Male Sparrowhawk – Raymond Rumbold
Through Your Window
Pat and Raymond Rumbold have sent me a lovely male sparrowhawk photo taken from the hall window a few weeks ago. “It was on our back hedge looking bemused as all the birds had disappeared – I wonder why?!”
How Stean Blog
This month’s How Stean Blog is available now, I provide some fascinating insights into that common woodland plant Dog’s Mercury.
Frog Spawn – Roger Litton
Bob Barker writes, “Not trying to enter the competition but frog spawn was in my pond on Monday 22/2, two big lots. There are now about four lots. I don’t think I look like carrion but on Monday I was weeding my veg patch and a red kite swooped down low over my head, but didn’t land. Maybe their eyesight isn’t as good as I thought it was.” I bet the red kite saw a juicy worm or two, a favourite kite delicacy I believe. Bob’s frog spawn was relatively early this year, I can’t understand why most is so late.
Lucky Dennis Skinner from Wetherby, “came back from the Galapagos Islands on 22 February to find one of my small garden ponds (about 3 x 4ft) full of frog spawn, later iced over! Today I counted 21 frogs in them, all very active before the heavy snow fall.”
Dr Roger Litton writes, “This photo is of the pond at Bachelor Fields, Bilton and shows that the frogs are now out in force spawning (7 March). As the photo shows, the pond was affected by a severe frost overnight Sunday into Monday and some of the top layers have been frosted. This will have killed the affected eggs but fortunately the rest of the spawn, under water, will have survived. However, there is a more serious problem. Someone has released goldfish into the pond. When the tadpoles hatch they will be eagerly devoured by the goldfish. This suggests a dire future for the frogs in this area as the future generations will be decimated by the fish. This introduction is completely irresponsible given that frog numbers nationally are in serious decline (partly because of loss of habitat but this introduction is not going to help locally).” Roger makes a valid point about goldfish and frogs, particularly when like much of our wildlife frogs are in decline due to disease and other factors. What do you think? Have you seen any frogspawn?
A Seasonal view by Jon Burge of his Favourite Tree
Your Favourite Tree
Jon Burge writes, “My favourite tree is the one I am looking at at the moment; however, here is one of my all-time favourites – 400m north of the Burnt Yates playground (see photo). Not unusually old, it is one of the largest around that, albeit sculptured by the wind shedding small branches, had not yet lost a great branch. A good example of an oak in its prime. Just after I took the fourth photo, a great storm broke off a 2-ton branch, and it is now a typical oak good for another 300 years of rustic shape.” Brilliant to see this wonderful oak in all it’s moods.
Gretchen Hasselbring, “Just wanted to report something cool. I was looking at a huge yew tree near the clock tower in Ripon this morning, one of the warmest days we’ve had in a while, and in a gust of wind the tree shook off a giant cloud of….? Which hung over it and then dispersed. On closer inspection, it appears to be the pollen from the mature flowers of English/common yew (Taxus baccata). I understand that this cloud could indeed be toxic? Very exciting sighting for me.” The red fleshy bit that covers the yew’s berries is the only part of the tree that is not toxic and eating that is very hazardous because the seeds inside are dangerously toxic. The pollen that Gretchen saw which is released by the trees in early spring is cytotoxic. Cytotoxicity is too complicated for me, visit the weblink for more info and it’s probably good to keep well away from it. All parts of a yew plant are toxic to humans with the exception of the yew berries (however, their seeds are toxic); additionally, male and monoecious yews in this genus release cytotoxic pollen, which can cause headaches, lethargy, aching joints, itching, and skin rashes; it is also a trigger for asthma. Male yews bloom and release abundant amounts of pollen in the spring; completely female yews only trap pollen while producing none. Grazing animals, particularly cattle and horses, are also sometimes found dead near yew trees after eating the leaves, though deer are able to break down the poisons and will eat yew foliage freely. In the wild, deer browsing of yews is often so extensive that wild yew trees are commonly restricted to cliffs and other steep slopes inaccessible to deer. The foliage is also eaten by the larvae of some Lepidopteran insects including the moth Willow Beauty (see Wikipedia). It is believed that yew trees were kept in churchyards to protect grazing animals although another explanation is they were grown in churchyards to make into bows, surely peace loving folk don’t need bows!
Dogs and Wildlife
It’s probably a bit late to ask you to keep your dogs on a lead where sheep are concerned because many have already lambed. Please remember however that pregnant sheep are the most vulnerable to dogs because the dogs don’t need to even attack them, just romp around in the same field. The sheep see them as predator, panic and can abort so please consider the farmer’s livelihood by always keeping your dog on a lead in any field with animals in. This is what is meant by worrying sheep, not a physical attack. Wild animals can be just as vulnerable so if you are anywhere this spring with a dog where wild animals and birds could be breeding, for example along the riverside where ducks are living or in a field where lapwings, curlews or sky larks may be breeding, then again please keep your dogs on a lead and thank you all you considerate dog owners for thinking of our wildlife.
I told you grey squirrels were like Marmite and your responses certainly reflect that.
Tom Peace writes, “Squirrels are awesome little creatures that are curious and very agile!” Visit Toms Blog.
David Uffindall writes, “Thanks for the credit re the picture. We have two, sometimes up to four grey squirrels that come to our garden. We never encourage them to come near the house – they are animals after all – but do like to watch their antics from quickly nipping through the foliage to getting on the wire fence and then taking a leap for the bird feeders. We have a couple of supplies of nuts that they are particularly attracted to and occasionally they take a fancy to my fat balls – sorry, I mean the fat balls in the feeder! They are very agile, great fun to watch and a super challenge to get good pictures of, so I tolerate them quite happily. If they came near the house though….!”
Jo Smalley writes, “Hahahahahaha, I’d rather see red! Love the marmite comparison. So true though.”
Dennis Skinner thinks squirrels “are an absolute nuisance in my garden digging up the lawn and borders and taking the bird food. The pigeons are worse! Does anyone else think pigeons are becoming too many? They seem to breed 5-6 times a year and have few enemies.”
Paul Irving writes, “It doesn’t matter how long alien species that have been brought here by us are here they are still alien, that’s what the science says. Yes, our ecology adapts to an extent, but look what we lost in the case of the grey squirrel, the red, which I can just remember seeing in this area. Personally I’d happily forego the pleasure of all the unnatural aliens such as the Grey Squirrel (got rid of quickly in this garden!), Canada Goose, Fallow Deer, Pheasant and Himalayan Balsam, especially if it meant more of some species of native.”
Mark Haythorne, Penny Pot Gardens, views’ on grey squirrels are, “I’m afraid I’m very firmly in the “against” camp. I can see why people like to watch them as they frolic about – they do appeal to the “cuteness” factor, but my reasons for not being a fan are: (i) they are pretty much responsible for demolishing the indigenous and much less harmful red squirrel, because of the virus they carry and competition for habitat, food etc (ii) raiding the bird feeders and damaging them – they can chew through practically anything; (iii) digging up bulbs and corms etc, and damage to trees, which I suffer from a fair bit but (iv) by far my biggest problem with them is that they decimate garden bird populations by devouring eggs and chicks – I have personally seen them do this more than once with blue tit and chaffinch nests in my garden. I even saw one tackling a wood pigeon! The cat problem and loss of habitat for birds is bad enough – we will lose a decent curlew and skylark population when they plonk 680 houses on the fields between Queen Ethelburga’s and the Army College (B6161 at Oaker Bank) but grey squirrels certainly play a big part in garden bird predation. I’m sure a lot of people will take the ‘live and let live’ approach, but like American signal crayfish, we could certainly do without the little beggars!”
Mike Sims of Burnt Yates visited Fountains Abbey recently where he saw “a pair of Wigeon, a pair of Goosander and several Goldeneye, as well as the occasional Cormorant, the usual Coot, Mute Swans and Mallard and sometimes up to 230 Black Headed Gulls, all seen on the Lake at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. There are Little Grebe on the Lake too and up to 15 seen on the Half Moon Reservoir at the Abbey end of the Water Gardens there. The bird hide near the Visitor Centre is brilliant with Great Spotted Woodpecker being a regular visitor for the peanuts.” Sounds well worth a visit, watching the goldeneye courtship display is always fascinating.
Tony Brookes, Old Scriven, Knaresborough, “Yesterday p.m. I was in my study and looked out of the window to see a male sparrowhawk swooping towards the bird feeding centre. As is often the case, the small birds escaped bar one that cowered on the bird table whereupon the sparrowhawk circled the table at great speed at least six or seven times before the terrified bird escaped into the nearby bushes. The sparrowhawk alighted on a branch, defecated and flew off over the park. I have never ever seen a sparrowhawk hunt in this way and could find nothing online to suggest other people have reported this activity. No doubt readers of your website might find this behaviour unusual and may wish to comment or even relate similar occurrences.” Tony then says, “I was reminded by this of the stories of foxes walking around trees where pheasants roost to disorient them and, it is said, make them dizzy and fall out of those trees. Fact or an old wives tale?” It does seem like unusual sparrowhawk behaviour, they usually fly in at great speed like a stealth bomber and if they miss keep on flying. At another time of year I would have said the sparrowhawk was a juvenile and new to the hunting game but to survive winter it can’t be. Sorry but I’m afraid like most things wildlife I don’t get it. I have heard the fox and pheasant tale before and always assume it to be an old wives tale. Like you I would love to hear what other folks have to say, on both issues.
Adrian Wetherill, tweeted, Egyptian goose on Nicholson’s lagoon, Ripon racecourse, 24/2/2016.
Joan Howard tells me, “White crow seen this winter in Morrisons car park. Shoppers walk past it…must think it is a seagull.” I wonder if it’s the same one that keeps getting reported or many? The BTO tells us the maximum recorded age for a crow is 17 years. Much older than I expected, although the typical lifespan is 4 years.
Harrogate and District Naturalists Society See website for full details.
Tuesday 15th March 08:00 – 17:00 Mini-bus trip to RSPB Fairburn & Swillington Ings / St Aidans. Mini-bus trip (booking essential).
Harrogate RSPB Group See website for full details including costs and to confirm no changes.
Monday 14th March 7:30pm Indoor Meeting – Tom Lawson “Birding in Iceland”
Nidderdale Bird Club See website for full details including costs and to confirm no changes.
Friday 11th March a full day visit to Foulshaw Moss & Dallam Heronry
Saturday 12th March a fundraising event at the Glasshouses Methodist Church, Broadbelt Hall (HG3 5QY) on Saturday 12th March. The Curlew has declined in Britain to such an extent that it is the bird most in need of conservation action and is on the Red List of Birds of Conservation concern. The BTO are hoping to raise £100,000 in the first year to do extensive research into the reasons for the decline of both breeding and wintering Curlew. Nidderdale Bird Club’s fundraising will take several forms, this is the first. As well as providing coffee and tea there will be T-shirts and cards and cakes for sale.