A walk on the wet side

Red wellies standing in flowing water

OPAL's Community Scientist in York, Natalie Welden, proves there's still life after the recent floods. 

This weekend my 'better half' and I needed to escape the house. Both he and I have been very desk oriented while at work (and laptop-on-sofa oriented when at home), so it was time to get out and stretch our legs.

Matt had been very keen to take a walk along the river, and I wanted to see what the area looked like now the floodwaters had receded, so we headed off to Beningbrough near York.

Despite the waters subsiding and the low rainfall in the past week, we hit our first obstacle not two minutes after we’d parked. What was once a stile through to the riverbank was now a mass of deposited branches and assorted rubbish.

Back up the muddy field to the road we went, quickly checking our map to find that we could get onto the riverbank at the far end of the village. As we passed along the 'main street' we marked out where we’d passed a couple of promising pubs… that was Sunday lunch in the bag at any rate.

Dark and damp

Exiting the village into the field we passed a collection of fallen logs, obviously gathered when some of the great old trees had been felled. The shaded clearing in which they had been left was very damp, and covering the dead wood were some of the most impressive fungi I have ever seen.

Now I’m definitely no mycologist, but I had a go at some ID anyway.

I managed to get what I think are Turkey Tails and Velvet Shank; but there were a few old bracket fungi that I have no clue about, particularly due to their thick coating of algae.

Possible turkey tail fungus

Possible velvet shank fungus

If anyone would like to assist or correct my ID, I’d be super-grateful.

While we’re on the subject, did you know that there is a UK Fungus Day? I sure didn’t until I started trying to identify these. If you’re interested, it’s on 9 October.

Nice weather for ducks

The river banks were thick with mud, the ground saturated, and where the high water mark was a broken line of twigs, logs, glass bottles, plastics and other detritus.

We slipped and skidded our way to the slightly drier, raised flood bank. Here we followed the lazy, mud laden Ouse downstream towards its confluence with the River Nidd.

Across the river a family and a dog were walking in the opposite direction, the black spaniel repeatedly running down the muddy bank to the water.

As they drew level with us the dog flushed four ducks from the vegetation and they hurriedly swam over to us. 

They were small, the males a bright peachy orange with green, brown and purple patches, the females a buff brown. The feathers on their heads gave them a hair-do that ran down the back of their heads to the nape of their necks, and the males had wonderful little orange 'sails' on their back. 

Mandarin ducks

These were Mandarin Ducks, an introduced species to the UK, that now happily breed here. They are most common in central and southern England, but I have seen breeding groups drifting lazily amongst the Tufted Ducks and Goldeneye on Loch Lomond. 

Wetland wanderer

Arriving at a break in the tree cover, I came to a sudden halt.

Something unusual was flying around above us, its wings fluttering unlike any of our birds… wheeling and diving around the top branches of an Alder tree.

A bat, hunting in broad daylight at ten past twelve. Its lazy flight punctuated by little dips as it located a flying insect.

The sheer size of the animal and the distinctive shape of its wings gave it away as a Noctule Bat, and we stopped for five minutes to watch as it hunted at treetop height above the river.

Noctule bat on tree trunk

You can learn to spot our common bats using this Natural History Museum guide to bats in flight

Gold in the mud

We left the river and walked across the shockingly muddy Nut Flats. The wet conditions underfoot made trudging up the slight incline rather miserable work, and the transfer of grime from boots to trousers meant that the mud was now well up to mid-thigh.

I was happy to stop for a while when we found a group of Goldfinches feeding in the high Sycamore branches. Above them, Fieldfares and Redwing called as they flew over, off to forage in the next field.

Goldfinch perched on branch

Heading in search of a puddle to clean off our boots, we turned back into the sheep-cropped pasture of Beningbrough Hall.

From here it was sheep and squirrels all the way back to the pub.

Not the most thrilling end to the walk, but at least it stayed dry, and the smell of wood smoke led us back towards steak pies and a well-earned sit by the fire.

Follow Natalie on Twitter: @NatalieACWelden

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