Keeping The Skies Alive: Swifts and Red Kites

Swift - Gillian Charters

Swift – Gillian Charters

A Talk on the Swift – Rare Within 20 Years!

Because I felt it important to publicise this event which will be held at The Friends Meeting Hall, Harrogate on Thursday 19 May at 7:30 things are a little earlier this week, also because I have only just returned from holiday things are a little rushed this week, so bear with me and please attend this meeting. For many folk the sound of a squadron of Swifts flying low and fast over our rooftops whilst attempting the Swift’s own version of sonic boomS is a delight of hot summer days. Well not only are hot summer days few and far between but Swift numbers are also getting fewer and fewer. In fact they are listed as an amber species for the UK, so it’s worrying. An interesting Swift fact courtesy of the BTO is, “By sleeping with half of its brain at a time, the Swift lives a perpetually aerial life, coming down only for a short period each year to breed.” It seems we humans also have only half a brain focused on the wildlife which share this planet with us and Swifts are reducing in number. Surveys show that unless we take action now, and on a significant scale, within 20 years the Swift will become a rare bird within the UK.

The meeting will discuss what’s happening and what we can do to help them and action includes both creating new nest places and properly protecting existing ones, as well as providing and maintaining habitats more generally that offer them with vital support, principally their flying insect food and water. Speaking will be Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation, a charity created by Edward to save the Swift, to explain why they matter and to tell us how we can help, and that’s what Edward will be talking about at the meeting. It promises to be a fascinating because Edward is a fascinating man in his own right. His working career has been mostly in buildings and facilities management; he was Head of Gallery Management for the Tate Gallery in London from the opening of the Clore Gallery to the creation of Tate Modern. Edward has loved Swifts since childhood. Admission: £5 adults, £2 unwaged. This meeting is organised by Harrogate Green Party.

cuckoo David Tipping

Cuckoo – David Tipping

Swifts and Cuckoos Are Back

A number of you have kindly contacted me to say you have seen Swifts and Cuckoos:

Rick and Trish Brewis, “Seven Swifts seen today (5 May) above Pine Street allotments. First time in my living memory that Swifts have arrived before the Swallows!” Has anyone else seen Swifts before Swallows this year and does it imply Swallow numbers are also declining fast?

Bill and Liz Shaw, “Heard then saw our first Swifts of the year last evening (5 May) over Harrogate, fab.”

Susan Hockey, “heard the Cuckoo today on the hill behind our house off Scar House Road, Upper Nidderdale.

Ian Law, “I heard a Cuckoo this morning whilst walking down to Knaresborough from Bilton Hall on the Beryl Burton cycle way. The nearest location I could work out would be the woods at Scotton Banks.”

Cuckoos are often much closer than they sound and can be seen sitting in exposed places on trees so a careful search, especially with binoculars, can often reveal one. I heard one recently near Thruscross Reservoir. Why wasn’t it called West End reservoir after the village lost under its waters?

Nidd Gorge

Ken Fackrell writes, “Keith Wilkinson is quite right – I walk every morning in the Nidd Gorge and nature is repairing itself rapidly (as it will do everywhere once we stop tampering). This morning I watched a pair of Grey Wagtails feeding on insects in the early morning sun, just by the bridge in the Nidd Gorge – they are frequently there these days.”

Orangetip - Brian Morland.jpg

Orange-tip Butterfly – Brian Morland

Your Sightings

Jacquie Fisher, “Orange-tips, Peacocks and Brimstone butterflies at Harlow Carr, so if you go to see the tulip displays look out for the butterflies, and the bird song is amazing.

Philomena Noonan, “Last evening I was on the Ripley path between the viaduct and the back of Tennyson Avenue when a Barn Owl flew right over me and then flew in front of me down the track and over the next field. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to experience this wonderful sight.”

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, “Drake Garganey, 25 Ringed Plover, 14 Avocet, 10 Dunlin and Lesser Whitethroat.

RSPB Fairburn Ings, “Spoonbill, Black Terns, 4 singing Cetti’s Warblers, Turnstone and Sanderling.

Sue Boal, “Last night I went for a drive with my daughter and we saw a black and white bird about the size of a Crow which we could not identify. It was flying in a strange sort of figure of eight towards the ground as if trying to intimidate or impress something on the ground (we saw a pheasant). It was mostly black underneath with a white bar on its tail and the upper was 50/50 black and white. It was not a magpie or am oyster catcher or a lapwing. Sorry, no photo, but it was outside East Rounton near Northallerton. Would you know what we saw?” I can only guess, but if the pheasant was a female maybe it had young and it was protecting them from a Crow. Crows are particularity prone to feather pigmentation dilution, leucism and maybe this was such a bird. Otherwise I really can’t think what it might be. If it is a Crow it may well be around next time you are in the vicinity so keep a look out for it and see what species of birds, if any, it associates with. Does any one else have any ideas?

Steve Kempson, “This morning Mrs K and I went for our annual outing to woods near Mickley for the bluebells, which are currently out in drifts (interspersed with celandines, stitchwort and wood anemones) and looking absolutely superb in today’s sunshine. A good variety of butterflies around too – saw Brimstone, Orange tip, Peacock and (I think) a Speckled Wood.

Tony Mawson had a special sighting recently, an Alpine Swift circling over the junction of Knox Avenue and Ripley Drive, Bilton. A large Swift with very pale underbelly, left in the direction of Killinghall.

Red Kite - Doug Simpson

A Magnificent Red Kite – Doug Simpson

Red Kite Killings

It’s great that so much support red kites and are appalled by their unnecessary deaths and I think your comments are worth recording. Richard Yeoman, “I couldn’t agree more – bet the bastards that shoot birds of prey would be first to go to the police if someone shot at them! If enough people are “on side” it might be worth a petition I know Red Kites are protected but that doesn’t help if the bad guys are not “caught on camera” – no proof – no prosecution.” Does anyone have any further thoughts on what can be done locally? Pete Seamen says, “Well Nigel I can only agree with your terminology for such scum. I would like to see them banned from having shotgun or firearm certificates for a length of time if not for life. This may cost some their jobs but if a business such as game shoots cannot exist without breaking the law maybe it needs seriously looking at.” Nick “Totally agree with these sentiments. Until the employers of gamekeepers are held responsible for the actions of their keepers and punished accordingly, I can’t see things changing. Fine words from the likes of the Moorland Association are meaningless.” Tom’s Nature-up-close Photography and Mindfulness Blog “My brother-in-law and his family and friends hunt geese and ducks a lot. Yet they claim that they love nature! I hope they never become very fond of me! Geese and ducks are highly intelligent animals with tight family bonds. Some birds are very intelligent. We have a parrot that understands abstract ideas (and tells you things to prove it)! For instance, the other day I said to her (when she dropped a sweet potato that I gave her), “You are spoiled rotten!” She replied, “So are you!” Tony Rogerson says, “To me the answer is relatively simple: grouse moors should be operated under licence and if wildlife crime is found to have taken place on the estate, or by an employee of the estate while undertaking duties on behalf of their employer (on or off the estate), the licence should be revoked.” Paul V Irving says: “I think bastards is fair enough, although given that there are some very nice people born out of wedlock I usually refer to such people as “Criminal Scum.” As you say there is no purpose in killing Red Kites but even if there were they are protected, all birds of prey are protected and have been since the 1954 Protection of Birds Act. Quite how long does it take before some presumably not very bright people get it. For those people that think there is rather too much of this sort of behaviour in our uplands, along with all the environmental downsides of driven grouse shooting that are only now all becoming better known – water colouration, a contribution to flooding, a reduction in downstream biodiversity etc they could consider signing this petition to ban driven grouse shooting at :-https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003.” Trevor Brown, “Bloody hell Eccup is the place I saw my first Red Kite.” Judith Fawcett, “the world has gone mad. I’m lost for words on this one.” Luke Steele, “A worrying development. Eccup has always appeared a safe haven for birds of prey.” The English Exile, “????holes, what do they get out of this .” Peter Burton, “makes me so angry.” Someone else said, “Time to up the punishment. Mindless cretins.” Patricia McDermott, “why oh why?” Charles Gibson, “Don’t blame you in the least, Nigel. If only we could stamp it out. The world would be a better place.” Steve Harris, “Clearly yet another criminal has (probably legitimate) access to a firearm. Worrying deceit and misuse.” Christine Holmes, “I completely agree with you on the killing of the Red Kites. These beautiful birds are such a delight to see. I cannot understand the mentality of these people. Guns kill. What or who is the next victim going to be?” Tony Mawson “My feelings are the same as yours re Red Kites, hope Gareth Jones has luck catching those responsible.”

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 16 May(Evening) Staveley YWT Nature Reserve

Sunday 22 MayFull-Day Bird Watch in the AONB

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Tuesday 17 may – Great Whernside, Upper Nidderdale

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Resolve to Help Wildlife

Bullfinch - Nigel Heptinstall.JPG

Male Bullfinch at a well-stocked feeder

After Christmas and seeing New Year in in Keswick I managed to catch either bronchitis or pneumonia, hence the delay in writing this. Jackie’s description of my illness fails to realise the gravity of the situation and therefore I won’t mention what she calls it. The floods have been dreadful for folk in Keswick and throughout Britain, including Knaresborough and other local places and our thoughts go out to them.

Have you made any New Year Resolutions? How many have you broken already? If you are concerned about wildlife then they certainly need your help. The BTO published a report in December entitled, “The north bears the brunt of a bad breeding season.” The spells of cool, wet weather that much of Britain and Ireland experienced in late spring and summer 2015 left many birds struggling to breed, with more northerly populations faring particularly badly. This followed on a good breeding season the previous year and a mild winter but the poor breeding conditions in spring 2015 meant the numbers of chicks reared were below average for many of our common resident birds. It also seems that a lack of voles this year affected barn owl numbers with their brood sizes the lowest on records. I still reckon locally in Nidderdale we still seem to have good numbers of these lovely birds but time will tell how well they fare. I suspect that when the birds suffer so do the rest of our wildlife, I wonder how our mammals are faring?

So what can we do to help? Well make sure your feeders are well stocked, especially as the seasonal berries now seem to be exhausted and what about helping to monitor these numbers? The BTO have a number of surveys which get you out into the countryside whilst at the same time providing valuable scientific information. Visit BTO Volunteer Surveys for more info and discover whether you have the appropriate skills to help, you may be surprised. For example get the free Bird Track app and log the birds you see in 2016 or if you check up on what’s visiting your well-stocked feeders then why not pass that information on to the BTO through their Garden Birdwatch scheme. Your weekly observations of birds (or indeed other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers.

This also the time of year when the RSPB looks for their citizen scientists. This year the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place over the weekend of 30-31 January 2016. Record what you see and get the kids involved. You need to start planning now so request a FREE pack or simply register your details to save time on the weekend and get £5 off your next purchase in the RSPB shop. (Must be 18 or over. Terms and conditions apply.) More than half a million people from across the UK are set to take part, the more the merrier and the more relevant the information is.

cropped-banner-no-frack-allianceNidderdale is at Risk from Fracking?

Frack or Fiction – Bill Rigby, Knaresborough Town Councillor and Chair of the Harrogate and District Alliance Against Fracking (HADAAF), will be addressing a meeting of Nidderdale Environmental Group on Monday, 8 February, 7.30pm, at the Broadbelt Hall, Glasshouses. The next tranche of licences will be released in early 2016, and is likely to include our Nidderdale in the drive to frack in the North. Will we become a sacrificial zone to satisfy the pursuit of polluting fossil fuel energy production? Experiences from the USA have been ignored, and expert opinion discounted. To find out more make a note in your diary and go to the meeting. Tea will be served from 7.00pm.

Early Spring

Roger Litton wrote, “We went for a walk at Fewston reservoir on New Year’s Day and were amazed to find this red campion in flower. There were two others on a nearby stem but they weren’t fully open – presumably late survivors from the autumn. We also have roses still flowering on two bushes in the garden. We have recently seen snowdrops in flower at Harlow Carr and pictures of daffodils in flower in December. We have also been surprised by an invasion of blackbirds – at one point eight males and one female together under one feeder. They were at their peak in the third week of December but we are still seeing them, albeit in smaller numbers. As one would expect (and as the photo shows) they are after the seed which the smaller birds drop from the feeders. We have plenty of blue tits, great tits and goldfinches, plus the odd chaffinch and occasional nuthatch, on the feeders but haven’t seen a single thrush so far this winter.” I would think the red campion is responding to the unseasonal weather rather than persisting since autumn. The number of blackbirds suggests that Roger has had an influx of winter migrants, possibly from Scandinavia. I believe the fact that they are sociable separates them from our resident birds, which could also have migrated further south or abroad. Our blackbirds tend to be very territorial.

Phil Atkins sent some very recent images “Firstly, a silver birch tree close to the public footpath on the Harewood Estate, showing an unusual growth pattern (mid-Dec 2015). Secondly, daffodils in bloom on 1 January just inside the main entrance to the Valley Gardens, Harrogate. Yesterday, I also saw two or three in flower at the bottom of Forest Lane, Knaresborough, which are always early, but not usually as early as this. Before Christmas there were widespread reports of daffodils in bloom en masse in various parts of the UK, but these are the first I’ve seen.” It’s a strange growth pattern on the tree, do you know what might have caused it? It’s a strange year also for early flowering plants, I’m concerned because the spring heather in my garden is already flowering and that may mean no nectar for the early bees and other insects. Let me know what early flowering plants you have seen.

Sightings

Joy Hartley asked, “Can you suggest what we do to a peacock butterfly which we have found in our house. It’s still alive and I’ve put it in a small cardboard box, would shredded paper be good and perhaps leave it in a cool place perhaps in the cellar?” Butterfly Conservation advise “The best solution is to rehouse the butterfly into a suitable location. Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down. Once calmed down you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse. Just remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring. If you have no options at all for suitable hibernation places, then it would be best to keep the butterfly as cool as possible, to minimise activity, and then to release it outside during a spell of nice weather.” I suspect unless the weather gets much colder we might find this problem reappearing so follow the experts.

Steve Kempson contacted me, “I went out to Swinsty reservoir yesterday with my wife and younger daughter for our usual New Year’s Day walk, and near to Swinsty Hall got a good look at what I’m pretty sure was a Firecrest. At first I thought it was a Goldcrest, but it came within a few feet of us and clearly had a dark line running through the eye – having checked my reference books and the RSPB guide on the internet, I can’t see that it could have been anything else (and the woodland location / ‘passage’ distribution on the RSPB map all seem to fit). What do you think? Have you had any other reports of Firecrest sightings? I’m also pleased to say that recently we’ve had regular visits to our peanut holder from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker (possibly the same one I first reported to you a few weeks ago): I still haven’t managed to get a decent photo of it (it’s very shy and flies off at the slightest disturbance) but hopefully I’ll get another chance soon.” Firecrest are a very rare bird locally, however after saying that Steve’s description of a dark line running through the eye is diagnostic. This video from the BTO may help with separating the two species. I have to confess I cannot recall ever having had any local sightings myself, or reported to me in the past 20 years. I do wonder if they are overlooked because of the close similarity with goldcrest so I wouldn’t dismiss Steve’s sightings. In fact it seems likely. Glad to hear the great-spotted woodpecker is still visiting.

Blackcap - Judith Fawcett

Blackcap – Judith Fawcett

Through The Window

Judith Fawcett, (@FawcettJudith) from Jennyfields, Harrogate has had some interesting local sightings, including siskin, sparrowhawk, redpoll, blackcap, long-tailed tit, a male blackcap. Judith also tells me about a pair of Green Parakeets, seen near Yarrow Drive, by a resident and by Saltergate roundabout. Follow Judith on twitter for her amazing ‘Through The Window’ sightings.