Saddleworth Moor, despite its grim reputation, was looking beautiful in the bright sunshine as we arrived at RSPB Dove Stone. Walking up Chew Road towards Chew Reservoir we were treated to excellent views of a female/juvenile Kestrel which perched for long intervals on a rock beside the track. Further along, our keen-eyed leader Colin spotted far off across the moor a white blob which, to the unpractised eye, might have been a stray plastic bag. Looking through the scope, however, this was definitely what we had mainly set out to see – a Mountain Hare in full winter regalia. Shortly afterwards, on the other side of the track, we obtained much better views of an equally beautiful animal, which provided some good photo opportunities. The hare seemed unperturbed by a helicopter which was passing almost directly overhead transporting stone to fill in the moorland grips (drains). A huge area of the moor is now managed by the RSPB and there are healthy breeding populations of Dunlin, Golden Plover and other waders.
Colin’s pager was now beeping repeatedly, telling him that there were Two-barred Crossbills (quite a rarity) at Broomhead Reservoir on the other side of the Pennines near Stocksbridge. We set off in the minibus along the A635, past those places which will live forever in infamy, towards Holmfirth, then along some tortuous country lanes to Broomhead. Unfortunately, it was the usual, “You should have been here an hour ago,” because the birds were nowhere to be seen. They had been there since August and are there still (14th January). In fact, the more enthusiastic of our members have been back subsequently and seen them. As it was now beginning to get dark we had to give up the hunt, return to the minibus and wend our way home. Many thanks to Colin for “delivering the goods” yet again (at least as far as our main quarry, the hares, was concerned).
After an 8 am pick up in Harrogate I drove to Ripon in the hired mini-bus to collect a further three participants, to make a total group of eight members. Driving north up the A1(M) towards Newcastle and then skirting around the south side of the City and passing under the Tyne via the tunnel. About 15 miles north of the great river, on the A189 our first (two) brief stops were specifically to look for the reported two juvenile Greenland White-fronted Geese feeding in a field of rape, amongst a group of Grey-lags. These birds were quickly located but required very careful observation to confirm identification – the key word here is juvenile not immature ! A short drive further north eventually brought us to the coast at Cresswell, which lies on the south end of the seven mile long Druridge Bay. From Cressswell we looked out over the sea, which was flat calm, and with excellent visibility we soon picked out Red-throated Divers ( which numbered 20 plus during the day ), single Gannet, fly past Long-tailed Duck and drake Eider. From this point one could easily pick out Coquet Island which lies at the northern end of the Bay.
The shore and adjacent sand dune system could be seen in its golden glory and the immediately inland complex of habitats ranging from wet grassland, small and extensive water bodies, reedbed and various types of woodland were all laid out in front of us waiting to be explored. Some of these habitats are quite young, especially the post opencast coal mining complex of the Chevington area. At least six sites within the area are Northumberland Wildlife Trust sites. During the course of the day, in glorious sunshine albeit with a cool westerly breeze, we looked out over the sea at several points, Cresswell Pond (twice), Druridge Pools and the large East Chevington complex.
Other than birds little else was seen of note. With regard to birds passerines were very much in short supply, especially buntings and finches. Waders were few and of the common species. Raptors were also scarce – the lack of Short-eared Owls was most disappointing. But ample other sightings made up for the perceived loss. A small skein of Pink-foots coming in high off the sea, against a powder blue sky and calling as much as they could muster lifted the spirits no end. A superb drake Velvet Scoter close into the shore with Red-breasted Mergansers and Red-throated Divers around it for good measure. Then towards the end of the day, with the sun at our backs, a beautiful Bittern flew nearby into a bed of scrub and reed – don’t they look so big and tail-less in flight (?)
I often regard Northumberland as my second home. Today’s trip did not diminish my enthusiasm for the County and especially this site one bit.
The homeward drive was uneventful but to track back into a lay-by and locate an earlier lost flat cap was all part of the service !
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.