It was a wet and windy weekend when 20 intrepid Field Nats set off on the coach bound for the Yorkshire Dales. When we arrived in Settle the rain had eased but it was still quite windy. As we set off to walk along the side of the River Ribble we soon realised just how much rain had fallen overnight. The river was very high and in some places the footpath was also like a mini river. However the hedgerows still held plenty of interest with clumps of colourful Comfrey, Borage, Common bistort, Bush Vetch and Yarrow. Along the way trees and shrubs were heavy with berries and fruits like Rowan, Hawthorn and Elder, which we hoped would attract our winter migrant thrushes.
The wind and rain did subside by mid-morning as we strolled alongside the river towards Stainforth and great interest was sparked by a flock of Mistle thrush making their characteristic football rattle-like song.
We stopped for lunch at the redundant Lime Kiln at Langcliffe. This is a rare example of a Hoffman Continuous kiln built in 1873 which, for more than half a century, employed a hundred workers in very laborious and unpleasant manual work and was important to the local economy. Since falling into disuse in the 1930’s the whole area, overshadowed by the towering cliffs of Langcliffe Scar, has returned to nature. In the decaying walls were several species of Fern including Maidenhair Spleenwort and Wall rue. Common Male Fern and Lady Fern were also abundant around the site. Many herbaceous species were still flowering, notably the lime loving Bloody Cranesbill, Sow-thistle, Woundwort, Figwort and Nipplewort. Sweet Cicely, aptly named Myrrhis Odorata by scientists, was abundant and the strong aniseed smell when crushed was the convincing diagnostic feature.
The woods around the kiln gave us sufficient shelter to eat our picnic lunches but was also shelter for birds. Dunnocks, Robins, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Blue and Great Tits were seen. The typically gregarious Long Tailed tits announced their presence by their chattering contact calls. Then a score of them swept down into an adjacent tree where their long tails, longer than their tiny bodies, could easily be seen.
By mid-afternoon we had reached the salmon leap at Stainforth and were quite overawed by the power of the water. Pity the poor salmon that tried to swim up river that day – they would have been exhausted. Our disappointment at not seeing the fish jumping was soon outweighed when we arrived at the Tea Shop. A welcome cuppa (and a delicious slice of cake) soon put us to rights.
Our record of sightings was severely limited by the weather – most animals and birds were hunkered down to keep warm and dry. However in two separate places a Red Admiral butterfly was sighted. There were also interesting species of fungi including Yellow Brain.