Friday, 30 December 2011

Peregrine Rage!

I did a day surveying today as I took a day off last week instead of working in order to prep for Christmas. The weather was perfect today, cold but still and dry. There was tonnes of Golden Plover activity today with thousands of birds about the place however the highlight was a frustratingly brief view of a Christmas cracker adult male Hen Harrier - stunner.

The real highlight came in the last 5 minutes of my 2011 surveys, I picked up on a female Peregrine shooting towards me, then heard a scream and looked around to see two smaller falcons tanking low along the ground in the same directions, a little confusion: male Peregrine chasing female kestrel or merlin? bins up, BASH adult male ripping into a juvenile male Peregrine!!! They were so loud and certainly not happy about seeing each other! As they shot about high then low constantly at each other the female carried on through keeping an eye on proceedings. They eventually went out of my sight but what a way to end my 2011 surveys! Total Peregrine Rage!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cotingas and Manakins - A book Review

I was very lucky this Christmas to get a couple of really good books. One of which was Cotingas and Manakins by Guy Kirwan and Graeme Green (Helm Identification Guide Series 2011). Illustrated by Eustace Barnes.

This is a mammoth Helm Guide and follows on from some really strong books that I love such as Sylvia Warblers and Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. I've just started to work through the book - at 640+ pages crammed with data it will take a while. I've been lucky enough to have seen several species in the book through plenty of time spent in Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago such as the impressive Long-tailed Manakin, Snowy Cotinga and Bare-necked Umbrellabird, the mythical Sharpbill, Grey-headed Piprities and Thrushlike Shiffornis to name a few...

The front cover featuring amazing artwork of Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock by Eustace Barnes.

The New World tropics possess the richest avifauna on Earth, with more than 4000 recorded species, many of which are endemic. Two groups found exclusively in this region are the Cotingas and the Manakins. Few other families of birds have such widespread appeal; they are much sought-after by birdwatchers for their colourful displays, unusual plumages and, in some cases, great rarity. For scientists, their natural history and behaviour provide fascinating case studies that yield important data in the quest to understand evolutionary biology, while, for taxonomists, elucidating their relationships has proved at times fascinatingly elusive, with many novel and unusual developments.

Two decades ago the species covered in this book were generally considered to comprise two families, but ongoing molecular work has revealed much about the relationships of these birds. One new family has been erected (the Tityridae) and another more widely recognised (Oxyruncidae). These and other resuls spawned principally by genetic research mean that this diverse assemblage of species is now considered to belong to at least five different families.

This book represents the definitive work on these jewels of the Neotropics, looking in detail at more than l30 species. These range from some of the rarest and most enigmatic birds in the world to some of the best-studied of all tropical species; many are breathtakingly colourful and ornate, but some are dowdy and difficult to see. The authors have lent heavily on the published literature, but have also included many personal, previously unpublished data, based on both field and museum studies. The texts are supported by 34 colour plates by Eustace Barnes, who has also observed many of the species in the field, as well as by detailed distribution maps and approximately 400 stunning photographs that cover all but a tiny handful of species. Some samples pages of the book are shown below.

After a few days of flicking through this books it has done three things:

1) Reminded me of some of the awesome birds I've seen;
2) Reminded me why I love and want to go back to the Neotropics again. Soon! and,
3) Reminded me of some of the awesome birds I've not seen yet... I want Araripe Manakin and some Cock-of-the-Rock action!

This is an excellent read and certainly well worth getting a copy if you have any interest in this group of birds or in Neotropical birding. I'm glad I've got a couple more days off work as I'm struggling to put it down!

Plate 15: Sharpbill, Scaled Fruiteater and Elegant Mourner.

Plate 28: Capuchinbird and Crimson Fruitcrow.

Orange-bellied Manakin text and map page.

Orange-bellied Manakin photo page.

Banded Cotinga photo page.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A morning walk around Skipwith

Yesterday (Boxing Day) we all went for a walk around Skipwith, taking in the periphery of the Common and some nice farmland to the north. We went on a route that I've not been on before which was interesting to see.

There was a decent tit flock near where we parked the car, lots of Great, Blue and Coal Tit with a couple of Treecreeper all showing well. There was a sizeable flock of Chaffinch too and a nice mix of Thrushes: Song, Mistle, Blackbird, Fieldfare and Redwing all showing well to close range. A couple of Great Spotted Woodpecker were vocal too as they called from the tree-tops. A small patch of hedgerow held a dozen Tree Sparrow, several Reed Bunting and a couple of Yellowhammer. The usual Dunncok, Robin and Wrens were all busy in the hedge bottoms. There was quite a few Red-legs and Pheasants keeping low trying to avoid the Boxing Day guns and raptors on show included a couple of Kestrels and a few Sparrowhawk.

As we were at the stables in Escrick checking on Jennys horse a Peregrine showed well as it flew low overhead before stooping down behind a copse flushing several dozen Wood Pigeon.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Lesser Canada Goose - North Duffield...

I popped down to North Duffield briefly this evening with my Dad to try and look for Barn Owls and seeing what else was down there. Unfortunately we didn't see any owls but there was a brief show from a couple of Peregrines, a party of 4 Buzzards were up in the air together and a Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were knocking about too.

Wigeon and Teal were vocal and a few were flying about too. Highlight however was this flock of Lesser Canada Geese, about half a dozen, not sure where they've come from... sorry about quality of pic, taken on phone in almost darkness!

By the way Happy Christmas to everyone! When I'm off during the week I'll write my review of the year - for what has been a very successful year (unless I'm out birding again!)

PS - Don't worry the geese are decoys, but they got me excited for a few moments until I saw the guy in the bushes with his AK!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Interesting insight into Honey-Buzzard breeding bahaviour

Found the following interesting report today: Camcorder to rescue as Honey Buzzards spread their wings:

Bird experts have unveiled their latest weapon in a bid to shed light on the secret life of the elusive honey buzzard – a camcorder.

The striking face of a honey buzzard snapped on its visit to South Wales.

The tree-mounted camcorder was moved between carefully selected sites by Forestry Commission Wales to track the movements and habits of the rare bird of prey – so-called because of its unique diet.

Along with honey buzzard expert Steve Roberts, Forestry Commission Wales has been studying the birds for a number of years with the help of a static nest camera to record their annual visits to the forests of South Wales.

The camera provided important information on the birds’ breeding habits, but proved to be less successful over the past few seasons as the birds used other nest sites to breed.

Forestry Commission Wales Conservation and Heritage Manager Rosalind Codd said, “Birds can change nest locations each breeding season and a camcorder is useful for recording previously ringed birds, for example, as it can be moved between nests".

“The mobile nest camera project proved very successful in its first year, with a number of active nests found and filmed in detail by Steve".

“Footage such as hunting patterns, nest building, feeding behaviour, growth and activity of chicks was recorded, and we were able to begin identifying individual birds in each nest.”

Honey buzzards build their nests on branches of large trees and are usually found in areas where there are big mature forests, such as those in South Wales, but the exact location of their nests is closely guarded because of the threat from egg collectors.

The birds arrive from their wintering grounds in equatorial Africa in mid-May and the adults fly non-stop back to Africa in September. Migrating birds have been tracked using satellite transmitters funded by Forestry Commission Scotland, which also demonstrated the vulnerability of young birds on their first migrations.

The honey buzzard population is stable through most of Europe but is a rare breeder in the UK. It’s not known how many there in Wales, partly due to the inconspicuous nature of the bird.

Forestry Commission Wales has also been funding the ringing of a number of chicks which could be identified by the camcorder to establish their age and determine the range that birds are prepared to travel to find a mate and establish new nest sites.

Rosalind said, “We are very privileged to have these rare birds breeding in South Wales and it’s great to be involved in such an important project".

“The results will prove invaluable in helping to understand these secretive birds and to gain a better idea of their habitat requirements. This will help us to make informed management decisions to enhance such valuable habitats for the future.”

The honey buzzard is best identified by its long head shape and distinctive two or three bars on its tail. It is usually silent, but can make whistling noises near its nest and is sometimes confused with the common buzzard.

Honey buzzards feed mainly on the nests, larvae, pupae and adults of wasps, bees, bumblebees and hornets. The birds follow flying insects to the nest and dig as deep as 40cm with their feet to reach their prey.

It has small, dense, scale-like feathers on the front of its face to help prevent it being stung by its prey, and powerful feet with thick scales and slightly curved claws of almost equal size for digging and walking, as well as slit-like nostrils to reduce soil blockage while digging.

When main prey is scarce, they will eat other insects, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, nestlings and eggs of birds, worms, fruit and berries. Its peculiar diet is also the reason behind its alternative name of “bee hawk”.

The data from this year’s breeding season will now be collated and Steve will begin to build a data set for the birds breeding in South Wales.

Rosalind added, “We hope the project will continue in future years and, in time, we will get a much better grasp of this elusive bird’s ecology and behaviour.”

Monday, 19 December 2011

So Many Harriers

So far this winter I've seen more Hen Harriers than I can remember, and I'm loving it!

Hen Harriers are such awesome birds, I could watch them for hours and days and not get bored! Good job really as I seem to be having a few on my sites at present which is great fun to be able to watch and study them as they go about their business.

I was at a site in Lincolnshire today that has already turned up some good birds in the few times I've been. Today was no exception with a cracking ring-tail Hen Harrier giving the Linnet flock cause for concern as it flew right past me, followed later on in the day by a cracking adult male that spent some time nearby as it hunted along the various ditches.

Further highlights included a pair of Peregrine almost catching a Pigeon, Water Pipit in a frozen ditch and thousands of Fieldfare with a decent number of Blackbird thrown in. I'll be keeping my eyes on the flock of 50+ Yellowhammer, just in case they are joined by anything a bit rarer....

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Black Redstart: Smart Find!

Yesterday I spent the day in the office, unfortunately no sign of the Peregrine putting the fear of god into the feral pigeons. One of my surveyors dropped me a message saying they'd just found a Great Grey Shrike on one of my sites - a great find. Unfortunately due to the weather forecast we had to move some surveys around for the end of the week which meant I got to drop a day in the office for some winter walkover surveying today.

The forecast for clear sky and sun had me looking forward to a day wandering about in the winter chill in the hope of connecting with something half decent, maybe even a shrike. When I opened the curtains and found a covering of snow and thick mist my expectations for the day soon decreased!

On arrival at the site there was no snow but it was blowing a cold cold wind with the occasional sleet shower but at least the sun was coming out. Unfortunately a flock of geese didn't contain any of the scarcer species that have been relatively abundant this winter.

As I walked around some scrub near a waterbody a few Dunnock and Robin were alarm-calling away (was there a Shrike about?) and then up popped another bird - typically it popped up straight into the sun, I lifted my bins but couldn't quite place it, was there a white patch in the wing? The bird made an unfamiliar clicking sound as it jumped higher into the tree, a flash of red - I wished it would move out of the sun, another 'click' and it flew into the top of a pine tree briefly before dropping down towards the waterbody. I jumped a couple of walls and refound the bird on the waters edge - Black Redstart, and a cracking male - a bit wind blown but a smart bird nevertheless. I'm thinking this is a juvenile male in ‘paradoxus plumage’ - (where it essentially looks similar to an adult male). I got on the radio to inform the other guys out on site and managed to get a record shot (phone-binned) - below. It was interesting seeing the more-typical Black Redstart after seeing the Eastern Black Redstart on Holy Island a couple of weeks back.

Black Redstart(Phone-binned)

Black Redstart(Phone-binned)

Black Redstart(Phone-binned)

Black Redstart(Phone-binned)

The Black Redstart showed well for 10 minutes but then I had to get on my way and continue my survey but it seemed pretty settled as there was plenty of insects about. A little altercation was noted with a Grey Wagtail but it gave as good as it got!

The rest of the survey was pretty uneventful, at least in my zone, however the other guys had some decent birds, highlights included Short-eared Owl, several hundred Common Snipe, 3+ Jack Snipe, Kingfisher and a Peregrine nailing a Common Snipe.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Short-eared Owl: Ringing reveals mysterious migration

There appears to be a large number of Short-eared Owls wintering in the UK this year, including some in the York Recording Area. Hopefully I'll catch up with one at North Duffield or somewhere else in the LDV soon. I am getting good views of up to 4 birds on one of my sites which is enjoyable.

Short-eared Owl © Steve Garvie 2009

A new, interesting paper has just been published in Journal of Ornithology - Changing migration patterns of the Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus in Europe: an analysis of ringing recoveries.

Analyses of almost 500 ringing recoveries spanning nearly a century show marked spatial and temporal differences in the migration patterns of Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) in Europe. Despite several spectacular sightings in recent months, this species is a candidate for red-listing (based on marked range contractions apparent from the Atlas). Short-eared Owls are known to show considerable annual variation in their “irruptive” migration. However this study has found that the distances travelled increased from the 1920s through to the 1960s and 1970s, but have since fallen. This provides circumstantial evidence about likely population changes (earlier studies by the BTO have shown the problems in trying to survey this species); it is speculated that the increase in migration distance was associated with population growth in the early to mid-20th century, and similarly, that populations have declined since the 1970s. Ringing recoveries also showed that birds hatching or breeding in Scandinavia and Central Europe travelled the furthest on migration, while those from Britain and the low-lying North Sea area made the shortest journeys. A reduced tendency to migrate the greater distances in the latter part of the 20th Century may have contributed to breeding declines in more southern and isolated parts of these birds’ range, where populations could have been compromised without periodic immigration. However, shorter distances between breeding and wintering grounds, especially within Britain and some British island groups, could also be particularly favourable in facilitating the conservation of this vulnerable and globally declining species: management plans are often simpler when targeted at smaller spatial scales.

Read the full paper here.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

NEW Shocking Persecution in UK

Today I've found out about 2 further cases of some appalling bird persecution that have occurred in the UK this year, in a year that has seen numerous cases of persecution hit the headlines, e.g. here.

Firstly: The case of serial egg-collector Matthew Gonshaw (aged 49) of Cherrywood Close, Bow in East London who has extended his infamy as Britain's most imprisoned egg collector. He has been sentenced to yet another jail term, for six months, following conviction for stealing and possessing wild birds' eggs, including those of some of the rarest and most threatened birds in the UK.

Press Association

Watch out for this guy on your local patch - and then phone the police, or maybe some other birders...
Press Association

Gonshaw's home in East London was raided by officers from the Metropolitan Police and RSPB Investigations unit on 2nd June this year. Nearly 700 eggs were found at the premises.

Gonshaw faced 10 charges, including taking five Golden Eagle eggs and 12 Avocet eggs from the wild, and possessing eggs from specially protected species, including seven Golden Eagle eggs, eight Osprey eggs, 12 Avocet eggs, three Peregrine eggs, three Red Kite eggs, and 12 eggs of other specially protected species. The remaining wild birds' eggs were all illegally held but were from species not covered by Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Eggs seized Press Association

More Eggs seized Press Association

Avocet Eggs Press Association

Becky Owen, reviewing lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service in London, said: "We have worked closely with the RSPB and the Met Police Wildlife Crime Unit to secure this conviction and our hope is it sends out a strong message about the seriousness of these crimes. Matthew Gonshaw's criminal actions caused untold damage to wildlife in the UK. He has plundered nearly 700 eggs, including some from endangered species such as Golden Eagles and Ospreys."

This is his fifth conviction relating to his collection.

In April 2001, he was caught raiding a golden eagle's nest in the outer Hebrides and fined £500. In 2002, he received a three-month sentence for stealing rare British species of eggs, but officers were unable to find his collection. In 2004, he was jailed for four months and fined £5,000 in Scotland for taking eggs and he was jailed again for six months in 2005 after being caught with more than 700 eggs.

I would hope the court has set this guys prison sentence to cover the 6 month breeding season, he obviously likes two things: 1) Collecting birds eggs and 2) Spending time in a cell. A bit of advice for Mr Gonshaw - don't drop the soap.

Secondly: The hunting of wild birds in Malta and Cyprus is widely reported, though little ever seems to happen to anyone caught doing it, despite so called EU protection for our migratory birds. Last year I read about hunters from these countries catching boats to Egypt to hunt birds over there and today I found out about Maltese hunters that have been coming to the UK to shoot our birds - see press release below:

Three persons were on Monday night apprehended by customs at Malta International Airport in possession of dead protected birds. The three persons were returning from a hunting trip in the UK.

A joint operation between Customs, Administrative Law Enforcement police, MEPA officials and veterinary services officials revealed a number of protected birds including birds of prey concealed in their luggage amongst other legal game.

The birds were protected by international law. The persons in question are expected to be arraigned in court soon.

Dead Peregrine

This news, along with that above totally appall me, and I hope all people involved in birds conservation and birding get together and stop this from happening, whether it is a "gentle word" in the ear of a known egger, or pressure on politicians...

Monday, 12 December 2011

Peregrine: Office tick!

A couple of days back I had my third record of Peregrine over my garden.

Today I was back in the office and a little after 9 am just as I was making a cup of tea Ollie spotted a Peregrine flying low over the York city centre roofs as the feral pigeons went crazy! The bird, a juvenile female gave a couple of passes coming right in front of the window on one occasion! A great addition to my office list! Hopefully the plethora of feral pigeons will encourage it to stay around through the winter as it will make report writing a bit more enjoyable!

Strangely this was not my first Peregrine falcon of the day as whilst sat in the traffic on the York ringroad at the A1079 a male shot through on the hunt for some breakfast...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Western Sandpiper: Cley, Norfolk (late news!)

A bit late this as I've been a bit busy decorating and stuff but last weekend Dave and I shot down to Norfolk in order to try and connect with the 'peep'.

Not THE "peep", but not far off it © Alan Wilson 2007

We had a fairly uneventful journey on the long and windy road to Cley stuck at 40mph for most of the way, but luckily Dave had brought some decent music to make the time fly by!

It was 'freezing' down there according to some (the cockney element), they should come to Yorkshire if they want to know what cold is like!!! We made our way down to the hides to be greeted with "It was showing (with 7 Dunlin) but was flushed by a Merlin, Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier". We waited for a while but there was no sign and it was getting noisier and noisier in there (Why do people feel the need to be so loud in these hides?)

As the crowd was starting to annoy me I went into the next hide, which was deserted - awesome, a whole hide to myself overlooking a massive area, now all I needed to do was find the bird!

After 15 or so minutes of scanning, with only a few Dunlin (but lots of Lapwing, Ruff etc about) and a flock of approximately 60 Snow Bunting flying along the beach in the distance, a Marsh Harrier made its way across the back of the marsh, in doing so it started flushing all of the waterfowl. Birds started to drop in closer to the hide and stick their heads out of the longer grass to keep an eye on the raptor.

A small party of Dunlin landed right in front of the hide, 6 of them, but no American "peep" in amongst them. A bit more scanning and I was onto a small wader walking out of sight along a small channel. That has to be it I thought, it was noticeably small though the fraction of a second view was hardly conclusive. A small group of birders appeared into the hide. A short while later the bird walked into view again. Scope on it, "It's here" I said to the few guys and I called Dave who was in the other hide. Just as it walked out of view again Dave came through, shortly followed by the contents of the other hide and after a short and nervous wait the bird came into view, cue loads more noise as people tried to see it.

The "peep" showed well, quite a distinctive bird, a smart Western Sandpiper. After a while something flushed a few of the waders (the hide noise maybe?) and the Western did a little flight where it landed right in front of another hide with a Dunlin that had appeared from nowhere, cue mass exodus to another hide where the bird showed incredibly well briefly, allowing a full range of diagnostic features to be seen, before being flushed again, this time definitely by the hide noise and then it flew out of sight. It didn't come back during the rest of our stay on the reserve.

A good, yet frustrating day. A good ID challenge (I think the bird had started its time at Cley as a Little Stint, had turned into a Semi-palmated Sandpiper before becoming a Western Sandpiper...), made all the more difficult by the loudness in the hides. Some people need a lesson in hide etiquette...

I didn't manage any photos however here are a few pictures of Western Sandpipers looking a bit smarter than the bird I saw!

Western Sandpiper © Arthur Morris (Birds as Art)

Western Sandpiper © Arthur Morris (Birds as Art)

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Species CAN change...

A study of South American songbirds completed by the Department of Biology at Queen’s University and the Argentine Museum of Natural History, has discovered these birds differ dramatically in colour and song yet show very little genetic differences which indicates they are on the road to becoming a new species.

One of Darwin’s accomplishments was to show that species could change, that they were not the unaltered, immutable products of creation,” says Leonardo Campagna, a Ph.-D biology student at the Argentine Museum of Natural History in Buenos Aires, who studied at Queen’s as part of his thesis. “However it is only now, some 150 years after the publication of his most important work, On the Origin of Species, that we have the tools to begin to truly understand all of the stages that might lead to speciation which is the process by which an ancestral species divides into two or more new species.”

For decades scientists have struggled to understand all of the varied forces that give rise to distinct species. Mr. Campagna and his research team studied a group of nine species of South American seedeaters (finches) to understand when and how they evolved.

The study found differences in male reproductive plumage and in some key aspects of the songs that they use to court females. Now, the group is looking to find the genes that underlie these differences, as these so-called candidate genes may well prove to be responsible for the evolution of a new species. This will allow researchers to gain insights into evolution.

Studies like ours teach us something about what species really are, what processes are involved and what might be lost if these and other species disappear.”

The findings were recently published in Proceedings of The Royal Society.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Garden Peregrine

Spent a couple of hours working at home this morning before heading in to the office. A reward for being sat at my desk at 9am came in the form of a 2nd year male Peregrine that burst out of a clamour of rooks that were scattering left right and center by this lean mean hunting machine. It shot straight over the garden and then over the house. I raced to the bedroom and caught it as it came over the roof before it closed its wings and stooped into the stubble field in front of the house putting up a mass of corvids, pigeons and starlings. With a bit of luck it may even have caught one of the village cats! This is my third garden Peregrine sighting since we moved in, just over 12 months ago, hopefully it will become a regular occurrence during the winter?

What a bird! Peregrine (Source Unknown)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Wind? What Wind?

I'll admit to being a bit nervous about today's field work. After a chat with a few old hands we decided to go with it, the forecast 50+mph gusts were what was worrying me, combined with some torrential showers too - not much fun!

Luckily I managed to get the VP out of the wind - luck more than planning I think as the wind switched several directions after I hatched my cunning plan to avoid sitting in it all day, however it was still pretty windy!

There was still some bird activity despite the wind levels - good activity too, mostly low to the ground! It was difficult to judge just how much activity there was compared to normal as I was at a different location to my past two visits to this site. Highlights included close up views of an adult male Peregrine hunting Wood Pigeon - almost making a kill, adult male and ring-tail Hen Harriers, cream-crown Marsh Harrier and juvenile (probably male) Merlin (phone pics below).

Merlin off my phone

Merlin off my phone

Other interest was provided at "the watering hole" - a small (1 foot by 3 foot) puddle on a farm track next to my VP that attracted 12 Greenfinch, 5 Chaffinch, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 5 Redwing, 2 Song Thrush, 10+ Blackbird but most interesting of all, 2 Lesser Redpoll and a Green Woodpecker! (phone pic below - this is really NOT a place you'd expect to find a Green Woody!!!). Luckily the rain held off until 5 minutes after we'd finished the survey, it came down proper hard so I was glad I was back in the landy and warm and dry! We even managed not to get crushed by any articulated trucks getting blown over in the wind! All in all another good day.

Green Woodpecker off my phone

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Pintail Garden Tick!

I worked at home today, the weather was appalling for the majority of the day but as I looked out of the window nearing dusk I was pleased to note a huge flock of ducks, getting on for 500 birds, mainly Wigeon and Teal and the odd Mallard but mixed in with them was getting on for a dozen or so Pintail - a new garden tick!

They flew in the direction of Skipwith Common from North Duffield and appeared to go down there - but not sure where given how dry it is on the Common at the moment! Presumably there had been something going on in the LDV that flushed the lot of them! If only there was some water down there I might have got some diving ducks in with them! Though it does give me hope for the winter...

Pintail © Mark and Jen Rowlands 2009

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Allen's Gallinule and it's still alive too....

Another one in Spain - well Fuerteventura today and this one is alive, as can be seen from the great pictures taken by David Perez below (more on Rare Birds Spain). This record follows hot on the heels of a not-so-alive bird found at Palma Airport, Mallorca on 1st December. Maybe there are more out there a bit closer to home....

Allen's Gallinule Fuerteventura © David Perez 2011

Allen's Gallinule Fuerteventura © David Perez 2011

Monday, 5 December 2011

A brighter future for Europe’s rarest migratory songbird

An interesting article from Birdlife International on Friday, reproduced below...

Aquatic Warbler, the rarest and the only globally threatened passerine bird in mainland Europe, is facing a brighter future thanks to six years of intensive work within a LIFE project (part financed by the European Commission), coordinated by OTOP (BirdLife in Poland). Swarovski Optik, Cemex Poland and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) kindly agreed to co-finance the other part of the €5 million project.

Aquatic Warbler © Andrzej KoĊ›micki

“Aquatic Warbler belongs to a very special habitat characterised by peatlands fed by groundwater, called ‘fen mires’. Protecting this bird by restoring its habitat means at the same time to improve the conservation for other rare species that also live in fen mires”, explains Lars Lachmann, the project coordinator working at the same time for OTOP and for the RSPB, also partner in the project.

In the last century, all but a very few fen mires have been drained for agriculture or peat extraction, causing a catastrophic decline in Aquatic Warbler populations, and led to classify them as globally threatened.

A quarter of the global population has survived in Eastern Poland, and a small and isolated group of Aquatic Warbler has found refuge along the Polish-German border.

But today, the vegetation on the few remaining fen mires is changing, and the elements composing the bird habitats are disappearing, and with them, Aquatic Warbler and several breeding waders like Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank and Northern Lapwing. Even the establishment of National Parks, has not been able to invert this tendency.

The objective of the project led by OTOP has been to develop a landscape-scale solution for the restoration and the sustainable management of peatlands (fen mires). On the pilotsites, OTOP introduced a prototype mowing machine that does not destroy the delicate peat soil and vegetation. More than 30 of these machines now maintain 15,000 ha of Aquatic Warbler habitat in Poland and this successful technique has already been exported to Germany and Belarus.

OTOP has also implemented suitable agri-environment schemes, paying farmers for Aquatic Warbler friendly management, rehabilitating three national reserves, and supporting the idea that National Parks should lease out their lands needing active management to farmers using the new machines.

Currently, OTOP and its partners are setting up a system to convert the large amounts of low-quality hay harvested on those lands into carbon-neutral biomass briquettes and pellets, permitting to protect the climate, to finance habitat restoration and management for Aquatic Warbler, and at the same time to create local green activities and employments.

“We are very pleased to see the return of large numbers of waders, including Jack Snipe and Wood Sandpiper not seen in Poland for over 10 years, but the key success of this LIFE Project is of course that Aquatic Warbler is readily returning to the areas we have restored for it.” welcomed Lars Lachmann.

The €5 million project has been implemented with funds from the EU LIFE Nature Programme. Additional co-financing was provided by the RSPB, Swarovski Optik and Cemex Poland.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Skipwith Common

Went for a cold walk round Skipwith Common this morning with Tophill and Whitburns finest Rich and Ade (with Jenny, Caroline and Lisa enjoying a birding trip in the freezing weather).

It was amazingly dry, the driest I've seen the place and the majority of the walk was silent of bird calls - last weeks Wigeon were not in evidence at all until a couple of small flocks flew in as we were leaving.

Most bird activity seemed to centre on a mixed tit flock that was roving around the reserve with blue, great, coal and long-tailed tit making up the majority of the flock with the odd goldcrest and treecreeper in with them. There was a few Chaffinch, Goldfinch and a single Meadow Pipit flying around and a couple of Great Spotted Woodpecker gave tantilising views as they moved through the trees. At least one Kestrel was hunting the site.

Rich let me take some pictures with his camera which i'll stick up when I get them...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

AMUR FALCON on the Azores!!!

Just looking through Netfugl this afternoon when I noticed Amur Falcon reported on the Azores on Wednesday!! What a record!!! The pictures, one reproduced below are labelled Red-footed Falcon but the bird is definitely Amur and on looking into the record represents the first for the Azores and is a phenomenal record too!

© Justin Hart, UK from Birding Azores

Amur Falcon, Falco amurensis, also known as Eastern Red-footed Falcon breeds in East Asia, eastern Siberia from Transbaikalia eastwards through Amurland to Ussuriland, south to Mongolia and Manchuria (it is also known as Manchurian 'Red-footed' Falcon) to North Korea and eastern China.

Amur Falcon is a long-distance migrant, the entire population migrates 11,000 km southwest to winter in sub-Saharan Africa taking a route from their breeding grounds, south through India, across the Indian Ocean making landfall in East Africa - I remember seeing these migrants in Kenya back in 1997/98 at Nakuru National Park. The majority head down to between Malawi and South Africa.

There has been a few records in Europe in recent years, the most memorable one (or worst memorable one depending on your point of view) was the first for the UK that spent several weeks at Tophill Low Nature Reserve in East Yorkshire a few years back, unfortunately I'd seen 5+ Red-footed Falcons that year so didn't bother going to look for another one, only when the bird had departed did review of the photos show that the bird was indeed an Amur! Evidently the bird had moulted some key ID features in during the time of its stay! Never mind...

For a bird to hit the Azores it raises some real questions. Did it come (undetected) westwards through Europe and the across to the Azores, did it hit Africa and get caught in some storms that sent it across the continent, or did it do a total flip and go across north America? All of the above seem fairly impossible to get your head around!!! Take a look at a flat map of the world and look at its breeding grounds, its wintering grounds, its passage route and then look at the Azores!!!

Amur Falcon on the Azores, a really remarkable record!!!

Friday, 2 December 2011

NEW LDV Website.

Back in February I wrote a few posts about ringing recoveries in the Lower Derwent Valley (LDV), some really interesting ones too.

Good news: there are some more interesting recoveries, however better news is that the LDV has a new ringing blog: here, there is also a direct link on my blog list on the right of this page, why not follow the blog and keep up to date with all of the ringing information coming out of this fantastic reserve.


The following is sample of some recent ringing recoveries/resightings detailed on the blog:

Redshank (DB88181), ringed as a 6 on 29/03/03 on Aughton Ings, recovered on 19/10/10 at the Bay of Morlaix, France (dead).

Sedge Warbler (X437129), ringed as a 3J on 21/08/09 at Wheldrake Ings, recovered as a 4 on 26/08/10 in Paris, France.

Sedge Warbler (L751812), ringed as a 4M on 12/05/11 at Wheldrake Ings, re-trapped on 22/07/2011 and then controlled on 10/08/11 in Paris, France.

Teal (EL49846), ringed as a 4F on 12/11/07 on Skipwith Common, recovered on 27/08/09 in Finland (shot).

Wigeon (FA51531), ringed as a 3M on 04/12/04 at North Duffield, recovered on 01/01/11 near Long Sutton, Somerset (shot).

Wigeon (FH10123), ringed as a 3 on 23/10/07 at North Duffield, recovered on 01/01/10 in Solotcha, Russia (shot).

Whooper Swan (W09345), ringed as a 3M on 16/12/05 at North Duffield, sighted on 02/04/09 in Iceland (identified by darvic).

Whooper Swan (W24873), ringed as a 3 on 30/11/08 at North Duffield, sighted on 02/04/09 in Iceland (identified by darvic).

Wigeon (FP68613) ringed as a 4M at North Duffield on 11/11/07, recovered 07/05/11 in Russia (shot).

Whooper Swan (W24868), ringed as a 4 on 30/11/08 at North Duffield, recovered on 16/06/11 in Iceland (dead on beach).

Wigeon (FP65520), ringed as a 3M on 14/12/03 at North Duffield, recovered on 09/05/11 in Russia (shot).

Wigeon (FP93603), ringed as a 4M on 25/10/05 at North Duffield, recovered on 23/04/11 in Russia (shot).


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Rough-legged Buzzard: Work Tick!!

A couple of weeks back I visited a new site and had an amazing day - see here!

Today I managed to get back over there again and had yet another cracking day...

We arrived at the site around 10.30 and by 11 I was getting dropped off at my vantage point, where I was to spend the next 5 hours. As we were approaching the location we noticed a large bird hanging face on in the wind low directly over my vantage point. It didn't look right for the expected species based on my previous visit, marsh harrier, hen harrier, common buzzard... as we neared it the bird turned and showed it was very pale, we raced up in the landy, jumped out with our optics and were straight on it, a cracking juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard! The bird showed well as it gradually drifted west, I tried grabbing a couple of shots as it flew away (below - off my phone)

Rough-leg - Honest! (off phone)

Rough-leg - Honest! (off phone)

The bird showed well for the next three hours as it foraged around the site, here's a slightly better picture of a Rough-legged buzzard - taken last year © Renton Charman 2010. Rough-legged Buzzard was a 'work tick' for me which was really cool, and my first one of the winter and follows hot on the heals of last weeks self-found Rustic Bunting! I like my job!!!

Rough-legged Buzzard © Renton Charman 2010

Throughout the day harriers were again numerous, less Marsh Harrier (c4/5 birds) but more Hen Harriers (c6+ birds) including adult males and females and ring-tail male and females - again these birds gave great views as they hunted and fought with each other! A pair of Peregrine provided a bit of interest for an hour or so as they bombed around trying to catch one of the many Wood Pigeon that were about. Common raptors included a lot of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard.

There was plenty of other birds around, the other highlight were singles of Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Pink-footed Goose and Tundra Bean Goose (phone pic below - thanks Russ!) and several flocks of Whooper Swan.

Tundra Bean Goose (mobile shot)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

3 Months In Peru!

One of the best nature photographers I've ever had the pleasure to meet and see at work, Glenn Bartley has just returned from a 3 month photography expedition in Peru. As expected Glenns trip has resulted in a series of breathtaking photographs, these shots are so inspiring that they make me want to buy a camera just so that I can go on a photography trip with him!!! The following is from his blog... (images © Glenn Bartley 2011)

3 Months in Peru: A Bird Photography Expedition

On the first of September I traveled from my home in Victoria, BC to Lima Peru for a 3 month bird photography expedition. My plan was to travel around the country in search of as many of the most beautiful and endemic birds that I could find.

Why Peru? The answer is simple. Peru is a country that is perhaps unsurpassed in terms of “quality” birds. While Columbia boasts a higher total number of species it is tough to beat Peru’s endemic birds like the Marvelous Spatuletail, Long-whiskered Owlet, Royal Sunangel and about 120 other birds that are found nowhere else on Earth except within the border of Peru.

My search for these birds took me from sea level to 4850m above sea level (ASL). From deserts, to lowland rainforests. From cloud forests to high elevation grasslands. And down many a bumpy road… I slept in towns where I swear no tourists had ever been. I slept in the back of my truck for two of the coldest wettest nights I can remember. I slept wherever I had to in order to be able to have a reasonable chance at photographing these birds. To me…it was all worth it… This is truly what I live for…

Cusco and Manu National Park

After a quick stopover in Lima I took an internal flight to the lovely city of Cusco. Cusco is a city full of culture and history and it makes a great base to visit several local ruins and cultural sites. Nearby there is a high elevation lake called Lago Huacarpay. It was here where I would begin my search for endemic birds.

Those of you that know me know that I love hummingbirds. One of the really special ones in Peru is called the Bearded Mountaineer. It is endemic to Peru and found only in a small area in the southeast. Huacarpay is definitely the best place to see it and it was a great start to the trip to find this beauty feeding on some Nicotina flowers near the lake. In addition to the Mountaineer, Lago Huacarpay produced a beautiful White-tufted Grebe and the strange looking Plumbeous Rail.




Flipping through the field guide to the birds of Peru there was another hummingbird from this region that grabbed my attention. The White-tufted Sunbeam is a real stunner that is also endemic to Peru. I had to travel to the smaller town of Ollantaytambo and then commandeer a taxi for the day to take me up above the tree line (around 3600m ASL) in order to search for this member of the Trochilidae family. The first day I went up the wind was howling and I knew that there was no way I would get any photos. But I found where the birds lived and made a plan for the following morning. Returning up the hill the next day rewarded me with not only the Sunbeam but also another endemic – the Creamy-crested Spinetail.



With these targets photographed it was time to start making my way into the jungle. I really wanted to spend some quality time in Manu National Park. After all, it is the most biologically diverse place on the planet! Imagine a single park with over 1000 species of birds. It is enough to make your head spin! I made a plan to spend the next 3 weeks in Manu and began to prepare for what was sure to be an amazing adventure.

What makes Manu National Park so diverse is the fact that the park covers elevations from approximately 3500m all the way down to sea level in the Amazonian lowlands. This kind of altitudinal gradient creates all kind of different habitats for plants, animals, insects and of course birds to thrive in. Getting the most out of Manu means spending time at various elevations because many of the birds have very specific habitat requirements.

Driving in to the park from Cusco was incredible. The windy road took me up and over a pass of about 4000m ASL and then began to descend toward the park entrance. Before long the grasslands faded from view and gave way to cloud-forest. Trees became larger and were covered with moss and bromeliads. Clouds rolled in from the lowlands below hiding much of what lay ahead beneath a mysterious veil.

After a lengthy drive I arrived at my first photo stop at an area around 1500m. I would spend the next 3 days searching this area for as many birds as I could find. This area turned out to be great for mixed species flocks and I saw some really stunning birds. Photographing them however was often a challenge. But over the three days I did have some really rewarding encounters. Perhaps most memorable was a visit to a very active lek for Andean Cock of the Rocks (Peru’s national bird).





Three days came and went and it was soon time for me to continue on down the road deeper in to the park. I hitchhiked down the road to the next town and then took a moto-taxi to the town of Atalaya. From here I hired a boat to take me on to my next destination located at about 500m ASL where I would spend the next 5 days. One of my main targets at this elevation was the feisty little Rufous-crested Coquette and I was very pleased to get some nice images of this little guy. My five days at this location were full of exhilarating encounters with birds like the Band-tailed Manakin, Gould’s Jewelfront, Blue-crowned Trogon and many, many more! One of the coolest birds I found was the Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant. This bird is the smallest passerine in the world and let me tell you – he is tiny! The field guide has a very accurate description – “a tiny ball of feathers that is scarcely larger than a bee”. What a cute bird!






At this point I had reached the end of the road…literally. All travel deeper in to the park would require a boat. I managed to join a tour group to move on down the river – WAY down the river. We took the boat several hundred kilometers into the jungle and into the Manu National Park reserved zone. This is an area that is strictly protected from logging and hunting and is truly pristine. Some of the highlights for me in the reserved zone were the Agami Heron, Horned Screamer, Red and Green Macaw and a family of Giant Otters!





The tour group dropped me off at their final stop – a lodge based at 300m ASL. I would spend the next week here trying to photograph some of the really difficult lowland birds. Bird photography at this elevation can be really difficult. To start with, there is almost never any light to work with. Competition for the suns rays in the rainforest is fierce and most light is intercepted before it reaches the forest floor. This makes for hopelessly slow shutter speeds and high ISO’s. Not ideal! The other challenge is that while species diversity is incredibly high – the actual number of individual birds is quite low. Birds here often have huge territories and roam around in mixed species flocks throughout the day. Sometimes you have to be lucky to run in to the flock. Otherwise you may not see much at all. Even if you do find a good flock they are often up in the canopy or moving to quick to get decent shots of. Like I said…photography in the lowlands is very difficult!

That week I spent hiking around the trails for between 8-12 hours a day. Sometimes with very long gaps in the action. I was focusing on trying to photograph Antbirds and did manage to get a few. Fortunately for me I found a huge Army Ant swarm for a few days and this attracted a lot of birds that were looking for an easy meal. You see, when the army ants raid they flow out into the forest in rivers of ants. There can be hundreds of thousands of them and they are all hungry! They overwhelm anything that gets in their way, tear them to bits and carry the food back to the queen. Needless to say the other insects on the forest floor want nothing to do with the ants and try to get out of the way as fast as they can. The Antbirds and Woodcreepers know this and wait patiently above the ant swarm. When a cricket or cockroach moves from its hiding place to escape the birds pounce. An easy meal!

When I found the ant swarm I knew that this would be where I would be spending quite a bit of time. I think I stood in that swarm for something like 10 hours (over two days) trying to get images of Antbirds. I was rewarded with a few keepers…and quite a few ant bites too!




I left the lowlands behind me and started the long journey back to Cusco. Before returning to civilization though I wanted to make one more stop. I felt like I had missed out on the birds in the higher elevations of the park so I decided to stop in at a lodge at about 2800m ASL to try for a few cloud-forest specialties.

The cloud-forests are home to a dazzling variety of beautiful tanagers. Birds like the Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain Tanagers, Grass-green Tanager and Golden-collared Tanager to name just a few. These cloud forests of the Neotropical Andes are probably my favourite places on earth. So, for me, these few days were pure joy.




I traveled back the rest of the way to Cusco for a much needed break from bird photography for a few days. It was the perfect time to take a side trip to one of the wonders of the world – Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

The trip to Machu Picchu involves traveling to Ollantaytambo and then onwards by train to Aguas Calientes. From here it is a short bus ride away to these most incredible Inca ruins. What a spectacular place to spend a day!


The Central Highlands

Visiting Machu Picchu was a nice break from bird photography. But after a few days off I was ready to get back to work. I flew back to Lima to meet up with a friend of mine from Ecuador. We rented a 4×4 truck and set off for the Central Highlands.

Our first destination was an area of high elevation grasslands and bogs called Marcapomacocha. When I say they were high I mean it. We were birding at over 4800m ASL which was the highest I have ever been. The thin air, strong sun and cool temperatures were all forgotten though when we spotted the first of our main targets – the critically endangered White-bellied Cinclodes.


Our next target proved to be more difficult to find and was much more difficult to photograph. The Diademed Sandpiper-Plover is one of the most beautiful shorebirds in the world and certainly one of the toughest to track down. Living only in high elevation bogs above 4500m you dont just stumble upon them. It was a great reward for all of the huffing and puffing up there to come away with some nice images of this species.


Over the next few days we worked away on some of the other high elevation species such as the Black-breasted Hillstar, Andean Goose, Gray-breasted Seedsnipe and Junin Canastero.


From Marcapomacocha we continued on towards the town of Huanuco. This was our base from which we would visit the legendary Bosque Unchog. Bosque Unchog is a beautiful area of Elfin Forest where some really special and endemic birds can be found. It is decidedly off the beaten path though. No facilities exist and it is a rough road to get there. We had to spend two VERY cold nights sleeping in the back of the truck in order to bird this area. But the birds made it all worth while. Although I missed getting photos of the most spectacular bird at Bosque Unchog (the Golden-backed Mountain Tanager) we came away with shots of many other great birds. My favourites had to be the Yellow-scarfed Tanager, Bay-vented Cotinga, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek and Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanager.





The North

After Bosque Unchog it was back down to Lima and then on northwards. Most people probably don’t realize this – but the Peruvian coast is a complete desert. Traveling back to Lima and then 800km up the coast was a long, long drive. But it was necessary in order to reach the next set of endemic birds.

Eventually we arrived at our first destination near the town of La Florida. This region is the only place to find what is perhaps the most extravagant hummingbird of them all – the Marvelous Spatuletail. I really wanted to get some solid images of this species and after two days of hard work I was able to get the shot I had dreamed of.


Not far from where the Spatuletail lives there is a new lodge that is dedicated to birdwatchers. It is a fantastic place to spend a few days and some really special species can be found in the nearby forests. After 10 weeks of grinding it out in the field let me assure you that it was not hard to convince me to stay here for a few nights!

On our second day at the lodge I had one of those days in the field that I will NEVER forget. The day started off with an unbelievable opportunity to photograph an Undulated Antpitta. Later on I had a phenomenal chance to photograph the Royal Sunangel. I was feeling pretty good about the day at this point and decided to try my luck at some owling that night. My target was the Long-whiskered Owlet and to be honest I did not think I had a chance to see it let alone photograph it.



The Long-whiskered Owlet is an enigma. The bird was only discovered in 1976 and was then not seen again until 2002! Even to this day very few people have had good looks at it.

At just 5 inches this bird is the smallest species of Owl in the world. It is so unique that upon discovery ornithologists immediately put it in to its own genus “Xenoglaux” which means “strange owl”.

That evening I trekked down a muddy trail into the elfin cloud forest and I waited patiently to hopefully hear the birds call. Before long, to my delight, I heard what I believed to be an Owlet calling in the distance. I began to use the birds call to try to lure him in towards me.

I’m sure you can all imagine the adrenaline and excitement that I was feeling when I realized that it was working and the bird was coming closer. I stood motionless. I didn’t dare fiddle with my equipment. I didn’t dare check to see what insects were crawling up my leg. Heck…I didn’t dare breathe!!

And then…I saw a flash of movement in front of me. The moon was nearly full and there was enough light to just make out the movement. I shone my flashlight in the direction of the fluttering object and there he was not even 20 feet away on an open branch staring right at me – The Owlet!

As I walked back up the hill after photographing this incredible bird I could hardly believe what had just happened. I think that there are moments in our lives as photographers that I think we will never forget. For me this was most definitely one of them.


3 months in Peru came and went in a flash. What a wonderful trip and what a great country for birds. I will definitely be returning soon!

If you would like to see more photos from my trip - CLICK HERE

If you think that a bird photography adventure to Peru might interest you make sure to EMAIL ME to sign up for the wish list for my workshops that will begin in the fall of 2013.