Vicious Ambush Predator

img_1758Pike – Brian Morland

It’s our most vicious native freshwater predator and truly a creature to be scared of if you are smaller, and most freshwater inhabitants are smaller. Pike are an ambush predator and to assist this modus operandi they are camouflaged with olive and green, striped with gold and white, provided with a very fast turn of speed and to complete the setup a mouthful of extremely sharp backward facing teeth, truly formidable. This patterning is distinctive to individual fish allowing identification although just seeing a pike is a challenge. Pike are not only one of largest fish, females can grow to as much as 20kg, that’s 44lb in a language I understand, but they can live to over 20 years old. The largest pike, I should say northern pike, ever caught was in Germany in 1986 and weighed 55lb. The largest caught in Britain was a 46 pounder although there are many stories of large pike, fishermen’s tales, and one includes a 73 pound monster from Loch Ken in Dumfries and Galloway. Strangely, Duff Hart-Davis tells us in his Flora Britannica males only grow to a maximum of around 5kg (11lb) and no one is sure why. Pike feed on anything including each other, indeed the old eyes being bigger then the belly, or perhaps mouth, pike have been found dead with a fish too large to swallow which presumably it couldn’t release because of the backward facing teeth. Because they are omnivorous some trout and salmon fishermen detest pike and will go to great lengths to get rid of them. When I say omnivorous I mean they’ll eat not just fish but depending upon the pike’s size anything from plankton to small fish, ducklings, amphibians and well anything! Equally pike fishermen value their prey and particularly large specimens which they might even use live bait to catch, not to my mind very sporting. Your best chance of seeing a pike, probably a small jack pike or young pike which for reasons of safety prefer to loiter in the shallows rather than mix it with the big boys – or should I say girls, is to peer over a bridge into shallow slow moving water, although if lighting conditions are good then looking into any suitable lake may be successful.

We don’t eat pike in this country because of the numerous small bones yet back in the thirteenth century it was highly valued, at least by King Edward I. Today the French continue to enjoy pike and quenelles de brochet can be found on their menus. The ferociousness of pike has no doubt contributed to the various ‘other’ names pike enjoy such as freshwater shark, water wolf, king of the lake and lord of the stream. What made me mention pike is because Brian Morland contacted me with this tremendous photo of a huge pike he discovered when conducting a pike survey in the lakes at Ripon Quarry. Brian catches them on a barbless hook, using dead trout from a trout farm as bait, and because each fish is individually marked he has no need to tag them or mark them in any way. Not only are males so much smaller than females but they also outnumber females by 8 to 1. This might account for the small size because females often eat the males after spawning so size and number may matter.

Wildlife Meetings

A couple of local, well fairly local important meetings you may wish to attend and both groups will welcome your support I am sure.

British Dragonfly Society (BDS) BDS Spring Meeting is at Green Hammerton, near York, this year on Saturday, 11 March. The meeting is free to attend and BDS have some great talks lined up, with speakers from the Natural History Museum, Freshwater Habitats Trust and University of East Anglia, as well as a representative of the Yorkshire Dragonfly Group and more. For more information and to book a free place, visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/spring-meeting-2017-tickets-30960500691

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). There is still time to book a place at the Yorkshire BTO Conference at York University on Saturday, 18 March. Fantastic value at £22 per person including all refreshments and a buffet lunch. Look forward to talks on: Black Grouse, Gannets, The Lower Derwent Valley NNR, BirdTrack Project, Breeding Waders, Rare Bird Recording and much more. Exhibitors covering optical equipment, outdoor clothing, art, natural history books etc. To book just go to www.bto.org and follow the link to “News and Events”. I attended the last Yorkshire BTO event and it was very interesting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaxwing – Stuart Ibbotson

Sightings

I believe that RSPB Old Moor has a starling roost at the moment and is opening the reserve until 20.00 on Saturday and Sunday evenings. I suggest however that before you visit you ring the reserve (01226 751593) to ensure the birds are still there. However on Harrogate Naturalists Society‘s sightings page Joe Fryer and David Postlethwaite report a large starling murmuration at Ripon Racecourse.

Brian Morland tells me he has seen, in the last month, bittern, merlin, bewick swan, pintail, jack snipe, green sandpiper, redshank, shelduck, oystercatcher, water rail and little egret at Bellflask and bizarely a black swan, some distance from its home land.

John Wade reports his “First ever brambling in our garden on 27/1. Only one, mixed with chaffinch and goldfinch family. Nice to see them when there is a chaffinch, so I can compare them.”

Lisa Walch recently walked with her dad via Barden Bridge to Simon’s Seat and back through Bolton Abbey. “Along the riverbank (9.30am) we saw a heron standing on a rock by the opposite riverbank to us. It paused a while…just long enough to pose for my dad to take a pic. There were also three birds with the shape of gannets/guillemots? I regret I didn’t have my binoculars with me or a good camera. Around 2pm, I heard a woodpecker, it was very close. And was perched about 30 feet away. It was too shady to capture it on film.” The birds Lisa photographed in the tree were cormorants which I haven’t heard of before in that area. Despite their size cormorants, like herons and egrets, nest in trees, at the appropriate time of year of course.

Richard Scruton contacted me in January with some North Riding sightings, “On Wednesday 25th saw a flock of redwings at Cowton station (closed 1958) on the East Coast Main Line in the tree on left hand side of attached photo. Today (27th) there was a flock of 14 long tailed tits in the churchyard at St Peters Birkby (grade II listed), a hamlet north of Northallerton. Perhaps the same long tailed tits which passed through my apple trees in East Cowton, more than a mile from Birkby, a day earlier.” Winter thrushes and similar winter migrants are probably slowly making their way back to their breeding grounds now. I was also surprised to see a solitary long-tailed tit this week at Flask lake, part of the Nosterfield complex. Long-tailed tits leave their flocks around now and start comparatively early courting, nest building and you know the rest!

grey-heron3-richard-yeomanGrey Heron – Richard Yeoman

Richard Yeoman spotted a pair of little grebe recently on the river in Nidd Gorge and a heron in the Crimple Valley below the Great Yorkshire Show Ground.

Paul Bright saw his first curlew fly over near low bridge at Killinghall on Monday, 30 January, can you beat that? Curlews are returning to their breeding grounds about now and whilst a few are already there others can be seen in big numbers at local reserves such as Nosterfield.

Do you play tennis and have you lost your tennis ball and ever wondered where it disappeared to? Well The Pinewoods Conservation Group may have the answer. They have found the remains when they cleaned out some of their nest boxes.

Stuart Ibbotson and Neil Anderson both reported seeing a flock of waxwing near Bilton Grange School last week. Don’t rush to see them, they have eaten all the berries and moved on. Also last week Stuart and Shirley Dunwell saw a huge flock of pink-footed geese flying over Bilton fields.

1st-portland-lamb-ewe-18-feb-2017Anne Procter’s Portland Tup Lamb

Anne Procter reports, “Grey-faced Dartmoor lamb and Portland ewe lamb born this morning (18-2-17). Magic.”

Here’s some news from the RSPB sent from our Danny which might interest you. It includes advice on building startling nest boxes, discovering and enjoying nature and some news and stories.

Events

Harrogate RSPB Group Sunday, 26 February – RSPB Reserve of Old Moor.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from Twitter, include bittern, avocet, juvenile male smew, white-fronted geese and peregrine.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Will Rich (20-02-17) a first siskin of the season on his New Park feeders.
Ginni Darbyshire (20-02-2017) saw a Dipper today at around 10.30 am on the Crimple. It flew under the bridge by the Black Swan at Burn Bridge.
Mike Smithson (18-02-2017) Two Iceland and two Glaucous gulls at Farnham GP tonight at the North Lake roost. All juveniles.
Joe Fryer (17-02-2017) At High Batts today I had two male brambling, one mealy redpoll, a small group of lesser redpoll and a few siskin as well.