In our first round-up of recent wildlife news from Rawcliffe Meadows, we can report some rare feathered visitors. Seven Waxwings were seen in trees by the flood basin on 31st January while a Water Pipit visited the Cornfield pool on 26th April. Waxwings are handsome winter visitors to our shores from the forests of northern Europe: some winters hardly any are seen but in other years roving flocks occur widely, often around towns. Water Pipits breed in the mountains of southern Europe but have the interesting habit of migrating northwards (and downhill) for the winter, passing through Yorkshire in very small numbers between October and April. On 31st April, a Little Ringed Plover was another unusual visitor to the Cornfield pool.
The unprecedented rainfall in 2012 meant that little winter wheat was sown in the countryside and vast areas of stubble were left in the fields. For once, there was no shortage of winter food for farmland songbirds in the Vale of York so the Cornfield Nature Reserve failed to attract the large numbers of previous years. However, notable counts in March included 42 Linnets, 15 Meadow Pipits and 19 Stock Doves.
By April it was apparent that we were to have no nesting Skylarks, whereas not so long ago the Cornfield could boast five breeding pairs. They have forsaken the Ings and Hob Moor too, and the last bits of rough grassland on Clifton Moor where larks sang have now been built over. Is this iconic songbird now extinct on the outskirts of York? Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows have worked to provide the best possible habitat for Skylarks in the Cornfield but a single field is not enough to maintain a population. Corncrake disappeared as a breeding bird from the Clifton Washland around the 1940s, followed by Yellow Wagtail in the 1980s then Snipe, Cuckoo and Sedge Warbler in the following decade, followed by Lapwing, Grey Partridge and Corn Bunting around the turn of the century. Obviously our patch of green space on the urban fringe is subject to immense pressures but this bit-by-bit loss of biodiversity is part of a larger pattern which results in a much poorer environment for us all.
Reed Bunting, another seriously declining species, is doing better with at least two territories in the flood basin and another at the Main Pond. Tree Sparrow numbers are low and there has been little activity at the nestboxes in the Copse, in spite of our best efforts. However, several other resident hedgerow and woodland birds have been noted at the start of the breeding period including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Bullfinch.
The early months of 2013 will be remembered for winter’s reluctance to relinquish its grip. Persistently low temperatures meant that summer migrant birds appeared a fortnight to a month later than usual. Chiffchaffs, for example, are usually the first warblers to announce their presence from mid March onwards. This year’s first report at Rawcliffe was on the 9th April, though Cap noted an impressive eight birds singing between Clifton Bridge and the meadows on the 13th. Sand Martins, Swallows and Willow Warblers did not appear in significant numbers until the third week of April. A Redstart in one of the hedgerows on 19th April was an interesting passage visitor, seen by Nigel Stewart.
Butterflies were also late to appear though Cap reported Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Small White during the third week in April. As noted elsewhere, Tansy Beetles were found in impressive numbers at the Main Pond on 29th April. These had clearly just emerged from their over-wintering cells in the soil, where they seal themselves in against the floods, but the urge to reproduce was already manifesting itself. Hopefully this is a sign of a large spring emergence and Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows are supporting Buglife’s bid for a project to restore the fortunes of this beautiful insect.
Up to four Roe Deer were seen during the first half of April. If you encounter these animals, please treat them with respect: on one occasion deer were scared onto Shipton Road, dangerous both for them and passing motorists!
Frog spawn first appeared amongst the ice in the flood basin ponds in mid March and was still being laid a month later. The first Toad spawn was noted in late April.
Amongst our rarer plants, field garlic has been found in two places. This is a speciality of the lowland river valleys of North Yorkshire, though it is easily overlooked unless you happen to catch the pungent aroma of its strap-like leaves.
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