This is an occasional newsletter from your BTO Regional Representative, it will be updated from time to time with information relevant to the Harrogate and District Naturalists’ recording area. Contact me by email: email@example.com or by phone: 01423 567382, mobile: 07900 301112. Website: www.bto.org
Bird Atlas 2007-11
One of the most ambitious volunteer projects ever undertaken, to map all our birds in both winter and the breeding season and from every part of Britain and Ireland. Over 40,000 volunteers spent four years scouring the countryside in search of birds, submitting their records to the BTO to integrate local information on bird numbers into coherent national pictures on the state of Britain and Ireland’s bird populations and finding some startling results along the way.
Over the last 40 years the British breeding areas for 74 (8%) of our bird species have expanded beyond their previously known range, whilst for 72 (37%) of them the range has shrunk and for 47 (24%) it has remained relatively unchanged. But what is rather surprising is that for nearly all of them there has been a shift in where they live. Every species has a story to tell.
For those species that spend the winter months with us the changes have been very different. Over three quarters of species were found in more areas than three decades ago. Improved coverage of remote areas explains some but not all of these gains, but the 8% of species now found in fewer areas are of real concern.
So, what are the surprises? Forty years ago the Little Egret was very much a bird of the Mediterranean but in 1996 this small white heron bred here for the first time. Since then it has increased its range in Britain by a whopping 16,350% and has become a familiar bird for many and one that our children will grow-up with and associate with British wetlands.
The charismatic Green Woodpecker exemplifies the complex changes we see. It has become more common in eastern England and has spread northwards into parts of eastern Scotland. Meanwhile, it has begun to disappear from western Wales, an area that is also losing its Lapwings, Kestrels and Starlings.
The “little bit of bread and no cheese” of the Yellowhammer is a sound that is disappearing from our countryside. Forty years ago the species could be heard singing in almost every village in Britain and Ireland. But Yellowhammers are now missing from large swathes of Ireland, western Scotland, southern Wales and northern England, representing a 32% contraction for this formerly widespread breeding bird.
The new Atlas is considerably larger than previous editions running to just over 700 pages packed with invaluable data and illustrated with numerous excellent photographs. Copies can be obtained directly from the BTO at £69.99 plus p.&.p.
Please contact me if you are interested in current BTO surveys, e.g. The Breeding Bird Survey, Garden Birdwatch or Winter Thrushes.
Reports of a Pallid Swift and Western Bonelli’s Warbler made the minibus trip to Hartlepool a hopeful prospect. We arrived with rain abating and a fresh SE wind. We all looked skyward but no Pallid Swift. It had been seen earlier that morning so surely it would return! Having conducted a thorough search we turned our attention to the sea. The first challenge was differentiating between two divers, one Red Throated and one Black Throated. On a receding tide, coastal waders were playing hard to get, two Purple Sandpipers, a couple of Turnstones, Redshanks and Oystercatchers and a single Bar Tailed Godwit flew over. Among the Black Headed Gulls was one Mediterranean Gull. Sea ducks were scarce, apart from Scoter and a male and female Eider on rocks. Still no Pallid Swift so we moved on, which is precisely when the swift made a re-appearance back at the Headland
U turn accomplished, Colin drove back and some of the sharper eyed of us spotted it at distance over the bay. It was to finally return to roost on the church while we were well on our way home.
We called in at Newburn Bridge and got a much closer view of a Mediterranean Gull on the beach and a single Ringed Plover. Our next stop was North Gare and then the Zinc Road. The grass was quite long but careful searching revealed good numbers of Curlew, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and several Ruff and on the river we saw Red Breasted Merganser and Red Throated Diver.
In the area around Greatham Creek were Shoveler, Dunlin, Little Egret and a visit to Dorman’s Pool gave us Pintail and Marsh Harrier, with Kingfisher in one of the creeks.
72 species seen and all worked quite hard for, but no one said it was going to be easy!
Thanks to June for leading and Colin for driving, making a most enjoyable trip.
Red squirrels, part of our countryside for 10,000 years, used to number 3.5million in the UK. In the 19th century the larger grey squirrel, introduced from North America spread relentlessly, out competing the red for food and spreading a deadly virus which left the greys unaffected. Snaizeholme is one of a handful of sites in NE England which is being managed to encourage the reds. After a longish drive and a short walk we had amazing photo opportunities of these delightful animals scampering about eating and ‘squirreling’ away the nuts which we had brought for them.
At the reserve there is a feeding station and information about how tree species such as Larch and Scots Pine are being planted to provide the cones which the reds prefer to eat. Sycamores are weeded out as they attract the greys to cross the buffer zone created by the wild fells of Widdale. Stick piles encourage stoats and weasels to nest as they help to keep rabbit numbers down.
Once we had all filled our cameras’ memory cards with cute squirrel photos we drove to Ribblehead for lunch. Whernside and the viaduct looked stunning in the sun, so quickly delete several squirrel photos!
The drive down Ribblesdale showed off Ingleborough and Pen y Ghent equally well and as we had time, Will introduced us to a hidden gem. An industrial archaeology site, the huge Hoffman lime kiln, just outside Settle, the back drop to which is a vast quarry wall where Raven and Peregrine breed.
Tea at the Ye Olde Naked Man Café in Settle and we were back in Harrogate for 5.30pm.
This is the last of the field meetings which Will Rich is organising after many over the past few years. Many thanks to him for so many successful trips. Colin Slator has taken over the planning for this coming year and I hope there will be continued support for what will be a great itinerary. Will is still going to drive the minibus when he is available, so watch this space!
Thanks to good weather, about 30 members attended Members’ Day this year on Sunday 14th July. An optics and camera display, supplied by Marcus Grover from Northallerton, provided additional interest for those seeking new equipment.
Butterfly species produced an excellent display with many Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets recorded. The White Letter Hairstreaks obliged, giving good opportunity for photographers.
Dragonfly species were also numerous with Emperor and Black Tailed Skimmer, Brown Hawker and four species of damselfly. Many thanks go to David Alred who helped members to identify each species.
Ornithologically, the Common Terns were busy feeding their young on the islands, which are at last beginning to appear again as the water level recedes.
Eight stalwarts braved lashing rain as we were conducted through fen and bog at the reserve, which being at 1200ft can be rather uninviting in these conditions.
However Peter Welsh, our articulate and knowledgeable guide, compensated for the weather with his sunny disposition as he described the various plant species encountered, including Northern Marsh Orchid, Bogbean, Marsh Cinquefoil, Cranberry, Sundew and (not so) Common Wintergreen. Unfortunately the weather ruled out sightings of any flies of the dragon, damsel or butter variety.
Lunch was taken in the old orchid house at the Field Studies Centre after which the rain abated though the wind whipped up white horses on the water as we toured the meadows and wetlands on the tarn shore. There we enjoyed the sight of more orchids, mostly Northern Marsh but one or two Early Marsh and Heath Spotted. Also of interest were Bird’s Eye Primrose, Butterwort and Marsh Lousewort. Finally Peter showed us the drier limestone meadows on the higher ground, where species such as Milkwort, Mountain Everlasting and Fragrant Orchid flourish. Very little bird life was seen during the day, the highlight being a number of Spotted Flycatchers,one of which gave particularly good views.
Just as we were saying our farewells the sun emerged, so we headed for tea and cakes in Malham village where the weather was considerably balmier by this time. Many thanks to Peter, the National Trust and Natural England for an enjoyable and instructive day.
Eleven of us set off from Trinity in bright sunshine which fortunately persisted all day. Prior to meeting Ian, our leader, we called in at Nosterfield, where the highlight was a distant Garganey.
Ian and wife Mavis were waiting for us at the Old Glebe Field near Wendel’s Lea (nowadays known as Wensley) and we were not disappointed in our quest for Burnt (Tip) and Green-winged Orchids (see photos), the latter of which were growing in profusion, mainly purple specimens but also some paler forms. Ian informed us that this YWT reserve is the northernmost outpost of the Burnt Orchid, which is sporadically distributed across the country but mainly in the south. There was also a good display of typical meadow plants here, including some nice stands of Bugle and a few Twayblades. Some of us nearly trod on a Pheasant chick which was hunkered down in the grass but eventually scurried off to join its siblings in the hedge bottom. After a lunch stop at Berry’s Farm Shop in Swinithwaite (Wensleydale) we drove over the top to Muker in Swaledale via Askrigg. Unfortunately the brakes on the minibus were proving none too reliable and the descent into Swaledale in low gear was somewhat nerve-wracking. We followed Ian and Mavis to Yellands Meadow, another YWT reserve, with another superb display of flowers, including Wood Anemones which surprisingly were growing in the open field. There was also a traditional hay barn with many original features inside.
Our last stop was Muker village itself where some of us strolled across the meadows to the River Swale, obtaining distant views of a Cuckoo which was being harassed by a much smaller bird, probably a Meadow Pipit. The rest of the party waited in the sunshine in the village, where at least one was tempted to sample the delights of the local hostelry, The Farmers’ Arms. On returning to Harrogate the minibus brakes finally packed up completely and smoke billowed from the front of the vehicle, so it was abandoned at Trinity. Our thanks to Ian and Mavis for a great day out.
A good turnout of 18 members arrived at Bellflask on a brilliantly sunny morning to be greeted by Brian and Susan Morland. Brian showed us around this fascinating gravel quarry which is being restored and is already a haven for wildlife. He treated us to his robust views on habitat management (intervene as little as possible) and was extremely critical of the destructive practices which have severely impacted on wildlife over the past 50 years. He showed us the agro-chemical polluted and wildlife-depleted River Ure which runs through the middle of the quarry. By contrast the Bellflask lakes were pristine and full of life.
In the sunshine we were able to see into the depths of the crystal clear water, where trout and perch patrolled. We also had close-up views of perch and gudgeon, Brian having netted some the day before.
He showed us the contents of his moth trap which were meagre due to a frost the previous night. Nevertheless we were able to see some interesting species such as poplar hawk moth. Later Brian pointed out an albino rabbit, which was a sight new to most of us. After a couple of hours pleasantly spent some of us were beginning to feel the heat (that makes a change!) so we returned to the car park for our departure. Many thanks to Brian and Susan for a splendid morning.
The forecast threatened cold, strong winds and with rain later in the morning. Absolutely correct, but despite this seven optimists met at Barley car park before moving on to a suitable parking spot near the foot of the hill. The walk to the top was steep and Ann received a well-deserved round of applause for reaching the top of the path. Once near the summit we spread out and headed towards the trig point looking for Dotterel, without success.
We then moved on, spread out like a line of skirmishers, by this time not too hopeful of finding the birds. But within ten minutes Sue in the centre of the line spotted a Dotterel and stood still, arm raised, to summon the rest of us. We got excellent views of three birds, although we think there were more, and gently worked our way towards them, one of our group nearly treading on one in the process.
All of us managed to get quite close to the birds without upsetting them and some good photo opportunities resulted, despite the high winds and frozen fingers.
A retreat to the car park at Barley for some much needed warmth and refreshment was followed by a visit to Stocks Reservoir where the rain was driving horizontally. Despite this, the Swallows and Sand Martins were struggling against the wind over the water in a search for food. We also saw a flypast by a male Merganser and some distant waders, geese and gulls.
We saw in all eleven bird species at Pendle and twelve at Stocks Reservoir; not a great total but in view of the conditions we were delighted by our success and proud of our survival. My thanks to everyone who turned up.
This event was well attended, thanks largely to our leader’s reputation as a consummate bird finder. Fifteen of us set off in the minibus, followed by four in a car. Our first stop was North Cave Wetlands, where species including Avocet, Yellow Wagtail and Little Ringed Plover were seen. We next headed over the Humber Bridge to Far Ings National Nature Reserve, where Cetti’s Warbler was heard but little was seen to cause excitement. Leaving Far Ings, we stopped on a busy main road (see photo) to train our telescopes on the distant Read’s Island, where the highlight was a Spotted Redshank in breeding plumage. Fortunately none of our party fell victim to the speeding traffic and we proceeded in the minibus to Alkborough Flats, where a number of hides overlook an extensive reedbed at the confluence of Trent and Humber. Several species were added to our list here, including Marsh Harrier, Bar-tailed Godwit and Little Egret. The long drive round the upper reaches of the Trent was accompanied by numerous back seat drivers shouting contradictory instructions, but despite this we managed to find the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands, where those of us lucky enough to retain some hearing were treated on arrival to a Grasshopper Warbler reeling. We also had excellent views of Marsh Harriers. Leaving for home at 5.30pm and sharing sightings, we found we had amassed an impressive total of nearly 90 species. Many thanks to our leader Colin Slator.
As some of us waited in the sunshine for others to arrive in the car park at King Rudding Lane, a very pale Buzzard flew directly overhead, with a pair displaying further away towards Selby. Eventually ten of us set off for the “Bomb Bays” and a photographer in the distance alerted us to two Grass Snakes sunning themselves between a concrete ruin and a rose bush – utterly splendid views and lots of photos taken. These snakes were a first for some and the first live British ones I had seen since I was a teenager.
Another photographer told us where he had been seeing Woodlark, a short walk away. Whilst listening to a distant lark we saw Brimstone butterfly and Orange Underwing moth – spring at last! The lark duly appeared singing splendidly, then landed on the crown of a small oak, giving us great telescope views before it dropped to a ditch side to feed, still in view. We could not have asked for better. Lunch was taken back at the car park before we left for Bank Island, Wheldrake, where we enjoyed a drake Garganey, Swallow and Chiffchaff with plenty of other wildfowl and some Snipe. One or two then left us while the rest went to North Duffield Carrs where the scene was much more like winter with four Scaup, two or three Whooper Swans, two Marsh Harriers and lots of Wigeon; Teal and Pintail for support. All in all a great day out. You should have been there!