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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Garden Birds in Trouble – You Can Help!

Great Tit - Julie AddymanGreat Tit – Julie Addyman

To learn more about Chacking Birds and White Bums visit my How Stean blog. Chacking is the onomatopoeic call of the ring ouzel and white bums are sported by wheatears.

2015 Poor Breeding Year for Garden Birds

The British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch results for 2015 are now available, and they reveal the full impact last year’s wet spring on our garden birds. Some of the birds that had a particularly poor year were those that are most familiar to us, such as Blackbird and Blue Tit. Your help is needed to find out if this year we will see common garden bird numbers recover from 2015’s poor breeding season. Many folk have been saying, at least to me, ‘our garden bird numbers are down, maybe because we have had such a mild winter that they are still finding food in the countryside.’ I have always felt this to be a bit dubious because my excursions into the countryside have revealed an equally worrying lack of birds. Even the number of winter migrants seems to me to be well down on previous years. My fears are based on interested observations rather than any scientific evidence; sadly the BTO are able to provide that evidence and it’s not good news.

The BTO tell us the annual results of the BTO Garden BirdWatch show an interesting story for some of our more common garden birds, with Blue Tit, Great Tit and Blackbird numbers all well below average during the second half of 2015. Blackbird numbers were 13% lower than usual between June and December, whilst both Blue Tit and Great Tit were at their lowest numbers on record for June, down 19% and 14% respectively. This is the time of year when the numbers of these species seen in gardens normally rises sharply, as juveniles leave the nest and join their parents at garden feeding stations. It is thought that these results were due to a poor breeding season, which was caused by cold, wet weather in the spring, resulting in fewer juvenile birds. Data collected by BTO Nest Record Scheme volunteers show that the number of chicks fledged per Blackbird nest in 2015 was the lowest since records began in the mid-1960s. Small clutches meant that numbers of young reared by both Blue and Great Tits were also significantly lower than average. For a full report for many of our familiar garden birds visit The BTO Garden BirdWatch web page. The BTO needs your help to discover more about our garden birds. We often enjoy watching ‘our birds’; well why not do it on a weekly basis, collect some simple records and contribute to the welfare of our wildlife. Visit the BTO Big Garden Bird Watch to find our more. Garden BirdWatch is funded through the annual subscription paid by its participants through an annual subscription of £17 and the BTO are extremely grateful for the support that they provide. Remember that the BTO is not well off hence the financial need. Join today and receive a free copy of GardenBirds & Wildlife (cover price £14.99). You’ll also receive four copies of Bird Table (their quarterly magazine), be able to access GBW Online (your very own web-based notebook for recording your garden wildlife) and get expert advice from the BTO to help you identify, understand and look after the wildlife in your garden.

Adder 200316 - Roger Litton

Adder – Roger Litton

Roger Litton writes, “In defiance of the weather forecast, this morning dawned bright and clear with not a cloud in the sky so I decided to set off early in the hope of adder-spotting on the moors above Greenhow. There is a south-east facing bank which (from experience of previous years) seems to be a hibernaculum where the adders hibernate over winter. In the spring the males come out before the females to bask and warm up in the early morning sunshine. This morning I spotted one adder – a male of course although a small one. As the photo shows, he felt me coming so retreated to a small hole where he coiled round (one can just make out his head looking fixedly at me from the top of the coils!). I suspect that we are still a little early in the season but over the next three or four weeks more and more should be visible – but only, of course, if the weather conditions are suitable; if it’s chilly or rainy the adders don’t come out!

Milner's Lane signMilner’s Lane – Keith Wilkinson

Grateful Thanks for a Job Well Done

Folk looking for Milner’s Lane here in Bilton, near the Gardeners Arms, can be grateful to a student from Grove Road Academy. Keith Wilkinson of Bilton Conservation Group explains, “It’s the latest piece of work by a student from Grove Academy – re-instating the way marker on Milner’s Lane outside the Gardeners Arms. The original succumbed to wind, weather and vandals! These Secondary Students have difficulty coping with mainstream education and spend part of their week doing field craft such as this. Very gratifying to see them respond to a bit of close attention/support, especially when they can see a positive outcome from their efforts.”

Frog Spawn Update

Gwen Turner writes, “Oddly and sadly I have had only two frogs seen in our pond in Duchy Road (Harrogate) so far this year and no frogspawn. Normally the pond would have been churning for weeks and full of spawn. A friend in Starbeck similarly has had no frogs so far. I note from your blog that others have had lots of spawn in Wetherby and elsewhere. I hope that the frog virus has not reached Harrogate or are they just late?” I haven’t heard of any frog disease locally but let me know if you know better. However with all the pollution in the atmosphere it surprises me that even us humans are still alive. In 2010 The Mail Online stated that frog numbers had plummeted by 80%. I doubt that happened here but safeguards such as not moving frogs or spawn between ponds and sterilising all pond equipment after use seem a sensible precaution. Sue Southwell from Brompton near Northallerton tells me, “By the way our froggies were a bit late this year. They only started having fun last Tuesday!! However they have been at it pretty consistently since and we have a pond of frogspawn – much to our grandchildren Noah and Imogen’s delight! Though they had expected to see tadpoles the next day.” The miracle of metamorphosis isn’t that wonderful, but great to hear the grandkids are interested. Philip Woffinden “first noticed Frogspawn in our Mallinson Oval pond on 17 March, which is approximately 13 days later than the average date for the last five years, but only one day later than last year. There seems to be a fairly normal amount of it.” Sadly Gwen Turner still hasn’t had any more frogs visiting by 1st April.

Sam Walker from the Council tells me that someone has kindly volunteered to ‘house’ the goldfish from Bachelor Fields pond so our grateful thanks to that lovely person. Let’s hope the frogs continue to flourish know and no more goldfish are released into the pond.

Sightings

Alan and Trish Croucher heard their first chiffchaff of the year at Blubberhouses on 20 March.

Neil Anderson followed up my recent notes on grey squirrel with a report he read recently stating that goshawk keep grey squirrel numbers in check. In Derbyshire for instance grey squirrel form 95% of the goshawks’ diet. A spot in Suffolk was reported to have 21 grey squirrel tails under the nest. Apparently goshawk also like rats, so, question to gamekeepers, what’s not to like about goshawks?

Rick and Trisha Brewis have reported the first bluebell flowers out in Nidd Gorge and a pair of barn owls seen daily on their land. Jackie and I saw a single barn owl quartering the Bilton Sewerage farm this week just before dusk.

Through Your Window

Mike Sims, tells me, “A pair of Robins wait for me every morning in my garden at Burnt Yates. When I whistle, they fly down to eat the meal worms I put out. They have now nested in an open fronted nest box and have already laid one egg!”

Sue Turner writes, “Just an update on our wildlife sightings. We now have two lots of frogspawn, the first appeared on 2nd March and the second lot on 25th March but we have still not seen any frogs! This seems to be the usual for our garden pond as we always get several lots of frogspawn but never see any of these lovely creatures at spawning time. We are still getting five or six Siskins daily and on 25th March we saw one male Brambling and two females at the same time. One of the females has been spotted most days pecking round the lawn or sitting in a tree but it does not go on any of the feeders. We have had Bramblings in previous winters but only in very cold weather so it was lovely to see the male in resplendent plumage. We are still getting a regular male Blackcap who visits all the different feeders. We have also had a couple of Redpolls which visited the sunflower hearts this week and heard our first Chiffchaff, but could not spot it anywhere, even with binoculars. We have three Blue Tits around and one has been overnighting in the box for a few weeks but there is no sign of any nesting material in the box. They have cleaned it out immaculately as there were a lot of droppings which had been deposited since we thoroughly cleaned it out in the autumn. We have had one male and one female Greenfinch this week, both looking very healthy together with two male and two female Bullfinches this morning. We have not seen any Long Tailed Tits since mid-February but see two or three Goldfinches daily together with seven or eight Blackbirds, who spend most of their time fighting.” Some great birds visiting Sue’s garden, I guess her frogs must be nocturnal, a bit late probably now but the sound of frogs calling is for me evidence that spring is round the corner and is surely one of nature’s most welcome sounds.

Nature Reserves

An unusual visitor to Nosterfield Nature Reserve recently, an eagle. Years ago we might have thought it was a juvenile from either The Lakes or Cheviots but this one is most likely a steppe eagle escaped from Swinton Park and wearing jessies. The steppe eagle’s diet is largely fresh carrion of all kinds, but it will kill rodents and other small mammals up to the size of a hare, and birds up to the size of partridges. I guess this means your pets and lambs are safe. Also seen recently at the Nosterfield complex were sand martins and a lone house martin, plus six ruff, a black-tailed godwit and a little egret. Also final count of lapwing nests yesterday was 29, so increasing all the time. Shoveler at 61 individuals also looks very promising.

The following are recent highlights at RSPB Fairburn Ings:

Whooper Swan Single on 30th, Pintail Pair throughout, Smew No sightings. Last report was of a redhead on 22nd. Goosander Present daily cut/Village Bay and river in declining numbers. Bittern Single heard booming most days.Little Egret 5+ pairs nest building. Max count 13 birds, Two birds with rings one of these paired up. Grey Heron Record breeding numbers (nearly double previous highest figure). 28+ nests most nests with young. Red Kite 1-3 daily. Marsh Harrier Single female/immature on 30th. The overwintering immature male appears to have departed.Osprey* Two northwest on 30th (1530 hours and 1620 hours). Avocet Present daily – Main bay and Hickson’s max 21. Little Ringed Plover Singles on 28th and 31st. Curlew Daily, max 11. Redshank Single on 26th. Kingfisher Daily. Charlie’s hide and Kingfisher screen at VC best spots. Peregrine Up to 2 daily. Willow tit Currently 8 singing males. Sand Martin Daily. Max count 600+ on 30th migrating northwest. Swallow First on 25th. Subsequently c5 daily. House Martin Single on 29th. Cetti’s Warbler Up to 4 singing males throughout Fieldfare Passage flock of 50 north on 29th..

Snippets

A humble coot ringed in Pembrokeshire winged its way over to Latvia!

Notes For Your Diary

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 8th April Up t’dale to Scar House Reservoir.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Monday 11 April 7:30pm Indoor Meeting – Ken Hutchinson “Ring Ouzels in Rosedale”

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

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.”