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.

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Your Frogs, Trees & Sparrowhawk.

Sparrowhawk - Raymond RumboldMale 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.

Frogspawn Bilton - Roger LittonFrog Spawn – Roger Litton

Frog Spawn

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?

Oak - Jon BurgeA 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.

Squirrels

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 squirrelsare 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.

Sightings

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.

Events

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.

Curlews, Squirrels and Butterflies

17 December 2015
Happy Christmas from Jackie and I, see you again in the New Year.

Holly

News

RSPB Fairburn Ings has had another flood, a big one, the reserve has been closed but Fairburn Ings Visitor Centre open again today (15/12/15), some paths still flooded and part of Newton Lane towards Ledston, access from Fairburn or Back Newton Lane.

Visit How Stean Website for my monthly wildlife blog . December issue now out.

Please keep those sightings and questions coming in and do also spread the word, much appreciated.

Nigel

Curlew - Brian Scarr

Curlew – Brian Scarr

Help Prevent a Curlew Catastrophe

Surely one of the most evocative wildlife signs is the call of the curlew, loved and recognised by everyone. It seems that the bird might well be on the decline. A large bird with its long curved beak, it’s unmissable and what’s more it breeds on our Nidderdale and North Yorkshire hillsides. Sadly, however, it has just been added to the British Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern, the highest conservation priority. This is because its numbers declined by 46% between 1994 and 2010 and by more than half in Wales and Scotland. What’s more, even if our local birds are doing comparatively well, that’s no reason for complacency because we must hang on to what we have for the bird’s national well-being. It’s not just Britain where the problem exists; our curlews represent approximately a third of the European population and therefore it is now listed as near threatened and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Strictly speaking we are talking about the Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata, but you all know which one I mean. Curlews are considered to be fully migratory amongst most of their range, in the UK they tend to be partially migratory in that they leave their breeding grounds, our upland moors, peat bogs, damp grasslands and meadows, and migrate to local gravel pits. Nosterfield Nature Reserve is a good place to spot them, and when the ground gets frozen onwards to the coast. However, this can lead to confusion because they are joined here by fully migratory birds from the colder north and east. This wintering population has also declined, this time by 20% in the past 15 years. Also our area, for example Haverah Park, is probably on a curlew migration route with flocks of as many as 300 seen in early spring. These are probably foreign migrants because they can still be there when our breeding birds are back on territory.
There is an extremely urgent need to identify the causes of these Curlew declines so that we can help guide potential conservation interventions. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is a charity at the forefront of providing impartial scientific evidence to conserve the nation’s birds and has launched a fundraising appeal to fund the world class research that will inform how we can reverse the fate of this iconic bird – before it’s too late. If a world without curlews concerns you, download the BTO appeals leaflet. The reasons thought possible for this decline include increases in generalist predators reducing breeding success, afforestation of marginal hill land, changes in farming practice reducing habitat quality and climate change. One of the objectives of the appeal is to find out exactly what the problem is, before it’s too late.

Grey Squirrel3 - Dr Roger Litton

Grey Squirrel – Roger Litton

Squirrel Watching

Roger Litton, Harrogate, writes, “We do get squirrels in the garden (we’re just across the road from the Pine Woods) and we do like watching them. They’re attracted by the bird feeders and the nut feeders. There is a definite pecking order among the squirrels and it can be amusing to see the posturing and chasing which goes on. Violent tail-wagging is a sure sign that there’s another squirrel in the offing and one will almost certainly end up chasing the other. There’s even a pecking order with the various feeders. The dominant squirrel will always bag the preferred feeder and chase others off, although it may be prepared to tolerate a subordinate squirrel on one of the other (less-preferred) feeders.” People watching, squirrel watching, it seems there’s not much difference. Words like greedy, bully and class system come to mind.

Sightings

Last week at RSPB Fairburn Ings there was a Peacock Butterfly on Monday (7-12-12), a male Marsh Harrier is regular and still two Little Egrets, Siskin and Brambling. On 1512/15 there were lots of Goosander about today 30+ at the eastern end of the reserve and 2 Water Rail.

Another recent butterfly sighting comes from Colin Slator, “I saw a male Brimstone butterfly patrolling the ride in the High Batts Nature Reserve.” Some recent sightings from Alan Croucher, “It was a bit wet today to venture out birding but we did go out last Thursday – to Saltholme – and although we didn’t have a lot of time we had a lovely morning with around 38 species. The highlights were a female Smew (that had been around for a while), a couple of Whooper Swans, a Pintail, quite a few Barnacle Geese, some Black-tailed Godwits and at least two pairs of Stonechats that showed really well and were visible on several occasions. There had been reports of Snow Buntings in the area (though not on the reserve, I don’t think) and Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers off the coast but we didn’t go in search of them. There were also several seals hauled out and visible from the road. More locally, we have seen both Fieldfares and Redwings, though not many of them so far.” I suspect, sadly, with the lack of berries we may not see many winter visitors.

Andrew Dobby thinks he may have seen an osprey “in our village, Marton Cum Grafton. I have looked through my books and the internet and I am sure it was an Osprey by looking at the shape, wings and the way it was flying. Do we get many Ospreys in the area?” The answer is, yes, we do get ospreys locally, on migration to and from their breeding grounds in The Lakes and more probably Scotland. All ospreys should be in Africa by now and that creates a problem because Andrew seems to have done his homework and I guess you can get the occasional late leaving bird but if not what else can it be? The all white underneath and size is fairly distinctive. Maybe it was some type of harrier, marsh or even hen. Did you see an unusual raptor around Marton Cum Grafton the last two weeks in November? If so let us know.

Shirley Dunwell reports, “Nice sighting today (9-12-2015) – near Fountains Abbey – flock of about 40 lapwings in flight.”

Max Hamilton, Bilton, Harrogate, “had a really good week so far on my feeders at Gordon Avenue, Gold Finch, Blue, Great, Coal and Willow Tit, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrow, Sparrowhawk (one less sparrow), also Blackbird, Dunnock, Collared Dove, Rock Dove and a couple of heavy weight Wood Pigeon all hovering up at ground level. Sadly I have not seen any Greenfinch for a long time now, the last one I saw was not in good shape.” Do you get greenfinch visiting your feeders, if so let me know?

Sue and Lawrie Loveless, Fellbeck, wanted to know “what caused a group of mild mannered sheep to cross the stream and huddle together. No, not a dog, a plane, truck, a quad bike……. Actually a gang of about 400 Starlings! Sadly they had left the scene by the time I had collected the camera. They were part of a much larger flock that is in our neighbourhood right now. Good quantities of lapwings around at the moment too.” Beware marauding starlings, sheep know best. Jill Warwick tells me, “A couple of weeks ago, there was quite a good murmuration over Ripon Marina, coming into the little reedbed at Nicholsons Lagoons – might be worth trying a walk down the Ripon Canal footpath? There were at least 5-6,000 which was quite impressive and they did some swirling for the admiring crowd of boat owners (I was there trying to catch a young Mute Swan to ring)!” If you know if they are still there or of any other starling murmurations please share it with us.