An abundance of jays in one garden, Canada goslings at Plumpton Rocks, but British Trust of Ornithology report steep decline in house sparrows.

Canada geese with goslings at Plumpton Rocks by Dr Roger Litton
Canada geese with goslings at Plumpton Rocks by Dr Roger Litton

This week a selection of the usual excellent quality from Dr Roger Litton. Roger writes: “We paid our annual visit to Plumpton Rocks yesterday (it was glorious in the sunshine with bluebells still in abundance and the rhododendrons nicely out) and spotted this family of canada geese.

“While the adults are common - and something of a pest – I don’t recall seeing Canada goose goslings for some time.”

Honey bee with full pollen sac by Dr Roger Litton.

Honey bee with full pollen sac by Dr Roger Litton.

OK so it was the end of May when Roger sent these Canada geese photos, but the colour does reflect our recent better weather. I wonder how often our honey bees have had such a full pollen sac as that shown in Roger’s photo, whilst his photo of a snail shows that at least some of our creatures have enjoyed the wet weather.

Verging on Stupidity:

Now I always thought that folk cut grass verges because they mistakenly thought it was pretty and occasionally enhancing road safety.

There seems however an unnecessary cost associated with it, in these austere times. As for pretty, deep muddy tractor ruts won’t win any Britain in Bloom competition whilst at a time when there are precious few insects and plants for them to feed on, surely it’s madness to chop down the little there is.

Finally road safety, of course there are a few places, junctions, bends etc where visibility is a concern, but the majority can be left to save money, wildlife and our environment, simple!

Hedging on Absurdity:

It seems also that hedges are also in need of cutting and many are doing so. May I therefore point out that numerous bird species will still be nesting including birds such as thrushes and blackbirds which have multiple broods and nest in hedges, in a year like this probably after a number of failed attempts due to the weather. Of course hedges not only provide cover for nesting birds, but also many hedgerow species, flowers and nectar, which helps sustain our increasingly barren biodiversity.


John Wade writes: “You wrote about tree sparrows. They seem to be very local. A friend of mine at Beckwithshaw sees them most days in his garden, in decent numbers. I know they are seen at Harlow Hill, and, I understand, in the RHS Harlow Carr.

“They are also common in Spofforth. But I have never seen any in the Rossett Nature Reserve, or in the vicinity. We have a lot of house sparrows, as does the reserve. Do they have exclusive territories? I do not know if house sparrows are seen in Beckwithshaw, RHS Harlow Carr or Spofforth.”

I’m fairly certain that house and tree sparrow territories overlap although generally tree sparrows prefer more rural areas whilst house sparrows can be seen in urban areas.

This may be because house sparrows will nest in holes in walls as well as holes in trees whilst tree sparrows are more depend upon tree holes, or of course nest boxes. Both species nest semi colonially and may need the stimulus of other sparrows to breed and sadly both are in decline and are red data list species according to the BTO. BTO research shows that house sparrows have declined by 71 per cent since 1977 although I suspect at least tree sparrow numbers have increased somewhat in relatively recent times, but it should be remembered that, for every tree sparrow today there were perhaps around 30 in the 1970s.

Rob Hardcastle tells me: “I know getting a jay in your garden is worth noting and we’ve been privileged to get one or two in ours on several days over the past couple of years or so. However, I couldn’t believe my eyes on Saturday morning (July 14) when there were no fewer than eight in our small patch, feeding on ‘drop-downs’ from our bird feeders. We had had a family group of four in and around the garden the week before so I’m guessing the eight were a couple of families that had got together - apparently the collective terms for jays is a band or scold...given the noise they were making, I much prefer the latter.”

It seems from Rob’s observations that jays have had a successful breeding season. Jays feed on invertebrates such as beetles and caterpillars, fruit and seeds (especially acorns which are cached). I wonder if they are particularly prone to slugs and snails, probably a case of needs must.

Neil Anderson reports seeing a garganey on the River Nidd just above the Scotton Weir.