A pair mute swans on the canal have reared four cygnets; we’re told that they started with five, but rearing four out of five is pretty good going.
As they sit together on the bank preening, they’re all making elegant swan-neck movements, like the warm-up for a ballet rehearsal; the two principle dancers flanking the corps de ballet.
A male banded demoiselle flies alongside the canal. In contrast to other damselflies, this one is so dark that it reminds us of the chimney sweep moths that we saw flying amongst grasses in the Dales a couple of weeks ago. It’s the first that I can remember seeing in the valley.
It’s a while since we saw a gatekeeper; a male comes to rest on a bramble leaf amongst the grasses by the towpath. The diagonal streaks on the forewings of the male are scent glands. Males have a habit of patrolling a small territory , typically on the edge of a woodland ride.
Ringlets are the butterflies that we’re seeing most frequently at the moment, mainly alongside hedgerows, especially where bramble is in blossom but even more popular with them is a patch of creeping thistle which is currently dotted with purple flower-heads.
Herons, Storks and Spoonbills
A little egret wades through the weedy waters of a pool between the river and canal, occasionally stabbing at some prey in the water a foot or two ahead of it. A pigtail of a plume hangs down behind its head. ‘Little’ is an appropriate description: it looks petite compared with plump moorhen standing nearby at the water’s edge.
A juvenile grey heron touches down by the pool and steadily ambles along the bank towards the egret, which continues its progress towards the heron. I’m expecting the larger heron to see off the egret, but there’s no interaction between them.
Next to the pool is a nesting platform fixed on top of a tall pole. It was erected when a pair of wild white storks attempted to nest here in April 2004: the first nesting attempt in Britain for six hundred years. Storks like to nest near human habitation but it probably didn’t help that hundreds of birdwatchers flocked to the spot and stood on the towpath under the pole. The pair deserted.
But the good news is that it’s just been announced by the RSPB that spoonbills have nested at their Fairburn Ings nature reserve. They haven’t nested in Yorkshire since the 1700s. Unlike the storks, they were able to nest in peace as they wisely chose the cover of a stand of trees in one of the quieter corners of the reserve and the RSPB didn’t go public with the news until the three young had successfully fledged.
Buzzard and Sparrowhawk
As we walk down the Balk into the Calder Valley, a buzzard flies across in front of us, far enough down the slope that we’re getting an eye-level view of it. It’s surprising how different those long, broad wings look when seen from this unfamiliar angle.
Later a female sparrowhawk circles over the marshy field known as the Strands. At first, against the sky with nothing to judge its scale by, I’m wondering if it could be some larger bird of prey, but it soon flies right over our heads, so that we’re able to see the barring on its plumage and get a better idea of its size.