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

Red Kites & Fracking

Red Kite - Doug Simpson

Red Kite – Doug Simpson

Any Red Kites Nesting Near You?

At the beginning of March, Red Kites probably started thinking about nests and all that entails. Some will no doubt be intent on some refurbishment prior to settling into a new breeding season. Not all established pairs will stick with the previously used nest, sometimes they get more ambitious as though they have learnt from their previous experience. To pairs which lost their nests in the storms in 2015, perhaps they have consulted the manual and will make a rather better job in their efforts this season. Stick-carrying is the first sign of nest construction, culminating in the addition of the lining material. Ideally this would be sheep wool but, unfortunately, plastic materials often find their way onto the nest, occasionally with dire consequences. Plastic can form a waterproof membrane in the nest, causing pooling of water and failure of eggs or death of the young. Yorkshire Red Kites are particularly interested in sightings of pairs in new locations, particularly where this indicates a widening geographical spread of the population. Please let them know if you suspect that this is happening – the information will be treated confidentially. You can do this via the web site form and provide as much information as possible, including, if you can, date and time, weather conditions, exact location, post code or OS grid reference if known.

Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators

This is a book about pollination and habitat management and is aimed specifically at Farmers and land owners. It’s free and can be downloaded from here. You can also order print copies.

This book, published in April 2016, is an informative and useful practical guide for conserving insect pollinators. It brings together practical skills with an in depth understanding of pollinator ecology providing farmers and other land managers with the best available advice on creating and managing habitats for bees on farmland. The book is the distillation of a 20-year research partnership between Marek Nowakowski – a practitioner with a passion for wildlife conservation on farmland – and applied ecologists working for the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.’ Please forward and share with anyone who you think will find it useful.

“Living with fracking”

A note for your diaries. Joanne and Steve White live in Ryedale and are concerned about the proposed fracking in their area. Having spoken to their MP, who visited Pennsylvania to look at the impact of fracking there, they decided to make their own visit, hoping for reassurance. They bought a video camera and went to meet many of the people that their MP had spoken to. The film, ‘Living with fracking’, is the result of that trip. Steve and Joanne have been invited by Nidderdale Climate + Environment Group to come to Glasshouses to show their film and answer questions about it. Coming with them is Dr Tim Thornton, a retired Ryedale GP, to talk on the health impacts of fracking. This event is on Monday, 23 May at 7pm in the Broadbelt Hall in Glasshouses. All are welcome.”

Wildlife Politics

Shirley Dunwell writes, “My first sighting of orange tips (butterflies) near South Stainley on a glorious sunny day. Re insects, generally: Has anyone researched the effect that traffic has on our insect population? Or am I alone in my concern? Surely the effect of hitting billions of them constantly, particularly on fast motorways, but overall any travelling vehicle is lethal to them. The bumblebee becomes a statistic with just one crack of the windscreen and quite often I come across them on the pavement, a sure indication to me that they have been hit. The smaller insects are difficult to detect but I suspect their numbers are depleted dramatically. I certainly don’t have a problem with ‘fly squash’ on my car as used to be the case.” Shirley raises a very interesting point. I suspect that the answer is no. Did you also realise that according to the Asthma UK 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12). Now in my view much of this is caused by vehicle emissions. If these small particles can affect us then imagine the damage it possibly does to our insects. Combine this with pesticides, herbicides etc. etc., and couple all this with the fact that the oil, car and chemical global conglomerates have huge power over our Government, is it any wonder our wildlife is in such decline? What do you think?

North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Unit tweeted that there was a Red Kite shot near Harrogate on 26 April and badger baiting near the West Yorkshire border same morning. Do not report incidents or crime on Twitter, ring 101 or 999 in an emergency.

Moorland Myths Exposed

Martin Tither writes, “Interesting views on moor gripping. Research on this topic has been going on for some years – one of the best-selling Chief Scientist’s Division Research Reports from the Nature Conservancy Council was on precisely this topic, and that was late 70s, early 80s. United Utilities (previously North West Water) was on record as saying that water treatment to remove peat etc. from drinking water was costing them, i.e. customers, millions of pounds. Two further points: run-off from moorland is gradually filling reservoirs, reducing their capacity and having detrimental effects on flooding. And let’s not forget that siltation caused by moorland run-off destroys spawning redds for fish.”

Bluebells - Roger Litton

Bluebells – Roger Litton

Your Sightings

Carol Wedgewood reports a Barn Owl “flying low in front of our barn window just before 9pm last night, at twilight. Such beautiful creatures. They fly so effortlessly. What a treat.” There a few birds which everyone enjoys seeing and Barn Owls are up there at the top of the list. Nice to know it’s flying at the appropriate time. This probably suggests it is finding enough food and doesn’t need to fly during the day. They’ll be feeding young soon, if not already so let’s hope there continues to be sufficient food and the weather remains kind to them. Barn Owls can’t hunt in the rain.

Roger Litton tells me, “Having just read your latest blog, I see mention of bluebells. We went for a short walk at Swinsty reservoir this morning. We were very surprised to see that the bluebells there are nearly fully out.”

Dennis Skinner, “On Wetherby Golf Course last week I spotted again, 2 Buzzards being harassed by one Crow. I think the Buzzards are starting to nest across the River Wharfe. Also many Woodpeckers hammering all over the course – but no sightings yet!”

Chris Beard, “Saw our first Swallows in Nidderdale this afternoon (21 April). Also saw Plover/Lapwing with two very young chicks.” It seems early for lapwing chicks but great to see they have at least reached this stage. What chicks or evidence of breeding have you seen?

Osprey - Sue Evison

Osprey – Sue Evison

Sue Evison reports an Osprey at Gouthwaite Reservoir was around for several days around 10 April.

Steve Kempson wrote on 18 April, “We’ve been out to Staveley this morning and saw quite a few Sand Martins skimming over the lake, whereas our House Martins haven’t put in an appearance today; perhaps they’ve retreated south for a bit (sounds like a good idea to me!).” I couldn’t agree more, Steve.

Roger Brownbridge tells me, “the Goldfinches are basically there on the feeder all day with others in the tree waiting their turn, you can almost see the sunflower seed level going down. Interestingly they ignore the nyger seeds in preference for the sunflower seeds. Saw first brood of ducklings of the year on the River Wharfe today (22 April).” Roger also has Greenfinch visiting his feeder, which is nice, let’s hope they are recovering from the Trichomonosis disease.

Andrew Dobby saw his first Swallow of the year in Scotton on 22 April. Sadly they don’t seem to have brought the summer with them, maybe there was only one!

The Cuckoos are Here!

Robin Hermes wrote, “Your report just outstanding, thanks to it was able to identify a bird I saw at Little Alms Cliff yesterday, for the first time ever, a Cuckoo!”

Nature Reserves Sightings

The Steppe Eagle which escaped from Swinton Park has been found and caught at Nosterfield Nature Reserve. Apparently she was happy to see her handlers and stepped straight onto the glove. Bird brained or what? A beautiful Black-necked Grebe in full breeding plumage has also been reported recently, a Marsh Harrier and three more late-leaving Whooper Swans.

Alan Croucher writes on 22 April, “We had a very enjoyable visit at Nosterfield – picking up just over 50 bird species. I forgot to mention that we had our first Swallow last week at Ripley and we saw more today. Other highlights were Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler (which was singing conveniently from a hedge just by the hide – and was visible too). There were a few more Avocets this week and we saw a couple of Orange-tip butterflies (as well as some Peacocks).

On Sunday 24 April, Robert Brown reported a Swift and Osprey at Farnham Gravel Pits, Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society private nature reserve.

Mandarin - Peter Thomson

Mandarin Ducks – Peter Thomson

Through Your Window

Colin and Ann Snelson from Middlesmoor report, “Saturday, 16 April, Middlesmoor, had our first pair of Siskins in the garden. Heard them first! As usual they were squabbling on the nut feeder. Never known them to be so late appearing. Usually it’s February. Walking in Lofthouse on 18 April saw the first pair of Swallows, but so far they haven’t made it up the hill.”

Adrian M Mosley, tells me, The Siskins are showing no desire to leave the garden feeders – they seem to have decided to stay – here we are mid-April. Goldfinches, Long tailed Tits and Nuthatch daily.” Adrian also saw some Whooper Swans at Nosterfield.

Peter Thomson, who sent in the moorhen photo on the feeder, writes, “he has been on his own for a week or two now which makes me think that his mate is sitting on her first clutch of eggs somewhere. At the moment there are no herons about so let’s hope that their efforts are more productive this year. I thought I should send you a photo of this pair of Mandarins which I saw from my bedroom window at 9 o’clock on Thursday morning. They were exploring the garden and when I opened the window to take some photos they saw me and wandered down towards the beck where they stayed for a few minutes for a photo-shoot before jumping into the water and heading off downstream towards the Nidd. The last time I saw one in the beck was a drake in February 2013 so I was particularly pleased to see a pair. They do seem to be rapidly increasing in numbers all over the country.”

Sue and Lawrie Loveless, “Photographed from just inside our glazed front door about 8.00pm, a Sparrowhawk.”

Outdoors Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

Thursday 5 May Away Trip to Northumberland. Three nights in Northumberland. Booking essential