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

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