Butterflies Still Tumbling

Wall Brown - Nigel HeptinstallWall Butterfly

You may well have noticed the national news, “Butterflies crash in fourth worst year on record in 2016.” It makes worrying and uneasy reading. Butterfly Conservation tells us some 40 of the 57 species studied recorded a decline compared with 2015, many of those species suffering are inevitably the rarest species and ones we aren’t often privileged to see, especially locally. One species which is suffering and can, or perhaps was, seen locally is the wall butterfly which is widespread but rapidly declining; it is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species. I don’t recall seeing one last year and I always keep an eye open for butterflies. It’s not however only the rare species that are suffering, our more common and most welcome species are also in decline. The Gatekeeper is down 48% and Meadow Brown falling by 31% compared with 2015. It’s not all bad news, however; the widespread and migratory Red Admiral recorded a rise of 86% compared to 2015, but beware don’t forget 2015 was a really bad year as well. It’s a bit like a 1% pay rise for low paid workers, a little bit of nothing is bugger all.

Red Admiral - Nigel HeptinstallRed Admiral

Local Butterfly Situation

Paul Millard is the butterfly recorder for this area of Yorkshire. He has kindly given me permission to reuse his local butterfly news. The first snippet of interest is that a “Red Admiral was seen on 25 March at Ainderby Steeple, this is so early that it could easily have been an overwintering adult. It is only a few years ago that it became accepted that Red Admirals overwintered in southern England.” Another sign of global warming? Paul tells us, “The list of butterflies flying now has expanded, it also includes; Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Peacock and Brimstone. They all share the same habit of hibernating in the adult stage. I have also had reports of Holly Blue, Orange Tip, and Green-veined White.” So weather permitting some butterflies are flying earlier, that creates problems because they need access to food and are appropriate plants always available? Not necessarily.

SPECIES

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

SMALL SKIPPER

368

48

115

304

594

306

397

LARGE SKIPPER

101

42

112

23

112

69

81

DINGY SKIPPER

0

0

3

13

9

14

9

CLOUDED YELLOW

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

BRIMSTONE

33

9

48

38

58

64

71

LARGE WHITE

380

24

187

469

546

246

858

SMALL WHITE

545

127

88

704

805

287

698

GREEN-VEINED WHITE

1488

297

399

595

1522

423

844

ORANGE-TIP

162

96

169

200

259

161

262

GREEN HAIRSTREAK

241

284

318

96

239

35

124

PURPLE HAIRSTREAK

17

11

1

8

1

0

14

WHITE-LETTER HAIRSTREAK

9

1

1

37

20

8

60

SMALL COPPER

87

34

8

107

31

34

44

BROWN ARGUS

4

4

0

3

11

2

13

NORTHERN BROWN ARGUS

36

2

0

1

4

3

8

COMMON BLUE

438

112

150

88

215

126

199

HOLLY BLUE

15

13

45

9

12

15

20

RED ADMIRAL

470

204

156

150

580

253

737

PAINTED LADY

25

4

12

32

40

91

302

SMALL TORTOISESHELL

276

275

488

631

1324

941

449

PEACOCK

1021

152

825

950

1880

618

672

COMMA

185

26

37

240

102

102

48

DARK GREEN FRITILLARY

22

17

5

5

39

30

40

SPB FRITILLARY

0

0

0

9

0

0

1

SPECKLED WOOD

492

138

519

264

609

330

705

WALL BROWN

220

76

39

131

165

16

133

GATEKEEPER

1

6

16

17

4

12

13

MARBLED WHITE

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

MEADOW BROWN

377

146

777

999

1830

1779

1611

RINGLET

608

156

1502

1751

3699

2562

1997

SMALL HEATH

89

277

135

99

448

219

273

TOTAL BUTTERFLIES

7710

2581

6155

7973

15162

8746

10683

KEY

INCREASE

NO CHANGE

DECREASE

NO RECORDS

These records need to be taken in the knowledge that folk are now using mobile phone apps and similar to record their sightings and the improved numbers seen last year may reflect an increase in recorder activity. Interestingly Paul tells us, “The Small Tortoiseshell is a cause for concern as the numbers are trending downward again, however they are flying again now as they emerge from hibernation after a less challenging winter. Recent research has confirmed what we always suspected, that butterflies in general do better the year after a cold hard winter. Last winter was hardly that but at least it was not so wet.”

Please Help

My experience, which unlike Paul’s has no scientific basis, is that with the probable exception of brimstone all butterflies did very poorly last year. Cold wet summers don’t help butterflies and when we did start to see butterflies in autumn food plants were again scarce, so you can help and here’s how.

  1. Join Butterfly Conservation.

  2. Donate. In the UK we have lost 25% of our widespread butterflies in just 40 years. Iconic species are struggling to survive.

  3. Identify a butterfly.

  4. Report your sighting, get the Big Butterfly Count App. It’s fun and easy to use and helps you identify the butterflies. It’s also free.

  5. Make your Garden Wildlife Friendly. Remember butterflies and most wildlife need a source of food and places to nest all summer. The fields are full of pesticides, make sure your garden helps wildlife.

Spring Hots Up

Comma - Roger LittonComma – Roger Litton

Peter Durkin reports “whilst working on Quarry Moor Lane, Ripon on Wednesday, 22 March a flock of redwings about 200 flew over at a height l have never seen them fly before heading north. Today, Thursday, a swallow came by heading same way.” When did you see your first swallow of the summer? Indeed have you seen one at all this year yet?

John Stockill writesSince being off work due to an operation my wife and I have been enjoying the lovely weather and taken full advantage and walked nearly every day visiting Whitby at low tide, the Farndale daffodils, a scorching Scarborough and a raging Janet’s Foss at Malham and best of all being a loyal ‘Cragrat’ Knaresborough. It reminds me that in a modern technology fuelled world that a good pair of walking boots and a packed lunch which costs next t’nowt the British countryside is all ours to explore and enjoy. Here are a few pictures of our treks including a comma butterfly. You can’t disagree with that and John was also lucky to see a comma butterfly, see the above.

What signs of spring have you seen?

Tree Aftercare Event

What, I asked myself, is a Tree After Care Event? Well it’s an opportunity to come and help The Friends of Jacob Smith Park clear the ground around the park’s young trees. This enables the roots to receive more nutrients, meaning the trees can grow nice and strong. Everyone is welcome! So have some fun together whilst caring for the park. You’ll need suitable footwear, your waterproofs and a pair of gardening gloves. Please also bring forks and spades. Come for as long as you can! Meet at the noticeboard, main entrance, 10am Sunday, 30 April. Email Jo at Jacob.smith.park@gmail.com if you need more info or visit the website. It’s free, it’s outdoors, what else do you want?

Rossett Nature Reserve

If like Roger Litton you went to Rossett Nature Reserve and was a little horrified with what you found, cleared ponds, all the vegetation stripped away and completely bare ponds, then don’t worry. It has all had to be done. Sam Walker from the Council explains, “There has been an intensive programme of work at Rossett over the last 15 months so that it was necessary to bring the site up to scratch. This work has included a new dipping platform, noticeboard, footpath improvements, litter picks and a variety of habitat enhancements. The major work carried out this winter was a programme to clear the ponds of Crassula Helmsii – an invasive non-native species that was choking the ponds and limiting them as a suitable habitat for the Great Crested Newts (GCN). In fact it had reached the point where you could walk across a number of the ponds on a Crassula carpet! For a number of years the friends group and HBC had been carrying out this work manually but the impact we could have was limited. It was decided that the best way to ensure the continued suitability of the site for Great Crested Newts was to bring a digger on site to clear the ponds. This work was all agreed with the Harrogate Borough Council’s ecologist and we ensured that the work was done in January when the newts wouldn’t be in the ponds. This work was always going to have a significant initial impact as you can’t just selectively remove the crassula. However, over time, the site will make a full and complete recovery. The works have certainly had the desired effect and the ponds are now suitable for breeding Great Crested Newts. In fact we have already had reports of both Great Crested Newts and Smooth Newts in the ponds already this year. The vegetation will of course grow back, especially now that it’s starting to warm up. The Crassula will return as it is impossible to eradicate. I would anticipate we would have to do something similar again in the next 5-10 years. These works are essential to ensure we maintain a network of ponds suitable for breeding Great Crested Newts.”

Red Line Against Fracking

Frack Free Ryedale has sent out an appeal for knitted/crocheted 15cm red squares, to be sent to them by the end of May. These will be stitched together by the Frack Free Yarnbombers to make a RED LINE AGAINST FRACKING. In a joint project with fellow activists in Portugal and Germany the piece will be displayed on 11 June, before travelling to Bonn for the COP23 conference in November; a literal representation of the flourishing campaign for a clean energy future. If you complete any squares than let Janice Scott know email timscot@hotmail.com and she will collect them and pass them on.

Sightings

Grey Squirrel - Roger LittonGrey Squirrel – Roger Litton

Roger Litton, “I thought you might like to see the attached photo – a fairly common sight in our garden!”

Events

Please check the website or contact the organisation to confirm events are still running.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Sunday, 30 April, Visit to Rosedale Watching Ring Ouzels in Rosedale. Time: 10.30, meet there or 9am at Trinity for car share

Nidderdale Bird Club

Saturday, 22 April, Ripon – where two rivers meet (Skell & Laver): a morning walk to Hellwath and Whitcliffe Wood nature reserve.

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society GOUTHWAITE RESERVOIR, SCAR HOUSE and ANGRAM

Meet at Gouthwaite Reservoir main car park at 9.30 a.m. (in cars). Looking for waders and spring migrants. Continue to Scar House, stopping en route for raptors, Pied Flycatcher, Dipper. Scar House car park for lunch, looking for Ring Ouzel, Wheatear etc. A walk then to Angram for those who so wish. When: Tuesday, 25 April, 09:30 – 17:30

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from the Nosterfield complex via twitter @NosterfieldLNR include; butterflies – orangetip, speckled wood and small white. Birds – avocets, ruff, little ringed plover, ringed plover, wheatear, little egret, greenshank, redshank, harris hawk, kestrel, sparrowhawk, stock dove,

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page

Joe Fryer mealy redpoll at High Batts 15-04-2017. Brambling and yellowhammer 14-04-17
Pat Rumbold First fledglings of the year yesterday – young robins along the River Skell in Ripon. 15-04-2017
Joe Fryer Dallowgill moor lots of red grouse, wheatear, golden plover and a stonechat 13-04-2017
Ian Webster Scar House Road. Pied Flycatcher, Nuthatch, Treecreeper. 3-04-2017
Alan Tremethick Scarhouse Ring ouzel, Wheatear, Osprey, Gouthwaite Oystercatchers, Ring plover, Dunlin. 13-04-2017
David Gilroy Common Redstart at John O’ Gaunt’s Reservoir. 13-04-2017
Joe Fryer at Fountains Abbey. Red kites, mistle thrush, great spotted woodpecker, greenfinch, goldfinch, bullfinch 12-04-2017
Paul V Irving An adult White Tailed Eagle was photographed as it flew south over Hay a Park 11-04-2017
Tony Snowden Mandarin, on R. Nidd at Waterside car park, nr. Castle Mills. 11-04-2017
Paul V Irving 10/04/17 Colsterdale area Hen Harrier (reported immediately to RSPB on 0845 460 0121 or henharriers@rspb.org.uk vital if we are to save this species in England. Displaying male Merlin. Peregrines, Buzzard, Stonechat, Ring Ouzel, Swallow, Tree Pipit.
Also Green Tiger Beetle and Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola), Red Grouse.
RSPB Fairburn Ings, latest sightings,

Pintail 1-2 still hanging on. Red-crested Pochard Spectacular drake from 5th on western lagoon. Bittern. Booming males from three locations. Little Egret Three pairs nest building Great White Egret. Spoonbill Single from 3rd to at least 6th. Grey Partridge Pair on coal tips.Red Kite 1-3 Daily. Common Buzzard 20+ on 2nd most likely included passage birds. Grey Heron Viewable nests now with well grown young. Avocet Certainly 14, perhaps 18. Oystercatcher Up to 12. Little Ringed Plover Three throughout. Curlew Max 27. Snipe <10 now reported daily. Redshank Single occasionally. Peregrine Pair. Goldcrest Unusual  but 4 singing males at the moment. Willow Tit Seven singing males. Bearded Tit Reported on 4th and 6th. Cetti’s Warbler Six singing males located. Sedge Warbler Single on Parker’s on 1st. White Wagtail Singles on 1st and 7th.

Trees Need Protection Too

IMG_2457A Veteran Oak Tree in Ripley Park

It always amazes me that ancient woodland and veteran trees have no protection when buildings of far inferior age and frequently to my mind appearance have strong protection, after all a tree might be 800 years old, see the ones in Ripley Park for example. They might have witnessed so many changes, so many historical acts, in Ripley’s case a certain Oliver Cromwell rode by, yet this seems to count for nothing, trees also provide a habitat for so many other creatures and support our wellbeing, make us feel good yet this seemingly counts for nowt or at least very little. Sheffield Council have much to answer for. Well The Woodland Trust is campaigning to change this, to get the Government to give exceptional planning protection to ancient woodland and veteran trees, and you can help. “The Government has proposed adding ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees to the current list of policies that restrict development in England. It’s great news! Currently planning permission should be refused if it impacts these precious habitats. But a loophole has led to devastating losses. Now, through the new Housing White Paper – called ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ – the Government intends to add ancient woodland aged and veteran trees to a list of the nation’s assets that should be explicitly protected from development. This would raise their status in planning terms to that of National Parks, SSSIs or Green Belt. But… it won’t change their fate – or close the loophole – unless the relevant guidance elsewhere in planning policy is amended accordingly.” Visit the website for more information and whilst they would well appreciate your brass, they are asking you to respond to a planning consultation and they provide help and guidelines, so why not do it?

Buzzard2 - Richard YeomanCommon Buzzard – Richard Yeoman (notice the rounded tail not the forked tail of a red kite)

Buzzard Persecution – Can you Help?

The RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for information leading to a successful prosecution on two injured buzzards found in North Yorkshire. The buzzards had been found shot at East Lutton and near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park. More information can be found at the Raptor Persecution website or at the RSPB website. Beware these two sites are somewhat contradictory so I’ll leave it to you to determine what was shot or illegally trapped and where, but the fact remains our birds of prey are being persecuted here in North Yorkshire and we should all be vigilant to ensure it doesn’t happen. These things can happen nearer to home and only recently a dead buzzard was found on an island in the Nidd near to Scotton Weir. It was taken to the vet who announced that prior to its death it had been in healthy condition. Doug Simpson kindly paid for an x-ray, out of his own money, which showed it hadn’t been shot, so was it poisoned? We may never know but healthy birds don’t just drop out of the sky unless man has had some influence on it!

Police investigation after red kite found dead in Nidderdale

Police are appealing for information after a red kite was found dead in Nidderdale. On the afternoon of Saturday, 11 March a dead red kite was found near Greenhow, in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire. An examination revealed the bird’s carcass contained what is believed to be lead shot. PC David Mackay, a Wildlife Crime Officer of North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce, said: “It has taken many years to re-introduce red kites after their near extinction from the UK, and these magnificent birds can now regularly be seen in the skies over North Yorkshire. They are a Schedule 1 bird and have special legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. They feed on carrion and pose no threat to game birds, farmed animals or pets. I would ask anyone who has any information that could assist the investigation to get in touch with me.” North Yorkshire Police are being supported in the investigation by Yorkshire Red Kites. Anyone with information is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 2 and ask for PC 1452 David Mackay, or email david.mackay@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Please quote reference number 12170047155 when passing information.

Sad News

Charlie Winn, the first warden at RSPB Fairburn Ings Nature Reserve, died last week, he was the warden, voluntary from the reserve’s inception in 1957 to the RSPB having a warden in 1978, he continued as Honorary Head Warden until he died. He was very well known and will be greatly missed.

Spring Hots Up

Steve Kempson heard his first skylark of the year as early as 26 February singing over Hay-a-Park Knaresborough.

Roger Graville writes, “In the annual frogspawn competition, one of your correspondents has easily beaten me this year. Although there has been the “plop” of submerging frogs as I approach the pond for a couple of weeks now, the spawn only just arrived today, 5 March. This compares with 24 February last year.” How is the frogspawn competition going in your area?

0194_large_paul brothersBrimstone – Paul Brothers

Jon Burge tells me, “A brimstone (butterfly) visited the garden today, an unusually sunny warm 12 March. It was zig-zagging around through the garden bushes presumably looking for a mate or buckthorn (none in the immediate vicinity). Unmistakable, all yellow top and bottom and much larger than any of the whites with very strong flight. I suppose the orange tips will be next, but I do not see leaves emerging on alliara petiola so perhaps in a week or two.” This is the first brimstone reported this year, at least to me. Alliara petiola or Garlic mustard, or as I call it Jack by the Hedge, is an orange tip butterfly food plant, as is Cardamine pratensis, known locally as milkmaid but also called cuckoo flower or ladies smock. I haven’t seen this plant either yet, but all the different names of plants interest me and confuse me at the same time.

Bob Barker makes an interesting point and one certainly recognised by the bird watching community, “A couple of weeks ago saw large flock of oystercatchers in fields above Gouthwaite reservoir and on my walks in the dales glad to see curlews and lapwings wheeling around the sky-although not in the same numbers as 10 years ago.” It is critical that we do what we can to protect these birds locally because when they are gone they are gone and that is the experience in other parts of the country.

I recently mentioned that Robert Brown had seen some bumblebees in a tree and I suggested that they were probably tree bumblebees. Paul Irving responded, “all emerging bumblebees make a beeline (sorry!) for flowering willow because it is one of the early major food sources so most will be white tailed, possibly buff tailed bumble bees, even some solitary bees. It is a little early for tree bumble bees although I have colleague who has seen one this week. Chiffchaffs, Brimstones, Peacocks and Commas were all reported last Sunday at Nosterfield Quarry. Frog spawn in the garden pond here for at least a fortnight, blackcap is also still here.” I was interested to speak to a volunteer at RSPB Sandy in Bedfordshire recently who tells me that the over-wintering blackcaps there leave and are replaced by the summer migrants but there is a fortnight without blackcaps. Whilst things here can certainly be different to Sandy it does suggest that Paul’s blackcap may be an over-wintering bird, time will tell.

What signs of spring have you seen?

The Great British Bee Count

Join the Friends of The Earth’s (FOE) Great British Bee Count 2017, an easy and fun way to find out how bee populations are doing across Britain. Bees face many dangers including habitat loss, pesticides and climate change so it’s important that as much as possible is discovered about these precious pollinators. Sign up and FOE will provide you with everything you need to count bees in your garden including their free and new Great British Bee Count app. Visit the Bee Count Map to see what was spotted near you in 2016.

Goosander - Richard YeomanGoosander – Richard Yeoman

Sightings

Richard Yeoman writes, “First some sightings This morning I took our dogs (as usual on a Sunday) down the Nidd Gorge as far as the weir – a few ducks around but not much else but then on the way back a pair of Goosanders flew past going upstream. Found then just above the viaduct! On the way back I passed the little pond on the edge of Bilton Fields – the noise! Lots of Frogs (or Toads?) in the pond. Then this afternoon I went up to the new rugby ground with Julie (my daughter) looking for a dog that had gone missing, it’s a Miniature German Schnauzer called Alfie, a group of dog walkers were out looking for it. Anyway got a photo of a Red Kite and a Buzzard. Second something which may interest you. There is a group of Dog Walkers who call themselves “Harrogate Happy Hounds” (about 30 member,s most of which are professional dog walkers). Last Saturday some of them went up to Hookstone onto the YAS Fields and spent an hour picking up dog poo (left by other people’s dogs) and rubbish. This coming Saturday they are going to repeat the exercise in the Bilton Fields around the viaduct. The point being that generally dog poo left on the ground is not left by Professional Dog Walkers, the vast majority of them do pick up, they adhere to the Council Guidelines.” What do you think?

Events

Saturday, 15 April Pinewoods Conservation Group, Easter Egg Hunt. Meet in Car Park 3, RHS Harlow Carr any time 11 – 12 noon. £2 entry non-members, free to members.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Monday, 10 April is their last Indoor Meeting of the winter season and sees the long overdue return of an old friend of the Group. Nigel Harcourt-Brown FRCVS is a vet who until his recent retirement practised in Bilton. His talk will be entitled Treating Birds of Prey.

Studfold Adventure Trail

The Great Easter Egg Hunt starts an exciting new season at Studfold… Opening on the Saturday, 8 April and throughout the Easter Holidays until 23 April 2017.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday, 17 April (Evening) Annual General Meeting followed by an update on the proposed Gouthwaite Wildlife Centre. Royal Oak, Dacre Banks.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings from the Nosterfield complex via Twitter @NosterfieldLNR include: whooper swans, swallow, red kite, house martin, willow warbler, Mediterranean gull, jay, common dog violet, osprey (mobbed by crows). Butterflies: orange-tip, brimstone, peacock and small tortoiseshell.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page:

David Postlethwaite Seven species of butterfly at Staveley this afternoon including orange tip and holly blue. Little egret at the West Lagoon. 05-04-2017
Will Rich, At least one male Brimstone passing through my garden yesterday. 04-04-2017
David Gilroy, Blackcap singing outside the Academy Gym in Harrogate 04-04-2017
Mike Metcalfe, Drake Garganey giving superb views in front of hide at West lagoons, Staveley 02-04-2017
Joe Fryer, today in Ripon Spinny Wood I had a tree sparrow and in my garden I had my first swallow of the year 02-04-2017
Peter Thomson, Oak Beck, Knox Mill Lane Pr. of Mandarins in the garden jumped into the Beck at 0815 this morning and continued upstream. This must surely be the same pair that paid a visit on Apr 14 last year. 02-04-2017
David Holmes 24 Waxwings back garden of 65 Jesmond Road in the Guelder Rose, very mobile 02-04-2017

Is Spring Hotting Up?

Robin - Barry CarterA couple of award winning photos from Barry Carter, “The Nuthatch image has got a third place in an international photo contest and the Robin won Best Image on Andy Rouse’s Fotobuzz website and also scooped the members’ votes top position! Have a look at my Barry’s new website, it is in its infancy and trying to concentrate mainly on the birds.

Nuthatch - Barry CarterSpring Hots Up

Andrew Willocks tells me, “The first frogs spawn was seen at Harlow Carr on 8 March, the first summer migrant was a Chiffchaff seen and heard at Harlow Carr on 11 and 13 March.“

Roger Litton took these great photos of frogs at Bachelor Garden pond recently. Sadly I can’t pass on the call frogs make when courting; it’s brilliant, really soothing and calming.

John Stockill spotted a red-tailed bumblebee at Studley Royal on 12 March. Over the last few days there have been a few bumblebees around. Robert Brown reported a good number in a tree full of pussy willow which most probably would be tree bees, the ones that take over bird boxes. John and his family “also spotted curlew and a grey wagtail bobbing about The Strid which was roaring after the rain we’ve recently had. A great walk through the woods noticing spring is just around the corner.”

What signs of spring have you seen?

Common Frog8 - Roger LittonFrog – Roger Litton

Do Otters Eat Fish!

Sightings

Ian Law and his daughter “Lisa spotted an Oystercatcher which was about 100 metres away on a dry stone wall above How Stean Beck on Sunday, 12 March.”

John Stockill saw a birch tree with the fungus piptoporus betulinus growing on it. It’s better known, at least to me, as birch bracket or razor strop fungus. So called because Barbers used to ‘strop’ or sharpen their cut-throat razors on tough, leathery strips cut from the surfaces of these polypores. It only grows on birch trees. The 5,000 year old mummy found in the Tyrol and nicknamed Ötzi the Iceman had two pieces of this fungus on a neck thong, it seems unlikely that their purpose was to sharpen a razor! (First Nature). It is much more likely that it was used in its dried form to carry light from place to place or as tinder when starting a new fire, hence another name for it, Tinder Fungus. In case you were wondering, no it’s not poisonous but is bitter tasting, when cut these polypores have a faint but not unpleasant ‘mushroomy’ odour. Usual warning – only forage fungi from supermarket shelves.

John Wade writes, “Fascinating sighting at Ripley end of the Bilton-Ripley walkway, yesterday, 9 March, a beautiful day, was a bat at 2.40pm. I do not know bats, but the book seems to show it as a pipistrelle. Seems the good weather brought it out. Is it unusual?” Most folk even experts can’t identify bats by sight and usually do so using a bat detector. As John says, it was most likely pipistrelle although which of the three varieties is anyone’s guess. Bats will venture out at any time of the year and I once saw one in Borrowdale at New Year, it was a lovely day and probably a few insects about so hopefully like yours it ate and then returned to sleep, come to think of it some uninterrupted sleep would do me good! To answer John’s question it’s not usual but does occur perhaps because the bat was disturbed or more likely because it just woke up and fancied a look round. Maybe because it was during the day it had been disturbed but they usually are sensible enough to hibernate well away from anywhere humans venture into. I guess other creatures may be more likely to disturb it but disturbance is not the only reason bats wake up. If you have a better theory let me know. John also saw a pair of little owls recently at Nosterfield.

Starling Murmuration - Judith FawcettJudith Fawcett took this great photo of a recent starling murmuration at Nosterfield.

Ken Fackrell writes, “Someone asked about otters taking fish from garden ponds. Yes they do, leaving uneaten bits all over the garden, and even leaving an undamaged fish alive by the side of the pond. That one, at least, recovered.” Ken continues, “Grey wagtails are by the footbridge in Nidd Gorge most mornings now,” and “where are my frogs this year? We normally have dozens from mid-February onwards, but not one this year.” Nice to know grey wagtails are around, my personal suspicions are their numbers are falling. Hope your frogs have arrived by now, let me know if that’s not the case. A number of folk have also asked the same question whilst others have said their frog numbers are better than ever. One such person being Neil Anderson. Let me know what the frog situation is with you, please.

Paul Irving writes, “I’ve also had a female blackcap in the garden for about a fortnight. Mink are decreasing in part it seems to be in conjunction with the return of the Otter, a much larger animal. Otters mainly declined due to organochlorine pesticides (DDT et al) and it has taken a long time for them to return. I am 66 and cannot remember them being common before, although I do remember one being nailed through the head onto a keepers gibbet along the Nidd near Knaresborough as a boy. Many fishermen dislike this resurgence of a natural native predator, perhaps they need reminding that their rainbow trout and carp are non-natives and about ecology. Sea Eagles and Ospreys are never going to predate fish in garden ponds even in rural sites, cats, herons, mink and otter even foxes are much much more likely candidates.” I recall reading an article from the turn of the century (1800 to 1900) by a fisherman saying how pleased he was that otter were returning and ‘holting’ in the Nidd Gorge, the reason for their return was because the Nidd was becoming cleaner because lead mining upstream had declined.

Peter Thomson tells me, “You have probably seen in the HDNS sightings that that I saw a black Mink on 5 Jan and two Otters on the early morning of 6 Feb. Having never seen an otter in the beck before, I was very puzzled as to why they should have been there. They were diving for fish right opposite my house then headed downstream towards the Nidd, which must be about a mile away. Having since read your explanation concerning Otter territories I now understand why they were there but I shall be very surprised if I see them again. Last week there was a Little Grebe in the Beck on Wednesday and again on Saturday which is the first time I have seen one there since 1988. He seemed to be catching plenty of small fish on the Wednesday and a rather larger one on the Saturday morning which I was able to photograph from my bedroom window. I have had three different Chaffinches with the papilloma virus on my garden feeders; the two which were worst affected have now disappeared. As for the rest of the garden birds, they all seem to be pairing up and looking for nesting sites. I watched a Tree Sparrow taking dead leaves into a nest box which has been occupied by Great Tits for the previous two years; it will be interesting to see who ends up as this year’s tenant. There has been a family of three Roe Deer regularly roaming the area and a covey of up to 20 Pheasants including a black one which has been around for a few years (if it is the same one).”

News

Two more buzzards shot dead in North Yorkshire

Events

Harrogate District Biodiversity Action Group AGM Saturday, 1 April at RHS Harlow Carr Wolfson Room, Bramall Learning Centre, Crag Lane, Harrogate HG3 1QB 10.00am for guided tour of RHS Harlow Carr Gardens, 10.45 – 12.30 for meeting

Frack Free Harrogate District – Meeting Thursday, 30 March, Friends Meeting House, 12a Queen Parade, Harrogate HG1 5PP. All Welcome.

Zero Carbon Harrogate Tomorrow Demain the film – Showing solutions, telling a feel-good story… … this may be the best way to solve the ecological, economical and social crises that our countries are going through. Demain has had a phenomenal impact in Europe. Read Moreand view the trailer 7.30pm, Monday, 20 March, St Mark’s Church, Leeds Road

Harrogate and District Naturalists Society

Kevin Walker will review the history of recording the flora of the HDNS area over the past 150 years with a focus on the current flora and how it has changed. Wed, 22 March 19:30 – 21:30. St. Robert’s Centre, 2/3 Robert Street, Harrogate at 7.30 p.m. visitor’s fee is £3.00.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Visit to RSPB Fairburn Ings, Saturday, 25 March. Meet 10am Fairburn Ings Car Park or 9am at Trinity for car share

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday, 20 March (Evening). Investigating Wildlife Crime: a presentation by Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer.

Saturday, 25 March. Bolton-on-Swale Lake: an early spring visit to a former sand and gravel quarry off the A1 with wildfowl and woodland birds.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings from the Nosterfield complex via Twitter include: the Starling murmuration, @NosterfieldLNR tonight plus chiffchaff, short-eared owl, smew, avocet, blacktailed godwit, pintail , hare, little egret, white-fronted geese and a pinkfooted goose, goldeneye, and a possible rough leg buzzard large white patch on rump. A request, LADYBRIDGE is a privately owned working farm. Please can those viewing from Carthorpe road stay well clear of farm/quarry entrances. Thanks!

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists Society Sightings Page,

David Gilroy, “My first Chiffchaff calling this morning – outside Betty’s in Harrogate town centre! “
Ian Webster, “Masham, riverside. 3. Kingfisher and 1. Dipper.”
Peter Thomson, “Chiffchaff in scrub on bank of Oak Beck opposite Knox Mill. This is the same place and the same date that I first saw one in 2015.”
Mike Metcalfe, “Sand Martin 1 at Staveley today, (12-3-17) over east lagoon at 16.35”
Mike Smithson, “A chiffchaff at Goldsborough this morning next to the River Nidd. My first of the year. Also two fieldfares, a goldcrest and a pair of shelduck on the farmer’s pond, Midgeley Lane.”
Joe Fryer, “A snipe on Dallowgill area. Also 2 golden plover, one nearly in summer plumage male 1 female 1, green woodpecker 1, red kite 3 +buzzards. Plenty of red grouse.
P & M Robinson, “First chiffchaff of the year heard and seen this morning on Abbey Road in Knaresborough.”

RSPB Fairburn Ings. Recent Reports: 3rd- 8th March

White-fronted Goose 3 on flashes most of week. Barnacle Goose Single throughout; Wigeon c125 on flashes. Pintail Present throughout in small numbers. Smew 2 until 3rd. Cormorant Well developed young in nests. Bittern. Three on 3rd. Male booming on western lagoon occasionally. Great White Egret Single throughout. Red Kite 1-2 Daily. Oystercatcher 6 Daily. Curlew Max 21 seen daily. Snipe Up to 40 recently on Big Hole and Main Bay. Kingfisher Occasional at kingfisher screen and down Cut. Peregrine Two reported most dates from flashes. Nuthatch 1-2 regular on feeders. Goldcrest Max 4 on 6th. Cetti’s Warbler Now three singing intermittently. Chiffchaff Single on 7th. Treecreeper Pairs regularly at VC and down Cut lane .occasionally in song! Fieldfare Daily. Max 125 on 7th. Siskin 8 on 8th. 

Acrobatic Feeders & Has Spring Sprung?

staring-adrian-mosleyStarling – Adrian Mosley

Acrobatic Feeders

Adrian Mosley has kindly sent some great photos of of acrobatic feeders on our garden feeders here on Jennyfield. “It has taken the Siskins some time to appear in numbers this year but this week we had 9 at one time (23rd Feb) on the feeders. I also had a surprise visitor to our garden a Sparrowhawk sitting on the garden seat looking at the feeders longingly – but the birds had flown.”

My grateful thanks to all of you who have thanked me for resuming my blog, much appreciated. Please share with your friends and fellow wildlife watchers. Also see my monthly blog at How Stean Gorge.

Signs of Spring

Rick and Trisha Brewis have already seen “dogs mercury and celandine out in full flower in the Nidd Gorge and flowering blackthorn out in blossom down Bilton Hall Drive! How early is that?” Nowt surprises me any more, when will we get winter this year? I used to enjoy long walks on frozen ground; trudging through thick mud is no alternative. I seem to recall in previous years that not only did we have a Harrogate crocus fortnight the second week in March but also yellow crocuses (croci?) always came first. Now there are hardly yellow ones on the Stray, but loads of purple and white ones.

Meanwhile Jackie reckons that the snowdrops are one of the best displays for years and she saw a red admiral whilst out walking last week. As I write I’ve just received a weather warning for ice, so blame me.

John Wade saw his “first curlew of year on 17/2. On the road to Lindley. There was only one. Earliest I have ever seen one. Robert Brown also reports seeing curlew on their breeding grounds. Also a nice flock of about 20 lapwings. Six or so bramblings still regularly in our garden.”

house-sparrow-adrain-mosleyHouse Sparrow and Goldfinch – Adrian Mosley

Philip Woffinden writes, “The Mallinson estate, Harrogate, frogs have been busy early this year, with frogspawn first being noticed in my pond on 21 February. This compares with 17 March last year, 16 March in 2015, 6 March 2014, 4 March 2013, 26 February 2012, 1 March 2011 and 10 March 2010, so it breaks the record for earliness. The frogs were first apparent in the pond on 16 February, so the ‘boys’ may not have had to wait as long this year before they were able to attract a female with their croaking.”

Doug Simpson, “Had three singing Skylarks at Scargill last Saturday (18/02).”

This one has a mixture of winter visitors and spring signs from Andrew Willocks, “I thought that I would pass on a few sightings from Harlow Carr for February 2017. We had the first Bumble Bee seen this year in the gardens by one of the gardeners Peter Duechar on 20 February with a Peacock butterfly and also the first Curlew was seen flying over the gardens on territory all on the same day. The Waxwings are still coming into roost most evenings into the gardens at Harlow Carr from 4.00pm, they can be viewed in the arboretum at the far end of the gardens, the number ranges from 30 – 60.” Sorry but no guarantee that the waxwings will stay much longer.

Andy Hanby reports whooper swans and pink-footed geese at Nosterfield Nature Reserve. Sorry sand martin report was my error, one hasn’t been seen in the area yet.

What signs of spring have you seen?

Red Kites Poisoned

The Raptor Persecution Website has revealed that two red kites found dead in Nidderdale were poisoned and the Police are appealing for information and warning about the dangers of illegal bird of prey poisoning. The two red kites were found poisoned in Nidderdale in 2016 one near Pateley bridge and the second near Bouthwaite, the second with as many as eight different poisons found following tests. Officers are appealing for information about the two incidents, and warning members of the public about the dangers of this illegal practice. Hard-hitting posters urging people to report suspected wildlife poisoning are being distributed across the county. If you find a mammal or bird that you believe has been poisoned, please do not touch it, as poisons can transfer through skin contact. Also keep youngsters and pets well away. Make a note of the location, including GPS co-ordinates if possible, and anything else that is around or near the animal, and contact the police immediately. Call me naive but do you think ‘hard hitting posters’ will do the trick? What do you think? I shudder every time I see a bird of prey, of any type, near moorland and pheasant shoots. It’s surely time more was done to protect our wildlife and licensing all shoots may be one way of dealing with these illegal activities. Anyone with information about the poisoning of the red kites found in Nidderdale should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, quoting reference number 12160043415, or email ruraltaskforce@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk.

Buzzard Shot

North Yorkshire Police report an incident in which a Buzzard was shot in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A dead buzzard was found on 1 February 2017 in an area called High Skelding, near the village of Grantley. It was in a small coniferous plantation close to where the Ripon Rowel footpath crosses the upper River Skell. If you have any information about this crime please contact North Yorkshire Police on 101. After being connected to North Yorkshire Police select option 1 and quote reference number 12170018791 when passing on information. Alternatively contact the investigating officer PC820 Hickson by email: bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

How To Make A Wildflower Meadow

Visit Friends of The Earth for information on how to grow a wildflower meadow.

siskin-adrian-mosleySiskin – Adrian Mosley

Wildlife Meetings

The Pinewoods Conservation Group is holding their AGM on from 7pm on Thursday, 9 March at The Green Hut, Harlow Ave, Harrogate HG2 0AS. There are plans for Harrogate Borough Council to lease 4 acres of The Pinewoods to Harrogate Spa Water Limited (HSWL). HSWL are then planning to build an extension of up to 5,000 square meters to their current plant on this land. The planning application also includes a proposal to create new landscaping and footpaths within the area with a percentage left open for public access. See here for more info and show your support for the PCG at their AGM.

Do Otters Eat Fish!

Paul Brothers writes, “I know of both dogs and cats that will eat fish, taken straight out of garden ponds. Netting may not be too much of a deterrent to them. I appreciate that a dog may not be able to get into the garden, but a cat certainly would. There was talk of a sea eagle coming into a garden pond near to me a couple of years back. Though the chances of that are pretty slim I would suspect. Osprey and other such birds are also unlikely, but cannot be ruled out. Mink could be another culprit and their numbers are increasing since they escaped from the mink farms.” I still reckon that otters are most likely to raid ponds but agree other wildlife could also do so. Regarding mink it was once considered that otter numbers were depleted because of the escaped mink. This is now considered unlikely to be the reason and polluted waters are a much more likely reason. Following Brexit of course we can now pollute our waters as much as we like so maybe our river life is in danger once again. Mink are much smaller than otters and unlikely to displace them and I believe as a consequence, coupled with culling, they are in fact reducing in numbers. Does anyone have any hard facts on this, please? I recognise of course that our water could be much cleaner than it currently is, it’s just better than it was.

chaffinch-with-fringilla-papilloma-virus-conrad-plowmanChaffinch with fringilla papilloma virus – Conrad Plowman

Conrad Plowman tells me, “I was interested to read of the depredations of an otter in fish ponds recently – in the past week remains of goldfish have been found in a neighbouring garden, within a few metres of the Knaresborough railway viaduct. There is easy access to the ponds from the Nidd. These are almost certainly as a result of an otter (or possibly, but less likely, a mink) attack, during the night. We haven’t seen otters in this stretch for about three years, but will certainly keep a look out. I have attached a photo of a chaffinch with fringilla papilloma virus. We don’t get many chaffinches on our feeders, but all that we see, both male and female, are affected to some extent. The method of transmission seems to be unclear, but bird to bird infection must occur. There seems to be nothing that can be done except trying to keep good hygiene around the feeders, although it is very difficult to do this on the ground. They generally seem to manage to feed without difficulty. I would be interested to know if other readers see this virus locally.

Sightings

Roger Graville asks, “You asked about sparrows in your latest article. We have always had plenty in our garden in Arncliffe Road, but after an enforced temporary move away for a few months we thought many birds may have stopped coming to our then empty feeders. Having returned home just before Christmas we are glad to say that although the variety of birds is only slowly building up again, the flock of sparrows turned up virtually straight away to welcome us back home, and we now regularly have between 10 and 20 as before.” I’m pleased that Roger’s sparrow numbers are doing well. I suspect that there are sadly fewer visiting my garden though. What’s happening near you?

Events

Harrogate Futures Forum:

Growing Pains or Grasping the Nettle… Do we need British horticulture?

Mike Prest of Knaresborough Horticultural Society will share some of his extensive experience in this sector. Presentation and discussion 16 March at 7:30pm, Friends Meeting House, Queen Parade, Harrogate. Admission Free – All Welcome – Refreshments Available

Harrogate Futures Forum presents a series of debates about the ways in which current issues may impact the Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon areas. Contact: Shan Oakes shan@voice-international.net

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society Birds in a Cage, Derek Niemann. This is the story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, a group of British POWs overcome hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. Their experiences leave them scarred, but set them on a path to becoming greats of the conservation movement. This tale is not just about birds or war, but about the human spirit. Derek takes us through the despair, the suffering, the hope, and the laughter, showing us how a love of the natural world can help us in good times – and in bad. You don’t need to be an ornithologist to enjoy this talk! When: Wed March 8 19:30 – 21:30 St. Robert’s Centre, 2/3 Robert Street, Harrogate

Nidderdale Bird Club Friday, 10 March, RSPB RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire: a trip to the south shore of the Ribble Estuary, looking for geese, ducks and waders.Please note this was originally RSPB Marshside.

High Batts Nature Reserve Autumn/winter lectures High Batts Nature Reserve runs an Autumn and Winter Programme of talks and slideshows. These are open to members and to non-members and the venue is The Golden Lion in Ripon, commencing 7.30 pm. Entry costs £2.00. When: 6th March 2017: Roger Parrish: “Birding the Dots” – welcome to Texas.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from twitter include a fantastic Starling murmuration plus bittern, barn owl, white-fronts and smew, great-crested grebe, gadwell.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Will Rich: Two Buzzards circling over New Park
Ian Webster: House by the dam wall 4 Crossbill.
David Gilroy: A female Blackcap in the garden today, along with regular Bullfinches.
Will Rich: Male and female Blackcaps in my New Park garden, Tawny Owls hooting in the early hours on a regular basis and a pair of Bullfinches.
Alan Medforth: Two Dippers with nesting material, between High and Low Bridge, Knaresborough. PLUS One Grey Wagtail, Two Buzzards and heard a Green Woodpecker.
Paul Irving: Allerton Lakes: Glaucous Gull 1st winter, Herring Gull c400, Great BB Gull c150. European White-fronted Goose 17, Mute Swan 15, Red Kite 3 Redwing 150.
Lingham Lake: Little Egret 2, Pintail 3, Dunlin 7, Redshank 10, Ringed Plover 1
Nosterfield NR: Linnet c150, Peregrine 1 adult female
High Batts NR: Chaffinch c60, Brambling 3, Kingfisher 1, Little Egret 1, Buzzard 3

RSPB Fairburn Ings.Recent Reports: 16-23 February

Pink-footed Goose 5 by New Flash on 23rd. White-fronted Goose 3 on north flashes most of week. Barnacle Goose Single throughout. Shelduck 53 max – present daily. Pintail Present throughout in small numbers. Smew Male and redhead throughout. Bittern Single on 21st & 22nd. Great White Egret Single throughout. Red Kite 1-2 on most days. Marsh Harrier Male on 18th. Oystercatcher 4 by 23rd. Curlew Max 25 see daily. Snipe Max 39 on 21st. Woodcock Singles on 14th and 15th. Common Snipe Upto 40 recently on Big Hole and Main Bay. Kingfisher Occasional at kingfisher screen. Peregrine Two reported most dates from flashes. Nuthatch 1-2 regular on feeders. Cetti’s Warbler Single heard on 19th. Chiffchaff 2 on 17th by Parker’s Pond. Treecreeper Pairs regularly at VC and down Cut Lane occasionally in song!. Starling c5K still at roost on lagoons. Stonechat Three on 18th. Grey Wagtail Single on 15th.

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: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/spring-meeting-2017-tickets-30960500691

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 www.bto.org 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

Sightings

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.

Events

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!

otter4-stephen-tomlinson

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.

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Hedgehog – Kathleen Pogson

Sightings

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?

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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.

Events

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. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/BAWC01

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.

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

Urgent – Save Our Outdoors

To Save Our Outdoors, Do This Before Christmas, or lose them!

Green Space Designation Needed Here, Now

Protect Harrogate & Knaresborough’s Special Spaces (REF: NE6: Local Green Space)

I didn’t intend to write anything until after the New Year but sadly this is so urgent, you need to respond by 23 December, and your help is really, really needed, it’s very important so please help. I have been contacted by many folk concerned about areas which have been refused Green Space Designation (GSD), despite being loved and used by Harrogate and Knaresborough citizens for many years, indeed many kindly folk and much Council money has been spent looking after these spaces for what was expected to be perpetuity. Not any more unless you help now. The National Planning Policy Framework introduced the local GSD. It allows communities, through Local District Plans (LDPs), to identify areas they particularly value to be awarded special protection from new development (unless there are exceptional circumstances).

Toby (aged 10) tells us in his words why the park is so important to him.

‘I go to Jacob Smith Park all the time and started going when I was about two or three weeks old. So it is a massive part of my life.  When I am feeling stressed or annoyed, me and the dog just got there and walk it out and come back a lot happier. ‘I love wildlife and we see bats, birds, bugs, squirrels, frogs, bees, butterflies and countless others, and sometimes when the weather is fine we can see so far that we can see the white horse which is a great way to enjoy the walk in the middle of a walk. This is why I love Jacob Smith Park and all its wildlife’

Why is a ten year old so astute when Harrogate Borough Council is so naive? Save these special places for the future. Please!

There are very few sites in the district to my knowledge which have been designated by Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) as Green Spaces. These include:

LGS 25 – Bachelors Field, Bachelor Gardens

LGS 11 – Stonefall Park – the ‘panhandle’ behind the Crematorium

These sites have been refused designation:

LGS 34: Grange Park, behind Pets At Home (conserved by HBC and volunteers since 1986)

LGS 32: Northern Outfall Allotments, Bachelor Gardens (1907 to date). This site is potentially on the Bypass/Relief Road route, making this a green space potentially blogs the inner bypass route. It’s crucial The Northern Outfall Allottments, near the sewerage works, has the protection of a Green Space Designation.

LGS 104: Bilton Fields, Nidd Gorge (43,500 trees planted in Partnership with HBC since 1985). Along each side of The Greenway. This site is potentially on the Bypass/Relief Road route, so it’s crucial it has the protection of a Green Space Designation. No more dog walking, no more cycling, no more wildlife, potentially that’s the outcome if this isn’t designated.

LGS 33: Bilton Triangle (90 acres of so-called Green Lung separating Starbeck and Bilton and stated by successive HBC leaders to be so highly prized as an open space allowing light and air to penetrate these otherwise dense urban areas). This site has been designated for housing and will therefore be serviced by a relief road/bypass.

LGS 28: The Pinewoods Harrogate. Really the Pinewoods are not a green space in the HBC’s blinkered eyes.

LGS22: Harlow Hill Allotments.

For a site be designated a Green Space it needs to fulfil stringent tests of ‘beauty’, ‘tranquillity’, ‘historical value’ and ‘wildlife value.’ The bar has been set very high but achievable because that’s what these places are. So send in your views, clearly listing your reasons and do so en masse because surely public opinion counts.

Keith Wilkinson of Bilton Conservation Group has some sound advice, “The best I can say is that ‘someone’ from each organisation must put together a dispassionate report covering in the most comprehensive detail possible hard facts supporting ‘beauty’, ‘tranquillity’, ‘history’, ‘uniqueness’, ‘public access/amenity’ etc. Photographs, news reports, wildlife reports (solid detail). All that is the basic minimum – as many letters, and individual comments to the Town Plan as possible will be ‘helpful’ but we have been told repeatedly that the core report submitted for each site will be what matters. I’ve got my head down putting a package together for the Bilton and New Park sites – which is keeping me awake at nights – and I know the Pinewoods Group and Allotments Association are doing the same. Letters of support won’t do any harm, but they need to have at their heart a solid core document which nails their colours to the mast. Remember this: if LGS applications fail, sites are vulnerable to development and the next option the Local Authority has is to declare the site an ACV ‘Asset of Community Value’ – in other words ‘if you want it make a bid for it and take on yourselves £X’ – whether this would mean bidding on the open market against open competition I don’t know. Underpinning all this is the fact that Local Authorities have no legal obligation to maintain parks and open spaces and in these days of national austerity are seeking ways of minimising their overheads as their Central Government funding shrinks and their only recourse is to go for expansion to increase their Council Tax Revenue.”

Your Help Urgently needed To Protect the Pinewoods

Neil Hind of The Pinewoods Conservation Group has made a similar plea, he asks that everyone spends 10 minutes to show their support for Green Space Designation. “As you may be aware, the Pinewoods Conservation Group applied for ‘Local Green Space’ designation as part of the Harrogate Council Local Plan process. Because these sites were rejected you won’t find them on the plan, at least I couldn’t find them but they are threatened and needed fighting for. Unfortunately, this was rejected for a number of reasons but mainly insufficient evidence from users on its special nature to the community. We need local residents to input into the consultation to show that the Pinewoods is special to them and should be protected as a green space.” He asks that you consider the following points but not to repeat them verbatim: Why do you visit and use the Pinewoods. It is with families for recreation, dog walking, tree climbing, orienteering etc.

  1. Do you use with any groups and what benefits does this bring?
  2. Do you have picnics within the woods, especially at the new picnic area on Irongate Field?
  3. Do you watch the wildlife within the woods – birds, squirrels or if lucky stoats, deer etc.
  4. Do you attend and enjoy our events – Easter Egg Hunt, Open Day, Bulb Planting etc.

We especially need responses from resident groups, schools, youth groups and any other group users of the Pinewoods. We will be writing to some well-known users but please encourage any groups you are involved with to also write.”

Knaresborough – Jacob Smith Park

LGS 58 Jacob Smith Park Scriven Knaresborough. Jacob Smith Park has been given a Green Space Designation but they still need your help to make the designation a reality. Jo Smalley of Friends of Jacob Smith Park writes, “Thanks to the tremendous backing of individuals and community groups who sent in evidence to HBC, our precious park has got this far. We now need those same individuals and groups and new ones who value the park to submit further comments to express support for the draft GSD. We need to keep working together as a community to maintain momentum so the decision is adopted in the final plan. Please spread the word. The key five areas of recommendation for GSD are beauty, tranquillity, recreational value, historical and wildlife. I would REALLY appreciate individuals and groups making reference to these areas when submitting comments please. The park certainly ticks all these boxes!”

How To Avert This Crisis

Responses can be:

  1. Made online at the council portal via http://consult.harrogate.gov.uk/portal
  2. Via email to planningpolicy@harrogate.gov.uk
  3. Via letter to Planning and Development, Harrogate Council, PO Box 787, Harrogate HG1 9RW

Comments can be made by registering for HBC’s online portal – http://consult.harrogate.gov.uk/portal or alternatively sending them by post to Planning Policy, Planning and Development, P.O. Box 787, Harrogate, HG1 9RW. Please note very carefully, if submitting by post remember to include your full name and address. HBC will not accept anonymous comments or just a name and email address.

Thanks, Your Help Much Appreciated

I appreciate this is a busy time but if you can take 10 minutes to draft a quick note, or better still take longer to write a comprehensive well supported letter, it will be appreciated and your green spaces will remain green, hopefully for our kids and our special wildlife to enjoy for ever! Thanks ever so much.

Blog Update

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A number of you kindly folk keep asking me how I am and wished me well so here’s an update. My operation lasted an unbelievable 2.5 hours and afterwards I was in some considerable pain which was of course dealt with by pain killers, sadly I had a none too good experience with the pain killers which it took about a month to discover was a problem. Since changing pain killers I have been making slow but definite improvement and now manage short was each day, during which I have enjoyed kestrel, red kite and buzzard along with redwing, fieldfare and yellowhammer. Anyway I hope to start writing my blog again but this may not be until after the New Year now. Until my operation I have either written my newspaper column or blog every week, without fail, for 21 years so I reckon a break is in order. I hope you agree.

In the mean time please do email me if you have any queries and especially over the holiday period do send in your questions, photos and sightings so I can start again with a bang in the New Year. For those of you who have contacted e and haven’t received a reply, I hope you will accept my apologies. Do contact me again and I will try to reply to everyone from now on.

Finally if I don’t get round to starting my blog again before the holidays, may I wish everyone a great Christmas and especially under the current circumstances, a prosperous New Year.redwing-nigel-heptinstall

Redwing

My apologies if you received this by email and not by blind copy, very sorry.