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Wild Rosedale

Rosedale is a wild and rugged landscape and is teeming with wildlife. In this section you will find posts relating to nature and events that celebrate our rich countryside.

Bounty of berries for Redwings

The yews and holly in our churchyard are full of berries and redwings are taking full advantage during the cold weather. Redwings are a winter migrant and arrive here during October and November. They are the smallest of the UK true thrushes and are identified by the distinctive cream stripe above the eye and an orange-red flank patch. Easily disturbed but a little patience and they can be seen plucking and eating the red yew berries. Updale Natural History Recorder

The redwing is smaller than the song thrush

Redwing feeding on yew berries

Look out for woodcock

Sad to see a roadkill woodcock on an early morning walk but a chance to study the extraordinary plumage of this beautiful wader. Woodcocks breed here in Rosedale but during Autumn and Winter numbers are bolstered by an influx from abroad. The woodcock is similar to the snipe with a very long bill but it is slightly larger and russet-brown with short legs and a barred crown. Woodcock live in marshland and damp wooded areas and can sometimes flush from ditches. They are perfectly camouflaged in leaf litter with their mottled feathers and often go undetected. Woodcocks are nocturnal, spending the day resting up and at night feeding in the open, mainly on worms. To see and hear a male woodcock’s display flight called roding in Spring is another of nature’s delights Updale Natural History Recorder

Woodcock’s crown barring from ear to ear

Woodcock’s distinctive long bill

Perfectly mottled feathers of woodcock’s back

Woodcock tail feathers

Long-eared owl winter roost 2015-16

In Rosedale we have a healthy population of both Barn owls and Tawny owls and we get occasional glimpses of Short-eared owls over the moor but when a Long-eared owl decided to make our dale its winter roost in 2015/16 it was a very special time. It was observed for over two months on a regular basis hunting in rough pasture with plenty of gorse thickets and a thick hawthorn hedge making for a good roost site.

The Long-eared owl was first noticed on 23 November 2015 at 3.30pm when it was quartering the rough pasture at the same time as a Barn owl and a Kestrel. Immediately it was clear there was a noticeable difference between the two owls, one being darker than the other but light conditions were not good. It was a few day later when it was confirmed that the darker owl was indeed a Long-eared owl; the orange eyes and ear tufts unmistakable.

Orange eyes and ear tufts visible as the Long-eared owl sits on the bow perch

It became a routine, each afternoon a walk out to see if it would make an appearance and it didn’t disappoint. On average every couple of days the Long-eared owl was seen quartering the rough pasture from mid – late afternoon as the light began to fade, settling at times on the ground, on a fence post or branch of gorse or low down in a hawthorn tree. It would make spectacular flights, low to the ground, back and forth, coming close to the fence. Occasionally it would hover only briefly but beautiful to watch. It was not always obvious to see. At times a good scan of the ground and thickets with binoculars would locate it just sitting there perfectly camouflaged content to watch the world go by. On one occasion in late December the weather was poor with light intermittent rain and the Long-eared owl lifted from the fence flying towards the edge of the gorse thickets where it tucked itself close in on the ground. It remained there visible for over an hour. Meanwhile, a Barn owl continued to quarter the pasture and a Kestrel appeared. The Long-eared owl watched on as the Barn owl dropped on a vole and lifted off with its quarry. The Kestrel swooped in to steal the Barn owl’s prey, attacking mid-air. Both locked talons and went to ground. A tussle and it was over, the Kestrel flew off triumphant, the Barn owl robbed of its meal only to have to start again. And the Long-eared owl – it just continued to look on about 30m away.

Many times the Long-eared owl was observed dropping to the ground, folding its wings at the last minute to catch prey but only once was it seen with actual prey. On taking its quarry, likely as not a vole, it took a short flight and dropped to the ground. It opened its wings and hunched over, mantling its prey before swallowing it whole. It made another short flight to a well used bow perch on the edge of the gorse and preened itself, full and content.

On 14 January 2016 it was an absolute delight to see the Long-eared owl quartering the rough pasture at 7.35am. It was flying low and dropping regularly to the ground into a fair covering of snow. This was the first sighting of it at dawn.

Perched in hawthorn

On a bright and sunny afternoon in January with the ground covered in snow there was a Kestrel, two Magpies and a Barn owl at the far end of the rough pasture but the Long-eared owl was nowhere to be seen. Just as all hope of seeing it was fading it appeared straight out of the hawthorn hedge. It came out at speed like a bullet and straight in to hunting. Talk about making an entrance.

Alas, it couldn’t last for ever. On 31 January 2016 it appeared at 3.20pm quartering the rough pasture in light rain. It landed a few times as it worked its way along the pasture and beyond. It was gone and this was to be the last sighting.

A few days later it was clear the Long-eared owl had left the area and a search around the bow perch revealed four pellets. Pellets regurgitated by Long-eared owls are light grey and slightly smaller than those of Barn owls. Analysis of the four pellets by Derek Capes of Great Ayton revealed skeletons of seven Field voles and one Wood mouse.

Grey pellets of Long-eared owl made up of fur and bones of Field voles and Wood mouse

The rough pasture was also hunted regularly by at least three different Barn owls and a Kestrel and on 10 January 2016 there were two Common buzzards, a Barn owl, a Kestrel and the Long-eared owl all in the pasture. On another occasion the Long-eared owl and a Barn owl were quartering in the pasture whilst a Tawny owl could be heard calling lower down in the dale. What a great dale we live in and such a privilege to have been in the company of a Long-eared owl that winter.

Just a few facts:

The Long-eared owl is our only true nocturnal owl.

Long-eared owls don’t have long ears. The long feather tufts on the top of the head just look like ear tufts. Ears of owls are where you would expect, at each side of their facial disc.

In winter there is an influx of Long-eared owls in to the UK from the Continent and they roost communally favouring hawthorn and scrubland. Long-eared owls do breed in the UK but numbers are limited.

Long-eared owls are associated with coniferous woodland and scrub habitats during the breeding season and adopt old stick nests like those of crows. They establish breeding territories in February ready to start breeding in March and April. Perhaps it was time this Long-eared owl left to start its journey home to breed. Updale Natural History Recorder

A fascinating study of barn owl pellets reveals harvest mice in Rosedale

Ever wondered what barn owls feed on? Well here it is. Barn owls typically eat small prey items such as mice and voles. They swallow them whole and their digestive system extracts the nutrition as juices and forms a pellet with the remains, namely bones and fur which cannot be digested. The pellet, which is black is regurgitated and dropped from the beak, approximately 6 hours afterwards. A pellet can contain the remains of 2-5 prey items depending on the prey. By collecting and studying these pellets the diet of the barn owl can be monitored which in turn tells us what small mammals are present in our countryside. One such study is being conducted by Derek Capes of Great Ayton to establish the extent of harvest mice within the National Park. Sample pellets from various locations are collected twice a year for analysis. Such is Derek’s knowledge of small mammals he only needs to see the jaw bone in order to identify the species. Two barn owl roost locations in Rosedale provide good numbers of pellets and the results, below are fascinating.

The field vole is the dominant prey for the barn owl with common shrew being an important secondary prey species. Field voles are more nutritious therefore less are required. Shrews are less so and the barn owl needs to expend more energy hunting a higher number. Results have revealed the presence of harvest mice here in the dale. Normally associated with arable crops the harvest mouse is also found to nest in long rough grass and rushes. A local resident at Rosedale East has actually seen harvest mice whilst cutting his grass. He has also provided this fabulous photo of one of our resident barn owls. Very much appreciated.

51 barn owl pellets collected in February 2017 in Rosedale East revealed 8 mammal species present, a total of 254 prey items with mean prey items per pellet of 4.98:

90 Field vole
1 Bank vole
16 Wood mouse
1 Harvest mouse
11 Brown rat
85 Common shrew
43 Pygmy shrew
1 Water shrew
6 birds

80 barn owl pellets collected in February 2017 in Rosedale West revealed 8 mammal species present, a total of 397 prey items with mean prey items per pellet of 4.96:

132 Field vole
12 Bank vole
7 Wood mouse
1 Harvest mouse
5 Brown rat
162 Common shrew
72 Pygmy shrew
4 Water shrew
1 bird
1 frog

The next pellet sample collections are in progress and the results will reveal mammal species over the Spring and Summer seasons.  Updale Natural History Recorder

Resident barn owl in Rosedale

Bones of field voles and wood mouse from a pellet

Barn owl pellet

Flora n fauna braving the elements

Devil’s bit scabious Succisa pratensis is a late flowerer and still showing in our roadside verge at Battlings Hill, Rosedale.  Insects, like honey bees take full advantage of late nectar supplies.  Close up, the flower is like a pincushion, delightful mix of mauve n pinks Updale Natural History Recorder

Honey bee nectaring on Devil’s bit scabious

Welcome colour in our roadside verges

Autumn in our hedgerows

A real autumnal feel walking through the dale this weekend.  Birds and mammals taking full advantage of the seasonal bounty along our hedgerows.  Hazels Corylus avellana full of cobnuts and Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus laden with shiny red berries.  Good to be out.  Updale Natural History Recorder

Hazel cobnuts

Guelder rose berries

Stunning male Redstart

The redstart is a stunning bird, both the male and female have a striking red tail which constantly quivers. The female is predominantly brown but the male is grey with a black face, white crown and red breast. It is a migrant bird, coming here to breed in the Spring and Summer. Rosedale seems to have had a good number here this year. This male bred up on the old railway line on the east side and is still being seen along with its juveniles Updale Natural History Recorder

Male redstart

Striking red tail

Silent on the wing

Young Barn owls are in the process of fledging now.  They will have been coming out of their nests over the last few weeks, flexing their wings whilst waiting for the adults to return with food.  Not only do Barn owls nest in barns and purpose built owl boxes but they also use hollows in trees.  Barn owl feathers are not waterproof so they don’t fly and hunt in the rain and therefore you are more likely to see them quartering fields during the day if it has rained all night.  Rosedale has a good population of barn owls and barn owl boxes are always welcome to encourage them to stay.  Updale Natural History Recorder

Barn owl at entrance to nest in hollow of tree


A late flowerer, Sneezewort Achillea ptarmica is found in damp grassy areas. It’s delicate pale colouring is delightful to see in rough grassy areas. And yes, it’s strong smell is known to cause sneezing. It’s dried leaves were once used as snuff to clear the head! Updale Natural History Recorder


Beware the dangers of Hogweed

Hogweed is a very common roadside verge umbellifer in flower during the height of summer but can flower all year round. People, particularly children should be aware of the dangers of this plant. Last week our caretaker, Annie Wilkinson was strimming a verge in Thorgill for road safety reasons and strimmed Common hogweed Heracleum sphondylium. The sap from the plant sprayed on to her arm and caused serious and extensive blistering which subsequently required medical attention. On the sunny day the reaction was made worse because the skin is hypersensitive in bright sunlight. Common hogweed isn’t much more than 2m tall and the stem no more than 5cm thick.

There is the possibility the hogweed could be Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum and whilst this should not be ruled out completely examination of the plant suggests this unlikely.

Giant hogweed, which is usually found along river systems but not always, has been in the press recently due to its aggressive and invasive spread through the countryside and like Common hogweed contains the harmful sap. However, Giant hogweed is a much greater danger as reaction to its irritant chemicals in the sap is more severe. Even just brushing against the bristles on the stem or leaves can cause severe skin irritation and getting sap in the eyes can cause blindness. Giant hogweed is a huge plant, growing well over 3m tall with very large flower heads and thick stems of over 10cm. There is a really useful guide to identification of Giant hogweed under Species information at nonnativespecies.org. Whether it is Common hogweed or Giant hogweed exercise extreme caution or stay well clear. Updale Natural History Recorder

White flower heads of Common hogweed

Full plant of Common hogweed standing about 1.6m