    The Kestrel is another species that has declined in numbers,  linked to the loss of wide field margins and the subsequent reduction in the populations of small mammals as well as the more intensive management of grassland with fewer areas supporting voles. 

    Image courtesy of RSPB images

    On the upside,  schemes that aim to restore hay meadows and field margins as well as the creation of beetle banks are helping the Kestrel. 

    Beetle banks are essentially  tussocky grass strips or mounds that run around the edges or through the middle of a field.   They’re seeded with a grass mixture of cocksfoot, creeping red fescue and timothy.  It’s this tussocky structure that’s important to spiders and beetles as they can overwinter in the tussocks,  coming out in spring to prey on crop pests like aphids:  basically a natural form of pest control that contributes towards decreasing the need for insecticides. 

    Beetle banks also provide habitat for species that prefer to nest in open farmland away from field boundaries such as corn buntings, reed buntings and skylarks.. Grey partridges may also select these in preference to hedge banks to avoid predators.

    Last word on the Kestrel goes to Ted Hughes:

    Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye
    His wings hold all creation in weightless quiet
    Steady as hallucination in the streaming air
    While banging wind kills those stubborn hedges

                                                                                            Ted Hughes, The Hawk in the Rain 

  • Fungi

    Fly Agaric image courtesy of Ken GartsideFungi have such great names.  There’s Amthyst Deceiver and the Destroying Angel,  The Blusher and Devil’s Bolete.  Then there’s Hare’s Ear and Elfcups.  Fungi are also rich in associated myth and folklore,  the best known probably being fungi circles being taken as evidence of fairy rings.

    Fungi are equally fascinating for their variety of shapes,  colours,  textures and habitat.  From cap and stem fungi ( more commonly just known as mushrooms and toadstools ) to Bracket fungi and Puffballs,  all these different fungi forms represent the varying methods by which they disperse their reproductive spores.  The area on a fungi which produces these spores is called the hymenium and this itself may take the form of gills,  tubes,  spines or may even be enclosed inside the fungi itself.  

    Fungi are also really interesting because of their symbiotic relationship with many plants and trees which benefit,  for example,  from the nutrients passed on by fungi.  Being able to decompose dead organic matter also makes fungi natural recyclers of nutrients.   Unlike plants they don’t need the sun to grow,  having a preference for moist and shady habitats. 

    At Dove Stone you might find Blackening Waxcaps.  This poisonous fungi occurs in a range of colours with a constant feature being the blackening of the entire fruitbody with age. 

    Another fungi that can be found at Dove Stone is the appropriately named False Chanterelle,  being inedible and easily mistaken for the edible Chanterelle. 

    The classic toadstool of children’s books,  the extremely poisonous Fly Agaric is also to be found at Dove Stone and is most commonly found with birch,  pine and spruce. 

    You might also see Oak Milkcap and Larch Bolete,  the latter being common to wherever Larch grow.  

    Many thanks to Ken for the terriffic photos.

    If you are out on your own fungi foray at Dove Stone or elsewhere please be aware that some rare fungus species are protected by law and must not be picked or their habitat disturbed.

    For a good source of online identification check out this link:

    And if you’re planning to pick any wild fungi at the very least invest in a decent fieldguide.  Some species of fungi are DEADLY POISONOUS.  Edible fungi can easily be confused with poisonous ones if specimens are not thoroughly examined;  extreme care is therefore essential when gathering wild fungi to be used as food.  If you are at all uncertain,  show the fungi to an expert and obtain positive identification before eating them or giving them to anyone else who might eat them.  The rule is if you’re not 100% sure what it is then don’t eat it. 

    False Chanterelle image courtesy of Ken GartsideCheck out these timelapse films,  starting with  a clip from David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants:




  • Dove Stone news

    The last two weeks since I last posted to the blog have seen changes in the woodlands at Dove Stone.  The yellows and oranges are really noticeable amongst the usual green of the trees now.  Autumn is really here. 

    We've also seen in this time an end to the Peregrine watch at Ashway Gap. 

    A big thank you to the many people who have visited the Peregrine watch and supported the RSPB.  Personally speaking,  part of what has made the Peregrine watch a really great experience has been the interest and enthusiasm for these birds by people visiting us,  particularly those who have visited us on a regular basis.  

    Highlights for me over the last few months have included great views of the Peregrines on Dove Stone rocks,  discovering that four eggs had been laid,  seeing food passes between the adults and watching the aerial displays between the adults and the young birds as they developed their flying and hunting skills.  For me,  the Peregrine remains where it’s at. 

    image courtesy of RSPB images

    That said,  we have seen some other fantastic birds at Dove Stone over the last few months:  Ring ouzel,  Red legged partridge,  Linnet,  Dipper,  Short eared and Little owl,  Reed bunting,  Wheatear,  Red start,  Raven,  Cuckoo,  Merlin,  Crossbill and Siskin to name a few.

    Although the Peregrine watch is over,  for this year at least,  there are reports of both adult and juvenile Peregrines still being seen in the Dove Stone area.  Whilst some young Peregrines will leave the nesting area in August and September it has been known for them to do so in October.  On leaving their nesting area they will need to find their own territory:  somewhere that offers good hunting but is not held by another and more dominant Peregrine.  Over autumn and winter these birds may visit non-breeding areas such as lowlands and coastal flats,  where food might be slightly easier to find at this time of year.  Meanwhile,  Dove Stone will remain the territory of the adult birds and it’s likely that they will remain resident  unless there is a scarcity of food.  The chances are that over the next few months their hunting range will be greater and there is a possibility that they will roost on another crag in the area.  Watch this space for news.

    So the Peregrine watch may have come to a close but the RSPB's long term partnership to manage Dove Stone with United Utilities continues.   Over the next few weeks on the blog we’ll be bringing you news of how work on the wildflower meadow is progressing as well as news of other habitat conservation work.  Don’t forget there’s always the chance to get involved in some hands on work in our Wednesday work parties.  If you’re interested then you can contact RSPB wardens  or for further details.  There’ll also be news via the blog on forthcoming activities and events between now and December,  including half term activities.   Our next guided walk is this Sunday.  It's a four mile,  three hour walk taking in Yeoman Hay and Greenfield reservoir.  As well as the opportunity to observe Dove Stone's wildlife this walk will take in some of the history of the local area which in itself is really fascinating.  Meet 10.30 at the main Dove Stone car park.. Over the next few weeks will also be having some feature blog posts on the wildlife and habitat around Dove Stone in greater detail.

    Our bird of the week slot also continues.  This week it’s the turn of the Spotted flycatcher.

    Two were seen recently catching insects  and flying back to sit on fence posts at Ashway Gap.  Spotted flycatchers are birds of deciduous woodland,  parks and gardens.  Choosing a prominent perch like these fence posts is pretty typical behaviour for them.  Larger than the Pied flycatcher,  Spotted flycatchers usually arrive in May and leave again around July and August.  Passing birds from Northern Europe can be seen in September,  although we think the ones at Ashway Gap were probably juveniles.  Being long distance migrants Spotted flycatchers over winter in Africa and south western Asia.  An interesting fact about Spotted flycatchers is that they show excellent egg recognition;  it’s likely that they were once a host of the Cuckoo but because of this egg recognition ability this ceased. 

    In recent years Spotted flycatcher’s numbers have decreased dramatically and they now have a conservation status of red.  It’s thought that changes in the annual survival rates of birds in their first year of life are most likely to have driven the decline. The decline can also be attributed to other reasons such as 
    a reduction in the number of large mature trees which Spotted flycatchers like to nest in,  climatic factors affecting the availability of insects,  earlier breeding and clutch size and conditions on the wintering grounds or along migration routes as well as the likelihood of changes in agricultural practice.  

    To finish,  a quick mention that next Wednesday 22nd is World Car Free Day.  If you're interested in finding out more check out this link  For those of you who may not know the Dove Stone area the nearest train station is Greenfield.  It's about a half an hour walk from there down to Dove Stone but there is also a regular bus service through Greenfield that can drop you a little nearer.  An alternative to walking alongside the road is a public footpath that you can pick up at the bottom of Greenfield by the Clarence pub.  It runs along side a brook ( recent sightings of Dipper and Kingfisher ) that pops out at the bottom of the main car park.

    More soon . . .