Missing Tortoiseshell, Have You Seen One?

Small tortoiseshell - Roger Litton

Small Tortoiseshell – Roger Litton

Butterflies have such a short lifetime, especially as adults, and even this is limited by the weather, most preferring to fly on hot, sunny days and whilst it has been mostly dry this year the sunny days have been few and far between. The flight periods differ for each species and whilst some are quite long others are short or restricted by only one or sometimes two broods. 23 July was a great day for butterflies and this is reflected in the sightings seen at Farnham Gravel Pits, the private reserve of Harrogate Naturalists Society. Robert Brown reports small skipper(59), large white(15), small white(13), green-veined white(12), red admiral(2), painted lady(1), peacock(3), small tortoiseshell(8), comma(1), speckled wood(1), gatekeeper(164), meadow brown(159), ringlet(74). This contrasts with 9 August with brimstone(1), large white, small white, green-veined white(all recorded) common blue(6), red admiral(2), painted lady(3), peacock(3), comma(1), wall(1), gatekeeper(40), meadow brown(recorded), ringlet(2) holly blue(1). Now bearing in mind if I was a politician I could make these figures read whatever I wanted, however, I’m not so I’ll try to be objective. Let’s take the migrant butterflies, red admiral and painted ladies, clearly they just haven’t arrived this year. More worrying, some of the so called common butterflies – peacock, small tortoiseshell and whites – have all been recorded but even the whites are in numbers we would consider low a few years ago. The coloured ones are no doubt responding to a series of cold, damp wet summers and warm winters. Apparently cold winters may help over wintering butterflies survive. Gatekeeper and small skippers have done remarkable well as have ringlet and we can assume the ringlet’s flight period was over for the second count. Comma and speckled wood are relatively recent incomers as they have expanded their range northwards, perhaps circumstances mean they are now contracting their ranges, but especially worrying is the speckled wood, which a few years ago were seen in huge numbers, a very rapid decline indeed. Holly and common blues are in very small numbers, especially common blues, which could be seen in triple figures on occasions in some places, although not necessary Farnham. Wall is perhaps the most worrying because only one has been seen and they are now considered very, very rare. The biggest worry, however, doesn’t even occur on either list – what has happened to the small copper? These are just my views and have no scientific significance, but be worried, very worried that our biodiversity is in real danger.

Wall - Robin Hermes

Wall – Robin Hermes

These sightings compare with observations made by other folk and my concern just grows. Robin Hermes photographed a wall butterfly recently at Farnham and writes, “it will be a second brood, for some reason or other very few have been seen this year. Keith Wilkinson tells me he hasn’t seen a small tortoiseshell butterfly all year and encourages you to visit the Butterfly Conservation website (BC) to help them by recording any small tortoiseshells you have seen this year. BC asks, “Concern is growing as sightings of this previously common butterfly are significantly down across the UK. The small tortoiseshell is an easy species to identify. The butterfly’s uniquely patterned orange and black wings are framed with a border of small blue crescents. If you spot one of these pretty little butterflies in your garden before the end of the season, please submit your sightings.” Butterflies do have specific flight periods and many, including the small tortoiseshell, are around now, weather permitting. Another such butterfly is the migrant red admiral and Red Admiral - Roger Brownbridge

Red Admiral – Roger Brownbridge

Roger Brownbridge writes, “Having spent the summer saying how few butterflies we had seen, particularly red admirals, lo and behold walking near Grassington on Bank Holiday Monday we passed a white buddleia upon which we counted 15 red admirals – you wait for a bus and then two come along!” These will be recently hatched butterflies, offspring from an earlier migration from the Mediterranean, and whilst it’s great to see so many sadly it’s not sufficient to make up for the lack of red admirals seen this year. Roger Litton writes, “At long last we’ve seen a red admiral in the garden (on the buddleia). As we’ve all been saying it is amazing – and depressing – how few butterflies there are; however, not to have seen a red admiral before now with our three buddleias almost over is staggering.

Nidderdale’s New Pollinator Project

Some great news from The Friends of Nidderdale AONB. They have secured £42,000 of funding from Biffa Award to provide new and improved pollinator habitat in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and at Otley Wetland Nature Reserve. The plan is to create a new ‘pollinator pathway’ to link fragments of habitat together along a 10km corridor and connect into Buglife’s B-Line network. This flower rich pathway will support Harrogate District Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species of conservation concern. The two year project will restore 43.5 hectares of BAP lowland meadow at carefully selected locations using seed and hay collected from local donor sites wherever possible.

Taking about pollinators, Jackie and I have recently returned from a week’s holiday at Kinlochard in Scotland. Kin means head so we were at the head of Loch Ard, west of near Aberfoyle. We visited the Wee Blether tearooms and apart from some great food we were pestered by wasps and that made me think, why are there so many wasps here and so few locally. Well Kinlochard has very little farming around, no arable and very few cattle or sheep, and this coupled with the lack of cars made me wonder just how big an impact agricultural chemicals and car fumes have on our biodiversity. This view was supported by the good numbers of swallows and house martins around, birds which depend on insects. To my mind it’s a no brainer, what do you think?

Pinewoods Conservation Group’s Open Day

This Saturday, 10 September on the Recreation area between Harlow Moor Road and Crag Lane, from 12 noon to 3pm. It’s free and includes a dog agility demo, drive a digger and tree climbing, plus refreshments by the 20th Harrogate Scout Group, fun activities, ice cream and picnic and games area.

Macmillan Cancer Support Appeal

Paul Cowham who used to report about the peregrines on Harrogate’s Copthall Towers – it may have another name now – has run 100 miles during August and will follow that with The Great North Run for Macmillan Cancer Support, because he wants to help make a difference. Why not visit his Just Giving web page and support him, so far he has reached £400, surely we can do better than that?

Sightings

House Martins - Charles Gibson

House Martins – Charles Gibson

Apology: My apologies to Charles Gibson. In my last blog I mention Charles had reported swifts congregating on power lines, they were of course swallows and the mistake was all mine, sorry. He also took this photo of house martins in Shaw Mills.

Green Woodpecker3 - Dennis Skinner

Green Woodpecker – Dennis Skinner

Sparrowhawk: Dennis Skinner of Wetherby reports a sparrowhawk taking a wood pigeon in his garden. The size of the prey means that the sparrowhawk must have been a female as it was far too big for a male sparrowhawk to take. The next day Dennis was visited by a juvenile green woodpecker, let’s hope it keeps a wary eye out.

Moorland Raptors: Barry Carter tells me, “I have been on the moor three mornings and late afternoons to last light and I have seen up to three red kites and similar in buzzards. I actually saw a buzzard in the tree being bombed by a kite on the top road to Wath just before the two seats looking over Gouthwaite, and also four, yes four kestrels hovering in the same field where the buzzard was! Parents teaching juveniles?” Maybe I shouldn’t tar every moorland owner with the raptor killer brush, is this an exception? What do you think?

Buzzards: Alan Croucher thought you may wish to sign this petition opposing the buzzard cull, “https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/163483

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings include: Greenshank, little stint, osprey, hobby, little egret, avocet, kingfisher, little ringed plover, ruff, black tailed godwit, dunlin, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper, ruff, ringed plover and avocet.

RSPB Fairburn Ings

Whooper Swan 2 throughout, Shelduck 2 Juvenile throughout, Wigeon Daily up to 10, Pintail Single throughout on New flash, Garganey Daily. 10 at start down to 4 at end of week, Red-crested Pochard hybrid 1 on 28th, Bittern Single on 1st, Red Kite At least 3 throughout, Marsh Harrier At least 2 throughout, Osprey 1 west over flashes at 1pm on 29th after which spent few hours at Swillington Park before being seen again in the early evening from Pickup hide. Probably the same bird (an adult, presumed male) out southwest over the moat early morning the next day, Water Rail Small numbers daily, Ringed Plover Single on 1st, Curlew 1 on 31st, Green Sandpiper Present daily in small numbers, Common Sandpiper Present daily in small numbers, Greenshank Seen daily on Spoonbill Flash – up to 4, Snipe Daily max 7, Hobby Single on 1st, Peregrine At least three throughout, Sand Martin 500+ on 29th, Redstart 2 at moat from stile by bungalow on 29th, Wheatear Single on coal tips trail on 29th..

Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

Monday 12 September 7:30pm Indoor Meeting – Steve Race entitled “Wild Shetland”

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 9th September – RSPB Blacktoft Sands

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Tuesday 13th September – YWT Spurn NNR

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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.