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

2 thoughts on “Brood Parasites & Some Depressingly Low Migrant Numbers

  1. Hi Nigel under Nidderdale Bird Club I have a picture of two bras. What is going on. First I could not get you now this. Funny though.


  2. The badger photo is great! Here in the U.S., they team-up with coyotes and hunt cooperatively. When animals run into their burrows from coyotes, the badgers will dig them out and share the meal; when the coyotes catch them on the run (which the badgers can’t do) the coyotes share the meal. I have a 12 million-year-old badger skull in my fossil collection. They are supposed to be meticulously clean regarding their underground den areas.


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