31 December 2015
Featured image Male Pheasants Jousting
Have a Great and Successful New Year and Support Your Wildlife
Please keep your questions and sightings coming in via whatever media you prefer, Facebook, Twitter or trusty old email. Thanks for your support, much appreciated.
Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog. January issue on barn owls now out.
Hunting and Shooting
What a pleasure it was on Christmas Day to go for a walk without the accompanying crescendo of shotgun fire. It never ceases to amaze me just what these folk find to kill. I believe they start on barn doors and once they are sufficiently competent to kill one three times out of four from 10 paces they progress onto living things, all in the name of sport. It’s not just pheasants, partridge and grouse which are targeted, folk on their own with a shotgun specialise in just about anything that moves, especially if they consider it to be vermin. Anyway shotguns have been put away on Boxing Day so folk can enjoy ‘legally’ fox hunting, pure theatre in their gaudy jackets and quaint old traditions, sheer joy, unless of course you are a fox. Hope you locked up your pets! In case you are confused the BBC tells us, “In England and Wales, you cannot use dogs to hunt foxes, hares or deer.
You can use dogs for
stalking and flushing out – but only to control pests, such as hares, and only if they’re shot as soon as possible afterwards. Only one or two dogs can be used to “flush out” a fox;
hunting rats and rabbits;
retrieving hares that have been shot;
drag hunting and trail hunting.
In Scotland, hunts can use an unlimited number of dogs to flush out foxes.”
Interestingly the League Against Cruel Sports conducted a survey run by Ipsos MORI, which found 83% of 2,036 respondents thought the ban should remain in place – 84% in rural areas and 82% in urban areas.
You might be interested in signing this petition for the banning of lead shot. It is not a petition against shooting, but the use of lead shot, which not only accidentally and unnecessarily poisons wildlife but is potentially dangerous for humans who eat game shot with lead pellets. There are several alternatives available on the market – lead is already banned in several European countries and its use for shooting wildfowl in the UK is banned. Unfortunately, there are many who still flout this ban. It also seems according to Raptor Persecution Scotland that grouse are being treated with a drug being used in chemotherapy for victims of colon cancer. So, if you eat red grouse not only might you find yourself eating poisonous toxic lead from the ammunition used to kill the bird, and an anti-parasitic wormer drug given to the grouse via medicated grit, but you might also get a free dose of chemotherapy! So much for the claims of red grouse being ‘healthy and natural’ to eat.
Postage Stamp Appeal
The RSPB has a campaign to raise funds to promote ‘Albatross-friendly’ fishing methods in the Southern Ocean where so many of these magnificent birds fall foul of old fishing practices where long-lining without Albatross deterrents tempts birds to pick up ‘easy meat’, become hooked and drown. It’s simple really, at this time of the year when so many of us receive masses of postage stamps on seasonal greetings of all kinds – spare a thought, just clip a good quarter inch margin, well clear of the stamp and collect them up. If you do this then I am delighted to say that there are a couple of places within Harrogate to send them: Bilton Conservation Group members Sue Hughes or Keith Wilkinson (Secretary) – I can provide address details if you contact me; alternatively drop them in at Shamrock Vets, Knaresborough Road, Harrogate, almost opposite the road down to the hospital.
Mackerel Sky – Ian Willson
Ian Willson has sent me two photos including this one of a mackerel sky. Ian tells me “it’s as perfect as I’ve seen; do you know what causes it?” Well I didn’t, and to be absolutely honest I’m not 100% I do now, but here’s a good stab, let me know if you know more. Weather Online tells us, mackerel skies are formed of cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds arranged in somewhat regular waves and showing blue sky in the gaps. Small, white and fluffy cirrocumulus clouds typically consist of ice crystals and form at altitudes around 6,000 to 10,000m (18,000 to 30,000ft) and imply strong winds. Altocumulus mainly consist of water droplets and typically form at altitudes between 3,000 and 6,000m (10,000 to 18,000ft). Both may herald bad weather. They are somewhat pretty though.
Terry Knowles also wonders if I can help him. “We have a beech tree in the next door garden which overhangs ours. Normally at this time of year I am clearing up the leaves to compost, but usually have to sort them out from the crackles which, of course, will not compost. However this year there is not a crackle in sight. Last year I filled my brown bin about four times over with them, and the squirrels seemed to come from miles around to try and bury them in the garden, and for the last 12 months I was spending time pulling out the seedlings from all over. Is it just our beech tree or are others just the same this year? If so, is there any particular reason? We have lived here 15 years and have had to ‘live’ with the crackles as well until this year.” It’s not universal over our district or any district, I guess, but the winter food supply is in very short supply, already birds are eating berries they usually leave to last. This follows on from a very poor breeding season as confirmed by the BTO. It’s all very worrying. This non-scientist reckons it partially due to the lack of a summer, no warmth to swell the buds or something like that. Add to this global warming, pollution and pesticides and we are in deep trouble (regardless of what they decided recently in Paris). I am surprised however that the beech mast has not failed before in Terry’s garden, it does happen periodically regardless of the above. It is imperative especially this year that we keep feeding the birds!
Judith Fawcett reports a willow tit in her garden in Jennyfields, Harrogate.
Despite the flooding RSPB Fairburn Ings still has lots to see including recently 32 Curlew and one Black-tailed Godwit, also 3 Stonechat, 2 Little Egret and good numbers of wildfowl on the floods. But do check for flooding before you visit. Meanwhile Nosterfield Nature Reserve reports that the floods have brought loads of birds to their patch including pintail, pinkfooted geese and even according to Andrew Wetherill via Twitter “an ambitious juvenile peregrine taking on a greater black backed gull.”
John Wade tells me, “We are now getting a flock of up to 12 goldfinch, 2 chaffinch and 2 or 3 greenfinch visiting our feeder daily. No siskin.” Someone else with visiting greenfinch is Shirley Dunwell, “In response to your question, I watched for greenfinches and was pleased to count six this morning. They are fewer in number than they used to be but still dominate the goldfinches (which are my most numerous visitors).”
Will Rich responded to my curlew blog with, “The lowland curlew has all but disappeared in North Yorkshire. You do not have to look far for the answer – agricultural intensification. Meadows drained, ploughed and replanted with a rye grass monoculture. At the height of the breeding season, fields rolled, sprayed with herbicide and spread with muck. Any bird which, by some miracle, succeeds in breeding has its nest or young destroyed when the field is mowed for silage.” Will is of course right, although I also blame the lack of insects and petrol/diesel fumes for the decline in our wildlife. Just imagine if we and our children are suffering from asthma what effect does it have on birds and insects?
Mike Brown the BTO rep for Central Yorkshire responded to Andrew Dobby possible osprey sighting, “As you rightly say, all ospreys should be in Africa by now. However, with the weather and climate these days who knows what can happen. I think it’s very unlikely that an Osprey would be stimulated to make its Northward journey so early, I don’t know off hand if there are any winter records of birds in the UK. It would have been quite useful to know what direction the Marton bird was heading. However, I think it’s a case of mis-identification. I’m going to suggest Grey Heron, they fly with a distinct downward arch of the wings (commonly referred to as a strong ID feature for Osprey), head held back with a retracted neck gives the impression of a raptor, the long legs sticking out the back tend to get missed, I’ve done it myself in a first impression view. The broad wings and heavy flight do recall a large raptor. Your suggestion of one of the Harriers is reasonable, Marsh would fit size etc., Hen is much too buoyant in flight to be confused with Osprey or Grey Heron for that matter.” Keep those sightings and questions coming in.