Red Kites & Fracking

Red Kite - Doug Simpson

Red Kite – Doug Simpson

Any Red Kites Nesting Near You?

At the beginning of March, Red Kites probably started thinking about nests and all that entails. Some will no doubt be intent on some refurbishment prior to settling into a new breeding season. Not all established pairs will stick with the previously used nest, sometimes they get more ambitious as though they have learnt from their previous experience. To pairs which lost their nests in the storms in 2015, perhaps they have consulted the manual and will make a rather better job in their efforts this season. Stick-carrying is the first sign of nest construction, culminating in the addition of the lining material. Ideally this would be sheep wool but, unfortunately, plastic materials often find their way onto the nest, occasionally with dire consequences. Plastic can form a waterproof membrane in the nest, causing pooling of water and failure of eggs or death of the young. Yorkshire Red Kites are particularly interested in sightings of pairs in new locations, particularly where this indicates a widening geographical spread of the population. Please let them know if you suspect that this is happening – the information will be treated confidentially. You can do this via the web site form and provide as much information as possible, including, if you can, date and time, weather conditions, exact location, post code or OS grid reference if known.

Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators

This is a book about pollination and habitat management and is aimed specifically at Farmers and land owners. It’s free and can be downloaded from here. You can also order print copies.

This book, published in April 2016, is an informative and useful practical guide for conserving insect pollinators. It brings together practical skills with an in depth understanding of pollinator ecology providing farmers and other land managers with the best available advice on creating and managing habitats for bees on farmland. The book is the distillation of a 20-year research partnership between Marek Nowakowski – a practitioner with a passion for wildlife conservation on farmland – and applied ecologists working for the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.’ Please forward and share with anyone who you think will find it useful.

“Living with fracking”

A note for your diaries. Joanne and Steve White live in Ryedale and are concerned about the proposed fracking in their area. Having spoken to their MP, who visited Pennsylvania to look at the impact of fracking there, they decided to make their own visit, hoping for reassurance. They bought a video camera and went to meet many of the people that their MP had spoken to. The film, ‘Living with fracking’, is the result of that trip. Steve and Joanne have been invited by Nidderdale Climate + Environment Group to come to Glasshouses to show their film and answer questions about it. Coming with them is Dr Tim Thornton, a retired Ryedale GP, to talk on the health impacts of fracking. This event is on Monday, 23 May at 7pm in the Broadbelt Hall in Glasshouses. All are welcome.”

Wildlife Politics

Shirley Dunwell writes, “My first sighting of orange tips (butterflies) near South Stainley on a glorious sunny day. Re insects, generally: Has anyone researched the effect that traffic has on our insect population? Or am I alone in my concern? Surely the effect of hitting billions of them constantly, particularly on fast motorways, but overall any travelling vehicle is lethal to them. The bumblebee becomes a statistic with just one crack of the windscreen and quite often I come across them on the pavement, a sure indication to me that they have been hit. The smaller insects are difficult to detect but I suspect their numbers are depleted dramatically. I certainly don’t have a problem with ‘fly squash’ on my car as used to be the case.” Shirley raises a very interesting point. I suspect that the answer is no. Did you also realise that according to the Asthma UK 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12). Now in my view much of this is caused by vehicle emissions. If these small particles can affect us then imagine the damage it possibly does to our insects. Combine this with pesticides, herbicides etc. etc., and couple all this with the fact that the oil, car and chemical global conglomerates have huge power over our Government, is it any wonder our wildlife is in such decline? What do you think?

North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Unit tweeted that there was a Red Kite shot near Harrogate on 26 April and badger baiting near the West Yorkshire border same morning. Do not report incidents or crime on Twitter, ring 101 or 999 in an emergency.

Moorland Myths Exposed

Martin Tither writes, “Interesting views on moor gripping. Research on this topic has been going on for some years – one of the best-selling Chief Scientist’s Division Research Reports from the Nature Conservancy Council was on precisely this topic, and that was late 70s, early 80s. United Utilities (previously North West Water) was on record as saying that water treatment to remove peat etc. from drinking water was costing them, i.e. customers, millions of pounds. Two further points: run-off from moorland is gradually filling reservoirs, reducing their capacity and having detrimental effects on flooding. And let’s not forget that siltation caused by moorland run-off destroys spawning redds for fish.”

Bluebells - Roger Litton

Bluebells – Roger Litton

Your Sightings

Carol Wedgewood reports a Barn Owl “flying low in front of our barn window just before 9pm last night, at twilight. Such beautiful creatures. They fly so effortlessly. What a treat.” There a few birds which everyone enjoys seeing and Barn Owls are up there at the top of the list. Nice to know it’s flying at the appropriate time. This probably suggests it is finding enough food and doesn’t need to fly during the day. They’ll be feeding young soon, if not already so let’s hope there continues to be sufficient food and the weather remains kind to them. Barn Owls can’t hunt in the rain.

Roger Litton tells me, “Having just read your latest blog, I see mention of bluebells. We went for a short walk at Swinsty reservoir this morning. We were very surprised to see that the bluebells there are nearly fully out.”

Dennis Skinner, “On Wetherby Golf Course last week I spotted again, 2 Buzzards being harassed by one Crow. I think the Buzzards are starting to nest across the River Wharfe. Also many Woodpeckers hammering all over the course – but no sightings yet!”

Chris Beard, “Saw our first Swallows in Nidderdale this afternoon (21 April). Also saw Plover/Lapwing with two very young chicks.” It seems early for lapwing chicks but great to see they have at least reached this stage. What chicks or evidence of breeding have you seen?

Osprey - Sue Evison

Osprey – Sue Evison

Sue Evison reports an Osprey at Gouthwaite Reservoir was around for several days around 10 April.

Steve Kempson wrote on 18 April, “We’ve been out to Staveley this morning and saw quite a few Sand Martins skimming over the lake, whereas our House Martins haven’t put in an appearance today; perhaps they’ve retreated south for a bit (sounds like a good idea to me!).” I couldn’t agree more, Steve.

Roger Brownbridge tells me, “the Goldfinches are basically there on the feeder all day with others in the tree waiting their turn, you can almost see the sunflower seed level going down. Interestingly they ignore the nyger seeds in preference for the sunflower seeds. Saw first brood of ducklings of the year on the River Wharfe today (22 April).” Roger also has Greenfinch visiting his feeder, which is nice, let’s hope they are recovering from the Trichomonosis disease.

Andrew Dobby saw his first Swallow of the year in Scotton on 22 April. Sadly they don’t seem to have brought the summer with them, maybe there was only one!

The Cuckoos are Here!

Robin Hermes wrote, “Your report just outstanding, thanks to it was able to identify a bird I saw at Little Alms Cliff yesterday, for the first time ever, a Cuckoo!”

Nature Reserves Sightings

The Steppe Eagle which escaped from Swinton Park has been found and caught at Nosterfield Nature Reserve. Apparently she was happy to see her handlers and stepped straight onto the glove. Bird brained or what? A beautiful Black-necked Grebe in full breeding plumage has also been reported recently, a Marsh Harrier and three more late-leaving Whooper Swans.

Alan Croucher writes on 22 April, “We had a very enjoyable visit at Nosterfield – picking up just over 50 bird species. I forgot to mention that we had our first Swallow last week at Ripley and we saw more today. Other highlights were Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler (which was singing conveniently from a hedge just by the hide – and was visible too). There were a few more Avocets this week and we saw a couple of Orange-tip butterflies (as well as some Peacocks).

On Sunday 24 April, Robert Brown reported a Swift and Osprey at Farnham Gravel Pits, Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society private nature reserve.

Mandarin - Peter Thomson

Mandarin Ducks – Peter Thomson

Through Your Window

Colin and Ann Snelson from Middlesmoor report, “Saturday, 16 April, Middlesmoor, had our first pair of Siskins in the garden. Heard them first! As usual they were squabbling on the nut feeder. Never known them to be so late appearing. Usually it’s February. Walking in Lofthouse on 18 April saw the first pair of Swallows, but so far they haven’t made it up the hill.”

Adrian M Mosley, tells me, The Siskins are showing no desire to leave the garden feeders – they seem to have decided to stay – here we are mid-April. Goldfinches, Long tailed Tits and Nuthatch daily.” Adrian also saw some Whooper Swans at Nosterfield.

Peter Thomson, who sent in the moorhen photo on the feeder, writes, “he has been on his own for a week or two now which makes me think that his mate is sitting on her first clutch of eggs somewhere. At the moment there are no herons about so let’s hope that their efforts are more productive this year. I thought I should send you a photo of this pair of Mandarins which I saw from my bedroom window at 9 o’clock on Thursday morning. They were exploring the garden and when I opened the window to take some photos they saw me and wandered down towards the beck where they stayed for a few minutes for a photo-shoot before jumping into the water and heading off downstream towards the Nidd. The last time I saw one in the beck was a drake in February 2013 so I was particularly pleased to see a pair. They do seem to be rapidly increasing in numbers all over the country.”

Sue and Lawrie Loveless, “Photographed from just inside our glazed front door about 8.00pm, a Sparrowhawk.”

Outdoors Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

Thursday 5 May Away Trip to Northumberland. Three nights in Northumberland. Booking essential

Moorland Myths Exposed & Spring Arrivals

Wheatear Tom WilsonWheatear – Tom Wilson

Apologies, my computer is misbehaving and I have lost some emails, so if you emailed me recently then please send it again. I believe the problem is now resolved, fingers crossed and sorry for the inconvenience.

First Avian Arrivals of 2016

We ought to be looking out for the first avian arrivals of spring. Already we have lapwing and curlew on territory and our resident passerines are pairing up, marking out territories and maybe even building nests. Birds like rooks are already sat atop their communal tree probably on eggs, perhaps young, whilst in our conifer plantations our few resident crossbill chicks are no doubt nearly ready to leave their home. As birdwatchers what we really look for are the first migrant birds here to breed and it always surprises me that a couple of the earliest arrivals are the ring ouzel and wheatear. Why am I surprised? Well both these birds choose to nest on our often cold and bleak moor tops. Find the ring ouzel around Scar House Reservoir, or maybe around the Barden reservoirs in Wharfedale, whilst the wheatear seems to prefer limestone country, look around Stump Cross caverns and Troller’s Gill. One of the reasons these birds arrive so early may well be because they travel fewer air miles than some of our other summer visitors such as warblers. The ring ouzel for example winters in the Atlas Mountains and northern Africa. Now don’t just go to Scar House and expect to see a ring ouzel, they take some finding, so be patient and vigilant and you may be rewarded. A ring ouzel differs from the blackbird because it is slightly bigger and it sports a white gorget, a crescent shaped area around the throat or upper breast. The female ring ouzel, like its blackbird cousin, is more browny coloured and evidently the gorget can get whiter with age with a juvenile’s barely noticeable. Ring ouzels are sadly in decline, never common, their range size has declined by 43% in last 40 years.

Wheatears, apparently named after the distinctive white rump, white rear, seen as they fly away, are a beautiful bird and unlike the ring ouzel comparatively confiding. Male and female wheatears like the ring ouzel can be distinguished even by humans. The male bird is blue-grey below with black wings with a white forehead, a white eye stripe and a narrow black facial mask. The female is similar, generally browner and duller. The wheatear, or to be precise northern wheatear, winters in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is found across a broad belt that stretches from Mauritania and Mali through northern Nigeria, Central African Republic and Sudan, to Ethiopia and southern Somalia.

Other early migrants include the ubiquitous chiffchaff, it’s always great to hear the first distinctive onomatopoeic chiffchaff call, although by mid-summer the excitement has worn off and the LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) are everywhere. A final early arrival and another we all enjoy seeing is the very much threatened sand martin, now in Nidderdale pretty much confined to breeding in artificial nest sites such as the Nidderdale Birders one at Gouthwaite reservoir, or the one at YWT Staveley Nature Reserve. I was somewhat surprised to look at the BTO fact file for sand martins to find they are not of conservation concern, my guess is this is due to all the sand martin walls built throughout the country which not only provide plenty of nest sites but crucially provide ones which are not prone to flooding. It would be great if you could tell me your first sightings of migrant birds, your first reports of birds nesting and of course eventually how successful they were.

Red Grouse Kat Simmons (cropped)

A Glorious Red Grouse – Kat Simmonds

Moorland Myths

Katie Chabriere of Harrogate, Founder of Harrogate Animals People Planet Initiative, (Katies Letter) wrote to the Harrogate Informer suggesting that burning heather and gripping moorlands could be responsible for Kex Gill, Blubberhouses suffering so many catastrophic landslides, which could cost £33m of taxpayers’ money to resolve. The Moorlands Association spokesperson responded suggesting that they were the solution to the problem not the cause, although they failed to say who burns the heather and grips the moorland. It was however their last sentence which I felt it necessary to query, I have tried three times to respond to this but sadly it seems that Harrogate Informer just aren’t getting my emails for some reason, so this is what I wanted to say, I wonder if you agree?

I am pleased that Amanda Anderson, Director of the The Moorland Association, recognises the importance of moorland and the environment yet she sadly avoids addressing the specific issue of tree planting, gripe blocking and heather burning in Kex Gill, which Kate Chabriere specifically mentioned. Trees are disliked by the shooting fraternity because they get in the way of the line of fire. I trust no one shoots down Kex Gill onto the road below and therefore such planting may well help everyone and harm nothing. The Moorlands Association’s stated commitment to the environment would be confirmed if trees were planted in this area. It is however Ms Anderson’s final paragraph which needs addressing. She says, “Perhaps Ms Chabriere might be interested to know that our moorlands benefit not a ‘tiny minority’, but host internationally recognised habitats and wildlife, boost rural economies to the tune of millions of pounds, are the backbone of our UK lamb industry and are loved by vast numbers of walkers and nature enthusiasts.Nice spin Ms Anderson but please can we address the reality. Our moorlands are a vastly subsidised industry, it has been estimated that £286 per tax payer, per year, is spent on them. The moorlands are subsidised through the Single Farm Payment (more than £17 million in 2012-13) and the Environment Stewardship Scheme (£20 million same year). These payments are supposed to be tied to Government Approved Environment Good Practice, although sadly there seems to be little evidence that this is adequately policed. Shooting grouse and the introduced red-legged partridge and pheasants goes hand in hand with the elimination of all manner of vermin, birds of prey, stoats, weasels, foxes, even apparently domestic pets, pheasants (they become vermin outside the season because they peck grouse eggs) and hedgehogs. The only wildlife the shooters are interested in is there to be killed, it’s as simple as that. The sheep numbers on moors have long been kept low to protect the moors for the grouse and the vast majority of our lamb is obtained from lowland farms. We all know about the hill farmers who struggle to make a living. Moorlands are not natural, left to nature, trees and scrubs would grow in places, land would become more water logged, the wildlife more diverse and the whole environment would benefit, including areas downstream. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that it would be any less loved by walkers and nature enthusiasts as a consequence. It would probably be enjoyed even more.”

Hedgehogs

The British hedgehog population has declined by up to a third over the last 10 years. This petition requests the House of Commons to endorse the practical supporting measures of ‘Hedgehog Street’ and ensure the hedgehog is given better legal protection including adding it to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act by the Government and in particular the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Please sign it.

Nature Reserves

RSPB Fairburn Ings, First Sand Martin 14 March, also two Ravens, Red Kites, Marsh Harrier, three Peregrine, Cetti’s Warbler daily and Firecrest at the weekend.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, 12 March 55 Whooper Swans, Lingham Lake, bumblebee and peacock butterfly 13 March. 16 avocets have been present, may still be, please look for coloured rings. Also there has been a whooper swan movement recently and they have passed over HDNS Farnham, YWT Staveley and the Nosterfield complex.

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Susan Turner (cropped)

Great Spotted Woodpecker – Sue Turner

Through Your Window

Sue (& Geoff) Turner, Wetherby, wrote on Thursday, 10 March 2016, “We have seen no signs of any frogs or spawn in our garden pond but last year the first frog spawn appeared on 2 March. We do have plenty of birds at the moment and they are going through a substantial amount of sunflower hearts. This morning I counted 16 Siskins (both male and female) in next door’s tree and on the feeders. They have been regular visitors this year since 3 January 2016 but not in such great numbers, usually only five or six. A few years ago we only used to see them for a couple of weeks in March but recently they have stayed around for a few months. We do the weekly BTO birdcount so have good records of all our visitors and so far this week we have seen Blackcap 2m and 1f, Bullfinch 2m and 1f, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Collared Dove, 11 Blackbird, Greenfinch 1m, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Songthrush, Chaffinch 2m & 1f (quite often with white fungus on their legs), 7 Woodpigeon, 1 Robin, 1 Dunnock and 1 Greater Spotted Woodpecker (very infrequent visitor). We have heard the Song Thrush singing since early January but this week is the first time we have actually seen it, when it came for a bath in the pond. We do not see House or Tree Sparrows any more and it is ages since a Starling visited our garden. I clean the feeders and water bowls regularly and the sick looking birds we see are usually Chaffinches. On the subject of grey squirrels, they might look cute but we are no lovers of them or the many Woodpigeons. Both these species hoover up all the food we put on the lawn for the ground feeding birds and they seem to be thriving. The squirrels dig holes in the lawn, either burying or looking for food, and once they dug tulip bulbs out of a planter and ate them! Our garden backs onto the Harland Way cycle track so there are lots of very tall self-seeded ashes and sycamores, which the squirrels and Woodpigeons love.

Judith Fawcett reports, “haven’t seen a goldfinch in the garden for a while.”

Pat Inman writes, “For the first time I have redpoll in my garden in Shaw Mills. I noticed them two weeks ago and now they come each day to feed with the other finches on the sunflower hearts. Both they and the siskins hold their own against the larger gold and greenfinches.”

Great squirrel Debate

The squirrel issue rages on, Ann White writes, “Regarding the grey squirrels (tree rats). We too find them a menace, as they commandeer the bird feeders. But we fixed ’em! Put a clamp on to the lid of the feeder, and they can’t get in no matter how they try! Amusing to watch them though – they hang about underneath and have to be satisfied with the ‘droppings’. What we do have, and on a daily basis, are Woodpeckers – they are beautiful, and so interesting to watch. This in the Knox area of Bilton backing on to the old railway embankment. Think that the squirrels kill the pigeons if they can, as we woke up one morning to find hundreds of feathers on out lawn plus a skeleton!! Poor thing.” I would think that it was more likely to be either a sparrowhawk or a fox which killed Ann’s pigeon, probably the former. One way to tell if it’s a mammalian or avian predator is to inspect the feathers, if they have been bitten off, it’s most likely a fox. If they have been pulled out, a raptor. A squirrel would tackle a chick including chewing through a nest box to get at the chick, but I doubt it would attempt a full grown pigeon unless it was already ill or injured.

Notes For Your Diary (See website for full details.)

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Wednesday March 23 19:30 – 21:30 lecture ‘RSPB Wetland Reserves – managing for the future’ Graham White RSPB.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Saturday March 19 10am Outdoor Meeting – visit to Saltholme. Meet at Reserve.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 21st March (Evening) Gouthwaite’s Sand Martin Wall: a presentation reviewing the wall’s development and first year of use.