The Cuckoos and More, Are Coming!

Cuckoo (3) Michael Smithson

Cuckoo – Michael Smithson

How do we know? Well, they always have done. That’s not to say they always will, sadly cuckoo numbers have declined by half in the past 20 years, and since 2011 the BTO have been tracking them to discover what’s happening to them. Turn to the tracking web page and find out where they are. Of particular interest may be a couple of cuckoos, Coo (don’t shoot the messenger) and Vigilamus (again). These birds were originally given trackers on The North York Moors. Coo was in Ghana, around Lake Volta, on 24 March, where he rested and filled up with fuel for the journey ahead. At moment he seems to be in northern Africa, presumably about to swap continents, no passport control for him. Vigilamus has made a similar journey but is even further north, in northern Spain, probably nobut a spit and a chuck away in cuckoo terms, so keep an eye and ear open for this most iconic of avian summer visitors. If you do hear or see one then there’s some serious citizens science to indulge in. If you are a twit (is that what we call folk on Twitter?) then leave a message on #HeardaCuckoo. Some folk have already done so, but has anyone heard one locally? Let me know and let the BTO know via the Twitter page. This is purely non-scientific but I reckon the reason for the cuckoo’s demise is a lack of insects in this country. Cuckoos are one of the few creatures that like those big hairy caterpillars and how many of those do you see nowadays? Cuckoo numbers are standing up much better in Scotland and the more remote the more likely it is you will see and hear cuckoos, and as anyone who has visited Scotland will know they really do do much better for insects than we do. John Mather saw his first cuckoo of the year at Scar House Reservoir on Wednesday 20 April.

The BTO don’t only track cuckoos, however, they also are watching out, or have tracked Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Nightingales, Swifts and Nightjars. A look at these web pages gives a fascinating look into the lives of these many rare and declining species.

Through Your Window

Anne Richards, who lives some way from the countryside in Bilton reports, We were quite thrilled to see a willow warbler in our Bilton Garden enjoying the sun over the weekend of 9/10 April. Willow warblers may have visited before but we have never seen one.” I reckon it’s a tad unusual for willow warblers and for that matter chiffchaffs to travel so far away from the countryside.

Wildlife Politics

Carole Turner has asked me to publicise this petition to Ban toxic lead ammunition. Carole tells me, “It closes in three weeks and at present is lagging behind the Keep Toxic Lead Ammunition petition which is backed by the shooting industry”. The Government (DEFRA) is also sitting on the Lead Ammunition Group report, which Carole believes will support a ban, presumably hoping it will go away. Lead is a poison. Its continued use in ammunition poisons tens of thousands of birds each year and puts human health at risk. Safe, non-toxic ammunition is used in countries across the world. The UK supports an international agreement to ban lead ammunition. We should ban its use immediately. People eating grouse and pheasant are particularly at risk.

Nature Reserves

YWT Staveley, recent sightings include Blackcap and Whitethroat. Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers seem to be everywhere but the real delight – and it can be enjoyed absolutely anywhere – is the wonderful sounds all the birds are making. Get out and listen to them whilst you can.

Seen at Scar House Reservoir on 20 April, Ring Ouzel, Redstart, House Martin, Common Sandpiper and near the tunnel on Scar Road a Pied Flycatcher.

Recent RSPB Fairburn Ings sightings, Garganey, Bittern, Black-necked Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Arctic Tern, Little Gull, Cuckoo, Peregrine and Lesser Whitethroat.

More unusual, recent sightings at Nosterfield Nature Reserve include, Avocet, Whooper Swan, Black-tailed Godwit and Black-necked Grebe.

Puffin - Wendy Binns

Puffin – Wendy Binns

Your Sightings

Wendy Binns writes, “Lots of activity in the garden pond with frog spawn turning out like this. We had five frogs in the garden and this is the result. Look at all those legs!” Wendy contacted me later to say, “I am enjoying the birdsong in our garden. Absolutely amazing at 6am. We have a Wren nesting in an old box in the back garden and a Blackbird with a very long beak is putting it to good use by constantly sitting in our flower tubs and flicking the soil all over the patio. We have a lot of Goldfinches – up to 12 at a time on the feeders and Chaffinches, Blue Tits etc. The Magpies are very busy and no doubt will produce more. Last year they had young and were a nuisance. We went to RSPB Bempton last week and the Puffins are back

Anne Snelson heard her first chiffchaff at Beningbrough Hall on Sunday, 10 April.

John Mason, “On Sunday last (10 April) I spotted a swallow from the car while being driven along the A61 returning to Harrogate between Nun Monkton and Green Hammerton. Actually next to the roadside woodyard. I know it don’t make a summer but it’s a start.” Any swallow always gives me a lift.

Neil Anderson and Robert Brown recently visited Sir Henry Wood, a place not a person, near Ripley where they saw, Redpoll, Linnets and Brambling.

Cowslip - Alan Croucher

Cowslip – Alan Croucher

Alan Croucher and The Summer Wine trio continue their weekly jaunts and have enjoyed seeing the advancing evidence of spring. Alan writes, “I meant to mail you before to tell you what we’ve seen recently. We saw our first Sand Martins of the year – at Nosterfield, where we also saw some very attractive Ruff and a rather handsome Pintail among many others including Chiffchaffs which were seen as well as heard. Trish and I went for a walk along the Nidderdale Greenway again earlier this week (once more, Chiffchaffs were very much in evidence) where there were lots of Celandine and we noticed that it won’t be long before the Bluebells along there will be glorious as quite a few are already in flower. Bumble Bees were also very busy along there. We saw our first House Martins yesterday – just a couple, flying over Great Ouseburn. Then today (14th) Des and I went for a stroll along the path beside Ripley Castle and saw our first Swallows (as well as more Chiffchaffs). The Cowslips along there are very pretty.”

Wood Pigeons - Roger Litton

Leucistic Woodpigeon – Roger Litton

Roger Litton had a wander around RHS Harlow Carr recently and saw a couple of woodpigeons, one seemed to have a dilution of feather pigment (leucism).

Louise Bird, “I was delighted to see and hear my first Chiffchaffs of the season on 2 April on the Harland Way (footpath between Wetherby and Spofforth). Saw my first Sand Martins flying over the Wharfe in Wetherby on 10 April.”

Steve Kempson writes on 17 April, “I’d been wondering when we’d see some House Martins return to Knaresborough so was delighted to see a couple flying around the house yesterday. But I suspect the current cold weather won’t be suiting them, as I can’t see there being many insects on the wing for them to catch.” You are the first to report House Martins to me (I think). I wouldn’t worry too much, the Sand Martins seem to be doing OK at Staveley, not far from you. Apparently if the weather is bad they just fly further south, only to return when it picks up again. I have no idea how anyone can possibly know this, though!

Anne Brown, Summerbridge, “Nice surprise this morning (15 April), the first swallow has arrived back, hope there are many more to follow.

Moth Trapper Jill Warwick caught a pale pinion moth in her trap in early April, these are unusual moths to trap so far north and usually found mainly in more southerly counties.

Lisa, writes, “whilst out last Sunday with my dad, I spotted this butterfly in a field in Nether Hesleton Farm. It’s looking a bit shabby. Dad searched and found it is a Peacock butterfly.” If Lisa, her Dad or you want to know more about butterflies and help monitor them by recording sightings you can download this app from Butterfly Conservation ( It’s easy to use, helps protect declining butterflies and it’s free.

Peacock - Lisa (cropped)

Lisa’s Peacock Butterfly, notice how worn it is

Colin Harrison writes, “just reading your latest blog made me wonder when I last heard (never mind saw) a Yellowhammer. Have they disappeared?” Yellowhammer are a red data species in the UK but of least concern nationally. Most UK farmland birds are sadly declining, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still see them locally. Yellowhammer visit the bird feeders at Staveley Nature Reserve (, and can be seen in Bilton on the cycleway to Starbeck just before the track splits towards Starbeck and ASDA. Also in Bilton follow the railway track towards Ripley, cross the viaduct and they are found in a cutting just past the wood. Finally, and I haven’t visited this area recently, but the area north of Collingham seen from the footpath to Spofforth. For more info visit: BTO Bird Facts, Common By Nature, BTO Bird Trends.

Outdoors Events

See website for full details of these events and to confirm no changes.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Sunday 24 April 11am Outdoor Meeting – Visit to RSPB Leighton Moss Meet at Reserve

Nidderdale Bird Club

Fri to Sun 22nd to 24th AprilWeekend trip to Teesdale

2 thoughts on “The Cuckoos and More, Are Coming!

  1. My first sighting of orange tips near South Stainley on a glorious sunny day.

    Re insects, generally: Has anyone researched the effect that traffic has on our insect population? Or am I alone in my concern? Surely to effect of hitting billions of them constantly, particularly on fast motorways, but overall any travelling vehicle is lethal to them. The bumblebee becomes a statistic with just one crack of the windscreen and quite often I come across them on the pavement a sure indication to me that they have been hit. The smaller insects difficult to detect but I suspect their numbers are depleted dramatically. I certainly don’t have a problem with “fly squash” on my car as used to be the case.




    • Hi Shirley,
      You raise a very interesting point. I suspect that the answer is no. Did you also realise that according to the Asthma UK 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12). Know in my view much of this is caused by vehicle emissions. If these small particles can affect us then imagine the damage it possibly does to our insects. Combine this with pesticides, herbicides, etc. etc. Coupled all this with the fact that the oil, car and chemical global conglomerates have an huge power over our Government and is it any wonder our wildlife is in such decline!


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