Problems, Problems, Problems

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Red Kite – Roger Litton

Problem 1: I just had a major disaster with the computer, the hard disk decided to call a stop to pretty much everything, well a go slow really, a very, very go slow and despite having written this week’s blog I was unable to send it out. My apologies therefore to the folk organising the Day of Action for the Climate in Pateley Bridge on Saturday, 8 October, sadly I was too late to give them a deserving mention. My very grateful thanks to Katja at PC Harmony for her help and consideration. All This means that if you have contacted me and received no reply then it may be best to try again in case stuff has gone astray, sorry.

Problem 2. I go into hospital for an operation on Tuesday, nothing sinister, for my sins I have to have an exploratory operation, so for a while my blog may be less frequent, shorter or not at all. Please bear with me and continue reading when I return. In the meantime if anyone wants to drop me an article for inclusion in the blog I will do just that if I feel up to it. Why a red kite photo? Well at least I might be able to see red kite’s from my windows!

URGENT Volunteers Oscars

John Fox has asked me to tell you that nominations for the Volunteer Oscars has been extended until 4.00pm on WEDNESDAY 12 OCTOBER 2016. You can nominate online at www.harcvs.org.uk. Please have a look and nominate a volunteer or group of volunteers or a company. These folk deserve our support and thanks.

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Chicken of the Woods – Pete Hesleden

UK Fungus Day – Sunday, 9 October

No, not a celebration of just how lovely I am but a serious attempt to promote fungi. The objective is to raise awareness about fungi and fungi science, sadly the nearest events to Harrogate are around twenty miles away and can be found on the UK Fungus Day Website. Why is fungi important? Well the website tells us of five reasons why fungi shaped the world but maybe first of all we need to recognise that the mushrooms we find when we are out and about are just the fruiting body of the fungi, just the tip of the fungal iceberg, they are attached to long interconnected threads called mycelium which feed on the medium in which the fungi live. Fungi are separate from both animals and plants and are part of their own kingdom. Fungi perform five functions. 95% of all plant species have an intimate relationship with fungi without which plants could not thrive. These fungi are collectively known as “mycorrhizas” and they form a fundamental partnership with trees and plants with the fungus providing nutrients that the plant root cannot capture, while the plant in return provides the fungus with sugars from photosynthesis. Fungi are the natural garbage clearance organisations of the world and rid our planet of dead substances. Yeasts are a type of fungus and we come into contact with yeasts all the time, for example in bread and alcohol. But fungal products are used to manufacture, ripen and flavour cheese, squash and fizzy drinks, which contain an acidity regulator made by fungi, biological washing powders contain fungal products that help digest fat stains whilst other fungal products are used to boost the weight of pigs and chickens, tenderise meat, peel fruit and vegetables and remove hair from animal hides for leather production. Even chocolate has a stage where fungi play a vital role in imparting flavour. Bizarrely fungi can also cause disease, sometimes fatal, by infecting plants and animals, yet fungi have played a major part in defeating disease as well, and penicillin is the best example of that.

Last week I wrote about a fungus John Stockill wanted identifying and my educated, well not very educated, guess was saffron bolete. I have had an email from Adrian Bennett of The Mid Yorkshire Fungi Group (MYFG) who tells me the fungus is actually “some young ‘Dryad’s Saddle’ or ‘Pheasant Back’ specimens – Polyporus squamosus with its concentrically scaly cap. I’ve been caught out several times by the rather odd appearance of this fungus in its young state. The Leccinum just has a cracked rather than scaly cap. It is said to be edible http://mushroom-collecting.com/mushroomdryad.html particularly when young but I would never personally recommend it – or even identifying fungi from a photograph!” My grateful thanks to Adrian. If you are interested in fungi the MYFG has a regular series of members meetings, especially over the next few months.

Bilton Conservation Group 2017 Calendar

If you are looking for a stocking filler for Christmas, look no further. At £5 Bilton Conservation Group’s (BCG) A4 in full colour 2017 calendar will fit the bill. BCG have been producing one each year since 2013 with the help of all those members and supporters who have sent their favourite images of Nidd Gorge between Harrogate and Knaresborough: its wildlife, the untamed river and the different faces it presents through the seasons. If you live in postal district HG1 it will be delivered to you. If you are farther afield then postage costs will apply. Either way please get in touch if you would like one. Printing will take place in the next couple of weeks and the calendar should be available by 15 October so please place your order early by contacting the Secretary Keith Wilkinson on: Email: niddgorge2016@talktalk.net. Finally if you have a favourite image of Nidd Gorge (minimum size 500Kb) which you would like BCG to consider using in 2018 then again let Keith know.

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Badger

Badger Cull Area Tripled

Did you know that the size of the area where badgers are to be culled has tripled to now include Herefordshire, Devon and Cornwall, all this despite most evidence including the government’s own scientist telling us it won’t work. Rachel Maskell, shadow environment secretary, said: “The decision to extend the badger cull flies in the face of the government’s own evidence that shows the killing of thousands of badgers has not reduced the number of cattle contracting bovine TB. The government promised when they embarked on the cull that it would be an evidence based approach, yet they are failing to take any notice of the facts.” Rachel Maskell has now stated that Labour will stop the cull. The Green Party has said the badger cull is “barbaric and ineffective.” Before the election, Nick Clegg said his party was committed to rolling out a “humane and effective” badger cull if elected.

Laws of Nature Pledge

The environment could soon come under attack from politicians and corporations who want to use Brexit to harm nature. Decades of progress on clean water, clean air, thriving wildlife habitats and climate action could now unravel. Sign up to the Greenpeace campaign to protect the laws of nature, our environment and to stop our climate laws being weakened.

Hospital Bound

Sightings

Steve and Janice Sale have reported what I am fairly certain is a female southern hawker dragonfly (http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/species/southern-hawker). Normally seen in the south they have only started been seen more regularly up’t north in recent years, probably as a result of climate change.

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Chipmunk – Dave Roberts

David Roberts has sent me some photos from Canada where he lives, a chickadee and a chipmunk, both of which seem very tame. “We were out for a walk in the woods today and fed some chickadees. A chipmunk muscled in on the action and made off with most of what was on offer.” I guess chickadees are what we might call new world coal tits.

John Wade wrote on 3 September, “Just seen 2 house martins over my house. Are they late? Playing golf at Masham today, so might see more by the river. I went to Harrogate Theatre last night, and at about 7pm there were about 30 flying creatures flying between Jespers and Argos, quick flight, chirping a lot, landing briefly on roofs. The light was poor, and my first thought was pied wagtails. But they seemed a bit quick. The only alternative was bats. What would they be? Definitely not starlings.” House martins late in my view, but not exceptionally late and good(?) weather might encourage them. I reckon John heard some avian species, unless his hearing is exceptionally bats echo locate at a higher frequency than humans can hear especially those older than 21. A bit early maybe for pied wagtails but, like John, I can think of no alternative. Another thought is a winter migratory bird such as redwing but I have had no reports so far; however, they do migrate at night although they probably wouldn’t land on the pedestrian precinct because they would prefer an area where they could feed. I understand some redwing are back so keep an eye and ear open for them. They make a ‘seeep’ call flying over at night.

Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

From HDNS’s sightings page, Joe Fryer golden plover at Staveley, Mike Smithson hobby at Farnham and Andy Cameron redwing over Harrogate.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve Complex

Some unusual sightings this week from Nosterfield, whinchat, kingfisher, yellow-browed warbler, pinkfoot geese, ring-necked parakeet, dunlin, kestrel, buzzard, sparrowhawk, peregrine and redwing.

Outdoors Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

Monday 10 October 7:30pm Indoor Meeting – Talk by Phil Warren “Black Grouse of the North Pennines”

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 14th October – Spurn

High Batts Nature Reserve

Monday 17th October at 7.30pm at the Golden Lion pub in Allhallowgate, Ripon. Admission £2  “Britain in Focus” Wildlife and Landscapes from around the UK by Whitfield Benson
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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

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.

Keeping The Skies Alive: Swifts and Red Kites

Swift - Gillian Charters

Swift – Gillian Charters

A Talk on the Swift – Rare Within 20 Years!

Because I felt it important to publicise this event which will be held at The Friends Meeting Hall, Harrogate on Thursday 19 May at 7:30 things are a little earlier this week, also because I have only just returned from holiday things are a little rushed this week, so bear with me and please attend this meeting. For many folk the sound of a squadron of Swifts flying low and fast over our rooftops whilst attempting the Swift’s own version of sonic boomS is a delight of hot summer days. Well not only are hot summer days few and far between but Swift numbers are also getting fewer and fewer. In fact they are listed as an amber species for the UK, so it’s worrying. An interesting Swift fact courtesy of the BTO is, “By sleeping with half of its brain at a time, the Swift lives a perpetually aerial life, coming down only for a short period each year to breed.” It seems we humans also have only half a brain focused on the wildlife which share this planet with us and Swifts are reducing in number. Surveys show that unless we take action now, and on a significant scale, within 20 years the Swift will become a rare bird within the UK.

The meeting will discuss what’s happening and what we can do to help them and action includes both creating new nest places and properly protecting existing ones, as well as providing and maintaining habitats more generally that offer them with vital support, principally their flying insect food and water. Speaking will be Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation, a charity created by Edward to save the Swift, to explain why they matter and to tell us how we can help, and that’s what Edward will be talking about at the meeting. It promises to be a fascinating because Edward is a fascinating man in his own right. His working career has been mostly in buildings and facilities management; he was Head of Gallery Management for the Tate Gallery in London from the opening of the Clore Gallery to the creation of Tate Modern. Edward has loved Swifts since childhood. Admission: £5 adults, £2 unwaged. This meeting is organised by Harrogate Green Party.

cuckoo David Tipping

Cuckoo – David Tipping

Swifts and Cuckoos Are Back

A number of you have kindly contacted me to say you have seen Swifts and Cuckoos:

Rick and Trish Brewis, “Seven Swifts seen today (5 May) above Pine Street allotments. First time in my living memory that Swifts have arrived before the Swallows!” Has anyone else seen Swifts before Swallows this year and does it imply Swallow numbers are also declining fast?

Bill and Liz Shaw, “Heard then saw our first Swifts of the year last evening (5 May) over Harrogate, fab.”

Susan Hockey, “heard the Cuckoo today on the hill behind our house off Scar House Road, Upper Nidderdale.

Ian Law, “I heard a Cuckoo this morning whilst walking down to Knaresborough from Bilton Hall on the Beryl Burton cycle way. The nearest location I could work out would be the woods at Scotton Banks.”

Cuckoos are often much closer than they sound and can be seen sitting in exposed places on trees so a careful search, especially with binoculars, can often reveal one. I heard one recently near Thruscross Reservoir. Why wasn’t it called West End reservoir after the village lost under its waters?

Nidd Gorge

Ken Fackrell writes, “Keith Wilkinson is quite right – I walk every morning in the Nidd Gorge and nature is repairing itself rapidly (as it will do everywhere once we stop tampering). This morning I watched a pair of Grey Wagtails feeding on insects in the early morning sun, just by the bridge in the Nidd Gorge – they are frequently there these days.”

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Orange-tip Butterfly – Brian Morland

Your Sightings

Jacquie Fisher, “Orange-tips, Peacocks and Brimstone butterflies at Harlow Carr, so if you go to see the tulip displays look out for the butterflies, and the bird song is amazing.

Philomena Noonan, “Last evening I was on the Ripley path between the viaduct and the back of Tennyson Avenue when a Barn Owl flew right over me and then flew in front of me down the track and over the next field. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to experience this wonderful sight.”

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, “Drake Garganey, 25 Ringed Plover, 14 Avocet, 10 Dunlin and Lesser Whitethroat.

RSPB Fairburn Ings, “Spoonbill, Black Terns, 4 singing Cetti’s Warblers, Turnstone and Sanderling.

Sue Boal, “Last night I went for a drive with my daughter and we saw a black and white bird about the size of a Crow which we could not identify. It was flying in a strange sort of figure of eight towards the ground as if trying to intimidate or impress something on the ground (we saw a pheasant). It was mostly black underneath with a white bar on its tail and the upper was 50/50 black and white. It was not a magpie or am oyster catcher or a lapwing. Sorry, no photo, but it was outside East Rounton near Northallerton. Would you know what we saw?” I can only guess, but if the pheasant was a female maybe it had young and it was protecting them from a Crow. Crows are particularity prone to feather pigmentation dilution, leucism and maybe this was such a bird. Otherwise I really can’t think what it might be. If it is a Crow it may well be around next time you are in the vicinity so keep a look out for it and see what species of birds, if any, it associates with. Does any one else have any ideas?

Steve Kempson, “This morning Mrs K and I went for our annual outing to woods near Mickley for the bluebells, which are currently out in drifts (interspersed with celandines, stitchwort and wood anemones) and looking absolutely superb in today’s sunshine. A good variety of butterflies around too – saw Brimstone, Orange tip, Peacock and (I think) a Speckled Wood.

Tony Mawson had a special sighting recently, an Alpine Swift circling over the junction of Knox Avenue and Ripley Drive, Bilton. A large Swift with very pale underbelly, left in the direction of Killinghall.

Red Kite - Doug Simpson

A Magnificent Red Kite – Doug Simpson

Red Kite Killings

It’s great that so much support red kites and are appalled by their unnecessary deaths and I think your comments are worth recording. Richard Yeoman, “I couldn’t agree more – bet the bastards that shoot birds of prey would be first to go to the police if someone shot at them! If enough people are “on side” it might be worth a petition I know Red Kites are protected but that doesn’t help if the bad guys are not “caught on camera” – no proof – no prosecution.” Does anyone have any further thoughts on what can be done locally? Pete Seamen says, “Well Nigel I can only agree with your terminology for such scum. I would like to see them banned from having shotgun or firearm certificates for a length of time if not for life. This may cost some their jobs but if a business such as game shoots cannot exist without breaking the law maybe it needs seriously looking at.” Nick “Totally agree with these sentiments. Until the employers of gamekeepers are held responsible for the actions of their keepers and punished accordingly, I can’t see things changing. Fine words from the likes of the Moorland Association are meaningless.” Tom’s Nature-up-close Photography and Mindfulness Blog “My brother-in-law and his family and friends hunt geese and ducks a lot. Yet they claim that they love nature! I hope they never become very fond of me! Geese and ducks are highly intelligent animals with tight family bonds. Some birds are very intelligent. We have a parrot that understands abstract ideas (and tells you things to prove it)! For instance, the other day I said to her (when she dropped a sweet potato that I gave her), “You are spoiled rotten!” She replied, “So are you!” Tony Rogerson says, “To me the answer is relatively simple: grouse moors should be operated under licence and if wildlife crime is found to have taken place on the estate, or by an employee of the estate while undertaking duties on behalf of their employer (on or off the estate), the licence should be revoked.” Paul V Irving says: “I think bastards is fair enough, although given that there are some very nice people born out of wedlock I usually refer to such people as “Criminal Scum.” As you say there is no purpose in killing Red Kites but even if there were they are protected, all birds of prey are protected and have been since the 1954 Protection of Birds Act. Quite how long does it take before some presumably not very bright people get it. For those people that think there is rather too much of this sort of behaviour in our uplands, along with all the environmental downsides of driven grouse shooting that are only now all becoming better known – water colouration, a contribution to flooding, a reduction in downstream biodiversity etc they could consider signing this petition to ban driven grouse shooting at :-https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003.” Trevor Brown, “Bloody hell Eccup is the place I saw my first Red Kite.” Judith Fawcett, “the world has gone mad. I’m lost for words on this one.” Luke Steele, “A worrying development. Eccup has always appeared a safe haven for birds of prey.” The English Exile, “????holes, what do they get out of this .” Peter Burton, “makes me so angry.” Someone else said, “Time to up the punishment. Mindless cretins.” Patricia McDermott, “why oh why?” Charles Gibson, “Don’t blame you in the least, Nigel. If only we could stamp it out. The world would be a better place.” Steve Harris, “Clearly yet another criminal has (probably legitimate) access to a firearm. Worrying deceit and misuse.” Christine Holmes, “I completely agree with you on the killing of the Red Kites. These beautiful birds are such a delight to see. I cannot understand the mentality of these people. Guns kill. What or who is the next victim going to be?” Tony Mawson “My feelings are the same as yours re Red Kites, hope Gareth Jones has luck catching those responsible.”

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 16 May(Evening) Staveley YWT Nature Reserve

Sunday 22 MayFull-Day Bird Watch in the AONB

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Tuesday 17 may – Great Whernside, Upper Nidderdale

Bastards

ECCUP KITE - Doug Simpson

The Eccup Red Kite – Doug Simpson

Well, what else do you expect me to say? How many of you have watched the Red Kites over Bilton, maybe there will be one less to enjoy now. Doug Simpson, the Red Kite Man, tells me that two more Red Kites have been shot locally, “On 21 April a new Red Kite nest was discovered in woodland near Eccup in West Yorkshire. Hanging from the next tree was the carcass of a Red Kite. Veterinary examination and X-ray of the bird showed injuries which were consistent with it having been shot whilst sitting on its nest. On 23 April, just two days later, a kite with a broken wing was found near Nidd in North Yorkshire. It was still alive. It was taken to a local vet who found that the wing was so badly damaged that it would not recover. It was put to sleep. Again, veterinary examination and X-ray showed that shooting was the cause of the bird’s injuries. Information was subsequently received that what was presumably the same injured bird had been seen on 20 April, approximately a mile away from where it was eventually retrieved. The finder had gone to get a cat carrier to put it in but could not find the bird again. Any information about either of these incidents should be reported to the Police by dialling 101 and asking to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer or, alternatively, by using the ‘Contact us’ facility on the Yorkshire Red Kites Website.

Why are folk killing Red Kites? These birds are almost predominantly scavengers, they may take the odd errant worm or beetle and, let’s be honest, the BTO say that Red Kite “scavenge on carrion, scraps, will take small live prey.” Yorkshire Red Kites say, “Red Kites are scavengers, drifting around on their long buoyant wings looking for food items on the ground. They do not have the strength or power associated with some bird of prey species, which rely primarily on their hunting skills for survival. Although they are capable of taking small live items such as mice and voles, kites mainly rely on carrion – things which are already dead – as their basic food supply. They are quite often reluctant to land, snatching up their food from the ground and either feeding on the wing or taking it into a tree, to feed on whilst perched. If the food item is too large to carry off, they may land on the ground – but they are very wary and will generally wait until crows have fed on it first, as though making sure that it’s not a trap!” The RSPB agrees, “Mainly carrion and worms, but opportunistic and will occasionally take small mammals.” I tried The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and they agree, saying, “Red Kites are primarily scavengers, however that is certainly not to say that they will not take young game birds and other ‘live’ prey items, but they will clean a large carcass in a similar way to a vulture. Because they are a relatively weak bird, they rely on other predators to open up the tough skin, so that they can then access the soft flesh within. Decomposition also softens the dead animal’s skin, allowing kites to rip the body open themselves, devouring the putrid flesh. Just like vultures, they have highly specialised digestive systems, which produce powerful acids to neutralise rotting meat, making them resistant to bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.” So continuing to look at why, let’s look at game birds, almost all our game birds (a misnomer if ever I heard one, no game involved there, at least not if you are the target) – pheasants and red-legged partridge – are kept in captivity until large enough to be introduced into the wild, that is until they are too big to be taken as prey by most creatures, especially Red Kites which weigh (BTO again) male 1000 g female 1.2 kg. That is around the weight of a bag of sugar. They aren’t a threat to game birds and to kill them just demonstrates that age old mindset of hooked beak bad! Why? It seems these folk are killing Red Kites when they are at their most vulnerable at nests, probably supporting young which will also die as a consequence of this disgusting action.

In Scotland a new law of vicarious liability for wildlife offences was introduced. It came into effect on 1 Jan 2012 and is specifically aimed at anyone who has the legal right to kill or take wild birds over land or manages or controls the exercise of that right. It was passed in response to the illegal killing of protected birds (usually raptors) on (especially) shooting estates, and is designed to make landowners/managers ‘vicariously responsible’ for crimes committed by their employees, contractors and agents under existing laws that relate to:

  • the protection of wild birds, nests and eggs;

  • the prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds;

  • the possession of pesticides;

  • attempts to commit such offences.

Clearly it’s time we had a similar law here, after the MPs had declared an interest I wonder how many would be left to vote on it? We should also ensure that no Government financial support is provided to landowners who allow such activity on their land. I suspect many, many folk do enjoy their Red Kites as illustrated by Jo Smalley, “Red Kites over Jacob Smith Park, Knaresborough last week. Beautiful. Stood and watched them for ages.” What do you think?

Bilton Recovering - Keith Wilkinson

Bilton Recovering – Keith Wilkinson

Nidd Gorge

Keith Wilkinson, of Bilton Conservation group, tells me he was “working in Nidd Gorge this morning with students and took this image to show just how quickly the flora is recovering after last winter’s storms. The floods had been so severe we thought that bluebells, wild garlic, wood anemones et cetera would have been scoured away because the collapsed river banks looked so bare and devoid of life. You can see the ample evidence of fallen trees – but it is remarkable that the bare areas are greening up with a decent show of bluebells and wild garlic. Tawny Owls were calling from the north bank and a pair are raising young. There have also been reports of Barn Owls hunting over the west field near the viaduct. There is much work to be done recovering the ravaged footpaths and small teams have been out almost every week since February making the place safe and accessible. It will take until Christmas at least to complete the job. I was encouraged by the complimentary remarks of a group of elderly walkers from Bedfordshire(!) who were here for a long weekend. They were very impressed with the fact that the woods were so accessible, attractive and litter-free. I didn’t realise that Nidd Gorge’s fame had spread quite so far. I walked with them for half a mile as they paused on the viaduct to admire the view before they headed off for a ‘shandy’ at the Gardeners Arms and back to Knaresborough.” I dare say I’d be happy to holiday in Bilton if I lived in Bedfordshire.

Wren's Nest2 - Stuart Ibbotson

Wren’s Nest – Stuart Ibbotson

Stuart Ibbotson writes, “I thought I would send you a few birds nesting and young Heron photo. The young Heron was on the Nidd and clearly had not yet learned a lot. Firstly it was quite unafraid of people passing by on the opposite bank and secondly could not contain its excitement when a female Mallard brought her brood of 16 to within striking distance. This clearly gave mother duck the opportunity to gather her brood into a tight formation and then swim away from danger. Woodpigeon on nest as seen from the Nidd viaduct. Female Mallard on nest at the base of a tree also seen from the viaduct. Wrens nest constructed on a fallen tree root, (a favourite site for wrens). A pair of Goldcrests have a nest within the sewerage fencing. Finally, Tawny Owl on nest. This nest site has been used on and off over the years and I first noticed the bird sitting on 22 March. Therefore by my calculations the first egg should have hatched on 21 April. No sighting of the young as yet but the owl is sitting noticeably higher up.”

Your Sightings

Farnham, Harrogate Naturalist Society’s members’ private nature reservehad a Black-tailed Godwit on 29 April, and on May 1st an Arctic Tern, Little Gull and Pied Flycatcher.

Sightings at Nosterfield Nature Reserve recently: Arctic Terns, Swift and Whimbrel.

Richard Scruton, “Saw my first Swifts of 2016 on Friday (29 April) and this morning (2 May): 6 swifts seen in eastern Luxembourg on Friday evening at Wecker and Wasserbillig, and a large group seen this morning near Knaresborough Golf Club where the Farnham road turns off the Knaresborough-Boroughbridge B6166 road.” Richard certainly gets about in his quest to see swifts!

Gretchen Hasselbring wrote, “I wanted to report a Fieldfare sighting. Not sure if they are rare but it was the first I’ve seen one. 3 May late morning along the Ure in Ripon on a grassy bank between a field and the river presumably catching worms?” Fieldfare are common in winter because they are a winter migrant from Scandinavia, here to eat the berries, seeing one at this time of year is much more unlikely, although last Wednesday I saw a few, which suggests that the weather in Scandinavia is not particularly good or our weather isn’t providing the tail wind they need to migrate across the North Sea.

Chaffinch - Roger Litton

Chaffinch – Roger Litton

Through Your Window

Roger Litton writes, “This Chaffinch sat on the lawn and said ‘I’m not moving until you take my photograph’!”

Please note no blog next week, my 65th birthday, presents to the usual address.

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 13 MayBarden Bridge and Strid Woods

Monday 16 May(Evening) Staveley YWT Nature Reserve

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Thursday 12 May – Spa Gill Wood

Tuesday 17 May – Great Whernside, Upper Nidderdale

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

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.



 

Salmon, Kites, Trees and Defend Nature

Outdoors Again – 19 November 2015

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog (http://www.howstean.co.uk/).

Let me know if you find any problems and do keep sending in your sightings and I will feature them all eventually. Also do share this blog with as many folk as possible.

Salmon - Stephen Tomlinson

photo by Stephen Tomlinson

Salmon Jumping

Judith Fawcett from Jennyfields in Harrogate writes (22 October), “Enjoyed a few hours watching the salmon leaping up the weir on the Swale at Topcliffe Mill yesterday. There were some very large fish and apparently have been leaping most of the week. It was a first for me and saved a long drive to the Ribble near Settle. Not many birds on the feeders yet. Three Kite and a buzzard over Saltergate early week. My neighbour regularly sees deer near her bungalow. Had a Red Admiral in the house last week, it enjoyed feasting on half a pear and stayed until the sun came out then was out of the window and away. Not looking forward to the clocks going back so am making the most of the wonderful colours at the moment before the wind blows them off the trees.” Judith writes again on 11 November that she saw more salmon at Linton Weir and one at the weir in Otley. Clearly impressed, Judith enjoyed the sight so much she wrote this poem, ‘The long journey.’

Judith Fawcett - The Long Journey

It fascinates me that salmon breed in our waters and spend much of their life in the sea whilst eels and lampreys, (river and sea) breed in the sea and swim up our rivers as juveniles (ammocoetes) growing up in the mud of our rivers before returning to the sea to breed. Brook lampreys spend all their lives in our rivers. A totally opposite life cycle. Danny, my son, reckons this may be because eels and lampreys are very ancient creatures, a bit like I feel, and originally formed in the sea before there was any land. What do you think?

Red Kite - John Herrington

Red Kite – John Herrington

What A Lot of Kites

Alan Croucher asked me if I knew why there were so many red kites in the Woodlands area of Harrogate and Doug Simpson the ‘Red Kite Man’ reckons that as many as 51 have been seen near the Great Yorkshire Show Ground, probably roosting there.

Trees To Plant

Terry Knowles of Harrogate Rotary Club raises money for trees and then finds places to plant them in the Nidderdale AONB, as part of a carbon offset scheme. If you have a site in Nidderdale and want trees planting, British hardwoods, then let Terry know on teruna2@aol.co. If you want to help fund this wonderful initiative then again please support Terry. Terry has around 800 trees at the moment so this is a very generous opportunity.

State of Nature

The Critical State of Our Nature

In 2013 for the first time ever, 25 of the UK’s wildlife organisations have joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. To quote Sir David Attenborough, “all is not well.” The key findings of the State of Nature report are:

  • 60% of the 3,148 species that were assessed had declined in the last 50 years, and 31% had declined strongly.

  • A new Watchlist Indicator assessing the state of 155 priority species showed that they had declined by 77% in the last 40 years. One in ten of the 6,000 species assessed using modern Red List criteria are thought to be at risk of extinction in the UK.

  • We know less about some taxonomic groups, such as non-insect invertebrates, fungi and many marine species. But if they are following the trends we know about, they are also likely to be suffering significant declines.

In October 2015 a further response was published entitled ‘The Response for Nature report for England.’ which outlines specific asks for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to help save UK nature. To ensure its recovery, nature needs the UK Government, or devolved Government’s to undertake a number of important actions including halting species extinction, Deliver a network of special places for nature on land and at sea, connect with young people, provide incentives (or other financial measures) that work for nature and Fully implement and defend the laws that conserve nature – our most important laws that safeguard species and special places, including the European, Birds and Habitats Directives, which is under threat. We must resist attempts from Europe to weaken these directives and ensure their full implementation, thus helping to reduce pressures on nature.

Defend Nature?

This latter point needs Action now. In December European Governments will be discussing the Nature Directives and our Government is not one of the nine Governments committed to keeping the laws. This is despite Rory Stewart, our Environment Minister, saying the UK can lead the world in nature conservation. So can you write to Rory and your local MP seeking their support for the full, current Nature Directives. For more info, including appropriate addresses search Defend Nature and do it today before we suffer even more catastrophic losses to our wildlife, please.