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.