Nature Notes

Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

LOOKING back, 2016 appears a rather dismal year. However, I thought I might be able to find a few bright spots to cheer us as we embark on 2017 – and so it proved. Bluetits may have had their worst breeding season since records began but, the BTO reports, goldfinch and nuthatch numbers are thriving, populations having doubled since 2003, and not just in seedfeeder-rich gardens - it’s true across all their habitats. Something must be going right.

Last winter was exceptionally wet – disastrously so in some areas – but mildness and wetness combined to give plants a wonderful boost. I saw the best, the most beautiful banks of primroses, and woods as full of bluebells as I can remember. And what about the trees? Such heavy foliage in spring, such wonderful and sustained autumn colour and, particularly important for our wildlife, such an abundant harvest to sustain them through the hard times.

One of my favourite 2016 stories came from an Ilkley friend who was walking with her granddaughter beside the Wharfe near the swing bridge in mid-October. It was three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon when they paused and, for twenty minutes, watched a mother otter and her three well-grown cubs playing together in and out of the water and through the tangled roots of a riverside tree. What an extraordinarily lucky encounter. Also – how heartening to think that our river is now a good enough habitat to invite the return of otters and to enable this female to rear three cubs to maturity. All our Dales rivers now have their resident otters. Lovely, too, to think that, where there is no persecution, otters can be so confident as to frolic about near a town centre in broad daylight.

My final good news story is a family one. Just after Christmas our daughter-in-law was driving the family up the M1 to visit us. Passing through Sheffield they heard a sudden muffled thud as a pigeon hit the car almost head on. Sad, but one of those accidents impossible to avoid. As they paused at traffic lights in Leeds a tapping, scrabbling noise was just audible above their heads. No stopping there – but they pulled off into the car park at Golden Acre and got out prepared to have to deal with a mangled corpse. Not a bit of it! The pigeon had succeeded in wedging itself headfirst under the luggage bar. It stared at them bright-eyed for a moment then squirmed free and flew off into nearby scrub. Creatures are tougher, cleverer and more resilient than I ever supposed!