Digging a wildlife pond
When I built a wildlife pond close to my home in Thixendale on the Yorkshire Wolds, I had no idea just how popular it would be. In the year since it was completed, I’ve watched badgers, deer, owls, stoats and a host of different bird species drink and bathe in it.
Animals visit all year
They come throughout the seasons. It was late winter when I finished digging and lining it, then dressing it with mossy stones and logs so wildlife could climb safely in and out. Shortly after, a late fall of snow brought a white hush over the valley and filled the pond with snowflakes. The snow melted into icy water and filled the pond, which was very convenient since it meant I now didn’t have to wait for rain fall to do this job for me. Later that day the pond had its first wild visitor – a blackbird that ventured in to bathe in the cold water. And after that the bird life here was incredible, including this woodpecker dropping down for a drink.
The pond attracted badgers in spring
Then winter gave way to spring and bluebells carpeted the woodland floor.The pond filled with frogs and newts so that when I walked over the dales to visit it, I could hear their loud croaking from afar. Mostly, however, I watched the comings and goings from remote cameras hidden in the undergrowth around the pond, or from a hide I built nearby. I had deliberately chosen to position this watering hole close to a badger track and when the first badgers trotted along and then paused for a drink I was delighted.
A female roe deer also passed through, molting the last of her winter coat, and later I watched a fox saunter by. As the days passed my cameras filmed woodpeckers, chaffinches, blue tits and different birds of prey, all dropping in for a drink. There was drama too as I watched a stoat climb from its vantage point on the logs surrounding the pond and dive, front claws stretched wide, to try to snatch an unsuspecting chaffinch. Thankfully it missed, landing with a great splash in the water and looking a little foolish.
And deer in summer
As spring turned to summer the roe deer began to bring its fawn, slipping silently to the edge and drinking swift cautious sips. But if the deer were quiet when they visited, others could be quite raucous.
Hilarity at the pond
Rats regularly scurried past and on one occasion I filmed two rival rats fighting on the banks. They faced up to one another and kicked out with their hind legs, karate style, then leaped along the length of the pond in this way until they had ‘hopped’ right out of view. The rats became a valuable food source for a pair of tawny owls raising their family in the trees above and my camera captured some nail-biting moments as these birds swooped down and plucked the unsuspecting rats from the pondside.
A wildlife spa
The owls, whose lives I also filmed from cameras hidden inside their nests, often used the watering hole as if it were an owl spa. Owl nests can get quite dirty once the chicks hatch and so it was important this pair kept their flight feathers clean. Watching them pump the surface of the pond to splash under their wings was so funny. Later, once the tawny owl chicks could fly, they too dropped down to the pond for a drink or a quick splash and my cameras also filmed these still-fluffy youngsters practicing their hunting pounces along the edge of the pond.
Goshawk has a dip
One evening a goshawk flew down for a quick dip. Goshawks are a rare sight here on the Yorkshire Wolds. Almost as large as buzzards, these birds have broad wings which help them manoeuvre the tight spaces between trees and are usually found in forests or denser woodland, so it was incredible to see it here. The goshawk’s visit was brief, but a buzzard became a more regular visitor and I often walked up to the pond to see if I could photograph it from my hide.
A vital water source
As the summer wore on and last year’s searing heatwave descended, the landscape turned dry and crisp. The dry, chalk valleys in Thixendale are typical of the Yorkshire Wolds and host few natural water sources. The ground cracked and the plants grew crispy, making the pond a vital refuge for the wildlife. I watched a steady stream of visitors using it to rehydrate and cool off.
Autumn pond visitors
Then the leaves fell and autumn arrived, turning the woodland floor yellow and gold. Now pheasants stalked the banks of the pond, the males fanning their feathers in dramatic courtship displays. And as the air grew colder, a flock of fieldfares flew in to wash off, the water droplets on their freckled feathers glinting in the late evening sun. Later, bramblings also busy themselves in the splash. Both these birds are winter migrants and it so was great to see them in large numbers like this.
Before long the ground was hardened by frost again and I watched squirrels scurry around searching for nuts to stash away. At times there were clashes between the stoats that also scampered along the paths. But even as winter’s icy winds and darker days returned, life at pond continued to thrive and I watched as a fox melted from the understory and dipped its head to drink.
Then, as winter gave way once more to spring, the pond became host to a new generation of wild lives. As I look back at how much I have recorded here over the past 12 months I’m amazed at the wealth of wildlife this pond has attracted in its first year and can’t wait to see what the next year brings.