Apricot Rabbits and Clean for the Queen

26 February 2016

Apricot Rabbit - Peter ThompsonApricot Rabbit – Peter Thompson

Apricot Rabbits

Rabbits are not considered native to this country, although goodness knows why not, they have been here since Norman times, surely that should qualify them for something. In fact remains were found from interglacial sites in the Middle Pleistocene but not from subsequent eras until Norman times. They were once prized for their meat and kept in special warrens surrounded by high walls to protect them from predators. There is a great example on high ground and private above Gouthwaite Reservoir. They used to call only the juveniles rabbits (rabets), the adults were called coney and is probably a good indicator of the origins of Coneythorpe (Knaresborough), perhaps an outlying farm or hamlet where rabbits were kept. It could also be the King’s farmstead. Anyway Peter Thompson contacted me because he has discovered that there are ‘funny coloured’ rabbits living besides the Oak Beck in Harrogate. Sadly his interest was raised because many dead ones were found after the recent floods had clearly destroyed their warren and when Peter went to investigate he could only find two. Rabbits being rabbits I suspect their numbers will soon increase, they have exceptional fecundity! I have heard previously of these strange coloured rabbits when I wrote for the local paper and Helen Moorse had an interesting rabbit tale (sorry!) on 22-5-14, “Just thought I would tell you about the unusual colony of wild rabbits I encounter on my daily commute to work. Most people will have at some time seen a black wild rabbit – this genetic mutation of colour is called melanistic. I have seen a few ‘ginger’ or ‘apricot’ coloured rabbits very rarely over the years in various parts of Nidderdale. Some people believe that they are a genetic mutation of colour called ‘leucistic’ which makes them lighter in colour.” Helen sees around five of these rabbits every morning on her drive to work. She continues, “There is a family of five ‘apricot’ rabbits, they are there most mornings and sometimes on a night. When the sun is shining on them they appear to be golden. They are a lovely sight which brightens my morning commute.” Please note melanistic means dark pigmentation whilst leucistic means reduced pigmentation. I then had a response from Jean Butterfield, who lives at South Stainley and tells me there are apricot rabbits near her. I also know that there are similarly coloured rabbits near the moor edge on Blayshaw Gill, above Studfold Adventure Trail and camping site in Upper Nidderdale. Now I really need a scientist here but my experience suggests that ‘apricot’ rabbits live mainly, but not exclusively, in their own little colony of funny coloured rabbits whilst black rabbits, once considered unlucky because they might embody an ancestral spirit returned to earth, seem to live within a colony of ‘normal’ coloured rabbits. White rabbits were equally unlucky, because they might be a witch. I have never seen a white one in the wild, I guess the ducking stool worked. It seems unusually coloured rabbits may be more prevalent than I thought. Have you seen any near you? I would love to hear from you.

Clean For The Queen

Her Majesty officially celebrates her 90th birthday in June 2016 and Clean for The Queen is a campaign to clear up Britain in time for that, well at least make a start. The campaign is calling on individuals, volunteer groups, local councils, businesses and schools to do their bit. You can start now and also take part in the Clean for The Queen weekend on 4, 5 and 6 March 2016. Getting rid of litter is clearly very important for the well-being of not just us but also our wildlife and I’m pleased to say a number of organisations in Harrogate District are taking part. These include so far on 4 March, Glasshouses School Tidy our Village Day, Moorside Infants School, Ripon, Springwater School Starbeck. On 5 March there is the Rotary Club of Harrogate, Sainsbury’s car park, Hookstones Woods, Harrogate, Pinewoods Clean for the Queen Event, Harrogate Spa Tennis club car park and Bilton to Starbeck cycle track. Finally on 6 March Woodlands Methodist Church is cleaning some of Wetherby Road. To find out more about Clean For The Queen and see what’s happening near you visit the website.

House Sparrow Roger LittonHouse Sparrow – Roger Litton


Terry Knowles reckons he has a bank vole burrowing in his garden. What mammals visit your garden?

Peter Thomson writes, “I thought it was time I got in touch with you again but being of the “old school” I do not seem to be able to get used to communicating very often by e-mail. I do, however, find it much more convenient to read your column on my computer instead of having to go out and buy a newspaper. As far as garden birds are concerned we are getting daily visits from a pair of Siskins and three or four Redpolls but they have quite a job getting to the feeders because of the large number of Goldfinches present. A welcome newcomer to the garden feeders is a House Sparrow and his family; although we have had Tree Sparrows for many years, this is the first time in over 20 years that we have had House Sparrows. They nested in the eaves of the house next door and had at least two broods. I do enjoy hearing their cheerful chirrupping. Since we had a recent spell of less rain, the rocks in the Oak Beck (Knox – Harrogate) have become visible again and a Dipper has reappeared and posed to have his photograph taken.” I wonder if anyone really knows why tree sparrow and house sparrow numbers fluctuate so much. Do you? The BTO tells us the house sparrow is a red alert species, “RED because of Recent Breeding Population Decline (1969-2010), Recent Winter Population Decline (1981-2010), Recent Breeding Range Decline (1981-2010), Recent Winter Range Decline (1981-2010). All very worrying. The tree sparrow is also red for very similar reasons. There was a report I believe linking house sparrow decline to the introduction of unleaded petrol, maybe that’s the reason. If you want to know more about House Sparrows, why not download this BTO Fact File.

Richard Simmons wrote: “I saw another barn owl at sundown on way back to Pateley on Tuesday. It was sitting on a wall and flew off as I approached. Location just east of the Smelthouses/ Burnt Yates/ Summerbridge/ Brimham Rocks crossroads on top of the hill.” It’s great that we have so many barn owls; around 25 years ago there were hardly any. I guess the mild weather helps. The BTO Species Fact File says the barn owl is not of conservation concern but it does have this interesting ‘titbit’ “The unearthly shrieks, cries and hisses of the Barn Owl (and its association with churches) may have given rise to a widespread association of owls with all things evil – an owls’ wing was a key ingredient in the witches brew that troubled Macbeth.”

Roger Litton visited RSPB Fairburn Ings on 18 February. “Unlike last time, when we encountered thick fog, we had brilliant sunshine.” Birds encountered by Roger and Pauline include coot, dunnock, chaffinch, long-tailed tit, the ubiquitous black-headed gulls and tufted ducks. I’m sure Roger saw other birds but those are the ones he managed to get some great photos of.

Nick Woods writes, “It’s 18 February and I’ve just heard the entirely predictable first curlew….. same time every year. One bird comes and occupies a field within earshot of our house with startling annual regularity. Also, given the odd bullfinch mention, we have a small group (three males and one female) which come and take blackberry heads. Pictured from kitchen window early January.” With all the news we keep hearing about curlew declines let’s hope Nick keeps hearing his curlew. Has anyone else heard a curlew or indeed any other nesting bird on territory. I was a little surprised to see 25 oystercatchers at Ripley Castle on 19 February. Blackberry heads must be almost indigestible, but then I’m not a bullfinch.

Ian Law was walking near Grassington recently and saw a grey heron catch a fish. Aren’t grey herons’ fishing skills remarkable?

Notes For Your Diary

Harrogate RSPB Group’s next outdoor meeting is on Sunday, 28 February, when they will be visiting Nosterfield Nature Reserve.

Through Your Window

Rouen Clair Domestic Duck - Peter ThompsonRouen Clair domestic duck – Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson, see rabbits, also writes, “my next-door neighbour’s Rouen Clair domestic ducks has made friends with some local mallards. He had three of these ducks in an enclosure by the beck (to which they did not have access) but the flood destroyed their surrounding fence and when the water level dropped they took to the water but found it difficult to get out again. Two of them managed it but after more rain and a much faster flow during the night the third one was apparently washed away downstream and could be among the Mallards in Knaresborough. If this is the case there could be some rather puzzled twitchers in Knaresborough!” See the photo because like me you may have considered this bird to be just a duck hybrid and not a specially bred domestic bird.

Doug Simpson, The Red Kite Man, writes, “We, too, have regular Bullfinches on the feeders. Before the Trichomoniasis outbreak a couple of years ago, we used to get nicely into double-figures. I once counted 15 in our garden Birch and they were actually the most numerous birds on our feeders. Nowadays we regularly see seven – four males and three females. They breed somewhere locally as we usually get one or two young ones at the feeders each year.” Doug also tells me, “We have a steep embankment behind our house. It faces roughly south-west and there’s quite an updraught when the wind is from that quarter. My daughter came for lunch on Friday and had pride of place at the dining table – looking straight out of the patio window across the garden. Suddenly she asked ‘What’s that?’ Looking up, I saw it was a Common Buzzard which was hanging motionless on the updraught. It was there for several seconds before flying off to the west. Buzzards are by no means unusual here, but we’d never previously seen one at such close quarters. The previous day we’d had a Red Kite over the garden whilst today, Saturday, the big birds in view are Grey Herons, no doubt looking at the pond between us and Saltergate Beck to see if the toads have arrived yet.” Interesting, I hadn’t realised that Trichomoniasis affected bullfinch quite so much. I do know it affects turtle dove and there are worries about them using the feeders at the top of Sutton Bank. I also realise that many species, not just greenfinch, suffer from this dreadful disease. Doug also tells me, “it was sickening to see them. One day they’d be there, all clogged up, next day they’d be gone. I put clean feeders out every day and spray the bird-table.”


Tree Charter, Cranes and What You See

19 February 2016

Ancient Oak Lamb's Close DallowgillAncient Oak – Lamb’s Close, Dallowgill


Way back in 1217, just two years after Magna Carta was signed, Henry III signed The Charter of The Forest. The aim was to protect the rights of people to access and use the Royal Forests. The Charter of the Forest provides a window to a time in history when access to woods was integral to life. Being denied access for grazing livestock, collecting firewood and foraging for food was a real concern for the people of the time. Now The Woodland Trust reckon it’s time for another Charter because trees in all areas of society are more at risk than ever before from natural threats, such as pests and diseases, man-made pollution, infrastructure and political disinterest.

Making history – the call for a Charter

In summer 2015 the Woodland Trust put out an invitation for organisations from across the conservation, environmental, business and social sectors to join a call for a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People. More than 35 organisations answered the call, and have been working with the Woodland Trust to create a national moment for woods and trees. It will establish a legacy of lasting change for the relationship between trees, woods and people. This charter would bring trees and woods back into the centre of public consciousness and political decision-making in the UK. After all, as The Woodland Trust tells us, trees provide “clean air, natural flood defences, a mask for noise, improved physical health and mental well-being, mitigation against the urban heat island effect, pollution absorption, wildlife habitat, recreational spaces in cities, contact with nature in cities and sensory outdoor learning resources. Yet tree numbers are declining and frequently they aren’t being replaced. For example, according to Rotary Clubs – Community and Environment and Sustainablity newsletter, Nidderdale, delightful as it is, has only 5% tree cover. The national average is 8%. Harrogate Rotarians are doing something about it, you can offset your carbon emissions with trees and these guys have a scheme to do just that. But it’s not cheap, it involves a lot of volunteer help and you can get involved too.

Share your tree story

One of the things that worries me is that when hedgerow trees in particular fall over they are never replaced. Yet they provide a superb habitat, excellent aesthetic appeal and suck up all this excess water that will plague us more and more in the future. The Woodland Trust as part of the Appeal want to know your stories about trees. Have you got a treasured memory that wouldn’t have been the same without trees? Please help to create the charter by sharing it with The Woodland Trust. Let’s do more to protect our trees.

Cropped CraneCommon Crane (Grus grus)

The Great Crane Project

Some of you may remember Michael Clegg, a Knaresborough lad who will be respectfully remembered as a broadcaster, journalist and environmentalist. He was involved in making what we now know as RSPB Old Moor into a nature reserve. I recall sharing the Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private hide at Farnham with him. One of his legacies is the annual Michael Clegg Bird Race (the most species seen in 24 hours) which raises money for a Yorkshire bird conservation project. This year the project raised money for the Yorkshire Breeding cranes. Our thanks to the record number of teams which took part on 3 January and raised so far over £1100 for this project. The winning team saw 107 birds. If you would like to donate or find out more about next year’s bird race please email Graham Speight grahamspeight@uwclub.net.

Dipper - Peter ThomsonDipper by Peter Thompson


Chris Norman writes, “Last April I moved to Dubai, so really miss home. The pictures of the Kite, the Tawny Owl and Gouthwaite tugged at my heartstrings. Very good news regarding the continued success of the Red Kites in our region. Metropolitan Dubai doesn’t offer much in the way of wildlife, but I am thrilled that a laughing dove is nesting in a “potted” olive tree on our balcony. Apparently passerines nest all year round here, but mostly avoid June/July/August, which is understandable as the eggs would almost boil in the ambient temperatures! They would need to sit on them to keep them cool!” Wow! My blog is going international. Thanks Chris.

Steve Whiteley was “watching my resident flock of sparrows on my feeder together with the other various regular visitors (coal tits, blue tits, great tits, collared doves, robin and wood pigeon) this morning, I noted this little chap in action. I believe he is a wood mouse and he has been active all morning and a lot more adventurous than normal. He has been resident under my shed for 3 years now and currently appears intent on chewing his way in at the moment. I thought they were supposed to hibernate during the winter but perhaps not. He may have been confused by the warmer weather.” In fact very few of our mammals hibernate – dormice, hedgehogs and bats. Some of the rest may not venture out quite as much if the weather is really bad. Many get by by caching their food, a well known example is the grey squirrel and perhaps another is the fox, if it gets into a chicken run.

Jim Neary recalls a sighting of a leucistic (all white) crow back in 2012 (in the area of Morrison’s car park, Harrogate where Edna Barker saw hers). I wonder how long they have been around there and does the collared doves still nest in the car wash there?

Roger Graville writes, “Just read the comment about bullfinches in the Hookstone Woods area (Harrogate). We are very near there on Arncliffe Road, and we regularly have a pair of them on our sunflower seed feeder. Usually one at a time, but occasionally there have been both male and female together during the winter.” I find what happens with bullfinches is that the male comes first, looks around for danger, flies down to the feeder and when confident it is safe calls down the female. I believe that they pair for life.

Stuart Ibbotson “thought I would drop you a note around my 2016 sightings. My list for my local patch (Bilton, Harrogate) is, after three weeks, missing song and mistle thrush, also redwing and fieldfare. I hope that due to the lack of berries around that they have moved on in their search for food. Greenfinch is also absent and is worrying if compared to 10 years ago when I considered them to be a pest as approximately 30 would take over my garden feeders. Siskins are plentiful in the garden and as I write a party of eight are present. Also bullfinch numbers are consistent with four pairs being regular visitors. Happy to report that this week I have seen two separate dippers staking out their territories on the Nidd, one of which is by the Scotton weir. Also grey wagtails seem to be returning to their breeding sites. A barn owl was hunting in the daytime around the farmhouse that is adjacent to the Nidderdale Greenway. I suspect that it had been unable to hunt on the previous two days due to the non-stop heavy rain. Today at 8.45am two otters which from their appearance I would say were mother and daughter, were making their way upriver and seen swimming under the viaduct. Shortly after a buzzard flew through the trees and across the river. It all makes you ponder on the changing face of nature. Twenty years ago I would never have dreamed of seeing buzzards on my local patch let alone otters. Greenfinches and thrushes were taken for granted as being omnipresent and were overlooked. Food for thought!” Stuart certainly raises some interesting points, slightly further afield we see little egret, whilst barn owl numbers remain high. Goosander numbers seem to have peaked and then fallen back again but not to the very low numbers of 20 years ago. Out wildlife numbers continue to fluctuate but whilst there are winners and losers don’t ever forget that around 60% of our birds have declined in the past 20 years and butterfly numbers continue to be a worry. We still have a lot of work to do to retain our biodiversity. I just wonder what effect car and industrial emissions are having, after all if our kids are more likely to get asthma how is our wildlife affected?

Lisa Walch wrote, “I saw a barn owl in full flight at 4pm yesterday near Grassington. It was flying across a field. Couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to capture the memory.” They are great, aren’t they? Keep watching in the same place, camera at the ready, you may see it again.

RSPB Fairburn Ings reports the following interesting birds this week, “three Smew inc one male, Egyptian Goose one.”

Recent birds at Nosterfield Nature Reserve complex include, Red-necked Grebe (Flask Lake), Bar-headed Goose, Little Owl, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Harrier, Caspian Gull (Lingham), Goldeneye and both races of white-fronted goose (Carthrope Mires).

It’s always great to hear what you have seen whilst out and about and whilst a photo always helps it’s never essential because I have a good stock and I have some great friends who are happy to share their photos with us.

Notes For Your Diary

RHS Harlow Carr

The East Dales Ringing Group will be ringing and recording birds caught at RHS Harlow Carr this Sunday, 21st February (WEATHER PERMITTING). Normal entry fees to RHS Harlow Carr applies, open 9.30 – 4 with last entry to gardens at 3. An opportunity to get close to and fully appreciate birds normally seen at a distance.

Through Your Window

Judith Fawcett reports a robin on her new, blue, feeder and she has had visits from amongst others long-tailed tits, a sparrowhawk and a very wet redpoll braved the snow showers. I suspect these will be leaving their flocks to start pairing up, prospecting for nest sites and eventually breeding, good luck to these delightful bundle of feathers.

Stan Beer at How Stean Gorge tells me, “Seen goldcrests, great spotted woodpeckers, tree creepers and nuthatches on the feeders at the gorge. They have only just started to come and feed.”

Jen and Jon Dening, tell me, “Lots of activity on our bird feeders currently. Here is a pair of Bullfinches and a Siskin. The latter is staging a welcome return as we haven’t seen any for a while.” Like me and despite national findings Jen and John’s bullfinch numbers are increasing.

Share what you see through your window with me.

Nests, Dragons and Your Sightings


Blue Tit1 John Ashby

Blue Tit at Nest Box by John Ashby

National Nest Box Week, February 14th-21st

What are you doing on Valentine’s Day? Maybe it’s none of my business but one thing you might want to consider is putting up a nest box as part of national nest box week. A BTO initiative, sponsored by Jacobi Jayne, they tell us, “Many of the UK’s birds will struggle to find a suitable nesting site for the breeding season. The 19th National Nest Box Week (NNBW), encourages people to put up a nest box in their local area. People are also encouraged to sign up for Nest Box Challenge (NBC) to report what happens in their box.” Potential nesting sites are disappearing due to the renovation of old buildings, the loss of woodland habitat and tidy gardens with a lack of suitable tree holes. Anyone can help provide more space by putting up a nest box. Different types of nest boxes can provide homes for different types of bird. House Sparrows need a small-hole type nest box with a 32mm entrance hole. Robins will use open-fronted type nest boxes, preferably tucked away in a bit of cover. You can even provide nesting space for House Martins by fixing an artificial nesting cup just below the eaves. Your nest box can provide valuable data to scientists monitoring UK bird populations. Nest Box Challenge, which is free to join, involves regularly looking in your box and using an online form to report any eggs or chicks inside. Data on how well birds are breeding in our changing climate is vitally important and will be used to direct conservation efforts. Why not register for your free NNBW information pack and hopefully get all the info you need. Friends of Valley Gardens with the help of Harrogate Borough Council will be putting up bird boxes, on trees in the garden around the Old Magnesia Well Pump Room, on Tuesday 16th February at 10am. All welcome to watch this National Bird Box Week event.

HDNS Bird Report 2014-front cover

Your Local Bird Report

The 2014 Bird Report for the Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society is now available. As usual, following the Introduction and weather summary there is a full systematic list followed by notes, articles, photographs, drawings and a list of species requiring a description if submitted to Harrogate and District Naturalists Society Records Committee. Useful maps of the recording area are to be found within the covers. Cost £5.00 plus £1.20 post and packing. Available from Mrs Jill Warwick, 01765 602832, jill@swland.co.uk. The cover photo was taken by Jill who recalls that two whooper swans with them had been ringed at WWT Welney the previous month.

Dragon Finder

FrogLife, the amphibian and reptile folk reckon frogs ought to be seen breeding in our ponds soon and they would like you to tell them what you see. To help they have an app available, called Dragon Finder. It’s free and available NOW for iPhone and Android. That’s if you have the appropriate version of Android and I haven’t. The app also helps you identify reptiles and amphibians. You should still give these creatures a wide berth, view from a distance.

Tansy Beetle Update

Roger Brownbridge tells me, “following on from your article on the Tansy Beetle there is also a project in Museum Gardens in York where they have planted a patch of Tansy and have established a colony of Tansy Beetles.” While Phil Atkins writes, “I have long been fascinated by Tansy beetles. Two other locations I have seen them in times past were by the River Soar at Kegworth, Leics in 1965, and above Wooler, Northumberland, more recently in 1989. I wouldn’t have thought that they would have necessarily disappeared from these sites.” Let’s hope they are waiting to be rediscovered.

Siskin - Rex Bradshaw

Siskin – Rex Bradshaw


Carol Wedgewood reports a barn owl near Heyshaw and she tells me, “I went on an Owl site “Safari” with Sheila (Nash), on Thursday. She’s running a WEA course up at Pateley. It was a very windy day and we didn’t expect to see Little Owls but it was very useful to visit sites where Owls had recently been spotted. One of our group has often seen Little Owls also near Heyshaw. Go into the village and walk up the track on the left hand side up past the field with the Alpacas in. Three Little Owls on the walls along the road from Grassington to Pateley. We’ve seen Little Owls here at home on the walls. A Long Eared Owl with its fledgling about 18 months ago on our wall. Tawny Owls and the occasional Barn Owl. Not sure about Short Eared Owls. Need to hone my ability to recognise them. So very exciting! We have a pair of Kestrels again this year in our field and trees. They’ve been successfully breeding every year. Two or three Moorhens that go down to our pond. They breed and fledge but not convinced that many if any of the chicks survive. Too many crows around. We’re on the north side of Padside Beck in Thornthwaite. We’ve seen an Otter twice in Padside Beck, that runs through our land. Badgers twice. One on Dacre Lane, near the turning to Pateley. One late at night on Meagill Lane. A family of Weasels live in our field and we also have Stoats, sometimes seen in our woodpile. So always something to see up here. I’ve now got the BTO app that is extremely useful for logging sightings. I’ve also been in touch with Doug Simpson re Red Kite sightings up here and at Thuscross. I’ve kept a rough log of sightings over the past six years so now it’s great to share these to form a bigger picture.” The BTO provide a guide to sorting long and short-eared owls. Isn’t Nidderdale a wonderful place for wildlife?

More owls, this time John & Stefanie Leigh saw “two birds in flight which looked like Snowy Owls. This is from a moving car so not very well observed. Has something similar been reported by anybody else?” The sighting was on the road between Greenhow and Grassington. The chances of a snowy owl are extremely rare and a pair even more so, sadly therefore I must conclude that what John and Stephanie saw was not a pair of snowy owls. Certainly no one else has reported them. That of course leaves us to wonder what they were? Well I have recently had a report of a single barn owl in that area and my guess is there are a pair there and under the right light conditions they could look very white and from a distance in a car their size could easily have been misjudged. As a bird watcher I do it all the time. Another possibility, as Paul Irving pointed out, are short-eared owls. Since 1808 we have had 166 snowy owls in the UK. The last in Argyll in 2005 and the last in North Yorkshire in 1975 (source BTO ).

Bernice Ferguson wrote, “I was in our fields adjacent to Fountains Abbey yesterday (3rd February) when a huge flock of birds flew over – literally hundreds and very spectacular. They looked to me like common terns but I’m no expert. But having looked on the web and seeing a flock of terns there it seems they probably were. Would it be likely to see a flock of terns at this time of the year in this area?” Bernice continued, “The flock constantly changed shape as when you see flocks of starlings. I’ve never seen anything like it.“ Lucky Bernice I say but, firstly they won’t be terns. Terns are summer migrants to this country and inland only in small numbers, a flock of ten would be considered very big. White birds in big flocks could be gulls, especially black-headed gulls; however, they tend to fly in loose formation rather than close-knit flocks and rarely in huge numbers, although this might be possible at night if they were going to roost or near their breeding grounds. My best guess would be golden plover, these birds are golden brown on top and white underneath but look remarkably white if you see them from below, especially if the sun is on them as it would have been yesterday (what a pleasure to get some sun on our backs!). Golden plovers fly in close formation, especially if threatened by a predator which can often be the case without a casual observer knowing. They are relatively small, lapwing size, but have quite pointed wings, as do terns, they are also seen in large flocks and can be as many as 3,000 although usually considerably smaller. So that is my best guess. Beware they only have black bellies in the breeding season. They are often seen in flocks alongside lapwings and starlings.

Bernice writes, “On another note, I was in our fields next to Fountains Abbey this morning enjoying the sunshine. I was by the River Skell and just a couple of feet from me a kingfisher came along. I could see every detail and the sun lit up the colours. Then, during one hour only I observed a buzzard chasing off a red kite, a pair of tree-creepers on the alders, a nuthatch on another alder, six long tailed tits in the hazels, two pairs of mallards and two moorhens on the river. There was also a marsh tit, a blue tit, a wren and a blackbird nearby. A heron flew along and jackdaws were in an old ash tree. I’ve seen all these birds before but never all at one time. What a morning!

John Mason, tells me he, “read in the Bird Report a couple of years ago, that Bullfinches are uncommon and I do not see them often but there seems to be small resident population between Hookstone Wood, Bathing Well Wood, Hornbeam Park and on the old Crimple golf course (all in Harrogate). They are I find a shy bird despite their heavy build and name and often located first with their sad call. In early or late light the cock bird has a remarkable coloured breast and the hen in breeding season is also beautiful.” It seems that bullfinch are declining in the south and west and increasing in the north and eastern Scotland (BTO). My experience in Bilton, Harrogate, alongside the railway line, is that over the past 5-10 years bullfinch have discovered my feeders and it certainly seems to me that their numbers are increasing, which seems to mirror John’s observations.

Mark Hollock. KillinghallI also “saw two Bullfinches? on his feeder last week. Also saw a small fox ran across the lane in front of the car on Friday. Near Beckwithshaw.”

A Red-necked grebe, white-fonted and pink footed geese were at or around Nosterfield Nature Reserve complex, whilst at RSPB Fairburn Ings there are 13 Little Egrets, 2 Smew, 2 Red-crested Pochard, Bittern, Marsh harrier, 2 Red Kites.

Through Your Window

Judith Fawcett, Jennyfields, Harrogate, reports, via Twitter, a lesser redpoll, goldfinch, starling, long-tailed tits and blackcap recently on her feeders.

Anne Richards, Bilton, Harrogate wrote, following my observations on cotoneaster, “I think the thing about cotoneasters is that there are different varieties. One of ours must be delicious to blackbirds. They are almost queuing up in October waiting for the berries to ripen, which they then clear within days. On the other hand we have one cotoneaster that is never touched and continues to give a bright display of red berries all winter. I’m sure the blackbirds and dunnocks in our garden are getting ready to nest. That is bad news for me because they spend a lot of time in the ivy. I try to trim it early spring before they nest and I haven’t done it yet. Too wet.” I agree with Anne, there is a sense of spring in the air, even if it is February. Rooks and crossbills will already be nesting. Has anyone seen these, or other birds doing so?

Ian law, Starbeck, Harrogate writes, “I have just spotted what I think was a Jay. It was just a fleeting appearance on the hawthorn bushes on the railway cutting at the bottom of my garden. I have not seen one here before. It was a large bird about the size of a magpie with a large chestnut upper body and colourful wings. What do you think?” Sounds very much like a jay to me. No reason why not, they are plentiful but secretive, although for some reason noisy when gathering acorns, in that season, some say because they get drunk on acorn alcohol!

Rex Bradshaw, Spofforth, saw a siskin on his feeders and a strange dark plumaged pheasant locally.


Tansy Beetle, Bats and Your Sightings

5 February 2016

By Geoff Oxford (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0) or GFDL (httpwww.gnu.orgcopyleftfdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tansy Beetle – Geoff Oxford

Tansy Beetle (Chrysolina graminis)

Have you seen any wild tansy flowers over the past year? Not surprising then that the tansy beetle is now so rare that it lives in two places in the UK and is also considered endangered worldwide. It has a comparative stronghold in Nidderdale. A bit of poetic licence maybe there, it grows along the shores of the River Ouse including at its confluence with the River Nidd at Nun Monkton and mainly in the grounds of Beningbrough Hall although it actually can be found along a 30km stretch of the River Ouse around York. A much smaller population was recently discovered in Cambridgeshire and that’s it. It has designation as a conservation priority species in England (section 41 species), which means that public bodies have a duty to protect it, together with its habitat, but changing agriculture and invasive plants such as Himalayan balsam threaten it and certainly around York its sole food plant is tansy (Tanacetum vulgare). Worse still, if the plant dies for some reason they have to walk to a new clump, they don’t choose to fly. Buglife are now working on a Tansy Beetle Champions Project to get local people involved in the conservation of this iconic beetle. By engaging the local community, BugLife will be able to raise awareness of the tansy beetle and improve understanding of the beetle’s habitat and range. The Tansy Beetle Champions project is funded from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Ernest Cook Trust. If you want to help then visit the Tansy Beetle Hub for more information. Do we want to let this beautiful and Nidderdale beetle disappear? Please note the tansy beetle image is by Geoff Oxford (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

More About Tansy Beetles

Newly emerged tansy beetles have fully functioning flight muscles, but over winter these muscles degenerate so much that flight becomes impossible. The adult tansy beetle is approximately 10mm long with a bright iridescent green colouration. The female tansy beetle is generally larger than the male. There is a story (myth?) that the Victorians were so taken in by these large and iridescent green leaf beetles with a coppery sheen that they used them as sequins. The eggs hatch between May and July into larvae, which feed hungrily on tansy leaves. The larvae eventually burrow underground at the base of the tansy plants, the pupae hatch in mid-July and can be seen on tansy plants until September. They burrow underground and spend the winter there until emerging as adults in April. Now the river levels have been very high this winter, I don’t need to tell you that, but there must be a worry that this will impact on the over wintering larva. Let’s hope not.

Adopt a Bat

The Bat Conservancy Trust are looking for folk to adopt a bat. Bats need our help because the places bats roost and the places they find insects, such as trees and woodlands, have been destroyed to make way for buildings and roads. The use of pesticides has also meant there are less insects around for bats to feed on. These chemicals can also harm bats themselves. So they want us to “Adopt a Bat.” According to twitter if you adopt before 8 February you get a free cuddly toy in time for Valentine’s Day, so what are you waiting for? Adoption is £3 per month by direct debit and comes with loads of goodies.


Blue tit - Dr Roger LittonBlue Tit – Dr Roger Litton

Shelia Brown writes, “Just thought I would let you know that the blue tits in our garden are showing great interest in our nest box on the garage wall, we had blue tits nesting in the same box last year, all fledged bar one, a single egg was left in the box when I cleaned it out in October. I am slightly concerned that with the mild weather we are having at the moment, that they might start laying their eggs?” An interesting question, this from the RSPB may help, “conditions in the environment are often the triggers for the hormonal changes to begin. One of the most well-known influences of bird breeding behaviour is day length (or ‘photoperiod’). For birds which are active during daylight hours (‘diurnal’), the lengthening of the days is a sign of the start of favourable conditions for breeding. Change in temperature can also be an important factor, as can abundance of food. In the UK, spring is when most species show a distinct change in behaviour, spending much more time on activities related to breeding such as singing, territory defence and looking for nest sites.” Birds do start prospecting for next sites much earlier than we might expect, I suspect the early bird not only catches the worm but also the best nest sites and Shelia’s nest box is a proven success. Birds also search nest boxes at this time of year for food and this may well be why they are going in and out. They also use nest boxes to roost in, so nest boxes are in no way redundant after nesting is over. I have asked Shelia to keep an eye on proceedings and keep me informed when they actually start to nest, but I suspect and very much hope it won’t be for some time yet. However, Winterwatch on TV this week reported that at least one pair of blue tits had started nesting, I can’t recall where, and hope they aren’t too early and the brood perishes. Sadly, however, it could be that birds are missing the caterpillar glut, because of global warming, and this is affecting nesting success. Un-spring like weather also seems to affect moth and thus caterpillar numbers. These are my views and not necessarily scientific facts.

On this issue of an early spring Rick Brewis and Trish tell me, “We have Honeysuckle leaves out and Blackthorn in flower down Bilton Lane. Nine Roe Deer also seen today.” Apparently 612 wild flower species were recorded on New Year’s Day, by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), normally we could expect no more than 20 to 30 different species.

Roger Litton visted RSPB Fairburn Ings recently, “You will recall that, for most of Yorkshire, it was a brilliant sunny day. We were within a quarter of a mile of Fairburn Ings when we ran into fog – and it was foggy for the entire morning while we were there, as you can see from the photos. As a measure of the mild winter, we still have berries on our holly – something which, to our recollection, we have never seen before in mid-January (the birds have usually cleared the tree completely by December at the latest). The berries on our “unpalatable” cotoneaster are always the last to be tackled but, this year, nothing has been near them (as the photo shows). The birds are obviously doing reasonably well elsewhere – and we are, of course, continuing with the feeders.” This is entirely the opposite of the situation in our Bilton, Harrogate, garden, only a few miles from Roger’s. Our cotoneaster berries which usually are left until last disappeared very early and apart from the hard to reach ones are now all gone. What’s the situation in your garden? Roger and Pauline visited Swinsty Reservoir on 30 January, “We managed a partial walk round Swinsty this morning but it really was blowing a gale. The reservoir was fuller than we’ve ever seen it and talk about choppy! We fed the ducks who were VERY keen (I suspect nobody’s feeding them in this weather – just take the dog for its walk and then rapidly back into the car, except for the keen joggers of course). The sun was shining, though.”

Through The Window

Goldfinch - Judith fawcett

Goldfinch – Judith Fawcett

Judith Fawcett reports “Goldfinch through the window this morning (30-1-16) eating Sunflower hearts.”

What do you see “Through Your Window” and have you any photos?

Janice and Tim Scott report “we had a visit from what we assume was a leucistic redpoll on New Year’s Eve. It was white apart from wings, had pink legs and a pink/red patch on its forehead – the only real clue to its being a redpoll. It was around the feeders for about half an hour, although the other birds were not keen on its presence. There was just one other redpoll around at the same time. We haven’t seen it since. How common are they? We have never seen one before.” Most birds are susceptible to leucism. We see it mainly in corvids and blackbirds or more probably we see it most in the most common birds. This also suggests that no species is more susceptible than another. Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticles, but not the eyes. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin. It seems leucism is inherited. For a comprehensive explanation and a reporting form to complete regarding unusual plumage visit the BTO Leucism & albinism.

Helen Watkison emailed me, “redpolls on bird feeder – must have known it was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.”