Picnic With Henry and National Insect Week

Red Kite - StephenTomlinson

Red Kite – Stephen Tomlinson (Nidd Gorge Photography)

Picnic With Henry

Henry the Hen Harrier, according to Mark Avery, ex RSPB guy and currently wildlife blogger and campaigner, is organising a picnic at Grimwith Reservoir this Saturday, 25 June at noon. I know little other than this but I suspect it has arisen as a result of all the Red Kite killings and other illegal wildlife activities which take place in North Yorkshire and around our area. Doug Simpson tells me that “Remains of another shot Kite found at Timble on Monday. Probably shot around the same time as the Blubberhouses bird. That makes six confirmed shot in Yorkshire since Easter”. Regarding the pole traps I mentioned last week Doug also tells me, “I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that this case did not go to court of any description. Rather, the caution was administered by NY Police. We are all eagerly awaiting the outcome of a review of the matter promised by the ACC Amanda Oliver.” My apologies if I misled anyone. Strangely the police has withdrawn it’s website discussing the subject, try searching for North Yorkshire Police pole trap. Let me know if you get any response from the Commissioner, please.

Magpie Moth - Shirley Dunwell

Magpie Moth – Shirley Dunwell

National Insect Week

This week is National Insect Week, a biannual event aimed at encouraging folk of all ages to learn more about insects. It runs until 26 June and offers various events – don’t bother there’s nowt near home – a Great Bug Hunt Competition for schools, and a free magazine for kids, sorry, young entomologists. What is an entomologist? Well there’s a video to tell you, another to say what an insect is and finally why insects are important. They are an integral part of the food web and are not only eaten by animals ‘higher’ up the scale but also provide a valuable role as scavenger and rubbish disposer, so don’t underestimate the role insects play within our biodiversity. Don’t just scan these videos to find out about insects though, why not get outdoors and see what you can find, look for various types of insect orders such as beetles, bees, wasps, crickets, dragonflies, earwigs, mayflies, true bugs and more. Use the website resources to Discover these Insects and distinguish between the different ones. Let’s take true bugs for example because the term always fascinates me. In fact true bugs or insects of the HEMIPTERA (Ancient Greek –hemi =half ; pteron = wing) feed on plant sap, using their specialised piercing, sucking mouthparts. Examples include plant-bugs, bed-bugs, water-boatmen, aphids, leafhoppers, froghoppers and (in warmer climates) cicadas. The spit-like substance you find on plants at this time of year is produced by common froghopper nymphs for protection. Our lavender is festooned with it at the moment. When disturbed, the adults can jump as high as 70 cm with enormous force using their powerful back legs. Recent research has shown that within a millisecond they can accelerate to over 14 km/h! Very few potential predators could catch the Common Froghopper once it has jumped. And maybe that’s why it gets its name. Another true bug you may see, although less likely, is the shieldbug, so named because it’s shaped like a shield. The Green Shieldbug’s alternative name – Green Stink Bug – refers to the smell that it leaves as a trail over fruit and vegetation. If it is present in large numbers, this can taint and spoil a crop. The insects also produce this smell if handled or disturbed.

High Batts Open Day

Now don’t be too disappointed if you missed out because there’s no National Insect Week events near us because on Sunday, July 3 High Batts Nature Reserve is holding its annual Open Day from 10am to 4pm and what’s more it’s free. There ought to be plenty of insects on show with loads of fascinating activities including pond dipping, displays of bats and moths, children’s activities, make a bird box, bird ringing. Help with bird identification, from Nidderdale Birders, displays by local natural history groups, live small mammal trapping – see them released back to the wild. And refreshments, no charge, in fact entrance is also free so it’s clearly not to be missed. It’ll be packed with Yorkshire folk for sure. High Batts is a fascinating place because it was once part of the land on the east side of the River Ure until over the years the course of the river has changed and it is now accessible from the west of the river, complete with ox-bow lake and whilst it still floods in extreme conditions it has also proved to be a valuable wildlife habitat, aided and abetted by the volunteers of High Batts Nature Reserve. Thanks should be given to the Graham Family of Norton Conyers who kindly allow the Open Day. If coming from Ripon on the A6108 towards North Stainley High Batts is situated just beyond the rise after Lightwater Valley, on the right, down the Hanson Track, if you reach North Stainley you have missed it, but you shouldn’t because it will be well signposted on the day.

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7-Spot Ladybird with Cocoon  Ladybird Challenge Website

Take The Ladybird Challenge

This might prove difficult if the number of ladybirds I have seen this year is anything to go by. It is therefore even more important to take part if you can. Like all these requests for help this is more citizens’ science we need to help if proper funding isn’t available. The Ladybird Challenge wants folk to help them find the 7-spot ladybird and the wasp parasite Dinocampus coccinellae (sorry, there’s no English name for it!) that attacks it. The project is investigating whether the natural balance between the 7-spot ladybird and this wasp parasite has been disrupted by the arrival of another ladybird, the invasive alien harlequin ladybird. This invasive ladybird species has caused large population declines for many native UK ladybirds, but its impact is predicted to be even more widespread, with 1000 insect species affected in the UK. “We want to know if ladybird parasites have been impacted. Your help is needed to find 7-spot ladybirds and tell us whether or not they have been attacked by the Dinocampus wasp. We can then link your observations to information gathered by the UK Ladybird Survey on the number of harlequins in your area to help us answer our question. Go hunting for 7-spot ladybirds and report how many you find; how many have an easily recognisable seed-shaped cocoon between their legs. Record your ladybirds and where you found them using the online form”. If you were wondering – and I certainly was – what is this cocoon business? Look away now if you are of a queasy nature (this works much better on TV). Well the wasp has laid its grub inside the ladybird which then pushing its way out of the ladybird and spins a cocoon between the legs of the ladybird. The reason it keeps the ladybird there is to get protection from the bad tasting ladybird against potential predators. The wasp has used its venom to keep the ladybird twitching, adding to the protection that the ladybird is providing the wasp against predation.

Your Sightings

As it’s National Insect Week I thought I would concentrate where I could on insects, so if your contribution has been missed off it may well feature it next week.

Shirly Dunwell writes, “The solitary bees (as you expected) have sealed their tunnels and left before I could get a good shot. My best guess at which species they might have been were tawny mining bee or red mason bee – neither of which is registered as in danger. Sadly, online they are still mentioned by some as being a possible danger to building mortar. Last year I submitted a photo of the rather attractive Magpie Moth which has now produced larvae – they reportedly eat currant or fruit bushes which might not be popular with me! But presently they like my sedum leaves and I am happy to leave them there. Following on from my report of starlings in March; I regularly see upwards of 24 each day (including their offspring).”

Green Drake - Ephemera dancia poss - Cliare Yarborough

Mayfly – Claire Yarborough

Claire Yarborough found this mayfly on her car, “This mayfly repeatedly landed on my car roof yesterday and seemed to be leaving eggs. It appears to have an egg mass at the end of its body. I found this intriguing as we have no pond and brief research informed me that they lay in water. Could the reflection of blue sky have fooled it? I have no idea what species it is. Any ideas?” I’m honoured that Claire rates my knowledge so highly, but feel she will be disappointed. I suspect only fishermen can identify mayflies and similar insects, the rest of us are pleased just to see them. I am sure Claire is absolutely right, I’m just a little surprised it travelled so far from running(?) water to deposit its eggs, they usually only live a few hours after hatching. More info here, but I reckon firstly it is a mayfly, not a stonefly, caddisfly or similar because it appears to have short antennae. My guess therefore would be, please note the careful use of the word guess, Ephemera dancia, or green drake.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve recent sightings include butterflies, Large Skippers, Common Blues, brimstone, speckled wood, green-veined white. Flowers bee orchids, Common spotted orchid, meadow vetchling, heath speedwell and eyebright. Birds black-tailed godwits in summer plumage and little egrets.

RSPB Fairburn Ings cuckoos, one very elusive spoonbill, and a black tern!

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society report an hobby at Hay-a-Park, Kanresborough.

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club Sunday 26th JuneNorth Cave Wetlands

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society – Thursday 23 June – Scotton Banks and Nidd Gorge

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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.

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.”

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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.

Grey Squirrels – Cute and Cuddly or Vermin?

4 March 2016

Grey squirrel2 - David UffindallGrey Squirrel – David Uffindall

Helen Watkison writes, “last year we had one grey squirrel daily in the garden, we called him Cyril, he had his own monkey nut feeder, though of course he also helped himself to the birds’ too. He liked to cache acorns and beech nuts from our trees. This year he brought along his girlfriend Muriel (any idea how to sex squirrels?) and provided more amusement by chasing along our fence and up and down the leylandii. I wondered if they were a pair, and if and where they might breed, as I gather dreys are both rare and high. Alas, my son found one dead in the road outside our house (I didn’t get to see it); however, another squirrel (yet to be named) has appeared and the antics continue. I know most folk think they are vermin, rats with tails and can do damage to houses, what do you think?” Grey squirrels (greys) certainly divide opinion. I don’t know if squirrels cause damage to your house. I guess they can damage wood and get into your false roof, plastic may prove more difficult for them. Many people despise grey squirrels because they have deposed the reds and because the greys will take young birds from their nests. Reds do exactly the same and each has to survive. They are also, especially the greys, accused of damaging commercial forests. I don’t particularly like grey squirrels because when they visit my feeders they keep all the birds away and eat prodigious amounts of seed, which isn’t cheap. I chase them away for this reason but would never hurt them. So to answer Helen’s question. Grey squirrels are here because someone introduced them to the UK, from the USA, in the late 19th or early 20th century. Probably Sir Henry Courtney Brocklehurst, Bt. They certainly didn’t choose to come here and surely by now should be considered part of our native fauna. I know they displace reds with their pox and better foraging skills (they can eat hazelnuts for example before they are ripe enough for reds to eat). But we ought to embrace them, because reds aren’t coming back, they fill the same niche and who are we humans to say what creatures we shall or shan’t share the earth with. Squirrels do prefer to build their dreys high up, it keeps them and their families well away from predators and I never call them rats with tails, tree rats is my preferred sobriquet. Now I also know that many folk enjoy the antics of squirrels in their gardens, Roger and Pauline Litton are a couple who enjoy the greys visiting them and I guess many others do also so let’s live and let live. What do you think?

First Frogspawn of the Year

Roger Graville writes, “Your various correspondents have had a race for a few years now for sightings of the first frogspawn. Well here’s my entry for 2016. Today, 24 February, two lots of spawn in our garden pond.” Great, Roger is 2016’s champion unless of course you know better. I checked out the pond on Bachelor Gardens, Bilton, Harrogate recently and was dismayed to find a shoal of goldfish had taken it over. I fear for the tadpoles and spawn, when it arrives. Roger Litton saw his “first (and only!) batch of frogspawn – but no frogs (26 February). This was in their usual pool – the one above the boating pool where the pool is created behind the metal plate.”Neil Anderson, Bilton, had his first spawn arrive on Wednesday 2 March, the day of the snow. Bad timing there then on the frog’s behalf. I reckon frogspawn is very late this year. Have you seen any? When did it arrive, What do you think?

Funny Coloured Rabbit Update

Paul Brothers, “Spotted quite a few black ones at the top of Swinsty Reservoir near to the dam wall with Fewston Reservoir here in Yorkshire. There were at least three or probably four of them sunning themselves a couple of years back”.

Congratulations to Oatlands Junior School

They have made it to the Shortlist of 20 for the 2016 Saatchi Gallery/Deutsche Bank Art Prize for Schools with their art work ‘Conserving our Biodiversity’. The inscription to the artwork says:

“Conserving Our Biodiversity is a whole school inclusive art project inspired by artist Ai Weiwei, and looking at climate change and its effects on our biodiversity. All children have each created a clay sculpture from their individual illustrations of a study of a plant or flower, which is on the Red Data List for the British Isles, focusing on their form and details, which could be lost forever. Clay sculpture installation measures approx. 5 m x 2m.”

Wildlife Politics

Have you signed the petition, “Make planting trees a priority to reduce flooding by improving soil and drainage”. If you haven’t please do so now. I won’t provide the whole Government response I received, if you sign I imagine you will receive the same response. Here are a few selected Government comments however. “Trees can slow the flow of water down and reduce the impacts of floods; we are currently exploring the increased role that this could play in flood risk management.” That seems pretty unequivocal to me. They say later, “Defra continues to support a number of leading research and demonstration projects to better understand the role that land management changes in our landscapes and catchments, such as tree planting, peatland restoration and habitat creation, could have in reducing flood risk. These include the Forest Research led ‘Slowing the Flow Partnership’ in Pickering, North Yorkshire … These projects indicate that woodlands can slow the flow of water through smaller catchments and reduce the impacts of some floods. We will continue to support such investigations, gathering further evidence into the potential benefits that land management changes, such as tree planting in catchments, could have on reducing flood risk, in addition to the wider environmental and economic benefits that they could provide.” Sign the petition and maybe public opinion will make a difference!

Signs of Spring

Barn Owl - Nigel HeptinstallBarn Owl (Tyto alba)

Janice Scott from Padside/Thornthwaite wrote, “We thought you would like these signs of spring for your blog: Our first curlew calling was heard at Padside on 17 February and has been heard several times since. Travelling to Parceval Hall late morning Wednesday 24 February we saw several large flocks of peewit between The Stone House and Greenhow, then none once we were over into Wharfedale. On our return mid afternoon it was the reverse – large flocks around Wharfedale and none after Greenhow. We couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same birds heading out to breeding grounds during the course of the day. At Parcevall Hall we heard our first drumming great spotted woodpecker of the year. We also surprised four mandarin ducks over the lake. The previous evening I had been reading that they are threatened in their home country of China and their best chance of survival is with feral populations in Europe. I wonder how they are doing in our area? From our window at home we have seen blackbirds busily collecting nesting materials and tree sparrows investigating nest boxes and staking their claim. We have also had a nuthatch visiting a peanut feeder right outside our kitchen window on several occasions recently – what a beautiful bird! On the barn owl front, we saw one near The Stone House pub last Thursday (18 February) and friends have reported recent sightings at Heyshaw, Dacre, Clint, Heathfield and Huby.” It’s good news regarding the curlew and barn owl. I saw a barn owl on 26 February hunting around Grimwith reservoir. I’m getting worried because they are out during the day, it may suggest there is no food. Some peewit 26 February probably on territory between Greenhow and Grimwith, no large flocks. I would suggest large flocks are returning to their breeding grounds, which could be in Scandinavia or Northern Russia. Mandarin can be found locally mainly on the river at Bolton Abbey, Strid Woods, (in fair numbers 10/20) but certainly as far upstream as Burnsall. They first nested in Harrogate District some probably 10 years ago near Beckwithshaw. They have been seen in the Nidd Gorge occasionally. They are tree hole nesters. Mandarin status is increasing slowly I would say.

Wendy Binns wrote, “This morning (25 February) as I stepped out of the car at Tadcaster Grammar School a woodpecker was drumming away in the woods surrounding the school and the sound echoed all round. Is this a little early to hear this? I actually ‘spotted’ the woodpecker but it was far away and couldn’t quite see what type it was.”

Yes many of our resident birds are forming territories and prospecting for nest sites and partners. I hope they don’t start laying too soon. Have you any reports of Spring, please?

Notes For Your Diary

Harrogate and District Biodiversity Action Group are holding their AGM on Saturday 12 March 2016 13:30 – 15:00 at Horticap, Blue Coat Nurseries, Otley Road, Harrogate, HG3 1QL. After the (usually) very short business meeting there will be a couple of guest speakers, sharing the visions of two newly established groups that are all about community and environment: Chris Beard of Hookstone and Stonefall Action Group (HASAG) and Catherine Baxter from Woodlands Community Garden. HDBAG works actively with the community to maximise the environment for local wildlife It raises awareness of the needs of wildlife affected by growth and change in the Harrogate District. They support and encourage community involvement in maintaining and improving green spaces and enthuse young people through working with schools and community hubs.

Curlew Appeal

IMG_4769

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Nidderdale Bird Group are holding 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.

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society See website for full details.

Wednesday March 9 19:30 – 21:30 lecture ‘RED KITES IN YORKSHIRE’ Doug Simpson

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

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

Through Your Window

Doug Simpson, Red Kite Man, “We have a steep embankment behind our house. It faces roughly south-west and there’s quite an updraught when the wind is from that quarter. My daughter came for lunch on Friday and had pride of place at the dining table – looking straight out of the patio window across the garden. Suddenly she asked ‘What’s that?’ Looking up, I saw it was a Common Buzzard which was hanging motionless on the updraught. It was there for several seconds before flying off to the west. Buzzards are by no means unusual here, but we’d never previously seen one at such close quarters. The previous day we’d had a Red Kite over the garden whilst today, Saturday, the big birds in view are Grey Herons, no doubt looking at the pond between us and Saltergate Beck to see if the toads have arrived yet.”



Apricot Rabbits and Clean for the Queen

26 February 2016

Apricot Rabbit - Peter ThompsonApricot Rabbit – Peter Thompson

Apricot Rabbits

Rabbits are not considered native to this country, although goodness knows why not, they have been here since Norman times, surely that should qualify them for something. In fact remains were found from interglacial sites in the Middle Pleistocene but not from subsequent eras until Norman times. They were once prized for their meat and kept in special warrens surrounded by high walls to protect them from predators. There is a great example on high ground and private above Gouthwaite Reservoir. They used to call only the juveniles rabbits (rabets), the adults were called coney and is probably a good indicator of the origins of Coneythorpe (Knaresborough), perhaps an outlying farm or hamlet where rabbits were kept. It could also be the King’s farmstead. Anyway Peter Thompson contacted me because he has discovered that there are ‘funny coloured’ rabbits living besides the Oak Beck in Harrogate. Sadly his interest was raised because many dead ones were found after the recent floods had clearly destroyed their warren and when Peter went to investigate he could only find two. Rabbits being rabbits I suspect their numbers will soon increase, they have exceptional fecundity! I have heard previously of these strange coloured rabbits when I wrote for the local paper and Helen Moorse had an interesting rabbit tale (sorry!) on 22-5-14, “Just thought I would tell you about the unusual colony of wild rabbits I encounter on my daily commute to work. Most people will have at some time seen a black wild rabbit – this genetic mutation of colour is called melanistic. I have seen a few ‘ginger’ or ‘apricot’ coloured rabbits very rarely over the years in various parts of Nidderdale. Some people believe that they are a genetic mutation of colour called ‘leucistic’ which makes them lighter in colour.” Helen sees around five of these rabbits every morning on her drive to work. She continues, “There is a family of five ‘apricot’ rabbits, they are there most mornings and sometimes on a night. When the sun is shining on them they appear to be golden. They are a lovely sight which brightens my morning commute.” Please note melanistic means dark pigmentation whilst leucistic means reduced pigmentation. I then had a response from Jean Butterfield, who lives at South Stainley and tells me there are apricot rabbits near her. I also know that there are similarly coloured rabbits near the moor edge on Blayshaw Gill, above Studfold Adventure Trail and camping site in Upper Nidderdale. Now I really need a scientist here but my experience suggests that ‘apricot’ rabbits live mainly, but not exclusively, in their own little colony of funny coloured rabbits whilst black rabbits, once considered unlucky because they might embody an ancestral spirit returned to earth, seem to live within a colony of ‘normal’ coloured rabbits. White rabbits were equally unlucky, because they might be a witch. I have never seen a white one in the wild, I guess the ducking stool worked. It seems unusually coloured rabbits may be more prevalent than I thought. Have you seen any near you? I would love to hear from you.

Clean For The Queen

Her Majesty officially celebrates her 90th birthday in June 2016 and Clean for The Queen is a campaign to clear up Britain in time for that, well at least make a start. The campaign is calling on individuals, volunteer groups, local councils, businesses and schools to do their bit. You can start now and also take part in the Clean for The Queen weekend on 4, 5 and 6 March 2016. Getting rid of litter is clearly very important for the well-being of not just us but also our wildlife and I’m pleased to say a number of organisations in Harrogate District are taking part. These include so far on 4 March, Glasshouses School Tidy our Village Day, Moorside Infants School, Ripon, Springwater School Starbeck. On 5 March there is the Rotary Club of Harrogate, Sainsbury’s car park, Hookstones Woods, Harrogate, Pinewoods Clean for the Queen Event, Harrogate Spa Tennis club car park and Bilton to Starbeck cycle track. Finally on 6 March Woodlands Methodist Church is cleaning some of Wetherby Road. To find out more about Clean For The Queen and see what’s happening near you visit the website.

House Sparrow Roger LittonHouse Sparrow – Roger Litton

Sightings

Terry Knowles reckons he has a bank vole burrowing in his garden. What mammals visit your garden?

Peter Thomson writes, “I thought it was time I got in touch with you again but being of the “old school” I do not seem to be able to get used to communicating very often by e-mail. I do, however, find it much more convenient to read your column on my computer instead of having to go out and buy a newspaper. As far as garden birds are concerned we are getting daily visits from a pair of Siskins and three or four Redpolls but they have quite a job getting to the feeders because of the large number of Goldfinches present. A welcome newcomer to the garden feeders is a House Sparrow and his family; although we have had Tree Sparrows for many years, this is the first time in over 20 years that we have had House Sparrows. They nested in the eaves of the house next door and had at least two broods. I do enjoy hearing their cheerful chirrupping. Since we had a recent spell of less rain, the rocks in the Oak Beck (Knox – Harrogate) have become visible again and a Dipper has reappeared and posed to have his photograph taken.” I wonder if anyone really knows why tree sparrow and house sparrow numbers fluctuate so much. Do you? The BTO tells us the house sparrow is a red alert species, “RED because of Recent Breeding Population Decline (1969-2010), Recent Winter Population Decline (1981-2010), Recent Breeding Range Decline (1981-2010), Recent Winter Range Decline (1981-2010). All very worrying. The tree sparrow is also red for very similar reasons. There was a report I believe linking house sparrow decline to the introduction of unleaded petrol, maybe that’s the reason. If you want to know more about House Sparrows, why not download this BTO Fact File.

Richard Simmons wrote: “I saw another barn owl at sundown on way back to Pateley on Tuesday. It was sitting on a wall and flew off as I approached. Location just east of the Smelthouses/ Burnt Yates/ Summerbridge/ Brimham Rocks crossroads on top of the hill.” It’s great that we have so many barn owls; around 25 years ago there were hardly any. I guess the mild weather helps. The BTO Species Fact File says the barn owl is not of conservation concern but it does have this interesting ‘titbit’ “The unearthly shrieks, cries and hisses of the Barn Owl (and its association with churches) may have given rise to a widespread association of owls with all things evil – an owls’ wing was a key ingredient in the witches brew that troubled Macbeth.”

Roger Litton visited RSPB Fairburn Ings on 18 February. “Unlike last time, when we encountered thick fog, we had brilliant sunshine.” Birds encountered by Roger and Pauline include coot, dunnock, chaffinch, long-tailed tit, the ubiquitous black-headed gulls and tufted ducks. I’m sure Roger saw other birds but those are the ones he managed to get some great photos of.

Nick Woods writes, “It’s 18 February and I’ve just heard the entirely predictable first curlew….. same time every year. One bird comes and occupies a field within earshot of our house with startling annual regularity. Also, given the odd bullfinch mention, we have a small group (three males and one female) which come and take blackberry heads. Pictured from kitchen window early January.” With all the news we keep hearing about curlew declines let’s hope Nick keeps hearing his curlew. Has anyone else heard a curlew or indeed any other nesting bird on territory. I was a little surprised to see 25 oystercatchers at Ripley Castle on 19 February. Blackberry heads must be almost indigestible, but then I’m not a bullfinch.

Ian Law was walking near Grassington recently and saw a grey heron catch a fish. Aren’t grey herons’ fishing skills remarkable?

Notes For Your Diary

Harrogate RSPB Group’s next outdoor meeting is on Sunday, 28 February, when they will be visiting Nosterfield Nature Reserve.

Through Your Window

Rouen Clair Domestic Duck - Peter ThompsonRouen Clair domestic duck – Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson, see rabbits, also writes, “my next-door neighbour’s Rouen Clair domestic ducks has made friends with some local mallards. He had three of these ducks in an enclosure by the beck (to which they did not have access) but the flood destroyed their surrounding fence and when the water level dropped they took to the water but found it difficult to get out again. Two of them managed it but after more rain and a much faster flow during the night the third one was apparently washed away downstream and could be among the Mallards in Knaresborough. If this is the case there could be some rather puzzled twitchers in Knaresborough!” See the photo because like me you may have considered this bird to be just a duck hybrid and not a specially bred domestic bird.

Doug Simpson, The Red Kite Man, writes, “We, too, have regular Bullfinches on the feeders. Before the Trichomoniasis outbreak a couple of years ago, we used to get nicely into double-figures. I once counted 15 in our garden Birch and they were actually the most numerous birds on our feeders. Nowadays we regularly see seven – four males and three females. They breed somewhere locally as we usually get one or two young ones at the feeders each year.” Doug also tells me, “We have a steep embankment behind our house. It faces roughly south-west and there’s quite an updraught when the wind is from that quarter. My daughter came for lunch on Friday and had pride of place at the dining table – looking straight out of the patio window across the garden. Suddenly she asked ‘What’s that?’ Looking up, I saw it was a Common Buzzard which was hanging motionless on the updraught. It was there for several seconds before flying off to the west. Buzzards are by no means unusual here, but we’d never previously seen one at such close quarters. The previous day we’d had a Red Kite over the garden whilst today, Saturday, the big birds in view are Grey Herons, no doubt looking at the pond between us and Saltergate Beck to see if the toads have arrived yet.” Interesting, I hadn’t realised that Trichomoniasis affected bullfinch quite so much. I do know it affects turtle dove and there are worries about them using the feeders at the top of Sutton Bank. I also realise that many species, not just greenfinch, suffer from this dreadful disease. Doug also tells me, “it was sickening to see them. One day they’d be there, all clogged up, next day they’d be gone. I put clean feeders out every day and spray the bird-table.”

Tree Charter, Cranes and What You See

19 February 2016

Ancient Oak Lamb's Close DallowgillAncient Oak – Lamb’s Close, Dallowgill

WOODLAND TRUST CHARTER

Way back in 1217, just two years after Magna Carta was signed, Henry III signed The Charter of The Forest. The aim was to protect the rights of people to access and use the Royal Forests. The Charter of the Forest provides a window to a time in history when access to woods was integral to life. Being denied access for grazing livestock, collecting firewood and foraging for food was a real concern for the people of the time. Now The Woodland Trust reckon it’s time for another Charter because trees in all areas of society are more at risk than ever before from natural threats, such as pests and diseases, man-made pollution, infrastructure and political disinterest.

Making history – the call for a Charter

In summer 2015 the Woodland Trust put out an invitation for organisations from across the conservation, environmental, business and social sectors to join a call for a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People. More than 35 organisations answered the call, and have been working with the Woodland Trust to create a national moment for woods and trees. It will establish a legacy of lasting change for the relationship between trees, woods and people. This charter would bring trees and woods back into the centre of public consciousness and political decision-making in the UK. After all, as The Woodland Trust tells us, trees provide “clean air, natural flood defences, a mask for noise, improved physical health and mental well-being, mitigation against the urban heat island effect, pollution absorption, wildlife habitat, recreational spaces in cities, contact with nature in cities and sensory outdoor learning resources. Yet tree numbers are declining and frequently they aren’t being replaced. For example, according to Rotary Clubs – Community and Environment and Sustainablity newsletter, Nidderdale, delightful as it is, has only 5% tree cover. The national average is 8%. Harrogate Rotarians are doing something about it, you can offset your carbon emissions with trees and these guys have a scheme to do just that. But it’s not cheap, it involves a lot of volunteer help and you can get involved too.

Share your tree story

One of the things that worries me is that when hedgerow trees in particular fall over they are never replaced. Yet they provide a superb habitat, excellent aesthetic appeal and suck up all this excess water that will plague us more and more in the future. The Woodland Trust as part of the Appeal want to know your stories about trees. Have you got a treasured memory that wouldn’t have been the same without trees? Please help to create the charter by sharing it with The Woodland Trust. Let’s do more to protect our trees.

Cropped CraneCommon Crane (Grus grus)

The Great Crane Project

Some of you may remember Michael Clegg, a Knaresborough lad who will be respectfully remembered as a broadcaster, journalist and environmentalist. He was involved in making what we now know as RSPB Old Moor into a nature reserve. I recall sharing the Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private hide at Farnham with him. One of his legacies is the annual Michael Clegg Bird Race (the most species seen in 24 hours) which raises money for a Yorkshire bird conservation project. This year the project raised money for the Yorkshire Breeding cranes. Our thanks to the record number of teams which took part on 3 January and raised so far over £1100 for this project. The winning team saw 107 birds. If you would like to donate or find out more about next year’s bird race please email Graham Speight grahamspeight@uwclub.net.

Dipper - Peter ThomsonDipper by Peter Thompson

Sightings

Chris Norman writes, “Last April I moved to Dubai, so really miss home. The pictures of the Kite, the Tawny Owl and Gouthwaite tugged at my heartstrings. Very good news regarding the continued success of the Red Kites in our region. Metropolitan Dubai doesn’t offer much in the way of wildlife, but I am thrilled that a laughing dove is nesting in a “potted” olive tree on our balcony. Apparently passerines nest all year round here, but mostly avoid June/July/August, which is understandable as the eggs would almost boil in the ambient temperatures! They would need to sit on them to keep them cool!” Wow! My blog is going international. Thanks Chris.

Steve Whiteley was “watching my resident flock of sparrows on my feeder together with the other various regular visitors (coal tits, blue tits, great tits, collared doves, robin and wood pigeon) this morning, I noted this little chap in action. I believe he is a wood mouse and he has been active all morning and a lot more adventurous than normal. He has been resident under my shed for 3 years now and currently appears intent on chewing his way in at the moment. I thought they were supposed to hibernate during the winter but perhaps not. He may have been confused by the warmer weather.” In fact very few of our mammals hibernate – dormice, hedgehogs and bats. Some of the rest may not venture out quite as much if the weather is really bad. Many get by by caching their food, a well known example is the grey squirrel and perhaps another is the fox, if it gets into a chicken run.

Jim Neary recalls a sighting of a leucistic (all white) crow back in 2012 (in the area of Morrison’s car park, Harrogate where Edna Barker saw hers). I wonder how long they have been around there and does the collared doves still nest in the car wash there?

Roger Graville writes, “Just read the comment about bullfinches in the Hookstone Woods area (Harrogate). We are very near there on Arncliffe Road, and we regularly have a pair of them on our sunflower seed feeder. Usually one at a time, but occasionally there have been both male and female together during the winter.” I find what happens with bullfinches is that the male comes first, looks around for danger, flies down to the feeder and when confident it is safe calls down the female. I believe that they pair for life.

Stuart Ibbotson “thought I would drop you a note around my 2016 sightings. My list for my local patch (Bilton, Harrogate) is, after three weeks, missing song and mistle thrush, also redwing and fieldfare. I hope that due to the lack of berries around that they have moved on in their search for food. Greenfinch is also absent and is worrying if compared to 10 years ago when I considered them to be a pest as approximately 30 would take over my garden feeders. Siskins are plentiful in the garden and as I write a party of eight are present. Also bullfinch numbers are consistent with four pairs being regular visitors. Happy to report that this week I have seen two separate dippers staking out their territories on the Nidd, one of which is by the Scotton weir. Also grey wagtails seem to be returning to their breeding sites. A barn owl was hunting in the daytime around the farmhouse that is adjacent to the Nidderdale Greenway. I suspect that it had been unable to hunt on the previous two days due to the non-stop heavy rain. Today at 8.45am two otters which from their appearance I would say were mother and daughter, were making their way upriver and seen swimming under the viaduct. Shortly after a buzzard flew through the trees and across the river. It all makes you ponder on the changing face of nature. Twenty years ago I would never have dreamed of seeing buzzards on my local patch let alone otters. Greenfinches and thrushes were taken for granted as being omnipresent and were overlooked. Food for thought!” Stuart certainly raises some interesting points, slightly further afield we see little egret, whilst barn owl numbers remain high. Goosander numbers seem to have peaked and then fallen back again but not to the very low numbers of 20 years ago. Out wildlife numbers continue to fluctuate but whilst there are winners and losers don’t ever forget that around 60% of our birds have declined in the past 20 years and butterfly numbers continue to be a worry. We still have a lot of work to do to retain our biodiversity. I just wonder what effect car and industrial emissions are having, after all if our kids are more likely to get asthma how is our wildlife affected?

Lisa Walch wrote, “I saw a barn owl in full flight at 4pm yesterday near Grassington. It was flying across a field. Couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to capture the memory.” They are great, aren’t they? Keep watching in the same place, camera at the ready, you may see it again.

RSPB Fairburn Ings reports the following interesting birds this week, “three Smew inc one male, Egyptian Goose one.”

Recent birds at Nosterfield Nature Reserve complex include, Red-necked Grebe (Flask Lake), Bar-headed Goose, Little Owl, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Harrier, Caspian Gull (Lingham), Goldeneye and both races of white-fronted goose (Carthrope Mires).

It’s always great to hear what you have seen whilst out and about and whilst a photo always helps it’s never essential because I have a good stock and I have some great friends who are happy to share their photos with us.

Notes For Your Diary

RHS Harlow Carr

The East Dales Ringing Group will be ringing and recording birds caught at RHS Harlow Carr this Sunday, 21st February (WEATHER PERMITTING). Normal entry fees to RHS Harlow Carr applies, open 9.30 – 4 with last entry to gardens at 3. An opportunity to get close to and fully appreciate birds normally seen at a distance.

Through Your Window

Judith Fawcett reports a robin on her new, blue, feeder and she has had visits from amongst others long-tailed tits, a sparrowhawk and a very wet redpoll braved the snow showers. I suspect these will be leaving their flocks to start pairing up, prospecting for nest sites and eventually breeding, good luck to these delightful bundle of feathers.

Stan Beer at How Stean Gorge tells me, “Seen goldcrests, great spotted woodpeckers, tree creepers and nuthatches on the feeders at the gorge. They have only just started to come and feed.”

Jen and Jon Dening, tell me, “Lots of activity on our bird feeders currently. Here is a pair of Bullfinches and a Siskin. The latter is staging a welcome return as we haven’t seen any for a while.” Like me and despite national findings Jen and John’s bullfinch numbers are increasing.

Share what you see through your window with me.



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.


 

Hunting, Shooting and Stamps

Hunting, Shooting and Stamps

31 December 2015

News

Featured image Male Pheasants Jousting

Have a Great and Successful New Year and Support Your Wildlife

Please keep your questions and sightings coming in via whatever media you prefer, Facebook, Twitter or trusty old email. Thanks for your support, much appreciated.

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog. January issue on barn owls now out.

Nigel

Hunting and Shooting

What a pleasure it was on Christmas Day to go for a walk without the accompanying crescendo of shotgun fire. It never ceases to amaze me just what these folk find to kill. I believe they start on barn doors and once they are sufficiently competent to kill one three times out of four from 10 paces they progress onto living things, all in the name of sport. It’s not just pheasants, partridge and grouse which are targeted, folk on their own with a shotgun specialise in just about anything that moves, especially if they consider it to be vermin. Anyway shotguns have been put away on Boxing Day so folk can enjoy ‘legally’ fox hunting, pure theatre in their gaudy jackets and quaint old traditions, sheer joy, unless of course you are a fox. Hope you locked up your pets! In case you are confused the BBC tells us, “In England and Wales, you cannot use dogs to hunt foxes, hares or deer.

You can use dogs for

  • stalking and flushing out – but only to control pests, such as hares, and only if they’re shot as soon as possible afterwards. Only one or two dogs can be used to “flush out” a fox;

  • hunting rats and rabbits;

  • retrieving hares that have been shot;

  • drag hunting and trail hunting.

In Scotland, hunts can use an unlimited number of dogs to flush out foxes.”

Interestingly the League Against Cruel Sports conducted a survey run by Ipsos MORI, which found 83% of 2,036 respondents thought the ban should remain in place – 84% in rural areas and 82% in urban areas.

You might be interested in signing this petition for the banning of lead shot. It is not a petition against shooting, but the use of lead shot, which not only accidentally and unnecessarily poisons wildlife but is potentially dangerous for humans who eat game shot with lead pellets. There are several alternatives available on the market – lead is already banned in several European countries and its use for shooting wildfowl in the UK is banned. Unfortunately, there are many who still flout this ban. It also seems according to Raptor Persecution Scotland that grouse are being treated with a drug being used in chemotherapy for victims of colon cancer. So, if you eat red grouse not only might you find yourself eating poisonous toxic lead from the ammunition used to kill the bird, and an anti-parasitic wormer drug given to the grouse via medicated grit, but you might also get a free dose of chemotherapy! So much for the claims of red grouse being ‘healthy and natural’ to eat.

Postage Stamp Appeal

The RSPB has a campaign to raise funds to promote ‘Albatross-friendly’ fishing methods in the Southern Ocean where so many of these magnificent birds fall foul of old fishing practices where long-lining without Albatross deterrents tempts birds to pick up ‘easy meat’, become hooked and drown. It’s simple really, at this time of the year when so many of us receive masses of postage stamps on seasonal greetings of all kinds – spare a thought, just clip a good quarter inch margin, well clear of the stamp and collect them up. If you do this then I am delighted to say that there are a couple of places within Harrogate to send them: Bilton Conservation Group members Sue Hughes or Keith Wilkinson (Secretary) – I can provide address details if you contact me; alternatively drop them in at Shamrock Vets, Knaresborough Road, Harrogate, almost opposite the road down to the hospital.

IMG_0283Mackerel Sky – Ian Willson

Sightings

Ian Willson has sent me two photos including this one of a mackerel sky. Ian tells me “it’s as perfect as I’ve seen; do you know what causes it?” Well I didn’t, and to be absolutely honest I’m not 100% I do now, but here’s a good stab, let me know if you know more. Weather Online tells us, mackerel skies are formed of cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds arranged in somewhat regular waves and showing blue sky in the gaps. Small, white and fluffy cirrocumulus clouds typically consist of ice crystals and form at altitudes around 6,000 to 10,000m (18,000 to 30,000ft) and imply strong winds. Altocumulus mainly consist of water droplets and typically form at altitudes between 3,000 and 6,000m (10,000 to 18,000ft). Both may herald bad weather. They are somewhat pretty though.

Terry Knowles also wonders if I can help him. “We have a beech tree in the next door garden which overhangs ours. Normally at this time of year I am clearing up the leaves to compost, but usually have to sort them out from the crackles which, of course, will not compost. However this year there is not a crackle in sight. Last year I filled my brown bin about four times over with them, and the squirrels seemed to come from miles around to try and bury them in the garden, and for the last 12 months I was spending time pulling out the seedlings from all over. Is it just our beech tree or are others just the same this year? If so, is there any particular reason? We have lived here 15 years and have had to ‘live’ with the crackles as well until this year.” It’s not universal over our district or any district, I guess, but the winter food supply is in very short supply, already birds are eating berries they usually leave to last. This follows on from a very poor breeding season as confirmed by the BTO. It’s all very worrying. This non-scientist reckons it partially due to the lack of a summer, no warmth to swell the buds or something like that. Add to this global warming, pollution and pesticides and we are in deep trouble (regardless of what they decided recently in Paris). I am surprised however that the beech mast has not failed before in Terry’s garden, it does happen periodically regardless of the above. It is imperative especially this year that we keep feeding the birds!

Judith Fawcett reports a willow tit in her garden in Jennyfields, Harrogate.

Despite the flooding RSPB Fairburn Ings still has lots to see including recently 32 Curlew and one Black-tailed Godwit, also 3 Stonechat, 2 Little Egret and good numbers of wildfowl on the floods. But do check for flooding before you visit. Meanwhile Nosterfield Nature Reserve reports that the floods have brought loads of birds to their patch including pintail, pinkfooted geese and even according to Andrew Wetherill via Twitter “an ambitious juvenile peregrine taking on a greater black backed gull.”

IMG_5711Male Greenfinch

John Wade tells me, “We are now getting a flock of up to 12 goldfinch, 2 chaffinch and 2 or 3 greenfinch visiting our feeder daily. No siskin.” Someone else with visiting greenfinch is Shirley Dunwell, “In response to your question, I watched for greenfinches and was pleased to count six this morning. They are fewer in number than they used to be but still dominate the goldfinches (which are my most numerous visitors).”

Will Rich responded to my curlew blog with, “The lowland curlew has all but disappeared in North Yorkshire. You do not have to look far for the answer – agricultural intensification. Meadows drained, ploughed and replanted with a rye grass monoculture. At the height of the breeding season, fields rolled, sprayed with herbicide and spread with muck. Any bird which, by some miracle, succeeds in breeding has its nest or young destroyed when the field is mowed for silage.” Will is of course right, although I also blame the lack of insects and petrol/diesel fumes for the decline in our wildlife. Just imagine if we and our children are suffering from asthma what effect does it have on birds and insects?

Mike Brown the BTO rep for Central Yorkshire responded to Andrew Dobby possible osprey sighting, “As you rightly say, all ospreys should be in Africa by now. However, with the weather and climate these days who knows what can happen. I think it’s very unlikely that an Osprey would be stimulated to make its Northward journey so early, I don’t know off hand if there are any winter records of birds in the UK. It would have been quite useful to know what direction the Marton bird was heading. However, I think it’s a case of mis-identification. I’m going to suggest Grey Heron, they fly with a distinct downward arch of the wings (commonly referred to as a strong ID feature for Osprey), head held back with a retracted neck gives the impression of a raptor, the long legs sticking out the back tend to get missed, I’ve done it myself in a first impression view. The broad wings and heavy flight do recall a large raptor. Your suggestion of one of the Harriers is reasonable, Marsh would fit size etc., Hen is much too buoyant in flight to be confused with Osprey or Grey Heron for that matter.” Keep those sightings and questions coming in.