Monday, 28 February 2011

Arctic Redpoll - Allerthorpe Common - Got it!

I managed a flying visit to Allerthorpe Common today in order to try and catch up with the Arctic Redpoll that has been giving visiting birders a headache and a half by been fairly elusive at times. My last visit after work on Friday resulted in a small flock of less than 40 Common (Mealy) and Lesser Redpolls but no sign of the Arctic.

Today I walked in from a different angle and picked up a small flock of 30-40 Redpoll feeding along a field margin, before I could start grilling them something flushed everything from the nearby fields and they were up and gone. I decided to walk in the direction they had gone in the hope of relocating them, however after an hour there was still no sign. I bumped into Darren Ward who'd bumped into Ian Andrews who had seen the bird earlier in the morning. At least it was still here, somewhere! We decided to split up in the hope that we'd come across the flock but just as we were about to move off in different directions a flock of well over 100, probably closer to 125 birds flew low over calling.

The birds remained frustratingly flighty and broke up into slightly smaller groups, one such group of about 40 birds flew close in and landed in the heath to feed. After about 10 minutes they flew up into a low, close Silver Birch tree, both Darren and I got straight onto the same bird - it stood out like a sore thumb! It landed facing away, the first thing that stood out was its huge plain white rump and overall pale appearance. Undertail coverts appeared pure white also. As the bird turned its head to preen it had an obviously small bill and was 'bull-necked' with a small red patch on its head. The breast appeared pale (very little/no pink/red) with very fine streaking down the flanks. The bird, along with the remaining birds in the flock dropped back into the heath where they remained feeding (in silence, almost invisible) for almost an hour, providing the occasional tantalising view on the ground and in trees at greater distance.

Chris Gomersall has very kindly allowed me to use some of his record shots (below - ALL PHOTOGRAPHS © CHRIS GOMERSALL) from last week. Although not all of the identification features can be observed from these photos they give some idea of what the bird looked like. There was many Mealy and Lesser Redpolls present, and some were incredibly variable. Even the odd bird with a nice Twite-esque pink rump. Eventually the flock got up and flew off, appearing to fly at least 500 m away form the YWT reserve. (I did hear from Darren that they, including the Arctic Redpoll came back into the YWT section again later in the day).
I'll hopefully try and get back over there early Saturday for further looks at this smart bird.


A flock of 69 Corn Bunting and 50 Yellowhammer was a nice sight. On Friday 19 Goosander were observed flying past, today 12 Goosander were also observed flying in the same direction.

North Duffield Carrs - Geoff Smith Hide (Sunday)

Still playing catch up from the weekends activities... I spent the last two hours of light across at the Geoff Smith hide counting wildfowl. The wind was coming straight into the hide so it was a little blowy!

Highlight was a Barn Owl that landed so close to the hide that I couldn't focus on it! I managed to get the following photo on my phone! I also managed to catch up with the Great Crested Grebe that Alan found early last week.

Barn Owl in front of the Geoff Smith Hide

The following was recorded:

16x Curlew, 395x Lapwing, 350x Golden Plover, 1x Oystercatcher. There was a lot more Golden Plover and Lapwing but as I was half way through counting them and a (presumed) Peregrine went through and put most of the birds up - which then flew off! Other totals included:

11x Greylag Goose, 10x Canada Goose, 1x Whooper Swan, 54x Mute Swan, 16x Shelduck, 1173x Wigeon, 157x Teal, 30x Pochard, 12 Tufted Duck, 47x Mallard, 48 Coot, 4x Moorhen, 82x Shoveler, 28x Gadwall, 1x Great Crested Grebe, 4 Pintail, 1 Goldeneye plus Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls.

Small stuff around the feeders included Tree Sparrow Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Stock Dove and Pheasant.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Rufous Turtle Dove - Done!

News broke late January/early February about an Oriental (Rufous) Turtle Dove that had been present in an Oxfordshire garden in early December 2010, but by the time news filtered out there was no sign of the bird. However, many people were hopeful that it would be refound due to previous records of long-staying birds in Europe.

Skip forward a few weeks and news broke that 'the Dove' had been relocated in a birders garden in the small village/small town in Oxfordshire, less than a Km from the original location, cue manic scenes in the national press of twitchers queuing miles up a suburban street to gain views of the bird feeding in the garden etc etc. The area the bird was frequenting was an area of very mature and well vegetated gardens making viewing difficult and restricted. At first it appeared as though the 'locals' were enjoying the publicity and the novelty, however, by this weekend it appeared as though this may be waining, not surprisingly given some idiots still ignore the numerous, yet polite requests to NOT enter other peoples gardens, drive up the street etc.

I've seen Oriental Turtle Dove in India so I wasn't too fussed about racing down for it, plus I've been fairly busy with work the last couple of week, however they are spectacular birds and as the week progressed the lure of the bird grew more and more.

I think this record relates to about the 10th confirmed/accepted UK record of Oriental Turtle Dove. Two records were not assigned to race (Highland 2002 and Isles of Scilly 1960), however at least four of the records have related to the Streptopelia orientalis meena subspecies (Highland 2004, Caithness 2003, Orkney 2002, East Yorkshire 1975), with at least three, this being the fourth relating to Streptopelia orientalis orientalis, a good candidate for a potential future split [Rufous Turtle Dove]. Other records of orientalis occurred in Shetland (1974), Norfolk (1946), North Yorkshire (1889). Hence why a mainland Oriental/Rufous Turtle Dove would be very attractive to a whole host of twitchers!

Yesterday morning I set of south with Dave and Tony, not really knowing how busy it was likely to be once we got there. The journey flew by and we found ourselves stood in Steve's kitchen watching the splendid bird before 9am! We were a little surprised by how few people were present and we were expecting to have to queue for ages to get in, good job we didn't as the weather was appalling! The bird was pretty inactive unfortunately, likely due to the weather. It did show well though occasionally as it preened, allowing good views of all of the key identification features to be assessed, overall a really smart bird.

The picture below was taken by Bob Duckhouse last week when the bird was showing a bit better than yesterday. Check out Bobs blog here.

Rufous Turtle Dove © Bob Duckhouse 2011.

A big thank you to Steve and his family for generously allowing access to their house. Other birds noted in the garden included 3/4 Brambling, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, assorted Tits amongst others...

Thanks also to Tony for driving.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Arcitc Redpoll - Allerthorpe Common

I had a brief hour at Allerthorpe on Friday after my morning of bird surveys - which was incredibly busy compared to the last 8 weeks on the site, no Barn Owls but great views of a Peregrine diving after a small flock of Wood Pigeon. Plenty of birds heading north with a few birds starting to show signs of setting up breeding territories e.g. Lapwing and Skylark spring to mind. The resident pair of Kestrel were observed copulating too.

Common Kestrel © Andreas Trepte 2009

A quick walk around Allerthorpe produced a small flock of Redpoll sps. Perhaps totalling round 30-40 birds. They were quite flighty and the light was appalling unless they came either into the low bushes or onto the ground. There was no sign of the Arctic Redpoll, however there was some really smart Mealies in with the Lessers and they gave good views especially so when they were side by side in the low trees and on the ground amongst the heather, allowing excellent opportunities to compare these highly variable birds.

While we were waiting for the Redpolls to appear, flocks of 16 and 3 Goosander were noted flying through and a decent flock of Yellowhammer was recorded, at least 30 birds - no Pine Buntings unfortunately! A roving tit flock contained Blue, Great, Long-tailed, Coal and Marsh Tits with Treecreeper also noted.


Thursday, 24 February 2011

More Awesome Peregrines

I had another day in Derbyshire today and finally got some decent weather. I pulled up at my site and before I could even get out of the Landrover I had the pair of Peregrines displaying over their quarry before they quickly dropped out of view. A few hours passed with little further activity, but as the weather improved so did my fortunes...

Peregrine (Source Unknown)

Around lunch time the Peregrine pair got up after their lazy morning and started to conduct a range of vocal aerial displays. This lasted for almost 20 minutes and was at fairly close range at times. Suddenly, after an age of meandering flights the male closed wings and shot out of the sky straight into a small group of Feral Pigeons, they flew upwards to avoid the male Peregrine, only to fly straight into the path of the female, a quick twist by the Pigeons and suddenly they were face to face with the male Peregrine. In a flash the male crashed into one of the Pigeons - game over! It carried the pigeon onto the cliff-face as the female flew around and then joined it. A few moments later the female stole the food of the male. She gradually ate it, leaving only a small amount for the male! Little reward for 20 minutes activity!

Peregrine on Feral Pigeon kill (Source Unknown)

The rest of the day passed with little excitement, but the above was enough to keep me going for a few hours!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Polygymous Great Reed Warblers suffer more Cuckoo parasitism than monogamous pairs

A new article has just been published within the Journal of Avian Biology, this relates to parasitism by Common Cuckoo and promises to be an interesting read. The abstract follows:

Common Cuckoo © Aurelien Audevard 2004

"There is increasing evidence that hosts within a population may not be parasitized by Common Cuckoos with equal probability. Such non-randomness has been documented, for example, for host nest sites and host quality. In this study we demonstrate association between successful Cuckoo parasitism and host social mating system."

Great Reed Warbler © Aelwyn 2007

"We found that nests of socially polygamous Great Reed Warblers were more often successfully parasitized than the nests of their monogamous counterparts. We hypothesize that lack of parental assistance provided by polygamous males to their mates during egg laying period and higher nest activity in their territories could contribute to this discrepancy. These data imply that social mating system should be taken into account in future studies of brood parasitism."

I'm looking forward to getting my copy of the journal to read the full article.

Article Reference: Trnka, A. and Prokop, P. , Polygamous great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus suffer more cuckoo Cuculus canorus parasitism than monogamous pairs. Journal of Avian Biology, no. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-048X.2010.05193.x

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Book Review: A Photographic Guide to Birds of China including Hong Kong

I recently completed a book review for the Surfbirds forum on the recent publication 'A Photographic Guide to Birds of China including Hong Kong'. An introduction and summary is provided below but see here for the details in the full article.

The Birds of China including Hong Kong (John Mackinnon & Nigel Hicks (2011) New Holland Publishers) is a fully updated edition of the book previously published in 1996 and 2007. The publishers state that the target audience comprises experienced birdwatchers, beginners and tourists with a casual interest in birds of the region. The book is filled with a wealth of useful information considering its size and retail price (RRP £7.99) and contains many excellent and eye catching photographs of a range of species including Silver Pheasant, Collared Scops-Owl, Long-tailed Broadbill, White-browed Shortwing and Orange-headed Thrush to name but a few.

The book consists of the following chapters: introduction, how to use this book, parts of a bird, glossary, China’s avifauna, key to corner tabs, bird habitats of China, administrative units of China, how to watch birds, where to find birds in China, species descriptions, further reading and index.

My overall opinion of this book is that it will be of little/moderate interest to the serious birder visiting the country but that it will form an important aid to the beginner and casual tourist due to its eye-catching design, lightweight, small and portable size, cheap price and generally good photographs and I think with a few minor tweaks this book could be made into a really useful book for a range of visiting birdwatchers.

Monday, 21 February 2011

More Great Grey Shrike...

I set off to Derbyshire this morning with Russell and just as we were pulling out of the village he got a message to say that the Great Grey Shrike was still present and showing well in front of the Geoff Smith Hide so we went and had a quick look.

Five minutes after leaving mine we got to the Geoff Smith Hide where Alan (Duffbirder) and Jono (Birding Dad) were present - evidently there had been no sign for the first hour of light but it had just appeared. A few seconds after entering the hide I had the bird back in my scope showing well (although the phone-scoped photos below really don't show that!). It sat up in the top of a short bush looking around for breakfast and then gradually started to make its way further away from the hide into a large hawthorn bush where it went deep in and more-or-less out of view.

Great Grey Shrike (about 08.15ish)

Great Grey Shrike (about 08.15ish)

We had to leave for Derbyshire (which as dull to say the least today) so left the site about 08.30hrs. It appears as though this may have been the last time it was seen?

After our trip to Derbyshire we called back in to North Duffield to see if there was any sign. We'd had messages throughout the day that there had been no further sign but felt it worth a try. The wet weather had reached us so we made a quick dash to the hide which was full of people (good to meet up with Chris again) but there was still no sign of the Shrike.

I took the opportunity to scan through the waterfowl with the following recorded 4x Shelduck, 10x Tufted Duck, 70x Shoveler, 10x Pochard, 5x Pintail plus Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Mute Swan, 1x Whooper Swan and 288x Lapwing (there was at least 1500 in the area but most of these were out of sight on the ground and only seen in flight when a Sparrowhawk flushed them). 2 Barn Owl were observed hunting around the scrape and showed well at times.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Great Grey Shirke - Local Mega!!!

I was undecided tonight whether to try for the gull roost at Wheldrake or to go over to North Duffield Carrs again - the latter is much more time efficient due to its closeness to home and as the visibility was still not great I decided to pop across to North Duffield at about 4.15. I was surprised to find 3/4 cars in the car park and on walking into the Geoff Smith hide it was almost full! As I was unpacking my bins and scope I noticed a couple of birders in the corner, (one of whom was in the hide yesterday) the other guy next to him said "Have you seen the Great Grey Shrike?" I sort of looked a bit confused - probably the Magpie that is regularly in those trees I thought, though the guy who was there yesterday clearly knew his stuff, which got me thinking maybe there was one...

I quickly grabbed my bins and was straight on it, and it was one! A fantastic Great Grey Shrike sat in a lone bush 50 metres away. I got my scope up and got some great views. I know a few of the local guys keep year lists, North Duffield, LDV and York area lists so I immediately rang Russell Slack to set the local grapevine going. Within 1o minutes several of the locals were down adding it to their respective lists. The bird showed well, but wasn't seen to catch anything. It was sat in an area where I usually see Reed Bunting but none in that area today! It flew into the hedge between the hides just after 5 where it looked like it probably went to roost.

The Great Grey Shrike is classed as a rare winter visitor in the Lower Derwent Valley. There have been relatively few recent records in the valley. There was a record at North Duffield Carrs in 2008 (per Birdguides), and there was a bird reported by an RSPB group earlier this year at nearby Skipwith village which may potentially relate to today's bird. Prior to these records it appears as though it was 1999 (per Ralston) (which may also be the only other record from the North Duffield area of the LDV).

Below are a couple of very poor record phone-scoped photos - it was poor visibility and it was getting darker by the minute (and I was shaking a little)!

Great Grey Shrike - North Duffield Carrs

Great Grey Shrike - North Duffield Carrs

Great Grey Shrike - North Duffield Carrs

The waterfowl took a back seat this evening due to the above however the following was recorded: 51x Shoveler, 15x Curlew, 97x Whooper Swan, Lapwing, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Coot, Little Grebe, Moorhen, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Mute Swan, Grey Heron. Numbers of Wigein, Teal and Pintail were much higher than yesterday.

Potential Shrike food included Reed Bunting, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Blackbird and Robin.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Work and Pleasure...

Yesterday the weather was poor, today it was a whole lot worse!

Yesterday I was sat in a field on the Yorkshire Wolds on the edge small town by a main road for 5 hours, my survey site was a small single field, ploughed and recently drilled by the look of it - totally bare. I didn't hold much hope of seeing anything of any interest however a vocal flock of 320 Pink-footed Geese flying over at height was a nice surprise. Several hours passed with little activity, the odd Common Gull and a female Kestrel. A bolt out of nowhere came in the form of a female Peregrine, it shot straight across my field and down after the Kestrel, both vanishing over the brow of the hill. I'll admit to being a little surprised by this, especially given my location, however about 45 minutes later (presumably) the same bird shot back across my site hunting Wood Pigeons before flying north and out of sight. It really makes me think, many of the sites I visit are random fields in the middle of nowhere, yet there always seems to be a decent bird around!

Today I awoke to snow! Not what I was expecting. I resisted the very large urge to head to Oxfordshire - though this is getting harder and harder! I had planned to go to Wheldrake for the afternoon, finishing off with the gull roost however this was not going to happen today in this weather so I opted to do some jobs around the house. Eventually the lure of the cold wet fog pulled me away from the imminent painting and decorating and I headed over to North Duffield Carrs. I was surprised to find another car in the car park on my arrival given the weather. I made my way to the Geoff Smith Hide and started to count the birds. Very few birds today, however I managed the following:

102x Whooper Swan, 56x Mute Swan, 1x Black Swan, 98x Shoveler, 448x Wigeon, 51x Teal, 45x Mallard, 52x Coot, 1x Goldeneye, 5x Pintail, 7x Tufted Duck, 2x Gadwall, 1x Little Grebe, 2x Moorhen, 366x Lapwing, 1x Snipe, flushed by hunting Barn Owl which flew around and showed much better than the following photo implies.

Barn Owl taken this evening from Geoff Smith Hide (phone-scoped)

A range of typical birds were around the feeders: Robin, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Long-tailed Tit and Blackbird.

Hopefully tomorrow will be better weather! I may even get to the gull roost at Wheldrake...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

You know you've had a bad day when....

You know you've had a bad day when Greylag Goose is the best bird seen on your site and you've missed it!

Greylag Goose © Michael Maggs 2008

I spent the afternoon and evening surveying down in North Lincolnshire and it was incredibly dull with only 1 target species recorded, and I didn't see that! The site has had some really good birds on it previously, but of late it has been incredibly hard work. I'm looking forward to a day in the office tomorrow as I'll probably see as many birds as I had today but at least I'll be warm!

A surveying day to forget!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Awesome Peregrines

I had a day surveying down in Derbyshire today. On arrival at the site I was a bit surprised by just how cold it actually was down there and I regretted forgetting my warm jumper.

Three was not hundreds of species seen today however it was still enjoyable (out of the wind) with several Buzzard up displaying. Several sightings of Raven were had, probably of the same bird ranging all over the place but likely to be breeding not too far away. Other raptors seen included Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, however the star of the show was Peregrine Falcon, well 3 Peregrine Falcons to be precise, after 3hrs and 45 minutes of not a lot the following happened....

First up was an adult male, this bird appeared right in front of me fairly close as it briefly circled before powering off to the south. It looked like it had recently killed due to it's huge crop. Not too long after that a large juvenile female Peregrine came drifting in from my north, it dropped down in height gradually for a couple of minutes and before long it was powering along as if it had locked onto something, a few twists and turns and suddenly the bird was powering straight towards me about 15 feet off the ground, it was still several hundred metres away but in a matter of seconds it was right on me with gazed fixed straight towards me.....

I wanted to look up to see what it was looking at but I couldn't pull my eyes off this bird that by now was filling my scope as it came closer and closer. I had to zoom out so that I could keep up with it but then it was a case for just bins as this giant screamed right over me, and shot straight over the brow of the hill that was behind me - what a sight! As i turned back round to write the sighting up out of the corner of my eye there was another large raptor, an adult female Peregrine, wings closed stooping straight after the juvenile female Peregrine! Breathtaking.
(Image Copyright Unknown).

Sunday, 13 February 2011

North Duffield to Dusk

I had a quick hour over at the Geoff Smith Hide at North Duffield Carrs this evening. The water looked like the North Sea as it was fairly windy and the visibility was generally poor so many birds were tucked up along the edges if the water and along the sheltered banks (and hence out of view).

Several passerines were around the feeders, tonnes of Tree Sparrows and Reed Bunting with Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits, Robin, Dunnock, Wren and Chaffinch. Several Pied Wagtails were noted flying through.

Several 'new' birds were present since my last visit mid-week, e.g 6x Curlew, 2x Redshank and 3x Oystercatcher. Shoveler and Pochard numbers were up on my last visit, (in a similar fashion to Wheldrake yesterday for Shoveler). On the water and wet grassland the following were recorded: 55x Shoveler, 3500x Wigeon, 1500x Teal, 57 Pochard, 2 Goldeneye (1male and 1 female), 12x Tufted Duck, 50x Pintail, 150x Mallard, 5x Gadwall, 1x Shelduck, 18x Coot, 3x Moorhen, 1x Little Grebe, 1x Black Swan, 1x Whooper Swan (with an apparently damaged wing) and 12x Mute Swans.

Geese numbers were down to 5 Canada and 7 Greylag. However the main reason for my visit was to watch the Swans come in to roost - spectacular sight and sound. I'd counted 150x Mute and Whooper Swans feeding in the fields just before I went to the hide. At about 16.45 they started flying onto the water. After about 10 minutes of birds coming in there totalled 104 Whooper and 67 Mute Swans (with 1 Black Swan still present). It's interesting watching them fly in as family groups and bob their heads up and down calling to each other when they land before they get to feeding!

Whooper Swans in flight © Jeremy Early 2011. Check out Jeremys excellent photos here.

No Barn Owl tonight, probably due to the persistent rain and wind. A nice relaxing end to the weekend.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Wheldrake & Thorganby

I was hoping to get out early this morning but woke up to find a misty, murky wet day - not great, so I stayed in bed a bit longer, then got on with a few jobs and headed off into the Lower Derwent Valley (LDV) around lunch time.

First stop was Thorganby viewing platform, on first looks the small area near the platform was rammed with birds. I started counting and got 270x Lapwing, 291x Golden Plover (some getting into summer plumage!), 26x Curlew, 10x Dunlin, 2x Ruff, 300x Teal and 140x Wigeon. Unfortunately before I could start counting the other section viewable from the platform some birder walked right out into the middle and flushed the lot! I'm not sure who he was, or whose land he was on but it was a tad annoying!

Golden Plover © Quirin Herzog 2006

As most of the birds flew off I decided to head up to Wheldrake Ings. On first impressions here there was a lot less wildfowl but more waders present than my previous visit last Saturday. I sat up in Tower Hide to wait for the gull roost to start up.
Although numbers of Wigeon and Teal appeared down, it was more likely that they were just widely dispersed due to the vast area of flooding in the valley. Coot and Gadwall appeared to be up on last weeks counts. Whilst in the hide I met up with York University student Tim Jones - check out his blog here.

We recorded the following birds: 161x Coot, 2x Egyptian Goose, 4x Buzzard, c4,000 Wigeon, c2,000 Teal, c40+ Pintail, c40+ Gadwall, c350+ Golden Plover, c3,000 Lapwing, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Dunlin, Mute Swan, 15x Shoveler, 3x Goldeneye, 12x Curlew, 2x Shelduck, 16x Cormorant and 1x Grey Heron. However the highlight was 2x Black-tailed Godwit that came in late and joined the Lapwing on the waters edge. A Barn Owl flew past the hide briefly which was nice but it was gone too soon.

Black-tailed Godwit © J.M. Garg 2009

The gull roost was a lot quieter this week than last, the majority of birds in the roost today were several hundred Black-headed and Common Gulls. There were no 'white-wingers' in the roost tonight (that we could see) and only a few Herring and Great Black-backed. There was a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Yellow-legged Gull. One of the Lesser's looked good for 'intermedius', and a couple of Herring Gulls were 'argentatus'.

It was a beautiful evening, however the temperature dropped considerably once the sun went down. An enjoyable afternoons birding and great to meet Tim.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Rough-leg and Whooper Swans

I managed to get to site without any major problems today which was nice (a Barn Owl enroute was pleasing too), although it was possibly the dullest survey ever! Four hours and not a target species to be had. I was wondering if I had gone blind.

In order to check whether I had gone blind or not I headed home via South Ferriby. A short wait was well worth it as after no time at all I was onto the Rough-legged Buzzard as it was getting mobbed by several corvids. It was about half a mile closer than the last time I saw it which was great. It came fairly close, hovered for a bit and then dropped out of view for a while. It was a really smart bird.

This is another good excuse to show another of Renton Charmans excellent Rough-legged Buzzard photos (below)

Rough-legged Buzzard © Renton Charman 2010

Whilst the Rough-leg was on the deck there was still plenty to look at with at least 3 Marsh Harriers, 2 Peregrine, 1 Kestrel and 3 Common Buzzard buzzing about the place. When the Rough-legged Buzzard finally got up it landed on a fence post and continued to show well. Unfortunately at this point the sun came out right behind it so the views were not great. Something/someone flushed several hundred Pink-footed and Canada Geese from nearby fields and they landed over on Reeds Island. There was also a decent number of Lapwing, Golden Plover on the Island.

I'd thought of going to Wheldrake for the gull roost but changed my mine last minute and headed over to North Duffield Carrs and went down to the Geoff Smith Hide. It was lovely and peaceful with no other people about - bliss!

It was immediately evident that there was less birds present than the other day however there was still plenty of birds about. Some species were present in larger numbers (e.g. Shoveler and Whooper Swan - a total of 116 birds - my highest count of this species at this site) with others in lower numbers (e.g. Wigeon and Teal). The following totals were counted.

65 x Mute Swan, 116 x Whooper Swan, 1 x Black Swan, 115 x Canada Goose, 55 x Greylag Goose, 4 x Shelduck, 73 x Teal, 38 x Shoveler, 2 x Moorhen, 24 x Coot, 5 x Tufted Duck, 11 x Pochard, 9 x Pintail, 1196 x Wigeon, 75 x Mallard, 1 x Goldeneye, 1 x Little Grebe and 11 x Lapwing.

Whooper Swan Headshot

The decrease in Wigeon, Pintail and Teal is likely to be down to the increase in water levels and flooding around the area with birds a lot more distant than the previous visits.

Other birds down at North Duffield Carrs this evening included 1 x Barn Owl, 15 x Reed Bunting, 30 x Tree Sparrow, 3 x Dunnock, plus Robin, Blackbird, Long-tailed tit and various corvids.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Scuppered by a Rock!

I had great plans today, the weather was perfect and my surveys would be finished by early afternoon. I had a survey in North Lincolnshire this morning so I thought I’d try and have another look at the South Ferriby Rough-legged Buzzard on my way home. However as I was driving the Landover down the A15 there was a sudden smash and the next thing I knew I was getting showered in glass! A huge rock had either been flicked up by a truck or had come off the top of one and put a huge hole in my windscreen! I wasn’t injured just a bit shaken but I knew straight away that my plans would be out the window (if you pardon the pun!). As it happened I got fairly lucky and the office managed to get someone out to replace the broken windscreen by 4pm and I was in a position to be able to carry on working which was useful. It was too late for the Rough-leg, but it did mean that I got to experience an incredible sunset (check out pictures here) and see 2 Barn Owl near home.

Another excuse to use this fantastic Rough-legged Buzzard photo (© Renton Charman 2010)

My (extended) survey was fairly uneventful. It was cold and crisp to start with but it gradually warmed up and even felt warm in the sun. It felt more like a spring day than a winter’s day with Skylark singing all over my site and a host of other species were singing too (Robin, Blackbird, Yellowhammer, Chaffinch etc). There was several flocks of Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting on the site, a gathering of almost 150 of these species (and Chaffinch) feeding on some spilt grain was impressive and good to watch – until a gas gun went off 6 ft behind me! Buzzards were very active today with 4 or 5 birds at least, thermalling, calling and displaying, likewise Kestrel. Waders seen included low numbers of Golden Plover and 350 Lapwing.

Although not an awful lot was seen today it was good to be out. I think today’s highlight was a Great Tit that started off by mimicking a calling Tree Sparrow and then went into a singing then alarming Blackbird!

I’m back down that way again tomorrow but probably won’t have time for the Rough-leg as I want to get back in time to try for the Wheldrake Gull roost or hit North Duffield Carrs.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Small Brained Birds at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

I've just come across an interesting article published in PLoS ONE (An interactive open-access journal for the communication of all peer-reviewed scientific and medical research), found via the BBC website. This paper (Moller, A.P. et al. 2011) has concluded that low dose (background) radiation can have significant effects on normal brain development as reflected by brain size and therefore potentially cognitive ability. A summary of the report follows (a mix from the actual report and the BBC Article - see foot of article for references).

The findings come from a study in Chernobyl, Ukraine where 546 birds were captured in mist nets from 8 different sites. 4 sites were within approximately 5 km of the power plant and the other 4 between approximately 25 and 50 km from the power plant. The survey was undertaken during the 2010 breeding season.

Ringing sites (*), background radiation levels and power plant location, Chernobyl, Ukraine [Source Moller, A.P. et al. 2011]

In April 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. After the accident, traces of radioactive deposits were found in nearly every country in the Northern Hemisphere. An exclusion zone has since been set up around the site of the accident, however scientists have been allowed inside to gauge the impact the radiation has had on the ecology of the region.

Nuclear reactor number four after the explosion.

Last year a report was published detailing the results of the largest wildlife census of its kind conducted in Chernobyl - which revealed that mammals and insects are declining in the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant.

For this study of the birds, background radiation levels were recorded in the field and correlated with the Ministry of Emergencies, Ukraine. Morphological measurements were recorded in the form of wing length, keel length, bill length, width and height and tarsus length. Brain and head size were recorded. Head length (tip of bill to back of head), maximum head width at back of head, maximum head height. Head volume was subsequently estimated. Brain mass was obtained from literature and birds were aged and sexed where possible.

The results from the sample showed that head volume decreased significantly with increasing radiation level, varying among species and with respect to body mass and keel length. After accounting for the effect of difference amongst species, there was a reduction in mean brain volume of 5% across background radiation levels. Males had relatively larger brains than females.

Crested Tit © Luc Viator 2009

When aged birds were analysed there was found to be significant effects of both radiation and age, with yearlings having smaller head volumes than older individuals. That suggests that many bird embryos did not survive at all, due the negative effects of their developing brain.

Stressed birds are able to change the size of some of their organs in order to tough out difficult environmental conditions. For example, migrating birds that have travelled long distances often shrink certain organs as they use up energy, but the brain is the last organ to be sacrificed in this way. That suggests the background radiation could be having an even more pronounced effect on other organs within the birds.

House Martin (© Unknown)

It is unclear exactly what mechanism is shrinking the birds' brains. High levels of background radiation cause animals oxidative stress, where they have to use antioxidants in their bodies to fight its ill effects. That leaves animals exposed to radiation severely depleted of antioxidants, and the reduced brain size may be a result of this depletion.

Alternatively, radiation could cause developmental errors in the way the brain grows. However, if that were the case, pronounced changes to the size and shape of other parts of the birds' bodies would be expected.

Another possibility is that the birds are developing less well as there is less invertebrate prey for them to eat. However there are no known examples of the brains of a wild animal shrinking due to a lack of food.

An interesting article and it will be interesting to see how things develop over the following years as monitoring continues. For info, the species recorded included: Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Reed Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Tree Pipit, Nightjar, Greenfinch, Siskin, Treecreeper, Hawfinch, House Martin, White-backed Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Yellowhammer, Robin, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Chaffinch, Jay, Icterine Warbler, Barn Swallow, Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike, River Warbler, Woodlark, Thrush Nightingale, White Wagtail, Golden Oriole, Blue Tit, Crested Tit, Great Tit, Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Willow Warbler, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Barred Warbler, Wren, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Hoopoe.


Møller AP, Bonisoli-Alquati A, Rudolfsen G, Mousseau TA (2011) Chernobyl Birds Have Smaller Brains. PLoS ONE 6(2): e16862. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016862

BBC News Article

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Wheldrake - Tower Hide & Roost

I spent the afternoon in Tower Hide at Wheldrake Ings today which was great fun. The weather was a lot better than expected with the gale force wind dropping considerably in the early hours and the heavy rain just didn't materialise.

On my way up to Wheldrake I called in briefly at Thorganby but the floods have more-or-less gone and there was only a single Shelduck and a few Lapwing there.

On arrival at Tower Hide it was evident that there was a lot of birds on the reserve, with lots more Lapwing than I had had during the week., probably in the region of 2000 Lapwing on the waters edge, though there was a lot more distantly (probably another 1000 or so) but these were incredibly flighty due to the attention of a male Peregrine. Waterfowl highlights included 2 'Greater' White-fronted Geese and 2 Egyptian Geese. The White-fronts spent most of the time asleep and the Egyptian Geese were very vocal as they flew through but they landed fairly far away.

A count of the waterfowl resulted in the following estimates: 14 Ruff, 4 Dunlin, c6000+ Wigeon, c2500+ Teal, c100+ Pintail, 140 Greylag Goose, 21 Mute Swan, 254 Mallard, 1 Black Swan, 15 Tufted Duck, 5 Shoveler, 21 Cormorant, 94 Coot, 30 Curlew, 2 Redshank, 15 Gadwall, 52 Pochard, 10 Goldeneye, 1 Shelduck, 227 Canada Goose, 78 Golden Plover, 1 Grey Heron.

As the afternoon progressed a range of gulls started to drift in to bathe and roost, at first mainly Black-headed and Common Gulls with an increase in the 'larger' gulls, firstly a range of ages of 'argenteus' and 'argentatus' Herring Gulls and a host of Great Black-backed Gulls. A lone adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was also noted. More and more birds came in, some fairly close on the water. I managed to pick out a white-winged gull which showed really well, an Iceland Gull. After watching it for a while it appeared to be a fairly advanced 2nd winter bird (it had a dark eye with grey saddle against fairly brown patterned coverts). More scanning by everyone in the hide resulted in a couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls being found and some more adult 'argentatus' Herring Gulls. It was good to be able to compare such a range of birds of different ages and different plumage's.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Final Ringing Information as Part of World Wetland Day - Lower Derwent Valley

Here’s some more of the data provided for the Lower Derwent Valley (LDV) event as part of World Wetland Day on Wednesday and this follows on from yesterday (and see also the posts below, here and here).

There have been approximately 140 international movements involving birds ringed, recovered and re-sighted in the Lower Derwent Valley. I’ve put some more of the interesting records below.

Russia (former USSR): A Wigeon duckling ringed at Kandalaksha Murmanski, USSR on 17th July 1971 was found dead in the LDV NNR on the 1st January 1974. Another Wigeon, ringed as a first-winter male on 9th April 2003 was present on 1st May 2003 on the River Istok, Ketovo, Kurgan, USSR, this represents a distance travelled of 4268 km in less than 3 weeks.

Eurasian Wigeon © Adrian George 2011

Russia and Germany: A Bewick’s Swan ringed as an adult female on 10th August 1992 at Kashin Island, Korovinskaya, Russia was seen on three dates in Germany on 6th December 1992, 3rd April 1993 and 16th January 1994 before being seen in the LDV NNR over the winter of 1996/97.

Czech Republic: A Fieldfare ringed on 14th March 1996 at Thorganby, LDV NNR was re-caught on 30th November 1997 at Biskupice u Luhacovic in the Czech Republic. This record represents the first British ringed Fieldfare to be found in the Czech Republic.

Estonia and The Netherlands: An adult Bewick’s Swan was ringed on the 4th of December 1991 at Martin Mere, Lancashire and was present at that site until at least January 1992. It was later observed in the Netherlands during October and November 1992 and January 1993, then in April that year it was seen in Estonia before returning to The Netherlands in November 1993 and November 1994 and January 1995. It was then seen in February 1996 within the LDV NNR.

Belgium: A first-winter female Goldfinch ringed on 14th May 1996 at Koksijde, West-Vlaanderen was found dead on the 23rd July 1996 at East Cottingwith within the LDV NNR. This is an interesting record because it is only the third Goldfinch ringed in Belgium to be found in Britain, although 81 Goldfinch ringed in Britain have been found in Belgium!

Spain: A Sand Martin, ringed on 28th July 2005 at Los Albardales, San Martin de la Vega was re-caught almost two years later on 18th June 2007 in the LDV.

Svalbard: A male and a juvenile Barnacle Goose ringed on 10th August 1990 at Oiekukla, bohemanflya and seen in October and December 1990 at Caerlaverock, Scotland were also seen in the LDV NNR in January 1991!

Germany: A Shelduck ringed on 27th February 2004 in the LDV NNR was seen on 18th September 2004 at Trischen, Germany, a distance of over 600 km.

Common Shelduck © Dick Daniels 2010

I'm looking forward to spending the majority of tomorrow within the LDV, i'm not sure of my exact approach for tomorrow as yet due to the wind and rain predicted but I may try and hit North Duffield and Thorganby in the morning and then head up to Wheldrake for the afternoon - assuming the hides are still standing in this weather!

Don't forget the events at Wheldrake Ings as part of World Wetland Day and the Ramsar 40th Anniversary celebrations. Details here.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

LDV Ringing records - World Wetland Day

I had a look through some of the data provided for the Lower Derwent Valley (LDV) event as part of World Wetland Day yesterday (see the posts below here and here).

There have been approximately 140 international movements involving birds ringed, recovered and re-sighted in the Lower Derwent Valley. Yesterday I mentioned the Whimbrels recorded in Sweden, Iceland, France, Gambia, Senegal and Guinea. I’ve put some of the other interesting records below and will add some more tomorrow as there are so many interesting records.

Iceland: An adult female Greylag Goose was ringed at Nosterfield in North Yorkshire on 2nd March 2003, this bird was then seen in Iceland on 19th April 2003 and then seen within the LDV NNR on 19th February 2005.

Iceland: An adult female Black-tailed Godwit was ringed on 12th August 1999 at Terrington, The Wash, and was seen on 24th April 2000 in the LDV NNR. Just 6 days later it was found at Hofn in East Iceland.

Black-tailed Godwit © Andreas Trepte 2011

France: An adult male Sand Martin was ringed at Allerthorpe in the LDV NNR on 17th June 2005 and was caught again on 20th August 2006 at Oudale a distance of 495 km from the LDV, due to the timing of this sighting it was likely to be on its return journey to Africa for at least its third time!

Denmark and Germany: An Black-headed Gull ringed on 20th March 1997 at Svanemollebugten, Copenhagen, Denmark went ‘missing’ for over 6 years, before it was seen in Germany on 29th September 2003 and subsequently within the LDV in February 2004.

The Netherlands: An adult male Mallard was ringed on 20th November 1989 in the LDV NNR and was found dead almost 7 years later at Den Helder, The Netherlands on 15th September 1996.

The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden: An adult male Ruff was ringed on 29th April at Oosterlittens, Skrins, The Netherlands and then was seen in Norfolk (July 2005), then Norway (June 2006), then back in Norfolk (June 2006), then at The Humber (2006), before being seen in the LDV NNR (December 2006). After this initial sighting in the LDV NNR, the bird was then seen in Norfolk (August 2007), then back in the LDV NNR (April 2008), then 3 days later The Netherlands (April 2008) followed 11 days later by a sighting in Sweden (May 2008). The last sighting of this bird was January 2009, again back in the LDV NNR!

Portugal: An adult Reed Warbler was ringed in September 2005 at Lagon De Santo, Portugal and was re-caught in the LDV NNR on 29th April 2007 (a distance of 1862 km).

Reed Warbler © Adrian George 2011

Finland: A Peregrine Falcon ringed as a chick in Finland on 22nd July 1995 in Finland was found dead in the LDV NNR on 15th October 2000, some 2229 km from the nest site!

The data shows that several species that may be considered fairly mundane, such as Mallard and Greylag Goose may actually move around quite a bit, and maybe deserve a bit more credit and observation, especially for ringed birds!

It also goes to show that the Lower Derwent Valley is an incredibly important area for breeding, passage and wintering birds that can disperse all around Europe and into Africa - bringing home the fact that these birds are dependent on protection at home and abroad. There are more interesting records that I’ll put up tomorrow. Don’t forget about the Natural England Events going on over the weekend at Wheldrake Ings.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

More on World Wetlands Day - Hands across countries ... wings across the world.

Incredibly important day at Wheldrake Ings today, this information comes from various sources (e.g. Natural England, Ramsar amongst others). Remarkable bird journeys link communities across Europe and Africa, and bring home the importance of sharing responsibilities of bird conservation. Today the Lord Mayor of York went international for Britain with a global message to people of countries where birds ringed in Britain have been recorded, of which there are about 26 countries.

The Lord Mayor of York, the Rt Honourable Cllr. Susan Galloway of the internationally-renowned historic walled City of York, England, wearing ceremonial regalia, today (2 February) celebrated World Wetlands Day by sending a message of goodwill and commitment to communities in 26 countries from Northern Russia to central and southern Africa. She also symbolically ringed and released a Mute Swan.

Lord Mayor of York, the Rt Honourable Cllr. Susan Galloway enjoying a cuppa! © Natural England 2011.

Of the stories and information provided, the following relating to Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau caught my attention due to my love of Africa, and interest in wader migrations (see earlier posts on Turnstones and Sociable Plovers).

Over the last 30 years more than 30,000 birds have been ringed by researchers in the Lower Derwent Valley (see some of my earlier posts), which lies close to the City of York in Yorkshire, England - and is bang next door to my house! Some of the birds’ journeys have been recorded by satellite tracking. Of the birds ringed more than 2000 have been recovered or sighted by ornithologists, wildfowlers and members of the public, from as far away as Northern Russia and central Southern Africa.

More than 50 birds ringed in other countries have also been recovered or recorded in the Lower Derwent Valley.

Speaking about the worldwide importance of wetlands, the Lord Mayor emphasised the City's commitment to look after its wetland wildlife for its own sake and for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

"We are committed to playing our part on the world stage by looking after the wetlands close to the City of York and send good wishes to communities in other countries throughout the world with whom we are linked in a common responsibility by the birds. What better way could we celebrate World Wetlands Day?"

Some of the journeys the birds make are spectacular said Craig Ralston, Natural England's manager of the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve where many of the birds have been ringed.

"There could be no better example of international co-operation between local people in countries far and wide, than ensuring that the birds which make such epic journeys on migration between them always have a home in which to breed, winter or feed on passage when they arrive. It is a responsibility we have to each other."

As far as countries in West Africa are concerned, Whimbrels with satellite tags have been recorded on extraordinary long distance flights, with one nicknamed 'Wallace' being satellite-tracked from Ireland to Africa in just two days. Full details of the Whimbrels' journeys are included below.

In May 2005 a Whimbrel stopping off to roost at Wheldrake Ings Nature Reserve was fitted with a solar powered lightweight satellite tag weighing just 12 grams (see below), then the fun began:

Wally the Whimbrel © Steve Huddlestone 2007 more images here.


  • 2nd May 2005 Stopped off at Wheldrake Ings Nature Reserve in the Lower Derwent Valley (LDV) near York, England. (fitted with satellite tag) .

  • 12th May, left the Nature Reserve after a good feed on leather jackets at a field in Storwood in the LDV.

  • Two days and 1000 miles later she arrived in Iceland where it is considered she may have bred.

  • 20th July, moved over to Western Iceland, 141 miles.

  • 1st August left Iceland and flew the 1346 miles to Brest in Brittany, France. She stayed here until 13th August.

  • 13th August, left France and by the 18th of August was off the coast of Morocco Africa.

  • 22nd August, moved through Mauritania.

  • 26th August, moved through Senegal.

  • 30th August, arrived to spend the winter in Guinea.

  • Wally stayed here until 22nd April 2006 when she flew back to Senegal then back to Guinea again!! She stayed there until 17th June 2006 when unfortunately the Satellite tag stopped sending signals. It is not known why.

In April 2007, the team who tagged Wally the Whimbrel decided to try again.

They caught and satellite tagged another Whimbrel on the 28th April. The Whimbrel stayed in 'the valley' for a further 14 days and left on the 12th May. Local school children from Bubwith Primary School (the next village along from where I live) where told about the tagged bird and they adopted him and named him Wallace.

Whimbrel ready for release © Steve Huddlestone 2007 more images here.


  • 14th May arrived near Jokulsarlon the largest glacial lake in Iceland.

  • After a long tour of Iceland and possibly raising young Wallace left on 4th August.

  • 6th August satellite tag bleeped at sea south East of Ireland.

  • 8th August Wallace had reached southeast of Bissau, capital of Guinea, Africa, what a mammoth flight.

Over the coming days I'll not be out birding due to office commitments so I'll try and digest some of the other data received. No doubt there will be more interesting outcomes, keep a check of Natural England's website for updates, and don't forget about the events on this weekend too.

World Wetland Day - Lower Derwent Valley News

York birdlife goes international!

Today (February 2nd) is World Wetlands day and the River Derwent’s birds are showing up in wetlands around the globe. World Wetlands Day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, and is celebrated annually, this being its 40th Anniversary.

As the world marks the importance of wetland areas everywhere, Natural England explains how birds recorded at the internationally important Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve are also turning up in 24 other countries.

Wally the whimbrel is a bird who has come to symbolise flights across the globe having recently been tracked by radio transmitter as far as Guinea Bissau on the west coast of Africa. Shoveler ducks ringed at the reserve have been found in Archangel, on the northern coast of Russia.

“It’s fascinating to understand where birds fly off to when summer or winter ends, we’ve tracked birds from here to Iceland, west Africa and Svalbard. We can use this information to target international conservation efforts around the birds’ migratory routes” says Craig Ralston, Senior Reserve Manager at the Reserve.

Natural England are also marking the day by opening their new reserve office. The new office base overlooking the National Nature Reserve will enable schools and the local community to learn more about resident and visiting wildlife and the internationally significant wetlands of the reserve. The new building will be formally opened by the Lord Mayor and Sheriff of York and will include a temporary exhibition of historical photographs from around the valley.

Cllr. Susan Galloway, The Lord Mayor of York, said “ The Lower Derwent Valley is York’s natural equivalent of York Minster – and an internationally important and much-loved asset of which we are very proud. We are committed to playing our part on the world stage by looking after its future and on behalf of the City of York I send our good wishes to colleagues through the world with whom we share a common responsibility."

On the weekends either side of World Wetlands Day, there’ll be host of fun-packed family events on the Reserve. For details, see the Yorkshire and Humber events pages at Natural England.

More news and information will follow this evening.....

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Wheldrake Ings

I managed to accrue a TOIL day today due to the unsociable nature of my recent surveys so I though I'd make the most of the opportunity and have a day birding over at Wheldrake Ings.

The weather was beautiful to start with, with clear blue skies and little wind, clouding over and gradually becoming cooler.

Waterfowl was in abundance today, as would be expected given the time of year and the many birds I've seen in the Lower Derwent Valley over the last few days and as such many species were not counted due to sheer numbers. However, the figures below are a guide. The last few days have seen an adult Caspian Gull and a juvenile Glaucous Gull coming into the gull roost on the reserve but due to personal time constraints I wasn't able to hang around until dusk this time. My highlight today was a couple of Egyptian Goose that were viewed distantly from Tower Hide.

Egyptian Goose © Andreas Trepte 2008

Other species recorded included (from Swantail Hide):

5410 Wigeon, 2005 Teal, 940 Mallard, 111 Pochard, 93 Pintail, 62 Coot, 36 Gadwall, 30 Tufted Duck, 28 Mute Swan, 17 Shoveler, 10 Goldeneye, 9 Cormorant, 6 Shelduck, 1 Moorhen, 1 Pink-footed Goose, several hundred Canada Goose and Greylag Goose (and assorted hybrids/feral geese) and 59 Lapwing and 2 Snipe.

Waders from Tower Hide during the afternoon included: 275 Lapwing, 193 Dunlin, 78 Golden Plover and 32 Ruff. Numbers of gulls started building up during the early afternoon made up by Herring, Common, Great Black-backed and Black-headed but they were fairly distant and well packed. Nothing rarer whilst I was there. Wildfowl included all of the above species with Teal and Wigeon in larger numbers than were recorded at Swantail Hide.

Raptors recorded included a single Sparrowhawk and a single Buzzard (with the addition of a single Barn Owl near home this evening).

A very enjoyable day. Hopefully I'll get down there over the weekend and make the gull roost proper.