Acrobatic Feeders & Has Spring Sprung?

staring-adrian-mosleyStarling – Adrian Mosley

Acrobatic Feeders

Adrian Mosley has kindly sent some great photos of of acrobatic feeders on our garden feeders here on Jennyfield. “It has taken the Siskins some time to appear in numbers this year but this week we had 9 at one time (23rd Feb) on the feeders. I also had a surprise visitor to our garden a Sparrowhawk sitting on the garden seat looking at the feeders longingly – but the birds had flown.”

My grateful thanks to all of you who have thanked me for resuming my blog, much appreciated. Please share with your friends and fellow wildlife watchers. Also see my monthly blog at How Stean Gorge.

Signs of Spring

Rick and Trisha Brewis have already seen “dogs mercury and celandine out in full flower in the Nidd Gorge and flowering blackthorn out in blossom down Bilton Hall Drive! How early is that?” Nowt surprises me any more, when will we get winter this year? I used to enjoy long walks on frozen ground; trudging through thick mud is no alternative. I seem to recall in previous years that not only did we have a Harrogate crocus fortnight the second week in March but also yellow crocuses (croci?) always came first. Now there are hardly yellow ones on the Stray, but loads of purple and white ones.

Meanwhile Jackie reckons that the snowdrops are one of the best displays for years and she saw a red admiral whilst out walking last week. As I write I’ve just received a weather warning for ice, so blame me.

John Wade saw his “first curlew of year on 17/2. On the road to Lindley. There was only one. Earliest I have ever seen one. Robert Brown also reports seeing curlew on their breeding grounds. Also a nice flock of about 20 lapwings. Six or so bramblings still regularly in our garden.”

house-sparrow-adrain-mosleyHouse Sparrow and Goldfinch – Adrian Mosley

Philip Woffinden writes, “The Mallinson estate, Harrogate, frogs have been busy early this year, with frogspawn first being noticed in my pond on 21 February. This compares with 17 March last year, 16 March in 2015, 6 March 2014, 4 March 2013, 26 February 2012, 1 March 2011 and 10 March 2010, so it breaks the record for earliness. The frogs were first apparent in the pond on 16 February, so the ‘boys’ may not have had to wait as long this year before they were able to attract a female with their croaking.”

Doug Simpson, “Had three singing Skylarks at Scargill last Saturday (18/02).”

This one has a mixture of winter visitors and spring signs from Andrew Willocks, “I thought that I would pass on a few sightings from Harlow Carr for February 2017. We had the first Bumble Bee seen this year in the gardens by one of the gardeners Peter Duechar on 20 February with a Peacock butterfly and also the first Curlew was seen flying over the gardens on territory all on the same day. The Waxwings are still coming into roost most evenings into the gardens at Harlow Carr from 4.00pm, they can be viewed in the arboretum at the far end of the gardens, the number ranges from 30 – 60.” Sorry but no guarantee that the waxwings will stay much longer.

Andy Hanby reports whooper swans and pink-footed geese at Nosterfield Nature Reserve. Sorry sand martin report was my error, one hasn’t been seen in the area yet.

What signs of spring have you seen?

Red Kites Poisoned

The Raptor Persecution Website has revealed that two red kites found dead in Nidderdale were poisoned and the Police are appealing for information and warning about the dangers of illegal bird of prey poisoning. The two red kites were found poisoned in Nidderdale in 2016 one near Pateley bridge and the second near Bouthwaite, the second with as many as eight different poisons found following tests. Officers are appealing for information about the two incidents, and warning members of the public about the dangers of this illegal practice. Hard-hitting posters urging people to report suspected wildlife poisoning are being distributed across the county. If you find a mammal or bird that you believe has been poisoned, please do not touch it, as poisons can transfer through skin contact. Also keep youngsters and pets well away. Make a note of the location, including GPS co-ordinates if possible, and anything else that is around or near the animal, and contact the police immediately. Call me naive but do you think ‘hard hitting posters’ will do the trick? What do you think? I shudder every time I see a bird of prey, of any type, near moorland and pheasant shoots. It’s surely time more was done to protect our wildlife and licensing all shoots may be one way of dealing with these illegal activities. Anyone with information about the poisoning of the red kites found in Nidderdale should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, quoting reference number 12160043415, or email ruraltaskforce@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk.

Buzzard Shot

North Yorkshire Police report an incident in which a Buzzard was shot in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A dead buzzard was found on 1 February 2017 in an area called High Skelding, near the village of Grantley. It was in a small coniferous plantation close to where the Ripon Rowel footpath crosses the upper River Skell. If you have any information about this crime please contact North Yorkshire Police on 101. After being connected to North Yorkshire Police select option 1 and quote reference number 12170018791 when passing on information. Alternatively contact the investigating officer PC820 Hickson by email: bill.hickson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

How To Make A Wildflower Meadow

Visit Friends of The Earth for information on how to grow a wildflower meadow.

siskin-adrian-mosleySiskin – Adrian Mosley

Wildlife Meetings

The Pinewoods Conservation Group is holding their AGM on from 7pm on Thursday, 9 March at The Green Hut, Harlow Ave, Harrogate HG2 0AS. There are plans for Harrogate Borough Council to lease 4 acres of The Pinewoods to Harrogate Spa Water Limited (HSWL). HSWL are then planning to build an extension of up to 5,000 square meters to their current plant on this land. The planning application also includes a proposal to create new landscaping and footpaths within the area with a percentage left open for public access. See here for more info and show your support for the PCG at their AGM.

Do Otters Eat Fish!

Paul Brothers writes, “I know of both dogs and cats that will eat fish, taken straight out of garden ponds. Netting may not be too much of a deterrent to them. I appreciate that a dog may not be able to get into the garden, but a cat certainly would. There was talk of a sea eagle coming into a garden pond near to me a couple of years back. Though the chances of that are pretty slim I would suspect. Osprey and other such birds are also unlikely, but cannot be ruled out. Mink could be another culprit and their numbers are increasing since they escaped from the mink farms.” I still reckon that otters are most likely to raid ponds but agree other wildlife could also do so. Regarding mink it was once considered that otter numbers were depleted because of the escaped mink. This is now considered unlikely to be the reason and polluted waters are a much more likely reason. Following Brexit of course we can now pollute our waters as much as we like so maybe our river life is in danger once again. Mink are much smaller than otters and unlikely to displace them and I believe as a consequence, coupled with culling, they are in fact reducing in numbers. Does anyone have any hard facts on this, please? I recognise of course that our water could be much cleaner than it currently is, it’s just better than it was.

chaffinch-with-fringilla-papilloma-virus-conrad-plowmanChaffinch with fringilla papilloma virus – Conrad Plowman

Conrad Plowman tells me, “I was interested to read of the depredations of an otter in fish ponds recently – in the past week remains of goldfish have been found in a neighbouring garden, within a few metres of the Knaresborough railway viaduct. There is easy access to the ponds from the Nidd. These are almost certainly as a result of an otter (or possibly, but less likely, a mink) attack, during the night. We haven’t seen otters in this stretch for about three years, but will certainly keep a look out. I have attached a photo of a chaffinch with fringilla papilloma virus. We don’t get many chaffinches on our feeders, but all that we see, both male and female, are affected to some extent. The method of transmission seems to be unclear, but bird to bird infection must occur. There seems to be nothing that can be done except trying to keep good hygiene around the feeders, although it is very difficult to do this on the ground. They generally seem to manage to feed without difficulty. I would be interested to know if other readers see this virus locally.

Sightings

Roger Graville asks, “You asked about sparrows in your latest article. We have always had plenty in our garden in Arncliffe Road, but after an enforced temporary move away for a few months we thought many birds may have stopped coming to our then empty feeders. Having returned home just before Christmas we are glad to say that although the variety of birds is only slowly building up again, the flock of sparrows turned up virtually straight away to welcome us back home, and we now regularly have between 10 and 20 as before.” I’m pleased that Roger’s sparrow numbers are doing well. I suspect that there are sadly fewer visiting my garden though. What’s happening near you?

Events

Harrogate Futures Forum:

Growing Pains or Grasping the Nettle… Do we need British horticulture?

Mike Prest of Knaresborough Horticultural Society will share some of his extensive experience in this sector. Presentation and discussion 16 March at 7:30pm, Friends Meeting House, Queen Parade, Harrogate. Admission Free – All Welcome – Refreshments Available

Harrogate Futures Forum presents a series of debates about the ways in which current issues may impact the Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon areas. Contact: Shan Oakes shan@voice-international.net

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society Birds in a Cage, Derek Niemann. This is the story of an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, a group of British POWs overcome hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. Their experiences leave them scarred, but set them on a path to becoming greats of the conservation movement. This tale is not just about birds or war, but about the human spirit. Derek takes us through the despair, the suffering, the hope, and the laughter, showing us how a love of the natural world can help us in good times – and in bad. You don’t need to be an ornithologist to enjoy this talk! When: Wed March 8 19:30 – 21:30 St. Robert’s Centre, 2/3 Robert Street, Harrogate

Nidderdale Bird Club Friday, 10 March, RSPB RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire: a trip to the south shore of the Ribble Estuary, looking for geese, ducks and waders.Please note this was originally RSPB Marshside.

High Batts Nature Reserve Autumn/winter lectures High Batts Nature Reserve runs an Autumn and Winter Programme of talks and slideshows. These are open to members and to non-members and the venue is The Golden Lion in Ripon, commencing 7.30 pm. Entry costs £2.00. When: 6th March 2017: Roger Parrish: “Birding the Dots” – welcome to Texas.

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from twitter include a fantastic Starling murmuration plus bittern, barn owl, white-fronts and smew, great-crested grebe, gadwell.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page,

Will Rich: Two Buzzards circling over New Park
Ian Webster: House by the dam wall 4 Crossbill.
David Gilroy: A female Blackcap in the garden today, along with regular Bullfinches.
Will Rich: Male and female Blackcaps in my New Park garden, Tawny Owls hooting in the early hours on a regular basis and a pair of Bullfinches.
Alan Medforth: Two Dippers with nesting material, between High and Low Bridge, Knaresborough. PLUS One Grey Wagtail, Two Buzzards and heard a Green Woodpecker.
Paul Irving: Allerton Lakes: Glaucous Gull 1st winter, Herring Gull c400, Great BB Gull c150. European White-fronted Goose 17, Mute Swan 15, Red Kite 3 Redwing 150.
Lingham Lake: Little Egret 2, Pintail 3, Dunlin 7, Redshank 10, Ringed Plover 1
Nosterfield NR: Linnet c150, Peregrine 1 adult female
High Batts NR: Chaffinch c60, Brambling 3, Kingfisher 1, Little Egret 1, Buzzard 3

RSPB Fairburn Ings.Recent Reports: 16-23 February

Pink-footed Goose 5 by New Flash on 23rd. White-fronted Goose 3 on north flashes most of week. Barnacle Goose Single throughout. Shelduck 53 max – present daily. Pintail Present throughout in small numbers. Smew Male and redhead throughout. Bittern Single on 21st & 22nd. Great White Egret Single throughout. Red Kite 1-2 on most days. Marsh Harrier Male on 18th. Oystercatcher 4 by 23rd. Curlew Max 25 see daily. Snipe Max 39 on 21st. Woodcock Singles on 14th and 15th. Common Snipe Upto 40 recently on Big Hole and Main Bay. Kingfisher Occasional at kingfisher screen. Peregrine Two reported most dates from flashes. Nuthatch 1-2 regular on feeders. Cetti’s Warbler Single heard on 19th. Chiffchaff 2 on 17th by Parker’s Pond. Treecreeper Pairs regularly at VC and down Cut Lane occasionally in song!. Starling c5K still at roost on lagoons. Stonechat Three on 18th. Grey Wagtail Single on 15th.

Shooting Kills Our Vulnerable Wildlife

hare-sylvia-addyman

Hare – Sylvia Addyman

I was concerned to see that our local butcher is selling hare. The Mammal Society, their motto is “for evidence based conservation” tell us that hare numbers declined substantially since the beginning of this century, though they are still common animals in many parts of the country. The problem is that even if we have plenty of hares – and personally I see fewer and fewer – it is even more important that we hang onto ours because in other places the decline is more emphatic. When I got home I found an email from Carole Turner which asked me to mention that there’s a new petition reference a moratorium on shooting red-listed wading birds, https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/167410. The petition states, “Woodcock, Snipe and Golden Plover are shot in the UK despite serious, ongoing population declines. A moratorium should be imposed to allow the impact of shooting to be established by independent scientific investigation and any necessary regulations introduced to ensure that shooting is sustainable”.

Fungi ID

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Saffron Bolete – John Stockill

John Stockill contacted me recently, “came across these specimens at Studley Royal at the weekend walking with the family on my birthday. Are they edible or would I not see my next birthday if ate them?” I am no expert on anything and especially fungi, so this is more a best guess than anything else. Apparently to ID fungi you need to know what it is growing on and see its spores/underside. It appears that the fungi is growing on wood and most likely oak. Its shape suggests a type of boletes and maybe I ought to stop there; however, there are very many types of boletes and some are considered rare. Another problem is that they can change shape and colour as they grow and may well be very varied in shape and colour anyway. Books therefore tend to describe a typical species rather than the exception and books also tend to picture only the most likely specimen. So after saying all that my best guess – and it is only a guess – is Leccinum crocipodium Saffron Bolete (http://www.first-nature.com/fungi/leccinum-crocipodium.php). I have some reservations because saffron bolete is considered rare and my experience is that we tend to usually only see common stuff. You could try trawling through the First Nature web pages (http://www.first-nature.com/fungi/~id-guide.php) and see what you think is best bet. I’m equally unhelpful on whether it is poisonous or not. Saffron Bolete probably isn’t although the taste is described as ‘not distinctive’. The problem is other boletes are poisonous and we have no positive identification. As I have said to others, my advice is only eat fungi from a supermarket shelf because even non-poisonous ones may be rare and play an important role within our biodiversity, especially because of their symbiotic relationship with other stuff.

Fracking Debate

An opportunity to hear the issues from both sides of the ever increasing divide on this fractious issue. The title actually is, “This House Calls for an Immediate End to Fracking in the UK.” The proposing speaker for this event is John Plummer. John represents Frack Free Harrogate District. He is motivated by concerns for his grandchildren’s futures and by his longstanding enthusiasm for history and the great outdoors.

Opposing is Ken Wilkinson. Ken graduated in Engineering from Manchester University in 1974, and worked in engineering for many years before he became a physics teacher. He is completely independent, both financially and in his views.

The seconders are Lorraine Allanson and Ian Crane. Lorraine is a businesswoman, a former farmer who now owns a complex of accommodation serving the tourist and business markets. Lorraine founded ‘Friends of Ryedale Gas Exploration’ who are in support of the gas industry and try to add balance to the debate on shale gas. Ian R Crane is another experienced engineer. He has witnessed first hand the impact of the Unconventional Gas Industry in the USA and Australia. Ian established his FRACKING AWARENESS CAMPAIGN immediately after the UK Government lifted the moratorium on fracking in December 2012. For more info about the speakers visit here.

The debate is on Thursday, 6 October 2016 from 19:00 – 21:00 at Wesley Chapel, Oxford Street, Harrogate. Entrance is £5 and Harrogate Debate is a non-profit organisation, all money goes towards further debates. Everyone is welcome to attend the event.

Sightings

Hedgehog: June Anstey of Harrogate. “Thank you for the heartwarming picture of their nightly visitor, a friendly hedgehog, sent in by Ann and Les Maxwell. How I wish I had a photograph to send of the two hedgehogs who appeared on our back lawn at 9.15pm one night last year after dark. We watched with such delight as they performed what we assumed to be a courtship dance for 50 minutes. One, who we guessed to be the female, rotated on the spot with her eyes firmly on the male’s face as he tried, unsuccessfully, to get round to reach her rear end. At 9.55pm the female scuttled off into the undergrowth while the male wearily followed. We have entertained high hopes this year that we might be visited by a family of young ones, but so far we have been disappointed. Sadly we have never seen any hedgehogs in our garden since that night. We were saddened to read in the Telegraph recently that hedgehogs are heading quite speedily for extinction. Readers were urged to ensure there is access available through their fences – so often hampered by gravel boards at the base. What a loss they would be to our gardens.” The NFU tells us they haven’t intensified farming over the past 20 years yet it now seems most arable fields are spread with some type of slug deterrent, pellets? Coupled with the amount of the stuff spread on our gardens is it any wonder we have no hedgehogs. Don’t believe the myth that badgers are to blame, nice try but unlikely to be the main cause.

Heron: Clare Watkinson of Ripon visited Nosterfield Nature reserve and reports a grey heron being mobbed by a black-headed gull. A bit of a David and Goliath moment but many small birds are prepared to mob a larger bird to move it away.

large-yellow-underwing-moth-laying-eggs-rex-bradshaw

Large Yellow Underwing Moth Laying Eggs – Rex Bradshaw

Yellow Underwing: Rex Bradshaw noticed a strange substance appearing on the badminton net in his garden, “mistook them for lichen until one of the grandchildren pointed out that they were eggs! But of what? Later that day, I took a magnifying glass down and saw that they were hatching! Larvae were miniscule and, after a short while they all dropped off into the grass. If you look closely, you can see them actually dropping off. Posted images on several websites but no one seemed to know what they could be. Then, one evening after dark, I photographed a Large Yellow Underwing (moth) actually laying eggs and the mystery was solved.

large-yellow-underwing-eggs-rex-bradshaw

Large Yellow Underwing Moth Eggs – Rex Bradshaw

large-yellow-underwing-larvae-rex-bradshaw

Large Yellow Underwing Moth Larvae – Rex Bradshaw

Shirley Dunwell of Bilton, Harrogate writes, “My observations from late July to mid September: The feeding frenzy which I noted in July abated and by August, starlings and blackbirds went to forage elsewhere, possibly harvest bounty? The finches however have remained constant in their use of the feeders. I think my last sighting of a swallow was 12 September. The robin, not seen all summer, returned late August and the starlings (flock of about 30) and blackbirds reappeared early September. Frogs have been calling, unusual at this time of year? Several speckled wood butterflies seen, both in the local fields and my garden 17/18 September, but in my garden only one ladybird, one small tortoiseshell, and one hawker dragonfly – a very poor count considering the warm, sunny and calm weather. Lots of shield bugs though and a few greenfly. Two silver ‘Y’ moths were flitting between my fuchsia and erysimum flowers on a balmy evening.”

PLEASE SUPPORT ME BY SUBMITTING YOUR SIGHTINGS, I try to mention everything

Events

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

Harrogate RSPB Group

Landscapes, flora and fauna of the American West, Dr John Mather BEM HDNS. Wednesday, October 5 19:30 – 21:30

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve Complex

Recent sightings, collated from twitter, include; curlew sandpiper, kingfisher, bittern in flight curlew sandpiper, dunlin, ringed plover, curlew sandpiper, dunlin, pochard, whinchat and black swan which apparently doesn’t count, but nice anyway.

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.

Roe Deer and Wild Life in Danger From Dogs?

Roe Deer - Steve Tomlinson.jpgRoe Deer – Steve Tomlinson

All the support I am getting is great news and I am very appreciate of all your emails, etc, you send me and especially all the lovely comments you all make, thanks ever so much. I have however a problem – I am getting more and more stuff to write about and worry about taking up too much space. What do you think is an optimum amount, please. I like to mention everyone who writes in but also reckon three photos and 2000 words are enough. I will try to give a mention for you all but cannot promise to do so, nor to print verbatim everything you say, and it may be a few weeks before I include your message, sorry. Let me know what you think, please.

Important Message

Rich and Trisha Brewis have reported prints of a roe deer and fawn around Bilton and Nidd Gorge. They make the following very important request, “Have just seen prints in the mud of a Roe doe and fawn – little prints that will fit into a normal thumb nail! Thought far too early for this but it has been mild. Please remind all dog owners to keep them on a lead through the woodlands.” Also if you see a dog off the lead in these areas then ask them politely to respect our wildlife. Fawns are particularly vulnerable at this time, a strange scent and the doe will abandon them and of course they don’t run away, or at least to the last minute, so are easy prey for dogs. Ground nesting birds are equally vulnerable, so give them a chance, dogs can run free and wild on that 200 acre wildlife desert Harrogate is famous for.

Dunnock2 - Roger Litton

Dunnock – Roger Litton

Spring Sightings

Malcolm Jones emailed me to say, “Signs of spring! In spite of the two recent snowfalls there are distinct signs of the change in our wildlife. Dunnocks are normally a secretive bird, deep in bushes or on the ground, but in spring they perch high in bushes and pour out their song. This chap was on a bush at Staveley reserve. Like Malcolm I am fascinated by the way these dark, sulking, secretive birds choose to announce spring from the highest vantage point they can find. Well at least the males do. Incidentally some female dunnocks are polyandric, they mate with many males, whilst others are monogamous. Mike Toms of the BTO tells us, “male and female Dunnocks maintain their own, largely independent, territories during the breeding season. Since male territories are larger than those of the females, you might expect a single male to have access to more than one female, giving rise to polygyny (having more than one wife). However, what makes the social complexities all the more interesting is that some male territories are shared by two males. One of the two males (termed the ‘alpha’ male) will be dominant over the other (the ‘beta’ male). The beta male manages to secure his position within the territory of the alpha male through sheer persistence, something which provides him with a degree of access to any females. However, access is not guaranteed, since the alpha male spends a great deal of time guarding his female, especially as she approaches the egg-laying period.” Confused, visit Mike Toms report for more info.

Ann Snelson tells me she “heard a curlew flying over when we opened the bedroom window this morning to feed our blackbirds.” Ann lives in Middlesmoor up t’dale.

Doug Simpson tells me, “I had a walk down the Scargill track this aft (19-3-16). Curlew back on the moor and a kite overhead. Had hoped for an early Wheatear but nothing doing.”

John Wade writes, “I have just made my annual pilgrimage to New Lane near Almscliffe Crag, to see returning curlews. I don’t know when they arrived, but they are back now, 1 March. I saw three, a pair and one in the air. I truly love to see them, knowing that spring is on its way.”

Nature Reserves

RSPB Fairburn Ings, In past few days Avocet 12, ChiffChaff 7, Hen Harrier 1, Marsh Harrier 1-2, Smew 1 still present, Short-eared Owl 1

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, recent sightings include a comma butterfly plus ruff, redshank pintail, goldeneye, little egret, several buzzards, avocets , little owl, red-necked grebe, black-tailed godwit and pintail.

Robert Brown tells me, Farnham Gravel Pits, Harrogate Naturalist Society’s private nature reserve, had a chiffchaff on 19 March and three sand martins on 20 March.

Frog Spawn News

Judith Fawcett‘s sightings, “we had a couple of unusual frogs and spawn sightings this week. A crow eating a frog on a neighbour’s roof. Frog spawn on the doormat and car bumper! I wonder if the two are connected. Haven’t seen a Jay in the Saltergate area for a few weeks. We usually have a few visiting the garden. Has anyone else noticed a decline? A few colourful Siskin on the feeders, a flock of Longtails are now a pair, Redpoll still about. Lots of Blackbirds and Starling, Goldfinches regular visitors and a Greenfinch seen recently too.” Wow, some interesting birds. I agree with Judith, the crow must have caused the frog to abort, hence the frogspawn.

Paul Irving tells me, “spawn appeared in our tiny garden pond a couple of weeks ago but has been frosted since so viability may be an issue. The “White” crow at Morrisons is the same bird that has been around for some years, interestingly it is not really white but very very pale cream and has normal eye colour as far as one can tell so not albino.” Interesting regarding the crow, I thought it must be the same one, but it has lived a long time, I thought white/leucistic creatures were more vulnerable in the wild, although I guess urban crows have few predators.

Janice Scott from Padside writes, “I have read the frogspawn sightings in your blog with interest. You have wondered why frogspawn is late this year, but just to be different, ours has been earlier than usual – the first spotted on 3 March and it carried on coming until 17 March. I think the sudden cold snap and snow interrupted proceedings. Another sign for us that spring is around the corner is the first bee to appear in the garden. This is usually later than lower down the dale (I saw my first bumblebee queen of the year at Daleside Nursery on 3 March). It took until 20 March to spot a bumblebee in our own garden, feasting in the sunshine on helleborus foetidus. We did have a brief visit from some of our neighbours’ honeybees sampling our snowdrops on 17 March, but I haven’t seen them since. I won’t believe it is truly spring until I find my gardening can be accompanied by the reassuring buzz of bees.”

IMG_9458

North York Moors, draining into York!

Moorland – a Drain Into Our Rivers and On Our Pockets

Charles Gibson writes, “Good luck with your campaign Nigel, I agree entirely with your comments. There is too much emphasis laid on the protection of the Grouse. I would like to see more done. Have we had any prosecutions for poisoning of our Raptors too?” There are periodic prosecutions for poisoning of our raptors, rarely a sufficient deterrent and no doubt it continues to go on undetected. Places to look for more information include Raptor Politics and a look here should provide access to other interested groups. I also know that the Yorkshire Red Kite project also looks at the poisoning question. We are also fortunate to have in our area PC Gareth Jones, a Wildlife Crime Officer, and there are others around Yorkshire, visit North Yorkshire Police for more information. Charles later says, “I am our local Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator, Gareth is one of my contacts in Rural Watch Campaign. I get all the crime updates on ringmaster from NY Police almost daily but have not seen any prosecutions for illegal shooting or poisoning, which is a shame because we know it goes on.” I have delved a little further into this and can say that whilst a lot of these crimes may well occur the difficulty is obtaining evidence. Given that it may take two months or more to confirm that a bird has been poisoned and that they are rarely found at the bait anyway, there is little chance of getting anyone into court. If these crimes are taking place it’s probable that as few as a fifth of poisoned carcasses are recovered so it’s difficult. This means we need to be vigilant, so if you do find anything you consider troubling you need to contact the appropriate authority including the Police, RSPCA (Harrogate and District Branch) and if it’s a red kite then the Red Kite folk. Another useful number is the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) and you may wish to add their Freephone number, 0800 321600, to the contacts list on your mobile phone – just in case!

Someone calling themselves NorthernDiver replied via my website to the Moorland Myth issue by saying, “It’s a shame that Harrogate News didn’t post your reply to Amanda Anderson. Such twisted facts put out by Ms Anderson shouldn’t be the last word. Please try again. Do you think you have been blacklisted by Hg News? Is there anyone else who could post your reply? The truth needs to get through to the general public or things will get no better for our persecuted wildlife and damaged moorlands.” Do you agree? What are your views? Can you help spread the word?

Doug Simpson contacted me on the issue of grouse and asked me to mention a petition to protect mountain hares, why is that an issue related to grouse? Well, thousands of mountain hares are shot and snared in Scotland because they allegedly carry a disease which reduces the number of grouse available to be shot for “sport”. In some areas where mountain hares were previously abundant they are now rare or extinct. This is a national scandal. Scottish Natural Heritage is appealing for “voluntary restraint” from the grouse shooting lobby, but they have already had years to put their house in order. The time has now come for robust properly enforced legislation to protect the mountain hare, which is an important part of Scotland’s biodiversity and a revenue earning tourist attraction.

Paul Brothers writes, “I am particularly interested in the moorland debate as I used to work in the Water Industry and have modelled flood risks for land. I strongly believe we should be planting trees and blocking off some drains/build up dams to slow down the egress of water off the land. This is a lot more important in my opinion than dredging rivers which increases the speed of the water and all the solids it is carrying, with the likelihood of creating erosion and more damage to infrastructure. Planting a few trees is a very cost effective and long term solution to the problem that we currently face.” Thanks Paul for this, very interesting, especially from someone who “really knows”. I do wish we could get a proper debate on these issues at a proper level where the right action can be determined. What is best for the country, a few less grouse to kill or homes and lives not wrecked by avoidable flooding?

Carole Turner asked me to mention the Petition For A Ban On Driven Grouse Shooting. Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares etc in large numbers and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including Hen Harriers. Please do sign it.

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Saturday 26 March Richmond and the River Swale

Moorland Myths Exposed & Spring Arrivals

Wheatear Tom WilsonWheatear – Tom Wilson

Apologies, my computer is misbehaving and I have lost some emails, so if you emailed me recently then please send it again. I believe the problem is now resolved, fingers crossed and sorry for the inconvenience.

First Avian Arrivals of 2016

We ought to be looking out for the first avian arrivals of spring. Already we have lapwing and curlew on territory and our resident passerines are pairing up, marking out territories and maybe even building nests. Birds like rooks are already sat atop their communal tree probably on eggs, perhaps young, whilst in our conifer plantations our few resident crossbill chicks are no doubt nearly ready to leave their home. As birdwatchers what we really look for are the first migrant birds here to breed and it always surprises me that a couple of the earliest arrivals are the ring ouzel and wheatear. Why am I surprised? Well both these birds choose to nest on our often cold and bleak moor tops. Find the ring ouzel around Scar House Reservoir, or maybe around the Barden reservoirs in Wharfedale, whilst the wheatear seems to prefer limestone country, look around Stump Cross caverns and Troller’s Gill. One of the reasons these birds arrive so early may well be because they travel fewer air miles than some of our other summer visitors such as warblers. The ring ouzel for example winters in the Atlas Mountains and northern Africa. Now don’t just go to Scar House and expect to see a ring ouzel, they take some finding, so be patient and vigilant and you may be rewarded. A ring ouzel differs from the blackbird because it is slightly bigger and it sports a white gorget, a crescent shaped area around the throat or upper breast. The female ring ouzel, like its blackbird cousin, is more browny coloured and evidently the gorget can get whiter with age with a juvenile’s barely noticeable. Ring ouzels are sadly in decline, never common, their range size has declined by 43% in last 40 years.

Wheatears, apparently named after the distinctive white rump, white rear, seen as they fly away, are a beautiful bird and unlike the ring ouzel comparatively confiding. Male and female wheatears like the ring ouzel can be distinguished even by humans. The male bird is blue-grey below with black wings with a white forehead, a white eye stripe and a narrow black facial mask. The female is similar, generally browner and duller. The wheatear, or to be precise northern wheatear, winters in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is found across a broad belt that stretches from Mauritania and Mali through northern Nigeria, Central African Republic and Sudan, to Ethiopia and southern Somalia.

Other early migrants include the ubiquitous chiffchaff, it’s always great to hear the first distinctive onomatopoeic chiffchaff call, although by mid-summer the excitement has worn off and the LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) are everywhere. A final early arrival and another we all enjoy seeing is the very much threatened sand martin, now in Nidderdale pretty much confined to breeding in artificial nest sites such as the Nidderdale Birders one at Gouthwaite reservoir, or the one at YWT Staveley Nature Reserve. I was somewhat surprised to look at the BTO fact file for sand martins to find they are not of conservation concern, my guess is this is due to all the sand martin walls built throughout the country which not only provide plenty of nest sites but crucially provide ones which are not prone to flooding. It would be great if you could tell me your first sightings of migrant birds, your first reports of birds nesting and of course eventually how successful they were.

Red Grouse Kat Simmons (cropped)

A Glorious Red Grouse – Kat Simmonds

Moorland Myths

Katie Chabriere of Harrogate, Founder of Harrogate Animals People Planet Initiative, (Katies Letter) wrote to the Harrogate Informer suggesting that burning heather and gripping moorlands could be responsible for Kex Gill, Blubberhouses suffering so many catastrophic landslides, which could cost £33m of taxpayers’ money to resolve. The Moorlands Association spokesperson responded suggesting that they were the solution to the problem not the cause, although they failed to say who burns the heather and grips the moorland. It was however their last sentence which I felt it necessary to query, I have tried three times to respond to this but sadly it seems that Harrogate Informer just aren’t getting my emails for some reason, so this is what I wanted to say, I wonder if you agree?

I am pleased that Amanda Anderson, Director of the The Moorland Association, recognises the importance of moorland and the environment yet she sadly avoids addressing the specific issue of tree planting, gripe blocking and heather burning in Kex Gill, which Kate Chabriere specifically mentioned. Trees are disliked by the shooting fraternity because they get in the way of the line of fire. I trust no one shoots down Kex Gill onto the road below and therefore such planting may well help everyone and harm nothing. The Moorlands Association’s stated commitment to the environment would be confirmed if trees were planted in this area. It is however Ms Anderson’s final paragraph which needs addressing. She says, “Perhaps Ms Chabriere might be interested to know that our moorlands benefit not a ‘tiny minority’, but host internationally recognised habitats and wildlife, boost rural economies to the tune of millions of pounds, are the backbone of our UK lamb industry and are loved by vast numbers of walkers and nature enthusiasts.Nice spin Ms Anderson but please can we address the reality. Our moorlands are a vastly subsidised industry, it has been estimated that £286 per tax payer, per year, is spent on them. The moorlands are subsidised through the Single Farm Payment (more than £17 million in 2012-13) and the Environment Stewardship Scheme (£20 million same year). These payments are supposed to be tied to Government Approved Environment Good Practice, although sadly there seems to be little evidence that this is adequately policed. Shooting grouse and the introduced red-legged partridge and pheasants goes hand in hand with the elimination of all manner of vermin, birds of prey, stoats, weasels, foxes, even apparently domestic pets, pheasants (they become vermin outside the season because they peck grouse eggs) and hedgehogs. The only wildlife the shooters are interested in is there to be killed, it’s as simple as that. The sheep numbers on moors have long been kept low to protect the moors for the grouse and the vast majority of our lamb is obtained from lowland farms. We all know about the hill farmers who struggle to make a living. Moorlands are not natural, left to nature, trees and scrubs would grow in places, land would become more water logged, the wildlife more diverse and the whole environment would benefit, including areas downstream. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that it would be any less loved by walkers and nature enthusiasts as a consequence. It would probably be enjoyed even more.”

Hedgehogs

The British hedgehog population has declined by up to a third over the last 10 years. This petition requests the House of Commons to endorse the practical supporting measures of ‘Hedgehog Street’ and ensure the hedgehog is given better legal protection including adding it to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act by the Government and in particular the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Please sign it.

Nature Reserves

RSPB Fairburn Ings, First Sand Martin 14 March, also two Ravens, Red Kites, Marsh Harrier, three Peregrine, Cetti’s Warbler daily and Firecrest at the weekend.

Nosterfield Nature Reserve, 12 March 55 Whooper Swans, Lingham Lake, bumblebee and peacock butterfly 13 March. 16 avocets have been present, may still be, please look for coloured rings. Also there has been a whooper swan movement recently and they have passed over HDNS Farnham, YWT Staveley and the Nosterfield complex.

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Susan Turner (cropped)

Great Spotted Woodpecker – Sue Turner

Through Your Window

Sue (& Geoff) Turner, Wetherby, wrote on Thursday, 10 March 2016, “We have seen no signs of any frogs or spawn in our garden pond but last year the first frog spawn appeared on 2 March. We do have plenty of birds at the moment and they are going through a substantial amount of sunflower hearts. This morning I counted 16 Siskins (both male and female) in next door’s tree and on the feeders. They have been regular visitors this year since 3 January 2016 but not in such great numbers, usually only five or six. A few years ago we only used to see them for a couple of weeks in March but recently they have stayed around for a few months. We do the weekly BTO birdcount so have good records of all our visitors and so far this week we have seen Blackcap 2m and 1f, Bullfinch 2m and 1f, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Collared Dove, 11 Blackbird, Greenfinch 1m, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Songthrush, Chaffinch 2m & 1f (quite often with white fungus on their legs), 7 Woodpigeon, 1 Robin, 1 Dunnock and 1 Greater Spotted Woodpecker (very infrequent visitor). We have heard the Song Thrush singing since early January but this week is the first time we have actually seen it, when it came for a bath in the pond. We do not see House or Tree Sparrows any more and it is ages since a Starling visited our garden. I clean the feeders and water bowls regularly and the sick looking birds we see are usually Chaffinches. On the subject of grey squirrels, they might look cute but we are no lovers of them or the many Woodpigeons. Both these species hoover up all the food we put on the lawn for the ground feeding birds and they seem to be thriving. The squirrels dig holes in the lawn, either burying or looking for food, and once they dug tulip bulbs out of a planter and ate them! Our garden backs onto the Harland Way cycle track so there are lots of very tall self-seeded ashes and sycamores, which the squirrels and Woodpigeons love.

Judith Fawcett reports, “haven’t seen a goldfinch in the garden for a while.”

Pat Inman writes, “For the first time I have redpoll in my garden in Shaw Mills. I noticed them two weeks ago and now they come each day to feed with the other finches on the sunflower hearts. Both they and the siskins hold their own against the larger gold and greenfinches.”

Great squirrel Debate

The squirrel issue rages on, Ann White writes, “Regarding the grey squirrels (tree rats). We too find them a menace, as they commandeer the bird feeders. But we fixed ’em! Put a clamp on to the lid of the feeder, and they can’t get in no matter how they try! Amusing to watch them though – they hang about underneath and have to be satisfied with the ‘droppings’. What we do have, and on a daily basis, are Woodpeckers – they are beautiful, and so interesting to watch. This in the Knox area of Bilton backing on to the old railway embankment. Think that the squirrels kill the pigeons if they can, as we woke up one morning to find hundreds of feathers on out lawn plus a skeleton!! Poor thing.” I would think that it was more likely to be either a sparrowhawk or a fox which killed Ann’s pigeon, probably the former. One way to tell if it’s a mammalian or avian predator is to inspect the feathers, if they have been bitten off, it’s most likely a fox. If they have been pulled out, a raptor. A squirrel would tackle a chick including chewing through a nest box to get at the chick, but I doubt it would attempt a full grown pigeon unless it was already ill or injured.

Notes For Your Diary (See website for full details.)

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Wednesday March 23 19:30 – 21:30 lecture ‘RSPB Wetland Reserves – managing for the future’ Graham White RSPB.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Saturday March 19 10am Outdoor Meeting – visit to Saltholme. Meet at Reserve.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 21st March (Evening) Gouthwaite’s Sand Martin Wall: a presentation reviewing the wall’s development and first year of use.

Hunting, Shooting and Stamps

Hunting, Shooting and Stamps

31 December 2015

News

Featured image Male Pheasants Jousting

Have a Great and Successful New Year and Support Your Wildlife

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

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

Nigel

Hunting and Shooting

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

You can use dogs for

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

  • hunting rats and rabbits;

  • retrieving hares that have been shot;

  • drag hunting and trail hunting.

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

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

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

Postage Stamp Appeal

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

IMG_0283Mackerel Sky – Ian Willson

Sightings

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

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

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

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

IMG_5711Male Greenfinch

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

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

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