A Confusion of LBJs

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IMG_5452Blackcap

A recent walk around Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Staveley Nature Reserve was a good opportunity to re-familiarise myself with those LBJs, Little Brown Jobs, that seem to appear from nowhere at this time of year determined to confuse my senses with their sight and sounds. Sight because as LBJs they all, at least superficially, look the same, as the name says small and brown. That is they usually are dressed for concealment, all wear camouflage gear, ideal for hiding in reeds, skulking in dead grass, nesting in the undergrowth. Each has its particular attire which reveals its true identification, provided that is you get a good enough view of it – you rarely do and consequently need to rely on sound for a positive identification. Well as some of you can confirm the older you get the worse your hearing becomes (I’m waiting for hearing aids) and this is compounded when almost all LBJs are summer migrants, all arriving at approximately the same time and all flitting around nonstop singing from their place of concealment. We can roughly call all LBJs warblers because all fit the bill although there are some confusing resident species which are small brown and tiny. Now however is the time for the warblers to arrive, indeed at a place like Staveley with reeds and water they are everywhere.

The first warbler to arrive is the chiffchaff which can be identified by that onomatopoeic song which literally does sound exactly like its name, chiffchaff, chiffchaff. By now they are everywhere and easy to identify provided they sing, from a sighting they can easily be confused with the very similar willow warbler, fortunately the BTO provides some identification help on their website. In the meantime familiarise yourself with the willow warbler’s song, best described as a repeated soft descending whistle, another song heard everywhere provided the habitat is right. In evolutionary terms it’s clearly not wrong since chiffchaff and willow warbler went their separate ways.

Locally we just don’t get nightingales and whilst deprived of their song one of the best songsters around, especially in the LBJ category, is the blackcap and it kindly helps us identify it because the male does sport a blackcap – I wonder how it gets its name? The female has a brown cap. The song is a delight, Collins describes it as “one of the finest – an irresolute chattering turning into clear, slightly melancholic flute-like notes at the end.” Collins also says it begins like a garden warbler, as if the garden warbler song is easily recognised by everyone. In practice many birders of increasing years struggle to distinguish between the two so turn again to the BTO website for more help. The garden warbler isn’t as easily recognised as the blackcap because frankly it’s the archetypical LBJ. Its only distinguishing feature is its dark eye which from the depths of a bush on a dull day is ….. well you know where I’m going! The basic difference in call is the garden warbler has a longer more fluty song. Maybe you should listen to the BTO video.

Sedge Warbler4Sedge Warbler

We should finish with the reed and sedge warbler. These denizens of the reed beds are skulking, secretive creatures, both struggle with the challenges of keeping their nesting sites private whilst at the same time attracting a mate and protecting their territories, no easy feat. You might argue with some justification that a reed warbler even takes the garden warbler’s position as archetypical LBJ, it lacks even the dark eye as means of identifying it, it won’t matter however because you rarely see it and when you do it is just a flitting glance, no more. The sedge warbler is at least recognisable if it does show itself because it has a thick white(ish) eye stripe and streaked back. It sometimes it will briefly rise above the reeds before parachuting down into cover. The reed warbler has no such distinguishing features and maybe it’s best to again rely upon the excellent BTO videos for help. Maybe I’ll mention whitethroat and lesser whitethroat another time, if that’s OK?

Butterfly Still Tumbling

Orangetip - Alan CroucherOrangetip – Alan Croucher

My last bit about butterflies – really it belonged to Butterfly Conservation – led to some of you kindly contacting me about these fascinating insects. Alan Croucher writes, “I thought you might like photos of Orange Tips. (I quite like the this one as you can see a bit of its underwing). We saw four at Lingham today when we visited. There were quite a lot of Sand Martins and Swallows around as well as three Blackcaps (two males and a female). Altogether we had around 50 species at Nosterfield and Lingham.”

Meanwhile Paul Irving writes, “Yes, butterflies had a pretty awful year last year but to suggest it was anything other than weather related would be rather premature. Some particularly those with short flight periods can be very severely affected in this way. The best way to look at butterfly trends is to look at five-year averages, that gives a much better picture of the long term. Yes, observer effort affects it too, remember in bad weather years there will be fewer of us out in the weather so annual fluctuations may be exaggerated.”

From Padside Janice Scott tells me, “I sent you my message about missing migrants last Saturday and couldn’t believe it when later that same day we saw our very own male swallow fly in. We know he is ‘ours’ as he made straight for the tiny hole that Tim has cut in the garage door as a ‘swallow door’, the main door being closed at the time. Since the weekend he has been inside every night, perched in last year’s half completed nest. We’re fingers crossed he has a mate this year, as we think something happened to his mate last year as she disappeared fairly quickly, but he stayed with us all summer, trying to attract someone else, without success. We have also now heard willow warblers around us, so there was obviously a small window for migrants last weekend although still thin on the ground. On the butterfly front, we have seen a single male orange tip around several times this week – very early for us. As you say, nectar plants are a problem when they are so early. Our garlic mustard and ladies’ smock are not yet flowering and the sweet rocket is only just beginning to open out. However this orange tip has been favouring a perennial honesty (lunaria rediviva) which is in full flower. I would heartily recommend this as a plant for wildlife gardeners – good for bees, butterflies and humans to enjoy.” What signs of spring have you seen?

Hedgehog Awareness Week

Hedgehog1 Chris HendersonHedgehog – Chris Henderson

Hedgehog Awareness Week is organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and takes place every year. This year it takes place from 30 April to 6 May 2017. It aims to highlight the problems hedgehogs face and how you can help them. “There is concern at the moment about the introduction into this country from New Zealand of a trap used to kill hedgehogs, rats and stoats, which are all non-native pests in that country.  However, hedgehogs are a protected species here and anyone using the A24 trap would need to make sure they did not kill a hedgehog or they can be prosecuted. This year efforts are focussed on our strimmer campaign. We have produced waterproof stickers that we are sending to councils, tool hire companies, grounds maintenance teams etc free of charge on request (email info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk). The stickers remind operatives to check areas for hedgehogs before using any machinery. Once the group have received the stickers and sent us a pic of them in action, we can add them to our Hedgehog Heroes Roll of Honour!” See http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/hedgehog-heroes-roll-honour/

As well as checking areas before cutting there are other things we can do to help too:

  • Ensure there is hedgehog access in your garden – a 13cm x 13cm gap in boundary fences and walls.

  • Move piles of rubbish to a new site before burning them.

  • Ensure netting is kept at a safe height.

  • Check compost heaps before digging the fork in.

  • Stop or reduce the amount of pesticides and poisons used.

  • Cover drains or deep holes.

  • Ensure there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.

Events

Please check the website or contact the organisation to confirm events are still running.

Nidd Gorge Community Action

May 6, 4am to 6:30am Dawn Chorus Walk, Guided walk to experience the Springtime dawn chorus in the Nidd Gorge. Tickets are limited and cost £4 ring 07753 691219 to book your place.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Black Grouse Lek Visit to Langdon Beck at 5am on Saturday, 6 May. Location: Staying overnight the previous night perhaps, at the Langdon Beck Hotel. Postcode: DL12 0XP. Time: 5am Price: £25 Booking essential

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from the Nosterfield complex via twitter @NosterfieldLNR include: Flora – Yellow figwort, Birds – Avocets, Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpiper, Little Gull, Sedge Warbler, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Arctic tern, possible Turtle Dove, Little Ringed Plovers, Black Terns.

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page:

Mike Metcalfe 26-04-2017 Two Hobby at Staveley today, both flying together over East Lagoon, other highlights today included two Little Egrets, first Common Tern of the year and Garden Warbler.
Mike Metcalfe 24-04-2017 Hobby at Staveley today, flushed Sand Martins on east lagoon at 16.40, also present yesterday on West lagoons
Jess Bradley-Smith 24-04-2017 4 calling redstarts round Beaver Dyke reservoir earlier.
Peter Bowman 23-04-2017 Fri 21 April Cuckoo still present behind Great Ouseburn Church
Sat 22 April, Roecliffe Moor, Lesser Whitethroat heard on its usual territory with a Yellow Wagtail as a flyover and a Grasshopper Warbler then heard and seen in a roadside hedge (a bird on passage)
Today a Redstart singing near Ripon
Andy Cameron 23-04-2017 A male Redstart and a Lesser Whitethroat both in the same area along the Nidderdale Way near Ripley today.

Butterflies Still Tumbling

Wall Brown - Nigel HeptinstallWall Butterfly

You may well have noticed the national news, “Butterflies crash in fourth worst year on record in 2016.” It makes worrying and uneasy reading. Butterfly Conservation tells us some 40 of the 57 species studied recorded a decline compared with 2015, many of those species suffering are inevitably the rarest species and ones we aren’t often privileged to see, especially locally. One species which is suffering and can, or perhaps was, seen locally is the wall butterfly which is widespread but rapidly declining; it is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species. I don’t recall seeing one last year and I always keep an eye open for butterflies. It’s not however only the rare species that are suffering, our more common and most welcome species are also in decline. The Gatekeeper is down 48% and Meadow Brown falling by 31% compared with 2015. It’s not all bad news, however; the widespread and migratory Red Admiral recorded a rise of 86% compared to 2015, but beware don’t forget 2015 was a really bad year as well. It’s a bit like a 1% pay rise for low paid workers, a little bit of nothing is bugger all.

Red Admiral - Nigel HeptinstallRed Admiral

Local Butterfly Situation

Paul Millard is the butterfly recorder for this area of Yorkshire. He has kindly given me permission to reuse his local butterfly news. The first snippet of interest is that a “Red Admiral was seen on 25 March at Ainderby Steeple, this is so early that it could easily have been an overwintering adult. It is only a few years ago that it became accepted that Red Admirals overwintered in southern England.” Another sign of global warming? Paul tells us, “The list of butterflies flying now has expanded, it also includes; Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Peacock and Brimstone. They all share the same habit of hibernating in the adult stage. I have also had reports of Holly Blue, Orange Tip, and Green-veined White.” So weather permitting some butterflies are flying earlier, that creates problems because they need access to food and are appropriate plants always available? Not necessarily.

SPECIES

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

SMALL SKIPPER

368

48

115

304

594

306

397

LARGE SKIPPER

101

42

112

23

112

69

81

DINGY SKIPPER

0

0

3

13

9

14

9

CLOUDED YELLOW

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

BRIMSTONE

33

9

48

38

58

64

71

LARGE WHITE

380

24

187

469

546

246

858

SMALL WHITE

545

127

88

704

805

287

698

GREEN-VEINED WHITE

1488

297

399

595

1522

423

844

ORANGE-TIP

162

96

169

200

259

161

262

GREEN HAIRSTREAK

241

284

318

96

239

35

124

PURPLE HAIRSTREAK

17

11

1

8

1

0

14

WHITE-LETTER HAIRSTREAK

9

1

1

37

20

8

60

SMALL COPPER

87

34

8

107

31

34

44

BROWN ARGUS

4

4

0

3

11

2

13

NORTHERN BROWN ARGUS

36

2

0

1

4

3

8

COMMON BLUE

438

112

150

88

215

126

199

HOLLY BLUE

15

13

45

9

12

15

20

RED ADMIRAL

470

204

156

150

580

253

737

PAINTED LADY

25

4

12

32

40

91

302

SMALL TORTOISESHELL

276

275

488

631

1324

941

449

PEACOCK

1021

152

825

950

1880

618

672

COMMA

185

26

37

240

102

102

48

DARK GREEN FRITILLARY

22

17

5

5

39

30

40

SPB FRITILLARY

0

0

0

9

0

0

1

SPECKLED WOOD

492

138

519

264

609

330

705

WALL BROWN

220

76

39

131

165

16

133

GATEKEEPER

1

6

16

17

4

12

13

MARBLED WHITE

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

MEADOW BROWN

377

146

777

999

1830

1779

1611

RINGLET

608

156

1502

1751

3699

2562

1997

SMALL HEATH

89

277

135

99

448

219

273

TOTAL BUTTERFLIES

7710

2581

6155

7973

15162

8746

10683

KEY

INCREASE

NO CHANGE

DECREASE

NO RECORDS

These records need to be taken in the knowledge that folk are now using mobile phone apps and similar to record their sightings and the improved numbers seen last year may reflect an increase in recorder activity. Interestingly Paul tells us, “The Small Tortoiseshell is a cause for concern as the numbers are trending downward again, however they are flying again now as they emerge from hibernation after a less challenging winter. Recent research has confirmed what we always suspected, that butterflies in general do better the year after a cold hard winter. Last winter was hardly that but at least it was not so wet.”

Please Help

My experience, which unlike Paul’s has no scientific basis, is that with the probable exception of brimstone all butterflies did very poorly last year. Cold wet summers don’t help butterflies and when we did start to see butterflies in autumn food plants were again scarce, so you can help and here’s how.

  1. Join Butterfly Conservation.

  2. Donate. In the UK we have lost 25% of our widespread butterflies in just 40 years. Iconic species are struggling to survive.

  3. Identify a butterfly.

  4. Report your sighting, get the Big Butterfly Count App. It’s fun and easy to use and helps you identify the butterflies. It’s also free.

  5. Make your Garden Wildlife Friendly. Remember butterflies and most wildlife need a source of food and places to nest all summer. The fields are full of pesticides, make sure your garden helps wildlife.

Spring Hots Up

Comma - Roger LittonComma – Roger Litton

Peter Durkin reports “whilst working on Quarry Moor Lane, Ripon on Wednesday, 22 March a flock of redwings about 200 flew over at a height l have never seen them fly before heading north. Today, Thursday, a swallow came by heading same way.” When did you see your first swallow of the summer? Indeed have you seen one at all this year yet?

John Stockill writesSince being off work due to an operation my wife and I have been enjoying the lovely weather and taken full advantage and walked nearly every day visiting Whitby at low tide, the Farndale daffodils, a scorching Scarborough and a raging Janet’s Foss at Malham and best of all being a loyal ‘Cragrat’ Knaresborough. It reminds me that in a modern technology fuelled world that a good pair of walking boots and a packed lunch which costs next t’nowt the British countryside is all ours to explore and enjoy. Here are a few pictures of our treks including a comma butterfly. You can’t disagree with that and John was also lucky to see a comma butterfly, see the above.

What signs of spring have you seen?

Tree Aftercare Event

What, I asked myself, is a Tree After Care Event? Well it’s an opportunity to come and help The Friends of Jacob Smith Park clear the ground around the park’s young trees. This enables the roots to receive more nutrients, meaning the trees can grow nice and strong. Everyone is welcome! So have some fun together whilst caring for the park. You’ll need suitable footwear, your waterproofs and a pair of gardening gloves. Please also bring forks and spades. Come for as long as you can! Meet at the noticeboard, main entrance, 10am Sunday, 30 April. Email Jo at Jacob.smith.park@gmail.com if you need more info or visit the website. It’s free, it’s outdoors, what else do you want?

Rossett Nature Reserve

If like Roger Litton you went to Rossett Nature Reserve and was a little horrified with what you found, cleared ponds, all the vegetation stripped away and completely bare ponds, then don’t worry. It has all had to be done. Sam Walker from the Council explains, “There has been an intensive programme of work at Rossett over the last 15 months so that it was necessary to bring the site up to scratch. This work has included a new dipping platform, noticeboard, footpath improvements, litter picks and a variety of habitat enhancements. The major work carried out this winter was a programme to clear the ponds of Crassula Helmsii – an invasive non-native species that was choking the ponds and limiting them as a suitable habitat for the Great Crested Newts (GCN). In fact it had reached the point where you could walk across a number of the ponds on a Crassula carpet! For a number of years the friends group and HBC had been carrying out this work manually but the impact we could have was limited. It was decided that the best way to ensure the continued suitability of the site for Great Crested Newts was to bring a digger on site to clear the ponds. This work was all agreed with the Harrogate Borough Council’s ecologist and we ensured that the work was done in January when the newts wouldn’t be in the ponds. This work was always going to have a significant initial impact as you can’t just selectively remove the crassula. However, over time, the site will make a full and complete recovery. The works have certainly had the desired effect and the ponds are now suitable for breeding Great Crested Newts. In fact we have already had reports of both Great Crested Newts and Smooth Newts in the ponds already this year. The vegetation will of course grow back, especially now that it’s starting to warm up. The Crassula will return as it is impossible to eradicate. I would anticipate we would have to do something similar again in the next 5-10 years. These works are essential to ensure we maintain a network of ponds suitable for breeding Great Crested Newts.”

Red Line Against Fracking

Frack Free Ryedale has sent out an appeal for knitted/crocheted 15cm red squares, to be sent to them by the end of May. These will be stitched together by the Frack Free Yarnbombers to make a RED LINE AGAINST FRACKING. In a joint project with fellow activists in Portugal and Germany the piece will be displayed on 11 June, before travelling to Bonn for the COP23 conference in November; a literal representation of the flourishing campaign for a clean energy future. If you complete any squares than let Janice Scott know email timscot@hotmail.com and she will collect them and pass them on.

Sightings

Grey Squirrel - Roger LittonGrey Squirrel – Roger Litton

Roger Litton, “I thought you might like to see the attached photo – a fairly common sight in our garden!”

Events

Please check the website or contact the organisation to confirm events are still running.

Harrogate RSPB Group

Sunday, 30 April, Visit to Rosedale Watching Ring Ouzels in Rosedale. Time: 10.30, meet there or 9am at Trinity for car share

Nidderdale Bird Club

Saturday, 22 April, Ripon – where two rivers meet (Skell & Laver): a morning walk to Hellwath and Whitcliffe Wood nature reserve.

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society GOUTHWAITE RESERVOIR, SCAR HOUSE and ANGRAM

Meet at Gouthwaite Reservoir main car park at 9.30 a.m. (in cars). Looking for waders and spring migrants. Continue to Scar House, stopping en route for raptors, Pied Flycatcher, Dipper. Scar House car park for lunch, looking for Ring Ouzel, Wheatear etc. A walk then to Angram for those who so wish. When: Tuesday, 25 April, 09:30 – 17:30

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Recent sightings, from the Nosterfield complex via twitter @NosterfieldLNR include; butterflies – orangetip, speckled wood and small white. Birds – avocets, ruff, little ringed plover, ringed plover, wheatear, little egret, greenshank, redshank, harris hawk, kestrel, sparrowhawk, stock dove,

Sightings from Harrogate Naturalists’ Society Sightings Page

Joe Fryer mealy redpoll at High Batts 15-04-2017. Brambling and yellowhammer 14-04-17
Pat Rumbold First fledglings of the year yesterday – young robins along the River Skell in Ripon. 15-04-2017
Joe Fryer Dallowgill moor lots of red grouse, wheatear, golden plover and a stonechat 13-04-2017
Ian Webster Scar House Road. Pied Flycatcher, Nuthatch, Treecreeper. 3-04-2017
Alan Tremethick Scarhouse Ring ouzel, Wheatear, Osprey, Gouthwaite Oystercatchers, Ring plover, Dunlin. 13-04-2017
David Gilroy Common Redstart at John O’ Gaunt’s Reservoir. 13-04-2017
Joe Fryer at Fountains Abbey. Red kites, mistle thrush, great spotted woodpecker, greenfinch, goldfinch, bullfinch 12-04-2017
Paul V Irving An adult White Tailed Eagle was photographed as it flew south over Hay a Park 11-04-2017
Tony Snowden Mandarin, on R. Nidd at Waterside car park, nr. Castle Mills. 11-04-2017
Paul V Irving 10/04/17 Colsterdale area Hen Harrier (reported immediately to RSPB on 0845 460 0121 or henharriers@rspb.org.uk vital if we are to save this species in England. Displaying male Merlin. Peregrines, Buzzard, Stonechat, Ring Ouzel, Swallow, Tree Pipit.
Also Green Tiger Beetle and Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola), Red Grouse.
RSPB Fairburn Ings, latest sightings,

Pintail 1-2 still hanging on. Red-crested Pochard Spectacular drake from 5th on western lagoon. Bittern. Booming males from three locations. Little Egret Three pairs nest building Great White Egret. Spoonbill Single from 3rd to at least 6th. Grey Partridge Pair on coal tips.Red Kite 1-3 Daily. Common Buzzard 20+ on 2nd most likely included passage birds. Grey Heron Viewable nests now with well grown young. Avocet Certainly 14, perhaps 18. Oystercatcher Up to 12. Little Ringed Plover Three throughout. Curlew Max 27. Snipe <10 now reported daily. Redshank Single occasionally. Peregrine Pair. Goldcrest Unusual  but 4 singing males at the moment. Willow Tit Seven singing males. Bearded Tit Reported on 4th and 6th. Cetti’s Warbler Six singing males located. Sedge Warbler Single on Parker’s on 1st. White Wagtail Singles on 1st and 7th.