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.

hedgehog-kathleen-pogson

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.

Declining Albatross and Smelly Fulmars

Buller's Albatross - Claire Yarborough

Buller’s Albatross – Claire Yarborough

Claire Yarborough has “just got back from a long trip including the Galapagos and New Zealand. Fantastic wildlife. We saw waved albatross doing their mating dances in Galapagos and Wandering, Royal, Bullers and Salvin’s in New Zealand. I saw you blogged about albatross and thought you might be interested. They are too special to be put in danger and need all the help they can get.” Kaikoura is the albatross capitol of New Zealand, possibly The World, and has up to 10 species there. Kaikoura is important for albatross because the deep canyon there is where cold and warm currents meet which result in plentiful quantities of food and albatrosses being such large birds they need plenty of that. They eat fresh squid, fish and krill which is broken down inside the adult’s tummy and fed to the young, young which need a massive 280 days to fledge. Albatrosses of all species, it seems, are in danger and decline and need all the help we can give them. Claire has sent me a photo of a Buller’s albatross which is endemic to New Zealand. The total breeding population is estimated at a mere 30,500 breeding pairs. Buller’s albatross are frequently observed in Kaikoura throughout the winter months, but are notably absent during the summer months during their breeding season, when they are more likely to forage closer to their breeding colonies. It’s not only Claire who has visited New Zealand recently; I was delighted to also receive a postcard from Josh and Sue Southwell who also went albatross watching and sent us a great postcard of a Northern Royal Albatross this time on a boat trip from Otago.

We don’t have any albatross in the UK, indeed they are absent from the whole of the Northern Atlantic, except as rare vagrants. We do however have fulmars, which belong to the same family. Fulmars are known as ‘tubenose’ and have a gland in their nose which is used to excrete salt. They also have an interesting defence mechanism, they projectile vomit and this can matt the feathers of avian predators and may even lead to their death. Any of you old enough to remember Chris Bonnington and Co climbing up the Old Man of Hoy (Jackie told me about it) will remember that they also used this as a defence against climbers. It apparently smells so vile that for a while afterwards your only friends may be on social media sites. Fulmar have one other interesting fact associated with them. When St Kilda was occupied, the people fed on the birds and their eggs. It is believed that this restricted the number of fulmar on the archipelago. Since St Kilda has been deserted fulmar have expanded and can now be found throughout the coast of the UK. Bempton Cliffs is a good place to find them.

Through Your Window

Moorhen - Peter Thompson

Moorhen – Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson of the Knox area of Harrogate, “thought this one might amuse you. I have had plenty of Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls on the nyjer feeder recently but this is a first. The feeder is six feet off the ground and I managed to grab the camera just before he jumped off.” I’ve never seen or heard of one actually on a feeder before, bird tables yes. My collared doves get on my feeders occasionally and perhaps like this moorhen (waterhen was a much better name) they have their back to the food chute and can’t turn round, bird brained or what?”

John Wade writes, “Saw and heard first chiffchaff in Rossett Reserve this evening. Spring is here!” When did you hear your first chiffchaff and or willow warbler?

BTO Big Garden BirdWatch

Chris Gale writes, “I’m really surprised by the comments in your blog that the Garden Bird population has declined this year. I think therefore that must be that they are all in our garden!! We seem to have more birds than ever visiting the feeder and generally hopping about and feeding in the garden, covering a wide range of species – blue tits, great tits, goldfinches galore, a couple of robins, chaffinches, greenfinches, pigeons, doves, often several male blackbirds, sparrows, dunnocks, are all daily visitors to the garden, and recently we have had regular visits from a male bullfinch and a couple of females, and also a tree creeper which we have never seen before. In fact some of the blue tits are now becoming a nuisance – having supplied them with daily sustenance are now rewarding us by stripping our trees of blossom!”

My response has no scientific basis, just my own views, so clearly subjective. The BTO Garden BirdWatch takes place throughout the country and monitors many, many gardens over all of the UK. Their findings are therefore a nationwide view and not a specific garden view. It could well be that in some areas locally birds are increasing and this could be due to a variety of reasons, better weather, less intensive farming, changing land and indeed garden maintenance, to name just a few. Chris’s reports are very encouraging and it would be great if this was true everywhere. Visits from birds not usually seen in your garden may indicate that they have had to resort to your feeders because there is no food elsewhere and this may demonstrate the importance of providing food for birds. It also demonstrates the importance of as many people as possible joining the BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme. Mike Brown the local BTO Rep tells me, “GBW needs support, we find that talking to visitors at exhibitions and shows everybody knows about the RSPB Big Garden BirdWatch and they dismiss GBW as either the same thing (so job done annually) or too demanding to get involved with. Unlike the RSPB, the BTO has far fewer supporters and struggles to finance all its many and varied avian projects. Nevertheless I believe there are sufficient GBW supporters to make the results most relevant.” The other issue is best illustrated by a conversation I once had with a local farmer regarding declining hare numbers. He thought that there were plenty of hares on his land. That may be the case but it makes it even more important to look after those hares in places where they are still thriving otherwise they too may go the way of hares nationally. Chris really does have a good number of species visiting the garden, which is great news.

Say No To The Mow

Plantlife, the charity which campaigns for our wild flowers, has started this new project, Say No To Mow. Fancy saving on mowing and discovering what wild flowers you have in your garden? Set aside a sunny patch of lawn and ‘Say No To The Mow’. Let Plantlife know what you find in your mini meadow by posting to Twitter with the hashtag #mynomow. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Your No-Mow Zone can be any size or shape, however for best results try and make it at least a yard-squared.

  • Try placing your No-Mow Zone away from flowerbeds to make it less likely that it is invaded by garden plants.

Bees Buzzing Around Our Gardens

Neil Anderson rescued a female red-tailed bumblebee Bombus lapidarius. He writes, “This queen seemed dead but after sticking her proboscis into the sugary water buzzed off full of energy.” An excellent website for identifying bumblebees is Steven Falk’s Flicker page. Colin Slator has asked me to mention this petition designed to help save our bees. Bees are under threat, yet powerful lobbyists are putting together plans to get the UK ban on bee-killing pesticides lifted. Already 125,000 have signed the petition but the target, to protect our bees, is 200,000. Imagine if 200,000 of us raise our voices together against any attempts to lift the ban. Keep bee killing pesticides off our fields

Nature Reserves

At Nosterfield Nature Reserve a colour ringed ruff has been seen, did you get any good photos of it so that detail on the ring can be clearly seen? If so Tweet them at #nosterfield. Also there are now 42 pairs lapwing currently sitting, with a minimum of four further pairs nest prospecting, plus 13 pairs of redshank and curlew numbers looking good. Also seen a yellow wagtail.

RSPB Fairburn Ings, Sandwich Tern 3, Wheaters 1-2, Pintail 4, Little Gull 1, Common Tern 1 on 11/12 April there were still Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Geese passing through and Brambling on the riverbank, also 3 Little Ringed Plovers, 1 Arctic Tern, 6 Little Gulls, first Whitethroat. First Sedge Warbler Saturday, first Cuckoo Sunday, total 10 Arctic Terns 12 April.

Dipper - Lisa Law

Dipper – Lisa Law

Your Sightings

Gwen Turner writes on 5 April, “Frog spawn at last! Only a small amount, nothing like the usual, appeared today. No sign of the parents though. Fingers crossed.” This is very disappointing, I wonder what your experience of frog spawn is this year, plenty, late, none at all, let me know.

Ian Law reports, “My daughter Lisa spotted a pair of dippers in Hebden Beck on our trip up to the disused lead mines this morning.” Photo of one of them attached. Interestingly I understand Hebden Beck is one of the most polluted streams in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, due to past lead mining activities.

I’ve just been up to How Stean Gorge and can report seeing or hearing these great birds, in or over the Gorge: Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Oystercatcher, Jackdaw, Black-headed Gull, Mistle Thrush, Woodpigeon, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Tit, Robin and Blue Tit. Flowers include Lesser Celandine, Dog’s Mercury, Saxifrage and the Wild Garlic leaves are getting big, flowers there next. Why not tell me what you have seen in Upper Nidderdale? Stan Beer tells me that at Scar House, the Ring Ouzels are back, Swallows at the tunnel, Sand Martins in the Gouthwaite Wall and an Osprey seen over Gouthwaite. What else is waiting to be discovered, let me know what you see.

Notes For Your Diary

Please reply direct to Sam Walker, Harrogate Countryside Ranger, at sam.walker@harrogate.gov.uk if you can volunteer to help on Friday 22nd April – Ure Bank, Ripon. Meeting at the car park at the end of Ure Bank Terrace at 10am to carrying out tree aftercare on the two areas planted last year. Work will be until about 2pm so bring food and a drink. Sam can also pick up in Harrogate or Knaresborough by arrangement.

Black Redstart Female - Brian Scarr

Female Black Redstart – Brian Scarr

Brian Scarr of Adel was lucky enough to find a female black redstart on his lawn.

Outdoors Events

See website for full details of these events and to confirm no changes.

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Wednesday April 20 19:30 – 21:30 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 18th April (Evening)Annual General Meeting

Roe Deer and Wild Life in Danger From Dogs?

Roe Deer - Steve Tomlinson.jpgRoe Deer – Steve Tomlinson

All the support I am getting is great news and I am very appreciate of all your emails, etc, you send me and especially all the lovely comments you all make, thanks ever so much. I have however a problem – I am getting more and more stuff to write about and worry about taking up too much space. What do you think is an optimum amount, please. I like to mention everyone who writes in but also reckon three photos and 2000 words are enough. I will try to give a mention for you all but cannot promise to do so, nor to print verbatim everything you say, and it may be a few weeks before I include your message, sorry. Let me know what you think, please.

Important Message

Rich and Trisha Brewis have reported prints of a roe deer and fawn around Bilton and Nidd Gorge. They make the following very important request, “Have just seen prints in the mud of a Roe doe and fawn – little prints that will fit into a normal thumb nail! Thought far too early for this but it has been mild. Please remind all dog owners to keep them on a lead through the woodlands.” Also if you see a dog off the lead in these areas then ask them politely to respect our wildlife. Fawns are particularly vulnerable at this time, a strange scent and the doe will abandon them and of course they don’t run away, or at least to the last minute, so are easy prey for dogs. Ground nesting birds are equally vulnerable, so give them a chance, dogs can run free and wild on that 200 acre wildlife desert Harrogate is famous for.

Dunnock2 - Roger Litton

Dunnock – Roger Litton

Spring Sightings

Malcolm Jones emailed me to say, “Signs of spring! In spite of the two recent snowfalls there are distinct signs of the change in our wildlife. Dunnocks are normally a secretive bird, deep in bushes or on the ground, but in spring they perch high in bushes and pour out their song. This chap was on a bush at Staveley reserve. Like Malcolm I am fascinated by the way these dark, sulking, secretive birds choose to announce spring from the highest vantage point they can find. Well at least the males do. Incidentally some female dunnocks are polyandric, they mate with many males, whilst others are monogamous. Mike Toms of the BTO tells us, “male and female Dunnocks maintain their own, largely independent, territories during the breeding season. Since male territories are larger than those of the females, you might expect a single male to have access to more than one female, giving rise to polygyny (having more than one wife). However, what makes the social complexities all the more interesting is that some male territories are shared by two males. One of the two males (termed the ‘alpha’ male) will be dominant over the other (the ‘beta’ male). The beta male manages to secure his position within the territory of the alpha male through sheer persistence, something which provides him with a degree of access to any females. However, access is not guaranteed, since the alpha male spends a great deal of time guarding his female, especially as she approaches the egg-laying period.” Confused, visit Mike Toms report for more info.

Ann Snelson tells me she “heard a curlew flying over when we opened the bedroom window this morning to feed our blackbirds.” Ann lives in Middlesmoor up t’dale.

Doug Simpson tells me, “I had a walk down the Scargill track this aft (19-3-16). Curlew back on the moor and a kite overhead. Had hoped for an early Wheatear but nothing doing.”

John Wade writes, “I have just made my annual pilgrimage to New Lane near Almscliffe Crag, to see returning curlews. I don’t know when they arrived, but they are back now, 1 March. I saw three, a pair and one in the air. I truly love to see them, knowing that spring is on its way.”

Nature Reserves

RSPB Fairburn Ings, In past few days Avocet 12, ChiffChaff 7, Hen Harrier 1, Marsh Harrier 1-2, Smew 1 still present, Short-eared Owl 1

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, recent sightings include a comma butterfly plus ruff, redshank pintail, goldeneye, little egret, several buzzards, avocets , little owl, red-necked grebe, black-tailed godwit and pintail.

Robert Brown tells me, Farnham Gravel Pits, Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private nature reserve, had a chiffchaff on 19 March and three sand martins on 20 March.

Frog Spawn News

Judith Fawcett‘s sightings, “we had a couple of unusual frogs and spawn sightings this week. A crow eating a frog on a neighbour’s roof. Frog spawn on the doormat and car bumper! I wonder if the two are connected. Haven’t seen a Jay in the Saltergate area for a few weeks. We usually have a few visiting the garden. Has anyone else noticed a decline? A few colourful Siskin on the feeders, a flock of Longtails are now a pair, Redpoll still about. Lots of Blackbirds and Starling, Goldfinches regular visitors and a Greenfinch seen recently too.” Wow, some interesting birds. I agree with Judith, the crow must have caused the frog to abort, hence the frogspawn.

Paul Irving tells me, “spawn appeared in our tiny garden pond a couple of weeks ago but has been frosted since so viability may be an issue. The “White” crow at Morrisons is the same bird that has been around for some years, interestingly it is not really white but very very pale cream and has normal eye colour as far as one can tell so not albino.” Interesting regarding the crow, I thought it must be the same one, but it has lived a long time, I thought white/leucistic creatures were more vulnerable in the wild, although I guess urban crows have few predators.

Janice Scott from Padside writes, “I have read the frogspawn sightings in your blog with interest. You have wondered why frogspawn is late this year, but just to be different, ours has been earlier than usual – the first spotted on 3 March and it carried on coming until 17 March. I think the sudden cold snap and snow interrupted proceedings. Another sign for us that spring is around the corner is the first bee to appear in the garden. This is usually later than lower down the dale (I saw my first bumblebee queen of the year at Daleside Nursery on 3 March). It took until 20 March to spot a bumblebee in our own garden, feasting in the sunshine on helleborus foetidus. We did have a brief visit from some of our neighbours’ honeybees sampling our snowdrops on 17 March, but I haven’t seen them since. I won’t believe it is truly spring until I find my gardening can be accompanied by the reassuring buzz of bees.”

IMG_9458

North York Moors, draining into York!

Moorland – a Drain Into Our Rivers and On Our Pockets

Charles Gibson writes, “Good luck with your campaign Nigel, I agree entirely with your comments. There is too much emphasis laid on the protection of the Grouse. I would like to see more done. Have we had any prosecutions for poisoning of our Raptors too?” There are periodic prosecutions for poisoning of our raptors, rarely a sufficient deterrent and no doubt it continues to go on undetected. Places to look for more information include Raptor Politics and a look here should provide access to other interested groups. I also know that the Yorkshire Red Kite project also looks at the poisoning question. We are also fortunate to have in our area PC Gareth Jones, a Wildlife Crime Officer, and there are others around Yorkshire, visit North Yorkshire Police for more information. Charles later says, “I am our local Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator, Gareth is one of my contacts in Rural Watch Campaign. I get all the crime updates on ringmaster from NY Police almost daily but have not seen any prosecutions for illegal shooting or poisoning, which is a shame because we know it goes on.” I have delved a little further into this and can say that whilst a lot of these crimes may well occur the difficulty is obtaining evidence. Given that it may take two months or more to confirm that a bird has been poisoned and that they are rarely found at the bait anyway, there is little chance of getting anyone into court. If these crimes are taking place it’s probable that as few as a fifth of poisoned carcasses are recovered so it’s difficult. This means we need to be vigilant, so if you do find anything you consider troubling you need to contact the appropriate authority including the Police, RSPCA (Harrogate and District Branch) and if it’s a red kite then the Red Kite folk. Another useful number is the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) and you may wish to add their Freephone number, 0800 321600, to the contacts list on your mobile phone – just in case!

Someone calling themselves NorthernDiver replied via my website to the Moorland Myth issue by saying, “It’s a shame that Harrogate News didn’t post your reply to Amanda Anderson. Such twisted facts put out by Ms Anderson shouldn’t be the last word. Please try again. Do you think you have been blacklisted by Hg News? Is there anyone else who could post your reply? The truth needs to get through to the general public or things will get no better for our persecuted wildlife and damaged moorlands.” Do you agree? What are your views? Can you help spread the word?

Doug Simpson contacted me on the issue of grouse and asked me to mention a petition to protect mountain hares, why is that an issue related to grouse? Well, thousands of mountain hares are shot and snared in Scotland because they allegedly carry a disease which reduces the number of grouse available to be shot for “sport”. In some areas where mountain hares were previously abundant they are now rare or extinct. This is a national scandal. Scottish Natural Heritage is appealing for “voluntary restraint” from the grouse shooting lobby, but they have already had years to put their house in order. The time has now come for robust properly enforced legislation to protect the mountain hare, which is an important part of Scotland’s biodiversity and a revenue earning tourist attraction.

Paul Brothers writes, “I am particularly interested in the moorland debate as I used to work in the Water Industry and have modelled flood risks for land. I strongly believe we should be planting trees and blocking off some drains/build up dams to slow down the egress of water off the land. This is a lot more important in my opinion than dredging rivers which increases the speed of the water and all the solids it is carrying, with the likelihood of creating erosion and more damage to infrastructure. Planting a few trees is a very cost effective and long term solution to the problem that we currently face.” Thanks Paul for this, very interesting, especially from someone who “really knows”. I do wish we could get a proper debate on these issues at a proper level where the right action can be determined. What is best for the country, a few less grouse to kill or homes and lives not wrecked by avoidable flooding?

Carole Turner asked me to mention the Petition For A Ban On Driven Grouse Shooting. Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares etc in large numbers and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including Hen Harriers. Please do sign it.

Outdoors Events

See website for full details of these events and to confirm no changes.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Saturday 26 March Richmond and the River Swale

Moorland Myths Exposed & Spring Arrivals

Wheatear Tom WilsonWheatear – Tom Wilson

Apologies, my computer is misbehaving and I have lost some emails, so if you emailed me recently then please send it again. I believe the problem is now resolved, fingers crossed and sorry for the inconvenience.

First Avian Arrivals of 2016

We ought to be looking out for the first avian arrivals of spring. Already we have lapwing and curlew on territory and our resident passerines are pairing up, marking out territories and maybe even building nests. Birds like rooks are already sat atop their communal tree probably on eggs, perhaps young, whilst in our conifer plantations our few resident crossbill chicks are no doubt nearly ready to leave their home. As birdwatchers what we really look for are the first migrant birds here to breed and it always surprises me that a couple of the earliest arrivals are the ring ouzel and wheatear. Why am I surprised? Well both these birds choose to nest on our often cold and bleak moor tops. Find the ring ouzel around Scar House Reservoir, or maybe around the Barden reservoirs in Wharfedale, whilst the wheatear seems to prefer limestone country, look around Stump Cross caverns and Troller’s Gill. One of the reasons these birds arrive so early may well be because they travel fewer air miles than some of our other summer visitors such as warblers. The ring ouzel for example winters in the Atlas Mountains and northern Africa. Now don’t just go to Scar House and expect to see a ring ouzel, they take some finding, so be patient and vigilant and you may be rewarded. A ring ouzel differs from the blackbird because it is slightly bigger and it sports a white gorget, a crescent shaped area around the throat or upper breast. The female ring ouzel, like its blackbird cousin, is more browny coloured and evidently the gorget can get whiter with age with a juvenile’s barely noticeable. Ring ouzels are sadly in decline, never common, their range size has declined by 43% in last 40 years.

Wheatears, apparently named after the distinctive white rump, white rear, seen as they fly away, are a beautiful bird and unlike the ring ouzel comparatively confiding. Male and female wheatears like the ring ouzel can be distinguished even by humans. The male bird is blue-grey below with black wings with a white forehead, a white eye stripe and a narrow black facial mask. The female is similar, generally browner and duller. The wheatear, or to be precise northern wheatear, winters in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is found across a broad belt that stretches from Mauritania and Mali through northern Nigeria, Central African Republic and Sudan, to Ethiopia and southern Somalia.

Other early migrants include the ubiquitous chiffchaff, it’s always great to hear the first distinctive onomatopoeic chiffchaff call, although by mid-summer the excitement has worn off and the LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) are everywhere. A final early arrival and another we all enjoy seeing is the very much threatened sand martin, now in Nidderdale pretty much confined to breeding in artificial nest sites such as the Nidderdale Birders one at Gouthwaite reservoir, or the one at YWT Staveley Nature Reserve. I was somewhat surprised to look at the BTO fact file for sand martins to find they are not of conservation concern, my guess is this is due to all the sand martin walls built throughout the country which not only provide plenty of nest sites but crucially provide ones which are not prone to flooding. It would be great if you could tell me your first sightings of migrant birds, your first reports of birds nesting and of course eventually how successful they were.

Red Grouse Kat Simmons (cropped)

A Glorious Red Grouse – Kat Simmonds

Moorland Myths

Katie Chabriere of Harrogate, Founder of Harrogate Animals People Planet Initiative, (Katies Letter) wrote to the Harrogate Informer suggesting that burning heather and gripping moorlands could be responsible for Kex Gill, Blubberhouses suffering so many catastrophic landslides, which could cost £33m of taxpayers’ money to resolve. The Moorlands Association spokesperson responded suggesting that they were the solution to the problem not the cause, although they failed to say who burns the heather and grips the moorland. It was however their last sentence which I felt it necessary to query, I have tried three times to respond to this but sadly it seems that Harrogate Informer just aren’t getting my emails for some reason, so this is what I wanted to say, I wonder if you agree?

I am pleased that Amanda Anderson, Director of the The Moorland Association, recognises the importance of moorland and the environment yet she sadly avoids addressing the specific issue of tree planting, gripe blocking and heather burning in Kex Gill, which Kate Chabriere specifically mentioned. Trees are disliked by the shooting fraternity because they get in the way of the line of fire. I trust no one shoots down Kex Gill onto the road below and therefore such planting may well help everyone and harm nothing. The Moorlands Association’s stated commitment to the environment would be confirmed if trees were planted in this area. It is however Ms Anderson’s final paragraph which needs addressing. She says, “Perhaps Ms Chabriere might be interested to know that our moorlands benefit not a ‘tiny minority’, but host internationally recognised habitats and wildlife, boost rural economies to the tune of millions of pounds, are the backbone of our UK lamb industry and are loved by vast numbers of walkers and nature enthusiasts.Nice spin Ms Anderson but please can we address the reality. Our moorlands are a vastly subsidised industry, it has been estimated that £286 per tax payer, per year, is spent on them. The moorlands are subsidised through the Single Farm Payment (more than £17 million in 2012-13) and the Environment Stewardship Scheme (£20 million same year). These payments are supposed to be tied to Government Approved Environment Good Practice, although sadly there seems to be little evidence that this is adequately policed. Shooting grouse and the introduced red-legged partridge and pheasants goes hand in hand with the elimination of all manner of vermin, birds of prey, stoats, weasels, foxes, even apparently domestic pets, pheasants (they become vermin outside the season because they peck grouse eggs) and hedgehogs. The only wildlife the shooters are interested in is there to be killed, it’s as simple as that. The sheep numbers on moors have long been kept low to protect the moors for the grouse and the vast majority of our lamb is obtained from lowland farms. We all know about the hill farmers who struggle to make a living. Moorlands are not natural, left to nature, trees and scrubs would grow in places, land would become more water logged, the wildlife more diverse and the whole environment would benefit, including areas downstream. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that it would be any less loved by walkers and nature enthusiasts as a consequence. It would probably be enjoyed even more.”

Hedgehogs

The British hedgehog population has declined by up to a third over the last 10 years. This petition requests the House of Commons to endorse the practical supporting measures of ‘Hedgehog Street’ and ensure the hedgehog is given better legal protection including adding it to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act by the Government and in particular the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Please sign it.

Nature Reserves

RSPB Fairburn Ings, First Sand Martin 14 March, also two Ravens, Red Kites, Marsh Harrier, three Peregrine, Cetti’s Warbler daily and Firecrest at the weekend.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, 12 March 55 Whooper Swans, Lingham Lake, bumblebee and peacock butterfly 13 March. 16 avocets have been present, may still be, please look for coloured rings. Also there has been a whooper swan movement recently and they have passed over HDNS Farnham, YWT Staveley and the Nosterfield complex.

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Susan Turner (cropped)

Great Spotted Woodpecker – Sue Turner

Through Your Window

Sue (& Geoff) Turner, Wetherby, wrote on Thursday, 10 March 2016, “We have seen no signs of any frogs or spawn in our garden pond but last year the first frog spawn appeared on 2 March. We do have plenty of birds at the moment and they are going through a substantial amount of sunflower hearts. This morning I counted 16 Siskins (both male and female) in next door’s tree and on the feeders. They have been regular visitors this year since 3 January 2016 but not in such great numbers, usually only five or six. A few years ago we only used to see them for a couple of weeks in March but recently they have stayed around for a few months. We do the weekly BTO birdcount so have good records of all our visitors and so far this week we have seen Blackcap 2m and 1f, Bullfinch 2m and 1f, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Collared Dove, 11 Blackbird, Greenfinch 1m, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Songthrush, Chaffinch 2m & 1f (quite often with white fungus on their legs), 7 Woodpigeon, 1 Robin, 1 Dunnock and 1 Greater Spotted Woodpecker (very infrequent visitor). We have heard the Song Thrush singing since early January but this week is the first time we have actually seen it, when it came for a bath in the pond. We do not see House or Tree Sparrows any more and it is ages since a Starling visited our garden. I clean the feeders and water bowls regularly and the sick looking birds we see are usually Chaffinches. On the subject of grey squirrels, they might look cute but we are no lovers of them or the many Woodpigeons. Both these species hoover up all the food we put on the lawn for the ground feeding birds and they seem to be thriving. The squirrels dig holes in the lawn, either burying or looking for food, and once they dug tulip bulbs out of a planter and ate them! Our garden backs onto the Harland Way cycle track so there are lots of very tall self-seeded ashes and sycamores, which the squirrels and Woodpigeons love.

Judith Fawcett reports, “haven’t seen a goldfinch in the garden for a while.”

Pat Inman writes, “For the first time I have redpoll in my garden in Shaw Mills. I noticed them two weeks ago and now they come each day to feed with the other finches on the sunflower hearts. Both they and the siskins hold their own against the larger gold and greenfinches.”

Great squirrel Debate

The squirrel issue rages on, Ann White writes, “Regarding the grey squirrels (tree rats). We too find them a menace, as they commandeer the bird feeders. But we fixed ’em! Put a clamp on to the lid of the feeder, and they can’t get in no matter how they try! Amusing to watch them though – they hang about underneath and have to be satisfied with the ‘droppings’. What we do have, and on a daily basis, are Woodpeckers – they are beautiful, and so interesting to watch. This in the Knox area of Bilton backing on to the old railway embankment. Think that the squirrels kill the pigeons if they can, as we woke up one morning to find hundreds of feathers on out lawn plus a skeleton!! Poor thing.” I would think that it was more likely to be either a sparrowhawk or a fox which killed Ann’s pigeon, probably the former. One way to tell if it’s a mammalian or avian predator is to inspect the feathers, if they have been bitten off, it’s most likely a fox. If they have been pulled out, a raptor. A squirrel would tackle a chick including chewing through a nest box to get at the chick, but I doubt it would attempt a full grown pigeon unless it was already ill or injured.

Notes For Your Diary (See website for full details.)

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Wednesday March 23 19:30 – 21:30 lecture ‘RSPB Wetland Reserves – managing for the future’ Graham White RSPB.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Saturday March 19 10am Outdoor Meeting – visit to Saltholme. Meet at Reserve.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 21st March (Evening) Gouthwaite’s Sand Martin Wall: a presentation reviewing the wall’s development and first year of use.

Grey Squirrels – Cute and Cuddly or Vermin?

4 March 2016

Grey squirrel2 - David UffindallGrey Squirrel – David Uffindall

Helen Watkison writes, “last year we had one grey squirrel daily in the garden, we called him Cyril, he had his own monkey nut feeder, though of course he also helped himself to the birds’ too. He liked to cache acorns and beech nuts from our trees. This year he brought along his girlfriend Muriel (any idea how to sex squirrels?) and provided more amusement by chasing along our fence and up and down the leylandii. I wondered if they were a pair, and if and where they might breed, as I gather dreys are both rare and high. Alas, my son found one dead in the road outside our house (I didn’t get to see it); however, another squirrel (yet to be named) has appeared and the antics continue. I know most folk think they are vermin, rats with tails and can do damage to houses, what do you think?” Grey squirrels (greys) certainly divide opinion. I don’t know if squirrels cause damage to your house. I guess they can damage wood and get into your false roof, plastic may prove more difficult for them. Many people despise grey squirrels because they have deposed the reds and because the greys will take young birds from their nests. Reds do exactly the same and each has to survive. They are also, especially the greys, accused of damaging commercial forests. I don’t particularly like grey squirrels because when they visit my feeders they keep all the birds away and eat prodigious amounts of seed, which isn’t cheap. I chase them away for this reason but would never hurt them. So to answer Helen’s question. Grey squirrels are here because someone introduced them to the UK, from the USA, in the late 19th or early 20th century. Probably Sir Henry Courtney Brocklehurst, Bt. They certainly didn’t choose to come here and surely by now should be considered part of our native fauna. I know they displace reds with their pox and better foraging skills (they can eat hazelnuts for example before they are ripe enough for reds to eat). But we ought to embrace them, because reds aren’t coming back, they fill the same niche and who are we humans to say what creatures we shall or shan’t share the earth with. Squirrels do prefer to build their dreys high up, it keeps them and their families well away from predators and I never call them rats with tails, tree rats is my preferred sobriquet. Now I also know that many folk enjoy the antics of squirrels in their gardens, Roger and Pauline Litton are a couple who enjoy the greys visiting them and I guess many others do also so let’s live and let live. What do you think?

First Frogspawn of the Year

Roger Graville writes, “Your various correspondents have had a race for a few years now for sightings of the first frogspawn. Well here’s my entry for 2016. Today, 24 February, two lots of spawn in our garden pond.” Great, Roger is 2016’s champion unless of course you know better. I checked out the pond on Bachelor Gardens, Bilton, Harrogate recently and was dismayed to find a shoal of goldfish had taken it over. I fear for the tadpoles and spawn, when it arrives. Roger Litton saw his “first (and only!) batch of frogspawn – but no frogs (26 February). This was in their usual pool – the one above the boating pool where the pool is created behind the metal plate.”Neil Anderson, Bilton, had his first spawn arrive on Wednesday 2 March, the day of the snow. Bad timing there then on the frog’s behalf. I reckon frogspawn is very late this year. Have you seen any? When did it arrive, What do you think?

Funny Coloured Rabbit Update

Paul Brothers, “Spotted quite a few black ones at the top of Swinsty Reservoir near to the dam wall with Fewston Reservoir here in Yorkshire. There were at least three or probably four of them sunning themselves a couple of years back”.

Congratulations to Oatlands Junior School

They have made it to the Shortlist of 20 for the 2016 Saatchi Gallery/Deutsche Bank Art Prize for Schools with their art work ‘Conserving our Biodiversity’. The inscription to the artwork says:

“Conserving Our Biodiversity is a whole school inclusive art project inspired by artist Ai Weiwei, and looking at climate change and its effects on our biodiversity. All children have each created a clay sculpture from their individual illustrations of a study of a plant or flower, which is on the Red Data List for the British Isles, focusing on their form and details, which could be lost forever. Clay sculpture installation measures approx. 5 m x 2m.”

Wildlife Politics

Have you signed the petition, “Make planting trees a priority to reduce flooding by improving soil and drainage”. If you haven’t please do so now. I won’t provide the whole Government response I received, if you sign I imagine you will receive the same response. Here are a few selected Government comments however. “Trees can slow the flow of water down and reduce the impacts of floods; we are currently exploring the increased role that this could play in flood risk management.” That seems pretty unequivocal to me. They say later, “Defra continues to support a number of leading research and demonstration projects to better understand the role that land management changes in our landscapes and catchments, such as tree planting, peatland restoration and habitat creation, could have in reducing flood risk. These include the Forest Research led ‘Slowing the Flow Partnership’ in Pickering, North Yorkshire … These projects indicate that woodlands can slow the flow of water through smaller catchments and reduce the impacts of some floods. We will continue to support such investigations, gathering further evidence into the potential benefits that land management changes, such as tree planting in catchments, could have on reducing flood risk, in addition to the wider environmental and economic benefits that they could provide.” Sign the petition and maybe public opinion will make a difference!

Signs of Spring

Barn Owl - Nigel HeptinstallBarn Owl (Tyto alba)

Janice Scott from Padside/Thornthwaite wrote, “We thought you would like these signs of spring for your blog: Our first curlew calling was heard at Padside on 17 February and has been heard several times since. Travelling to Parceval Hall late morning Wednesday 24 February we saw several large flocks of peewit between The Stone House and Greenhow, then none once we were over into Wharfedale. On our return mid afternoon it was the reverse – large flocks around Wharfedale and none after Greenhow. We couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same birds heading out to breeding grounds during the course of the day. At Parcevall Hall we heard our first drumming great spotted woodpecker of the year. We also surprised four mandarin ducks over the lake. The previous evening I had been reading that they are threatened in their home country of China and their best chance of survival is with feral populations in Europe. I wonder how they are doing in our area? From our window at home we have seen blackbirds busily collecting nesting materials and tree sparrows investigating nest boxes and staking their claim. We have also had a nuthatch visiting a peanut feeder right outside our kitchen window on several occasions recently – what a beautiful bird! On the barn owl front, we saw one near The Stone House pub last Thursday (18 February) and friends have reported recent sightings at Heyshaw, Dacre, Clint, Heathfield and Huby.” It’s good news regarding the curlew and barn owl. I saw a barn owl on 26 February hunting around Grimwith reservoir. I’m getting worried because they are out during the day, it may suggest there is no food. Some peewit 26 February probably on territory between Greenhow and Grimwith, no large flocks. I would suggest large flocks are returning to their breeding grounds, which could be in Scandinavia or Northern Russia. Mandarin can be found locally mainly on the river at Bolton Abbey, Strid Woods, (in fair numbers 10/20) but certainly as far upstream as Burnsall. They first nested in Harrogate District some probably 10 years ago near Beckwithshaw. They have been seen in the Nidd Gorge occasionally. They are tree hole nesters. Mandarin status is increasing slowly I would say.

Wendy Binns wrote, “This morning (25 February) as I stepped out of the car at Tadcaster Grammar School a woodpecker was drumming away in the woods surrounding the school and the sound echoed all round. Is this a little early to hear this? I actually ‘spotted’ the woodpecker but it was far away and couldn’t quite see what type it was.”

Yes many of our resident birds are forming territories and prospecting for nest sites and partners. I hope they don’t start laying too soon. Have you any reports of Spring, please?

Notes For Your Diary

Harrogate and District Biodiversity Action Group are holding their AGM on Saturday 12 March 2016 13:30 – 15:00 at Horticap, Blue Coat Nurseries, Otley Road, Harrogate, HG3 1QL. After the (usually) very short business meeting there will be a couple of guest speakers, sharing the visions of two newly established groups that are all about community and environment: Chris Beard of Hookstone and Stonefall Action Group (HASAG) and Catherine Baxter from Woodlands Community Garden. HDBAG works actively with the community to maximise the environment for local wildlife It raises awareness of the needs of wildlife affected by growth and change in the Harrogate District. They support and encourage community involvement in maintaining and improving green spaces and enthuse young people through working with schools and community hubs.

Curlew Appeal

IMG_4769

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Nidderdale Bird Group are holding a fundraising event at the Glasshouses Methodist Church, Broadbelt Hall (HG3 5QY) on Saturday 12th March. The Curlew has declined in Britain to such an extent that it is the bird most in need of conservation action and is on the Red List of Birds of Conservation concern. The BTO are hoping to raise £100,000 in the first year to do extensive research into the reasons for the decline of both breeding and wintering Curlew. Nidderdale Bird Club’s fundraising will take several forms, this is the first. As well as providing coffee and tea there will be T-shirts and cards and cakes for sale.

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society See website for full details.

Wednesday March 9 19:30 – 21:30 lecture ‘RED KITES IN YORKSHIRE’ Doug Simpson

Harrogate RSPB Group See website for full details including costs and to confirm no changes.

Monday March 14 7:30pm Indoor Meeting – Tom Lawson “Birding in Iceland”

Through Your Window

Doug Simpson, Red Kite Man, “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.”



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

Sightings

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.”

Tree Charter, Cranes and What You See

19 February 2016

Ancient Oak Lamb's Close DallowgillAncient Oak – Lamb’s Close, Dallowgill

WOODLAND TRUST CHARTER

Way back in 1217, just two years after Magna Carta was signed, Henry III signed The Charter of The Forest. The aim was to protect the rights of people to access and use the Royal Forests. The Charter of the Forest provides a window to a time in history when access to woods was integral to life. Being denied access for grazing livestock, collecting firewood and foraging for food was a real concern for the people of the time. Now The Woodland Trust reckon it’s time for another Charter because trees in all areas of society are more at risk than ever before from natural threats, such as pests and diseases, man-made pollution, infrastructure and political disinterest.

Making history – the call for a Charter

In summer 2015 the Woodland Trust put out an invitation for organisations from across the conservation, environmental, business and social sectors to join a call for a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People. More than 35 organisations answered the call, and have been working with the Woodland Trust to create a national moment for woods and trees. It will establish a legacy of lasting change for the relationship between trees, woods and people. This charter would bring trees and woods back into the centre of public consciousness and political decision-making in the UK. After all, as The Woodland Trust tells us, trees provide “clean air, natural flood defences, a mask for noise, improved physical health and mental well-being, mitigation against the urban heat island effect, pollution absorption, wildlife habitat, recreational spaces in cities, contact with nature in cities and sensory outdoor learning resources. Yet tree numbers are declining and frequently they aren’t being replaced. For example, according to Rotary Clubs – Community and Environment and Sustainablity newsletter, Nidderdale, delightful as it is, has only 5% tree cover. The national average is 8%. Harrogate Rotarians are doing something about it, you can offset your carbon emissions with trees and these guys have a scheme to do just that. But it’s not cheap, it involves a lot of volunteer help and you can get involved too.

Share your tree story

One of the things that worries me is that when hedgerow trees in particular fall over they are never replaced. Yet they provide a superb habitat, excellent aesthetic appeal and suck up all this excess water that will plague us more and more in the future. The Woodland Trust as part of the Appeal want to know your stories about trees. Have you got a treasured memory that wouldn’t have been the same without trees? Please help to create the charter by sharing it with The Woodland Trust. Let’s do more to protect our trees.

Cropped CraneCommon Crane (Grus grus)

The Great Crane Project

Some of you may remember Michael Clegg, a Knaresborough lad who will be respectfully remembered as a broadcaster, journalist and environmentalist. He was involved in making what we now know as RSPB Old Moor into a nature reserve. I recall sharing the Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private hide at Farnham with him. One of his legacies is the annual Michael Clegg Bird Race (the most species seen in 24 hours) which raises money for a Yorkshire bird conservation project. This year the project raised money for the Yorkshire Breeding cranes. Our thanks to the record number of teams which took part on 3 January and raised so far over £1100 for this project. The winning team saw 107 birds. If you would like to donate or find out more about next year’s bird race please email Graham Speight grahamspeight@uwclub.net.

Dipper - Peter ThomsonDipper by Peter Thompson

Sightings

Chris Norman writes, “Last April I moved to Dubai, so really miss home. The pictures of the Kite, the Tawny Owl and Gouthwaite tugged at my heartstrings. Very good news regarding the continued success of the Red Kites in our region. Metropolitan Dubai doesn’t offer much in the way of wildlife, but I am thrilled that a laughing dove is nesting in a “potted” olive tree on our balcony. Apparently passerines nest all year round here, but mostly avoid June/July/August, which is understandable as the eggs would almost boil in the ambient temperatures! They would need to sit on them to keep them cool!” Wow! My blog is going international. Thanks Chris.

Steve Whiteley was “watching my resident flock of sparrows on my feeder together with the other various regular visitors (coal tits, blue tits, great tits, collared doves, robin and wood pigeon) this morning, I noted this little chap in action. I believe he is a wood mouse and he has been active all morning and a lot more adventurous than normal. He has been resident under my shed for 3 years now and currently appears intent on chewing his way in at the moment. I thought they were supposed to hibernate during the winter but perhaps not. He may have been confused by the warmer weather.” In fact very few of our mammals hibernate – dormice, hedgehogs and bats. Some of the rest may not venture out quite as much if the weather is really bad. Many get by by caching their food, a well known example is the grey squirrel and perhaps another is the fox, if it gets into a chicken run.

Jim Neary recalls a sighting of a leucistic (all white) crow back in 2012 (in the area of Morrison’s car park, Harrogate where Edna Barker saw hers). I wonder how long they have been around there and does the collared doves still nest in the car wash there?

Roger Graville writes, “Just read the comment about bullfinches in the Hookstone Woods area (Harrogate). We are very near there on Arncliffe Road, and we regularly have a pair of them on our sunflower seed feeder. Usually one at a time, but occasionally there have been both male and female together during the winter.” I find what happens with bullfinches is that the male comes first, looks around for danger, flies down to the feeder and when confident it is safe calls down the female. I believe that they pair for life.

Stuart Ibbotson “thought I would drop you a note around my 2016 sightings. My list for my local patch (Bilton, Harrogate) is, after three weeks, missing song and mistle thrush, also redwing and fieldfare. I hope that due to the lack of berries around that they have moved on in their search for food. Greenfinch is also absent and is worrying if compared to 10 years ago when I considered them to be a pest as approximately 30 would take over my garden feeders. Siskins are plentiful in the garden and as I write a party of eight are present. Also bullfinch numbers are consistent with four pairs being regular visitors. Happy to report that this week I have seen two separate dippers staking out their territories on the Nidd, one of which is by the Scotton weir. Also grey wagtails seem to be returning to their breeding sites. A barn owl was hunting in the daytime around the farmhouse that is adjacent to the Nidderdale Greenway. I suspect that it had been unable to hunt on the previous two days due to the non-stop heavy rain. Today at 8.45am two otters which from their appearance I would say were mother and daughter, were making their way upriver and seen swimming under the viaduct. Shortly after a buzzard flew through the trees and across the river. It all makes you ponder on the changing face of nature. Twenty years ago I would never have dreamed of seeing buzzards on my local patch let alone otters. Greenfinches and thrushes were taken for granted as being omnipresent and were overlooked. Food for thought!” Stuart certainly raises some interesting points, slightly further afield we see little egret, whilst barn owl numbers remain high. Goosander numbers seem to have peaked and then fallen back again but not to the very low numbers of 20 years ago. Out wildlife numbers continue to fluctuate but whilst there are winners and losers don’t ever forget that around 60% of our birds have declined in the past 20 years and butterfly numbers continue to be a worry. We still have a lot of work to do to retain our biodiversity. I just wonder what effect car and industrial emissions are having, after all if our kids are more likely to get asthma how is our wildlife affected?

Lisa Walch wrote, “I saw a barn owl in full flight at 4pm yesterday near Grassington. It was flying across a field. Couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to capture the memory.” They are great, aren’t they? Keep watching in the same place, camera at the ready, you may see it again.

RSPB Fairburn Ings reports the following interesting birds this week, “three Smew inc one male, Egyptian Goose one.”

Recent birds at Nosterfield Nature Reserve complex include, Red-necked Grebe (Flask Lake), Bar-headed Goose, Little Owl, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Harrier, Caspian Gull (Lingham), Goldeneye and both races of white-fronted goose (Carthrope Mires).

It’s always great to hear what you have seen whilst out and about and whilst a photo always helps it’s never essential because I have a good stock and I have some great friends who are happy to share their photos with us.

Notes For Your Diary

RHS Harlow Carr

The East Dales Ringing Group will be ringing and recording birds caught at RHS Harlow Carr this Sunday, 21st February (WEATHER PERMITTING). Normal entry fees to RHS Harlow Carr applies, open 9.30 – 4 with last entry to gardens at 3. An opportunity to get close to and fully appreciate birds normally seen at a distance.

Through Your Window

Judith Fawcett reports a robin on her new, blue, feeder and she has had visits from amongst others long-tailed tits, a sparrowhawk and a very wet redpoll braved the snow showers. I suspect these will be leaving their flocks to start pairing up, prospecting for nest sites and eventually breeding, good luck to these delightful bundle of feathers.

Stan Beer at How Stean Gorge tells me, “Seen goldcrests, great spotted woodpeckers, tree creepers and nuthatches on the feeders at the gorge. They have only just started to come and feed.”

Jen and Jon Dening, tell me, “Lots of activity on our bird feeders currently. Here is a pair of Bullfinches and a Siskin. The latter is staging a welcome return as we haven’t seen any for a while.” Like me and despite national findings Jen and John’s bullfinch numbers are increasing.

Share what you see through your window with me.



Seals, Sightings and Flooding

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog (http://www.howstean.co.uk/).

Please do keep sending in your sightings and I will feature them all eventually. What winter visitors have you seen? (3-12-15)

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A Bull Grey Seal Patrols His Harem

Seal Watching at Donna Nook

Jackie and I were joined by friends Chris and Helen for a visit to Norfolk recently to see the geese and we took a rather tortuous route via Donna Nook to see the seals. It was well worth the detour although I didn’t think so that night as we got lost approaching our destination. Donna Nook National Nature Reserve is run by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT) and situated around 15 miles south of Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The star turn are the grey seals which haul out on the sand banks to give birth to their pups. There are literally hundreds of them. On Monday 30 November 2015 there were counted: Bulls 650, Cows 1542 and Pups 1754 – some sight. What’s more, some can be seen just over the fence, within touching distance. But don’t – even the pups can give an extremely nasty bite and they are huge, a male is 207cm and 233kg, a female 180cm and 155kg. For older folk like me that’s males are 2.25 yards and 36 stone and females 2 yards and 24 stone. Grey seal are one of two seal species found around our coasts and are bigger than the common seal and have a roman nose, rather than the puppy dog appearance of a common seal, which weighs up to 130kg. That’s not the only way they differ, a grey seal pup, unlike a grey seal pup, can’t swim when born, hence the value of a remote, safe place to haul out such as Donna Nook. Common seals can give birth on sand banks and the young are able to swim and dive after a few hours. Grey seal pups must remain on land for between 18-21 days. The real fascination in a visit is a chance to see for real what normally we only see via David Attenborough and that at home in our own country, brilliant. If you visit, after reading all the instructions on the website, then expect to see rampaging bulls fighting off their competitors, suckling young and cute white pups. I thought it strange because of course we only see seals off our shores, but the results of radio tracking show that these seals feed out to sea and travel to Dogger bank, rather than along our coasts. I did point out to the lovely lady in the LWT shack that ever so rarely they also have been known to visit Masham and Nun Monkton.

image1Bilton Beck Bridge – Bilton Conservation Group

Nidd Gorge Footpath Closed

Keith Wilkinson from Bilton Conservation Group (BCG) has asked me to tell folk that, “essentially there is no safe riverside route through Nidd Gorge downstream below the viaduct on the Bilton side. The Bilton Beck Bridge was demolished by a falling cherry tree on 14/11/15 and the recent floods did the rest with the decking of the bridge left in two pieces and tilted at 45 degrees from the stream bed.” NYCC have formally closed the route from west of the viaduct down to where the Public Right of Way (PROW) meets Milners Lane at Milners Fork. There is a safe, alternative detour along the Greenway – Bilton Lane – Milners Lane, so access to/through Nidd Gorge is still possible (albeit unpopular as it is a 3 km loop for little lateral progress…). BCG are in close discussion with NYCC about a replacement bridge and are hopeful that this may be achieved early in 2016 when weather and ground conditions are more favourable for construction work. The Bilton Conservation Group calendar is still available.

RSPB Fairburn Ings – Important notice 3/12/15

There is no access via Newton Lane from the Allerton Bywater end of the reserve. Access to the car park is via Back Newton Lane or along Newton Lane from Fairburn village. For more information, please call the visitor centre on 01977 628191 Steve Wadsworth, warden, saw a Muntjac deer there last week, a first for the reserve. A Drake Smew and Short-eared Owl have been seen there recently.

Great Spotted Woodpecker2 - Julie AddymanGreat Spotted Woodpecker – Julie Addyman

Sightings

David and Joyce Smith tell me they, “still have lots of starlings in our garden though not quite as many as in summer.” Carol Wedgewood writes, “On last Sunday, 15th November at about 13.25, whilst driving to work, I saw about 1,000 Fieldfare and Redwing in a field on the left hand side, near Menwith Hill, coming from Darley Mill the first crossroads that goes to the main Menwith Hill entrance. The birds on the ground were doing vertical take offs of only about a foot in the air before dropping back down. A great number were also perched on telegraph wires. An amazing sight. Definitely not Starlings.” It sounds like these birds were chasing insects. There seems to be very little of their more usual, early winter, food berries around so I fear we shall see few of these visitors this winter so Carol was very lucky. My blackbirds are already consuming cotoneaster berries, usually they leave them until much later. Shirley Dunwell has reported a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the street telegraph pole right in front of her (Bilton) bungalow. John Wade enjoyed a low flying red kite and great spotted woodpecker at Oakdale, Harrogate recently. John gets up to a dozen goldfinch on his feeders but was a little alarmed recently when one flew into his window and stunned itself. It lay motionless for 10 to 15 minutes whilst his wife Brenda watched carefully in case of cats. “It finally started to move its head, shook itself and flew off. Lovely.”