Do Otters Eat Fish!

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Otter, photographed by Stephen Tomlinson in Nidd Gorge

Sheila Brown emailed (15-1-17), “I have a small pond in my garden and the other morning, on going to look at the pond which is quite shallow, I found that two of my goldfish had disappeared, the pond had a slight greasy look to it and some scales were at the bottom of it. The fish were quite big as they had been in there at least five years. Have you any idea what might have taken them? The night before they were missing my small dog had gone into the garden about 10.30 and ran down to the pond going hell for leather, so maybe she disturbed something.” This was followed up on 6-2-17 by a similar question from Ian Law, “Do you know how far an otter will travel from a river or lake? This morning I noticed goldfish scales on paving adjacent to my garden pond. It then became clear that an animal had been in the pond as the pump and a large water plant had been tipped over and were strewn across the bottom. I seem to have lost all my 11 fish which includes a largish carp. I have ruled out a heron as the pond is netted and the force required to upset the pump and immersed plant would be considerable. Have you had any recent similar reports? I live on Fairways Avenue with the railway at the bottom of my garden.” At this time of year young male otters are leaving their place of birth and travelling often long distances to find new territories and females. These distances can include going over the watershed from one valley to another i.e. Nidderdale to Wharfedale and vice versa. This can be a dangerous time for them because if they are discovered in another male’s territory the incumbent male may resort to killing them. Otters feed on fish and it’s inevitable that they will take fish from people’s ponds but there are steps you might consider taking to protect your fish, these can include a fence around your pond. Some fishing lakes surround their lake with electric fences but you could just build a steel fence. The problem with fences is whilst they might be successful all you are really doing is shifting the problem elsewhere and doing your neighbours no favours. In a small garden pond you might consider an appropriate refuge for your fish where an otter can’t enter such as a long drainpipe. But here’s another suggestion you might wish to consider. Most fish introduced to ponds and fishing lakes are carp species, non-native species, and this can create untold problems for native species so why not at least in your garden pond consider turning it into a wildlife area without any fish. This will allow our native animals to find their own way in and you may be rewarded with the joy of mating frogs calling, other amphibians, birds not seen before in your pond, although perhaps not herons, and hedgehogs, foxes and badgers may call in for a drink – a different form of pond but one which might be just as rewarding as a few non-native fish. Finally, it is now illegal to deliberately or recklessly kill, injure or take (capture) an otter, deliberately or recklessly disturb or harass an otter, damage, destroy or obstruct access to a breeding site or resting place of an otter (i.e an otter shelter). Thus, otter shelters are legally protected whether or not an otter is present. If you know of such a crime let the Police know.

hedgehog-kathleen-pogson

Hedgehog – Kathleen Pogson

Sightings

You have sent in some great photos and interesting sightings, my apologies for getting behind somewhat but hopefully I will be back to more normal ‘blogging’ from now on. I have also not responded personally to every one of your sightings, please don’t take it personally, I intend to start doing so again from this week.

Sue (& Geoff) Turner took a post Christmas walk along the Harland Way from Wetherby to Spofforth on a cold and frosty day. It was interesting what they saw. “Wren x 1, Chiffchaff x 1 (this is the first time we have ever seen one in December and we presume it was a Chiffchaff as we could not see the colour of its legs and we have never seen any Willow Warblers around this area), Redwing x 8, Fieldfare x 3 and a Heron (across a field in the direction of Kirk Deighton where there is a small stream) Bullfinch one male and a few blackbirds and robins. Unusually we did not see any Red Kites but perhaps there were no thermals. They regularly fly over our estate and we also see them over my son’s estate in the Bachelor/Bilton area of Harrogate and my daughter’s estate in Garforth. We do the BTO weekly garden bird survey so these numbers are for December in our garden. Blackbirds (20+ when we put fresh food out on the lawn), Woodpigeons (as many as 8 in the garden at the same time), Collared Dove 2, Goldfinch 10, Bullfinch 3 Male 2 Female (This morning we saw 3 Females at the same time), Starling 3, Blue Tit 3, Great Tit 2, Coal Tit 1, Long Tailed Tit 5, Chaffinch 7, Robin 2, Blackcap 2 Male (we have regularly had one male in December but saw two together on the 30th), Carrion Crow x 1, Magpie x 2, Dunnock x 2. We do not see House Sparrows any more but they do frequent some of the hedges and gardens when we walk into Wetherby. We did get a brief visit from a Tree Sparrow on 26th November and have been feeding a hedgehog until the beginning of December. In the summer we have had as many as three hedgehogs at the same time so these must be doing quite well in this area. My neighbour also feeds the hedgehogs and they have access to gardens on either side of us both at the back and front. We regularly have at least three grey squirrels in the garden as they frequent the tall sycamores and ash trees along the Harland Way, which our garden backs onto.” Some impressive sightings from Sue, of which the two summer migrants, chiffchaff and blackcap, are perhaps top of the list. I’m somewhat concerned at the lack of sparrows, house and tree. Tree sparrows seem to be making a bit of a comeback locally after a big decline but house sparrow numbers seem to be dropping, all very worrying. What do you see in your garden and especially how do sparrows fare near you?

I am very grateful to Linda O’Carroll who, despite having a broken right arm making typing very difficult, wrote about her garden birds. “Recently, due to my temporary disability, my hulled sunflower seeds in the Jagunda hopper feeder at the back of the house ran out. It’s the bullfinches‘ favourite feeder, and most of them reluctantly moved to the table seed (mostly corn/millet and some black sunflower) feeder in the side garden, however one bright-coloured male bullfinch started banging on a back window, out of sight of feeders, where I tend to sit for hours at computer. I told myself that bullfinches can’t possibly ask for food at the correct window like that (I wasn’t even by the window when the bullfinch tapped as I can’t work there so much since the injury). So anyway I felt guilty, put hulled sunflower seed near the empty Jagunda feeder, and the tapping stopped. My question is can bullfinches really ask for food by tapping, and can they really work out which window to tap on? I have had various tits sort of tapping on windows for decades, but they are probably after putty and cobwebbed insects. Bullfinch diet doesn’t allow for that explanation though.” I have never heard of a bullfinch tapping for food and we will never really know if it doing so was just coincidence or not, but it did stop when the food was replaced and I often think that our wildlife is far cleverer than we give it credit for, so why not?

great-white-egret-kathleen-pogson

Great White Egret – Kathleen Pogson

Kathleen Pogson sent me some photos that were taken at the end of 2016 – “the great white egret at Fairburn and the hedgehog in our garden. Not sure what the egret has caught, maybe an eel?” Sadly eels are now quite scarce and it could be that the catch is a river lamprey although these are struggling as well.

Bill Rigby and Shan Oakes wrote, “This week you may have seen huge ‘V’ formation skeins of geese flying, Goldfinch: we are seeing them regularly (Tentergate in Knaresborough), feeding on teasels and evening primrose seeds.” Did you see the geese? They were pink-footed. Shan also tells me, “the queen wasp (seen by Bill Shaw) may well have been one from our house! We keep finding them in the house vaguely trying to get out the windows so we help them out, into the cold. Why are they in our house? Could it be they are coming in in the pine wood we burn in the stove?” I’m not sure I can answer this, at this time of year they have probably been disturbed from hibernation or unseasonally mild weather may have woken them up. I wonder if they are trying to find a suitable hibernation place inside the house and it may be good to release them in a garden shed or similar.

Events

Carole Turner asked me to share this with you. “Birders against Wildlife Crime have an appeal for funds for tagging raptors. It has already reached its target but the more money it gets the more birds can be tagged. If you would be so kind to publicise this on your next newsletter, there are 49 days left to contribute. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/BAWC01

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Hartlepool, Teesmouth and RSPB Saltholme Minibus trip (booking required). Tuesday, February 14 08:30 – 18:00

Harrogate RSPB Group

Talk by Ian Newton Location: Christchurch Hall, The Stray, Harrogate, Birds of the Masai Mara Monday, 13 February, 7.30pm. Price: £3 for Members and £4 for Visitors

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings from twitter include; bittern and waxwing.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Ian Webster – Allerton Park landfill site 3 Glaucous Gull (juvenile) 2 Iceland Gull (juvenile)
17 White Fronted Geese.
David PostlethwaiteBittern at Ripon Canal Lagoon (Nicholson’s Lagoon) this morning but no sign of the smew.
David Gilroy – At least 86 Curlews and 32 Oystercatchers now on Ripon Racecourse. One drake Pintail on the lagoon at the far end of Ripon Canal. One male Brambling in our Harrogate garden today – the first of the winter.
Rob Brown – c 40 waxwings Nidderdale Drive, Knaresborough. Mobile in area because of mistle thrush
Marie HarbourStoat in winter white coat at Brimham Rocks.
09:52 06-02-2017
Peter Thomson – Opened my bedroom curtains at 7:20 this morning as dawn was breaking and saw the surface of a very calm Oak Beck suddenly become very agitated as two small brown heads broke the surface, then disappeared to be followed by the unmistakeable smooth tails of Otters as they continued on their way downstream. This is a first for here and I can only assume that they were on their way back to the Nidd.

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Is Austerity Saving Our Grass Verges?

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Wrexham Wild Flower Verge – Ian Humphreys of Ian Humphreys Photography

There’s probably not much to be grateful to austerity for but it seems to have stopped North Yorkshire cutting their grass verges and as a consequence they are now blooming with wild flowers and that’s great news for our insects. It may of course be a deliberate North Yorkshire policy to help and enhance our wildlife, whatever, let’s be grateful. There are a few maverick grass verge cutters, boys on toys riding amok on our country lanes on seated lawn mowers and in places the verges have a thinnish safety strip cut along the road side. Mainly however we have umbellifers and cranesbill adding colour and insect food and habitat to our roadsides. According to The Independent The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed less than one per cent of the 1.4m named species of invertebrates, yet of those studied about 40 per cent are considered threatened. Invertebrates constitute 80 per cent of the world’s species yet one in five could be at risk of extinction, scientists found. A word of warning here, strangely this report has a photo of a monarch butterfly attached, surely everyone knows monarch butterflies are American? Makes me wonder about the credibility of the article, but let’s assume the figures are correct. This depressing news is confirmed, however, out by Butterfly Conservation’s The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015 report which states, “The new analyses provide further evidence of the serious, long-term and ongoing decline of UK butterflies, with 70% of species declining in occurrence and 57% declining in abundance since 1976.” Perhaps naively, I tend to trust wildlife organisations’ claims more than I do those of politicians. Flowers and insects are of course near the bottom of the food chain and maybe soon we shall be seeing more kestrels and barn owls hunting our verges for the voles which this long vegetation will provide homes for. Mostly the flowers I see blooming are members of the umbellifers family, mainly white with a flat top consisting of numerous smaller flowers, umbellifers, such as cow parsley, which is great for insects and it’s rare to find them without something enjoying them. What’s more, the insects aren’t just restricted to bees, they attract all kinds of beetles and flies, look for some splendid longhorn beetles for example. The other flowers we are seeing at the moment on the verges are cranesbill, the blue variety meadow cranesbill, which many folk grow in their gardens especially to attract insects and which often teem with bees of various types, bumble, honey and hoverflies, there are lots of other flowers but these are the most prominent when viewed from your car.

Ian Humphreys, of Ian Humphreys Photography, has tweeted a photo of wild flowers planted, for bees, on a road verge near Wrexham and it looks ‘absolutely fabulous’, Chris Packham’s words not mine. Lovely attractive bright colours and excellent pollinator plants and as best I can see from the photo, consisting predominately of indigenous plants. The bees must be loving it. I also believe that in France many villages grow small plots of pollinating plants for the insects and these again are not only good for the insects, they help the farmers and add a delightful bright aspect to any village. Well my question is why don’t we try to do the same in Nidderdale and Harrogate? I envisage small flower plots planted with plants which flower throughout the ‘insect season’ in every village and around Harrogate. Surely something relatively easy to do, which would enhance the corner of any village whilst at the same time doing something positive for our countryside. Contact me by email if you are interested in starting something locally and let’s start planning for next year.

Little Owl - Robin Hermes

Little Owl – Robin Hermes

Your Sightings

Robin Hermes, took, this little owl photo near Beckwithshaw.

Blackcap - Christine Dodsworth

Juvenile Blackcap – Christine Dodsworth

My apologies to Christine Dodsworth for the late inclusion of this email, “I took these photos this morning out of our front window of a baby blackcap. The parents were flitting about and I saw the male blackcap land nearby. We live in Earley in Berkshire now but it is interesting to hear about the wildlife where we grew up in Harrogate, and still sometimes visit. The goldfinches have been feeding on the centaureas in our garden so I have not cut the plants back so that the birds can get the seeds. We live in an urban area but do get lots of birds visiting the garden. We have many red kites around here and I am sure they whistle when they see somebody below as if to say ‘feed me’ as people (including us) put out their leftover chicken carcasses to see the red kites swoop down to take them. A few weeks ago we were in Sicily and there were lots of swifts there. I read your blog about swifts. We used to have house martin nests under the apex in the eaves and the house martins came back every year but eventually stopped altogether and we hardly see any house martins now. I’m not sure leaving leftover chicken carcasses is good for juvenile kites, kites eat raw meat and cooked meat may well affect the development of youngsters.

Tony Rogerson writes, “I totally agree with John Wade’s recommendation of a visit to Long Nanny. I was fortunate enough to be one of the National Trust’s wardens at this site in 2007. Camping in the middle of 3,000 Arctic terns for 3 1/2 months was an awesome experience! There were many ups and downs during the season, ranging from nightly encounters with a grasshopper warbler in a lone hawthorn in the sand dunes, to being helpless as spring tides decimated the tern colony in the middle of the night (when some eggs were ‘rescued’ and kept in a warm oven until the tides receded AND went on to hatch!). I can provide some photos if this would be of interest.”

A delighted Bernard Atkinson tells me, “My wife and I were looking out of our cottage window near Bickerton, Wetherby today during the torrential rain, and were absolutely amazed and delighted to see a kingfisher sitting on our washing line – it looked around for a few minutes before flying onto the top of a garden archway and then flew away but we were able to glimpse its beautiful blue plumage. The nearest water to us is some disused brick ponds about 100 yards away and this is the first time we have spotted a kingfisher near our home – we usually have to travel miles to spot one (and even then it’s only for a fleeting moment).”

Gwen Turner, “I am delighted to report that I saw my first goldcrest in about 25 years in the ivy in the front garden in Duchy Road. Some days later a tiny nest was found on the terrace at the back of the house which I think is a goldcrest’s. I can only hope that if there was a brood that they had fledged before their home suffered a catastrophe.”

Mullein Moth Caterpillat - Max Hamilton

Mullein Moth Caterpillar – Max Hamilton

Max Hamilton stood and watched “a field mouse jump from my hawthorn hedge to my peanut bird feeder today, never seen that before.” Rodents are often attracted to feeders, especially wood mouse, the ones with the big ears. Max has also sent me a photo of a mullein moth caterpillar.

Joan Hill asks, “Where are all the ladybirds this year? I don’t think I have seen a single one in the garden and usually there are quite a few around. Hopefully the butterflies will arrive once the sunshine decides to come out and stay out (if it ever does). The buddleia is covered in flower buds but not open yet.” You should never answer a question with another but where are all the insects, per se? I suspect it’s a combination of wet summers and perhaps mild winters caused by climate change coupled with our relentless use of chemicals on the farm and in the garden and home. Another issue is the early flowering of plants and your buddleia seems to be around a month early. It doesn’t coincide with the insects’ lifestyle and therefore food plants aren’t available for the insects to survive on.

Thruscross reservoir - Stephen Tomlinson

Thruscross Reservoir – Stephen Tomlinson (Nidd Gorge Photography)

Stephen Tomlinson sent a lovely photo of Thruscross reservoir in tranquil mood.

An interesting photo from Ian Wilson, “I thought you might like to see how resourceful those damned squirrels can be when faced with a supposedly ‘squirrel-proof’ seed feeder!” Brilliant.

Steve Whiteley, “Just a few sightings on my rambles this week. I had occasion to be in Glasshouses this week so took the time to stop off at the bridge at the bottom of the village. This has been a good spot to see dippers and grey wagtails in the past. I have also seen treecreeper, nuthatch and blackcaps in this area in the past. Alas, none of these were present this time. However, I was treated to the blue flash of a kingfisher flying under the bridge and along the line of the river. I was also treated to a good view of a spotted flycatcher which conveniently used the tree next to the bridge as its staging post for its regular hunting trips. More locally, I have had a hummingbird hawkmoth visit the plant in my front garden in Starbeck which was good to see.” Strangely I was also at Glasshouses recently and also saw very little, less than you in fact. Hummingbird Hawkmoth is, I think, the first I have heard of this year. Spotted flycatchers seem to be here in slightly better numbers than recent years, is that your observation?

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve: Some of the flora and fauna reported from Nosterfield: Common redstart, Yellow wort and dog rose,

RSPB Fairburn Ings: Just a few birds seen recently at Fairburn Ings, Little Ringed Plover, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper. Maybe the autumn wader passage has started? Also Little Gull, Hobby, Peregrine, Cetti’s warbler, Grasshopper Warbler.

Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings. Dr Jim Irving and possibly David Gilroy report the sighting of a turtle dove on the telephone wires alongside the road, just outside Minskip on the Minskip-Ferrensby road. Very good news, especially as I had declared our area’s turtle doves extinct.

Events

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

Bilton Conservation Group have organised a Balsam Bash at Grange Quarry on Saturday, 23 July. Meeting at 9.30 in Pets at Home car park. “We have been removing balsam for a couple of years now and have made a difference! If we can remove all the balsam from a couple of open areas Sam Walker the HBC county ranger plans to spread the hay from the wild flower meadow later this year.”

Jacob Smith Park, Knaresborough: Saturday 23rd July from 10am. Balsam Bash, Meet at the entrance. Bring some gloves, a drink and wear long sleeves. Everyone Welcome.

Harrogate RSPB Group: Wednesday 24 August 7:00pm Outdoor Meeting – YWT Staveley

Help Our Devil Birds?

Common_Swift_nestlings_in_nest_boxTwo Common Swift nestlings, peeking out of a swift nest box, a few days before fledging, in Greifswald, Germany. Photo used under Creative Commons Licence.

On many birders’ lists, Swifts – once called devil birds – are top birds, their magnificent flying skills, robust flying skills and raucous calls make them so. We should actually call ‘our’ Swift the Common Swift, (Apus apus for you quiz buffs). In fact there are as many as 93 members of the Apodidae family. We need of course to be able to distinguish a Swift from those other aerial experts, the Martins and the Swallows. Swifts aren’t a member of their family but are often linked with Hummingbirds, how weird is that? Anyway, Swifts are black, often fly together in fast, noisy groups and have that wonderful scimitar shape because of their sweptback wings, which often paddle at high speed. They nest in the roof space of houses, most frequently under the tiles. Swallows have long tail streamers and nest in porches and outbuildings, they have a white body, blueish-black back and a reddish head. House Martins usually nest under your eaves, if you are lucky, and although similar to the Swallow, the tail is less pronounced and they have a white rump which is diagnostic. Finally Sand Martins look similar but are found mainly around water and have no white rump but are brown. For a great ID video visit the BTO Identification Guides.

But I’m talking about the Common Swift because I recently attended a talk about Swifts from Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation and organised by Harrogate Futures Forum. Edward has loved Swifts since childhood. In the late 1990s he noticed that the Swifts nesting in his local area were in decline. He realised that re-roofing of local properties was blocking Swifts from returning to their long-established nest sites. Edward set up “Swift Conservation”, a web-based advice service, celebrating Swifts, and showing what can be done to save them. Swifts used to live in holes in ancient trees and perhaps cliff faces but they have shared our homes, or at least open eaves, for as long as 2,000 years. Now we are stopping them reaching their homes by use of close fitting plastic and other material which just doesn’t provide the holes necessary for Swifts to nest in. Swifts only come to ground to have their young, they do everything else in the air, yes even that. But they need a place to rest their eggs and because their legs have adapted to be mostly useless they need a small space and an easy drop off or runway. If we don’t help them they will continue to reduce in numbers by around 3% per year, as they have been for the past 15 to 20 years. I’m no mathematician but I reckon that’s pretty bad and I recall far more Swifts filling our skies in the past, The BTO say numbers have reduced by a third since 1995, so what can you do?

Swifts Local Network

Well Swift Conservation have some of the answers including buying or building and installing nest boxes, information, along with siting information from Swift Conservation. But we could also form a Swifts Local Network. A group of concerned folk who would encourage interest in Swifts, survey and monitor Swifts, encourage local authorities to make provision for Swifts in new developments and give advice. If you’d like to help, drop me an email (outdoors@virginmedia.com) and I’ll facilitate an initial meeting. One thing you might all like to consider doing is to monitor where Swifts breed. So again drop me a line if there are Swifts breeding near you. That is if Swifts fly low, roof level, over somewhere make a note of where, but don’t make a note if they are flying higher because they might just be foraging and they can fly prodigious distances to find food. The RSPB are also seeking help with their National Swift Inventory so you could also share your records with them.

More Red Kite Killings

They are at it again, this time in Blubberhouses. Can anyone make any legal suggestion as to what we can do to help? I’m wondering about a mass walk through the grouse moors nearby. We might target the wrong folk but by walking through the moors en masse we are disturbing the Grouse and the landowners won’t want that and maybe they may cease their activities or even encourage the culprits to stop shooting our kites. I know it’s extreme and affects the Grouse but it also affects the income from Grouse and sometimes direct action may do the trick. What do you think? Only using public footpaths and access land of course, nothing illegal. See Raptor Persecution UK for full details of the latest killing.

June Pinewoods Planting Events

The Pinewoods Conservation Group (PCG) is reaching the end of a project to plant over 3,000 new wild flowers in the Harrogate Pinewoods to increase biodiversity within the woods. As a last push an event is planned for Sunday, 5th June from 10am for one to two hours with a request for volunteers to help with the planting. Volunteers are asked to bring a trowel and meet at Harrogate Council Nurseries off Harlow Moor Road. Just a small amount of time spent helping to plant will ensure PCG reach their target of over 3,000 new wild flowers within the woods, keeping the Himalayan balsam down and increasing biodiversity within the woods, benefiting all our visitors.

Peacock - Stephen TomlinsonBilton’s Peacock Peter – Photo by Stephen Tomlinson

Peter The Peacock

Folk keep asking me how Bilton’s favourite and probably only Peacock is progressing, indeed someone who has just moved away from Bilton has asked me to keep him informed of how Peter is doing. Pretty fine, as far as the enthusiastic and sadly unsuccessful attempts at finding a mate are concerned, which can be very noisy and very dramatic when that brilliant tail is displayed. Anyway Stephen Tomlinson has sent me a photo for you to enjoy. It seems incidentally that a peafowl lives around 15 years in the wild and maybe as long as 23 in captivity.

Insects / Wildlife Decline

Sue Boal makes an interesting observation which for me sums up why our biodiversity is in decline, “There is also a worrying lack of insects. The bumble bees in our garden seem to be in trouble. We also have ground bees and bee flies which I believe prey on them. Windscreens used to be covered in insects in the summer and you were covered in them when you went cycling. I notice from the D&S (Darlington and Stockton Times) that farmers have tried to get banned insecticides through but have failed. I think exceptional farmers who truly love wildlife should be given medals or some type of commendation. My neighbours chop down trees and view the outside as simply somewhere to have a barbecue.” What Do You Think? Adult bee flies generally feed on nectar and pollen, they can be important pollinators. Larvae generally are parasitoids of other insects. 38 Degrees have a petition to Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asking her not to lift the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

Alan Croucher was “wondering how butterflies are faring at the moment. We’ve had a few occasional visitors to the garden but not many. There have been Peacocks around and an Orange Tip a couple of weeks ago and then, last weekend (14/15 May), we had a Blue pass through (I wasn’t quick enough to see which kind) and my first Speckled Wood of the year. Apart from that just an odd White, but not much more. The rain will keep them from flying today I suspect!” I reckon that butterflies are doing dreadfully and personally I have seen and continue to see despite an improvement in the weather very few. Please plant nectar rich plants in your gardens.

Joan Hill writes, “Wondered if you have any clue as to what has happened to the finches this year? Haven’t seen a Chaffinch at all or a Greenfinch and where are the Goldfinches? Every year we have had at least 8 Goldfinches at a time – two on each feeder and four waiting and whistling for their turn, but this year there only appears to be an odd one. We have had a very interesting time watching two Pigeons building a nest in the silver birch tree just outside our conservatory. The male brings a foot-long piece of stick and sometimes it gets knocked out of his beak before he reaches the female and he has to go and find another. The female seems to sit on the nest all the time. This is the third year they have built in exactly the same place.” I think some finches have suffered after last year’s poor summer for breeding. Greenfinch have that disease and whilst it affects them the most many other birds also suffer, although mainly finches. After saying that, whilst finch numbers are definitely down my experience is they are not faring as badly as you are experiencing. It may be worth everyone ensuring their feeders and especially water bath is kept spotlessly clean, although I realise you probably already do that. Maybe numbers will increase after a good breeding season this summer. I wonder why Pigeons and other birds repeatedly need to add to the nest structure?

The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership is a £1.8 million scheme to look after and help people get involved with Upper Nidderdale’s historic landscapes, cultural heritage and wildlife habitats. Watch the film to find out more about the dale and the projects, lots for everyone to enjoy.

Magpie - John WadeJohn Wade’s Attempt at Teaching Birds Language Seems to Have Failed Miserably.

Your Sightings

I think John Wade may be having Magpie trouble! Shirley Dunwell has solitary bees occupying her bee log. Sue Boal writes “On our way back from Leeds on Tuesday this week, my daughter spotted 2 baby yellow rabbits. She googled it and found that they are a rare genetic mutation but we are not sure how common they are.”

Carol Wedgewood spotted what I think is a buff ermine moth at Ripley Castle. Other sightings from Carol include “Oystercatchers in wet field on Brimham Rocks Road, Tawny Owl perched on drystone wall near Thornthwaite Scouts Camp. In our garden a Goldfinch and Mistle Thrush amongst the usual visitors. A Buzzard calling and flying low over our field. Great to see it close up! A return visit of a Barn Owl quartering over our field, perched on a low branch on tree near the pond. It then flew back up the field and perched on a fence post, in front of our barn window, overlooking long grass. Then it flew off towards the northwest, up the hill, as it always does, over more long grass in a neighbour’s field.

Judith Fawcett reports seeing a Tawny Owlet at High Batts Nature Reserve recently.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve recent sightings include Arctic Terns, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Yellow Wagtail, Black-Tailed Godwit, Avocet with chicks, Little Egret and Sedge Warbler.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Nesting Little Egrets.

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

Bastards

ECCUP KITE - Doug Simpson

The Eccup Red Kite – Doug Simpson

Well, what else do you expect me to say? How many of you have watched the Red Kites over Bilton, maybe there will be one less to enjoy now. Doug Simpson, the Red Kite Man, tells me that two more Red Kites have been shot locally, “On 21 April a new Red Kite nest was discovered in woodland near Eccup in West Yorkshire. Hanging from the next tree was the carcass of a Red Kite. Veterinary examination and X-ray of the bird showed injuries which were consistent with it having been shot whilst sitting on its nest. On 23 April, just two days later, a kite with a broken wing was found near Nidd in North Yorkshire. It was still alive. It was taken to a local vet who found that the wing was so badly damaged that it would not recover. It was put to sleep. Again, veterinary examination and X-ray showed that shooting was the cause of the bird’s injuries. Information was subsequently received that what was presumably the same injured bird had been seen on 20 April, approximately a mile away from where it was eventually retrieved. The finder had gone to get a cat carrier to put it in but could not find the bird again. Any information about either of these incidents should be reported to the Police by dialling 101 and asking to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer or, alternatively, by using the ‘Contact us’ facility on the Yorkshire Red Kites Website.

Why are folk killing Red Kites? These birds are almost predominantly scavengers, they may take the odd errant worm or beetle and, let’s be honest, the BTO say that Red Kite “scavenge on carrion, scraps, will take small live prey.” Yorkshire Red Kites say, “Red Kites are scavengers, drifting around on their long buoyant wings looking for food items on the ground. They do not have the strength or power associated with some bird of prey species, which rely primarily on their hunting skills for survival. Although they are capable of taking small live items such as mice and voles, kites mainly rely on carrion – things which are already dead – as their basic food supply. They are quite often reluctant to land, snatching up their food from the ground and either feeding on the wing or taking it into a tree, to feed on whilst perched. If the food item is too large to carry off, they may land on the ground – but they are very wary and will generally wait until crows have fed on it first, as though making sure that it’s not a trap!” The RSPB agrees, “Mainly carrion and worms, but opportunistic and will occasionally take small mammals.” I tried The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and they agree, saying, “Red Kites are primarily scavengers, however that is certainly not to say that they will not take young game birds and other ‘live’ prey items, but they will clean a large carcass in a similar way to a vulture. Because they are a relatively weak bird, they rely on other predators to open up the tough skin, so that they can then access the soft flesh within. Decomposition also softens the dead animal’s skin, allowing kites to rip the body open themselves, devouring the putrid flesh. Just like vultures, they have highly specialised digestive systems, which produce powerful acids to neutralise rotting meat, making them resistant to bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.” So continuing to look at why, let’s look at game birds, almost all our game birds (a misnomer if ever I heard one, no game involved there, at least not if you are the target) – pheasants and red-legged partridge – are kept in captivity until large enough to be introduced into the wild, that is until they are too big to be taken as prey by most creatures, especially Red Kites which weigh (BTO again) male 1000 g female 1.2 kg. That is around the weight of a bag of sugar. They aren’t a threat to game birds and to kill them just demonstrates that age old mindset of hooked beak bad! Why? It seems these folk are killing Red Kites when they are at their most vulnerable at nests, probably supporting young which will also die as a consequence of this disgusting action.

In Scotland a new law of vicarious liability for wildlife offences was introduced. It came into effect on 1 Jan 2012 and is specifically aimed at anyone who has the legal right to kill or take wild birds over land or manages or controls the exercise of that right. It was passed in response to the illegal killing of protected birds (usually raptors) on (especially) shooting estates, and is designed to make landowners/managers ‘vicariously responsible’ for crimes committed by their employees, contractors and agents under existing laws that relate to:

  • the protection of wild birds, nests and eggs;

  • the prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds;

  • the possession of pesticides;

  • attempts to commit such offences.

Clearly it’s time we had a similar law here, after the MPs had declared an interest I wonder how many would be left to vote on it? We should also ensure that no Government financial support is provided to landowners who allow such activity on their land. I suspect many, many folk do enjoy their Red Kites as illustrated by Jo Smalley, “Red Kites over Jacob Smith Park, Knaresborough last week. Beautiful. Stood and watched them for ages.” What do you think?

Bilton Recovering - Keith Wilkinson

Bilton Recovering – Keith Wilkinson

Nidd Gorge

Keith Wilkinson, of Bilton Conservation group, tells me he was “working in Nidd Gorge this morning with students and took this image to show just how quickly the flora is recovering after last winter’s storms. The floods had been so severe we thought that bluebells, wild garlic, wood anemones et cetera would have been scoured away because the collapsed river banks looked so bare and devoid of life. You can see the ample evidence of fallen trees – but it is remarkable that the bare areas are greening up with a decent show of bluebells and wild garlic. Tawny Owls were calling from the north bank and a pair are raising young. There have also been reports of Barn Owls hunting over the west field near the viaduct. There is much work to be done recovering the ravaged footpaths and small teams have been out almost every week since February making the place safe and accessible. It will take until Christmas at least to complete the job. I was encouraged by the complimentary remarks of a group of elderly walkers from Bedfordshire(!) who were here for a long weekend. They were very impressed with the fact that the woods were so accessible, attractive and litter-free. I didn’t realise that Nidd Gorge’s fame had spread quite so far. I walked with them for half a mile as they paused on the viaduct to admire the view before they headed off for a ‘shandy’ at the Gardeners Arms and back to Knaresborough.” I dare say I’d be happy to holiday in Bilton if I lived in Bedfordshire.

Wren's Nest2 - Stuart Ibbotson

Wren’s Nest – Stuart Ibbotson

Stuart Ibbotson writes, “I thought I would send you a few birds nesting and young Heron photo. The young Heron was on the Nidd and clearly had not yet learned a lot. Firstly it was quite unafraid of people passing by on the opposite bank and secondly could not contain its excitement when a female Mallard brought her brood of 16 to within striking distance. This clearly gave mother duck the opportunity to gather her brood into a tight formation and then swim away from danger. Woodpigeon on nest as seen from the Nidd viaduct. Female Mallard on nest at the base of a tree also seen from the viaduct. Wrens nest constructed on a fallen tree root, (a favourite site for wrens). A pair of Goldcrests have a nest within the sewerage fencing. Finally, Tawny Owl on nest. This nest site has been used on and off over the years and I first noticed the bird sitting on 22 March. Therefore by my calculations the first egg should have hatched on 21 April. No sighting of the young as yet but the owl is sitting noticeably higher up.”

Your Sightings

Farnham, Harrogate Naturalist Society’s members’ private nature reservehad a Black-tailed Godwit on 29 April, and on May 1st an Arctic Tern, Little Gull and Pied Flycatcher.

Sightings at Nosterfield Nature Reserve recently: Arctic Terns, Swift and Whimbrel.

Richard Scruton, “Saw my first Swifts of 2016 on Friday (29 April) and this morning (2 May): 6 swifts seen in eastern Luxembourg on Friday evening at Wecker and Wasserbillig, and a large group seen this morning near Knaresborough Golf Club where the Farnham road turns off the Knaresborough-Boroughbridge B6166 road.” Richard certainly gets about in his quest to see swifts!

Gretchen Hasselbring wrote, “I wanted to report a Fieldfare sighting. Not sure if they are rare but it was the first I’ve seen one. 3 May late morning along the Ure in Ripon on a grassy bank between a field and the river presumably catching worms?” Fieldfare are common in winter because they are a winter migrant from Scandinavia, here to eat the berries, seeing one at this time of year is much more unlikely, although last Wednesday I saw a few, which suggests that the weather in Scandinavia is not particularly good or our weather isn’t providing the tail wind they need to migrate across the North Sea.

Chaffinch - Roger Litton

Chaffinch – Roger Litton

Through Your Window

Roger Litton writes, “This Chaffinch sat on the lawn and said ‘I’m not moving until you take my photograph’!”

Please note no blog next week, my 65th birthday, presents to the usual address.

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 13 MayBarden Bridge and Strid Woods

Monday 16 May(Evening) Staveley YWT Nature Reserve

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Thursday 12 May – Spa Gill Wood

Tuesday 17 May – Great Whernside, Upper Nidderdale

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

Declining Albatross and Smelly Fulmars

Buller's Albatross - Claire Yarborough

Buller’s Albatross – Claire Yarborough

Claire Yarborough has “just got back from a long trip including the Galapagos and New Zealand. Fantastic wildlife. We saw waved albatross doing their mating dances in Galapagos and Wandering, Royal, Bullers and Salvin’s in New Zealand. I saw you blogged about albatross and thought you might be interested. They are too special to be put in danger and need all the help they can get.” Kaikoura is the albatross capitol of New Zealand, possibly The World, and has up to 10 species there. Kaikoura is important for albatross because the deep canyon there is where cold and warm currents meet which result in plentiful quantities of food and albatrosses being such large birds they need plenty of that. They eat fresh squid, fish and krill which is broken down inside the adult’s tummy and fed to the young, young which need a massive 280 days to fledge. Albatrosses of all species, it seems, are in danger and decline and need all the help we can give them. Claire has sent me a photo of a Buller’s albatross which is endemic to New Zealand. The total breeding population is estimated at a mere 30,500 breeding pairs. Buller’s albatross are frequently observed in Kaikoura throughout the winter months, but are notably absent during the summer months during their breeding season, when they are more likely to forage closer to their breeding colonies. It’s not only Claire who has visited New Zealand recently; I was delighted to also receive a postcard from Josh and Sue Southwell who also went albatross watching and sent us a great postcard of a Northern Royal Albatross this time on a boat trip from Otago.

We don’t have any albatross in the UK, indeed they are absent from the whole of the Northern Atlantic, except as rare vagrants. We do however have fulmars, which belong to the same family. Fulmars are known as ‘tubenose’ and have a gland in their nose which is used to excrete salt. They also have an interesting defence mechanism, they projectile vomit and this can matt the feathers of avian predators and may even lead to their death. Any of you old enough to remember Chris Bonnington and Co climbing up the Old Man of Hoy (Jackie told me about it) will remember that they also used this as a defence against climbers. It apparently smells so vile that for a while afterwards your only friends may be on social media sites. Fulmar have one other interesting fact associated with them. When St Kilda was occupied, the people fed on the birds and their eggs. It is believed that this restricted the number of fulmar on the archipelago. Since St Kilda has been deserted fulmar have expanded and can now be found throughout the coast of the UK. Bempton Cliffs is a good place to find them.

Through Your Window

Moorhen - Peter Thompson

Moorhen – Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson of the Knox area of Harrogate, “thought this one might amuse you. I have had plenty of Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls on the nyjer feeder recently but this is a first. The feeder is six feet off the ground and I managed to grab the camera just before he jumped off.” I’ve never seen or heard of one actually on a feeder before, bird tables yes. My collared doves get on my feeders occasionally and perhaps like this moorhen (waterhen was a much better name) they have their back to the food chute and can’t turn round, bird brained or what?”

John Wade writes, “Saw and heard first chiffchaff in Rossett Reserve this evening. Spring is here!” When did you hear your first chiffchaff and or willow warbler?

BTO Big Garden BirdWatch

Chris Gale writes, “I’m really surprised by the comments in your blog that the Garden Bird population has declined this year. I think therefore that must be that they are all in our garden!! We seem to have more birds than ever visiting the feeder and generally hopping about and feeding in the garden, covering a wide range of species – blue tits, great tits, goldfinches galore, a couple of robins, chaffinches, greenfinches, pigeons, doves, often several male blackbirds, sparrows, dunnocks, are all daily visitors to the garden, and recently we have had regular visits from a male bullfinch and a couple of females, and also a tree creeper which we have never seen before. In fact some of the blue tits are now becoming a nuisance – having supplied them with daily sustenance are now rewarding us by stripping our trees of blossom!”

My response has no scientific basis, just my own views, so clearly subjective. The BTO Garden BirdWatch takes place throughout the country and monitors many, many gardens over all of the UK. Their findings are therefore a nationwide view and not a specific garden view. It could well be that in some areas locally birds are increasing and this could be due to a variety of reasons, better weather, less intensive farming, changing land and indeed garden maintenance, to name just a few. Chris’s reports are very encouraging and it would be great if this was true everywhere. Visits from birds not usually seen in your garden may indicate that they have had to resort to your feeders because there is no food elsewhere and this may demonstrate the importance of providing food for birds. It also demonstrates the importance of as many people as possible joining the BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme. Mike Brown the local BTO Rep tells me, “GBW needs support, we find that talking to visitors at exhibitions and shows everybody knows about the RSPB Big Garden BirdWatch and they dismiss GBW as either the same thing (so job done annually) or too demanding to get involved with. Unlike the RSPB, the BTO has far fewer supporters and struggles to finance all its many and varied avian projects. Nevertheless I believe there are sufficient GBW supporters to make the results most relevant.” The other issue is best illustrated by a conversation I once had with a local farmer regarding declining hare numbers. He thought that there were plenty of hares on his land. That may be the case but it makes it even more important to look after those hares in places where they are still thriving otherwise they too may go the way of hares nationally. Chris really does have a good number of species visiting the garden, which is great news.

Say No To The Mow

Plantlife, the charity which campaigns for our wild flowers, has started this new project, Say No To Mow. Fancy saving on mowing and discovering what wild flowers you have in your garden? Set aside a sunny patch of lawn and ‘Say No To The Mow’. Let Plantlife know what you find in your mini meadow by posting to Twitter with the hashtag #mynomow. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Your No-Mow Zone can be any size or shape, however for best results try and make it at least a yard-squared.

  • Try placing your No-Mow Zone away from flowerbeds to make it less likely that it is invaded by garden plants.

Bees Buzzing Around Our Gardens

Neil Anderson rescued a female red-tailed bumblebee Bombus lapidarius. He writes, “This queen seemed dead but after sticking her proboscis into the sugary water buzzed off full of energy.” An excellent website for identifying bumblebees is Steven Falk’s Flicker page. Colin Slator has asked me to mention this petition designed to help save our bees. Bees are under threat, yet powerful lobbyists are putting together plans to get the UK ban on bee-killing pesticides lifted. Already 125,000 have signed the petition but the target, to protect our bees, is 200,000. Imagine if 200,000 of us raise our voices together against any attempts to lift the ban. Keep bee killing pesticides off our fields

Nature Reserves

At Nosterfield Nature Reserve a colour ringed ruff has been seen, did you get any good photos of it so that detail on the ring can be clearly seen? If so Tweet them at #nosterfield. Also there are now 42 pairs lapwing currently sitting, with a minimum of four further pairs nest prospecting, plus 13 pairs of redshank and curlew numbers looking good. Also seen a yellow wagtail.

RSPB Fairburn Ings, Sandwich Tern 3, Wheaters 1-2, Pintail 4, Little Gull 1, Common Tern 1 on 11/12 April there were still Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Geese passing through and Brambling on the riverbank, also 3 Little Ringed Plovers, 1 Arctic Tern, 6 Little Gulls, first Whitethroat. First Sedge Warbler Saturday, first Cuckoo Sunday, total 10 Arctic Terns 12 April.

Dipper - Lisa Law

Dipper – Lisa Law

Your Sightings

Gwen Turner writes on 5 April, “Frog spawn at last! Only a small amount, nothing like the usual, appeared today. No sign of the parents though. Fingers crossed.” This is very disappointing, I wonder what your experience of frog spawn is this year, plenty, late, none at all, let me know.

Ian Law reports, “My daughter Lisa spotted a pair of dippers in Hebden Beck on our trip up to the disused lead mines this morning.” Photo of one of them attached. Interestingly I understand Hebden Beck is one of the most polluted streams in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, due to past lead mining activities.

I’ve just been up to How Stean Gorge and can report seeing or hearing these great birds, in or over the Gorge: Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Oystercatcher, Jackdaw, Black-headed Gull, Mistle Thrush, Woodpigeon, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Tit, Robin and Blue Tit. Flowers include Lesser Celandine, Dog’s Mercury, Saxifrage and the Wild Garlic leaves are getting big, flowers there next. Why not tell me what you have seen in Upper Nidderdale? Stan Beer tells me that at Scar House, the Ring Ouzels are back, Swallows at the tunnel, Sand Martins in the Gouthwaite Wall and an Osprey seen over Gouthwaite. What else is waiting to be discovered, let me know what you see.

Notes For Your Diary

Please reply direct to Sam Walker, Harrogate Countryside Ranger, at sam.walker@harrogate.gov.uk if you can volunteer to help on Friday 22nd April – Ure Bank, Ripon. Meeting at the car park at the end of Ure Bank Terrace at 10am to carrying out tree aftercare on the two areas planted last year. Work will be until about 2pm so bring food and a drink. Sam can also pick up in Harrogate or Knaresborough by arrangement.

Black Redstart Female - Brian Scarr

Female Black Redstart – Brian Scarr

Brian Scarr of Adel was lucky enough to find a female black redstart on his lawn.

Outdoors Events

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

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Wednesday April 20 19:30 – 21:30 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 18th April (Evening)Annual General Meeting

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.

Sightings

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..

Snippets

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”

Roe Deer and Wild Life in Danger From Dogs?

Roe Deer - Steve Tomlinson.jpgRoe Deer – Steve Tomlinson

All the support I am getting is great news and I am very appreciate of all your emails, etc, you send me and especially all the lovely comments you all make, thanks ever so much. I have however a problem – I am getting more and more stuff to write about and worry about taking up too much space. What do you think is an optimum amount, please. I like to mention everyone who writes in but also reckon three photos and 2000 words are enough. I will try to give a mention for you all but cannot promise to do so, nor to print verbatim everything you say, and it may be a few weeks before I include your message, sorry. Let me know what you think, please.

Important Message

Rich and Trisha Brewis have reported prints of a roe deer and fawn around Bilton and Nidd Gorge. They make the following very important request, “Have just seen prints in the mud of a Roe doe and fawn – little prints that will fit into a normal thumb nail! Thought far too early for this but it has been mild. Please remind all dog owners to keep them on a lead through the woodlands.” Also if you see a dog off the lead in these areas then ask them politely to respect our wildlife. Fawns are particularly vulnerable at this time, a strange scent and the doe will abandon them and of course they don’t run away, or at least to the last minute, so are easy prey for dogs. Ground nesting birds are equally vulnerable, so give them a chance, dogs can run free and wild on that 200 acre wildlife desert Harrogate is famous for.

Dunnock2 - Roger Litton

Dunnock – Roger Litton

Spring Sightings

Malcolm Jones emailed me to say, “Signs of spring! In spite of the two recent snowfalls there are distinct signs of the change in our wildlife. Dunnocks are normally a secretive bird, deep in bushes or on the ground, but in spring they perch high in bushes and pour out their song. This chap was on a bush at Staveley reserve. Like Malcolm I am fascinated by the way these dark, sulking, secretive birds choose to announce spring from the highest vantage point they can find. Well at least the males do. Incidentally some female dunnocks are polyandric, they mate with many males, whilst others are monogamous. Mike Toms of the BTO tells us, “male and female Dunnocks maintain their own, largely independent, territories during the breeding season. Since male territories are larger than those of the females, you might expect a single male to have access to more than one female, giving rise to polygyny (having more than one wife). However, what makes the social complexities all the more interesting is that some male territories are shared by two males. One of the two males (termed the ‘alpha’ male) will be dominant over the other (the ‘beta’ male). The beta male manages to secure his position within the territory of the alpha male through sheer persistence, something which provides him with a degree of access to any females. However, access is not guaranteed, since the alpha male spends a great deal of time guarding his female, especially as she approaches the egg-laying period.” Confused, visit Mike Toms report for more info.

Ann Snelson tells me she “heard a curlew flying over when we opened the bedroom window this morning to feed our blackbirds.” Ann lives in Middlesmoor up t’dale.

Doug Simpson tells me, “I had a walk down the Scargill track this aft (19-3-16). Curlew back on the moor and a kite overhead. Had hoped for an early Wheatear but nothing doing.”

John Wade writes, “I have just made my annual pilgrimage to New Lane near Almscliffe Crag, to see returning curlews. I don’t know when they arrived, but they are back now, 1 March. I saw three, a pair and one in the air. I truly love to see them, knowing that spring is on its way.”

Nature Reserves

RSPB Fairburn Ings, In past few days Avocet 12, ChiffChaff 7, Hen Harrier 1, Marsh Harrier 1-2, Smew 1 still present, Short-eared Owl 1

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, recent sightings include a comma butterfly plus ruff, redshank pintail, goldeneye, little egret, several buzzards, avocets , little owl, red-necked grebe, black-tailed godwit and pintail.

Robert Brown tells me, Farnham Gravel Pits, Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private nature reserve, had a chiffchaff on 19 March and three sand martins on 20 March.

Frog Spawn News

Judith Fawcett‘s sightings, “we had a couple of unusual frogs and spawn sightings this week. A crow eating a frog on a neighbour’s roof. Frog spawn on the doormat and car bumper! I wonder if the two are connected. Haven’t seen a Jay in the Saltergate area for a few weeks. We usually have a few visiting the garden. Has anyone else noticed a decline? A few colourful Siskin on the feeders, a flock of Longtails are now a pair, Redpoll still about. Lots of Blackbirds and Starling, Goldfinches regular visitors and a Greenfinch seen recently too.” Wow, some interesting birds. I agree with Judith, the crow must have caused the frog to abort, hence the frogspawn.

Paul Irving tells me, “spawn appeared in our tiny garden pond a couple of weeks ago but has been frosted since so viability may be an issue. The “White” crow at Morrisons is the same bird that has been around for some years, interestingly it is not really white but very very pale cream and has normal eye colour as far as one can tell so not albino.” Interesting regarding the crow, I thought it must be the same one, but it has lived a long time, I thought white/leucistic creatures were more vulnerable in the wild, although I guess urban crows have few predators.

Janice Scott from Padside writes, “I have read the frogspawn sightings in your blog with interest. You have wondered why frogspawn is late this year, but just to be different, ours has been earlier than usual – the first spotted on 3 March and it carried on coming until 17 March. I think the sudden cold snap and snow interrupted proceedings. Another sign for us that spring is around the corner is the first bee to appear in the garden. This is usually later than lower down the dale (I saw my first bumblebee queen of the year at Daleside Nursery on 3 March). It took until 20 March to spot a bumblebee in our own garden, feasting in the sunshine on helleborus foetidus. We did have a brief visit from some of our neighbours’ honeybees sampling our snowdrops on 17 March, but I haven’t seen them since. I won’t believe it is truly spring until I find my gardening can be accompanied by the reassuring buzz of bees.”

IMG_9458

North York Moors, draining into York!

Moorland – a Drain Into Our Rivers and On Our Pockets

Charles Gibson writes, “Good luck with your campaign Nigel, I agree entirely with your comments. There is too much emphasis laid on the protection of the Grouse. I would like to see more done. Have we had any prosecutions for poisoning of our Raptors too?” There are periodic prosecutions for poisoning of our raptors, rarely a sufficient deterrent and no doubt it continues to go on undetected. Places to look for more information include Raptor Politics and a look here should provide access to other interested groups. I also know that the Yorkshire Red Kite project also looks at the poisoning question. We are also fortunate to have in our area PC Gareth Jones, a Wildlife Crime Officer, and there are others around Yorkshire, visit North Yorkshire Police for more information. Charles later says, “I am our local Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator, Gareth is one of my contacts in Rural Watch Campaign. I get all the crime updates on ringmaster from NY Police almost daily but have not seen any prosecutions for illegal shooting or poisoning, which is a shame because we know it goes on.” I have delved a little further into this and can say that whilst a lot of these crimes may well occur the difficulty is obtaining evidence. Given that it may take two months or more to confirm that a bird has been poisoned and that they are rarely found at the bait anyway, there is little chance of getting anyone into court. If these crimes are taking place it’s probable that as few as a fifth of poisoned carcasses are recovered so it’s difficult. This means we need to be vigilant, so if you do find anything you consider troubling you need to contact the appropriate authority including the Police, RSPCA (Harrogate and District Branch) and if it’s a red kite then the Red Kite folk. Another useful number is the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) and you may wish to add their Freephone number, 0800 321600, to the contacts list on your mobile phone – just in case!

Someone calling themselves NorthernDiver replied via my website to the Moorland Myth issue by saying, “It’s a shame that Harrogate News didn’t post your reply to Amanda Anderson. Such twisted facts put out by Ms Anderson shouldn’t be the last word. Please try again. Do you think you have been blacklisted by Hg News? Is there anyone else who could post your reply? The truth needs to get through to the general public or things will get no better for our persecuted wildlife and damaged moorlands.” Do you agree? What are your views? Can you help spread the word?

Doug Simpson contacted me on the issue of grouse and asked me to mention a petition to protect mountain hares, why is that an issue related to grouse? Well, thousands of mountain hares are shot and snared in Scotland because they allegedly carry a disease which reduces the number of grouse available to be shot for “sport”. In some areas where mountain hares were previously abundant they are now rare or extinct. This is a national scandal. Scottish Natural Heritage is appealing for “voluntary restraint” from the grouse shooting lobby, but they have already had years to put their house in order. The time has now come for robust properly enforced legislation to protect the mountain hare, which is an important part of Scotland’s biodiversity and a revenue earning tourist attraction.

Paul Brothers writes, “I am particularly interested in the moorland debate as I used to work in the Water Industry and have modelled flood risks for land. I strongly believe we should be planting trees and blocking off some drains/build up dams to slow down the egress of water off the land. This is a lot more important in my opinion than dredging rivers which increases the speed of the water and all the solids it is carrying, with the likelihood of creating erosion and more damage to infrastructure. Planting a few trees is a very cost effective and long term solution to the problem that we currently face.” Thanks Paul for this, very interesting, especially from someone who “really knows”. I do wish we could get a proper debate on these issues at a proper level where the right action can be determined. What is best for the country, a few less grouse to kill or homes and lives not wrecked by avoidable flooding?

Carole Turner asked me to mention the Petition For A Ban On Driven Grouse Shooting. Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares etc in large numbers and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including Hen Harriers. Please do sign it.

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Saturday 26 March Richmond and the River Swale

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.