Vicious Ambush Predator

img_1758Pike – Brian Morland

It’s our most vicious native freshwater predator and truly a creature to be scared of if you are smaller, and most freshwater inhabitants are smaller. Pike are an ambush predator and to assist this modus operandi they are camouflaged with olive and green, striped with gold and white, provided with a very fast turn of speed and to complete the setup a mouthful of extremely sharp backward facing teeth, truly formidable. This patterning is distinctive to individual fish allowing identification although just seeing a pike is a challenge. Pike are not only one of largest fish, females can grow to as much as 20kg, that’s 44lb in a language I understand, but they can live to over 20 years old. The largest pike, I should say northern pike, ever caught was in Germany in 1986 and weighed 55lb. The largest caught in Britain was a 46 pounder although there are many stories of large pike, fishermen’s tales, and one includes a 73 pound monster from Loch Ken in Dumfries and Galloway. Strangely, Duff Hart-Davis tells us in his Flora Britannica males only grow to a maximum of around 5kg (11lb) and no one is sure why. Pike feed on anything including each other, indeed the old eyes being bigger then the belly, or perhaps mouth, pike have been found dead with a fish too large to swallow which presumably it couldn’t release because of the backward facing teeth. Because they are omnivorous some trout and salmon fishermen detest pike and will go to great lengths to get rid of them. When I say omnivorous I mean they’ll eat not just fish but depending upon the pike’s size anything from plankton to small fish, ducklings, amphibians and well anything! Equally pike fishermen value their prey and particularly large specimens which they might even use live bait to catch, not to my mind very sporting. Your best chance of seeing a pike, probably a small jack pike or young pike which for reasons of safety prefer to loiter in the shallows rather than mix it with the big boys – or should I say girls, is to peer over a bridge into shallow slow moving water, although if lighting conditions are good then looking into any suitable lake may be successful.

We don’t eat pike in this country because of the numerous small bones yet back in the thirteenth century it was highly valued, at least by King Edward I. Today the French continue to enjoy pike and quenelles de brochet can be found on their menus. The ferociousness of pike has no doubt contributed to the various ‘other’ names pike enjoy such as freshwater shark, water wolf, king of the lake and lord of the stream. What made me mention pike is because Brian Morland contacted me with this tremendous photo of a huge pike he discovered when conducting a pike survey in the lakes at Ripon Quarry. Brian catches them on a barbless hook, using dead trout from a trout farm as bait, and because each fish is individually marked he has no need to tag them or mark them in any way. Not only are males so much smaller than females but they also outnumber females by 8 to 1. This might account for the small size because females often eat the males after spawning so size and number may matter.

Wildlife Meetings

A couple of local, well fairly local important meetings you may wish to attend and both groups will welcome your support I am sure.

British Dragonfly Society (BDS) BDS Spring Meeting is at Green Hammerton, near York, this year on Saturday, 11 March. The meeting is free to attend and BDS have some great talks lined up, with speakers from the Natural History Museum, Freshwater Habitats Trust and University of East Anglia, as well as a representative of the Yorkshire Dragonfly Group and more. For more information and to book a free place, visit:

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). There is still time to book a place at the Yorkshire BTO Conference at York University on Saturday, 18 March. Fantastic value at £22 per person including all refreshments and a buffet lunch. Look forward to talks on: Black Grouse, Gannets, The Lower Derwent Valley NNR, BirdTrack Project, Breeding Waders, Rare Bird Recording and much more. Exhibitors covering optical equipment, outdoor clothing, art, natural history books etc. To book just go to and follow the link to “News and Events”. I attended the last Yorkshire BTO event and it was very interesting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaxwing – Stuart Ibbotson


I believe that RSPB Old Moor has a starling roost at the moment and is opening the reserve until 20.00 on Saturday and Sunday evenings. I suggest however that before you visit you ring the reserve (01226 751593) to ensure the birds are still there. However on Harrogate Naturalists Society‘s sightings page Joe Fryer and David Postlethwaite report a large starling murmuration at Ripon Racecourse.

Brian Morland tells me he has seen, in the last month, bittern, merlin, bewick swan, pintail, jack snipe, green sandpiper, redshank, shelduck, oystercatcher, water rail and little egret at Bellflask and bizarely a black swan, some distance from its home land.

John Wade reports his “First ever brambling in our garden on 27/1. Only one, mixed with chaffinch and goldfinch family. Nice to see them when there is a chaffinch, so I can compare them.”

Lisa Walch recently walked with her dad via Barden Bridge to Simon’s Seat and back through Bolton Abbey. “Along the riverbank (9.30am) we saw a heron standing on a rock by the opposite riverbank to us. It paused a while…just long enough to pose for my dad to take a pic. There were also three birds with the shape of gannets/guillemots? I regret I didn’t have my binoculars with me or a good camera. Around 2pm, I heard a woodpecker, it was very close. And was perched about 30 feet away. It was too shady to capture it on film.” The birds Lisa photographed in the tree were cormorants which I haven’t heard of before in that area. Despite their size cormorants, like herons and egrets, nest in trees, at the appropriate time of year of course.

Richard Scruton contacted me in January with some North Riding sightings, “On Wednesday 25th saw a flock of redwings at Cowton station (closed 1958) on the East Coast Main Line in the tree on left hand side of attached photo. Today (27th) there was a flock of 14 long tailed tits in the churchyard at St Peters Birkby (grade II listed), a hamlet north of Northallerton. Perhaps the same long tailed tits which passed through my apple trees in East Cowton, more than a mile from Birkby, a day earlier.” Winter thrushes and similar winter migrants are probably slowly making their way back to their breeding grounds now. I was also surprised to see a solitary long-tailed tit this week at Flask lake, part of the Nosterfield complex. Long-tailed tits leave their flocks around now and start comparatively early courting, nest building and you know the rest!

grey-heron3-richard-yeomanGrey Heron – Richard Yeoman

Richard Yeoman spotted a pair of little grebe recently on the river in Nidd Gorge and a heron in the Crimple Valley below the Great Yorkshire Show Ground.

Paul Bright saw his first curlew fly over near low bridge at Killinghall on Monday, 30 January, can you beat that? Curlews are returning to their breeding grounds about now and whilst a few are already there others can be seen in big numbers at local reserves such as Nosterfield.

Do you play tennis and have you lost your tennis ball and ever wondered where it disappeared to? Well The Pinewoods Conservation Group may have the answer. They have found the remains when they cleaned out some of their nest boxes.

Stuart Ibbotson and Neil Anderson both reported seeing a flock of waxwing near Bilton Grange School last week. Don’t rush to see them, they have eaten all the berries and moved on. Also last week Stuart and Shirley Dunwell saw a huge flock of pink-footed geese flying over Bilton fields.

1st-portland-lamb-ewe-18-feb-2017Anne Procter’s Portland Tup Lamb

Anne Procter reports, “Grey-faced Dartmoor lamb and Portland ewe lamb born this morning (18-2-17). Magic.”

Here’s some news from the RSPB sent from our Danny which might interest you. It includes advice on building startling nest boxes, discovering and enjoying nature and some news and stories.


Harrogate RSPB Group Sunday, 26 February – RSPB Reserve of Old Moor.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from Twitter, include bittern, avocet, juvenile male smew, white-fronted geese and peregrine.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Will Rich (20-02-17) a first siskin of the season on his New Park feeders.
Ginni Darbyshire (20-02-2017) saw a Dipper today at around 10.30 am on the Crimple. It flew under the bridge by the Black Swan at Burn Bridge.
Mike Smithson (18-02-2017) Two Iceland and two Glaucous gulls at Farnham GP tonight at the North Lake roost. All juveniles.
Joe Fryer (17-02-2017) At High Batts today I had two male brambling, one mealy redpoll, a small group of lesser redpoll and a few siskin as well.

Do Otters Eat Fish!


Otter, photographed by Stephen Tomlinson in Nidd Gorge

Sheila Brown emailed (15-1-17), “I have a small pond in my garden and the other morning, on going to look at the pond which is quite shallow, I found that two of my goldfish had disappeared, the pond had a slight greasy look to it and some scales were at the bottom of it. The fish were quite big as they had been in there at least five years. Have you any idea what might have taken them? The night before they were missing my small dog had gone into the garden about 10.30 and ran down to the pond going hell for leather, so maybe she disturbed something.” This was followed up on 6-2-17 by a similar question from Ian Law, “Do you know how far an otter will travel from a river or lake? This morning I noticed goldfish scales on paving adjacent to my garden pond. It then became clear that an animal had been in the pond as the pump and a large water plant had been tipped over and were strewn across the bottom. I seem to have lost all my 11 fish which includes a largish carp. I have ruled out a heron as the pond is netted and the force required to upset the pump and immersed plant would be considerable. Have you had any recent similar reports? I live on Fairways Avenue with the railway at the bottom of my garden.” At this time of year young male otters are leaving their place of birth and travelling often long distances to find new territories and females. These distances can include going over the watershed from one valley to another i.e. Nidderdale to Wharfedale and vice versa. This can be a dangerous time for them because if they are discovered in another male’s territory the incumbent male may resort to killing them. Otters feed on fish and it’s inevitable that they will take fish from people’s ponds but there are steps you might consider taking to protect your fish, these can include a fence around your pond. Some fishing lakes surround their lake with electric fences but you could just build a steel fence. The problem with fences is whilst they might be successful all you are really doing is shifting the problem elsewhere and doing your neighbours no favours. In a small garden pond you might consider an appropriate refuge for your fish where an otter can’t enter such as a long drainpipe. But here’s another suggestion you might wish to consider. Most fish introduced to ponds and fishing lakes are carp species, non-native species, and this can create untold problems for native species so why not at least in your garden pond consider turning it into a wildlife area without any fish. This will allow our native animals to find their own way in and you may be rewarded with the joy of mating frogs calling, other amphibians, birds not seen before in your pond, although perhaps not herons, and hedgehogs, foxes and badgers may call in for a drink – a different form of pond but one which might be just as rewarding as a few non-native fish. Finally, it is now illegal to deliberately or recklessly kill, injure or take (capture) an otter, deliberately or recklessly disturb or harass an otter, damage, destroy or obstruct access to a breeding site or resting place of an otter (i.e an otter shelter). Thus, otter shelters are legally protected whether or not an otter is present. If you know of such a crime let the Police know.


Hedgehog – Kathleen Pogson


You have sent in some great photos and interesting sightings, my apologies for getting behind somewhat but hopefully I will be back to more normal ‘blogging’ from now on. I have also not responded personally to every one of your sightings, please don’t take it personally, I intend to start doing so again from this week.

Sue (& Geoff) Turner took a post Christmas walk along the Harland Way from Wetherby to Spofforth on a cold and frosty day. It was interesting what they saw. “Wren x 1, Chiffchaff x 1 (this is the first time we have ever seen one in December and we presume it was a Chiffchaff as we could not see the colour of its legs and we have never seen any Willow Warblers around this area), Redwing x 8, Fieldfare x 3 and a Heron (across a field in the direction of Kirk Deighton where there is a small stream) Bullfinch one male and a few blackbirds and robins. Unusually we did not see any Red Kites but perhaps there were no thermals. They regularly fly over our estate and we also see them over my son’s estate in the Bachelor/Bilton area of Harrogate and my daughter’s estate in Garforth. We do the BTO weekly garden bird survey so these numbers are for December in our garden. Blackbirds (20+ when we put fresh food out on the lawn), Woodpigeons (as many as 8 in the garden at the same time), Collared Dove 2, Goldfinch 10, Bullfinch 3 Male 2 Female (This morning we saw 3 Females at the same time), Starling 3, Blue Tit 3, Great Tit 2, Coal Tit 1, Long Tailed Tit 5, Chaffinch 7, Robin 2, Blackcap 2 Male (we have regularly had one male in December but saw two together on the 30th), Carrion Crow x 1, Magpie x 2, Dunnock x 2. We do not see House Sparrows any more but they do frequent some of the hedges and gardens when we walk into Wetherby. We did get a brief visit from a Tree Sparrow on 26th November and have been feeding a hedgehog until the beginning of December. In the summer we have had as many as three hedgehogs at the same time so these must be doing quite well in this area. My neighbour also feeds the hedgehogs and they have access to gardens on either side of us both at the back and front. We regularly have at least three grey squirrels in the garden as they frequent the tall sycamores and ash trees along the Harland Way, which our garden backs onto.” Some impressive sightings from Sue, of which the two summer migrants, chiffchaff and blackcap, are perhaps top of the list. I’m somewhat concerned at the lack of sparrows, house and tree. Tree sparrows seem to be making a bit of a comeback locally after a big decline but house sparrow numbers seem to be dropping, all very worrying. What do you see in your garden and especially how do sparrows fare near you?

I am very grateful to Linda O’Carroll who, despite having a broken right arm making typing very difficult, wrote about her garden birds. “Recently, due to my temporary disability, my hulled sunflower seeds in the Jagunda hopper feeder at the back of the house ran out. It’s the bullfinches‘ favourite feeder, and most of them reluctantly moved to the table seed (mostly corn/millet and some black sunflower) feeder in the side garden, however one bright-coloured male bullfinch started banging on a back window, out of sight of feeders, where I tend to sit for hours at computer. I told myself that bullfinches can’t possibly ask for food at the correct window like that (I wasn’t even by the window when the bullfinch tapped as I can’t work there so much since the injury). So anyway I felt guilty, put hulled sunflower seed near the empty Jagunda feeder, and the tapping stopped. My question is can bullfinches really ask for food by tapping, and can they really work out which window to tap on? I have had various tits sort of tapping on windows for decades, but they are probably after putty and cobwebbed insects. Bullfinch diet doesn’t allow for that explanation though.” I have never heard of a bullfinch tapping for food and we will never really know if it doing so was just coincidence or not, but it did stop when the food was replaced and I often think that our wildlife is far cleverer than we give it credit for, so why not?


Great White Egret – Kathleen Pogson

Kathleen Pogson sent me some photos that were taken at the end of 2016 – “the great white egret at Fairburn and the hedgehog in our garden. Not sure what the egret has caught, maybe an eel?” Sadly eels are now quite scarce and it could be that the catch is a river lamprey although these are struggling as well.

Bill Rigby and Shan Oakes wrote, “This week you may have seen huge ‘V’ formation skeins of geese flying, Goldfinch: we are seeing them regularly (Tentergate in Knaresborough), feeding on teasels and evening primrose seeds.” Did you see the geese? They were pink-footed. Shan also tells me, “the queen wasp (seen by Bill Shaw) may well have been one from our house! We keep finding them in the house vaguely trying to get out the windows so we help them out, into the cold. Why are they in our house? Could it be they are coming in in the pine wood we burn in the stove?” I’m not sure I can answer this, at this time of year they have probably been disturbed from hibernation or unseasonally mild weather may have woken them up. I wonder if they are trying to find a suitable hibernation place inside the house and it may be good to release them in a garden shed or similar.


Carole Turner asked me to share this with you. “Birders against Wildlife Crime have an appeal for funds for tagging raptors. It has already reached its target but the more money it gets the more birds can be tagged. If you would be so kind to publicise this on your next newsletter, there are 49 days left to contribute.

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Hartlepool, Teesmouth and RSPB Saltholme Minibus trip (booking required). Tuesday, February 14 08:30 – 18:00

Harrogate RSPB Group

Talk by Ian Newton Location: Christchurch Hall, The Stray, Harrogate, Birds of the Masai Mara Monday, 13 February, 7.30pm. Price: £3 for Members and £4 for Visitors

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings from twitter include; bittern and waxwing.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Ian Webster – Allerton Park landfill site 3 Glaucous Gull (juvenile) 2 Iceland Gull (juvenile)
17 White Fronted Geese.
David PostlethwaiteBittern at Ripon Canal Lagoon (Nicholson’s Lagoon) this morning but no sign of the smew.
David Gilroy – At least 86 Curlews and 32 Oystercatchers now on Ripon Racecourse. One drake Pintail on the lagoon at the far end of Ripon Canal. One male Brambling in our Harrogate garden today – the first of the winter.
Rob Brown – c 40 waxwings Nidderdale Drive, Knaresborough. Mobile in area because of mistle thrush
Marie HarbourStoat in winter white coat at Brimham Rocks.
09:52 06-02-2017
Peter Thomson – Opened my bedroom curtains at 7:20 this morning as dawn was breaking and saw the surface of a very calm Oak Beck suddenly become very agitated as two small brown heads broke the surface, then disappeared to be followed by the unmistakeable smooth tails of Otters as they continued on their way downstream. This is a first for here and I can only assume that they were on their way back to the Nidd.