Nature Notes

FOR the last twenty years I’ve been walking the same route into Otley from my home on its western fringe. That route has taken me along Western Lane, close to Otley Boating Lake, down Green Lane and past more shallow water, and eventually over the river Wharfe bridge, before my ultimate arrival in Otley town centre.

Over the years this has become my most familiar nature walk, and for each month I have special nature memories from this one-and-a-half mile stretch of Yorkshire.

My favourite April memory dates back to the day, twelve years ago, that my walk coincided with the migration of an osprey through our valley. The waterbirds suddenly became restless, and I looked up to see a huge shape in the sky, powering its way through the Yorkshire air.

Even with my naked eye, I knew that is was an osprey, that rare fish-eating bird of prey that I see only once a decade in Wharfedale. It continued its journey to some unknown Scottish breeding site.

Next month will bring back memories of the year I saw a beautiful summer-plumaged little gull hawking insects over the shallow water of the Otley wetlands. It had a dark black hood, dusky underwings and pristine grey and white primary flight feathers.

I knew that May day that this exquisite little bird, the world’s smallest gull species, was a long way from its European breeding grounds. It brought something unexpected and special to my Yorkshire morning.

One of the most atmospheric encounters I have had on my regular nature walk took place on a frosty November day, after a small herd of whooper swans had arrived overnight from their Icelandic breeding grounds.

As I raised my binoculars they arranged themselves in a circular formation and repeatedly lowered their heads towards the water, while uttering their evocative trumpeting calls. Whooper swans have been migrating through Wharfedale for thousands of years; for these few seconds our paths had collided.

I’ve loved nature since I was a little boy, and people sometimes ask how often I go out looking for wildlife. The truth, of course, is that I’m always walking with nature; I never allow myself to filter it out, because life is so much richer with wildlife as your constant companion.

Where will you walk with nature this weekend?

Brin Best