Hunting, Shooting and Stamps

Hunting, Shooting and Stamps

31 December 2015


Featured image Male Pheasants Jousting

Have a Great and Successful New Year and Support Your Wildlife

Please keep your questions and sightings coming in via whatever media you prefer, Facebook, Twitter or trusty old email. Thanks for your support, much appreciated.

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog. January issue on barn owls now out.


Hunting and Shooting

What a pleasure it was on Christmas Day to go for a walk without the accompanying crescendo of shotgun fire. It never ceases to amaze me just what these folk find to kill. I believe they start on barn doors and once they are sufficiently competent to kill one three times out of four from 10 paces they progress onto living things, all in the name of sport. It’s not just pheasants, partridge and grouse which are targeted, folk on their own with a shotgun specialise in just about anything that moves, especially if they consider it to be vermin. Anyway shotguns have been put away on Boxing Day so folk can enjoy ‘legally’ fox hunting, pure theatre in their gaudy jackets and quaint old traditions, sheer joy, unless of course you are a fox. Hope you locked up your pets! In case you are confused the BBC tells us, “In England and Wales, you cannot use dogs to hunt foxes, hares or deer.

You can use dogs for

  • stalking and flushing out – but only to control pests, such as hares, and only if they’re shot as soon as possible afterwards. Only one or two dogs can be used to “flush out” a fox;

  • hunting rats and rabbits;

  • retrieving hares that have been shot;

  • drag hunting and trail hunting.

In Scotland, hunts can use an unlimited number of dogs to flush out foxes.”

Interestingly the League Against Cruel Sports conducted a survey run by Ipsos MORI, which found 83% of 2,036 respondents thought the ban should remain in place – 84% in rural areas and 82% in urban areas.

You might be interested in signing this petition for the banning of lead shot. It is not a petition against shooting, but the use of lead shot, which not only accidentally and unnecessarily poisons wildlife but is potentially dangerous for humans who eat game shot with lead pellets. There are several alternatives available on the market – lead is already banned in several European countries and its use for shooting wildfowl in the UK is banned. Unfortunately, there are many who still flout this ban. It also seems according to Raptor Persecution Scotland that grouse are being treated with a drug being used in chemotherapy for victims of colon cancer. So, if you eat red grouse not only might you find yourself eating poisonous toxic lead from the ammunition used to kill the bird, and an anti-parasitic wormer drug given to the grouse via medicated grit, but you might also get a free dose of chemotherapy! So much for the claims of red grouse being ‘healthy and natural’ to eat.

Postage Stamp Appeal

The RSPB has a campaign to raise funds to promote ‘Albatross-friendly’ fishing methods in the Southern Ocean where so many of these magnificent birds fall foul of old fishing practices where long-lining without Albatross deterrents tempts birds to pick up ‘easy meat’, become hooked and drown. It’s simple really, at this time of the year when so many of us receive masses of postage stamps on seasonal greetings of all kinds – spare a thought, just clip a good quarter inch margin, well clear of the stamp and collect them up. If you do this then I am delighted to say that there are a couple of places within Harrogate to send them: Bilton Conservation Group members Sue Hughes or Keith Wilkinson (Secretary) – I can provide address details if you contact me; alternatively drop them in at Shamrock Vets, Knaresborough Road, Harrogate, almost opposite the road down to the hospital.

IMG_0283Mackerel Sky – Ian Willson


Ian Willson has sent me two photos including this one of a mackerel sky. Ian tells me “it’s as perfect as I’ve seen; do you know what causes it?” Well I didn’t, and to be absolutely honest I’m not 100% I do now, but here’s a good stab, let me know if you know more. Weather Online tells us, mackerel skies are formed of cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds arranged in somewhat regular waves and showing blue sky in the gaps. Small, white and fluffy cirrocumulus clouds typically consist of ice crystals and form at altitudes around 6,000 to 10,000m (18,000 to 30,000ft) and imply strong winds. Altocumulus mainly consist of water droplets and typically form at altitudes between 3,000 and 6,000m (10,000 to 18,000ft). Both may herald bad weather. They are somewhat pretty though.

Terry Knowles also wonders if I can help him. “We have a beech tree in the next door garden which overhangs ours. Normally at this time of year I am clearing up the leaves to compost, but usually have to sort them out from the crackles which, of course, will not compost. However this year there is not a crackle in sight. Last year I filled my brown bin about four times over with them, and the squirrels seemed to come from miles around to try and bury them in the garden, and for the last 12 months I was spending time pulling out the seedlings from all over. Is it just our beech tree or are others just the same this year? If so, is there any particular reason? We have lived here 15 years and have had to ‘live’ with the crackles as well until this year.” It’s not universal over our district or any district, I guess, but the winter food supply is in very short supply, already birds are eating berries they usually leave to last. This follows on from a very poor breeding season as confirmed by the BTO. It’s all very worrying. This non-scientist reckons it partially due to the lack of a summer, no warmth to swell the buds or something like that. Add to this global warming, pollution and pesticides and we are in deep trouble (regardless of what they decided recently in Paris). I am surprised however that the beech mast has not failed before in Terry’s garden, it does happen periodically regardless of the above. It is imperative especially this year that we keep feeding the birds!

Judith Fawcett reports a willow tit in her garden in Jennyfields, Harrogate.

Despite the flooding RSPB Fairburn Ings still has lots to see including recently 32 Curlew and one Black-tailed Godwit, also 3 Stonechat, 2 Little Egret and good numbers of wildfowl on the floods. But do check for flooding before you visit. Meanwhile Nosterfield Nature Reserve reports that the floods have brought loads of birds to their patch including pintail, pinkfooted geese and even according to Andrew Wetherill via Twitter “an ambitious juvenile peregrine taking on a greater black backed gull.”

IMG_5711Male Greenfinch

John Wade tells me, “We are now getting a flock of up to 12 goldfinch, 2 chaffinch and 2 or 3 greenfinch visiting our feeder daily. No siskin.” Someone else with visiting greenfinch is Shirley Dunwell, “In response to your question, I watched for greenfinches and was pleased to count six this morning. They are fewer in number than they used to be but still dominate the goldfinches (which are my most numerous visitors).”

Will Rich responded to my curlew blog with, “The lowland curlew has all but disappeared in North Yorkshire. You do not have to look far for the answer – agricultural intensification. Meadows drained, ploughed and replanted with a rye grass monoculture. At the height of the breeding season, fields rolled, sprayed with herbicide and spread with muck. Any bird which, by some miracle, succeeds in breeding has its nest or young destroyed when the field is mowed for silage.” Will is of course right, although I also blame the lack of insects and petrol/diesel fumes for the decline in our wildlife. Just imagine if we and our children are suffering from asthma what effect does it have on birds and insects?

Mike Brown the BTO rep for Central Yorkshire responded to Andrew Dobby possible osprey sighting, “As you rightly say, all ospreys should be in Africa by now. However, with the weather and climate these days who knows what can happen. I think it’s very unlikely that an Osprey would be stimulated to make its Northward journey so early, I don’t know off hand if there are any winter records of birds in the UK. It would have been quite useful to know what direction the Marton bird was heading. However, I think it’s a case of mis-identification. I’m going to suggest Grey Heron, they fly with a distinct downward arch of the wings (commonly referred to as a strong ID feature for Osprey), head held back with a retracted neck gives the impression of a raptor, the long legs sticking out the back tend to get missed, I’ve done it myself in a first impression view. The broad wings and heavy flight do recall a large raptor. Your suggestion of one of the Harriers is reasonable, Marsh would fit size etc., Hen is much too buoyant in flight to be confused with Osprey or Grey Heron for that matter.” Keep those sightings and questions coming in.


Curlews, Squirrels and Butterflies

17 December 2015
Happy Christmas from Jackie and I, see you again in the New Year.



RSPB Fairburn Ings has had another flood, a big one, the reserve has been closed but Fairburn Ings Visitor Centre open again today (15/12/15), some paths still flooded and part of Newton Lane towards Ledston, access from Fairburn or Back Newton Lane.

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog . December issue now out.

Please keep those sightings and questions coming in and do also spread the word, much appreciated.


Curlew - Brian Scarr

Curlew – Brian Scarr

Help Prevent a Curlew Catastrophe

Surely one of the most evocative wildlife signs is the call of the curlew, loved and recognised by everyone. It seems that the bird might well be on the decline. A large bird with its long curved beak, it’s unmissable and what’s more it breeds on our Nidderdale and North Yorkshire hillsides. Sadly, however, it has just been added to the British Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern, the highest conservation priority. This is because its numbers declined by 46% between 1994 and 2010 and by more than half in Wales and Scotland. What’s more, even if our local birds are doing comparatively well, that’s no reason for complacency because we must hang on to what we have for the bird’s national well-being. It’s not just Britain where the problem exists; our curlews represent approximately a third of the European population and therefore it is now listed as near threatened and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Strictly speaking we are talking about the Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata, but you all know which one I mean. Curlews are considered to be fully migratory amongst most of their range, in the UK they tend to be partially migratory in that they leave their breeding grounds, our upland moors, peat bogs, damp grasslands and meadows, and migrate to local gravel pits. Nosterfield Nature Reserve is a good place to spot them, and when the ground gets frozen onwards to the coast. However, this can lead to confusion because they are joined here by fully migratory birds from the colder north and east. This wintering population has also declined, this time by 20% in the past 15 years. Also our area, for example Haverah Park, is probably on a curlew migration route with flocks of as many as 300 seen in early spring. These are probably foreign migrants because they can still be there when our breeding birds are back on territory.
There is an extremely urgent need to identify the causes of these Curlew declines so that we can help guide potential conservation interventions. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is a charity at the forefront of providing impartial scientific evidence to conserve the nation’s birds and has launched a fundraising appeal to fund the world class research that will inform how we can reverse the fate of this iconic bird – before it’s too late. If a world without curlews concerns you, download the BTO appeals leaflet. The reasons thought possible for this decline include increases in generalist predators reducing breeding success, afforestation of marginal hill land, changes in farming practice reducing habitat quality and climate change. One of the objectives of the appeal is to find out exactly what the problem is, before it’s too late.

Grey Squirrel3 - Dr Roger Litton

Grey Squirrel – Roger Litton

Squirrel Watching

Roger Litton, Harrogate, writes, “We do get squirrels in the garden (we’re just across the road from the Pine Woods) and we do like watching them. They’re attracted by the bird feeders and the nut feeders. There is a definite pecking order among the squirrels and it can be amusing to see the posturing and chasing which goes on. Violent tail-wagging is a sure sign that there’s another squirrel in the offing and one will almost certainly end up chasing the other. There’s even a pecking order with the various feeders. The dominant squirrel will always bag the preferred feeder and chase others off, although it may be prepared to tolerate a subordinate squirrel on one of the other (less-preferred) feeders.” People watching, squirrel watching, it seems there’s not much difference. Words like greedy, bully and class system come to mind.


Last week at RSPB Fairburn Ings there was a Peacock Butterfly on Monday (7-12-12), a male Marsh Harrier is regular and still two Little Egrets, Siskin and Brambling. On 1512/15 there were lots of Goosander about today 30+ at the eastern end of the reserve and 2 Water Rail.

Another recent butterfly sighting comes from Colin Slator, “I saw a male Brimstone butterfly patrolling the ride in the High Batts Nature Reserve.” Some recent sightings from Alan Croucher, “It was a bit wet today to venture out birding but we did go out last Thursday – to Saltholme – and although we didn’t have a lot of time we had a lovely morning with around 38 species. The highlights were a female Smew (that had been around for a while), a couple of Whooper Swans, a Pintail, quite a few Barnacle Geese, some Black-tailed Godwits and at least two pairs of Stonechats that showed really well and were visible on several occasions. There had been reports of Snow Buntings in the area (though not on the reserve, I don’t think) and Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers off the coast but we didn’t go in search of them. There were also several seals hauled out and visible from the road. More locally, we have seen both Fieldfares and Redwings, though not many of them so far.” I suspect, sadly, with the lack of berries we may not see many winter visitors.

Andrew Dobby thinks he may have seen an osprey “in our village, Marton Cum Grafton. I have looked through my books and the internet and I am sure it was an Osprey by looking at the shape, wings and the way it was flying. Do we get many Ospreys in the area?” The answer is, yes, we do get ospreys locally, on migration to and from their breeding grounds in The Lakes and more probably Scotland. All ospreys should be in Africa by now and that creates a problem because Andrew seems to have done his homework and I guess you can get the occasional late leaving bird but if not what else can it be? The all white underneath and size is fairly distinctive. Maybe it was some type of harrier, marsh or even hen. Did you see an unusual raptor around Marton Cum Grafton the last two weeks in November? If so let us know.

Shirley Dunwell reports, “Nice sighting today (9-12-2015) – near Fountains Abbey – flock of about 40 lapwings in flight.”

Max Hamilton, Bilton, Harrogate, “had a really good week so far on my feeders at Gordon Avenue, Gold Finch, Blue, Great, Coal and Willow Tit, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrow, Sparrowhawk (one less sparrow), also Blackbird, Dunnock, Collared Dove, Rock Dove and a couple of heavy weight Wood Pigeon all hovering up at ground level. Sadly I have not seen any Greenfinch for a long time now, the last one I saw was not in good shape.” Do you get greenfinch visiting your feeders, if so let me know?

Sue and Lawrie Loveless, Fellbeck, wanted to know “what caused a group of mild mannered sheep to cross the stream and huddle together. No, not a dog, a plane, truck, a quad bike……. Actually a gang of about 400 Starlings! Sadly they had left the scene by the time I had collected the camera. They were part of a much larger flock that is in our neighbourhood right now. Good quantities of lapwings around at the moment too.” Beware marauding starlings, sheep know best. Jill Warwick tells me, “A couple of weeks ago, there was quite a good murmuration over Ripon Marina, coming into the little reedbed at Nicholsons Lagoons – might be worth trying a walk down the Ripon Canal footpath? There were at least 5-6,000 which was quite impressive and they did some swirling for the admiring crowd of boat owners (I was there trying to catch a young Mute Swan to ring)!” If you know if they are still there or of any other starling murmurations please share it with us.

Kingfishers,View Over The Pennines, Jennyruth

10 December 2015

Kingfisher Exchanging Fish - Barry CarterKingfisher Exchanging Fish – Barry Carter


Please do keep sending in your sightings and I will feature them all eventually. What winter visitors have you seen? It seems word is spreading so please keep telling folk about the blog and let’s keep championing wildlife. The dreadful flooding must make things very difficult for some birds, yet Lisa Walch was “so chuffed…saw my first kingfisher whilst at Barden Bridge. Oh joy!” Kingfishers are really great birds to see and enjoy but how do they manage when floods discolour the water to such an extent that they surely can’t see the fish? I thought they might disappear off to lakes, ponds and streams much less discoloured but not this one. Dippers must find it equally difficult and even the birds which don’t rely upon water for food must struggle, and that brings the importance on garden feeders into perspective. There is a petition to ‘Ban Driven Grouse Shooting.’ you may wish to sign.

Whooper Swans - Bill BellamyWhooper Swans at Rostherne –Steve Collins

View From Over The Pennines

Bill Bellamy is in charge of the natural history records for Rostherne Mere National Nature Reserve. This is the largest and deepest (31 metres) mere in Cheshire, located near Knutsford. It is an important refuge for wintering birds as its depth means it rarely completely freezes over when many of the shallower water bodies in Cheshire do. “Our winter visitors have started to arrive including Whooper Swans. The picture shows 11 adults and a juvenile which have probably just flown in from Iceland. They promptly fell asleep just after this photo was taken. Several stop off at Rostherne before venturing up to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Reserve at Martin Mere on the Lancashire coast. Up to 15,000 winter in the UK every year. We also have several 100 Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler which are wintering in the UK from countries surrounding The Baltic. Flocks of over 100 Redwing and Fieldfare are also seen in the woodland fringing the mere in November and people forget that many of our common birds such as Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Robin are augmented by large numbers of wintering birds from Northern Europe. The Rowan berries in the Rostherne woodlands provide a welcome food source for thrushes. The winter also provides a good opportunity to see Water Rail at Rostherne Mere. Numbers of this elusive species are also increased by immigrants especially from Germany and Denmark.” Bill has raised lots of issues which affect us locally. I have no reports as yet of whooper swans locally (Harrogate District, North Yorkshire) have you seen any? I may have said this before but already locally the berries are disappearing fast and the blackbirds have decimated our cotoneaster berries, which I guess are not so tasty because they are usually left until much later. Our flora and fauna seems to be getting more and more confused. It’s not so long ago I saw a hazel tree with nuts and catkins, indeed the hazel catkins are already on the trees, far too early in my mind, they usually produce catkins in spring, albeit very early Spring. I also heard on Sunday near the aquaduct at Strid Woods, Bolton Abbey, a mistle thrush in full song, yes in December.



Rob Hardcastle was “driving up the A661 towards Harrogate (22nd November), just outside Spofforth. A Red Kite suddenly dived down right in front of the car trying to grab carrion (a rabbit I think) from the middle of the road. I had to brake sharply but the Kite failed and swooped upwards out of harm’s way. I still have etched on my mind the sight of the Kite’s extended wingspan filling the whole of the carriageway in front me. Quite an encounter….” I contacted Doug Simpson the ‘Red Kite Man’ to tell him that a road safety lesson was urgently needed, he replied, “I keep telling them but they take no notice. That bit of road – A661 around Plompton Rocks – has accounted for at least two casualties that I know of, one of which survived. One did the same thing as I was approaching Harewood Bridge a couple of weeks ago. Flew across in front of the car in front of us.” Maybe we need the kite equivalent of ‘Toad Crossing Signs’! Steve Kempson saw a hedgehog in his Knaresborough Garden at “5:45 a.m. yesterday (28-11-15) (I presume the recent mild weather has kept it up and about?) and a greater spotted woodpecker on our peanut holder this afternoon.” The mild(?) weather certainly must have kept the hedgehogs active, so as long as they aren’t tiny they should be OK. Tiny hedgehogs need catching and looking after, see British Hedgehog Preservation Society or Tiggywinkes for more info. Roger Newman walked around “Swinsty Reservoir (29-11-15) and I think I saw two cormorants sitting on a tree on the island.” These birds seemed to have colonised many of our inland waters in the past 20/30 years. Judith Fawcett saw a wet Wensleydale Wren on 30-11-15, redpoll, siskin, great spotted woodpecker and Goldfinch at High Batts on 1-12-15 and tells me that a pair of red squirrels are now regularly seen in Hawes. Charles Gibson writes, “Things must be improving, hadn’t seen a Woodpecker all year, now one is returning to the nut feeder every day.

Jennyruth Workshops Christmas Fair

Jennyruth Workshops helps adults with learning disabilities gain confidence, independence, life skills and work experience. Their Christmas Fair will be held on

11 December 2015 1:30 pm. There’ll be a large range of Christmas items and gifts for sale along with mince pies, hot drinks and Christmas music.

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog (

Litter Pick

Can you help? The new Hookstone Wood and Stonefall Park Action Group (HASAG) will be holding their first volunteer day this Saturday and are looking for help. They will be clearing back encroaching vegetation from the footpaths and cycle paths as well as having a good old litter pick. Meeting at 10:00 at the entrance off Hookstone Chase (opposite the Morrison’s roundabout), they will be working till about 12:00. Please reply direct to Sam if you can help.

Seals, Sightings and Flooding

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog (

Please do keep sending in your sightings and I will feature them all eventually. What winter visitors have you seen? (3-12-15)


A Bull Grey Seal Patrols His Harem

Seal Watching at Donna Nook

Jackie and I were joined by friends Chris and Helen for a visit to Norfolk recently to see the geese and we took a rather tortuous route via Donna Nook to see the seals. It was well worth the detour although I didn’t think so that night as we got lost approaching our destination. Donna Nook National Nature Reserve is run by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT) and situated around 15 miles south of Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The star turn are the grey seals which haul out on the sand banks to give birth to their pups. There are literally hundreds of them. On Monday 30 November 2015 there were counted: Bulls 650, Cows 1542 and Pups 1754 – some sight. What’s more, some can be seen just over the fence, within touching distance. But don’t – even the pups can give an extremely nasty bite and they are huge, a male is 207cm and 233kg, a female 180cm and 155kg. For older folk like me that’s males are 2.25 yards and 36 stone and females 2 yards and 24 stone. Grey seal are one of two seal species found around our coasts and are bigger than the common seal and have a roman nose, rather than the puppy dog appearance of a common seal, which weighs up to 130kg. That’s not the only way they differ, a grey seal pup, unlike a grey seal pup, can’t swim when born, hence the value of a remote, safe place to haul out such as Donna Nook. Common seals can give birth on sand banks and the young are able to swim and dive after a few hours. Grey seal pups must remain on land for between 18-21 days. The real fascination in a visit is a chance to see for real what normally we only see via David Attenborough and that at home in our own country, brilliant. If you visit, after reading all the instructions on the website, then expect to see rampaging bulls fighting off their competitors, suckling young and cute white pups. I thought it strange because of course we only see seals off our shores, but the results of radio tracking show that these seals feed out to sea and travel to Dogger bank, rather than along our coasts. I did point out to the lovely lady in the LWT shack that ever so rarely they also have been known to visit Masham and Nun Monkton.

image1Bilton Beck Bridge – Bilton Conservation Group

Nidd Gorge Footpath Closed

Keith Wilkinson from Bilton Conservation Group (BCG) has asked me to tell folk that, “essentially there is no safe riverside route through Nidd Gorge downstream below the viaduct on the Bilton side. The Bilton Beck Bridge was demolished by a falling cherry tree on 14/11/15 and the recent floods did the rest with the decking of the bridge left in two pieces and tilted at 45 degrees from the stream bed.” NYCC have formally closed the route from west of the viaduct down to where the Public Right of Way (PROW) meets Milners Lane at Milners Fork. There is a safe, alternative detour along the Greenway – Bilton Lane – Milners Lane, so access to/through Nidd Gorge is still possible (albeit unpopular as it is a 3 km loop for little lateral progress…). BCG are in close discussion with NYCC about a replacement bridge and are hopeful that this may be achieved early in 2016 when weather and ground conditions are more favourable for construction work. The Bilton Conservation Group calendar is still available.

RSPB Fairburn Ings – Important notice 3/12/15

There is no access via Newton Lane from the Allerton Bywater end of the reserve. Access to the car park is via Back Newton Lane or along Newton Lane from Fairburn village. For more information, please call the visitor centre on 01977 628191 Steve Wadsworth, warden, saw a Muntjac deer there last week, a first for the reserve. A Drake Smew and Short-eared Owl have been seen there recently.

Great Spotted Woodpecker2 - Julie AddymanGreat Spotted Woodpecker – Julie Addyman


David and Joyce Smith tell me they, “still have lots of starlings in our garden though not quite as many as in summer.” Carol Wedgewood writes, “On last Sunday, 15th November at about 13.25, whilst driving to work, I saw about 1,000 Fieldfare and Redwing in a field on the left hand side, near Menwith Hill, coming from Darley Mill the first crossroads that goes to the main Menwith Hill entrance. The birds on the ground were doing vertical take offs of only about a foot in the air before dropping back down. A great number were also perched on telegraph wires. An amazing sight. Definitely not Starlings.” It sounds like these birds were chasing insects. There seems to be very little of their more usual, early winter, food berries around so I fear we shall see few of these visitors this winter so Carol was very lucky. My blackbirds are already consuming cotoneaster berries, usually they leave them until much later. Shirley Dunwell has reported a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the street telegraph pole right in front of her (Bilton) bungalow. John Wade enjoyed a low flying red kite and great spotted woodpecker at Oakdale, Harrogate recently. John gets up to a dozen goldfinch on his feeders but was a little alarmed recently when one flew into his window and stunned itself. It lay motionless for 10 to 15 minutes whilst his wife Brenda watched carefully in case of cats. “It finally started to move its head, shook itself and flew off. Lovely.”