Our Biodiversity is in Danger

Lady's Slipper Orchid3 - Kilnsey Park.jpg

Lady Slipper Orchid grows wild in only one secret British Location

I have been invited to give a talk on the above subject to Nidderdale Climate and Environment Group at the Broadbelt Hall, Glasshouses on Monday, 11 July at 7:30pm. It would be great if you could come and support me and our biodiversity. Just a quick taster, The 2013 State of Nature report tells us that 60% of species have declined over the past 50 years, 35% have declined strongly. Find out why and let’s see what we can do about it. Visit the How Stean Blog for some background but it may not be live until tomorrow.

Fancy some Digging Around?

Nidderdale AONB is organising a Big Dig to examine the remains of the Lost Village of Lodge near Scar House Reservoir. Lodge is a former medieval grange farm for the Cistercian Abbey of Byland that was sold into private ownership following the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century. The settlement is recorded on Saxton’s map of 1577 as ‘Lodge howses’, and appears on Ordnance Survey maps from the mid-18th century onwards. It was continually occupied up to abandonment in the 1920. The Dig will take place between 12 and 23 July. For more details regarding the dig and how to sign up visit the website.

Email Problems

I don’t understand why but I am getting a number of rejected emails and would request that if you wanted to ensure receipt of my blog that you consider following me by clicking the follow button on the blog, inserting your email address and responding to the subsequent email asking for confirmation. Alternatively if you are sick of the blog then just email me asking for unsubscribe.

Your Sightings

Peacock - Andrew Dobby

Female Peacock – Andrew Dobby

Andrew Dobby tells me, “We had a visitor to our garden here in Marton Cum Grafton on Father’s Day, a beautiful female Peacock. She strutted around on next door’s roof calling loudly for at least ten minutes. We even tried imitating her call, god knows what the neighbours thought of that, but she looked at us and she answered every time. She then wandered down the wall towards us and ended up just a couple of yards away before moving off. A super experience.” As you probably know there has been a male peacock in Bilton for many years which has unremittingly and equally unsuccessfully tried to find a mate every spring and summer; Biltonians’ eardrums pay testimony to this. He’s the most photographed personality in Bilton. Peacock families also occur in Killinghall. The sentimental in me suggests we introduce your bird to Bilton’s, although my head tells me someone else can catch them, have you seen the spike on the back of the legs?

John Wade writes, “Had a wonderful experience at Staveley Reserve today. A very large otter was swimming in the lagoon very near to the common tern nests (with young) on the rafts. Two terns started to dive bomb it, in order to warn it off. It kept having to dive to keep away. Terns are magical to watch, the speed, grace and accuracy of their flying is wonderful.” Like John, I think terns are one of my favourite birds. Go to the Farnes if you haven’t been and visit the Long Nanny Site, a little tern site although not many pairs shown on Springwatch, very disappointing.

Blue Tit - David Uffindall

Blue Tit – David Uffindall

David Uffindall has sent some photos of three of his garden guests. Excellent shots of a blackbird, blue tit and grey squirrel. I have only included the blue tit in my blog.

Max Hamilton, Bilton, reports a second brood of blackbirds in his garden. They enjoy “chilling out” in the sunshine on Max’s patio.

Chris Beard, “Just before I went away for a few days last Monday, 20 June I was in my garden about 9am when I heard the very distinctive sound of birds overhead which I didn’t recognise (not that I am very knowledgeable on these matters). When the group of five birds were overhead I thought they looked like curlews (with the curved beak) but the sound was totally wrong. When I mentioned the sighting to a birder friend he thought it could have been whimbrels. He has an app with bird sounds and when he played the whimbrel call it was exactly right. Is it unusual for them to be over urban areas (flying east to west over HG2 7AZ)?” It’s unusual for whimbrel to be around at any time, especially outside the spring and autumn passage. Whimbrel, a smaller relative of the curlew, breed on the taiga, on mountainsides above the tree line and tundra. They can however be seen on passage in small groups between April and May and between July and August. It seems you were very lucky. For more information visit The Whimbrel Research and Satellite Tracking Lower Derwent Valley Project. They study migrating whimbrel. “Every year thousands of Whimbrels pass through England and Wales during April and early May as they move northwards from their wintering grounds in Africa. Some of these birds stay for a while to re-fuel at traditional staging areas before continuing on to the main breeding grounds in Iceland and Scandinavia. The Whimbrel staging area in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR, 15km south east of York, has been monitored annually since 1987. During the day the Whimbrels are scattered over damp pastures away from the reserve where they feed on earthworms and insects; however, at dusk the birds move to the nature reserve at Wheldrake Ings where they roost together at the edge of shallow pools.” Wheldrake could be the source of your sightings.

I have mentioned the dearth of butterflies and moths recently so I am pleased to report that Mike Barnham thinks otherwise. Mike is a well respected and knowledgeable lepidopterist. “We are in what I call the ‘June lull’ with the butterflies, but there will soon be much more on the wing. The Large Skipper and Small Heath are out and the Meadow Browns and Ringlets are just starting to hatch; Burnet larvae are pupating on the grass stems, and there are nests of Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock larvae on the nettles – so I think we will be OK!” I do hope Mike is right, I have certainly had an early ringlet in our garden.

At the beginning of the month, sorry for the delay, Tony Mawson told me, “Just to let you know, warm weather arrives at 5pm Saturday, along with two Painted Lady butterflies, only one late last year, never had them as early. Noted on your blog that a lady had no Goldfinches, she can have some of ours, we have a party of eight visit three or four times a day, they get through one large feeder every couple of days. Regarding raptor persecution, it’s not good news, when recently a man was caught setting illegal pole traps near Hawes, in an area being frequented by a Hen Harrier, he was arrested by North Yorkshire Police but only received a caution, how is that going to deter these idiots.”

Jackdaws - Roger Litton

Jackdaws – Roger Litton

Roger Litton writes, “We went to Fountains Abbey yesterday – at the Studley Royal end – with the intention of feeding the ducks before a short walk (brown bread only, of course, never white). In the event the ducks were greatly outnumbered by the black-headed gulls and there were nearly as many jackdaws as ducks waiting to be fed! These two sat there and asked to be photographed.”

Gillian Fernie tells me she has had starlings in her garden, “eating dried meal worms and fat balls, suet pellets. Very difficult to count, we counted 30/40 of them at one stage. They hung around for a couple of days then they were off. They loved bathing all squashed into a rather large bird bath.” Great news, my starlings have deserted me this year, sadly.

Early Purple Orchids - Roger Brownbridge

Early Purple Orchid – Richard Brownbridge

Roger Brownbridge made “our annual walk out of Grassington and up through the limestone area to the top of Grass Wood which had its usual high numbers of purple orchids, there is one spot in particular just across to the right from the stile into the wood where there are literally hundreds. On another matter, we have a pyracantha each side of our bedroom window and three times now in the last three to four weeks I have drawn back the curtains and found myself looking straight into the eyes of a Sparrowhawk only around a foot away, this is obviously his ambush location for the small birds which frequent our garden.” My apologies because of the delay in writing about Roger’s orchids, I suspect they may well be well past their best by now. Nevertheless Roger’s excellent photo almost makes up for missing them.


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


THIS SUNDAY, 3 JULY – Near North Stainley, Ripon 10:00 till 14:00. Check for details on the reserve web site http://www.highbatts.wordpress.com. All welcome. Details in last week’s blog.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 8th July – RSPB Bempton and Flamborough


Picnic With Henry and National Insect Week

Red Kite - StephenTomlinson

Red Kite – Stephen Tomlinson (Nidd Gorge Photography)

Picnic With Henry

Henry the Hen Harrier, according to Mark Avery, ex RSPB guy and currently wildlife blogger and campaigner, is organising a picnic at Grimwith Reservoir this Saturday, 25 June at noon. I know little other than this but I suspect it has arisen as a result of all the Red Kite killings and other illegal wildlife activities which take place in North Yorkshire and around our area. Doug Simpson tells me that “Remains of another shot Kite found at Timble on Monday. Probably shot around the same time as the Blubberhouses bird. That makes six confirmed shot in Yorkshire since Easter”. Regarding the pole traps I mentioned last week Doug also tells me, “I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that this case did not go to court of any description. Rather, the caution was administered by NY Police. We are all eagerly awaiting the outcome of a review of the matter promised by the ACC Amanda Oliver.” My apologies if I misled anyone. Strangely the police has withdrawn it’s website discussing the subject, try searching for North Yorkshire Police pole trap. Let me know if you get any response from the Commissioner, please.

Magpie Moth - Shirley Dunwell

Magpie Moth – Shirley Dunwell

National Insect Week

This week is National Insect Week, a biannual event aimed at encouraging folk of all ages to learn more about insects. It runs until 26 June and offers various events – don’t bother there’s nowt near home – a Great Bug Hunt Competition for schools, and a free magazine for kids, sorry, young entomologists. What is an entomologist? Well there’s a video to tell you, another to say what an insect is and finally why insects are important. They are an integral part of the food web and are not only eaten by animals ‘higher’ up the scale but also provide a valuable role as scavenger and rubbish disposer, so don’t underestimate the role insects play within our biodiversity. Don’t just scan these videos to find out about insects though, why not get outdoors and see what you can find, look for various types of insect orders such as beetles, bees, wasps, crickets, dragonflies, earwigs, mayflies, true bugs and more. Use the website resources to Discover these Insects and distinguish between the different ones. Let’s take true bugs for example because the term always fascinates me. In fact true bugs or insects of the HEMIPTERA (Ancient Greek –hemi =half ; pteron = wing) feed on plant sap, using their specialised piercing, sucking mouthparts. Examples include plant-bugs, bed-bugs, water-boatmen, aphids, leafhoppers, froghoppers and (in warmer climates) cicadas. The spit-like substance you find on plants at this time of year is produced by common froghopper nymphs for protection. Our lavender is festooned with it at the moment. When disturbed, the adults can jump as high as 70 cm with enormous force using their powerful back legs. Recent research has shown that within a millisecond they can accelerate to over 14 km/h! Very few potential predators could catch the Common Froghopper once it has jumped. And maybe that’s why it gets its name. Another true bug you may see, although less likely, is the shieldbug, so named because it’s shaped like a shield. The Green Shieldbug’s alternative name – Green Stink Bug – refers to the smell that it leaves as a trail over fruit and vegetation. If it is present in large numbers, this can taint and spoil a crop. The insects also produce this smell if handled or disturbed.

High Batts Open Day

Now don’t be too disappointed if you missed out because there’s no National Insect Week events near us because on Sunday, July 3 High Batts Nature Reserve is holding its annual Open Day from 10am to 4pm and what’s more it’s free. There ought to be plenty of insects on show with loads of fascinating activities including pond dipping, displays of bats and moths, children’s activities, make a bird box, bird ringing. Help with bird identification, from Nidderdale Birders, displays by local natural history groups, live small mammal trapping – see them released back to the wild. And refreshments, no charge, in fact entrance is also free so it’s clearly not to be missed. It’ll be packed with Yorkshire folk for sure. High Batts is a fascinating place because it was once part of the land on the east side of the River Ure until over the years the course of the river has changed and it is now accessible from the west of the river, complete with ox-bow lake and whilst it still floods in extreme conditions it has also proved to be a valuable wildlife habitat, aided and abetted by the volunteers of High Batts Nature Reserve. Thanks should be given to the Graham Family of Norton Conyers who kindly allow the Open Day. If coming from Ripon on the A6108 towards North Stainley High Batts is situated just beyond the rise after Lightwater Valley, on the right, down the Hanson Track, if you reach North Stainley you have missed it, but you shouldn’t because it will be well signposted on the day.


7-Spot Ladybird with Cocoon  Ladybird Challenge Website

Take The Ladybird Challenge

This might prove difficult if the number of ladybirds I have seen this year is anything to go by. It is therefore even more important to take part if you can. Like all these requests for help this is more citizens’ science we need to help if proper funding isn’t available. The Ladybird Challenge wants folk to help them find the 7-spot ladybird and the wasp parasite Dinocampus coccinellae (sorry, there’s no English name for it!) that attacks it. The project is investigating whether the natural balance between the 7-spot ladybird and this wasp parasite has been disrupted by the arrival of another ladybird, the invasive alien harlequin ladybird. This invasive ladybird species has caused large population declines for many native UK ladybirds, but its impact is predicted to be even more widespread, with 1000 insect species affected in the UK. “We want to know if ladybird parasites have been impacted. Your help is needed to find 7-spot ladybirds and tell us whether or not they have been attacked by the Dinocampus wasp. We can then link your observations to information gathered by the UK Ladybird Survey on the number of harlequins in your area to help us answer our question. Go hunting for 7-spot ladybirds and report how many you find; how many have an easily recognisable seed-shaped cocoon between their legs. Record your ladybirds and where you found them using the online form”. If you were wondering – and I certainly was – what is this cocoon business? Look away now if you are of a queasy nature (this works much better on TV). Well the wasp has laid its grub inside the ladybird which then pushing its way out of the ladybird and spins a cocoon between the legs of the ladybird. The reason it keeps the ladybird there is to get protection from the bad tasting ladybird against potential predators. The wasp has used its venom to keep the ladybird twitching, adding to the protection that the ladybird is providing the wasp against predation.

Your Sightings

As it’s National Insect Week I thought I would concentrate where I could on insects, so if your contribution has been missed off it may well feature it next week.

Shirly Dunwell writes, “The solitary bees (as you expected) have sealed their tunnels and left before I could get a good shot. My best guess at which species they might have been were tawny mining bee or red mason bee – neither of which is registered as in danger. Sadly, online they are still mentioned by some as being a possible danger to building mortar. Last year I submitted a photo of the rather attractive Magpie Moth which has now produced larvae – they reportedly eat currant or fruit bushes which might not be popular with me! But presently they like my sedum leaves and I am happy to leave them there. Following on from my report of starlings in March; I regularly see upwards of 24 each day (including their offspring).”

Green Drake - Ephemera dancia poss - Cliare Yarborough

Mayfly – Claire Yarborough

Claire Yarborough found this mayfly on her car, “This mayfly repeatedly landed on my car roof yesterday and seemed to be leaving eggs. It appears to have an egg mass at the end of its body. I found this intriguing as we have no pond and brief research informed me that they lay in water. Could the reflection of blue sky have fooled it? I have no idea what species it is. Any ideas?” I’m honoured that Claire rates my knowledge so highly, but feel she will be disappointed. I suspect only fishermen can identify mayflies and similar insects, the rest of us are pleased just to see them. I am sure Claire is absolutely right, I’m just a little surprised it travelled so far from running(?) water to deposit its eggs, they usually only live a few hours after hatching. More info here, but I reckon firstly it is a mayfly, not a stonefly, caddisfly or similar because it appears to have short antennae. My guess therefore would be, please note the careful use of the word guess, Ephemera dancia, or green drake.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve recent sightings include butterflies, Large Skippers, Common Blues, brimstone, speckled wood, green-veined white. Flowers bee orchids, Common spotted orchid, meadow vetchling, heath speedwell and eyebright. Birds black-tailed godwits in summer plumage and little egrets.

RSPB Fairburn Ings cuckoos, one very elusive spoonbill, and a black tern!

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society report an hobby at Hay-a-Park, Kanresborough.

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club Sunday 26th JuneNorth Cave Wetlands

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society – Thursday 23 June – Scotton Banks and Nidd Gorge

Is This Raptor Justice?


Honey Bee on Himalayan Balsam

Raptor Persecution

I was hoping I might not have to mention raptor persecution again but I’m afraid I have some rather distressing news from Widdle Fell. The RSPB tells us that three illegal pole traps were found on a grouse shooting estate inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Pole traps were outlawed in 1904 and consist of a metal spring trap placed on an exposed post in order to target birds of prey. When triggered they snap shut with considerable force, crushing the legs of the bird. Trapped birds remain present until they succumb to their injuries or are killed by the trap operator. Particularly concerning was that a hen harrier had been sighted the same morning hunting on the fell a short distance away. Bob Elliot, Head of RSPB Investigations, said: “These are dreadful barbaric devices and have no place in the 21st century. North Yorkshire has long held the unenviable reputation of the worst county in England for raptor persecution. The sighting of a Hen Harrier in the immediate area is of particular concern. This species is nearly extinct as a breeding species in England and it last bred successfully in North Yorkshire in 2007 despite huge areas of suitable habitat. Earlier this year Defra launched its Hen Harrier Action Plan, which has been supported by shooting organisations. Yet again, we have seen that there appears to be little sign that birds of prey will be tolerated in our uplands.” The case went to court and according to North Yorkshire Police, “The persecution of birds of prey is a UK wildlife crime priority, and the successful conviction in this case demonstrates the tenacity and strong working relationship that exists between North Yorkshire Police, the RSPB and other rural partners.” The court case, I presume Magistrates Court but may be wrong, decided that the best course of action was to give the perpetrator an adult caution. There’s North Yorkshire Justice for you. In case you are sufficiently incensed may I provide the contact details of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan. I believe you can ‘Hold the Commissioner To Account by phoning 101 or email her at pcc@northyorkshire-pcc.gov.uk. Let me Know What You Think. David Beeken tells me, “There are 30 breeding pairs of Hen Harriers on Arran; the island has an area of 432 sq.k. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has an area of 1762 sq.k., four times the size of Arran. How many breeding pairs in the National Park? You all know the answer. This is why. For many crimes and misdemeanours the sentences are meant to act as a deterrent to others; why does this not apply to the grouse moor owners? At least in Scotland the landowner is vicariously liable.”

Jennyruth Workshop

Jennyruth is “A productive workshop where adults with learning disabilities gain confidence, work and life skills.” You might find their latest newsletter interesting. The guys there have been getting involved with wildlife in a big way. Laney Birkhead, artist and beekeeper, visited as part of their bee project. Laney has been doing an art installation called ‘Swarm’, about Bees. She is also a beekeeper and helping to let people know that Bees need our help because their population is declining. A bird project has also been undertaken and a goosander nestbox was built. These smashing saw-billed ducks nest in tree holes and one was delivered and erected at High Batts Nature Reserve. Visit High Batt’s Open Day on 3 July when you may be able to see it. More about High Batts Open Day in the next blog, but why not make a note in your diary now, it’s always great with pond dipping, guided walks, displays of bats and moths plus bird ringing interest for all the family, as they say. Anyway back to Jennyruth, a final project mentioned in the newsletter is the hedgehog project and a hedgehog box was built and Krista, founder of the Wildlife Haven Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Thirsk, talked about hedgehogs to the Business Studies Group. Explore their website and learn more. You can also buy wildlife products such as nest-boxes, bird tables, hedgehog boxes and much more from Jennyruth.

Swarm – Laney Birkhead

Laney warmly welcomes everyone to her Swarm of Bees Exhibition at Danby’s ‘Inspired by Gallery’ this summer. Danby is The North York Moors National Park Centre and the Gallery hosts changing exhibitions of work by artists who draw their inspiration from the landscape, life and colour of the North York Moors. Laney’s exhibition is of print making and Laney has been overwhelmed by the support she has received, resulting in a 3D installation, which you can walk inside. It’s a calico printed beehive and inside you will experience being surrounded by 50,000 bees! Hundreds of people have taken part over the last year, to help raise awareness of bee decline and what can be done to help them. Laney tells us, “It has been an amazing experience working around Yorkshire combining my two passions printmaking and beekeeping.” The installation will be complemented by the work of ten artists and craft makers and two film makers, all showing new work inspired by bees and their importance to our ecology. Visit the Swarm of Bees Exhibition for more details and make a note in your diary to visit Danby between Friday, 22 July and Tuesday, 9 August 2016 or visit ‘Meet the Artists Day’ on Saturday, 23 July 12 noon – 3 pm. Please support these folk who do so much to help our wildlife. It’s said that without bees we die!

Kingfisher Male Bringing Fish  - Barry Carter

Kingfisher Male Bringing Fish – Barry Carter

Your Sightings

Judi Needham-Crane reports, “We saw a Kingfisher at Hay a Park lake yesterday (Knaresborough) – I’ve been walking there for 10 years or so and that was the first time I’ve seen one!”

Jon Burge writes, “A couple of weeks ago I heard in Dacre Banks the unmistakeable call of Swifts, but none were to be seen flying around. I finally spotted under the eaves of the north facing side of a house some swift boxes, from which the sounds came. I was going to contact the owner to find out how these are constructed. Thankfully, your articles provided the information. I will construct some and install them by next spring.” Thanks Jon, great news, can other folk also do this please for details visit Swift Conservation.

Claire Yarborough tells me, “We’ve had a camera in one of our nest boxes for at least three years, but nothing has shown any interest in moving in. We were very excited when some nesting material began to appear around 22 April and we watched to find out who our new neighbour was. Tree sparrows! We watched every day, but managed to miss the eggs altogether, which must have been buried under feathers and grass. On 11 May we saw five tiny chicks and parent activity and hours of watching time increased. There are now (24 May) three healthy, hungry chicks, quite well feathered and beginning to exercise their wings. I’m hoping they will fledge this week. Let’s hope this is the first of many years of occupation. It’s certainly more interesting than watching telly.”

Dunnock Nest - Dennis Skinner

Dunnock Nest – Dennis Skinner

Doug Simpson has “recently had a Dunnock, normally a ground-feeder, which has been trying to buck up courage to sample the sunflower hearts in one of my bird feeders. It’s usually been unsuccessful, but yesterday (Wednesday) it finally made it. It grabbed a couple of seeds and flew off. Not seen it back yet, but then I’m not always watching. It would be a good thing if more of them would adapt to bird feeders, so keeping them off the ground where they are vulnerable to cats.”

Carol Moore has some “very exciting news! We have regular sightings of a Heron visiting our pond. Yesterday I commented that I hadn’t seen it recently. Low and behold this morning at 9.25am one circled a number of times and landed by the pond. We didn’t see it fly off. However, at 12.12 we saw not one but two take off from the pond and fly south of Padside Beck into tall trees west of Thornthwaite. How wonderful it would be if a nesting pair were relocating to this area. Has anyone else seen a pair recently between St Saviours Church and Thornthwaite?

Sheila Brown, you may recall, had tadpoles and fish in the same pond, well, “Just to let you know that I split the frog spawn and the fish into two separate ponds as you suggested, all the tadpoles are doing very well, there must be around 1000 of them, some are just getting their back legs, in the same pond we have newts who enjoy eating the odd tadpole. I am feeding the tadpoles flaked goldfish food and they love it, all the natural green algae that sticks to the sides of the pond has all been eaten away. Just waiting to spot some baby newts, any idea when that is likely to be? The goldfish in the new pond are also looking like they could be ready to breed; on the strength of that I have suspended a mop head in the water for the fish fry to hide in – I have noticed from past experience that the adult goldfish do eat their own kind.” I reckon young newts should be around now, look for small fish-like animals. Thanks to Shelia for helping the tadpoles, another creature needing our help. If only folk were like Shelia and not like the folk who put pole traps up?

Nosterfield Nature Reserve recent sightings include two barnacle geese and a short-eared owl. Also yellow wagtail, hobby and two little egret, Flask.


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

Jacob Smith Park Knaresborough, is organising a Balsam Bash on Saturday, 25 June from 10am. Bring a drink, wear long sleeves and most importantly bring gloves. Everyone welcome.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday, 20 June(Evening) Stainburn Forest

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Thursday, 23 June 10:00 – 14:00 Flora and fauna of Scotton Banks and Nidd Gorge

Brood Parasites & Some Depressingly Low Migrant Numbers

Badger close - Gerald Hardwick (Small)

Day Time Adventurer, Badger Cub – Gerald Hardwick

A Few Observations From Padside

Janice Scott (JS) has sent me the following, what’s happening where you live?

JS “We have seen Swifts screaming around the junction at Summerbridge a few times recently and then finally saw one fly into the eaves of the Flying Dutchman pub. We rarely see them at Padside these days, but a couple were spotted yesterday (Friday, 3 June) and also Tuesday, 31 May.”

I was disappointed with the number of Swift sightings sent me and the interest in the Swift scheme, please let me know if you are interested.

JS “We have heard a Cuckoo several times over the last week or so from the Padside Beck direction. It was good to hear, as there have been a few summers with no Cuckoo around here. Friends in Heyshaw report hearing one there quite often. Could it be the same one? We have been debating how large a patch they cover.”

The Cuckoo as we know is a brood parasite and consequently the female needs to be mobile to search out the hosts it needs for species survival. I suspect therefore that the male, which sings, also needs the same mobility to find a female, at this juncture I assume we understand about birds and bees, after saying this, certainly as a child I recall hearing Cuckoos calling, often three or four birds at a time, from the same areas. Maybe the girls therefore search out the boys and then find their hosts. Whatever, as our Cuckoo numbers decrease in England – in areas of Scotland good numbers remain – more mobility is needed to successfully find a partner. My gut feeling is that these are separate birds and that this year Cuckoo numbers may be slightly up on the last few years. Finally, if so this may not be permanent. Because of climate change many of the Cuckoo’s host species are now arriving earlier at their breeding grounds whilst the Cuckoo has advanced its migration only slightly. Those species unable to adequately respond to climate change may find themselves at a considerable disadvantage. If anyone knows the answer to Janice’s question please share it with us.

JS “Also back and singing determinedly are Garden Warbler and Blackcap – completely missing last year. But our Swallows don’t seem to be faring as well. They seemed to return as usual mid-April and, after checking the site was still there, went off to feed up. After the cold spell at the end of the month they returned, but don’t seem to have been able to get down to nesting. We can’t work out what is going on – youngsters who haven’t learned the ropes? Shortage of insects? All ideas gratefully received. The latest development seems to be that the female has gone missing, but the male is still around sitting on the wires singing away and fiercely defending his patch when other Swallows (presumably males) come near. Is it too late for him this year, or might there be some late arrivals? I gather numbers are down this year, presumably constant north winds could have something to do with this.”

Janice’s observations concur with my own, there seems to be more Garden Warblers and Blackcaps around but the number of Swallows is depressingly low. I reckon a shortage of insects could well be the problem, sadly perhaps terminal for the earliest Swallows unless they flew back south to feed, although I suspect the poor weather may well have been European wide. Swallows will have two broods so I don’t think it’s too late. Let’s hope so.

JS “Re butterflies, we think Peacocks were hit by the very cold spring, but now we seem to have more Orange-tip around than last year. My tip is to allow garlic mustard (a food plant) to grow in your garden and to plant/sow seeds of sweet rocket, which they obviously like nectaring on.”

Again I agree with Janice, although I even think Orange-tips are also suffering. On Sunday, 5 June I visited Nosterfield Nature reserve and it was a brilliant summer’s day, great weather for butterflies, except there just weren’t very many. I spoke to Steve the warden there and we agreed that it was all very disappointing. I saw whites, I struggle to differentiate between large and small, especially when they are on the wing as these were, Green-veined white, one conveniently landed for me, Orange-tip, a single Peacock and single Speckled Wood. This is hugely worrying because butterflies provide the caterpillars which feed our young birds, break the food chain and our biodiversity is in serious trouble. You can help by doing as Janice says and planting for wildlife. RHS and Butterfly Conservation can provide some great planting tips, but do it, it’s so important. Incidentally garlic mustard is also known as Jack-by-the-Hedge. Alternatively try BugLife’s ‘Gardening for Bugs a downloadable .pdf file. I am speaking at the Nidderdale Climate and Environment Group’s meeting in 11 July at Broadbelt Hall, Glasshouses from 7:30pm, subject Biodiversity in Danger. Your support would be appreciated, this is a free event.

JS” For a few years we have been fascinated by the fact that the Tree Sparrows who nest in our boxes seem to rip leaves off our lavender and plants, presumably to line the nest. I had speculated as to whether they were choosing these aromatic plants deliberately. It seems I was right, at least according to Chris Packham on Springwatch. Birds will choose aromatic plants like these, possibly for their antiseptic/healing properties – for mites etc. So the moral to this seems to be that if you want to get sparrows to nest on your house, plant lavender or golden marjoram around it!”

Marjoram isn’t just good for Sparrows. It is also a great pollinator, a must for any garden with pretensions towards helping wildlife.

JS “Finally have you seen the new little shop that has been opened in the courtyard in Pateley Bridge? Among other things they are making bat and bird boxes to order, ranging from huge Barn Owl boxes to Swift and Robin/Wren. I think it is great that something like this has opened to cater for those who want to encourage wildlife into their garden, rather than just having an outside space for a barbecue as one of your other contributors wrote. Let’s hope it is the start of people falling back in love with the nature all around them before it is too late. The shop is well worth a look and, no, I am not getting any backhanders for saying this!”

Like Janice I also get no back-handers, some would be nice!

How Do Song Thrush Choose Their Song?

Richard Simmonds wrote on 22 May, “No more Swallows seen yet at Blazefield but two Swifts today screaming across the roof tops and Orange-tip butterfly. Also a Song Thrush every morning that is mimicing two of the Curlew’s calls. Now here’s a question…. does it think about which song it should do next or is it automatic? There’s never any repetition per sitting but we are starting to recognise its various calls which come up daily.” Song Thrush are great mimics of sounds they hear around them although they tend to restrict their calls to only a short selection of notes. Wikipedia tells us an individual male may have a repertoire of more than 100 phrases, many copied from its parents and neighbouring birds. Mimicry may include the imitation of man-made items like telephones, and the Song Thrush will also repeat the calls of captive birds, including exotics such as the white-faced whistling duck. Researching Richard’s questions has left me no clearer so over to you, can you help, please?

Bistort - Roger Litton

Bistort – Roger Litton

Your Sightings

Gerald Hardwick shared this photo of a young badger cub he saw recently in broad daylight. I won’t say where because you what some folk do to badgers. Roger Litton photographed this rather lovely bistort flower.

Colin Harrison makes a very interesting point, “I have just returned from a visit to northern Poland (formerly East Prussia), and I have to report that I have never seen so many Swifts all in the air at once for years. It was a most striking sight, and sadly it made me realise just how few we seem to have now where we live.”

David and Joyce Smith wrote, “We emailed you last year regarding Starlings in our garden. We have still had plenty around during the winter months but now the numbers have increased as they are all bringing the babies too. Yesterday several times we had up to 10 babies in or on our stone bird bath. At times the whole garden has 25 or more birds at once.” This is interesting, I live in Bilton and normally we have Starlings nesting under our eaves. None this year despite us steadfastly refusing to get plastic soffits. They have moved out to the neighbours who have lost parts of their plastic soffits allowing the Starlings access. I suspect they have bred successfully but sadly the Starlings haven’t even brought any young to feed in our garden or bathe in the bird bath. David and Joyce seem to be doing exceptionally well considering Starlings are a red list species and the population has fallen rapidly since the early 1980s and is still in decline. In winter our birds are supplemented by Scandinavian visitors, although I suspect the huge murmurations are getting smaller, certainly locally last year seemed very poor with no large murmurations locally reported to me.

Collared Dove - Carole Turner

Collared Dove – Carole Turner

Carole Turner, sent a photo of a Collared Dove “nesting on two eggs in a bush by our back door. Also a mallard has brought her newly hatched 12 ducklings into our garden today. Alas, this is her second brood as the first brood of eleven didn’t survive, not sure why – herons or rats maybe?”

Ken Fackrell writes, “Re Bilton’s Peacock – there was a Peacock happily walking on the A61 in the middle of Killinghall last evening (2 June). Do we now have a Peacock population, or is Peter wandering somewhat dangerously around the district? And otters have taken more of my ornamental fish, despite netting!” There was a family of feral Peacocks living in Killinghall last year and I believe they had young, Does anyone know what they are doing know?

RSPB Fairburn Ings recent sightings include Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Garganey, Goldeneye, Goosander, Black-necked Grebe, Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Black Tern, Cuckoo, up to five daily, Hobby, Peregrine up to two daily, Raven, Willow Tit and Cetti’s Warbler.

From Nosterfield Nature Reserve Christine Weaver reports a bee orchid spike and northern marsh orchid. Karen Hargreave reports, Green-veined White, Orange-tip, Small White and Wall butterflies Plus Common Blue, Azure and Blue-Tailed Damselflies.

From Harrogate and District Naturalists Society website, Red-necked Phalarope(s) stopped off on a pond at Toft Gate Cafe and also another seen at Gouthwaite Reservoir., along with Knot on the mud, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, several Ringed and Little Ringed Plover. Painted Lady butterflies at YWT Staveley NR.

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 10th JuneRSPB Leighton Moss

Help Our Devil Birds?

Common_Swift_nestlings_in_nest_boxTwo Common Swift nestlings, peeking out of a swift nest box, a few days before fledging, in Greifswald, Germany. Photo used under Creative Commons Licence.

On many birders’ lists, Swifts – once called devil birds – are top birds, their magnificent flying skills, robust flying skills and raucous calls make them so. We should actually call ‘our’ Swift the Common Swift, (Apus apus for you quiz buffs). In fact there are as many as 93 members of the Apodidae family. We need of course to be able to distinguish a Swift from those other aerial experts, the Martins and the Swallows. Swifts aren’t a member of their family but are often linked with Hummingbirds, how weird is that? Anyway, Swifts are black, often fly together in fast, noisy groups and have that wonderful scimitar shape because of their sweptback wings, which often paddle at high speed. They nest in the roof space of houses, most frequently under the tiles. Swallows have long tail streamers and nest in porches and outbuildings, they have a white body, blueish-black back and a reddish head. House Martins usually nest under your eaves, if you are lucky, and although similar to the Swallow, the tail is less pronounced and they have a white rump which is diagnostic. Finally Sand Martins look similar but are found mainly around water and have no white rump but are brown. For a great ID video visit the BTO Identification Guides.

But I’m talking about the Common Swift because I recently attended a talk about Swifts from Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation and organised by Harrogate Futures Forum. Edward has loved Swifts since childhood. In the late 1990s he noticed that the Swifts nesting in his local area were in decline. He realised that re-roofing of local properties was blocking Swifts from returning to their long-established nest sites. Edward set up “Swift Conservation”, a web-based advice service, celebrating Swifts, and showing what can be done to save them. Swifts used to live in holes in ancient trees and perhaps cliff faces but they have shared our homes, or at least open eaves, for as long as 2,000 years. Now we are stopping them reaching their homes by use of close fitting plastic and other material which just doesn’t provide the holes necessary for Swifts to nest in. Swifts only come to ground to have their young, they do everything else in the air, yes even that. But they need a place to rest their eggs and because their legs have adapted to be mostly useless they need a small space and an easy drop off or runway. If we don’t help them they will continue to reduce in numbers by around 3% per year, as they have been for the past 15 to 20 years. I’m no mathematician but I reckon that’s pretty bad and I recall far more Swifts filling our skies in the past, The BTO say numbers have reduced by a third since 1995, so what can you do?

Swifts Local Network

Well Swift Conservation have some of the answers including buying or building and installing nest boxes, information, along with siting information from Swift Conservation. But we could also form a Swifts Local Network. A group of concerned folk who would encourage interest in Swifts, survey and monitor Swifts, encourage local authorities to make provision for Swifts in new developments and give advice. If you’d like to help, drop me an email (outdoors@virginmedia.com) and I’ll facilitate an initial meeting. One thing you might all like to consider doing is to monitor where Swifts breed. So again drop me a line if there are Swifts breeding near you. That is if Swifts fly low, roof level, over somewhere make a note of where, but don’t make a note if they are flying higher because they might just be foraging and they can fly prodigious distances to find food. The RSPB are also seeking help with their National Swift Inventory so you could also share your records with them.

More Red Kite Killings

They are at it again, this time in Blubberhouses. Can anyone make any legal suggestion as to what we can do to help? I’m wondering about a mass walk through the grouse moors nearby. We might target the wrong folk but by walking through the moors en masse we are disturbing the Grouse and the landowners won’t want that and maybe they may cease their activities or even encourage the culprits to stop shooting our kites. I know it’s extreme and affects the Grouse but it also affects the income from Grouse and sometimes direct action may do the trick. What do you think? Only using public footpaths and access land of course, nothing illegal. See Raptor Persecution UK for full details of the latest killing.

June Pinewoods Planting Events

The Pinewoods Conservation Group (PCG) is reaching the end of a project to plant over 3,000 new wild flowers in the Harrogate Pinewoods to increase biodiversity within the woods. As a last push an event is planned for Sunday, 5th June from 10am for one to two hours with a request for volunteers to help with the planting. Volunteers are asked to bring a trowel and meet at Harrogate Council Nurseries off Harlow Moor Road. Just a small amount of time spent helping to plant will ensure PCG reach their target of over 3,000 new wild flowers within the woods, keeping the Himalayan balsam down and increasing biodiversity within the woods, benefiting all our visitors.

Peacock - Stephen TomlinsonBilton’s Peacock Peter – Photo by Stephen Tomlinson

Peter The Peacock

Folk keep asking me how Bilton’s favourite and probably only Peacock is progressing, indeed someone who has just moved away from Bilton has asked me to keep him informed of how Peter is doing. Pretty fine, as far as the enthusiastic and sadly unsuccessful attempts at finding a mate are concerned, which can be very noisy and very dramatic when that brilliant tail is displayed. Anyway Stephen Tomlinson has sent me a photo for you to enjoy. It seems incidentally that a peafowl lives around 15 years in the wild and maybe as long as 23 in captivity.

Insects / Wildlife Decline

Sue Boal makes an interesting observation which for me sums up why our biodiversity is in decline, “There is also a worrying lack of insects. The bumble bees in our garden seem to be in trouble. We also have ground bees and bee flies which I believe prey on them. Windscreens used to be covered in insects in the summer and you were covered in them when you went cycling. I notice from the D&S (Darlington and Stockton Times) that farmers have tried to get banned insecticides through but have failed. I think exceptional farmers who truly love wildlife should be given medals or some type of commendation. My neighbours chop down trees and view the outside as simply somewhere to have a barbecue.” What Do You Think? Adult bee flies generally feed on nectar and pollen, they can be important pollinators. Larvae generally are parasitoids of other insects. 38 Degrees have a petition to Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asking her not to lift the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

Alan Croucher was “wondering how butterflies are faring at the moment. We’ve had a few occasional visitors to the garden but not many. There have been Peacocks around and an Orange Tip a couple of weeks ago and then, last weekend (14/15 May), we had a Blue pass through (I wasn’t quick enough to see which kind) and my first Speckled Wood of the year. Apart from that just an odd White, but not much more. The rain will keep them from flying today I suspect!” I reckon that butterflies are doing dreadfully and personally I have seen and continue to see despite an improvement in the weather very few. Please plant nectar rich plants in your gardens.

Joan Hill writes, “Wondered if you have any clue as to what has happened to the finches this year? Haven’t seen a Chaffinch at all or a Greenfinch and where are the Goldfinches? Every year we have had at least 8 Goldfinches at a time – two on each feeder and four waiting and whistling for their turn, but this year there only appears to be an odd one. We have had a very interesting time watching two Pigeons building a nest in the silver birch tree just outside our conservatory. The male brings a foot-long piece of stick and sometimes it gets knocked out of his beak before he reaches the female and he has to go and find another. The female seems to sit on the nest all the time. This is the third year they have built in exactly the same place.” I think some finches have suffered after last year’s poor summer for breeding. Greenfinch have that disease and whilst it affects them the most many other birds also suffer, although mainly finches. After saying that, whilst finch numbers are definitely down my experience is they are not faring as badly as you are experiencing. It may be worth everyone ensuring their feeders and especially water bath is kept spotlessly clean, although I realise you probably already do that. Maybe numbers will increase after a good breeding season this summer. I wonder why Pigeons and other birds repeatedly need to add to the nest structure?

The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership is a £1.8 million scheme to look after and help people get involved with Upper Nidderdale’s historic landscapes, cultural heritage and wildlife habitats. Watch the film to find out more about the dale and the projects, lots for everyone to enjoy.

Magpie - John WadeJohn Wade’s Attempt at Teaching Birds Language Seems to Have Failed Miserably.

Your Sightings

I think John Wade may be having Magpie trouble! Shirley Dunwell has solitary bees occupying her bee log. Sue Boal writes “On our way back from Leeds on Tuesday this week, my daughter spotted 2 baby yellow rabbits. She googled it and found that they are a rare genetic mutation but we are not sure how common they are.”

Carol Wedgewood spotted what I think is a buff ermine moth at Ripley Castle. Other sightings from Carol include “Oystercatchers in wet field on Brimham Rocks Road, Tawny Owl perched on drystone wall near Thornthwaite Scouts Camp. In our garden a Goldfinch and Mistle Thrush amongst the usual visitors. A Buzzard calling and flying low over our field. Great to see it close up! A return visit of a Barn Owl quartering over our field, perched on a low branch on tree near the pond. It then flew back up the field and perched on a fence post, in front of our barn window, overlooking long grass. Then it flew off towards the northwest, up the hill, as it always does, over more long grass in a neighbour’s field.

Judith Fawcett reports seeing a Tawny Owlet at High Batts Nature Reserve recently.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve recent sightings include Arctic Terns, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Yellow Wagtail, Black-Tailed Godwit, Avocet with chicks, Little Egret and Sedge Warbler.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Nesting Little Egrets.