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.

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