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Richard’s Nature Notes: November 2014 

Being in the countryside observing nature is often a good way of clearing the mind of minor worries and concerns. Recently I listened to the end of a dramatised documentary (entitled ‘Through the Wire’) on Radio 4 about a group of British PoWs who mentally escaped German imprisonment by studying the birds that inhabited or flew by their various prison camps. The most productive camp for natural history was at Eichstatt in Bavaria. In addition to weekly postings of bird and butterfly news on the canteen notice board, detailed studies were undertaken of several bird species, including redstart, wryneck, goldfinch, swallow and red-backed shrike. Some of these studies were subsequently published in ornithological and other journals.  John Buxton’s study of redstarts formed the basis of his New Naturalist book published in 1950. One interesting but unsavoury observation reported in the documentary was of a wryneck, a bird related to woodpeckers, which was so intent on attacking another bird’s nest that it could not be scared off by stones thrown from very close quarters. After the war several of the PoW birdwatchers became leading figures in British Natural History; for example, Peter Conder became the first director of the RSPB.

‘Through the wire’ was written by Helen Macdonald (see also literary postcript below) who has a passion for hawks, especially the goshawk, a large bird which is nearly the size of a buzzard. Goshawks are rarely seen in our area. I have never identified this bird in the field although when out walking near Weedley Springs a few years ago I met a man who said that he had just seen one. I do, however, see the occasional sparrowhawk flying low at speed over a hedge, or a kestrel hovering above a nearby field. More frequently, one to three buzzards can be observed (and heard) as they circle on thermals over Brantingham; the most I have seen together is eight. 

Closer to the Humber reed beds, Marsh Harriers are often to be seen, with grey, brown and black areas on the upper wing surface of the adult male being particularly striking. However, this year has been notable in that a pair of Montagu’s Harriers, nested, and successfully fledged one youngster, near the Humber. This was one of only 7 pairs that bred in the whole of the UK, making it our rarest breeding bird of prey.  A Montagu’s Harrier is smaller and slimmer than a Marsh Harrier, and in colouring resembles a Hen Harrier. Montagu’s Harriers are migratory, wintering in sub-Saharan West Africa; it is hoped that the pair which nested near the Humber will return to breed here next year. In order to learn more about the migration of this species, three Montagu’s Harriers which bred elsewhere in the UK this year have been fitted with small lightweight satellite tags. Unfortunately one bird ‘went missing’, but the route the other two took to Africa can be seen on the following website: 


Assuming that these two birds survive the next few months, their return journey to the UK in the Spring should hopefully also be tracked.

I was recently called on to be a nature detective. A friend was out walking on Strensall Common near York in early November when he noted some small round neat holes in an area of short grass, each hole about the size of his little finger. Bearing in mind that the soil was dry and sandy, the possibilities have been narrowed down to two beetle species (larva of a Green Tiger Beetle or adult Minotaur Beetle). It is most likely the latter, a type of dung beetle which emerges as an adult in Autumn and feeds mainly at night on rabbit droppings and other dung. The male of this large black beetle is striking in that it has three forward pointing horns on its thorax (two large and one small). ‘Fights’ between two males over a female have been described in which the males use their horns to push against each other or even lock horns like stags.

Literary postscript: whilst writing this article it was announced that Helen Macdonald has won this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction with her book called ‘H is for Hawk’. The book is a personal memoir about how becoming a falconer helped her deal with grief (the death of her father). The coincidence continues in that in my nature notes of November 2013 I recommended Dave Goulson’s book ‘A sting in the tail’ which was short listed for last year’s Samuel Johnson Prize. With Christmas on the horizon, you may wish to note that Dave Goulson, an entomologist and professor of biological sciences, has recently published another book ‘A buzz in the meadow’ which describes how he bought a derelict farm in South West France and made it a home for wildlife. I have the book on order.

Richard     November, 2014.

Annual Photographic Competition Winners

Wednesday 19th November 2015


Wildflower Meadow Opening

Sunday 11th May 2014

A large following of members of the 'Wolds & Riverbank Countryside Society' turned out to witness the official opening of the society's new wildflower meadow adjacent to their wood on Brantingham Road. Following the cutting of the ribbon to open the meadow, members had brought along a selection of food and drinks for an afternoon picnic. Though the weather threatened heavy rain showers for the day none were forthcoming and all were able to enjoy a dry afternoon though a little on the cold and windy side.

Tree Planting Project  Link to photographs



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                                                                           Last updated: March 2015