TWITE (Carduelis flavirostris)

Population declines in Calderdale

In years gone by the Twite (sometimes known as the Pennine Finch or Mountain Linnet) was a common bird in the South Pennines including Calderdale.
It was mainly a summer visitor to the area having spent the winter in the UK on coastal marshes.

Historical Records in Calderdale

Examples of previous numbers are to be found in local Bird Reports with these later being published in book form.
The first of these being Vertebrate Fauna of the Halifax Parish, a Halifax Scientific Society publication of 1965 compiled by Irvine Morley.

This publication contains the following notes concerning the Twite.
1844 – Breeds in abundance near Halifax
1931 – The main breeding colonies prior to 1957 were on the hills near Hebden Bridge
1944 – Flocks outside the breeding season are sometime large
1957 – New breeding colonies have been located at Dean Head, Cragg Vale, Rishworth, Ogden and Walshaw

Spring records from Calderdale in the 1970’s often numbered in excess of several hundred birds at favoured sites before they moved on to their breeding sites on the edge of our moors where they particularly featured in moorland cloughs comprising bracken and heather.
Autumn flocks were also numerous after the breeding season and probably included migrants from other more northerly populations.

Extracts from of some of the subsequent Bird Reports are listed below………

Halifax Scientific Society Ornithological Report 1978 – 79

120 Shroggs Park (on the football field after re-seeding) 15th April 1978
100 Blake Dean 15th April
150 Baitings 16th August
50 Norland 20th August
110 at Withens 30th September,
200 at Soyland on 7th October.
100 at Luddenden Dean 15th April 1979
Many other groups of up to 80 were also noted.

In the late 1980’s a gradual decline was evident in the numbers of breeding birds as well as spring and autumn flocks.
In response to this local volunteers introduced several feeding stations.
These were set up at Whiteholme, Midgley, Rishworth, Withens Gap and Fly Flatts.
Nyger seed was regularly placed in specific areas to try and supplement the natural feeding areas.
These were quite successful for several years and also attracted in places a number of over-wintering birds.

Halifax Scientific Society Report – Birds in Calderdale 1989

A wintering flock of about 40 feeding in a field at Wainstalls on 1st January 1989.
A marked passage noted in April and breeding noted at Scammonden and Rishworth with seven nests in close proximity.
Nine birds at Mount Tabor on 20th October 1989

Halifax Birdwatchers Club – Report 1999

A reasonably good year with very few confirmed breeding records.
Numbers were higher in the autumn with peaks of

60 at Crimsworth Dean on 31st July
78 at Lumbutts on 4th September
90 at Higher Lee on 18th September

Halifax Birdwatchers Club – Report 2009

Around 60 records received for this species, a drop of 40% on the previous year
The feeding stations were still being used though numbers were decreasing each year.
The highest count was in autumn with c80 birds at the Rishworth feeding station on 13th October.

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Around the time of the 2009 Report the Twite Recovery Project got under way in the South Pennines and continues to the present day.

This project is managed and funded as a joint venture by the RSPB and Natural England and was first set up with additional financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Kirklees Council.

The project was organised in an effort to avoid a further decline in the species and to monitor the numbers of birds and their breeding success. This included colour ringing individual birds to assist nest monitoring and to discover their movements and wintering areas.

The project continues to advise and work with local landowners and farmers to put in place practical measures to help the Twite.

By working with these partners habit restoration has taken place in the uplands of Calderdale & surrounding areas with the aim of providing long term benefit towards retaining a viable breeding population.

Despite all the effort put in so far the species has continued to decline in our local area, but with the continuation of the project & the dedication of all those involved we hope to see those figures rising in the near future.

Calderdale Records are presently at very low level.

2013 – 11 records
2014 – 29 records
2015 – 11 records
2016 – 14 records
2017 – 26 records
2018 – 24 records
2019 – 25 records

The majority of sightings in the last few years are from Rishworth Moor.
Elsewhere in Calderdale the species is absent other than an occasional sighting.

We still of course look each year for any signs of an upturn in the fortunes of Twite in our area of the south Pennines.

The link below gives a full overview of the project undertaken, including its objectives, planned work, progress and results.
It also includes a short video by Dr Tim Melling – RSPB Twite Recovery Project Manager

‘A Guide to Twite Identification’

This is well worth watching

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/england-twite-recovery-project/

With thanks to the RSPB and their partners, staff and volunteers plus all those local bird-watchers who over the years have submitted sightings and serviced the moorland feeding stations. We are indebted to the dedication of those who were also prepared to log and collate the records and produce the Annual Reports from which much of the above information has been obtained.

David Sutcliffe

Halifax Scientific Society – Bird Recorder

Twite