Wednesday, 6 July 2016

30 Days Wild day 16- Askham Bog

Back at the end of May, before 30 Days Wild had even got started, I got a tweet from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust recommending a visit to Askham Bog nature reserve on the outskirts of York. It wasn't somewhere I knew anything about before, but on seeing that you could get there by bus from town, I decided it was somewhere I would have to visit!
So on the 16th me and my housemate Derek caught the bus and went off to explore. The journey was an adventure in itself; a misunderstanding about the bus route meant we spent 20 minutes trying to escape from a supermarket car park, and our walk was about twice as long as it should have been. But we got to Askham Bog in the end, and it was definitely worth the journey!

It's a brilliant nature reserve; a patchwork of woodland, meadow and bog, with a large, circular path around it. The signs and information boards invite you to go off the raised wooden walkways in certain places, which I really liked. Unfortunately the rain of the previous few days meant that these tracks were just too muddy for us to navigate in the shoes we were wearing. Hopefully I'll be able to go back when it's a little drier to properly explore.

Even restricted to the boardwalks, there were huge amounts of wildlife. Every 50 metres there would be a squirrel on the path. Several times they were so unconcerned by us being there that, walking slowly, we were able to follow them down the path for 5 minutes at a time.

The air was full of bird song. I've spent the past couple of years trying to learn bird calls, in a fairly haphazard way, However, on my Tanzania field trip over Easter, I saw just how useful a tool knowing bird song can be, so I decided to properly pay some attention to it. There was a bird calling from a stand of willow just off the path, which sounded like a chiffchaff. Comparing it to the recording on the RSPB website, we found out that we'd been right, and it had indeed been a chiffchaff. It was so hidden by the vegetation, we'd never have been able to see it well enough to identify it otherwise.

A little bit further along the path, we came to a wetter area of meadow, with a channel at the far end full of reads. And perched within it was a bird. It was small and nondescript, a proper 'little brown job'. But it was beautiful in a delicate sort of way, and it was singing constantly and loudly. I hadn't seen anything like it before. Something in the back of my mind about the strange, almost mechanical song said warbler, so again, we went onto the RSPB website in search of something which looked, and more importantly sounded, the same. We found it in the end- a sedge warbler.

There's also a pond at Askham Bog, which was full of damselflies when we visited. The board walk goes right up to the edge, and it was great to be able to get such a close look! Lots of the pairs were in tandem, clasped together and darting the the water surface to lay eggs or resting on leaves of water plants. Single males danced around the pairs, looking as though they were trying to intercept the females.

A little further along, we startled a great tit in the undergrowth by the path. It flew up into a big oak tree, obscured by leaves and branches. We waited to see if it would move into a position where we could get photographs. This didn't happen, but it did lead us to a fledgling, obviously one of its own offspring, which was following the adult through the branches. It begged for food continuously,  calling and fluttering its wings, hopping from branch to branch.

We had our lunch on a bench looking out over an area of meadow. It was incredibly peaceful, with birdsong and the humming of insects all but obscuring the noise of the nearby main road. Suddenly, an adult roe deer appeared. She bounded across the meadow as if in slow motion, no more than 50 metres away from us. We were both too mesmerised to react. After she'd gone, we turned to each other, mouthed "did that really just happen?" and burst into incredulous laughter. It was entirely surreal.

One of the things I really enjoyed about visiting Askham Bog was how friendly and helpful so many of the other people we saw there were. People were asking what we had seen, and telling us their sightings in return. A passing couple told us where to look for bee orchids on the walk back to the bus. One man, who we'd been following around the circular paths for a little while, occasionally nodding in greeting, actually came to fetch us when he found a deer a little bit further ahead, right next to the path. It was another female roe deer, immersed in meadow grasses up to her belly and, to all appearances, supremely unconcerned to find three humans wielding cameras in her patch. It's the closest I've ever got to a wild deer, and was an incredibly special moment.

We stayed at Askham Bog until the weather began to turn in the late afternoon. The boardwalk may have been a relatively short circular route, but we did two or three laps and saw something new every time. I was hugely impressed by this hidden gem just outside York, and will definitely be visiting again now I know how to get there!

We even managed to find the bee orchids on our way home. The closest bus stop to the nature reserve is the park and ride at Askham Bar, and to get there we had to walk along the side of a busy road with wide verges. They were full of rabbits and wildflowers.
If you want to visit Askham Bog (and you really should, because it's fantastic), you can find more information, including directions, here. If you'll be travelling by bus from the city, the number 3 to Askham Bar is probably the best route, although please check this is still right before you travel. We found GPS on smartphones very helpful to find our way from the park and ride to the nature reserve. And if you're planning on going off the path, wellies will be very useful!

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