Bastards

ECCUP KITE - Doug Simpson

The Eccup Red Kite – Doug Simpson

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

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

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

  • the protection of wild birds, nests and eggs;

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

  • the possession of pesticides;

  • attempts to commit such offences.

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

Bilton Recovering - Keith Wilkinson

Bilton Recovering – Keith Wilkinson

Nidd Gorge

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

Wren's Nest2 - Stuart Ibbotson

Wren’s Nest – Stuart Ibbotson

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

Your Sightings

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

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

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

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

Chaffinch - Roger Litton

Chaffinch – Roger Litton

Through Your Window

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

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

Outdoors Events

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

Nidderdale Bird Club

Friday 13 MayBarden Bridge and Strid Woods

Monday 16 May(Evening) Staveley YWT Nature Reserve

Harrogate and District Naturalists’ Society

Thursday 12 May – Spa Gill Wood

Tuesday 17 May – Great Whernside, Upper Nidderdale

Resolve to Help Wildlife

Bullfinch - Nigel Heptinstall.JPG

Male Bullfinch at a well-stocked feeder

After Christmas and seeing New Year in in Keswick I managed to catch either bronchitis or pneumonia, hence the delay in writing this. Jackie’s description of my illness fails to realise the gravity of the situation and therefore I won’t mention what she calls it. The floods have been dreadful for folk in Keswick and throughout Britain, including Knaresborough and other local places and our thoughts go out to them.

Have you made any New Year Resolutions? How many have you broken already? If you are concerned about wildlife then they certainly need your help. The BTO published a report in December entitled, “The north bears the brunt of a bad breeding season.” The spells of cool, wet weather that much of Britain and Ireland experienced in late spring and summer 2015 left many birds struggling to breed, with more northerly populations faring particularly badly. This followed on a good breeding season the previous year and a mild winter but the poor breeding conditions in spring 2015 meant the numbers of chicks reared were below average for many of our common resident birds. It also seems that a lack of voles this year affected barn owl numbers with their brood sizes the lowest on records. I still reckon locally in Nidderdale we still seem to have good numbers of these lovely birds but time will tell how well they fare. I suspect that when the birds suffer so do the rest of our wildlife, I wonder how our mammals are faring?

So what can we do to help? Well make sure your feeders are well stocked, especially as the seasonal berries now seem to be exhausted and what about helping to monitor these numbers? The BTO have a number of surveys which get you out into the countryside whilst at the same time providing valuable scientific information. Visit BTO Volunteer Surveys for more info and discover whether you have the appropriate skills to help, you may be surprised. For example get the free Bird Track app and log the birds you see in 2016 or if you check up on what’s visiting your well-stocked feeders then why not pass that information on to the BTO through their Garden Birdwatch scheme. Your weekly observations of birds (or indeed other garden wildlife) can prove very valuable for researchers.

This also the time of year when the RSPB looks for their citizen scientists. This year the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place over the weekend of 30-31 January 2016. Record what you see and get the kids involved. You need to start planning now so request a FREE pack or simply register your details to save time on the weekend and get £5 off your next purchase in the RSPB shop. (Must be 18 or over. Terms and conditions apply.) More than half a million people from across the UK are set to take part, the more the merrier and the more relevant the information is.

cropped-banner-no-frack-allianceNidderdale is at Risk from Fracking?

Frack or Fiction – Bill Rigby, Knaresborough Town Councillor and Chair of the Harrogate and District Alliance Against Fracking (HADAAF), will be addressing a meeting of Nidderdale Environmental Group on Monday, 8 February, 7.30pm, at the Broadbelt Hall, Glasshouses. The next tranche of licences will be released in early 2016, and is likely to include our Nidderdale in the drive to frack in the North. Will we become a sacrificial zone to satisfy the pursuit of polluting fossil fuel energy production? Experiences from the USA have been ignored, and expert opinion discounted. To find out more make a note in your diary and go to the meeting. Tea will be served from 7.00pm.

Early Spring

Roger Litton wrote, “We went for a walk at Fewston reservoir on New Year’s Day and were amazed to find this red campion in flower. There were two others on a nearby stem but they weren’t fully open – presumably late survivors from the autumn. We also have roses still flowering on two bushes in the garden. We have recently seen snowdrops in flower at Harlow Carr and pictures of daffodils in flower in December. We have also been surprised by an invasion of blackbirds – at one point eight males and one female together under one feeder. They were at their peak in the third week of December but we are still seeing them, albeit in smaller numbers. As one would expect (and as the photo shows) they are after the seed which the smaller birds drop from the feeders. We have plenty of blue tits, great tits and goldfinches, plus the odd chaffinch and occasional nuthatch, on the feeders but haven’t seen a single thrush so far this winter.” I would think the red campion is responding to the unseasonal weather rather than persisting since autumn. The number of blackbirds suggests that Roger has had an influx of winter migrants, possibly from Scandinavia. I believe the fact that they are sociable separates them from our resident birds, which could also have migrated further south or abroad. Our blackbirds tend to be very territorial.

Phil Atkins sent some very recent images “Firstly, a silver birch tree close to the public footpath on the Harewood Estate, showing an unusual growth pattern (mid-Dec 2015). Secondly, daffodils in bloom on 1 January just inside the main entrance to the Valley Gardens, Harrogate. Yesterday, I also saw two or three in flower at the bottom of Forest Lane, Knaresborough, which are always early, but not usually as early as this. Before Christmas there were widespread reports of daffodils in bloom en masse in various parts of the UK, but these are the first I’ve seen.” It’s a strange growth pattern on the tree, do you know what might have caused it? It’s a strange year also for early flowering plants, I’m concerned because the spring heather in my garden is already flowering and that may mean no nectar for the early bees and other insects. Let me know what early flowering plants you have seen.

Sightings

Joy Hartley asked, “Can you suggest what we do to a peacock butterfly which we have found in our house. It’s still alive and I’ve put it in a small cardboard box, would shredded paper be good and perhaps leave it in a cool place perhaps in the cellar?” Butterfly Conservation advise “The best solution is to rehouse the butterfly into a suitable location. Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down. Once calmed down you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse. Just remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring. If you have no options at all for suitable hibernation places, then it would be best to keep the butterfly as cool as possible, to minimise activity, and then to release it outside during a spell of nice weather.” I suspect unless the weather gets much colder we might find this problem reappearing so follow the experts.

Steve Kempson contacted me, “I went out to Swinsty reservoir yesterday with my wife and younger daughter for our usual New Year’s Day walk, and near to Swinsty Hall got a good look at what I’m pretty sure was a Firecrest. At first I thought it was a Goldcrest, but it came within a few feet of us and clearly had a dark line running through the eye – having checked my reference books and the RSPB guide on the internet, I can’t see that it could have been anything else (and the woodland location / ‘passage’ distribution on the RSPB map all seem to fit). What do you think? Have you had any other reports of Firecrest sightings? I’m also pleased to say that recently we’ve had regular visits to our peanut holder from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker (possibly the same one I first reported to you a few weeks ago): I still haven’t managed to get a decent photo of it (it’s very shy and flies off at the slightest disturbance) but hopefully I’ll get another chance soon.” Firecrest are a very rare bird locally, however after saying that Steve’s description of a dark line running through the eye is diagnostic. This video from the BTO may help with separating the two species. I have to confess I cannot recall ever having had any local sightings myself, or reported to me in the past 20 years. I do wonder if they are overlooked because of the close similarity with goldcrest so I wouldn’t dismiss Steve’s sightings. In fact it seems likely. Glad to hear the great-spotted woodpecker is still visiting.

Blackcap - Judith Fawcett

Blackcap – Judith Fawcett

Through The Window

Judith Fawcett, (@FawcettJudith) from Jennyfields, Harrogate has had some interesting local sightings, including siskin, sparrowhawk, redpoll, blackcap, long-tailed tit, a male blackcap. Judith also tells me about a pair of Green Parakeets, seen near Yarrow Drive, by a resident and by Saltergate roundabout. Follow Judith on twitter for her amazing ‘Through The Window’ sightings.