Turtle Doves Population in Tailspin

Please keep sending those sightings, photos and questions.

Turtle Dove - Jill Pakenham BTO

Turtle Dove – Jill Pakenham/BTO

Published this month the latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report has some very sad news regarding the beautiful Turtle Dove, declining by 93% since 1994. This trend is mirrored across Europe, with a decline of 78% between 1980 and 2013. Many of you will recall seeing Turtle Dove in the Harrogate District. I have a particularly vivid memory of visiting a turtle dove site near Nosterfield with June Atkinson and Robert Brown some years ago and encountering a very angry swarm of bees, so angry world land speed records, on foot, were broken and painful stings extracted. Oh! No Turtle Dove either, or probably since, at that site. Another site for Turtle Doves locally was near Roecliffe, again to my knowledge sadly no longer. Turtle Doves are our only migrating dove, which sadly, as they travel from West Africa brings them into conflict those nasty southern Europeans who take pleasure from hunting them. Avoid Malta for your holidays.

Turtle Dove also need loads of seed to feed their young and open water and mature scrubby areas to live in and such areas are declining in this country. They are also believed to suffer from the trichomonosis parasite, that’s the one that has also devastated greenfinch numbers, so another worry. One cause for this decline is thought to be the lack of seed from arable plants, which historically formed the bulk of Turtle Dove diet during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeding season with fewer nesting attempts. Other factors include climate change and changing land use in their African wintering grounds, which has affected food availability. You can still see Turtle Doves in North Yorkshire, if you are lucky. Likely spots include the top of Sutton Bank, last year they even used the feeding station at the visitor centre, it may be however that they has stopped providing food because of the risk of transmitting disease. Also Dalby and Wykeham forest are both possible places. I don’t know where to look in Dalby but in Wykeham try near the raptor viewpoint. Listen out for the soporific purring call. ‘Turtle’ has no connection to the reptile but is a corruption of the French word tourterelle which according to ‘Birds Britannia’ is closely onomatopoeic of the song. The Turtle Dove is our fastest declining bird and sadly is declining equally across Europe. Fortunately farmers are helping with Operation Turtle Dove and there is thankfully some hope for this delightful little dove.

Painted Lady - Robin Hermes

Painted Lady – Robin Hermes. Look out for these migrant butterflies there may be an influx soon

Big Butterfly Count

Starting this Friday, 15 July and running until 7 August, this is another example of citizen science, and it’s your chance to join in and monitor how well our butterflies are faring. You may already have a feel for the result and therefore can I implore you to take part and send your results, because there seems to be very few butterflies around this year and it really is important to highlight this so the powers that be can take appropriate action. The big butterfly count is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It was launched in 2010 and has rapidly become the world’s biggest survey of butterflies. Over 52,000 people took part in 2015, counting over 580,000 individual butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK. It seems that most of these folk were from Down South because the sightings page shows no returns from the Nidderdale AONB or Harrogate, so let’s change that this year. You can download an app to submit your returns or just complete an online form. The online form even allows you to send in nil returns and I suspect these are as important as actual sightings. If your butterfly identification skills are not so good, no need to worry, you can download an identification chart. The website with all the info is Big Butterfly Count and it seems fairly straightforward I think, even I can manage it, so give it a go and also if you have time let me know what you see and where.


Firstly there is some news regarding the pole trap incident on Widdale Fell. North Yorkshire Police have reviewed the investigation and concluded that if the correct guidelines had been used, it is likely that the man would have been charged, rather than cautioned. I have received the following reply from Paul Irving regarding last week’s worry about raptors been deliberately culled locally. Paul writes, “of course our birds of prey are being culled and not just Red Kites, how do you think that our grouse moors are kept breeding Peregrine free, Hen Harrier free, why Short Eared Owls have become incredibly scarce in the last 20 years or why on many shooting estates breeding Buzzards do very poorly. If people want to put a stop to this they need to be very vigilant as Doug (Simpson) says but also to sign the petition the ban driven grouse shooting easily reached through Mark Avery’s blog. This week in a small way I have helped Mark, Chris Packham and Raptor Persecution UK make series of short films on local moors which will soon appear on YouTube. The first is about Marks and Spencer’s plans to sell shot red grouse. Just put Chris Packham into a YouTube search. The others should follow shortly and will be quite informative.” Please note this petition is Mark Avery’s third attempt at getting sufficient signatures and therefore please ensure you have signed this one as well as previous ones. Andy Hanby writes, “This seems highly likely – it’s the Wild West up here with not enough sheriffs.” Charles Gibson says, “We should have the same law as Scotland. The land owner is prosecuted for a dead bird.”

Your Sightings

Lisa Walch wrote: “Last week in woodland near Roseberry Topping I spotted a juvenile bird on the ground as yet unidentified. It was crouched so I couldn’t tell its height but it was about seven inches head to tail. It had a curved long beak similar to a Curlew. Its body colour was tan and it had rows of black spots on its back. Unfortunately it flew off before I could get my camera ready. Wondered if it could be a Whimbrel?” Thanks for your kind comments and question. Whimbrel (look at the images) are flying through on early passage now, but are much more likely to be seen on the coast or at a gravel pit or area of open water, they are also very rare so sadly unlikely. I’m tempted to suggest it was a Woodcock although they have a long straight beak and if you got a good view of the beak woodcock is eliminated. The habitat is a typical woodcock place. It may also be Snipe but the beak suggests most likely Curlew. Sorry not sufficient information to go on. Did it call when it flew away, both Whimbrel and Curlew probably would, Woodcock and Snipe less likely.

Green Shieldbug - Steve Whiteley

Green Shieldbug – Steve Whiteley

Steve Whiteley kindly writes, “Still really enjoying your blogs which I find very informative. I envy some of your contributors who sound as though they have their own nature reserve in their back garden! My little patch of Starbeck is very tame in comparison. I normally keep an eye on any visitors to my garden and have had a good selection of moths over the years although so far this year they have been conspicuous by their absence. However, following your comments about bugs, I did spot the ‘bug’ in the enclosed photo which I believe is a winter version of the Green Shield Bug, although if any of your experts have a different view I would be pleased to hear what it actually is. I have also enclosed a photo of a Bee Fly which I have previously seen in my garden. A curious looking creature. I was really pleased to see a female Bullfinch on my bird feeder this morning which is a first. It is normally confined to a greedy woodpigeon, a gang of house sparrows and a few intrepid Great, Blue and Coal Tits who dodge the Woodpigeon.

Large Bee Fly - Steve Whiteley

Large Bee Fly – Steve Whiteley

Reserve Sightings

Nosterfield Nature Reserve

Main lake 5 Ringed Plover, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Common Sandpiper, 1 Green sandpiper, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Little Egret, 1 juvenile Redshank

Jacob Smith Park, Knaresborough

Jo Smalley tells me she found loads “and I mean loads of Peacock caterpillars on the nettles tonight with the kids. Mark Hunter has photographed some beautiful dragonflies there, including a Broad-bodied Chaser, Brown Hawker and Emperor Dragonfly.


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

Jacob Smith Park, Knaresborough

Sunday, 17 July from 10am and Saturday, 23 July from 10am. Himalyan Balsam Bashing. Meet at the entrance, Bring some gloves, a drink and wear long sleeves. Everyone Welcome.

Nidderdale Bird Club

Monday 18th July (Evening) – Bouthwaite Moor and the Sand Martin Wall