The 5th of May dawned quite bright in Leeds with only broken clouds and a little sunshine, the drive down to pick up Ken was enlivened by a dog fox sauntering across the road in front of me. It looked in fine fettle as it hopped over the wall into the churchyard at St Michael’s. Ken was at the appointed spot and less than 20 minutes after I left home we were off to Barden Bridge above Bolton Abbey for the ritual Dawn Chorus walk along the Strid.
5.30am was the start time and we made good time on the journey, although little in the way of birdlife was logged, we did have a hare by the side of the road as we crossed Blubberhouse’s Moor and then a roe deer ambled across as we passed the Strid Wood car park.
Reaching Barden Bridge, we saw Rob scanning the river from the bridge, whilst Sandra and her hubby Bob, and Andy K were already at the car park waiting for us. We had time for a quick brew before Richard turned up, and he’d managed to get his son Dominic to come along.
Our little party set off down the East bank of the River Wharfe, taking a clockwise circuit to cross the River at the Cavendish Pavilion and return to the cars via the West bank. The early birds amongst us had already had grey wagtail and dipper but the first bird of note for the combined group was a drumming great spotted woodpecker away up the hill side, the bird flew off behind farm buildings rather quickly – I can’t believe it realised we were watching it from that far away! We’d several more great spots during the walk, including 3 birds in one tree, 2 males arguing over a female.
Even though the clouds had closed in, the sand martins were hawking over the river, and we had a green woodpecker fly across river in front of us, a pair of great spots were found on the other side of the river as well. Little else was seen until we reached the woods, within a few yards of entering the woods we had the first of what was to turn out to be many sightings of pied flycatchers, totalling nearly a dozen birds, males outnumbering females by 5 to 1. Whilst walking along the high path we also had views of a pair of treecreepers, a nuthatch that came down to our level almost and a red-legged partridge ambling along the top of the wall. I had a momentary view of male redstart but sadly it was just too flighty and was away before the others got anything like a decent view.
Got to the stone hut and we had a sit down, a female roe deer delighted us by emerging from the undergrowth down the hill from us and we had good views as she nibbled away at the greenery. A siskin that came in to the scattered seeds was a newbie for me (I think). After a suitable amount of time to recharge our batteries we were up and on the way again, Sandra and Bob back to their car as they’d got other business on whilst the rest of pressed on downstream. Rob gave everyone the jitters when he called wood warbler, sadly it turned out to be a very greenish willow warbler. Down by the river we had numerous dipper and common sandpiper sightings, at least 2 birds of each species. One of the dippers was an incredibly scruffy individual, no brilliant white chest at all, just a mucky pale patch.
When we reached the bottom end of the valley of desolation we decided to venture up to the area around Laund House to have another look for redstart, this was successful for all but me, I was the one who didn’t get a look in this time. Still no little owl in the venerable oak tree outside Laund House, it’s an absolutely perfect home for them so why they don’t turn up there I do not know. As there was a bit of a breeze up there we made our way back down to the river.
Over the river and after another sit down at the pavilion we started back up stream. Richard came into his own here, finding possibly 2 tawny owls, first one not far from the pavilion, the second (or maybe the first that relocated) a bit further up stream. The latter bird being exceptionally photogenic, even a duffer like me managed a photo.
Back by the bridge the area that in previous years held garden warbler and spotted flycatcher had only blackcaps and dunnocks today. Not a bad morning even though for all we didn’t catch up with one of the target birds. As Rob had a commitment he couldn’t break he left us at the car park whilst we decamped to the Barden Moor layby and made our way up on to the moor, last year we got raptors and whinchat, this year we got cold and wet, the weather turned against us so we didn’t hang about, a few mipits and red grouse along with nesting greylags were the sole ticks from there.
Back at the cars we all agreed it had been a good mornings ramble, even if no wood warblers had been found. Ken and I drove back to Leeds, noting a 10 degree increase in temperature during the journey, by the time I dropped him off the sun was out with hardly a cloud in the sky.