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.


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..


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”