Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Life of Brian - An Amazing Discovery

A bird specimen that sat in a drawer at the Smithsonian for nearly 50 years has been revealed to be a totally new species to science, the first in the United States for 37 years.

The discovery of the true identity of the bird was thanks to a sharp-eyed scientist at the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), who realized that the specimen had been misidentified after it was collected on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 1963. Differences in measurements and physical appearance compared to other similar species were confirmed by DNA analysis, and the bird was given the name Bryan’s Shearwater, Puffinus bryani.

“I was doing research for a book I was working on, dealing with birds of Hawai'i when I came across this particular specimen of a seabird that was identified as a Little Shearwater. After examining the specimen, I knew that what I was looking at was not a Little Shearwater or anything else that occurred in the Pacific basin. Ultimately, I decided we needed to do the DNA testing, which determined that we had a completely new species,” said Peter Pyle, the IBP researcher who made the discovery.

Researchers rarely discover new species of birds, most of the world’s 9,000-plus species (including about 21 other species of shearwaters) having been described before 1900. The majority of new species described since the mid-1900s have been discovered in remote tropical rain- and cloud forests, primarily in South America and southeastern Asia.

The Bryan’s Shearwater is the first new species to be described from the United States and Hawaiian Islands since the Po’ouli was discovered in the forests of Maui in 1974. The Bryan’s Shearwater is the smallest shearwater known to exist. It is black and white with a black or blue-gray bill and blue legs. Biologists found the species in a burrow among a colony of petrels during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program in 1963.

The Bryan’s Shearwater is closest in morphology to the Boyd’s Shearwater, which is found in the Atlantic Ocean, but is more genetically distinct than all its other shearwater cousins. Based on this DNA evidence, researchers estimate that the Bryan’s Shearwater separated from other species of shearwaters perhaps more than 2 million years ago. These findings have been published in a paper, A new species of Shearwater (Puffinus) recorded from Midway Atoll, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, in the current issue of the scientific journal The Condor.

Researchers do not know where Bryan’s Shearwaters breed today. According to Pyle, shearwaters and other seabirds often visit nesting burrows on remote islands only at night, and researchers have not discovered the breeding locations of many populations. Individual seabirds from colonies also often “prospect” for new breeding locations, often far from existing colonies. Bryan’s Shearwater could conceivably breed anywhere in the Pacific Ocean basin or even farther afield.

“We don’t believe that Bryan’s Shearwaters breed regularly on Midway or other Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, based on the extensive seabird work in these islands by biologists with the Pacific Seabird Project,” Pyle said. The specimen was the only observation during this extensive project, which occurred on islands and atolls throughout the North Pacific from 1963 until 1968. “They would almost certainly have encountered more Bryan’s shearwaters then and since if they bred regularly in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.”

Given that Bryan’s shearwaters have remained undiscovered until now, they could be very rare. It is sadly even possible that they went extinct before ever being recognized, although there is at least one more record of a bird in a burrow on Midway from 1990, and observations at sea of what could be Bryan's Shearwaters as recently as 2005.

“If we can find where this species breeds, we may have a chance to protect it and keep it from going extinct,” said Andreanna Welch, who works for The Smithsonian and is the co-author of the paper on the new species. “Genetic analysis allows us to investigate whether an animal represents an entirely different species, and that knowledge is important for setting conservation priorities and preventing extinction.”

“American Bird Conservancy is not opposed to the judicious collection of specimens for scientific reasons, we oppose the collection of endangered species. If this bird had been found today, the data needed could have been obtained using digital imagery and DNA sampling on the live bird,” said ABC Vice President Mike Parr.

Bryan’s shearwater is named after Edwin Horace Bryan Jr., who was curator of collections at the B.P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu from 1919 until 1968.

(Press release from American Bird Conservancy)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Ringed-necked Duck Wheldrake - and other local birds

On Friday when I sat down to have dinner I got a message saying that there was an eclipse drake Ring-necked Duck briefly at Wheldrake Ings, but that it had unfortunately flown off north. Hopefully it will stay in the area and get re found in the coming days. We've had a lot of rain over the last few days so there is likely to be some local flooding which could prove interesting. There was also a Turnstone at Wheldrake too. Will have to keep my eyes open!

Eclipse male Ring-necked Duck (Photographed in Canaries in 2003).

I have been checking out a couple of fields and hedges to the south of the village over the last week in the hope of connecting with some migrants, eg Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart or Whinchat etc. (or something better!), however as yet I've been unsuccessful in finding any of the above though I have had 3 Tree Pipit go south, along with a number of Swallow and a couple of Swift. A decent number of Meadow Pipit are starting to build up in one of the fields with a flock of Linnet and Goldfinch keeping them company. A bit of good hedge has held Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Common and Lesser Whitethroat and Chiffchaff with some of these considered to be migrants.

The gull numbers have been building up recently with birds flying over the house at dawn and dusk going to and from the River Humber. The majority of them appear to be Lesser Black-backed with the odd Common and Black-headed Gull thrown into the mix too. Yesterday while walking the dogs to the south of the village I was a little annoyed as someone ahead of me managed to flush a field full of gulls (c200+) before I could get there with my bins to take a look at them. Today however I fared much better and managed to get right up on them (even with the two dogs!). There was c.235 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 15 Common Gull and 2 Black-headed Gull but the highlight was two adult, and 1 juvenile Yellow-legged Gull that were in amongst all the Lesser Black-backs. I'll have to keep an eye open for them flying over the house as YLGull would be a pretty cool garden bird!

Speaking of Garden birds, on Friday morning I had a female/1st winter type Bullfinch in the garden. I heard the familiar call and then thought, I don't remember seeing/hearing Bullfinch previously from the garden, a quick check of my list reveled I was correct, it was indeed a new garden tick, number 82.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Posh man with stupid name falls over and blames Sea-Eagle

Saw this reported on BBC news today. The story is below, however I think it is more a case of posh man with a stupid name falling over and blaming it on the White-tailed Eagle.... maybe keep the geese in an enclosure or maintain the netting? Personally I'd rather look at a White-tailed Eagle than a hideous feral inbred goose!

A senior clergyman has been injured by a sea eagle as he tried to scare away the bird after it attacked and killed one of his prize-winning geese. The Very Rev Hunter Farquharson said he arrived home in Abernethy, near Perth, on Friday to see his Toulouse goose Beatrice lying dead on the ground.

A sea eagle - the UK's biggest bird of prey - was perched on a nearby post.

It jumped on Mr Farquharson's back as he tried to stop it attacking a second goose, leaving him with a head injury. With a wing span of 8ft (2.4m), the white-tailed sea eagle is the UK's largest bird of prey.

It was completely wiped out in Britain in the early 20th Century and only returned when a reintroduction programme began on the island of Rum in 1975. The project has been opposed by some farmers and crofters who say the birds frequently attack and kill livestock

Mr Farquharson, Provost of Perth Cathedral, said it was the second time his birds had been attacked by a sea eagle.

Three years ago, one of the eagle, known as "flying barn doors", killed four of his bantams.

RSPB Scotland blamed the attack on "very young and naive" birds which had been released this year.

The charity, which is responsible for the reintroduction programme in Scotland, said there were a "tiny number of incidents" like this, but said the birds would soon disperse as they grew in confidence.

An RSPB spokesman said: "In our experience sea eagles will only defend themselves and attack humans if they feel cornered and threatened.

"It is of course unfortunate that the bird scratched Mr Farquharson, but we believe it was simply trying to escape and resist capture."

The RSPB said it had visited Mr Farquharson in 2008 after the first attack and paid for the installation of netting to keep his birds safe, but that these protection measures had since been removed.

The licence for the current reintroduction programme was granted in 2007.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Quick Flamborough Trip

The weather looked like it had the potential to drop something good along the east coast last night/this morning so after my survey earlty this morning I headed over to Flamborough to see if there was anything about. I headed to the north side - my preferred area with the hope of finding something interesting. A loop of Holmes Gut, High Holme + Thornwick Bay Road produced:

Lesser Whitethroat (2) – 1 ringed
Common Whitethroat (11) – including several fledglings (a couple ringed)
Blackcap (1) – female
Corn Bunting (3)
Reed Bunting (4)
Sand Martin (4)
Yellowhammer (4)
Meadow Pipit (4)
Sedge Warbler (2) – pair?
Garden Warbler (1)
Sparrowhawk (1) – male

News filtered through of a Greenish Warbler and and Icterine Warbler on the south side so I thought I'd go and have a look for them. Unfortunately I didn't connect with either (not sure there was any sign of either after the initial sightings - or of the potential Ortolan that was mentioned) but I did manage:

Spotted Flycatcher (1)
Pied Flycatcher (1)
Willow Warbler (1)
Chiffchaff (2)
Common Whitethroat (2)
Sand Martin (1)
Whimbrel (1)

Generally at both locations lots of Swallow, Linnet, Goldfinch, the odd Greenfinch, Dunnock, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit etc… but lots of leaves made viewing tricky.

I bumped into Tim who found a Redstart along old fall but that cleared off before I could get a look.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Bird Fair - Saturday

Had a really enjoyable trip down to Rutland Water for the Bird Fair today. I didn't make it last year so thought I'd make the effort to go down and support this year. On arrival I met up with Tim at the Birdnet stand then met up with Lewis who had driven down from Edinburgh for the weekend. We went round together for the day catching up as we'd not seen each other for a while so that was good. We started our tour round the fair checking out all of the many varied stands. We had a chat with Tim Appleton which was great. I bumped into Tim in the middle of Bwindi Forest in Uganda back in 1997/98 and he allowed me to tag along birding with him for 2 or 3 days seeing some incredible birds in the mean time, something I've fondly remembered for the last 14/15 years!

It was really interesting meeting up with people that I've known for years, or worked with occasionally. Caught up with Neil Calbrade on the WeBS stand and learned a bit about passerine migration etc and caught up with Mick from the Nuneaton Bird Club - I used to go birding with Mick when I got back from Kenya most weekends so it was great to catch up with him too. Also entered a few competitions so looking forward to winning a few books and bottles of Whiskey!

I've been considering a couple of options for my next 'proper' birding tour, several options are in the pipeline, I really fancy a few West African 'destinations' such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Guinea to connect with some of the many special birds of the region. I also fancy Sri Lanka (possibly a trip Jenny and I could do - a mix of wildlife and relaxation), though top of my list is certainly India. There are several options with India, my preferred option is a 'Birding and IPL' tour, I met a guy today who would likely be able to set me up with one of these, a couple of weeks birding in India taking in a couple of my preferred IPL matches - can't think of a better holiday! There was also a good couple of wildlife tours suitable for us both to go on which would be great too. I've picked up plenty of brochures to look through over the coming weeks and look forward to getting some details of some upcoming expeditions into the jungle!

As we walked around I met up with a couple of my 'facebook friends' including Ruth and Alan of 'The Biggest Twitch' fame, and Peter Jones of Andalucia, Spain, all really nice people.

We bumped into a couple of 'famous faces', Lewis was over the moon to meet Simon King AGAIN making me take their picture together! We also had a good chat with Nick Baker, Killian Mullarney, saw Bill Oddie racing through with his head down!, some of the Dutch big guns and best of all (in my opinion) Jonathan Scott. I've got several of his books from when I was in Kenya, such as The Leopard's Tale etc and have watch numerous documentaries so it was great to be able to say hello and have a chat with him.

A flyover Hobby was a bonus as we were leaving. All in all a very enjoyable (although a bit tiring) day.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

More Garden Quail: An Update.

The brief burst of Quail song heard from the garden on Sunday was unusual, it was a first for my garden list and it was bang in the middle of the afternoon, not entirely 'prime-time' Quail singing time, however on Monday evening the bird sang for a good hour or so at the more typical time, dusk.

This singing bird got me a bit interested - Quail always do generally, since I spent hours chasing them through the undergrowth in Kenya when I was younger. This year has been a bumper year for Quail, at least regionally with masses of them all across Yorkshire and I've had good numbers on one of my work sites (c 20 singing males) and had a good few locally too.

The cause of Quail influxes are poorly understood (it will be interesting to see how this years influx shapes up to previous years) but several have been associated with warm dry springs, a prevalence of southeasterly winds and drought in southern Europe. Recent research in France and Spain suggests that influxes may be associated with good breeding seasons in North Africa and Iberia.

© LDV Birder 2008

Quail are able to reproduce when they are 12-13 weeks old and the offspring of early breeders migrate northwards to breed in Iberia, France and Northern Europe eg England.

The English breeding population may have two components; long distance migrants which winter in the Sahel and fly directly to breeding grounds in England and others which breed in irrigated farmland in north Africa and Iberia before moving northwards to renew breeding activity alongside their own offspring in England. Whilst some late-nesting birds present in England in August and September may be birds tending replacement or second clutches, many may be such southern-nesting birds.

Was the bird heard singing from the garden one of these late breeders, or just a bird heading south on migration dropped by one of the recent showers taking a break to feed up before heading south? Who knows…

Monday, 15 August 2011

Gay Little Sparrows!

Not quite sparrows but Zebra Finches. Saw this today on BBC Nature website... appears as though gulls, penguins, albatrosses are at it too! They're all at it!

Same-sex pairs of monogamous birds are just as attached and faithful to each other as those paired with a member of the opposite sex.

The insight comes from a study of zebra finches - highly vocal, colourful birds that sing to their mates, a performance thought to strengthen the pair's bond.

Scientists found that same-sex pairs of finches sang to and preened each other just like heterosexual pairs.

The study is reported in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.

Lead researcher Julie Elie from the University of California Berkeley said that the research showed that "relationships in animals can be more complicated than just a male and a female who meet and reproduce, even in birds".

Dr Elie and her colleagues are interested in zebra finches' behaviour. The birds establish life-long relationships and are highly social; males sing to their mates, the birds preen each other and pairs share a nest.

"I'm interested in how animals establish relationships and how [they] use acoustic communication in their social interactions. My observations of [them] led me to this surprising result: same-sex individuals would also interact in affiliative manners, like male-female pairs."

Dr Elie decided to look more closely at the formation of these bonds and the behaviour of finches in same-sex pairs.

First, she and her colleagues, Clementine Vignal and Nicolas Mathevon from the University of Saint-Etienne, raised young finches in same-sex groups. More than half of the birds paired up with another bird of the same sex.

The team then closely monitored the birds for signs that they had bonded fully.

Bonded birds, Dr Elie explained, perch side by side, nestled together. They also greet each other by "nuzzling" beaks.

In the next stage of their study, the scientists brought novel females to a group of bonded male-male pairs. Out of eight males that were engaged in same-sex pair-bonds, five ignored the females completely and continued to interact with their male partner.

The findings indicate that, even in birds, the drive to find a mate is far more complicated than simply the need to reproduce.

"A pair-bond in socially monogamous species represents a cooperative partnership that may give advantages for survival," said Dr Elie. "Finding a social partner, whatever its sex, could be a priority."

There are many other examples of same-sex pairing in the avian world.

In monogamous gulls and albatrosses, it gives females the chance to breed without a male partner.

"Female partners copulate with a paired male then rear the young together," Dr Elie explained.

In captivity, there have been at least two cases of male penguins forming long-term bonds when there are females available.

Perhaps the most famous of these was two male chinstrap penguins in Manhattan's Central Park Zoo, named Roy and Silo. They bonded and paid no attention to females in their enclosure for at least a year.

They even built a nest together and incubated and hatched a fertilised egg donated to them by one of the keepers.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Quail Garden Tick!

A mixed day today started with an 8 km walk around the village (North Duffield) surrounds. It was generally quiet however a mixed tit flock contained a single Marsh Tit and several adult and juvenile Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. Finches were fairly vocal with several Linnet, Greenfinch and Goldfinch around. A flock of 86+ Lapwing was the first local flock I've seen of the autumn. The same ploughed field also held 25+ Pied Wagtail. There appeared to be a more-or-less constant stream of Yellow Wagtail, with the occasional Meadow Pipit heading south. Swallow appeared to be migrating south in decent numbers, with a sprinkling of Swift in with them too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard calling, as was Jay. There was no sign of any Corn Bunting today but several Yellowhammer were still fairly vocal. Raptors were represented by 3 or 4 Buzzard, a juvenile male Sparrowhawk drinking from a puddle and a family group of Kestrel.

The biggest treat of the day came in the form of a Quail garden tick. I was gardening at the time when a burst of song got my immediate attention. A nice surprise and my 81st garden tick! I'd spent all day keeping my eyes open for any interesting raptors going over to no avail.

The not-so-good part of the day came when I found the following: a dead juvenile female Green Woodpecker - a road kill victim. I think it's a female due to the black moustache.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Advanced Bird ID Handbook

New Holland's Advanced Bird ID Guide has taken the birding world by storm, being described by leading authorities as 'ground-breaking', 'innovative' and 'brilliant', and scooping the prestigious Birdwatch Magazine Bird Book of the Year Award 2010.

I got my copy of the book today, a bit cheaper currently on Amazon (£15) rather than the RRP (c£25).

The guide accurately describes every key detail of every plumage of all 1,350 species and subspecies that have ever occurred in the Western Palearctic. Its level of detail is unprecedented for a book of its size. The book broke the mould for field guides as it contains no colour plates or illustrations, but instead its unique selling point is that for every species the detailed text lists the key characters of each recognizable plumage, including male, female, immature, juvenile, all subspecies and all other variations. This level of detail includes, for example, all eleven forms of 'Canada goose' and all eleven forms of 'yellow wagtail' known in the region.

The detailed yet concise nature of the guide means that it has become an instant classic. The Advanced Bird ID Handbook is intended as a reference companion for the original field guide. It has larger and more widely spaced text, and more than 100 additional pages, making it much more easy to use. In addition it has been fully updated with additions and amendments to the accounts of nearly every species, all recent taxonomic changes and new species in the region taken on board, and more than 20 tables giving side-by-side comparisons of the features of sets of similar species such as Syke's and Booted Warblers, Tundra and Taiga Bean Geeese, Marsh and Willow Tit and Snowy and Little Egret etc. There is also a full checklist of Western Palearctic species.

I think in combination with Collins this will be an incredibly useful book and look forward to working my way through it! I've just got to see if I can fit a copy in my glove box!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Nightjars still Churring & Babies too!

Went out for another localish walk last night to check out the status of the Nightjars. Surprisingly, given how cold and late in the season it was, one of the males was again churring/displaying for at least an hour!

Whilst walking around I managed to find the female again, and this time she had two recent fledglings in tow. Excellent views were again given of one of my favourite birds.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Black Redstart in Nuneaton, Warwickshire

I got an email this evening from my dad with a picture of a potential Black Redstart in a private garden with no public access in Weddington, Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The photos were pretty grainy but it was pretty clear that it was indeed a Black Redstart! Not totally sure of the status of Black Redstart in Warwickshire, so will look into it.

Good stuff though and a pretty good garden record!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Nightjar Score!

After last weeks no show I went back to my top secret Nightjar site in the hope of connecting with some birds last night as it was about 20 degrees hotter than my previous attempt with tonnes of moths and other insects - many biting, about. However on this occasion I scored big style with two pairs recorded, interestingly and rather surprisingly the two males of the pairs were still churring with one of them 'wing-clapping'. These were really great views but got better when one of the females landed on the track about 5 feet in front of me!

An unexpected bonus was a Green Sandpiper that flew over calling in the middle of the night! More expected was the several family groups of Long-eared and Tawny Owls recorded.

This is what it looked like! Check out Grahams excellent blog for images of Nightjar and other stuff...