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
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 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.”
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
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.
See website for full details of these events and to confirm no changes.
Friday 13 May – Barden Bridge and Strid Woods
Monday 16 May – (Evening) Staveley YWT Nature Reserve
Thursday 12 May – Spa Gill Wood
Tuesday 17 May – Great Whernside, Upper Nidderdale