Wonderful Wildlife Near Home!

otter5-paul-tylerAn Otter seen in Nidd Gorge recently by Paul Tyler.

This week you may have seen huge ‘V’ formation skeins of geese flying in a north-westerly direction high above, well, in my case Bilton. These skeins had maybe as many as 100 birds in them and were accompanied by the birds honking, a great way to determine what species they are. Well unless my ears were playing tricks, and that’s always a possibility, these were pink-footed geese. These birds are winter visitors and many spend the early part of winter in Norfolk, although other wintering area include North-West England and Aberdeenshire. If you see them on their wintering grounds, often in sugar beet and potato fields, they make a spectacular sight because of their huge numbers, especially when they are arriving or departing for their roost. There is anecdotal evidence that the birds I saw were probably flying to Lancashire, the first stage on their return trip to their breeding areas. The WWT reserve at Martin Mere is a favoured place, they are fed there and maybe that was their destination the day I saw them. It seems there are two largely discrete populations of pink-footed geese and the birds in the UK mainly originate from Greenland and Iceland. Another population breeds in Svalbard and winters in Belgium and Northern Germany. I’m no scientist but I wonder if because these populations are discrete they are starting the evolutionary process which will lead to them being defined as separate species in the future. You may have seen them on television protecting their offspring and fending off the attentions of arctic foxes. Norfolk must make for a lovely stress free existence in contrast especially as they enjoy at least some protection from predators. Obviously these geese don’t read the books and not all birds stay in Norfolk, Lancashire or Aberdeenshire and you might be lucky to see them in many of our local areas where there is water, Nosterfield and YWT Staveley being such places.

A lovely lady stopped me in the street recently – I’m sorry I didn’t get her name – and told me that there was a corvid roost in the Nidd Gorge at the moment, viewable at dawn and dusk from the viaduct. I have yet to go but apparently there could be as many as 400 birds involved and these will most likely be rooks and jackdaws although carrion crows might also join them. I have seen corvid roosts in the past, involving thousands of birds and what a spectacle they make at dawn. They initially call to each other, presumably one of them says, ‘hey guys, it’s time to go.’ after much calling they rise into the air en masse and then split into small groups which disappear to all corners of the compass looking, I presume, for foraging opportunities. When they rose into the air the noise was deafening, really loud. I guess this group might not be so spectacular but it’s probably well worth a look.

Big Garden Bird Watch

I asked for folk to volunteer to help with an hour’s RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch in Bilton fields and Nidd Gorge on Sunday, 29 January. That doesn’t work for me now so can we cancel the morning event and just do it same day at 2pm only, please. We will meet at the junction of The Greenway and Bilton Lane at the scheduled times. The walk should take an hour only and it’s a wonderful way to discover the delights and pleasures of our local wildlife areas and a chance as citizen scientists to help the RSPB monitor the status of birds found nationally. Looking forward to meeting you then. Usual precautions, kids under parental supervision and you are responsible for your own liability. Sorry but we have to watch our backs in these litigious days. Drop me an email or whatever to let me know you are joining us. All results will also be used as part of Nidd Gorge Community Action’s (NGCA) efforts to protect the Green Belt between Harrogate and Knaresborough, the Nidd Gorge corridor and the Nidderdale Greenway.

Events

nuthatch-paul-tylerNuthatch , Nidd Gorge – Paul Tyler

Nidd Gorge Community Action (NGCA)

If you share our concerns about the proposed roads between Harrogate and Knaresborough, which will desecrate the Nidd Gorge corridor through to Calcutt including the Nidderdale Greenway, then why not visit the web site for more info or drop in to our Open Day on Saturday, 28 January from 10am to 6pm where we will explain why we are opposed and you can sign our petition and enrol to help in whatever way you can. If you think the Nidd Gorge and surrounding area has no wildlife credentials then just look at these great photos of an otter and nuthatch taken there this week by Paul Tyler, brilliant. I also saw a pair of otters the same day as Paul, in Nidd Gorge. Well worth protecting, don’t you think?

Zero Carbon Harrogate

Sustainable Harrogate? What has Harrogate Borough Council been doing? Come and hear from Councilor Rebecca Burnett, HBC’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainable Development. What are their climate change policies – LED lighting project, energy efficiency improvements for council homes and emissions reductions from the new council offices? How will the local plan and alternatives to a relief road play their part? Please spread the word. 7.30pm Wednesday, 25th January, St Mark’s Church, Leeds Road. HG2 8AY

BTO Yorkshire Conference – Saturday, 18 March 2017

The BTO Yorkshire Conference is being held at the Ron Cooke Hub, University of York, Heslington, York, North Yorkshire, YO19 5LA on Saturday, 18 March 2017. The event is not just limited to BTO members, you can go if you wish. The programme includes talks from local speakers, staff from the BTO, and from other conservation organisations and the event represents an excellent opportunity to meet other birdwatchers. Tickets for the conference are £22 and include tea/coffee and lunch. You can view the full programme, book your tickets and view travel information via the link above.

Sightings

John Wade wrote and asked, “In the Valley Gardens today I saw a treecreeper, but also heard a lot of twittering in the trees near the cafe. Sadly, I had no bins with me, but the birdsong app showed goldcrests. There were about 10, high in the branches. Do goldcrests flock in winter, and are they in the Gardens? By process of elimination, I cannot see what else they could be.” I think any bird would congregate if there was a good food source and I believe goldcrest do although not frequently. The goldcrest habitat is conifers and there are plenty of those in the Valleys and Pinewoods so I would expect them to be there. Another ‘twittering’ bird is the goldfinch which Robert Brown tells me are seen in larger flocks (charms) than for many years, so that’s another option.

Andrew Willocks tells me, “The Waxwings are very mobile in and around the Harrogate area. My last sightings were on Mountain Ash and Yew in the Trinity Rd Stray Area, this included a party of 30 + birds.” I have also heard another report of some in Starbeck, it’s probable that both flocks have disappeared by now but further sightings and photos would be welcome.

queen-wasp-bill-shawQueen Wasp – Bill Shaw

Bill Shaw writes, “I rescued this Queen wasp, it was floating in a water tub in the garden on the last day of December(!) 2016. The weather was very mild and the wasp was still alive so I put it on a plant that was in sunshine, it was still alive the next day and flying about. We had a wasp nest in the house roof last year, looks like we might have another this year.

that-pesky-squirrel-too-damned-clever-ian-wilsonIan Willson’s ‘Pesky Squirrel’

Are squirrels resourceful? Ian Willson thinks so and his photo probably proves it. “I thought you might like to see how resourceful those damned squirrels can be when faced with a supposedly ‘squirrel-proof’ seed feeder!”

Some of the bird ringing folk disagreed with my little egret observations. Jill Warwick wrote, “Little Egret has been seen nearly every month of the year at Nosterfield NR, it’s regularly seen there in spring/summer and on the day of the Tour de France, there were 6 present on site – that total has since been topped by 10 on site at the same time! In 2016 two colour-ringed LEs were observed on site on different days – one had hatched at a confidential breeding site in Cleveland in May and headed south. The other we are still waiting for details about.” Paul Irving supported this view, “Not sure I would describe Little Egret as rare these days, it is a regular but scarce non breeding visitor which may colonise soon, it now breeds at Fairburn and I think Wheldrake although there have been regular late summer and autumn visits by birds colour  ringed at the Besthorpe, Nottinghamshire mixed heronry.”

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from Twitter, include: Hundreds of golden plover, teal, wigeon, peregrine, lapwing, and iceland gull.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Rob Brown reported a common scooter and three skeins of pink-footed geese at Farnham gravel pits, Alan Medforth reported two groups of around a dozen waxwing at Wetherby and Garsdale Road, Knaresborough. David Gilroy reported One oystercatcher on Ripon Racecourse with the curlew flock, and 5 goosander on Ripon Canal.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Gadwall x Mallard hybrid Male regularly along the cut.

Pink-footed Goose flocks north west on 7th (400) and 8th (350)

White-fronted Goose 1-2 still present on flashes with grey lags

Shelduck Up to 15 present.

Pintail Present throughout, 11 max

Shoveler 420 max on 8th.

Smew Redhead on Village Bay fhroughout.

Great-crested Grebe Still unprecedented numbers wintering (<20)

Great White Egret Single throughout. Often giving excellent views on Cedric’s

Red Kite 1-2 on most dates – usually seen around Newfield.

Marsh Harrier Single on 5th

Goshawk Single on 8th

Water Rail 8+ throughout. One showing well from Kingfisher screen..

Curlew Max 14 on 12th.

Green Sandpiper Single on 5th..

Common Snipe 20 max. Showing well on cut spit most days

Iceland Gull Juvenile in roost most evenings from 9th.

Kingfisher Regular all week at viewing screen.

Peregrine Two reported most dates from flashes.

Merlin Single on 8th.

Bearded Tit ax 4 on 8th on south lagoon.

Cetti’s Warbler One infrequently heard by concrete bridge.

Nuthatch 1-2 regular on feeders.

Treecreeper Pairs regularly at VC and down cut lane.

Starling c12000 in roost on lagoons.

Stonechat Single on 10th.

Lesser Redpoll Upto 100 in VC alders.

Yellowhammer Max 50 in stubble by Ledsham beck on 8th.

Grateful Thanks

robin-roger-brownbridge

Roger Brownbridge wrote, “just thought I would send you a festive one of a friendly Robin on the aqueduct just below Barden Bridge.” Thanks Roger great photo.

I am given to understand via the usual non-traceable grapevine that the Harrogate Council portal for receiving consultations regarding the Local Green Spaces was so overwhelmed that it couldn’t cope for a period. So my grateful thanks for all you who responded as a consequence of reading about it in my blog. Let’s hope it works. Someone who particularly deserves credit for raising encouraging folk to respond is John Jackson of the newly formed Nidd Gorge Community Action (NGCA), which has recently formed as an umbrella group representing all organisations and individuals along the whole length of the road who are concerned. Make a note in your diaries to come along to the Open Day at Fountains Avenue Scout Hut on 28 January, all day, where you will be able to find out more and see how you can get involved, people with all skills and none are invited but if you have any specialist knowledge you think might be useful then contact me. Wildlife Knowledge is of course one of these skills. This is NGCA’s website, currently under construction and Facebook site.

Big Garden Bird Watch

If we are to save Nidd Gorge, Starbeck and Calcutt from this destructive road then we need as many volunteers as possible, as much help as possible. I therefore would like volunteers to help with a RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch in Bilton fields and Nidd Gorge on Sunday, 29 January at 10am. If that doesn’t fit in with your plans we will do another big garden bird watch at 2pm. We will meet at the junction of The Greenway and Bilton Lane at the scheduled times. The walk should take an hour only and it’s a wonderful way to discover the delights and pleasures of our local wildlife areas and a chance as citizen scientists to help the RSPB monitor the status of birds found nationally. Looking forward to meeting you then. Usual precautions, kids under parental supervision and you are responsible for your own liability. Sorry but we have to watch our backs in these litigious days. Drop me an email or whatever to let me know you are joining us and when.

Proposed Inner Relief Road Route(s)

Nothing has yet to be decided and there is a do nothing option but the routes of most concern to NGCA run roughly from The Sulphur Well/Four Lane Ends roundabout on Skipton Road, south of Killinghall, taking a corridor north of Knox village, through the Bilton Outfall Allotments, through or north of Willow Woods, across Bilton fields and along The Greenway beyond the junction with Bilton Lane before veering off left in an easterly direction parallel to Bogs Lane, behind Henshaws to somewhere near Harrogate Golf Course where effectively The Empress Roundabout will be repositioned, it will then cross the Golf Course area, over the railway line and across the fields to Calcutt and the Southern Bypass, no doubt knocking a few houses down on the way and blighting many people’s lives and wrecking many people’s much loved recreational areas. For what? It won’t reduce the traffic, just move the misery maybe and the feeder roads such as Bilton Lane, Woodfield Road, Claro Road, Bogs Lane, Forest Lane, Calcutt, Briggate and many more will just become congested rat runs, whilst the dangers to our children will in the numerous schools alongside these roads will become dangerous death traps, very, very, worrying. Oh! Then there’s the wildlife issues, pollution issues, need I say more?

Sightings

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Little Egret

Some of these are somewhat out of date but interesting nevertheless. Clare Watkinson reports a little egret on the ponds near her mum Liz Watkinson’s home at North Stainley in early October, just before I went out of circulation, a really unusual sighting in such a busy place. Little egrets are slowly colonising our area. Strangely seen frequently in South Yorkshire and Middlesbrough but not so much locally.

large-yelloe-underwing-caterpillar-rex-bradshaw

Large Yellow Underwing CaterpillarRex Bradshaw

Do you remember the strange saga of the eggs and subsequent tiny larva of the large yellow underwing moth found in Rex Bradshaw’s Spofforth garden, well the larva eventually grew into this caterpillar, well one of them at least did.

Steve Whiteley wrote at the beginning of December, “I have a query over a (brief) sighting yesterday. I was driving back to Harrogate from Ripon and a caught a glimpse of what I thought was a buzzard perched in the trees near the Mountgarret estate. The thing that caught my eye was that it had what could best be described as a dirty white head (as though someone had tipped a pot of yoghurt over its head.) I have not seen a buzzard with a white head and the other option, a red kite, is much greyer than the bird I saw. Having looked it up, could it have been a Marsh Harrier. I have not seen one before and, as I said, it was a passing glimpse but quite distinct markings. I have had some decent sightings recently up and down Nidderdale. About a week ago I was passing Menwith Hill and saw a huge mixed flock of Golden Plover and Lapwings in the field opposite the base. In addition I have seen Buzzards as far apart as Birstwith and Ramsgill, together with Red Kites scattered throughout the dale. My garden is attracting a nice variety now around the feeder and there is a regular pecking order (forgive the pun). The woodpigeons get the first go, followed by a pair of collared doves. The flock of house sparrows come next and can become impatient. I have seen one sparrow actually land on the back of the woodpigeon which was quite amusing. There is a pair of intrepid coal tits which flit in and out together with some blue tits and the occasional great tit. There is a robin patrolling the trees and sheds and a dunnock clearing up below the feeder. There are also two wrens to be seen in the brambles and occasionally on the shed. Starlings, magpies and blackbirds make periodic appearances. I was recently treated to a sighting of a goldfinch on the feeder and there was also a couple of visits from a great spotted woodpecker.” A difficult one this. Some but not all marsh harriers migrate and leave around October, this could be a late leaver from Scotland en route for warmer climes. The cautionary bit – there’s always a cautionary bit – is that buzzards whilst generally displaying the typical buzzard appearance of fairly uniform colouration can and do also have interesting aberrations and a light coloured head could easily fall into this category. So it’s never clear cut, but whilst it is possible that marsh harriers are around during summer and may even be considering breeding locally it is much rarer to see them in winter and I therefore lean towards it being a buzzard. If you regularly make the journey then it may be possible, if it is a buzzard, that it may be seen again, so keep an eye open but drive safely! Obviously if you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s a marsh harrier either. I believe marsh harriers do however continue to be seen locally even this week.

white-pigeons-121216-roger-litton

Roger Litton’s White Pigeons

In mid December Roger Litton contacted me to say, “In the meantime, we have developed a small flock of white pigeons. We started with one a couple of years ago. Then there were two and we now have five. We have always been afflicted with pigeons which is one of the reasons we stopped putting loose food on the bird table – the pigeons always cleared it before anyone else had a look in! That move did reduce their numbers somewhat from the 35 or so we used to be plagued with down to around 10 (of which half are now these white ones).”

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings from Twitter include hundreds of golden plover, lapwing, linnet and pintail.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Gadwall x Mallard hybrid Male regularly along the cut.
Pink-footed Goose Four on flashes often in field behind owl box.
White-fronted Goose 20 present with Grey Lags. Often in field at moat with temporary metal security fence by pylon.
Shelduck Up to 8 present.
Pintail At least eight throughout
Smew Redhead on Village Bay throughout.
Great-crested Grebe Still unprecedented numbers wintering (<20)
Great White Egret Single throughout. Often giving excellent views on Cedric’s
Red Kite 1-2 on most dates – usually seen around Newfield.
Marsh Harrier Single seen almost daily.
Hen Harrier Ringtail from Pickup hide on 1st.
Water Rail 8+ throughout. One showing well from Kingfisher screen.
Golden Plover 30 overhead on 3rd.
Curlew Three on flashes.
Common Snipe 30 max. Showing well on cut spit throughout.
Kingfisher Regular all week at viewing screen.
Peregrine Two reported most dates from flashes.
Bearded Tit Six on south lagoon from loop path on 2nd.
Cetti’s Warbler One infrequently heard by concrete bridge.
Nuthatch 1-2 regular on feeders.
Treecreeper Pairs regularly at VC and down cut lane.
Starling c10000 in roost on lagoons.
Lesser Redpoll Up to 40 in VC alders.
Yellowhammer c25 in stubble by Ledsham beck,

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page

Common Scoter, Farnham Gravel Pits, Rob Brown 10-1-17.
50 Waxwings Park House Green 11am. Will Rich 9-1-17.
Marsh Harrier (cream crown) also three otters at Farnham Gravel Pits, Rob Brown 6-1-17.
Black mink on the bank of the Oak Beck, Knox, Peter Thomson 5-1-17