4 March 2016
Grey 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.”
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 (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.
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.”