Water Your Nettles!

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Kingfisher – Peter Thomson

Oak Beck Wildlife

Peter Thomson lives by the side of Oak Beck at Knox, but before I reveal his fascinating sightings there and excellent photos an apology for misspelling his name in the past. “At 8 am last Saturday morning I saw something swimming very fast just below the surface of the beck and didn’t know what it was until a pair of Goosanders appeared swimming upstream, followed by five more. The strange thing was that they all appeared to be females. They then all submerged and started swimming up and down the beck in formation at great speed before carrying on upstream; a truly remarkable sight. I thought this must have been a girls day out until I looked up Goosanders in my 90 year old copy of Birds of our Country where it said ‘young males and old ones in summer undress look very like females’. The book also says ‘Though not equal to the ordinary ducks as food, the Goosander is edible if skinned and stewed with onions and Worcester sauce; the idea that fish-eating birds are unfit to eat is quite incorrect, but they need special treatment’. I saw them again at 8 am on Wednesday morning, but this time there were 12 and I managed to catch a photo of them before they carried on upstream. I would also like to report that this has been a very successful year for Kingfishers which are flying up and down the beck very regularly and I have seen at least four different ones, of which at least two were juveniles. This one stopped to do a bit of preening.”

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Goosanders – Peter Thomson

Anti-Fracking Needs Your Support

Are you in Harrogate this weekend? If so then find time to visit Lush, the fresh handmade cosmetics shop on Cambridge Street. This weekend you can buy a Charity Pot (of handmade, environmentally responsible body lotions) there and support the Anti-Fracking Campaign. At the same time why not have a word with one of the Frack Free Harrogate District campaigners and discover just why Fracking is so bad for our environment. Don’t think Harrogate and the surrounding area is immune from fracking, far from it, we might be the next area for exploitation, and exploitation it is. For example, our drinking water could be polluted, our health seriously compromised, our roads jam packed with heavy lorries and hundreds of well sites may be built. This isn’t fantasy, it’s what’s happened elsewhere in the world, so why not visit the website, call in to the support the campaigners at Lush this weekend and show your opposition to these insidious developments.

A Must Watch Video

Paul Irving is a local birder, ringer and wildlife enthusiast who also just happens to be chair of the Northern England Raptor Forum. I know Paul has spent many dedicated hours monitoring raptors in general and hen harriers in particular on the Nidderdale grouse moors, indeed I have occasionally joined him, as has Danny, our lad. Well, Paul has released a YouTube video interviewing Chris Packham, you know the one about the decline of hen harriers in England. It’s called The Real Price of Grouse: A Black Hole For Hen Harriers. It makes interesting viewing and I commend it to you, you may even wish to search for more of Chris Packham’s videos and discover the reality regarding our moorlands!

Tortoiseshell Numbers Decimated

A few years ago, in fact for ever, I considered small tortoiseshell butterflies were our most commonest butterfly, so some of your reports are worrying, very worrying. One of the best places to see butterflies locally, in my view, is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Harlow Carr Gardens, where there is a fantastic array of flowers and grown with a knowledge and concern for our biodiversity which exceeds that of most gardeners, a truly special place. Andrew Willocks, a concerned and very knowledgeable gardener there, told me last week “Not seen a single Small Tortoiseshell this year in the gardens, plenty of Peacocks, Red Admirals and a recent arrival of Painted Lady Butterflies. We have left in place plenty of drifts of stinging nettles for the larvae with hope that some may appear as caterpillars. Comma also seem to be missing as well.” To be absolutely accurate Andrew contacted me again a couple of days later, “As if by magic we found two Small Tortoiseshell butterflies in the gardens yesterday; however, we are still well down on the previous years’ counts on the Harlow Carr butterfly survey. Even the most commonly recorded butterfly in 2016, the Peacock, is well down on last year’s numbers. Yesterday’s butterfly count on the Buddleia included 2 Brimstone, 20 Red Admirals, 2 Peacock, 2 Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Small White, Common Blue, Small Copper and Skipper. A healthy population of 10+ Purple Hairstreaks was also recorded in the gardens in June along with Orange Tip and Holly Blue.” Well, intrigued at the lack of butterflies in what I believe to be one of our district’s best places for butterflies, I met Andrew on Monday this week for a look round. The weather was warm with a strongish breeze and it seems that I timed my visit with a hatch of small tortoiseshell butterflies, we saw between 10 and 20. You try counting them. In fact we also saw painted lady butterflies, whites, and a single brimstone and peacock. Good numbers perhaps for 2016 but considering where we were and how few we saw compared to previous years still worrying. Harlow Carr’s experience was in no way unique, a number of you kindly sent me your butterfly experiences this year and it doesn’t make easy reading:

Via twitter ‘gib‘ writes,”a worry this year, no comma, red admiral or small tortoiseshell on my buddleia this year and only 2 Peacock.” Gib did see one tortoiseshell after that tweet, one only though.

Another tweet from Trevor Brown, “Only seen one Small Tortoiseshell all year, Nigel, usually have quite a few during the summer but not this year.”

Alan Hood tweeted, “12 small Tortoiseshell in garden, Flamborough Head.” Sounds like another small hatch!

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Small Copper – Alan Croucher

From the much more understandable media of email Alan Croucher writes: “Butterfly numbers do seem to be low this year. Although I have seen several species, there has never been very many individuals. We had Peacocks, a few Orange Tips and a Blue (couldn’t see which) in the garden earlier in the year but for the most part there have been Speckled Wood (many) and Large Whites plus recently an odd Red Admiral and there has even been an occasional Painted Lady. On walks the main sightings have been Meadow Browns and a few Ringlets. I did see a Small Tortoiseshell (just one) up at Coldstones Quarry on 10 August. As far as Small Copper is concerned – I saw 3 or 4 at Hatfield Moor, near Doncaster on August 4th – though none more locally.”

June Sharp writes, “have seen 1 red admiral. 1 blue and a fair number of coloured butterflies on a Buddleia at Grantley Village Hall about a week ago, so exciting!”

Bernice Ferguson tells me, “We have seen only two or three small tortoiseshells this year – one or two in the early spring and two or three in the summer – not as many as usual. Fewer peacocks as well but loads of red admirals, especially on the buddleia. There were a few painted ladies as well. There seemed to be a dearth of coloured butterflies until the late warm weather.”

Paul Brothers from east Leeds also contacted me, “To be fair I have seen Small Tortoiseshells, just not in any large numbers. Small Coppers have been very low. Holly Blues are doing okay. Red Admirals are feeding up in my garden on the buddleia at the moment. Only seen one Painted Lady in the garden though. Speckled Woods are doing very well, with a late brood on the wing at the moment. I’d say I have seen 20 plus individuals. Even Common Blue numbers have been relatively low this year.” Paul has a website called ViewBug that you may be interested in. Like others Paul’s butterfly count improved ecently with 4 red admiral in his garden. He also does regular insect surveys for various places including Middleton Park were he recently recorded, “very good numbers of Speckled Wood with 78 being counted, though only 1 Small White and 1 very late Common Blue, even though the weather was fine and warm. No sign of any Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells which is a bit surprising. 

Tessa Mobbs tells me, “It has been a very strange year for butterflies at Felliscliffe, Harrogate. We have a lot of buddleias in the garden, but had only seen a few whites this summer up until about three weeks ago. Then, over the course of a few days, we saw nothing but red admirals – I counted 15 of them on one of our buddleias. Two weeks ago, we saw several peacocks, as well as the red admirals – and 2 painted ladies. But we haven’t seen any butterflies since – and we have seen hardly any small tortoiseshells. Last year, there was a considerable number of small tortoiseshells on the buddleias.” The reason Tessa saw so many red admirals is most likely because there had just been an hatch, I believe butterflies all hatch at once as a defence against predation.

Phil Roberts writes, “Missing Tortoiseshells? – missing everything! They have existed this year, but not in South-side Harrogate gardens. Try Menorca, it’s all happening there! Wonderful displays of butterflies, dragonflies, damsels etc rising before you as you walk!”

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Red Admiral – Doug Simpson

Doug Simpson: “Haven’t seen a Small Tortoiseshell or Comma in the garden (Jennyfields) for weeks. Brimstones are the most numerous of the non-white butterflies, having had three together during the week. Attached is a photo of our sole Red Admiral in recent weeks, this being the first time we’ve had one on our Clerodendron. I think it found it a suitable place to bask in the sun. It was certainly very obliging. It looks as though it’s had a minor mishap involving the rear of its left wing. No more Painted Ladies but a Speckled Wood called by today.”

Carol Wedgewood from Thornthwaite, “We saw 2 Peacock butterflies in the garden on Thursday but not at the same time. Only 1 Small Tortoiseshell.”

Water Your Nettles

Hopefully this week we will all see more butterflies but all tortoiseshells have declined by a staggering 73% since the 1970s, our biodiversity really is in danger we need to protect it, urgently. Reasons for the small tortoiseshell’s decline are unknown but speculation includes climate change, pollution and parasitic flies that kill the butterfly’s caterpillars, but Butterfly Conservation needs more information, so please send them your sightings. Even drought conditions affecting nettles, the butterflies’ caterpillar food plant, has been blamed and certainly we have had a dry if gloomy summer. Also butterfly numbers can and do bounce back but a drop of 73% in 40 years indicates something more sinister at work than mere seasonal setbacks.

Reserve Sightings

Farnham, Harrogate Naturalists’ Societies private nature reserve

Robert Brown reports, Greenshank, redstart and the sixth osprey of the year on Sunday

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings include: osprey, little stint, kingfisher, brown argus butterfly, caspian gull, turnstone, green sandpiper, whinchat, sparrowhawk, greenshank, black-tailed godwit, ruff, ringed plover, common sandpiper, little egret, barn owl, dunlin, little ringed plover.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Whooper Swan 2 throughout,

Wigeon Daily up to 10.

Pintail At least 4 throughout.

Garganey Single on 4th

Gadwall c500 on 7th.

Tufted Duck c400 on 7th.

Bittern Single on 4th

Red Kite At least 3 throughout.

Marsh Harrier At least 4 different birds.

Osprey Single on 4th and8th

Water Rail Small numbers daily.

Curlew 3 on 7th

Black-tailed Godwit 7 on 6th. Single from 8th.

Ruff Max 5 on 7th and 8th.

Green Sandpiper 3 on 7th.

Common Sandpiper. Single throughout.

Greenshank Seen daily on Spoonbill flash – upto 4.

Snipe Daily max 10

Common Tern 2 on 3rd.

Hobby Singles occasionally.

Peregrine At least three throughout

Raven 2 on 4th and 5th.

Redstart 2 on 4th and 1 on 5th.

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