Wednesday, 14 June 2017

30 Days Wild day 13- Heslington East

I spent the day on campus today, and while as normal there were plenty of ducks and geese, it didn't feel like I'd done anything in particular to qualify for 30 Days Wild. So, in the evening, a friend took me over to the Heslington East campus. I don't think I've been there since half way through my second year, as everything I do is on the main campus. I've been missing out.

It was beautiful. We arrived around 8.30; the light was a pre-dusk gold and the whisps of cloud looked like watercolours. It's a new campus, and there has been some really impressive habitat creation. There are a series of lakes, complete with natural, reed bound edges. Wildflowers have been sown too; whole swathes of the ground were covered with oxeye daisies, yellow rattle and brilliant blue cornflowers. There were, as on the main campus, lots of waterfowl- ducks and geese galore, with seagulls swooping overhead. But it became immediately apparent that it's much quieter and much wilder than Heslington West. As we got off the bus and headed towards one of the lakes there was a high, piping call, striking amonst the quiet duck noises. An oystercatcher flew overhead. A pair of common terns were nesting on a platform in the middle of the lake. As dusk drew in, a distinctive white shape glided along a line of mature trees before floating over to the meadow on the far side of the lake. It made 3 dives in quick succession before settling down on to a fence post, then it was airborne again. It made one final, successful dive then floated back down along the hedgerow to a tall tree and, presumably, its nest.

This is not the best barn owl photo which has ever been taken. One for #wildphotofails, perhaps? 
We walked further, up to the north, past grassy banks full of improbably tame rabbits, before heading back amongst the buildings. The oystercatchers were back, at least two pairs flying overhead. After a little patience it became apparent why. They were nesting on the flat roods of one of the buildings, safely out of reach of any terrestrial predators. The noise they made was unearthly.

There was one final treat as we headed back towards the bus stop. We were looking out onto the lake, watching the gulls dive and the mayflies dance., when a shape appeared. It was a bird of prey; at first I thought it was a kestrel.  But its wings were too long and its flight was very different- swooping and diving over the water, taking impossibly tight corners at the height of its circuit before diving back down to skim above the surface. It was a hobby hunting insects, and the first I've ever seen in this country. We stood and watched it until the light was too dim to properly make out its movements. It was a stunning moment.

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