Ian Rotherham, SY environmentalist
A Walk on the Wildside: November
by Ian Rotherham
South Yorkshire environmentalist Ian Rotherham shares his tips on the wildlife in and around the area at this time of year.
South Yorkshire environmentalist Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University shares his tips on the wildlife in and around the area at this time of year. You can read his observations on other months by clicking below.
Ian and Rony welcome your letters, comments, sightings and records. Phone 0114 279 6699. For your nature sightings and photos...
November 2008: Peregrines overhead
Whatever the time of year, the great thing about wildlife is the unexpected.
So just round the corner from BBC Radio Sheffield I had a very surprising wildlife sighting – a Peregrine Falcon.
I was standing outside Sheffield Hallam University quietly minding my own business on a street corner in pouring rain, waiting for a colleague to deliver a parcel. From out of town, he was struggling with Sheffield’s one-way system. Even his SATNAV was of no avail.
Having waited about twenty minutes, totally out of the blue and only a few feet over my head, a Peregrine Falcon flew lazily out of the swirling clouds and mist that were busy soaking me.
It hung in the air on powerful broad wings; probably a female and maybe a youngster. It was hard to tell because although it was close, it was silhouetted against the sky; so not easy to be sure.
Hanging on the breeze and flapping quite powerfully but slowly, it was unfazed by the hustle and bustle a little distance away on the street below.
If you compare a Peregrine with our more common urban falcon the Kestrel, it really is a big, powerful and impressive bird. It seemed strange that such a magnificent bird and one so evocative of nature and wilderness, should be there just above the heads of so many people outside Sheffield Hallam University and BBC Radio Sheffield.
You really expect such a bird out in the Peaks at Curbar or Stanage maybe, but not in the City Centre.
I’m certain that nobody else saw it; we so rarely look upwards as we walk around city streets. There is a good reason for that, in that if we do, then there is always the problem of walking into lamp-posts, and I speak from personal experience!
But now I was motionless and this wild bird drifted silently across the Sheffield’s urban heartland.
Hawthorn berries for the thrushes
It seemed to be heading up towards the new tower blocks emerging by the Peace Gardens, and I wonder if it could perhaps be roosting there. This would make sense as their favoured site at Tinsley Towers has gone. What a magnificent experience though; I felt privileged.
Wouldn’t it be great if some of our city centre developers were to put up a couple of Peregrine Falcon nesting platforms?
When I was City Ecologist a local businessman offered to do this on the Tinsley Towers. This was back in the early 1990s and at the time a pair of Falcons had pioneered an urban colonisation in Derby.
They were nesting on a cooling tower just like Tinsley at a city power station. However, the power company that owned Tinsley Towers at the time could not be persuaded to get involved. Imagine what interest would have been generated by a live video link to the Big Screen at Meadowhall.
More recently in Derby City Centre the birds have nested on the Cathedral. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust organised a forty-two day bird-watch with telescopes and the website www.derby.gov.uk/peregrines had over 360,000 hits; if Derby can do it then why not Sheffield?
Sheffield has often benefited from its glorious landscape setting and the rich tapestry of nature in and around the City. So this would be excellent PR for Sheffield and it could be on a new building or even an older one such as we have at both our universities. Do let me know if you can help!!
The idea of the Peregrines is both to do with nature conservation, but also with public awareness and involvement. This brings me onto a particular theme since Sheffield and the South Yorkshire region, including North Derbyshire must be one of the best for wildlife groups to join, and for natural history activities to do.
Not all these groups get the full recognition they deserve and indeed many of the specialist recording societies do a huge amount of important wildlife recording.
This is often the bread-and-butter work on which conservation depends, and most is unpaid but invaluable work which goes on behind the scenes of nature conservation. With this in mind I’m always happy to help promote local groups.
So when Dave from Dronfield phoned BBC Radio Sheffield it gave me chance to mention one of our best and most active over many years. This is the Dronfield & District Natural History Society.
Red Admiral Butterfly
They formed in 1970, boast more than sixty members and cater for a diversity of wildlife interests; welcoming both interested beginner and specialist. They have six-monthly programme of meetings from January to June, and July to December which includes excellent visiting speakers for lectures and illustrated talks on a range of natural history topics.
These are held the first Thursday of every month except August at the Dronfield School (formerly the Old Grammar School) in Dronfield at 7.15pm. They also have outdoor field trips locally and further afield; recent visits including both Potteric Carr near Doncaster and Old Moor near Barnsley. The Society is also affiliated to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, and works closely with other bodies like Sorby Natural History Society and the Moss Valley Wildlife Group.
Over the years their members have become some of the most active recorders of birds, mammals, insects, and plant life in their area.
The Group covers the Ordnance Survey Map squares for SK37 and SK47 running south of Sheffield from Totley in the north-west, to Bolsover in the south-east. It includes all of Dronfield and much of Chesterfield and they input all their records to a computer database.
The Society’s invaluable collection of data now covers the last 25 years. This is a massive task and one that deserves to be recognised.
Anyway, the Group has recently achieved a watershed with their long-awaited publication the ‘Birds of SK37 and SK47’ from 1978 to 2003 now available. I must say that this is a ‘real cracker’; a little book covering twenty-five years of bird recording by the Society members.
With clear, informative accounts and distribution maps of species and migratory bird phenology (time of year in which they occur in the study area), it is essential reading for anyone interested in wildlife across this region.
There is very useful guidance on the best places to see the various species and so it is really is of value to all those across Dronfield and its surroundings, but also to others across a wider region.
There are accounts of ongoing surveys on vulnerable species like the House Martin, and the ‘Garden Birds Survey’. The latter provides an opportunity to get involved if you live in that area.
The book is well illustrated with a collection of excellent photographs of selected birds. Publication was helped and perhaps even made possible, by ‘Awards for All’ Lottery funding; so well done to the Heritage Lottery. However, the book is a limited edition with only 250 copies available.
I love some of the local records like the Manx Shearwater, an ocean-going bird, that turned up in someone’s garden at Snape Hill. I bet that was a real surprise.
I remember a Little Auk (a bit like a very small Puffin), was found bobbing around on someone’s garden pond in Gleadless many years ago. Like with my Peregrine, you just never know what to expect. With the Shearwater though, it all ended well when a Society member drove it by car back to the west coast.
Humming Bird Hawk Moth
Now is the time to feed the birds
As the first frosts are setting in, it's the time to get sorting those little jobs in the garden.
With autumn passing swiftly by and winter on its way full tilt, if you have any spare time, then spend it tidying up and sorting the plants into the greenhouse or whatever.
Don’t forget this is the time the local birds need a helping hand and it is worth stocking up the feeders now. Get the garden birds into the habit of visiting, so that when times get really hard they know where to go.
Peanuts, black sunflower seeds, mixed seed and Niger seed are all good. The latter is also known as ‘thistle seed’, and is great for Goldfinches and Bullfinches in particular.
Ash keys in autumn
Fat balls are excellent food supplements for the titmice and for woodpeckers too, but the Grey Squirrels will get through them pretty quickly as well.
To be fair, none of these are cheap now and furthermore, the smaller the amount you buy then the relatively more expensive it becomes. In these times of financial constraints and the ‘credit crunch’ you might be tempted to forgo the bird feeding.
However, please remember that they do still need to be fed, and think about the enjoyment, the sheer pleasure you gain from your feathered visitors. It ends up being pretty good value for money.
Of course there are plenty of ways to help the birds through gardening with nature in mind. That is probably the cheapest way to enjoy wild visitors, but you need a bit of forward planning. I’ll try to write a few helpful hints and ideas over the next month or so.
Speckled Wood Butterfly, sent in by Phil
Finally, the seasons are changing and winter visitors are now streaming into the region. With flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings, the two northern thrushes, around Longshaw and Chatsworth last weekend, it is time to listen out for the Redwing’s high-pitched but plaintive, tseep tseep call overhead in the late evening.
Stand quietly outside most homes in the region at any time from 6pm onwards and you will hear them.
There are also numbers of Wood Pigeons migrating through and smaller birds too. Recently I’ve also noticed quite large flocks of crows, particularly Rooks, Jackdaws and Carrion Crows gathering in the mid to late afternoon in the Holmesfield and Dronfield area and heading westwards.
These will be congregating at pre-roosts and then moving off to a favoured site late in the afternoon. I hate to be a harbinger of doom, but I always associate big flocks of crows or corvids with harsh weather.
I’m not sure if this is really the case, but you’ve been warned and it might turn very cold this winter. Now that would make a change.
:: Ian welcomes your letters, comments, sightings and records. Phone 0114 279 6699. For your nature sightings and photos...
last updated: 17/02/2009 at 12:48