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Welcome to the York University Naturalists and Birdwatchers Society!

For anyone with good observational skills, a keen interest in the world around you and, perhaps, a philosophical nature; this is the Society for you. Natural history and Birdwatching are fantastic excuses for going into the countryside and really experiencing what our British habitats have to offer. We also sample the natural history scene in York. 

The Society's Aims are:

- To promote and enhance an understanding of the natural world.

- To improve birdwatching skills.

- To bring together elements of conservation, the environment, birdwatching, ecology, geography and natural history to create a picture perspective of how our world works.

4.10.07 19:57

Moth Night, Heslington Village - 24th June 2007

Basic techniques to trap and identify moths were tested over the course of a very damp evening in a quiet area of Heslington village. An irresistible sticky attractant comprised of stout, treacle and brown sugar was made up and painted in strips along large white boards. High powered torches were then shone onto them - with the hope that both the moth attractant and the illuminated white boards would attract lepidopterans...

After an hour of so of literally 'watching paint dry' it appeared not to have induced the affects we were looking for - no moths were opting to feed from the vaguely sweet smelling paint.

On turning to natural moth attractors, it seemed that a climbing honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) growing close by proved to be a better lure for moths. The migrant 'silver y' moth (with the delightful Latin name of 'Autographa gamma') was found, feeding from the flowers using its spectacular proboscis!

Plenty of 'large yellow underwings' (Noctua pronuba) were also spotted feeding from the drops of rainwater collected in nearby oak leaves, there eyes glistening like lit matches in the torchlight. HUGE leopard slugs (Limax maximus) were also interesting finds, working their way across the ground.

Moths are unfortunate enough to have a rather negative stigma attached to them. Annoying, mindless, dull are perhaps a few words which spring to mind when somebody yells "Moth!" and points to a black shape flittering about an outside light. However, they really are very impressive and mystical creatures of both night and day - surely worthy of any budding naturalist's attention?  Enjoy them tonight - Moths Rock!!


25.6.07 15:05

Bearded Tits - YOC Talk, June 5th 2007

Peter Short is an RSPB warden of Blacktoft Sands - an intertidal nature reserve along the Humber estuary. He explained how Blacktoft is an ideal and necessary habitat for the Bearded tit (Panurus biarmicus).

An overall description of the passerine was given first. It was shown to have evolved to specialise in feeding from mainly phragmites reed beds (the birds are only found where this plant is abundant). There bills have evolved to not only allow them to crack seeds, but also take coronomid bugs from crevices. Enteric (digestive) changes within their guts allow them to digest the hard phragmites seed with ease.

Current theories on the bird's behavior (such as how they follow each other through the tangle of reed beds which they inhabit) were also given.

Finally, Peter explained how he had managed the reserve for the conservation of the species; creating a 'mosaic' of islands, separated by shallow water channels, aided in the protection of the species nests from predation by field mice.

Despite not being a 'priority species' for conservation at present, sea-level rise in next 50 years will no doubt cause this to change. Wiping out this fragile intertidal habitat and shifting the species conservation status from amber to red.

6.6.07 11:00

Botanical Walk of Askham Bog led by Professor Alistair Fitter, June 4th 2007

A glorious summers evening walk around "the most biodiverse nature reserve in all of Yorkshire". A fairly bold statement to make, but its certainly true that Askham Bog is held in high regard by biologists and botanist's nationally.

The professor gave a very informative and thorough tour of the reserve, much of which was off the designated boardwalks and out into the 'jungle like' habitat of the bog. Having researched the area for many years, Alistair new where to find the most impressive plant specimens.

The unique geology of the area makes for more than ideal growth conditions for plants - which in turn have grown to gargantuan sizes. The Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) stands at six feet high(!) and Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) plantations have expanded like balloons. Added to this, the most northerly patch of meadow thistle (Cirsium dissectum), found anywhere in the world resides at Askham!

Impressive swaths of Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and common plants such as Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) can also be seen along the margins of the university lake. Alistair then finished the tour by showing us the rarest plant on the reserve - the humble gingerbread sedge.

A highly interactive and entertaining walk. Askham Bog definitely established its status as a real gem of a nature reserve. Go get yourself a good field guide and see for yourself! 


5.6.07 12:03

Evening Birdwatcher Walk - Strensall Common, May 22nd 2007

Strensall is a 9 km2 designated SAC (Special Area for Conservation) and is 1 of 3 remaining heathland sites in the Vale of York. Having had previous 'NABS lectures regarding Strensall (see 'Archives', March 2007) it was really great to actually visit the place for ourselves!

Heather and Silver birch trees dominate the area and upon arrival, it was clear from the numerous 'DANGER - EXPLOSIVES' signs that Strensall has a strong military presence. York Barracks lie adjacent to the common and frequently use the site for target practice?! Afraid we were to be dodging bullets all night luckily all was quiet and we had a chance of seeing some interesting birdlife!

Stonechats and Willow Warblers abounded along with Green and Great-Spotted Wood Peckers. There was also a few Linnets and Tree Pipits. Moths and frogs were also largely unexpected finds.

Highlights had to include an impressive view of a Woodlark (Lullula arborea) and glimpse of a huge Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)! It made for a patch of birch woodland however before binoculars could be raised, but its call could be heard mysteriously across the moor as the light faded.

A thoroughly enjoyable if a little eerie evening's birding. Strensall Common certainly has an aura about it, along with some great birds too.

22.5.07 23:04

May 15th - RSPB Meeting -

John Hornbuckle, conservationist and wildlife enthusiast gave his presentation on "Birds of Japan". Since the 1970's John has visted and worked in most parts of the country ranging from the volcanic Mt Fuji (the most photographed area of the world - so much so, 'Fuji' camera film was named after it) to the southern islands of Okinawa.

Amazingly, a wide variety of British Bird species exist there (the Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great tits, Corn bunting and more...), having both subtle and wildly contrasting differences in plumage to UK species.

There are apparantly 7 known endemic species to Japan, all of which are endangered. The skulking Okinawa Rail (Gallirallus okinawae) is one of these and is restricted to the island regions of the Pacific in the south.

Steller's Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) with a wingspan of >2m?! is one of the region's most impressive species - it is also endangered and faces extinction in less than 50 years.

An enlightening talk, filled with humorous anecdotes and years of experience, demonstrated how rich Japanese birdlife really is. 


18.5.07 12:03

Birdwatching Trip to Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire - 11th March 2007

Clumber Park, Fairburn Ings, Derbyshire, random reservoirs in the middle of nowhere - we went to them all in a big day out birding!

The day started with a diversion to Fairburn Ings (an RSPB reserve just south of Leeds) after recieving a phone call about a recent known roosting site for a Long-eared owl (Asio otus). When we arrived, sure enough, no further than 20 metres away was this impressive owl, roosting - but awake - in a large pine.  

After that brief but gratifying stop-over we continued on to Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. The grounds at Clumber were stunning, sweeping lawns, a gothic cathedral and expansive lakes made it an idyllic place for a day out and a fabulous arena to go birdwatching in! After hoping to view Hawfinches but to no avail, highlights included Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Water Rail.

Having spent little more than an hour at Clumber we moved on to a local reservoir which overlooked prime raptor hunting territory. Five Buzzards, two Sparrowhawks were seen, along with a Goshawk in display flight - a first 'life sighting' for many! There was also the continuos warbling of Skylarks in the area which was promising as UK populations have declined 75% since 1976.

We then moved on into Derbyshire in the hope of finding the elusive Hawfinches which we missed at Clumber Park. Having decended on the small town of Cromford some of us caught a glimpse of a couple of Hawfinches from the car window! At least we knew they were in the area, however after looking for them on foot we saw/heard none!

Ah well, a very rewarding days birding with a total of 64 different species sighted - the weather was good too. 

13.3.07 17:28

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