Get Involved – National Nestbox Week

If anybody has followed this blog from the early days, or has gone back and read some of my other posts, you may well know that one of my aims was to get more people taking an interest in the natural world. While I hope my posts about the stuff I’ve been doing may encourage others, I’ve not actually made any direct posts on the subject for a while. So the next few posts will.

I’m kicking off today with National Nestbox Week.

Wren, exploiting an old martin nestI actually feel a tad hypocritical on this one, as while I have always had nestboxes up in previous houses, I’ve still got none here. However, we’ve had wrens in an old house martin nest, and blackbirds and robins look at natural sites in the hedges (though with no success so far).

But I have plans for more. I’m aiming to put some House Sparrow ‘lodges’ under the eaves. We have House Sparrows in the area, so I’d like to encourage them in.

Baby House Sparrows, Leeds

Baby House Sparrows, Leeds

I had planned to put an open-fronted nestbox in for Robins/Wrens this year, but there are a pair of blackbirds looking at the exact spot and I don’t want to discourage them.

We’ve got nestboxes for Tits in the shed, but no good spots for them as of yet, so they have to wait.

Baby starling

Baby starling

So while excusing myself, I would heartily encourage you to look at creating good nesting sites yourself, whether through nestboxes (bought or made), or natural nest locations. There’s plenty of good information out there, for example in this BTO guide. So survey your own garden/yard/house and see what you can do!

Baby bullfinches

Baby bullfinches

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New Earswick Nature Reserve 7 February 2015

I forgot to share this last weekend. As it was still frozen and lacking in birds, I decided to just take a little 2 minute panorama from one point of the reserve.

The video was taken as marked here:

LocationIt was beautiful and clear, very quiet, you can hear plenty of birdsong though:

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New Earswick Nature Reserve – Windmill, Water Pump, and an Offensive Smell

I posted last week about the history of the site, and how it used to be a brick pit. There’s little sign of this industrial history now, but there is one feature remaining:

???????????????????????????????This is actually the footing of a windmill, which drove a pump for keeping the clay pit from filling with water while it was still being worked. Having shut down in 1933, residents in 1936 began to notice an unpleasant smell coming from the pond. Remarkably, this wasn’t stagnant water. Rowntree’s had dumped a load of waste gums into the pit, which had fermented! The pump was called into action again, the pond was drained, and then cleared. The smell was gone.

Today the pond remains full, though as it has no running water supply the level is at the mercy of droughts.

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New Earswick Nature Reserve 1 February

Taking advantage of a cold but clear day, I headed down the reserve hoping to again spot the elusive Kingfisher. However, the pond remains under ice, though it is receding and thinning.

IMG_0876What’s interesting is that the slushy surface of the ice is preserving the tracks of the various animals that have been patrolling it:

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????Unfortunately they are too rough to identify, but with crows, magpies, ducks and assorted mammals all a distinct possibility.

The kingfisher wasn’t the only bird being elusive. The Bullfinches could be heard making their plaintive and pensive peeps, but were not keen on being spotted at first. Sightings tended to look like this:

SONY DSCBut eventually a couple of the males consented to be photographed, although they kept an eye on me the whole time.

???????? ???????? ???????? ????????There were some Chaffinches about too, but they were never in good light. Both Blue Tits and Long-Tailed Tits were however.

SONY DSC ???????? SONY DSCYou may notice in the top picture that the long-tailed tit is at a covered feeding table. It’s actually the first time in 18 months I’ve seen a bird use the feeders here! The last time I was there, the feeder was so unused that the seed was actually sprouting. Of course, if the gluttonous pigeons, doves, crows and magpies could get on that’d soon be cleared up. But they have to content themselves with searching elsewhere.

????????Winter is already giving way to spring as the early bulbs show through. The daffodils and crocuses are all poking their way up, and the snowdrops are starting to bloom.


So, again, no kingfisher. But on the way out I did manage to spot this handsome fellow prowling and probing the trees near the main road:

???????? ???????? ???????? ???????? ???????? ????????Always a pleasure to see a Great Spotted Woodpecker. This is an adult male, as identified by the red patch on the back of the head.

Hopefully next time the kingfisher will return. It’s only since I started blogging these trips that it’s disappeared!

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New Earswick Nature Reserve – A brief history


New Earswick was founded in 1902 by the Rowntrees, the same family now remembered for their chocolate factory. Like the Cadbury’s at Bourneville, Salt at Saltaire, and Lever at Port Sunlight, they had a social conscience that led to founding a ‘model village’. I’ll talk more about them and the village in future posts.

A map of the northern part of York with the location of the reserve marked at the South of New Earswick

A map of the northern part of York with the location of the reserve marked at the South of New Earswick

The nature reserve was established in 1948, and by 1953 had a management committee overseeing operations. Remarkably, at least one or two people who worked on the reserve then are still involved now).

The central feature of the reserve is the pond, and this formed naturally as the clay pits filled with water.

A close-up on the site with the approximate boundaries marked in red.

A close-up on the site with the approximate boundaries marked in red.

From 1902 to 1933 these clay pits were used to create the bricks and tiles that created the houses of the original village. Today nearly all the works are gone, though the odd foundation of a structure can be found amongst the trees and shrubs.

The reserve is not open access, and residents have to apply to get a key. There are however open days several times a year.

Records have been kept of much of the wildlife that has been recorded on-site, and over the next year I’ll talk more about that. I’ll also be recording what I see, and posting more on the history. I hope it proves an interesting series within the blog.

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2015 – Results

Well, as predicted yesterday the count was down on last year. 2014 saw 12 species and 34 individual birds. This year was down to 9 species and 26 individuals.

This was, in many ways, a classic BGBW. Topping up the feeders in advance I spotted a Tawny Owl heading home after a night of hunting. Can’t count that. As I got in and started making a cup of tea, 9 goldfinches were straight down. Can’t count them, but they’ll surely be back?

As we finally got going, the garden was deserted. We’ve had peak numbers of up to 25 goldfinches and 8-10 greenfinches the last few weeks, but the warmer and brighter morning had meant most birds could find wild sources of food. The garden feeders were a bonus, but nothing more.

As the count went on, we gradually picked up a few things. But nothing like the numbers we have had. And, like last year, a distinct absence of tits with a solitary Blue Tit our only Paridae (the family of birds that includes the tits).

It was actually a little sad submitting the results, removing species from last year and, in most cases, reducing numbers too.

But, this is important work, and something to be done properly (not tallying up all the birds you see over a day and submitting that, as some people have done!). As this bank of data builds over the years, 36 and counting, the RSPB and other conservation groups can build a picture of the changing numbers of birds. This helps identify which species are struggling, which are flourishing, and so to set conservation and research priorities. So it may seem like a fun job for a weekend (and of course it is), but it also in a real way contributes to conservation science. You are a researcher just by doing your bit!

You can read some of the stats the RSPB have built up on their website HERE.

For the record, my final count was:

Blue Tit x 1

Blackbird x 2

Magpie x 2

Starling x 9

Goldfinch x 4

Wood Pigeon x 3

Robin x 1

Dunnock x 2

Greenfinch x 2


A graph of results for this garden. Not a lot of data points yet…


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Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

It’s that time of year again when the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch rolls around. All the cool kids make their plans and get set for an hour of counting the unique birds in their garden. As any longer term readers of this blog know, I do this every year and my 2013 and 2014 results sit in this blog too.

This year is the first since 2012 that I actually have the same garden for two years in a row, and it’ll be fascinating to compare what shows up. 2014 yielded Lesser Redpolls, Blackbirds, Siskins, Wood Pigeons, Starlings, Goldfinches, Greenfinches,  Magpies, Dunnocks, a Robin, Blue Tits, and House Sparrows. Even then I was lamenting the lack of Bullfinches. But I’m expecting a less diverse turnout in 2015.

So far we’ve seen no Bullfinches on the feeders this winter, they are all doing perfectly well for wild seeds elsewhere and feel no need for garden top-ups. As for the lovely Siskins and Redpolls of 2014, not a single bird so far, let alone the 20+ flocks we were seeing last year.

The reason for this change is that the weather, until recently, has been unseasonably mild. A lack of cold, a lack of the right wind direction, and an abundance of food in their summer habitats means these little finches are all happier in more remote locations. It’s harsh weather that drives them to our gardens.

Instead, we’ve kept to large flocks of goldfinches and greenfinches, and I expect the same again. Probably Blue, Great and Coal Tits. Robins, Starlings, Blackbirds. Maybe some House Sparrows. And of course the omnipresent Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves. But that may be it.

That being said, it’s obviously gone far more wintery recently so who knows what may drop in?

I’ll be out in the cold and dark tonight making sure the feeders are topped up. It’ll then be a relatively early start, a mug of tea, and a good comfy position near the window to see what comes along. As always, I’ll be sharing my results here, as well as via the BGBW site. I’ll also talk a bit about why this stuff matters so much.

Everything you need to take part is online, so make sure you find a free hour:

Big Garden Birdwatch sign-up

Good luck, and feel free to let me know via the comments what you see!

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York Pied Wagtail Roost

As I was wandering down Parliament Street in York the other day, I couldn’t help but notice what good voice and numbers the local Pied Wagtails were in at their winter roost. I grabbed a little video on the phone. Not the best, but at least gives a sense of numbers (no leaves, all birds).

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Snow Geese on Ice

It’s not just the pond in New Earswick Nature Reserve that’s frozen over, much of the lake at the University of York is frozen too. Oddly, most of the birds seem to prefer standing on the ice to getting in the water, as this video of Snow Geese, Mallards, and Black-Headed Gulls shows.

Actually there is a single Barnacle Goose there too, but it’s hard to spot.

While filming this one Snow Goose decided to come and pay me a visit as you can see if you watch this to the end:

I wish I’d kept filming it as it seemed to have abandoned it’s flock. It set off down the path heading away from the frozen waters, bound for a purely terrestrial existence! It was giving no quarter to the students either, who all had to get out of his/her way.

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Another frozen day at the nature reserve

New Earswick Nature Reserve 18/01/2014 10:30-12:30

Another chilly day at the local site, and the pond was entirely frozen over.

IMG_0869Not that this presented an obstacle to the gulls, who simply stood on the surface:

????????Although they were soon mugged by the crows:

SONY DSCWhile there weren’t huge numbers of birds, there were Blue Tits, Great Tits, and Long Tailed Tits busily foraging around the cracks and crevices for insects.

SONY DSC ???????? ????????We never fail to see plenty of finches here either, and today was no different with small numbers of Chaffinch and Bullfinch. Unfortunately the light was fading as the snow showers closed in, and the birds were occupying space high in the trees. But it’s good to see these little groups happily settled in the reserve.

???????? ???????? ????????

Plenty of Wrens around, mainly heard but not seen (this applies to the Great Spotted Woodpecker too). But one popped out of some reeds for a morning preen.

???????? ????????There were also a couple of species I’d not previously seen here. One Reed Bunting (a solitary female) was skulking in the base of the reeds and I couldn’t get a picture. The other, a small group of Redwings, were sitting in the tops of the trees and, like the Bullfinches, hard to get a picture of.

???????? ???????? ????????There are of course Robins, Dunnocks, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves and Magpies too. The frozen conditions had put most waterbirds off, but a single Moorhen was about.

It’s not just the birds. There was evidence of foxes, and it’s highly likely stoats and/or weasels are on site. Plenty og Grey Squirrels too, including one impersonating Marlon Brando in The Godfather:


More ‘Don Carolinensis’ than ‘Don Corelone’…

That’s it for this post. Next time I’ll go into a bit more of the history of the site.

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