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17 September 2014
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Woodlands | Hardcastle Crags

Bugs and birds

Hardcastle Crags

Hardcastle Crags is one of the best wildlife spots in the Pennines for nature watching during the winter months. The locals call the area 'little Switzerland' due to its Alpine style terrain.

Geology and a wealth of wildlife from birds to bugs.

The whole area is densely wooded especially the steep valley sides, with the landscape being characterised by deep rocky ravines, falling streams and wooded areas.

Halfway up the valley are the 'Crags' which are impressive stacks of millstone grit, a 'must see' for geology lovers.

Ant army

AntsHardcastle Crags is well known as the home of the Northern Hairy Wood Ant which lives in huge anthills with nests as large as six feet tall.

Experts believe that they could be 400 ant nests on the hillside, that's an average of half a million inhabitants in each nest or 200 million individual ants!

The nests extend a couple of feet below ground with an extensive labyrinth of tunnels tended by female ants.

Late winter is a great time to see the ant colony at work because, when the weather is right, they start to emerge from their hibernation.

As the winter sun breaks through, the ants start to make their first forays out to make repairs to the outside of the nest.

The ants change their jobs as they age with the young ones working in the internal chambers tending eggs whist the older ants become foragers.

It's hard to spot the hairy bits of the ants with the naked eye unless you have a good telescope or magnifying glass.

Under a microscope the ants have hairy eyebrows, a feature which distinguishes them from their southern Wood Ant cousins.

These ants are highly defensive and their primary weapon is pungent Formic Acid which they use to repel attackers.

Some birds such as Jays and Green Woodpeckers have, however, turned this to their advantage, landing on the ants' nests and using the acid as a cleansing agent to get rid of parasites.

Winter woodland

Late winter is when some woodland plants start showing their faces again at Hardcastle Crags.

Amongst the species are Ramsoms or Wild Garlic, a common woodland species - if you crunch the leaves and smell them, you can sniff the whiff of garlic.

In the Spring this plant has small white flowers and it extends across the woodland floor, making it easy to spot.

Also look out for the woodland's 500 species of mosses and lichens - you may want to take along a field guide to identify them.

Bird song

Song ThrushDuring the early morning the whole valley around Hardcastle Crags comes alive with the sound of bird song.

February is a particularly good month to hear native bird song because it's at this time of the year that British birds are at their loudest.

With no leaves on the trees and no summer migrants, your chances of matching the bird to the song are excellent.

Listen for the sound of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldcrests, Robins, Blackbirds, and Thrushes - all typical British woodland species.

One of the best and most beautiful locations for bird song is Gibson Mill, which sits in the valley, and dates back to the early Industrial Revolution.

Just look at the area around its bird feeder which boasts a multitude of vocal talent including Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Bullfinches, Great Tits, and Coal Tits.



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