Is Spring Hotting Up?

Robin - Barry CarterA couple of award winning photos from Barry Carter, “The Nuthatch image has got a third place in an international photo contest and the Robin won Best Image on Andy Rouse’s Fotobuzz website and also scooped the members’ votes top position! Have a look at my Barry’s new website, it is in its infancy and trying to concentrate mainly on the birds.

Nuthatch - Barry CarterSpring Hots Up

Andrew Willocks tells me, “The first frogs spawn was seen at Harlow Carr on 8 March, the first summer migrant was a Chiffchaff seen and heard at Harlow Carr on 11 and 13 March.“

Roger Litton took these great photos of frogs at Bachelor Garden pond recently. Sadly I can’t pass on the call frogs make when courting; it’s brilliant, really soothing and calming.

John Stockill spotted a red-tailed bumblebee at Studley Royal on 12 March. Over the last few days there have been a few bumblebees around. Robert Brown reported a good number in a tree full of pussy willow which most probably would be tree bees, the ones that take over bird boxes. John and his family “also spotted curlew and a grey wagtail bobbing about The Strid which was roaring after the rain we’ve recently had. A great walk through the woods noticing spring is just around the corner.”

What signs of spring have you seen?

Common Frog8 - Roger LittonFrog – Roger Litton

Do Otters Eat Fish!

Sightings

Ian Law and his daughter “Lisa spotted an Oystercatcher which was about 100 metres away on a dry stone wall above How Stean Beck on Sunday, 12 March.”

John Stockill saw a birch tree with the fungus piptoporus betulinus growing on it. It’s better known, at least to me, as birch bracket or razor strop fungus. So called because Barbers used to ‘strop’ or sharpen their cut-throat razors on tough, leathery strips cut from the surfaces of these polypores. It only grows on birch trees. The 5,000 year old mummy found in the Tyrol and nicknamed Ötzi the Iceman had two pieces of this fungus on a neck thong, it seems unlikely that their purpose was to sharpen a razor! (First Nature). It is much more likely that it was used in its dried form to carry light from place to place or as tinder when starting a new fire, hence another name for it, Tinder Fungus. In case you were wondering, no it’s not poisonous but is bitter tasting, when cut these polypores have a faint but not unpleasant ‘mushroomy’ odour. Usual warning – only forage fungi from supermarket shelves.

John Wade writes, “Fascinating sighting at Ripley end of the Bilton-Ripley walkway, yesterday, 9 March, a beautiful day, was a bat at 2.40pm. I do not know bats, but the book seems to show it as a pipistrelle. Seems the good weather brought it out. Is it unusual?” Most folk even experts can’t identify bats by sight and usually do so using a bat detector. As John says, it was most likely pipistrelle although which of the three varieties is anyone’s guess. Bats will venture out at any time of the year and I once saw one in Borrowdale at New Year, it was a lovely day and probably a few insects about so hopefully like yours it ate and then returned to sleep, come to think of it some uninterrupted sleep would do me good! To answer John’s question it’s not usual but does occur perhaps because the bat was disturbed or more likely because it just woke up and fancied a look round. Maybe because it was during the day it had been disturbed but they usually are sensible enough to hibernate well away from anywhere humans venture into. I guess other creatures may be more likely to disturb it but disturbance is not the only reason bats wake up. If you have a better theory let me know. John also saw a pair of little owls recently at Nosterfield.

Starling Murmuration - Judith FawcettJudith Fawcett took this great photo of a recent starling murmuration at Nosterfield.

Ken Fackrell writes, “Someone asked about otters taking fish from garden ponds. Yes they do, leaving uneaten bits all over the garden, and even leaving an undamaged fish alive by the side of the pond. That one, at least, recovered.” Ken continues, “Grey wagtails are by the footbridge in Nidd Gorge most mornings now,” and “where are my frogs this year? We normally have dozens from mid-February onwards, but not one this year.” Nice to know grey wagtails are around, my personal suspicions are their numbers are falling. Hope your frogs have arrived by now, let me know if that’s not the case. A number of folk have also asked the same question whilst others have said their frog numbers are better than ever. One such person being Neil Anderson. Let me know what the frog situation is with you, please.

Paul Irving writes, “I’ve also had a female blackcap in the garden for about a fortnight. Mink are decreasing in part it seems to be in conjunction with the return of the Otter, a much larger animal. Otters mainly declined due to organochlorine pesticides (DDT et al) and it has taken a long time for them to return. I am 66 and cannot remember them being common before, although I do remember one being nailed through the head onto a keepers gibbet along the Nidd near Knaresborough as a boy. Many fishermen dislike this resurgence of a natural native predator, perhaps they need reminding that their rainbow trout and carp are non-natives and about ecology. Sea Eagles and Ospreys are never going to predate fish in garden ponds even in rural sites, cats, herons, mink and otter even foxes are much much more likely candidates.” I recall reading an article from the turn of the century (1800 to 1900) by a fisherman saying how pleased he was that otter were returning and ‘holting’ in the Nidd Gorge, the reason for their return was because the Nidd was becoming cleaner because lead mining upstream had declined.

Peter Thomson tells me, “You have probably seen in the HDNS sightings that that I saw a black Mink on 5 Jan and two Otters on the early morning of 6 Feb. Having never seen an otter in the beck before, I was very puzzled as to why they should have been there. They were diving for fish right opposite my house then headed downstream towards the Nidd, which must be about a mile away. Having since read your explanation concerning Otter territories I now understand why they were there but I shall be very surprised if I see them again. Last week there was a Little Grebe in the Beck on Wednesday and again on Saturday which is the first time I have seen one there since 1988. He seemed to be catching plenty of small fish on the Wednesday and a rather larger one on the Saturday morning which I was able to photograph from my bedroom window. I have had three different Chaffinches with the papilloma virus on my garden feeders; the two which were worst affected have now disappeared. As for the rest of the garden birds, they all seem to be pairing up and looking for nesting sites. I watched a Tree Sparrow taking dead leaves into a nest box which has been occupied by Great Tits for the previous two years; it will be interesting to see who ends up as this year’s tenant. There has been a family of three Roe Deer regularly roaming the area and a covey of up to 20 Pheasants including a black one which has been around for a few years (if it is the same one).”

News

Two more buzzards shot dead in North Yorkshire

Events

Harrogate District Biodiversity Action Group AGM Saturday, 1 April at RHS Harlow Carr Wolfson Room, Bramall Learning Centre, Crag Lane, Harrogate HG3 1QB 10.00am for guided tour of RHS Harlow Carr Gardens, 10.45 – 12.30 for meeting

Frack Free Harrogate District – Meeting Thursday, 30 March, Friends Meeting House, 12a Queen Parade, Harrogate HG1 5PP. All Welcome.

Zero Carbon Harrogate Tomorrow Demain the film – Showing solutions, telling a feel-good story… … this may be the best way to solve the ecological, economical and social crises that our countries are going through. Demain has had a phenomenal impact in Europe. Read Moreand view the trailer 7.30pm, Monday, 20 March, St Mark’s Church, Leeds Road

Harrogate and District Naturalists Society

Kevin Walker will review the history of recording the flora of the HDNS area over the past 150 years with a focus on the current flora and how it has changed. Wed, 22 March 19:30 – 21:30. St. Robert’s Centre, 2/3 Robert Street, Harrogate at 7.30 p.m. visitor’s fee is £3.00.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Visit to RSPB Fairburn Ings, Saturday, 25 March. Meet 10am Fairburn Ings Car Park or 9am at Trinity for car share

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday, 20 March (Evening). Investigating Wildlife Crime: a presentation by Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer.

Saturday, 25 March. Bolton-on-Swale Lake: an early spring visit to a former sand and gravel quarry off the A1 with wildfowl and woodland birds.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings from the Nosterfield complex via Twitter include: the Starling murmuration, @NosterfieldLNR tonight plus chiffchaff, short-eared owl, smew, avocet, blacktailed godwit, pintail , hare, little egret, white-fronted geese and a pinkfooted goose, goldeneye, and a possible rough leg buzzard large white patch on rump. A request, LADYBRIDGE is a privately owned working farm. Please can those viewing from Carthorpe road stay well clear of farm/quarry entrances. Thanks!

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists Society Sightings Page,

David Gilroy, “My first Chiffchaff calling this morning – outside Betty’s in Harrogate town centre! “
Ian Webster, “Masham, riverside. 3. Kingfisher and 1. Dipper.”
Peter Thomson, “Chiffchaff in scrub on bank of Oak Beck opposite Knox Mill. This is the same place and the same date that I first saw one in 2015.”
Mike Metcalfe, “Sand Martin 1 at Staveley today, (12-3-17) over east lagoon at 16.35”
Mike Smithson, “A chiffchaff at Goldsborough this morning next to the River Nidd. My first of the year. Also two fieldfares, a goldcrest and a pair of shelduck on the farmer’s pond, Midgeley Lane.”
Joe Fryer, “A snipe on Dallowgill area. Also 2 golden plover, one nearly in summer plumage male 1 female 1, green woodpecker 1, red kite 3 +buzzards. Plenty of red grouse.
P & M Robinson, “First chiffchaff of the year heard and seen this morning on Abbey Road in Knaresborough.”

RSPB Fairburn Ings. Recent Reports: 3rd- 8th March

White-fronted Goose 3 on flashes most of week. Barnacle Goose Single throughout; Wigeon c125 on flashes. Pintail Present throughout in small numbers. Smew 2 until 3rd. Cormorant Well developed young in nests. Bittern. Three on 3rd. Male booming on western lagoon occasionally. Great White Egret Single throughout. Red Kite 1-2 Daily. Oystercatcher 6 Daily. Curlew Max 21 seen daily. Snipe Up to 40 recently on Big Hole and Main Bay. Kingfisher Occasional at kingfisher screen and down Cut. Peregrine Two reported most dates from flashes. Nuthatch 1-2 regular on feeders. Goldcrest Max 4 on 6th. Cetti’s Warbler Now three singing intermittently. Chiffchaff Single on 7th. Treecreeper Pairs regularly at VC and down Cut lane .occasionally in song! Fieldfare Daily. Max 125 on 7th. Siskin 8 on 8th. 

Advertisements

Acrobatic Feeders & Has Spring Sprung?

staring-adrian-mosleyStarling – Adrian Mosley

Acrobatic Feeders

Adrian Mosley has kindly sent some great photos of of acrobatic feeders on our garden feeders here on Jennyfield. “It has taken the Siskins some time to appear in numbers this year but this week we had 9 at one time (23rd Feb) on the feeders. I also had a surprise visitor to our garden a Sparrowhawk sitting on the garden seat looking at the feeders longingly – but the birds had flown.”

My grateful thanks to all of you who have thanked me for resuming my blog, much appreciated. Please share with your friends and fellow wildlife watchers. Also see my monthly blog at How Stean Gorge.

Signs of Spring

Rick and Trisha Brewis have already seen “dogs mercury and celandine out in full flower in the Nidd Gorge and flowering blackthorn out in blossom down Bilton Hall Drive! How early is that?” Nowt surprises me any more, when will we get winter this year? I used to enjoy long walks on frozen ground; trudging through thick mud is no alternative. I seem to recall in previous years that not only did we have a Harrogate crocus fortnight the second week in March but also yellow crocuses (croci?) always came first. Now there are hardly yellow ones on the Stray, but loads of purple and white ones.

Meanwhile Jackie reckons that the snowdrops are one of the best displays for years and she saw a red admiral whilst out walking last week. As I write I’ve just received a weather warning for ice, so blame me.

John Wade saw his “first curlew of year on 17/2. On the road to Lindley. There was only one. Earliest I have ever seen one. Robert Brown also reports seeing curlew on their breeding grounds. Also a nice flock of about 20 lapwings. Six or so bramblings still regularly in our garden.”

house-sparrow-adrain-mosleyHouse Sparrow and Goldfinch – Adrian Mosley

Philip Woffinden writes, “The Mallinson estate, Harrogate, frogs have been busy early this year, with frogspawn first being noticed in my pond on 21 February. This compares with 17 March last year, 16 March in 2015, 6 March 2014, 4 March 2013, 26 February 2012, 1 March 2011 and 10 March 2010, so it breaks the record for earliness. The frogs were first apparent in the pond on 16 February, so the ‘boys’ may not have had to wait as long this year before they were able to attract a female with their croaking.”

Doug Simpson, “Had three singing Skylarks at Scargill last Saturday (18/02).”

This one has a mixture of winter visitors and spring signs from Andrew Willocks, “I thought that I would pass on a few sightings from Harlow Carr for February 2017. We had the first Bumble Bee seen this year in the gardens by one of the gardeners Peter Duechar on 20 February with a Peacock butterfly and also the first Curlew was seen flying over the gardens on territory all on the same day. The Waxwings are still coming into roost most evenings into the gardens at Harlow Carr from 4.00pm, they can be viewed in the arboretum at the far end of the gardens, the number ranges from 30 – 60.” Sorry but no guarantee that the waxwings will stay much longer.

Andy Hanby reports whooper swans and pink-footed geese at Nosterfield Nature Reserve. Sorry sand martin report was my error, one hasn’t been seen in the area yet.

What signs of spring have you seen?

Red Kites Poisoned

The Raptor Persecution Website has revealed that two red kites found dead in Nidderdale were poisoned and the Police are appealing for information and warning about the dangers of illegal bird of prey poisoning. The two red kites were found poisoned in Nidderdale in 2016 one near Pateley bridge and the second near Bouthwaite, the second with as many as eight different poisons found following tests. Officers are appealing for information about the two incidents, and warning members of the public about the dangers of this illegal practice. Hard-hitting posters urging people to report suspected wildlife poisoning are being distributed across the county. If you find a mammal or bird that you believe has been poisoned, please do not touch it, as poisons can transfer through skin contact. Also keep youngsters and pets well away. Make a note of the location, including GPS co-ordinates if possible, and anything else that is around or near the animal, and contact the police immediately. Call me naive but do you think ‘hard hitting posters’ will do the trick? What do you think? I shudder every time I see a bird of prey, of any type, near moorland and pheasant shoots. It’s surely time more was done to protect our wildlife and licensing all shoots may be one way of dealing with these illegal activities. Anyone with information about the poisoning of the red kites found in Nidderdale should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, quoting reference number 12160043415, or email ruraltaskforce@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk.

Buzzard Shot

North Yorkshire Police report an incident in which a Buzzard was shot in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A dead buzzard was found on 1 February 2017 in an area called High Skelding, near the village of Grantley. It was in a small coniferous plantation close to where the Ripon Rowel footpath crosses the upper River Skell. If you have any information about this crime please contact North Yorkshire Police on 101. After being connected to North Yorkshire Police select option 1 and quote reference number 12170018791 when passing on information. Alternatively contact the investigating officer PC820 Hickson by email: bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

How To Make A Wildflower Meadow

Visit Friends of The Earth for information on how to grow a wildflower meadow.

siskin-adrian-mosleySiskin – Adrian Mosley

Wildlife Meetings

The Pinewoods Conservation Group is holding their AGM on from 7pm on Thursday, 9 March at The Green Hut, Harlow Ave, Harrogate HG2 0AS. There are plans for Harrogate Borough Council to lease 4 acres of The Pinewoods to Harrogate Spa Water Limited (HSWL). HSWL are then planning to build an extension of up to 5,000 square meters to their current plant on this land. The planning application also includes a proposal to create new landscaping and footpaths within the area with a percentage left open for public access. See here for more info and show your support for the PCG at their AGM.

Do Otters Eat Fish!

Paul Brothers writes, “I know of both dogs and cats that will eat fish, taken straight out of garden ponds. Netting may not be too much of a deterrent to them. I appreciate that a dog may not be able to get into the garden, but a cat certainly would. There was talk of a sea eagle coming into a garden pond near to me a couple of years back. Though the chances of that are pretty slim I would suspect. Osprey and other such birds are also unlikely, but cannot be ruled out. Mink could be another culprit and their numbers are increasing since they escaped from the mink farms.” I still reckon that otters are most likely to raid ponds but agree other wildlife could also do so. Regarding mink it was once considered that otter numbers were depleted because of the escaped mink. This is now considered unlikely to be the reason and polluted waters are a much more likely reason. Following Brexit of course we can now pollute our waters as much as we like so maybe our river life is in danger once again. Mink are much smaller than otters and unlikely to displace them and I believe as a consequence, coupled with culling, they are in fact reducing in numbers. Does anyone have any hard facts on this, please? I recognise of course that our water could be much cleaner than it currently is, it’s just better than it was.

chaffinch-with-fringilla-papilloma-virus-conrad-plowmanChaffinch with fringilla papilloma virus – Conrad Plowman

Conrad Plowman tells me, “I was interested to read of the depredations of an otter in fish ponds recently – in the past week remains of goldfish have been found in a neighbouring garden, within a few metres of the Knaresborough railway viaduct. There is easy access to the ponds from the Nidd. These are almost certainly as a result of an otter (or possibly, but less likely, a mink) attack, during the night. We haven’t seen otters in this stretch for about three years, but will certainly keep a look out. I have attached a photo of a chaffinch with fringilla papilloma virus. We don’t get many chaffinches on our feeders, but all that we see, both male and female, are affected to some extent. The method of transmission seems to be unclear, but bird to bird infection must occur. There seems to be nothing that can be done except trying to keep good hygiene around the feeders, although it is very difficult to do this on the ground. They generally seem to manage to feed without difficulty. I would be interested to know if other readers see this virus locally.

Sightings

Roger Graville asks, “You asked about sparrows in your latest article. We have always had plenty in our garden in Arncliffe Road, but after an enforced temporary move away for a few months we thought many birds may have stopped coming to our then empty feeders. Having returned home just before Christmas we are glad to say that although the variety of birds is only slowly building up again, the flock of sparrows turned up virtually straight away to welcome us back home, and we now regularly have between 10 and 20 as before.” I’m pleased that Roger’s sparrow numbers are doing well. I suspect that there are sadly fewer visiting my garden though. What’s happening near you?

Events

Harrogate Futures Forum:

Growing Pains or Grasping the Nettle… Do we need British horticulture?

Mike Prest of Knaresborough Horticultural Society will share some of his extensive experience in this sector. Presentation and discussion 16 March at 7:30pm, Friends Meeting House, Queen Parade, Harrogate. Admission Free – All Welcome – Refreshments Available

Harrogate Futures Forum presents a series of debates about the ways in which current issues may impact the Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon areas. Contact: Shan Oakes shan@voice-international.net

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society Birds in a Cage, Derek Niemann. This is the story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, a group of British POWs overcome hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. Their experiences leave them scarred, but set them on a path to becoming greats of the conservation movement. This tale is not just about birds or war, but about the human spirit. Derek takes us through the despair, the suffering, the hope, and the laughter, showing us how a love of the natural world can help us in good times – and in bad. You don’t need to be an ornithologist to enjoy this talk! When: Wed March 8 19:30 – 21:30 St. Robert’s Centre, 2/3 Robert Street, Harrogate

Nidderdale Bird Club Friday, 10 March, RSPB RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire: a trip to the south shore of the Ribble Estuary, looking for geese, ducks and waders.Please note this was originally RSPB Marshside.

High Batts Nature Reserve Autumn/winter lectures High Batts Nature Reserve runs an Autumn and Winter Programme of talks and slideshows. These are open to members and to non-members and the venue is The Golden Lion in Ripon, commencing 7.30 pm. Entry costs £2.00. When: 6th March 2017: Roger Parrish: “Birding the Dots” – welcome to Texas.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from twitter include a fantastic Starling murmuration plus bittern, barn owl, white-fronts and smew, great-crested grebe, gadwell.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Will Rich: Two Buzzards circling over New Park
Ian Webster: House by the dam wall 4 Crossbill.
David Gilroy: A female Blackcap in the garden today, along with regular Bullfinches.
Will Rich: Male and female Blackcaps in my New Park garden, Tawny Owls hooting in the early hours on a regular basis and a pair of Bullfinches.
Alan Medforth: Two Dippers with nesting material, between High and Low Bridge, Knaresborough. PLUS One Grey Wagtail, Two Buzzards and heard a Green Woodpecker.
Paul Irving: Allerton Lakes: Glaucous Gull 1st winter, Herring Gull c400, Great BB Gull c150. European White-fronted Goose 17, Mute Swan 15, Red Kite 3 Redwing 150.
Lingham Lake: Little Egret 2, Pintail 3, Dunlin 7, Redshank 10, Ringed Plover 1
Nosterfield NR: Linnet c150, Peregrine 1 adult female
High Batts NR: Chaffinch c60, Brambling 3, Kingfisher 1, Little Egret 1, Buzzard 3

RSPB Fairburn Ings.Recent Reports: 16-23 February

Pink-footed Goose 5 by New Flash on 23rd. White-fronted Goose 3 on north flashes most of week. Barnacle Goose Single throughout. Shelduck 53 max – present daily. Pintail Present throughout in small numbers. Smew Male and redhead throughout. Bittern Single on 21st & 22nd. Great White Egret Single throughout. Red Kite 1-2 on most days. Marsh Harrier Male on 18th. Oystercatcher 4 by 23rd. Curlew Max 25 see daily. Snipe Max 39 on 21st. Woodcock Singles on 14th and 15th. Common Snipe Upto 40 recently on Big Hole and Main Bay. Kingfisher Occasional at kingfisher screen. Peregrine Two reported most dates from flashes. Nuthatch 1-2 regular on feeders. Cetti’s Warbler Single heard on 19th. Chiffchaff 2 on 17th by Parker’s Pond. Treecreeper Pairs regularly at VC and down Cut Lane occasionally in song!. Starling c5K still at roost on lagoons. Stonechat Three on 18th. Grey Wagtail Single on 15th.

Your Frogs, Trees & Sparrowhawk.

Sparrowhawk - Raymond RumboldMale Sparrowhawk – Raymond Rumbold

Through Your Window

Pat and Raymond Rumbold have sent me a lovely male sparrowhawk photo taken from the hall window a few weeks ago. “It was on our back hedge looking bemused as all the birds had disappeared – I wonder why?!”

How Stean Blog

This month’s How Stean Blog is available now, I provide some fascinating insights into that common woodland plant Dog’s Mercury.

Frogspawn Bilton - Roger LittonFrog Spawn – Roger Litton

Frog Spawn

Bob Barker writes, “Not trying to enter the competition but frog spawn was in my pond on Monday 22/2, two big lots. There are now about four lots. I don’t think I look like carrion but on Monday I was weeding my veg patch and a red kite swooped down low over my head, but didn’t land. Maybe their eyesight isn’t as good as I thought it was.” I bet the red kite saw a juicy worm or two, a favourite kite delicacy I believe. Bob’s frog spawn was relatively early this year, I can’t understand why most is so late.

Lucky Dennis Skinner from Wetherby, “came back from the Galapagos Islands on 22 February to find one of my small garden ponds (about 3 x 4ft) full of frog spawn, later iced over! Today I counted 21 frogs in them, all very active before the heavy snow fall.”

Dr Roger Litton writes, “This photo is of the pond at Bachelor Fields, Bilton and shows that the frogs are now out in force spawning (7 March). As the photo shows, the pond was affected by a severe frost overnight Sunday into Monday and some of the top layers have been frosted. This will have killed the affected eggs but fortunately the rest of the spawn, under water, will have survived. However, there is a more serious problem. Someone has released goldfish into the pond. When the tadpoles hatch they will be eagerly devoured by the goldfish. This suggests a dire future for the frogs in this area as the future generations will be decimated by the fish. This introduction is completely irresponsible given that frog numbers nationally are in serious decline (partly because of loss of habitat but this introduction is not going to help locally).” Roger makes a valid point about goldfish and frogs, particularly when like much of our wildlife frogs are in decline due to disease and other factors. What do you think? Have you seen any frogspawn?

Oak - Jon BurgeA Seasonal view by Jon Burge of his Favourite Tree

Your Favourite Tree

Jon Burge writes, “My favourite tree is the one I am looking at at the moment; however, here is one of my all-time favourites – 400m north of the Burnt Yates playground (see photo). Not unusually old, it is one of the largest around that, albeit sculptured by the wind shedding small branches, had not yet lost a great branch. A good example of an oak in its prime. Just after I took the fourth photo, a great storm broke off a 2-ton branch, and it is now a typical oak good for another 300 years of rustic shape.” Brilliant to see this wonderful oak in all it’s moods.

Gretchen Hasselbring, “Just wanted to report something cool. I was looking at a huge yew tree near the clock tower in Ripon this morning, one of the warmest days we’ve had in a while, and in a gust of wind the tree shook off a giant cloud of….? Which hung over it and then dispersed. On closer inspection, it appears to be the pollen from the mature flowers of English/common yew (Taxus baccata). I understand that this cloud could indeed be toxic? Very exciting sighting for me.” The red fleshy bit that covers the yew’s berries is the only part of the tree that is not toxic and eating that is very hazardous because the seeds inside are dangerously toxic. The pollen that Gretchen saw which is released by the trees in early spring is cytotoxic. Cytotoxicity is too complicated for me, visit the weblink for more info and it’s probably good to keep well away from it. All parts of a yew plant are toxic to humans with the exception of the yew berries (however, their seeds are toxic); additionally, male and monoecious yews in this genus release cytotoxic pollen, which can cause headaches, lethargy, aching joints, itching, and skin rashes; it is also a trigger for asthma. Male yews bloom and release abundant amounts of pollen in the spring; completely female yews only trap pollen while producing none. Grazing animals, particularly cattle and horses, are also sometimes found dead near yew trees after eating the leaves, though deer are able to break down the poisons and will eat yew foliage freely. In the wild, deer browsing of yews is often so extensive that wild yew trees are commonly restricted to cliffs and other steep slopes inaccessible to deer. The foliage is also eaten by the larvae of some Lepidopteran insects including the moth Willow Beauty (see Wikipedia). It is believed that yew trees were kept in churchyards to protect grazing animals although another explanation is they were grown in churchyards to make into bows, surely peace loving folk don’t need bows!

Dogs and Wildlife

It’s probably a bit late to ask you to keep your dogs on a lead where sheep are concerned because many have already lambed. Please remember however that pregnant sheep are the most vulnerable to dogs because the dogs don’t need to even attack them, just romp around in the same field. The sheep see them as predator, panic and can abort so please consider the farmer’s livelihood by always keeping your dog on a lead in any field with animals in. This is what is meant by worrying sheep, not a physical attack. Wild animals can be just as vulnerable so if you are anywhere this spring with a dog where wild animals and birds could be breeding, for example along the riverside where ducks are living or in a field where lapwings, curlews or sky larks may be breeding, then again please keep your dogs on a lead and thank you all you considerate dog owners for thinking of our wildlife.

Squirrels

I told you grey squirrels were like Marmite and your responses certainly reflect that.

Tom Peace writes, “Squirrels are awesome little creatures that are curious and very agile!” Visit Toms Blog.

David Uffindall writes, “Thanks for the credit re the picture. We have two, sometimes up to four grey squirrels that come to our garden. We never encourage them to come near the house – they are animals after all – but do like to watch their antics from quickly nipping through the foliage to getting on the wire fence and then taking a leap for the bird feeders. We have a couple of supplies of nuts that they are particularly attracted to and occasionally they take a fancy to my fat balls – sorry, I mean the fat balls in the feeder! They are very agile, great fun to watch and a super challenge to get good pictures of, so I tolerate them quite happily. If they came near the house though….!”

Jo Smalley writes, “Hahahahahaha, I’d rather see red! Love the marmite comparison. So true though.”

Dennis Skinner thinks squirrelsare an absolute nuisance in my garden digging up the lawn and borders and taking the bird food. The pigeons are worse! Does anyone else think pigeons are becoming too many? They seem to breed 5-6 times a year and have few enemies.”

Paul Irving writes, “It doesn’t matter how long alien species that have been brought here by us are here they are still alien, that’s what the science says. Yes, our ecology adapts to an extent, but look what we lost in the case of the grey squirrel, the red, which I can just remember seeing in this area. Personally I’d happily forego the pleasure of all the unnatural aliens such as the Grey Squirrel (got rid of quickly in this garden!), Canada Goose, Fallow Deer, Pheasant and Himalayan Balsam, especially if it meant more of some species of native.”

Mark Haythorne, Penny Pot Gardens, views’ on grey squirrels are, “I’m afraid I’m very firmly in the “against” camp. I can see why people like to watch them as they frolic about – they do appeal to the “cuteness” factor, but my reasons for not being a fan are: (i) they are pretty much responsible for demolishing the indigenous and much less harmful red squirrel, because of the virus they carry and competition for habitat, food etc (ii) raiding the bird feeders and damaging them – they can chew through practically anything; (iii) digging up bulbs and corms etc, and damage to trees, which I suffer from a fair bit but (iv) by far my biggest problem with them is that they decimate garden bird populations by devouring eggs and chicks – I have personally seen them do this more than once with blue tit and chaffinch nests in my garden. I even saw one tackling a wood pigeon! The cat problem and loss of habitat for birds is bad enough – we will lose a decent curlew and skylark population when they plonk 680 houses on the fields between Queen Ethelburga’s and the Army College (B6161 at Oaker Bank) but grey squirrels certainly play a big part in garden bird predation. I’m sure a lot of people will take the ‘live and let live’ approach, but like American signal crayfish, we could certainly do without the little beggars!”

Mike Sims of Burnt Yates visited Fountains Abbey recently where he saw “a pair of Wigeon, a pair of Goosander and several Goldeneye, as well as the occasional Cormorant, the usual Coot, Mute Swans and Mallard and sometimes up to 230 Black Headed Gulls, all seen on the Lake at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. There are Little Grebe on the Lake too and up to 15 seen on the Half Moon Reservoir at the Abbey end of the Water Gardens there. The bird hide near the Visitor Centre is brilliant with Great Spotted Woodpecker being a regular visitor for the peanuts.” Sounds well worth a visit, watching the goldeneye courtship display is always fascinating.

Sightings

Tony Brookes, Old Scriven, Knaresborough, “Yesterday p.m. I was in my study and looked out of the window to see a male sparrowhawk swooping towards the bird feeding centre. As is often the case, the small birds escaped bar one that cowered on the bird table whereupon the sparrowhawk circled the table at great speed at least six or seven times before the terrified bird escaped into the nearby bushes. The sparrowhawk alighted on a branch, defecated and flew off over the park. I have never ever seen a sparrowhawk hunt in this way and could find nothing online to suggest other people have reported this activity. No doubt readers of your website might find this behaviour unusual and may wish to comment or even relate similar occurrences.” Tony then says, “I was reminded by this of the stories of foxes walking around trees where pheasants roost to disorient them and, it is said, make them dizzy and fall out of those trees. Fact or an old wives tale?” It does seem like unusual sparrowhawk behaviour, they usually fly in at great speed like a stealth bomber and if they miss keep on flying. At another time of year I would have said the sparrowhawk was a juvenile and new to the hunting game but to survive winter it can’t be. Sorry but I’m afraid like most things wildlife I don’t get it. I have heard the fox and pheasant tale before and always assume it to be an old wives tale. Like you I would love to hear what other folks have to say, on both issues.

Adrian Wetherill, tweeted, Egyptian goose on Nicholson’s lagoon, Ripon racecourse, 24/2/2016.

Joan Howard tells me, “White crow seen this winter in Morrisons car park. Shoppers walk past it…must think it is a seagull.” I wonder if it’s the same one that keeps getting reported or many? The BTO tells us the maximum recorded age for a crow is 17 years. Much older than I expected, although the typical lifespan is 4 years.

Events

Harrogate and District Naturalists Society See website for full details.

Tuesday 15th March 08:00 – 17:00 Mini-bus trip to RSPB Fairburn & Swillington Ings / St Aidans. Mini-bus trip (booking essential).

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

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

Nidderdale Bird Club See website for full details including costs and to confirm no changes.

Friday 11th March a full day visit to Foulshaw Moss & Dallam Heronry

Saturday 12th March 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.