Apricot Rabbits and Clean for the Queen

26 February 2016

Apricot Rabbit - Peter ThompsonApricot Rabbit – Peter Thompson

Apricot Rabbits

Rabbits are not considered native to this country, although goodness knows why not, they have been here since Norman times, surely that should qualify them for something. In fact remains were found from interglacial sites in the Middle Pleistocene but not from subsequent eras until Norman times. They were once prized for their meat and kept in special warrens surrounded by high walls to protect them from predators. There is a great example on high ground and private above Gouthwaite Reservoir. They used to call only the juveniles rabbits (rabets), the adults were called coney and is probably a good indicator of the origins of Coneythorpe (Knaresborough), perhaps an outlying farm or hamlet where rabbits were kept. It could also be the King’s farmstead. Anyway Peter Thompson contacted me because he has discovered that there are ‘funny coloured’ rabbits living besides the Oak Beck in Harrogate. Sadly his interest was raised because many dead ones were found after the recent floods had clearly destroyed their warren and when Peter went to investigate he could only find two. Rabbits being rabbits I suspect their numbers will soon increase, they have exceptional fecundity! I have heard previously of these strange coloured rabbits when I wrote for the local paper and Helen Moorse had an interesting rabbit tale (sorry!) on 22-5-14, “Just thought I would tell you about the unusual colony of wild rabbits I encounter on my daily commute to work. Most people will have at some time seen a black wild rabbit – this genetic mutation of colour is called melanistic. I have seen a few ‘ginger’ or ‘apricot’ coloured rabbits very rarely over the years in various parts of Nidderdale. Some people believe that they are a genetic mutation of colour called ‘leucistic’ which makes them lighter in colour.” Helen sees around five of these rabbits every morning on her drive to work. She continues, “There is a family of five ‘apricot’ rabbits, they are there most mornings and sometimes on a night. When the sun is shining on them they appear to be golden. They are a lovely sight which brightens my morning commute.” Please note melanistic means dark pigmentation whilst leucistic means reduced pigmentation. I then had a response from Jean Butterfield, who lives at South Stainley and tells me there are apricot rabbits near her. I also know that there are similarly coloured rabbits near the moor edge on Blayshaw Gill, above Studfold Adventure Trail and camping site in Upper Nidderdale. Now I really need a scientist here but my experience suggests that ‘apricot’ rabbits live mainly, but not exclusively, in their own little colony of funny coloured rabbits whilst black rabbits, once considered unlucky because they might embody an ancestral spirit returned to earth, seem to live within a colony of ‘normal’ coloured rabbits. White rabbits were equally unlucky, because they might be a witch. I have never seen a white one in the wild, I guess the ducking stool worked. It seems unusually coloured rabbits may be more prevalent than I thought. Have you seen any near you? I would love to hear from you.

Clean For The Queen

Her Majesty officially celebrates her 90th birthday in June 2016 and Clean for The Queen is a campaign to clear up Britain in time for that, well at least make a start. The campaign is calling on individuals, volunteer groups, local councils, businesses and schools to do their bit. You can start now and also take part in the Clean for The Queen weekend on 4, 5 and 6 March 2016. Getting rid of litter is clearly very important for the well-being of not just us but also our wildlife and I’m pleased to say a number of organisations in Harrogate District are taking part. These include so far on 4 March, Glasshouses School Tidy our Village Day, Moorside Infants School, Ripon, Springwater School Starbeck. On 5 March there is the Rotary Club of Harrogate, Sainsbury’s car park, Hookstones Woods, Harrogate, Pinewoods Clean for the Queen Event, Harrogate Spa Tennis club car park and Bilton to Starbeck cycle track. Finally on 6 March Woodlands Methodist Church is cleaning some of Wetherby Road. To find out more about Clean For The Queen and see what’s happening near you visit the website.

House Sparrow Roger LittonHouse Sparrow – Roger Litton


Terry Knowles reckons he has a bank vole burrowing in his garden. What mammals visit your garden?

Peter Thomson writes, “I thought it was time I got in touch with you again but being of the “old school” I do not seem to be able to get used to communicating very often by e-mail. I do, however, find it much more convenient to read your column on my computer instead of having to go out and buy a newspaper. As far as garden birds are concerned we are getting daily visits from a pair of Siskins and three or four Redpolls but they have quite a job getting to the feeders because of the large number of Goldfinches present. A welcome newcomer to the garden feeders is a House Sparrow and his family; although we have had Tree Sparrows for many years, this is the first time in over 20 years that we have had House Sparrows. They nested in the eaves of the house next door and had at least two broods. I do enjoy hearing their cheerful chirrupping. Since we had a recent spell of less rain, the rocks in the Oak Beck (Knox – Harrogate) have become visible again and a Dipper has reappeared and posed to have his photograph taken.” I wonder if anyone really knows why tree sparrow and house sparrow numbers fluctuate so much. Do you? The BTO tells us the house sparrow is a red alert species, “RED because of Recent Breeding Population Decline (1969-2010), Recent Winter Population Decline (1981-2010), Recent Breeding Range Decline (1981-2010), Recent Winter Range Decline (1981-2010). All very worrying. The tree sparrow is also red for very similar reasons. There was a report I believe linking house sparrow decline to the introduction of unleaded petrol, maybe that’s the reason. If you want to know more about House Sparrows, why not download this BTO Fact File.

Richard Simmons wrote: “I saw another barn owl at sundown on way back to Pateley on Tuesday. It was sitting on a wall and flew off as I approached. Location just east of the Smelthouses/ Burnt Yates/ Summerbridge/ Brimham Rocks crossroads on top of the hill.” It’s great that we have so many barn owls; around 25 years ago there were hardly any. I guess the mild weather helps. The BTO Species Fact File says the barn owl is not of conservation concern but it does have this interesting ‘titbit’ “The unearthly shrieks, cries and hisses of the Barn Owl (and its association with churches) may have given rise to a widespread association of owls with all things evil – an owls’ wing was a key ingredient in the witches brew that troubled Macbeth.”

Roger Litton visited RSPB Fairburn Ings on 18 February. “Unlike last time, when we encountered thick fog, we had brilliant sunshine.” Birds encountered by Roger and Pauline include coot, dunnock, chaffinch, long-tailed tit, the ubiquitous black-headed gulls and tufted ducks. I’m sure Roger saw other birds but those are the ones he managed to get some great photos of.

Nick Woods writes, “It’s 18 February and I’ve just heard the entirely predictable first curlew….. same time every year. One bird comes and occupies a field within earshot of our house with startling annual regularity. Also, given the odd bullfinch mention, we have a small group (three males and one female) which come and take blackberry heads. Pictured from kitchen window early January.” With all the news we keep hearing about curlew declines let’s hope Nick keeps hearing his curlew. Has anyone else heard a curlew or indeed any other nesting bird on territory. I was a little surprised to see 25 oystercatchers at Ripley Castle on 19 February. Blackberry heads must be almost indigestible, but then I’m not a bullfinch.

Ian Law was walking near Grassington recently and saw a grey heron catch a fish. Aren’t grey herons’ fishing skills remarkable?

Notes For Your Diary

Harrogate RSPB Group’s next outdoor meeting is on Sunday, 28 February, when they will be visiting Nosterfield Nature Reserve.

Through Your Window

Rouen Clair Domestic Duck - Peter ThompsonRouen Clair domestic duck – Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson, see rabbits, also writes, “my next-door neighbour’s Rouen Clair domestic ducks has made friends with some local mallards. He had three of these ducks in an enclosure by the beck (to which they did not have access) but the flood destroyed their surrounding fence and when the water level dropped they took to the water but found it difficult to get out again. Two of them managed it but after more rain and a much faster flow during the night the third one was apparently washed away downstream and could be among the Mallards in Knaresborough. If this is the case there could be some rather puzzled twitchers in Knaresborough!” See the photo because like me you may have considered this bird to be just a duck hybrid and not a specially bred domestic bird.

Doug Simpson, The Red Kite Man, writes, “We, too, have regular Bullfinches on the feeders. Before the Trichomoniasis outbreak a couple of years ago, we used to get nicely into double-figures. I once counted 15 in our garden Birch and they were actually the most numerous birds on our feeders. Nowadays we regularly see seven – four males and three females. They breed somewhere locally as we usually get one or two young ones at the feeders each year.” Doug also tells me, “We have a steep embankment behind our house. It faces roughly south-west and there’s quite an updraught when the wind is from that quarter. My daughter came for lunch on Friday and had pride of place at the dining table – looking straight out of the patio window across the garden. Suddenly she asked ‘What’s that?’ Looking up, I saw it was a Common Buzzard which was hanging motionless on the updraught. It was there for several seconds before flying off to the west. Buzzards are by no means unusual here, but we’d never previously seen one at such close quarters. The previous day we’d had a Red Kite over the garden whilst today, Saturday, the big birds in view are Grey Herons, no doubt looking at the pond between us and Saltergate Beck to see if the toads have arrived yet.” Interesting, I hadn’t realised that Trichomoniasis affected bullfinch quite so much. I do know it affects turtle dove and there are worries about them using the feeders at the top of Sutton Bank. I also realise that many species, not just greenfinch, suffer from this dreadful disease. Doug also tells me, “it was sickening to see them. One day they’d be there, all clogged up, next day they’d be gone. I put clean feeders out every day and spray the bird-table.”