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.

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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

Your Frogs, Trees & Sparrowhawk.

Sparrowhawk - Raymond RumboldMale Sparrowhawk – Raymond Rumbold

Through Your Window

Pat and Raymond Rumbold have sent me a lovely male sparrowhawk photo taken from the hall window a few weeks ago. “It was on our back hedge looking bemused as all the birds had disappeared – I wonder why?!”

How Stean Blog

This month’s How Stean Blog is available now, I provide some fascinating insights into that common woodland plant Dog’s Mercury.

Frogspawn Bilton - Roger LittonFrog Spawn – Roger Litton

Frog Spawn

Bob Barker writes, “Not trying to enter the competition but frog spawn was in my pond on Monday 22/2, two big lots. There are now about four lots. I don’t think I look like carrion but on Monday I was weeding my veg patch and a red kite swooped down low over my head, but didn’t land. Maybe their eyesight isn’t as good as I thought it was.” I bet the red kite saw a juicy worm or two, a favourite kite delicacy I believe. Bob’s frog spawn was relatively early this year, I can’t understand why most is so late.

Lucky Dennis Skinner from Wetherby, “came back from the Galapagos Islands on 22 February to find one of my small garden ponds (about 3 x 4ft) full of frog spawn, later iced over! Today I counted 21 frogs in them, all very active before the heavy snow fall.”

Dr Roger Litton writes, “This photo is of the pond at Bachelor Fields, Bilton and shows that the frogs are now out in force spawning (7 March). As the photo shows, the pond was affected by a severe frost overnight Sunday into Monday and some of the top layers have been frosted. This will have killed the affected eggs but fortunately the rest of the spawn, under water, will have survived. However, there is a more serious problem. Someone has released goldfish into the pond. When the tadpoles hatch they will be eagerly devoured by the goldfish. This suggests a dire future for the frogs in this area as the future generations will be decimated by the fish. This introduction is completely irresponsible given that frog numbers nationally are in serious decline (partly because of loss of habitat but this introduction is not going to help locally).” Roger makes a valid point about goldfish and frogs, particularly when like much of our wildlife frogs are in decline due to disease and other factors. What do you think? Have you seen any frogspawn?

Oak - Jon BurgeA Seasonal view by Jon Burge of his Favourite Tree

Your Favourite Tree

Jon Burge writes, “My favourite tree is the one I am looking at at the moment; however, here is one of my all-time favourites – 400m north of the Burnt Yates playground (see photo). Not unusually old, it is one of the largest around that, albeit sculptured by the wind shedding small branches, had not yet lost a great branch. A good example of an oak in its prime. Just after I took the fourth photo, a great storm broke off a 2-ton branch, and it is now a typical oak good for another 300 years of rustic shape.” Brilliant to see this wonderful oak in all it’s moods.

Gretchen Hasselbring, “Just wanted to report something cool. I was looking at a huge yew tree near the clock tower in Ripon this morning, one of the warmest days we’ve had in a while, and in a gust of wind the tree shook off a giant cloud of….? Which hung over it and then dispersed. On closer inspection, it appears to be the pollen from the mature flowers of English/common yew (Taxus baccata). I understand that this cloud could indeed be toxic? Very exciting sighting for me.” The red fleshy bit that covers the yew’s berries is the only part of the tree that is not toxic and eating that is very hazardous because the seeds inside are dangerously toxic. The pollen that Gretchen saw which is released by the trees in early spring is cytotoxic. Cytotoxicity is too complicated for me, visit the weblink for more info and it’s probably good to keep well away from it. All parts of a yew plant are toxic to humans with the exception of the yew berries (however, their seeds are toxic); additionally, male and monoecious yews in this genus release cytotoxic pollen, which can cause headaches, lethargy, aching joints, itching, and skin rashes; it is also a trigger for asthma. Male yews bloom and release abundant amounts of pollen in the spring; completely female yews only trap pollen while producing none. Grazing animals, particularly cattle and horses, are also sometimes found dead near yew trees after eating the leaves, though deer are able to break down the poisons and will eat yew foliage freely. In the wild, deer browsing of yews is often so extensive that wild yew trees are commonly restricted to cliffs and other steep slopes inaccessible to deer. The foliage is also eaten by the larvae of some Lepidopteran insects including the moth Willow Beauty (see Wikipedia). It is believed that yew trees were kept in churchyards to protect grazing animals although another explanation is they were grown in churchyards to make into bows, surely peace loving folk don’t need bows!

Dogs and Wildlife

It’s probably a bit late to ask you to keep your dogs on a lead where sheep are concerned because many have already lambed. Please remember however that pregnant sheep are the most vulnerable to dogs because the dogs don’t need to even attack them, just romp around in the same field. The sheep see them as predator, panic and can abort so please consider the farmer’s livelihood by always keeping your dog on a lead in any field with animals in. This is what is meant by worrying sheep, not a physical attack. Wild animals can be just as vulnerable so if you are anywhere this spring with a dog where wild animals and birds could be breeding, for example along the riverside where ducks are living or in a field where lapwings, curlews or sky larks may be breeding, then again please keep your dogs on a lead and thank you all you considerate dog owners for thinking of our wildlife.

Squirrels

I told you grey squirrels were like Marmite and your responses certainly reflect that.

Tom Peace writes, “Squirrels are awesome little creatures that are curious and very agile!” Visit Toms Blog.

David Uffindall writes, “Thanks for the credit re the picture. We have two, sometimes up to four grey squirrels that come to our garden. We never encourage them to come near the house – they are animals after all – but do like to watch their antics from quickly nipping through the foliage to getting on the wire fence and then taking a leap for the bird feeders. We have a couple of supplies of nuts that they are particularly attracted to and occasionally they take a fancy to my fat balls – sorry, I mean the fat balls in the feeder! They are very agile, great fun to watch and a super challenge to get good pictures of, so I tolerate them quite happily. If they came near the house though….!”

Jo Smalley writes, “Hahahahahaha, I’d rather see red! Love the marmite comparison. So true though.”

Dennis Skinner thinks squirrelsare an absolute nuisance in my garden digging up the lawn and borders and taking the bird food. The pigeons are worse! Does anyone else think pigeons are becoming too many? They seem to breed 5-6 times a year and have few enemies.”

Paul Irving writes, “It doesn’t matter how long alien species that have been brought here by us are here they are still alien, that’s what the science says. Yes, our ecology adapts to an extent, but look what we lost in the case of the grey squirrel, the red, which I can just remember seeing in this area. Personally I’d happily forego the pleasure of all the unnatural aliens such as the Grey Squirrel (got rid of quickly in this garden!), Canada Goose, Fallow Deer, Pheasant and Himalayan Balsam, especially if it meant more of some species of native.”

Mark Haythorne, Penny Pot Gardens, views’ on grey squirrels are, “I’m afraid I’m very firmly in the “against” camp. I can see why people like to watch them as they frolic about – they do appeal to the “cuteness” factor, but my reasons for not being a fan are: (i) they are pretty much responsible for demolishing the indigenous and much less harmful red squirrel, because of the virus they carry and competition for habitat, food etc (ii) raiding the bird feeders and damaging them – they can chew through practically anything; (iii) digging up bulbs and corms etc, and damage to trees, which I suffer from a fair bit but (iv) by far my biggest problem with them is that they decimate garden bird populations by devouring eggs and chicks – I have personally seen them do this more than once with blue tit and chaffinch nests in my garden. I even saw one tackling a wood pigeon! The cat problem and loss of habitat for birds is bad enough – we will lose a decent curlew and skylark population when they plonk 680 houses on the fields between Queen Ethelburga’s and the Army College (B6161 at Oaker Bank) but grey squirrels certainly play a big part in garden bird predation. I’m sure a lot of people will take the ‘live and let live’ approach, but like American signal crayfish, we could certainly do without the little beggars!”

Mike Sims of Burnt Yates visited Fountains Abbey recently where he saw “a pair of Wigeon, a pair of Goosander and several Goldeneye, as well as the occasional Cormorant, the usual Coot, Mute Swans and Mallard and sometimes up to 230 Black Headed Gulls, all seen on the Lake at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. There are Little Grebe on the Lake too and up to 15 seen on the Half Moon Reservoir at the Abbey end of the Water Gardens there. The bird hide near the Visitor Centre is brilliant with Great Spotted Woodpecker being a regular visitor for the peanuts.” Sounds well worth a visit, watching the goldeneye courtship display is always fascinating.

Sightings

Tony Brookes, Old Scriven, Knaresborough, “Yesterday p.m. I was in my study and looked out of the window to see a male sparrowhawk swooping towards the bird feeding centre. As is often the case, the small birds escaped bar one that cowered on the bird table whereupon the sparrowhawk circled the table at great speed at least six or seven times before the terrified bird escaped into the nearby bushes. The sparrowhawk alighted on a branch, defecated and flew off over the park. I have never ever seen a sparrowhawk hunt in this way and could find nothing online to suggest other people have reported this activity. No doubt readers of your website might find this behaviour unusual and may wish to comment or even relate similar occurrences.” Tony then says, “I was reminded by this of the stories of foxes walking around trees where pheasants roost to disorient them and, it is said, make them dizzy and fall out of those trees. Fact or an old wives tale?” It does seem like unusual sparrowhawk behaviour, they usually fly in at great speed like a stealth bomber and if they miss keep on flying. At another time of year I would have said the sparrowhawk was a juvenile and new to the hunting game but to survive winter it can’t be. Sorry but I’m afraid like most things wildlife I don’t get it. I have heard the fox and pheasant tale before and always assume it to be an old wives tale. Like you I would love to hear what other folks have to say, on both issues.

Adrian Wetherill, tweeted, Egyptian goose on Nicholson’s lagoon, Ripon racecourse, 24/2/2016.

Joan Howard tells me, “White crow seen this winter in Morrisons car park. Shoppers walk past it…must think it is a seagull.” I wonder if it’s the same one that keeps getting reported or many? The BTO tells us the maximum recorded age for a crow is 17 years. Much older than I expected, although the typical lifespan is 4 years.

Events

Harrogate and District Naturalists Society See website for full details.

Tuesday 15th March 08:00 – 17:00 Mini-bus trip to RSPB Fairburn & Swillington Ings / St Aidans. Mini-bus trip (booking essential).

Harrogate RSPB Group See website for full details including costs and to confirm no changes.

Monday 14th March 7:30pm Indoor Meeting – Tom Lawson “Birding in Iceland”

Nidderdale Bird Club See website for full details including costs and to confirm no changes.

Friday 11th March a full day visit to Foulshaw Moss & Dallam Heronry

Saturday 12th March a fundraising event at the Glasshouses Methodist Church, Broadbelt Hall (HG3 5QY) on Saturday 12th March. The Curlew has declined in Britain to such an extent that it is the bird most in need of conservation action and is on the Red List of Birds of Conservation concern. The BTO are hoping to raise £100,000 in the first year to do extensive research into the reasons for the decline of both breeding and wintering Curlew. Nidderdale Bird Club’s fundraising will take several forms, this is the first. As well as providing coffee and tea there will be T-shirts and cards and cakes for sale.

Red Kites, Hen Harriers and Nidderdale

19 January 2016

Red Kite - John Herrington2Red Kite – John Herrington

Red Kites

Richard Wells, responding to my blog on 10 December regarding kamikaze red kites writes, “The best red kite players of “chicken” I have come across were above the M1 near its junction with the A63 south-east of Leeds. Two took it turns to swoop down on the middle lane. I was doing 70 (honest) on the inside lane and heaven knows what the guy on the outer was doing. But the red kites didn’t bat an eyelid. At the third time of asking one got its morsel and they both flew off unscathed.” Talking of red kites Doug Simpson sent me the latest red kite newsletter (17) with the following breeding figures for 2015, 2014 in brackets.

AREA

TERR. PAIRS

PAIRS BRED

PAIRS SUCC.

YOUNG

West Yorkshire

65 (63)

61 (61)

54 (53)

102 (93)

North Yorkshire

44 (40)

40 (37)

36 (31)

68 (63)

East Yorkshire

14 (9)

11 (8)

9 (7)

16 (15)

Totals

123 (112)

112 (106)

99 (91)

186 (171)

Average young raised per successful pair = 1.88 (1.86).

Doug tells me, “Red Kites are renowned for their habit of collecting a wide variety of items to decorate their nests. Our first Yorkshire nest in 2000 had a tea-towel and a teddy bear’s head in it. Since then, soft toys have featured regularly. An England flag was found in a nest in 1996, a Football World Cup year, together with a map showing the location of the G-Mex Centre in Manchester. More recently, an East Yorkshire pair had collected an order of service for a funeral at the nearby village church. Doug also says that sightings of kites seen to be regularly frequenting new areas are particularly welcome. This helps to confirm new breeding pairs and monitor the progress of the expanding population. They can be reported through the website or to one of the following contacts:

Doug Simpson MBE. Email: doug@milvus.me.uk
Nigel Puckrin (East Yorkshire). Email: n.puckrin@btinternet.com
Simon Bassindale (North York Moors). Email: s.bassindale@northyorkmoors.org.uk

Tawny Owl - Raymond RumboldTawny Owl – Raymond Rumbold

Your Sightings

Contact me with your questions and Sightings

Phil Roberts contacted me, “Idly looking out of the bathroom window recently upon another gloomy day when a small flock of Feral Pigeons flew across my line of sight above the houses on Woodlands Avenue, Harrogate, about 300 metres away. Then, at twice their speed, an unidentified bird flew into the back of the Pigeon flock then dropped down out of the flock and landed out of my sight. The only bird that I can think of that has the speed and interest in Pigeons is the Peregrine Falcon. What do you think! If it was a Peregrine, then it’s the first sighting for me in Harrogate. However, I’ve seen many of them on the big coal-fired power stations, particularly in the Midlands, where they are encouraged. Crude nests built from welding wire and bits of electrical cable in niches in the cooling towers or on high points on the boiler house.” It seems that Phil encountered this bird at a height, certainly not sparrowhawk behaviour, which are sneaky hunters relying upon stealth rather than speed, so I reckon peregrine is the most likely culprit, especially as peregrines are seen in Harrogate town centre and reasonably regularly at local nature reserves such as Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private Farnham Reserve.

Gwen Turner tells me that she has recently heard owls hooting late evening and early morning on Duchy Road, Harrogate and asks, “Is this normal for this time of the year or is the warmth suggesting spring? I am used to hearing them but usually around midnight.” The BTO tells us, “Tawny Owls are very early nesters and are busy establishing breeding territories from November onwards.” I reckon that these birds are establishing territory and courting and responding to more direct urges than the weather.

More owls and Richard Simmons spotted a barn owl flying across the road at Keld Houses on the Greenhow to Stump Cross road. Richard writes, “I wouldn’t expect them so high up.” I reckon they’ll go anywhere where food is available. I am a little concerned however because it probably isn’t their preferred hunting ground and may indicate a lack of food, forcing them to roam further. The BTO suggest that the summer weather has hit barn owls hard, I suspect locally they are still faring reasonably well but would love to know for sure. There have also been numerous sightings of barn owls in Upper Nidderdale according to Stan Beer, the proprietor of How Stean Gorge.

The East Dales Ringing Group on January 13 have ringed 290 redpoll over autumn 2015 and of these they have already recovered three. The birds have moved to Suffolk, West Yorkshire and Surrey. You can follow EDRG on Twitter at @EDRInging.

RSPB Fairburn Ings – recent sightings include male red-crested pochard daily and little egret, whilst at Nosterfield marsh harrier, peregrine and white-fronted geese have been reported.

Gouthwaite ReservoirGouthwaite Reservoir – Nidderdale

Reconnecting Nature and People in Nidderdale

As Nidderdale folk we all know how great the valley is in both aesthetic and historical terms. Well now The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a new project called Reconnecting Nature and People in Nidderdale. This means that Nidderdale folk will have the chance to reconnect with the natural heritage on their doorstep, and to make a more meaningful and more useful contribution to conserving the world around them, thanks to National Lottery players. This will be a citizen science project and data will be gathered relating to the habitats and wildlife of Nidderdale, engaging people with nature, and creating natural heritage action plans for nationally threatened wildlife species, flora and fauna. The data collected will help the team to understand how they can take targeted conservation action to best effect, and help protect the future of much-loved species, once a common sight but now increasingly threatened and rare. The Nidderdale AONB contact is Sarah Kettlewell on: sarah.kettlewell@harrogate.gov.uk.

Hen Harrier Action Plan

A joint plan has been launched to try to save the hen harrier from extinction. The aim or at least success criteria are:

1. The hen harrier has a self-sustaining and well dispersed breeding population in England across a range of habitats including a viable population present in the Special Protected Areas designated for hen harrier.
2. The harrier population coexists with local business interests and its presence contributes to a thriving rural economy.

This will be achieved by the following six actions:

1. Monitoring of hen harrier populations in England and the UK.
2. Diversionary feeding of hen harriers on grouse moors.
3. Analyse monitoring data and build intelligence picture.
4. Nest and winter roost site protection.
5. Reintroduce hen harriers to southern England.
6. Trial a brood management scheme.

I have always argued that there are too many folk on both sides with entrenched views which has failed the hen harrier, perhaps even contributed to their demise so some dialogue has long been needed and hopefully this is the first stage. This plan has been realised by Defra, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, National Parks UK, Natural England and the RSPB. An unholy alliance you may say, especially as no place was found for Raptor Protection Groups. Last year there were six successful harrier nests fledging 18 new chicks (Natural England). A seventh nest was very close to fledging, but failed due to natural causes. Rob Cooke, Natural England’s Director of Terrestrial Biodiversity, said: “Six nests is a small number, but it is actually more than we have seen in total over the past three years, which is a significant and positive step forward. Obviously we need to see many more pairs of these iconic birds nesting successfully and we are actively looking at how we and our partners can build on this positive outcome in the future.” To put this in context the RSPB claim, “There is enough habitat for 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England.” The reason we haven’t got so many hen harriers is persecution, probably by or encouraged by some folk who are members of the organisations responsible for the action plan. But surely this must help the hen harriers although no account is made for the other birds of prey which disappear each year especially on our moorlands. I have always believed that what is needed to protect our raptor heritage is licensing of grouse and pheasant shoots. To get and keep a licence those taking part must demonstrate they are protecting and encouraging our wildlife and that means ensuring we have a viable population of raptor species on the shooting grounds.



 

Resolve to Help Wildlife

Bullfinch - Nigel Heptinstall.JPG

Male Bullfinch at a well-stocked feeder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Spring

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

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

Sightings

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

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

Blackcap - Judith Fawcett

Blackcap – Judith Fawcett

Through The Window

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