Butterflies Still Tumbling

Wall Brown - Nigel HeptinstallWall Butterfly

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

Red Admiral - Nigel HeptinstallRed Admiral

Local Butterfly Situation

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

SPECIES

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

SMALL SKIPPER

368

48

115

304

594

306

397

LARGE SKIPPER

101

42

112

23

112

69

81

DINGY SKIPPER

0

0

3

13

9

14

9

CLOUDED YELLOW

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

BRIMSTONE

33

9

48

38

58

64

71

LARGE WHITE

380

24

187

469

546

246

858

SMALL WHITE

545

127

88

704

805

287

698

GREEN-VEINED WHITE

1488

297

399

595

1522

423

844

ORANGE-TIP

162

96

169

200

259

161

262

GREEN HAIRSTREAK

241

284

318

96

239

35

124

PURPLE HAIRSTREAK

17

11

1

8

1

0

14

WHITE-LETTER HAIRSTREAK

9

1

1

37

20

8

60

SMALL COPPER

87

34

8

107

31

34

44

BROWN ARGUS

4

4

0

3

11

2

13

NORTHERN BROWN ARGUS

36

2

0

1

4

3

8

COMMON BLUE

438

112

150

88

215

126

199

HOLLY BLUE

15

13

45

9

12

15

20

RED ADMIRAL

470

204

156

150

580

253

737

PAINTED LADY

25

4

12

32

40

91

302

SMALL TORTOISESHELL

276

275

488

631

1324

941

449

PEACOCK

1021

152

825

950

1880

618

672

COMMA

185

26

37

240

102

102

48

DARK GREEN FRITILLARY

22

17

5

5

39

30

40

SPB FRITILLARY

0

0

0

9

0

0

1

SPECKLED WOOD

492

138

519

264

609

330

705

WALL BROWN

220

76

39

131

165

16

133

GATEKEEPER

1

6

16

17

4

12

13

MARBLED WHITE

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

MEADOW BROWN

377

146

777

999

1830

1779

1611

RINGLET

608

156

1502

1751

3699

2562

1997

SMALL HEATH

89

277

135

99

448

219

273

TOTAL BUTTERFLIES

7710

2581

6155

7973

15162

8746

10683

KEY

INCREASE

NO CHANGE

DECREASE

NO RECORDS

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

Please Help

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

  1. Join Butterfly Conservation.

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

  3. Identify a butterfly.

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

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

Spring Hots Up

Comma - Roger LittonComma – Roger Litton

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

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

What signs of spring have you seen?

Tree Aftercare Event

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

Rossett Nature Reserve

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

Red Line Against Fracking

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

Sightings

Grey Squirrel - Roger LittonGrey Squirrel – Roger Litton

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

Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

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

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

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

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

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

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page

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

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

Water Your Nettles!

kingfisher-peter-thomson

Kingfisher – Peter Thomson

Oak Beck Wildlife

Peter Thomson lives by the side of Oak Beck at Knox, but before I reveal his fascinating sightings there and excellent photos an apology for misspelling his name in the past. “At 8 am last Saturday morning I saw something swimming very fast just below the surface of the beck and didn’t know what it was until a pair of Goosanders appeared swimming upstream, followed by five more. The strange thing was that they all appeared to be females. They then all submerged and started swimming up and down the beck in formation at great speed before carrying on upstream; a truly remarkable sight. I thought this must have been a girls day out until I looked up Goosanders in my 90 year old copy of Birds of our Country where it said ‘young males and old ones in summer undress look very like females’. The book also says ‘Though not equal to the ordinary ducks as food, the Goosander is edible if skinned and stewed with onions and Worcester sauce; the idea that fish-eating birds are unfit to eat is quite incorrect, but they need special treatment’. I saw them again at 8 am on Wednesday morning, but this time there were 12 and I managed to catch a photo of them before they carried on upstream. I would also like to report that this has been a very successful year for Kingfishers which are flying up and down the beck very regularly and I have seen at least four different ones, of which at least two were juveniles. This one stopped to do a bit of preening.”

goosander-peter-thomson

Goosanders – Peter Thomson

Anti-Fracking Needs Your Support

Are you in Harrogate this weekend? If so then find time to visit Lush, the fresh handmade cosmetics shop on Cambridge Street. This weekend you can buy a Charity Pot (of handmade, environmentally responsible body lotions) there and support the Anti-Fracking Campaign. At the same time why not have a word with one of the Frack Free Harrogate District campaigners and discover just why Fracking is so bad for our environment. Don’t think Harrogate and the surrounding area is immune from fracking, far from it, we might be the next area for exploitation, and exploitation it is. For example, our drinking water could be polluted, our health seriously compromised, our roads jam packed with heavy lorries and hundreds of well sites may be built. This isn’t fantasy, it’s what’s happened elsewhere in the world, so why not visit the website, call in to the support the campaigners at Lush this weekend and show your opposition to these insidious developments.

A Must Watch Video

Paul Irving is a local birder, ringer and wildlife enthusiast who also just happens to be chair of the Northern England Raptor Forum. I know Paul has spent many dedicated hours monitoring raptors in general and hen harriers in particular on the Nidderdale grouse moors, indeed I have occasionally joined him, as has Danny, our lad. Well, Paul has released a YouTube video interviewing Chris Packham, you know the one about the decline of hen harriers in England. It’s called The Real Price of Grouse: A Black Hole For Hen Harriers. It makes interesting viewing and I commend it to you, you may even wish to search for more of Chris Packham’s videos and discover the reality regarding our moorlands!

Tortoiseshell Numbers Decimated

A few years ago, in fact for ever, I considered small tortoiseshell butterflies were our most commonest butterfly, so some of your reports are worrying, very worrying. One of the best places to see butterflies locally, in my view, is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Harlow Carr Gardens, where there is a fantastic array of flowers and grown with a knowledge and concern for our biodiversity which exceeds that of most gardeners, a truly special place. Andrew Willocks, a concerned and very knowledgeable gardener there, told me last week “Not seen a single Small Tortoiseshell this year in the gardens, plenty of Peacocks, Red Admirals and a recent arrival of Painted Lady Butterflies. We have left in place plenty of drifts of stinging nettles for the larvae with hope that some may appear as caterpillars. Comma also seem to be missing as well.” To be absolutely accurate Andrew contacted me again a couple of days later, “As if by magic we found two Small Tortoiseshell butterflies in the gardens yesterday; however, we are still well down on the previous years’ counts on the Harlow Carr butterfly survey. Even the most commonly recorded butterfly in 2016, the Peacock, is well down on last year’s numbers. Yesterday’s butterfly count on the Buddleia included 2 Brimstone, 20 Red Admirals, 2 Peacock, 2 Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Small White, Common Blue, Small Copper and Skipper. A healthy population of 10+ Purple Hairstreaks was also recorded in the gardens in June along with Orange Tip and Holly Blue.” Well, intrigued at the lack of butterflies in what I believe to be one of our district’s best places for butterflies, I met Andrew on Monday this week for a look round. The weather was warm with a strongish breeze and it seems that I timed my visit with a hatch of small tortoiseshell butterflies, we saw between 10 and 20. You try counting them. In fact we also saw painted lady butterflies, whites, and a single brimstone and peacock. Good numbers perhaps for 2016 but considering where we were and how few we saw compared to previous years still worrying. Harlow Carr’s experience was in no way unique, a number of you kindly sent me your butterfly experiences this year and it doesn’t make easy reading:

Via twitter ‘gib‘ writes,”a worry this year, no comma, red admiral or small tortoiseshell on my buddleia this year and only 2 Peacock.” Gib did see one tortoiseshell after that tweet, one only though.

Another tweet from Trevor Brown, “Only seen one Small Tortoiseshell all year, Nigel, usually have quite a few during the summer but not this year.”

Alan Hood tweeted, “12 small Tortoiseshell in garden, Flamborough Head.” Sounds like another small hatch!

small-copper-alan-croucher-3

Small Copper – Alan Croucher

From the much more understandable media of email Alan Croucher writes: “Butterfly numbers do seem to be low this year. Although I have seen several species, there has never been very many individuals. We had Peacocks, a few Orange Tips and a Blue (couldn’t see which) in the garden earlier in the year but for the most part there have been Speckled Wood (many) and Large Whites plus recently an odd Red Admiral and there has even been an occasional Painted Lady. On walks the main sightings have been Meadow Browns and a few Ringlets. I did see a Small Tortoiseshell (just one) up at Coldstones Quarry on 10 August. As far as Small Copper is concerned – I saw 3 or 4 at Hatfield Moor, near Doncaster on August 4th – though none more locally.”

June Sharp writes, “have seen 1 red admiral. 1 blue and a fair number of coloured butterflies on a Buddleia at Grantley Village Hall about a week ago, so exciting!”

Bernice Ferguson tells me, “We have seen only two or three small tortoiseshells this year – one or two in the early spring and two or three in the summer – not as many as usual. Fewer peacocks as well but loads of red admirals, especially on the buddleia. There were a few painted ladies as well. There seemed to be a dearth of coloured butterflies until the late warm weather.”

Paul Brothers from east Leeds also contacted me, “To be fair I have seen Small Tortoiseshells, just not in any large numbers. Small Coppers have been very low. Holly Blues are doing okay. Red Admirals are feeding up in my garden on the buddleia at the moment. Only seen one Painted Lady in the garden though. Speckled Woods are doing very well, with a late brood on the wing at the moment. I’d say I have seen 20 plus individuals. Even Common Blue numbers have been relatively low this year.” Paul has a website called ViewBug that you may be interested in. Like others Paul’s butterfly count improved ecently with 4 red admiral in his garden. He also does regular insect surveys for various places including Middleton Park were he recently recorded, “very good numbers of Speckled Wood with 78 being counted, though only 1 Small White and 1 very late Common Blue, even though the weather was fine and warm. No sign of any Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells which is a bit surprising. 

Tessa Mobbs tells me, “It has been a very strange year for butterflies at Felliscliffe, Harrogate. We have a lot of buddleias in the garden, but had only seen a few whites this summer up until about three weeks ago. Then, over the course of a few days, we saw nothing but red admirals – I counted 15 of them on one of our buddleias. Two weeks ago, we saw several peacocks, as well as the red admirals – and 2 painted ladies. But we haven’t seen any butterflies since – and we have seen hardly any small tortoiseshells. Last year, there was a considerable number of small tortoiseshells on the buddleias.” The reason Tessa saw so many red admirals is most likely because there had just been an hatch, I believe butterflies all hatch at once as a defence against predation.

Phil Roberts writes, “Missing Tortoiseshells? – missing everything! They have existed this year, but not in South-side Harrogate gardens. Try Menorca, it’s all happening there! Wonderful displays of butterflies, dragonflies, damsels etc rising before you as you walk!”

red-admiral-doug-simpson

Red Admiral – Doug Simpson

Doug Simpson: “Haven’t seen a Small Tortoiseshell or Comma in the garden (Jennyfields) for weeks. Brimstones are the most numerous of the non-white butterflies, having had three together during the week. Attached is a photo of our sole Red Admiral in recent weeks, this being the first time we’ve had one on our Clerodendron. I think it found it a suitable place to bask in the sun. It was certainly very obliging. It looks as though it’s had a minor mishap involving the rear of its left wing. No more Painted Ladies but a Speckled Wood called by today.”

Carol Wedgewood from Thornthwaite, “We saw 2 Peacock butterflies in the garden on Thursday but not at the same time. Only 1 Small Tortoiseshell.”

Water Your Nettles

Hopefully this week we will all see more butterflies but all tortoiseshells have declined by a staggering 73% since the 1970s, our biodiversity really is in danger we need to protect it, urgently. Reasons for the small tortoiseshell’s decline are unknown but speculation includes climate change, pollution and parasitic flies that kill the butterfly’s caterpillars, but Butterfly Conservation needs more information, so please send them your sightings. Even drought conditions affecting nettles, the butterflies’ caterpillar food plant, has been blamed and certainly we have had a dry if gloomy summer. Also butterfly numbers can and do bounce back but a drop of 73% in 40 years indicates something more sinister at work than mere seasonal setbacks.

Reserve Sightings

Farnham, Harrogate Naturalists’ Societies private nature reserve

Robert Brown reports, Greenshank, redstart and the sixth osprey of the year on Sunday

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings include: osprey, little stint, kingfisher, brown argus butterfly, caspian gull, turnstone, green sandpiper, whinchat, sparrowhawk, greenshank, black-tailed godwit, ruff, ringed plover, common sandpiper, little egret, barn owl, dunlin, little ringed plover.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Whooper Swan 2 throughout,

Wigeon Daily up to 10.

Pintail At least 4 throughout.

Garganey Single on 4th

Gadwall c500 on 7th.

Tufted Duck c400 on 7th.

Bittern Single on 4th

Red Kite At least 3 throughout.

Marsh Harrier At least 4 different birds.

Osprey Single on 4th and8th

Water Rail Small numbers daily.

Curlew 3 on 7th

Black-tailed Godwit 7 on 6th. Single from 8th.

Ruff Max 5 on 7th and 8th.

Green Sandpiper 3 on 7th.

Common Sandpiper. Single throughout.

Greenshank Seen daily on Spoonbill flash – upto 4.

Snipe Daily max 10

Common Tern 2 on 3rd.

Hobby Singles occasionally.

Peregrine At least three throughout

Raven 2 on 4th and 5th.

Redstart 2 on 4th and 1 on 5th.

Missing Tortoiseshell, Have You Seen One?

Small tortoiseshell - Roger Litton

Small Tortoiseshell – Roger Litton

Butterflies have such a short lifetime, especially as adults, and even this is limited by the weather, most preferring to fly on hot, sunny days and whilst it has been mostly dry this year the sunny days have been few and far between. The flight periods differ for each species and whilst some are quite long others are short or restricted by only one or sometimes two broods. 23 July was a great day for butterflies and this is reflected in the sightings seen at Farnham Gravel Pits, the private reserve of Harrogate Naturalists Society. Robert Brown reports small skipper(59), large white(15), small white(13), green-veined white(12), red admiral(2), painted lady(1), peacock(3), small tortoiseshell(8), comma(1), speckled wood(1), gatekeeper(164), meadow brown(159), ringlet(74). This contrasts with 9 August with brimstone(1), large white, small white, green-veined white(all recorded) common blue(6), red admiral(2), painted lady(3), peacock(3), comma(1), wall(1), gatekeeper(40), meadow brown(recorded), ringlet(2) holly blue(1). Now bearing in mind if I was a politician I could make these figures read whatever I wanted, however, I’m not so I’ll try to be objective. Let’s take the migrant butterflies, red admiral and painted ladies, clearly they just haven’t arrived this year. More worrying, some of the so called common butterflies – peacock, small tortoiseshell and whites – have all been recorded but even the whites are in numbers we would consider low a few years ago. The coloured ones are no doubt responding to a series of cold, damp wet summers and warm winters. Apparently cold winters may help over wintering butterflies survive. Gatekeeper and small skippers have done remarkable well as have ringlet and we can assume the ringlet’s flight period was over for the second count. Comma and speckled wood are relatively recent incomers as they have expanded their range northwards, perhaps circumstances mean they are now contracting their ranges, but especially worrying is the speckled wood, which a few years ago were seen in huge numbers, a very rapid decline indeed. Holly and common blues are in very small numbers, especially common blues, which could be seen in triple figures on occasions in some places, although not necessary Farnham. Wall is perhaps the most worrying because only one has been seen and they are now considered very, very rare. The biggest worry, however, doesn’t even occur on either list – what has happened to the small copper? These are just my views and have no scientific significance, but be worried, very worried that our biodiversity is in real danger.

Wall - Robin Hermes

Wall – Robin Hermes

These sightings compare with observations made by other folk and my concern just grows. Robin Hermes photographed a wall butterfly recently at Farnham and writes, “it will be a second brood, for some reason or other very few have been seen this year. Keith Wilkinson tells me he hasn’t seen a small tortoiseshell butterfly all year and encourages you to visit the Butterfly Conservation website (BC) to help them by recording any small tortoiseshells you have seen this year. BC asks, “Concern is growing as sightings of this previously common butterfly are significantly down across the UK. The small tortoiseshell is an easy species to identify. The butterfly’s uniquely patterned orange and black wings are framed with a border of small blue crescents. If you spot one of these pretty little butterflies in your garden before the end of the season, please submit your sightings.” Butterflies do have specific flight periods and many, including the small tortoiseshell, are around now, weather permitting. Another such butterfly is the migrant red admiral and Red Admiral - Roger Brownbridge

Red Admiral – Roger Brownbridge

Roger Brownbridge writes, “Having spent the summer saying how few butterflies we had seen, particularly red admirals, lo and behold walking near Grassington on Bank Holiday Monday we passed a white buddleia upon which we counted 15 red admirals – you wait for a bus and then two come along!” These will be recently hatched butterflies, offspring from an earlier migration from the Mediterranean, and whilst it’s great to see so many sadly it’s not sufficient to make up for the lack of red admirals seen this year. Roger Litton writes, “At long last we’ve seen a red admiral in the garden (on the buddleia). As we’ve all been saying it is amazing – and depressing – how few butterflies there are; however, not to have seen a red admiral before now with our three buddleias almost over is staggering.

Nidderdale’s New Pollinator Project

Some great news from The Friends of Nidderdale AONB. They have secured £42,000 of funding from Biffa Award to provide new and improved pollinator habitat in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and at Otley Wetland Nature Reserve. The plan is to create a new ‘pollinator pathway’ to link fragments of habitat together along a 10km corridor and connect into Buglife’s B-Line network. This flower rich pathway will support Harrogate District Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species of conservation concern. The two year project will restore 43.5 hectares of BAP lowland meadow at carefully selected locations using seed and hay collected from local donor sites wherever possible.

Taking about pollinators, Jackie and I have recently returned from a week’s holiday at Kinlochard in Scotland. Kin means head so we were at the head of Loch Ard, west of near Aberfoyle. We visited the Wee Blether tearooms and apart from some great food we were pestered by wasps and that made me think, why are there so many wasps here and so few locally. Well Kinlochard has very little farming around, no arable and very few cattle or sheep, and this coupled with the lack of cars made me wonder just how big an impact agricultural chemicals and car fumes have on our biodiversity. This view was supported by the good numbers of swallows and house martins around, birds which depend on insects. To my mind it’s a no brainer, what do you think?

Pinewoods Conservation Group’s Open Day

This Saturday, 10 September on the Recreation area between Harlow Moor Road and Crag Lane, from 12 noon to 3pm. It’s free and includes a dog agility demo, drive a digger and tree climbing, plus refreshments by the 20th Harrogate Scout Group, fun activities, ice cream and picnic and games area.

Macmillan Cancer Support Appeal

Paul Cowham who used to report about the peregrines on Harrogate’s Copthall Towers – it may have another name now – has run 100 miles during August and will follow that with The Great North Run for Macmillan Cancer Support, because he wants to help make a difference. Why not visit his Just Giving web page and support him, so far he has reached £400, surely we can do better than that?

Sightings

House Martins - Charles Gibson

House Martins – Charles Gibson

Apology: My apologies to Charles Gibson. In my last blog I mention Charles had reported swifts congregating on power lines, they were of course swallows and the mistake was all mine, sorry. He also took this photo of house martins in Shaw Mills.

Green Woodpecker3 - Dennis Skinner

Green Woodpecker – Dennis Skinner

Sparrowhawk: Dennis Skinner of Wetherby reports a sparrowhawk taking a wood pigeon in his garden. The size of the prey means that the sparrowhawk must have been a female as it was far too big for a male sparrowhawk to take. The next day Dennis was visited by a juvenile green woodpecker, let’s hope it keeps a wary eye out.

Moorland Raptors: Barry Carter tells me, “I have been on the moor three mornings and late afternoons to last light and I have seen up to three red kites and similar in buzzards. I actually saw a buzzard in the tree being bombed by a kite on the top road to Wath just before the two seats looking over Gouthwaite, and also four, yes four kestrels hovering in the same field where the buzzard was! Parents teaching juveniles?” Maybe I shouldn’t tar every moorland owner with the raptor killer brush, is this an exception? What do you think?

Buzzards: Alan Croucher thought you may wish to sign this petition opposing the buzzard cull, “https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/163483

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings include: Greenshank, little stint, osprey, hobby, little egret, avocet, kingfisher, little ringed plover, ruff, black tailed godwit, dunlin, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper, ruff, ringed plover and avocet.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Whooper Swan 2 throughout, Shelduck 2 Juvenile throughout, Wigeon Daily up to 10, Pintail Single throughout on New flash, Garganey Daily. 10 at start down to 4 at end of week, Red-crested Pochard hybrid 1 on 28th, Bittern Single on 1st, Red Kite At least 3 throughout, Marsh Harrier At least 2 throughout, Osprey 1 west over flashes at 1pm on 29th after which spent few hours at Swillington Park before being seen again in the early evening from Pickup hide. Probably the same bird (an adult, presumed male) out southwest over the moat early morning the next day, Water Rail Small numbers daily, Ringed Plover Single on 1st, Curlew 1 on 31st, Green Sandpiper Present daily in small numbers, Common Sandpiper Present daily in small numbers, Greenshank Seen daily on Spoonbill Flash – up to 4, Snipe Daily max 7, Hobby Single on 1st, Peregrine At least three throughout, Sand Martin 500+ on 29th, Redstart 2 at moat from stile by bungalow on 29th, Wheatear Single on coal tips trail on 29th..

Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

Monday 12 September 7:30pm Indoor Meeting – Steve Race entitled “Wild Shetland”

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 9th September – RSPB Blacktoft Sands

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Tuesday 13th September – YWT Spurn NNR

Polluted Rivers and Surveys

Red Grouse - Barry Cater

Red Grouse – Barry Carter

Pennine Grouse Moor Survey Erroneous Say BTO!

A bird survey that was reported to have taken place on a managed grouse moor in the Pennines has been widely quoted in the media this week. The report suggested that 800 pairs of Lapwing, 400 pairs of Curlew and 100 pairs of Golden Plover were present, and that 89 species of bird were seen. These results have been used as evidence that moorland managed for grouse shooting is good for birds. These figures have been attributed to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), but this claim is erroneous. This fieldwork was not carried out by the BTO and did not use the rigorous statistical methods employed by the BTO in order to produce accurate estimates of this type. The organisation wishes to make it clear that the quoted figures should not be attributed to the BTO. The BTO is a charity dedicated to providing scientific information to inform decisions about birds and their habitats. Whenever possible the BTO makes its evidence available for use by all stakeholders. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO’s surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO’s work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations, www.bto.org. It seems, to me, that those who wish to legitimise their annual slaughter of our wild birds and those numerous creatures that prey on them are resorting to tactics which can only serve to make the licensing of grouse moors an urgent necessity. You can’t defend the indefensible!

Alan Croucher asks, “You might be interested in the following petition regarding the culling of buzzards. Suspend Natural England licence to kill buzzards.”

Osprey3 - Barry Carter

Barry Carter sent me some excellent photos of ospreys to share with you.

Oak Beck Pollution

It seems that Oak Beck, which runs from Haverah Park, through Oakdale, Jennyfields and Knox, has some worrying pollution issues with no immediate prospects of a solution. These include foul water/sewage escapes plus ‘solids’ and flash flooding. I was somewhat surprised to learn from Keith Wilkinson of Bilton Conservation Group that Harrogate have a ‘dual flushing’ system where rainwater from roofs is directed into the sewage system to help keep the foul water/sewage moving. It seems that many, myself included, are unaware of where their roof rainwater goes and just assume it all goes into the sewer system – for those houses where their rainwater is directed to surface water drainage there can be problems when householders put ‘grey water’ down the gullies at the foot of their fall pipes where it emerges later in the local becks and contaminates them – similar to washing cars in the street and flushing the detergent/wax down street drains. Toxins enter Oak Beck at the rear of the Hydro at New Park. This can happen within 45 minutes of rain falling compared within 48 hours where rain permeates naturally through the fields, woods and vegetation. The result is possible localised flooding and maybe worse further downstream whilst the impact on wildlife has not been accurately assessed. Oak Beck is the main drainage channel for the whole of north Harrogate and, as such, is classed by the Environment Agency as ‘River’. Its water quality varies as industry and housing develop apace – but it still sustains brown trout, 3-spined stickleback, bullheads, minnow, stone loach, kingfisher and otter. It seems we have lost the last white-clawed crayfish, which were last sighted for certain in 2007. Hopefully the two New Park councillors can succeed in persuading Yorkshire Water to have a public meeting to let the residents know what plans they have to mitigate/resolve the pollution. You could help by supporting them and our wildlife. For more details search here, and here.

Swifts Update?

Charles Gibson tells me, “There were at least 60 lined up on the power lines at the bottom of the garden at 7am today (16/8/15) in Shaw Mills.” Charles has also seen house martins gathering on wires near his home.

Ann and Colin Snelson report, “Middlesmoor had swifts as usual this year and we enjoyed their screeching parties, which is such a lovely summer sound. There were definitely a few around still on 10 August, which is about a week later than normal. The other thing is the swallows which we hardly ever saw at all are now visiting the village and sometimes as many as 60+ gather on the electricity wires. This is a little earlier than we’re used to so the migrants’ calendar is certainly altered this year.” Pleasing to hear that Middlesmoor have had good numbers of swifts and swallows. Swallows in particular are in short supply elsewhere, locally.

Stephen Root reports, “Greenshank and spotted flycatcher at Hay-a-Park, plus a late swift through.”

Your Sightings

Wood Wasp: Charles Gibson reported one in his kitchen. These ferocious looking insects, which are also called sawflies, are in fact quite harmless, what looks like the world’s biggest stinger sticking out of their backsides is in fact an ovipositor and adults cannot sting. The larvae defend themselves by regurgitating a distasteful liquid from their mouths. They get their name from the saw-like appearance of the ovipositor, which the females use to cut into the plants where they lay their eggs. Sawfly larvae can be an important factor in the diet of a number of birds including partridge and black grouse.

Butterflies: from Jennyfields. Harrogate, Doug Simpson reports, “Had single Painted Lady, Holly Blue and male Brimstone butterflies in the garden on Sunday, 14 August.” All rare this summer and very welcome,

Holly Blue - Claire Yarborough

Holly Blue – Claire Yarborough

Claire Yarborough reckons, “We have had a bad year for butterflies, but had one interesting sighting. This bright blue butterfly was feeding on achillea in my garden this week. It would only pose for a photo with wings closed, but my ID book guided me towards holly blue. My first in the garden. Otherwise, we have seen plenty of whites, but nothing much else. Even the buddlea only attracted one peacock. When is the summer going to arrive!

Painted Lady - Jon Burge

Painted Lady – Jon Burge

Jon Burge, “Like others have noted, we have fewer butterflies than normal. Perhaps fallen apples etc of the season will attract more. We have two or three at a time red admirals, but just one at a time peacock, small tortoiseshell and painted lady. I provide a photo of the last, but unfortunately could not catch the more decorative underside.”

What butterflies have you seen?

Bilton Birds: Keith Wilkinson tells me, “I hope you have seen the Barn Owl that hunts morning and evening over Diamond Jubilee Wood at the back of you. She has raised/is raising two youngsters this year. Also the Tawny Owl in Bilton Beck Wood seems to have raised two this season. Have had reports that the Skylarks nested again but I can’t say I have seen it for myself.”

Wood Pigeon Squabs - Sue Turner

Woodpigeon Squabs – Sue Turner

Squabs: Sue Turner, writes, “Mummy Woodpigeon left the nest because we were doing some pruning in the front garden. I took advantage of taking a photo for everyone who says they’ve never seen a baby pigeon! As I’ve said before I don’t care for Woodpigeons but these are rather cute even though they are right above my front door.” Sorry Sue, but they really don’t look cute to my eye.

Hedgehogs: Delia Wells, “Woodlands Community Garden on Wetherby Road, saw the resident hedgehog, mid morning, 15 August, It was full grown, and not wary of people nearby.”

Reserve Sightings

The wader passage seems to be on it’s way so nows the time to visit your favourite birding location.

Farnham Gravel Pit

This is the private nature reserve of Harrogate Naturalists Society. Robert Brown reports a marsh harrier, osprey, 2 hobbies, spotted flycatcher, greenshank, juvenile cuckoo and redstart last weekend.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Curlew sandpiper, ruff, greenshank, dunlin, osprey, knot, green sandpiper, spotted flycatcher, grey plover, little ringed plover, wheatear, golden plover, redshank, snipe and common sandpiper, I was there on 17/8/16 and saw a whinchat and around 10 yellow wagtails. Sightings taken from @nosterfieldLNR.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Recent interesting birds seen include, Whooper Swan 22nd bird with orange ring ZPA, Shelduck. Wigeon, Gadwall , Garganey, Tufted duck c300 daily, Goosander, Little Egret, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier , Osprey, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Redshank, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Little Owl, Hobby, Peregrine, Raven, Spotted Flycatcher, Wheatear, Grey Wagtail.

Plumpton Rocks to Open! Ilkley Moor to Close?

My How Stean Blog is now available.

Wild Flowers - Judith Fawcett

Mediaeval Carpet at Ripley Castle Gardens – Judith Fawcett

Wild Flower Verges

Judith Fawcett writes, “I am interested in wildflower verges, particularly here in the Saltergate/Jennyfield area. I suggested to our local councillor two or more years ago to either leave the grass to grow or have wild flowers. The reply was that if the grass isn’t cut to within an inch of its life people are on the phone as to why it hasn’t been cut. When the grass is left around the daffodils until July it’s amazing how many wild flowers emerge in the long grass only to be cut down. I would be eager to encourage wild flower growth opposite my bungalow as there were shrubs originally planted then removed and grass laid. I’m not sure however that other residents would share my enthusiasm. I have included a splendid picture of the mediaeval carpet at Ripley Castle Gardens. Very few butterflies, quite a worry in fact.” Judith raises a very important point, we have a lot of work to do to convince folk of the importance of proper wildflower verges and that out Biodiversity is in Danger, our ecosystems linked and disappearing. Not just members of the public but also it seems our elected representatives! What do you think? What would you like to see done to protect our biodiversity? Let me know.

Walk for Wildlife on Ilkley Moor!

Ilkley Moor is both a great place and an iconic place for Yorkshire folk, well at least those who are allowed to sing the county’s national anthem in public, I’m forbidden to indulge in such pleasures both in public and the confines of our bathroom. And me an ex, albeit very poor, choirboy.

Anyway, did you know that Ilkley Moor is owned by Bradford Council and they let the publicly owned grouse moor out to grouse shooters? These folk decimate the local wildlife, damage the environment and have allegedly threatened walkers. If you reckon it’s about time this stopped then why not join the protest ramble and picnic this Saturday, 6 August, just a few days before the annual grouse carnage begins. Please bring cakes, home-made banners, your friends and family. Meet at 11am until 3pm, Cow & Calf Rocks, Hangingstone Road, Ilkley, LS29 8BT. Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor. Carole Turner writes, “Don’t forget Hen Harrier protest and ramble on Ilkley Moor. Also Sunday, 7 August at Dunsop Bridge village green, Forest of Bowland at 10.30am.

Plumpton Rocks20

Plumpton Rocks – Andy Marshall

Plumpton Rocks Re-opens

If you have never been to Plumpton Rocks you will not have appreciated what a quiet, delightful place it is. Surrounded by trees and incorporating a delightful lake, it’s an ideal place for contemplation, a place to – in modern day parlance – chill out, a place to enjoy the wildlife, to appreciate its beauty. It’s lovely, but sadly for the past year or more it has been closed for restoration, but now it has re-opened. Restored to its past 18th century glories, it promises to be even better and at £3.50 for adults, £2.50 for concessions, great value for money. Plumpton Rocks is a 35 acre 18th century landscape garden five miles east of Harrogate in North Yorkshire. The grounds have been owned by the Plumpton family since at least the Norman Conquest, with a period of ownership also by the Lascelles family of Harewood House for just under 200 years. The present owner is Robert de Plumpton Hunter. The garden was once a medieval deer park and fish ponds. Tradition has it that Robin Hood poached deer here. The gardens were created by Daniel Lascelles in the 1750s after he bought the estate from the Plumpton family. He enlarged the lake and commissioned John Carr to design the dam and boat house together with many estates buildings and the model village which survive to this day. The garden has been painted by many fine artists including Turner, Girtin and Mellor. It has been open to the public for at least 200 years. It has now re-opened for every day during August and is also open on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays until October, from 11am to 6pm. The gardens were once described by Queen Mary as ‘Heaven on Earth,’ whilst for the film buffs among you the gardens are also taking a starring role as Wild Cat Island in the BBC’s new feature length film adaptation of Swallows and Amazons to be released later this month. The three year project achieved the restoration of the parkland, lake, woodland and perhaps most importantly, the magnificent Grade 2 listed dam designed by John Carr of York in the 1760s. Over the last few decades the lake had gradually silted up and the major 18th century vistas, painted by Turner for his first commission in oils in 1797, had been lost. There were concerns that this historically significant landscape would be lost for ever. The situation became critical in 2012 when English Heritage placed the garden on its Historic Landscapes at Risk Register. This catapulted the garden as a priority for funding and enabled a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme to be entered into between the owner, Robert de Plumpton Hunter, and Natural England. Over the next year a major plan of restoration was formulated and work started in 2014 to restore the former parkland. Subsequently, extensive works have been carried out to the woodland, lake and recently the dam. The latter received substantial grant funding from Historic England and The Country Houses Foundation.

Restoration Aspects

The 36 acre former parkland had been ploughed up in 1982 and the original individual specimen parkland trees had been lost. The restoration has allowed for the fields to revert back to grassland with 80 individual parkland trees planted. This reconnects the parkland once again with the Rocks and the remaining John Carr buildings of the Hall, stable block and farm. Over the last 250 years the lake has gradually silted up. This meant a large portion of the northern part of the lake had been lost and had become overgrown with self-seeding trees. The view looking south towards the Dam and Lover’s Leap had been lost. Natural England and Historic England grants allowed for the desilting of the lake, taking it back to its original 18th century proportions. The Creek was dug out with several inlets and two islands were reinstated at the north of the lake.

Your Sightings

Ann and Colin Snelson live in Middlesmoor in Upper Nidderdale. Here is a glimpse of the wildlife they enjoy there: “It’s especially pleasing to see a good number of very healthy-looking Greenfinches and a good crowd of Goldfinches, too. Siskins are still with us as are Great Spotted Woodpeckers but up to press we haven’t seen young ones of these. Besides the day to day joys of seeing the birds, occasionally we get other interesting visitors too. Yesterday we had a gorgeous weasel tearing around the garden, rolling on the grass and jumping up at plants. Don’t know if it was for hunting practice or for fun but it was certainly fun to watch! Thought it would be interesting to tot up how many different bird ‘babies’ we have seen or heard here. Obviously things have been going well for them. We have counted 14 different species so far. Blackbird, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Greenfinch, House Martin, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Song Thrush, Starling, Wood Pigeon.” Not bad and remember these are just juveniles. How successful have the nesting birds been in your garden this summer? Why not drop me a line and let me know?

Red Admiral Harlow Carr 310716 - Roger Litton

Red Admiral – Roger Litton

Roger and Pauline Litton, “Were in Harlow Carr this morning and saw more butterflies there than we have seen all summer up to now. Having said that, there were still fewer than one would expect – and we saw mainly whites. This photo is our first sighting of a Red Admiral so far this year and we managed to see a Small Tortoiseshell (but only one of each).” Hopefully we may start seeing more butterflies soon, the late flying ones, let’s hope they hatch before all the flowers die, even the late flowering plants seem to be early this year!

Painted Lady - Andrea McKenzie

Painted Lady – Andrea McKenzie

Andrea McKenzie tweeted me a Painted Lady photo with the comment, “Painted Lady grow by my 8 yr old.”

Vapourer Moth - Ian Law (2)

Vapourer Moth Caterpillar – Ian Law

Ian Law spotted this vapourer moth caterpillar on a laurel bush.

Colin Harrison gets about a bit, I wonder if he has a big suitcase? “Following my sighting of Swifts in Poland, I am now reporting a big flock of screaming Swifts spotted at the seaside in Brittany. There must have been 12-15 at least. Also, where I am staying has a fantastic population of butterflies, although nothing to compare with your day out! I have so far seen many Meadow Browns, together with Commas, and Red Admirals. Yesterday I saw an Adonis Blue and a High Brown Fritillary. I also had the pleasure of a brilliant blue damselfly doing its courtship routine to what seemed a particularly uninterested female. Such is life I suppose… France has apparently banned the use of nicotinoids, and could be reaping the benefits already. Keep up the good work, and I would like to be considered for the post of your Foreign Correspondent if it ever comes up!” I do wish here in the UK I was confident that we could ban nicotinoids and other dangerous chemicals for ever but worry that the current limited ban may be repealed. I also rather hoped that it was just us who had very few butterflies, we really do need to do something now.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

10 Little Egret, 3 Black-Tailed Godwit, Snipe, 4 Ringed Plover. A colour-ringed Little Egret found on the reserve on July 23rd was ringed in Cleveland on 27th May!

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Recent interesting birds seen include, Whooper Swan, Garganey, 7 (inc one juvenile), Little Egret, 20+ daily, Red Kite, singles occasionally reported, Marsh Harrier, “Cream crowns”, Ringed Plover, Two occasionally reported, Little Ringed Plover, 3 throughout, Curlew, daily in small numbers, Black-tailed Godwit, maximum 13, Dunlin, two, Green Sandpiper, present daily on pick up (hide) – max 6, Common Sandpiper, 6, Common Gull, max 4, Yellow-legged Gull, Adult, Little Owl, Hobby, Peregrine, at least three throughout, Whinchat, single.

Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 12th August – Nosterfield Reserve