We spent the final few days of December in Leeds visiting family and I was pleased (!) to see that the recent Welsh climate of torrential rain and strong wind was not left behind. As a result long walks were out of the question but we still managed some very nice shorter trips into the surrounding countryside. The first of these was on Saturday evening alongside the Leeds and Liverpool canal where we were treated to some of our best ever Kingfisher views. Remarkably the bird in question chose to perch atop a small bush on the other side of the water, staying there until we were almost directly opposite. The only downside was that it was so dull and close to dusk that lighting conditions were the wrong side of acceptable and my memories will have to serve as the only record. That lack of light became doubly frustrating on the return leg when we were treated to crippling views of two Goosanders (male and female) who were happy for us to stand within a couple of meters of them, albeit briefly. Like the Kingfisher these were the best views I’ve had of this species in a year which has seen them popping up on almost every stretch of water we’ve visited.
In a change of fortune Sunday morning broke clear and crisp allowing us to enjoy a lovely early morning stroll through Clayton Wood. For the first time in several months I felt a rekindling of that joy that comes from simply watching birds as all around us calls and movement brought the skeletal trees to life. Great Tits and Blue Tits were without a doubt the most abundant species present but it didn’t take long for us to spot a Nuthatch which appeared to be digging into an old rotten branch. Initially I took this to be feeding behaviour but the constant calling and arrival of a second individual makes me wonder if this could have been a pair on the lookout for a nesting site? Way too early I realise but with us having such a mild winter so far, who knows. Another couple of Nuthatches were not far away before we were treated to the remarkable sight of at least four Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A male and female seemed to be the most dominant birds with the other two individuals regularly being chased away. Perhaps a family group whose offspring from last year are being encouraged to find territory of their own. Whatever the circumstances they seemed oblivious to our presence allowing a couple of golden (literally) photographic opportunities.
The regular sound of beak hammering against wood accompanied us up to the old quarry where a wealth of Silver Birch hosted a pleasing abundance of fungi. Birch Polypores of impressive size adorned several trunks but it was these Pale Oysters which caught my eye.
Nearby some impressive examples of Hoof Fungus blended almost seamlessly into the bark upon which they sat.
Fast-forward to New Years Eve and another break in the weather allowed a walk along Ilkley Moor. The strong, cool wind certainly blew away the cobwebs though it did make hunting my targets a little more difficult. Fortunately their distinctive calls rang out clear as day and it only took a few minutes to find my first Red Grouse. Ilkley Moor has always been kind to me when it comes to photographing these birds and this occasion was no different with one individual in particular proving very approachable.
And with that 2013 drew to a close. Looking back through the last twelve months I see something of a mixed bag. Definite highlights were new life ticks including a much anticipated Long-tailed Duck at Burry Port not to mention climbing the Welsh Three Peaks for charity and taking part in the Patchwork Challenge. Countering that though were the missing few months where everyday life rather got in the way and thwarted my efforts on more than one nature related project. Although we never know what the future holds I have plenty planned for 2014 including round two of the Patchwork Challenge which has just kicked off and of course there’s always my mythical moth trap which will once again attempt to free itself from the dusty confines of our garage. Stay tuned.