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Cuckoo Catch Up

Just a few more folk who have contacted me to report cuckoo sightings. Chris Dodsworth writes, “We walked the Dalesway long distance walk from Harrogate to Ilkley and then to Bowness on Windermere in June. We heard three cuckoos on the way. It is a beautiful walk mostly along the River Wharfe, especially at this time of year with all the wild flowers out, and sightings of dippers, goosanders and grey wagtails among others. On our return to Harrogate we went to Brimham Rocks and heard a cuckoo around the car park, but did not see it because the leaves on the trees were so dense.”

Sightings

Peter Wilberforce had a barbeque recently and a red kite dropped in to enjoy the left over chicken. “We do love to see these magnificent birds in the Harrogate area. Just wish I had a better camera to get a better shot of the red kite. Sometimes we get two pairs of kites over. We don’t intentionally encourage these birds, we were feeding our regular birds. We often throw our bread and other bits and pieces for the birds.” Peter sent his photo in a format I can’t deal with (.png). Please use jpg if you send me a photo. Sorry Peter. Peter is right not to encourage red kites by feeding them. The young especially need a ‘proper’ diet and the remains of what we eat doesn’t always fit the bill, so please don’t do it.

Craig Witty kindly contacted me to let me know about a sighting of a nightjar at Timble Ings. “I saw just one on Wednesday, June 19 but it wasn’t at the clearing at the front of the wood where most people go to see the nightjar (I have been there twice this year and not seen the nightjar, just little owl, short-eared owl and woodcock). I saw the nightjar on the moor at the back of the woods. It hunts quite a distance away but keeps coming back to the wood where I think it is nesting. It the first time I have seen one locally (seen some near Scarborough) so I was quite excited.” Nightjars seem to have an amazing affect on birders. Like no doubt Craig was, I have stood for hours on the edge of midge infested woodland waiting for the rare and elusive nightjar to make an appearance, even resorting to wearing a white hankerchief on my head to attract them. Nightjars have a white patch in their wings which may act as a display signal to other nightjars. Birdtrack initiated a study of these birds in 2008 and using geolocator tags discovered that two birds despite been originally captured within 1km of each other in Dorset, over wintered 500km apart in Africa. The research discovered new over wintering sites. The BTO are now continuing this research.

Bee-Flies

Chris Beard has sent this photo of a bee-fly which I suspect, according to the National History Museum (NHM), is the large bee-fly, Bombylius major. There’s more info on the NHM website but they tell us, “if it’s hairy like a bee, hovers and hums, and has a scary looking spike at one end then it’s probably a large bee-fly”. They appear in spring but despite their somewhat threatening appearance, a cross between a bee and a giant mosquito, don’t be alarmed, they are harmless to humans and do not bite. The large proboscis is for probing flowers for nectar! You can tell flies from bees because flies have only one pair of functional wings, bees have two pairs. We have nine species of bee-fly in Britain, some bee-flies are rare and have UK Biodiversity Action Plans to try and help protect them. Whilst we have no reason to fear bee-flies, other insects including solitary bees, wasps and beetles need to keep a wary watch on them because bee-flies lay their eggs near the entrance to these other insects nests and the bee-fly larvae will then eat the other insects’ young - nice! If you find an insect or flower you can’t identify then the NHM has an identification forum where you can get some help identifying almost everything.

Pansies

Margaret Bleasdale took this photo of the mountain pansy, Viola lutea on a grassy bank alongside the Nidderdale Way at Ladies Riggs in Upper Nidderdale. “There were lots of them in flower on a south facing bank.” Pansies are members of the violet family and whilst clearly bigger do have a similar flower shape. Pansies are flowering now and seem to flourish on upland pastures, especially I find on limestone. They can be confused with wild pansy, or at least they confuse me. Other pansies are wild and field. Each species can appear in blue, yellow or a combination of those colours, although field pansies tend to be predominantly cream coloured. My flower book tells me that mountain pansy are north-western and rare. I suspect a walk in the Dales might leave you questioning that comment. They always look much better than cultivated pansies and rarely fail to please the eye, great little flower.