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Wildlife wonders of the waterside
I decided to celebrate the fact that June 2012 was the wettest since records began by enjoying a couple of water walks.
Last week I explored the river Nidd, at Knaresborough.
This week I spent time on boats on a reservoir and a lake.
My first trip was to Hollingworth Lake, near Rochdale.
This was built in the early 1800s to provide water to keep the Rochdale Canal locks topped up.
Because the water was not used for drinking there were no restrictions on public access and the place soon became known as the Weaver’s Seaport.
It is still a bit like a mini-slice of Blackpool, but it is an excellent place to enjoy wildlife.
A little boat does a regular circuit of the lake and, between showers, my wildlife count was impressive. There were lots of yachts, but the birds such as pochards, tufted duck and Canada geese just toured round them.
Some of these birds looked a bit tatty as their breeding season comes to an end and their moult is under way.
There were flotillas of moor-hen and coot families and a group of mute swans with two adults and six cygnets.
My second visit was aboard a Lake District steamer on Ulls-water, reached from Penrith and off the A66.
As I sat enjoying a mug of tea and a butty, I was able to watch a great crested grebe which seemed to be a very funny shape.
It opened its wings and revealed two young grebes literally hitching a lift.
Next week I may return to being a landlubber and I hope that July may not be a month for webbed feet.
a bird among the thorns
Most people have heard of the stonechat which is a resident bird in Britain.
Fewer have heard of the summer-visiting whinchat.
This bird arrives from Scandinavia in April and breeds here before returning in October.
The name whinchat is given because it is found around gorse bushes and it sites its nest among the thorns.
The old word for gorse was whin and it does make a chit-chat-chat sound.
The bird is about 5 inches (12.5cms) long and is identified by a very prominent eyestripe.
This eyestripe is missing in the closely-related stonechat.
The fact that the two species are so similar means that even some birdwatchers are confused. Because of this, the whinchat is often not identified at all.
This time of the year is a good time to see them, so all you have to do is to look for the eyestripe as the whinchat perches on top of a gorse bush and starts ‘chatting’.
taking the sting out of the nettle
When is a nettle dead? The answer is when it doesn’t sting.
The leaves of the white dead-nettle are very soft.
Even though its leaves do have the same shape as the stinging nettle, the plant is not actually a member of the nettle family at all.
It actually belongs to the mint family, even though it does not have much of a smell.
It is one of the most common of our hedgerow and roadside flowers and has one of the longest flowering periods of any British plant. The textbooks point out that it is in bloom from April until November, but I have looked through my diaries and find that I have records of white dead-nettle in flower in every month of the year.
The plant also has a very wide distribution, and is found all over Europe, except the high Arctic, but I have found it growing as far north as Norway, and as far south as Spain.
It is so common that I’m glad it is dead and does not sting!
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