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, 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.


2 thoughts on “Nests, Dragons and Your Sightings

  1. Just read the comment about bullfinches in the Hookstone Woods area. 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.


    • Thanks Roger,
      Much appreciated, I find eventually what happens with bullfinches is that the male comes 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.


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