Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Miles Away

Sorry I haven’t been posting much but I’m not at home, I’m in Greece, staying on the island of Skiathos to be precise. 

This is mainly a sun holiday for Sue and I although regular readers of this blog will know that binoculars and camera always go on holiday with us. 


I’m home in a day or two and will post news and pictures of our trip, birds and views of the beautiful Sporades islands of Skiathos and Skopelos. In the meantime here are a few photographs from the same place in 2013. It’s so good we decided to return. 

Flying Cat at Alonissos 

One of the highlights of our stay is day exploring Kastro in the north of Skiathos where Eleanora’s Falcons are guaranteed during the month of September, a time when the falcons feed on the millions of small birds migrating through the Greek islands. It’s a fair old bumpy journey to get to Kastro and then a trek over the rocks to reach the Greek flagged promontory. It’s well worth the effort to watch the magical and acrobatic Eleanoras in action. 

Eleanora's Falcon

Kastro, Skiathos

There are lots of Alpine Swifts here and in fact all over the island where they tear across the sky at breakneck speed. There’s a good number of Bee Eaters around too and they often feed up high in amongst swifts, swallows and martins.

Alpine Swift

Bee Eater


We’re staying on the south coast where there’s often scrubby habitat, reeds and remnants of pine forest just yards from the tourist beaches. They make good spots for shrikes, wagtails, pipits and chats.

Red-backed Shrike

Woodchat Shrike

That's all for now, it's time to head off for our evening meal.

Taverna - Skiathos

I'm not blogging for a day or two so apologies if I don't catch up with everyone.  We are back home in a day in or two and I promise to do so then. 

Log in later for more news, views and photographs from Another Bird Blog in Greece.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Do It Again

Monday was almost a rerun of Sunday’s birds except that I managed a few pictures today without resorting to beg, steal or borrow them. 

In the half light of Burned House Lane a Barn Owl flew across the car’s path, the owl illuminated in the headlights for a second or two until it veered off over the fields and left none the worse for dicing with death. Next came 2 Kestrels on roadside telegraph poles, one at Head Dyke Lane, and the other near Horse Park Lane. Our local place names are mostly ancient and often very descriptive, but please don’t ask me the meaning of Scronkey, a hamlet near Pilling. 

In a tree next to the road at Cockerham was a Tawny Owl in exactly the same spot as Sunday morning. It’s just a stand of old trees and perhaps not where anyone might look for a Tawny Owl but as the owl flew back into the dark canopy I made a mental note of the exact location. It’s handy to know regular spots for regular birds which aren’t necessarily easy to see or photograph. 

Tawny Owl
Maybe there was a miscalculation or perhaps it was the morning mist which led to a count of only 200 Swallows at Glasson on Sunday. They were back in force this morning by way of a minimum of 1000 birds congregated around the moored boats and pontoons. In the cropped picture below, just part of a large yacht, are approximately 80 Swallows, so it not difficult to imagine ten or twelve times that number. The Swallows loaf around and feed over the water for about an hour before they begin to disperse in small groups and head off in all directions. There was a Common Tern fishing the water again, the one which does a circuit and then heads off towards Conder Green. 


The Common Terns were very active at Conder Green where the adults still take food to a youngster on the island, its bigger sibling now almost independent and flying off to fish the creeks with mom or dad or resting up on the island amongst the Lapwings. 

Common Tern and Lapwings

 Juvenile Common Tern

Sunday’s Ruff was still about, feeding in the far creek and then later on the pool. The other waders today - 4 Greenshank, 4 Snipe, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 30+ Redshank and 70+ Lapwing. Below is a distant and far from best-ever picture of a Greenshank which shows how the species eats small fish as well as invertebrates. 


Needless to say the Kingfisher put in an appearance although if people need to see it at close quarters it is best not to wear bright clothes and to approach the screen with caution. Birds have eyesight far keener than our own. Ears are their second most important sense with a range similar to that of humans. 


Six Little Grebes, 2 Little Egrets, 2 Grey Heron and 3 Wigeon completed the count here so I walked the railway path to Glasson and back looking for finches and warblers while breakfasting on the plentiful Blackberries. At one point the noisy complaints of Swallows pointed me to a Peregrine coasting towards Glasson, the Swallows had broken off from feeding high to gang up on the raptor; their highly tuned senses had spotted the Peregrine before me. The raptor carried on flying; the Swallows lost interest and returned to base, their forewarning to others had done the trick. 

There was a good sized flock of tits roaming up and down and across the hedgerow, Long-tails, Great and Blue, a flock which held three or more Chiffchaffs. There were no Coal Tits amongst the flock and it’s a species I’ve not seen lately, and as far as I could tell no warblers other than the Chiffchaffs, although lots of Robins.


A gathering of 50+ Goldfinches also held several Linnets but neither species is especially good at sitting still for cameras. 



Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday and Our World Tuesday in Australia. Oh no, is it Tuesday already? Looks like I will have to do it all over again soon.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Ruff Old Morning

In the half-light of dawn the Kestrel of Head Dyke Lane was where it often sits atop one of two telegraph poles. Birds are such creatures of habit, just like the birders who watch them. It was too dark for a photo and asking for trouble to stop along this double white-lined stretch of the A558, one of the most dangerous roads in England. 

In the tree tops at Lane Ends I counted 41 Little Egrets waiting for the off, any minute now. And then through Cockerham I spotted a roadside Tawny Owl as it too saw the car’s headlights slowing to make it fly back to the nearby trees. 

A heavy autumn mist lay across Conder Green and the River Lune, so much in fact that there was no point trying to bird watch until the sun lifted a little more. At Glasson Dock the boats were enveloped in misty light as early rising Swallows and Starlings attached themselves to any masts which reached into the emerging sunshine. 

Misty Sunrise - River Lune

 Glasson Dock

A few Swallows were feeding low across the water as frrom the left a Kingfisher appeared amongst them, slowed as if to stop and then vanished once more into the gloom. There was a Common Tern doing a hunting circuit but too fast with no light for a picture, and then a croaking Grey Heron flying out of and back into the mist. 

After a while the mist cleared enough to count the Swallows at about 200, a drop from recent counts, and the Alba wagtails at 20+, also a fall from the highs of late. 


The towpath walk gave a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Great-spotted Woodpecker but otherwise quiet. By now folk were stirring, the overnight camping anglers and the first doggy walkers on the path so I high-tailed it to Conder. 

Black-headed Gull

First check was the far creek where a small, juvenile Ruff picked along the sand, my first Ruff of the autumn. The Ruff fed on its own, away from the usual assortment of 2 Greenshank, 7 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Snipe, 2 Common Sandpiper, 6 Curlew, 30+ Lapwing, 20+ Redshank and 20 Teal. 

Ruff - Photo credit: Aaron Maizlish / Foter / (CC BY-NC 2.0) 

On the pool - 3 Common Tern, 7 Little Grebe, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Cormorant, 1 Kingfisher, 2 Wigeon. And in the vicinity - 50 Goldfinch, 1 Kestrel, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Chiffchaff, with the hedgerow and the old orchard quiet following an overnight clearout of the birds from Friday and Saturday. 

There have been a lot of Chiffchaffs this week with many dozens being reported along the coast, even one migrant juvenile in my own garden on Saturday where they are but occasional visitors. 


I called back at Lane Ends, Pilling hoping to see Wheatears but there were none, just 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Buzzard, 25 Goldfinch, 2 Skylarks and lots of folks out for the sun. 

Yes, the pun was highly unoriginal and the morning slightly disappointing but it’s nice to add Ruff to the autumn list of Another Bird Blog. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bush Bashing

There was a fair amount of bush-bashing from me today without too much success in the way of rarities, just the common warblers. Oh well, shouldn’t complain, it was a lovely morning and I saw loads of birds. 

For readers unfamiliar with the term “bush-bashing” it refers to migration time when bird watchers look in suitable areas of habitat in the hopes of finding fresh-in migrant birds, the rarer the bird the better. Despite the frightening terminology there is no actual demolition of trees and hedgerows it’s more like a slow, thorough and meticulous search with ears pricked in the hope of seeing or hearing something out of the ordinary. 

That’s not to say the occasional over enthusiastic birder keen to impress or make their mark won’t occasionally tap a bush with a stick or chuck the odd rock into a hawthorn hedge to encourage an as yet unseen bird to show. Thank goodness for Birder’s Law Number One, “The welfare of the bird is paramount”. 

Glasson first stop and stopped in my tracks to watch a Grey Heron grabbing the early morning rays with help from a built in solar panel. I don’t think it was drying off as Cormorants do, just enjoying the morning sun like me. 

Grey Heron

Sunrise - The River Lune- Skywatch Friday

From the entrance to the car park I spotted the outline of a Kingfisher sat on the ropes of the sunken boat but as the car scrunched over the gravel towards the towpath the bird flew off. Not to worry, there would probably be a Kingfisher at Conder Green. And there was. 

Once again a good number of Swallows around the boats and something like 500/600 but no sign of the Hobby of wishful thinking, just a Common Tern hunting for fish. Along the towpath - 40+ Alba wagtails, 1 Grey Wagtail and further along 2 Chiffchaff. 

Pied Wagtail

The warblers were mostly at Conder Green, skulking along the old railway line or flitting through the trees of the long neglected orchard, with a Willow Warbler, 3 Chiffchaff, 2 Whitethroat and 2 Blackcap. There was evidence of Chaffinches on the move by way of their autumnal “pink-pink” calls and extra birds around than of late. 


Meanwhile, and over at the pool a Kingfisher turned its back on me and the 7 Little Grebes left their usual safety margin of many yards. Here at Conder Green it’s easier to get pictures of a Kingfisher than it is to snap a Little Grebe. 


Little Grebe

Waders today - 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Greenshank, 3 Snipe, 2 Common Sandpiper, 60+ Lapwing, 30 Redshank and a couple of Curlew. 

Black-tailed Godwit

Odds and Sods - 20 Teal, 4 Cormorant, 4 Common Tern, 2 Little Egret, 2 Grey Heron, 2 Wigeon. 

 Grey Heron

The next picture of a juvenile Starling is for students of moult and those who like to age and sex birds in the field. During the summer and autumn young Starlings have a complete moult of all their juvenile feathers, gradually replacing them with adult type ones. Their moult can last from May/June right through to late September but can vary geographically or according to the individual bird. It’s certainly a weird looking specimen. The poor thing looks like it was dragged through a bush backwards. 


Please join Another Bird Blog soon for another bash at birding.

Linking today to Anni's Blog and Eileeen's Saturday Blog.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Moving Wheatears?

There may have been a number of Wheatears on the move this morning. Four of them were fence hopping and playing “chicken” with the passing traffic along Backsands Lane and later I would catch one with a good layer of fat in preparation for migration. 


At Fluke Hall were 3 Jays moving through the tops of the trees, their noisy squawking a sure indication of autumn. Overhead 2 Buzzards harassed by a single crow were climbing on the morning thermals and drifting slowly inland. Later on I heard Buzzard calls again so maybe the two were migrants. Not so the two Mistle Thrushes, a species I haven’t seen or heard here for a few months but they were in their regular trees once again. 

There is still so much greenery it’s hit or miss to find skulking warblers unless they call with three obliging in the shapes of Blackcap, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff. There was a single Wheatear below the sea wall where many people walk so no chance of setting a trap. 

A roadside Kestrel obliged but briefly before it shot off and calling to another one that I couldn’t see. 


I walked to the wildfowler’s pools and found 2 Green Sandpiper, 18 Pintail and 40+ Teal. The Teal and Pintail were arriving in small groups from the outer marsh where at some distance I could see 2 Grey Heron and 11 Little Egrets. Finches are very scarce along the sea wall this year, a traditional spot for both Linnets and Goldfinches on the thistles and fireweed which grow in profusion. Best I could manage today, just 18 Linnets and 8 Goldfinches. A “few” Meadow Pipits and Swallows but no obvious signs of migration from those two species. 


There was a single Wheatear, a hungry individual which took less than a minute to find the mealworm and become the object of my attention. Although not especially large or heavy at 97mm wing and 27.9 respectively it was carrying a good amount of fat. It’s an adult male. 



More birds, more pictures soon from Another Bird Blog. 

Linking today to Theresa's Run A Round Ranch.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Passenger Pigeon - A Review

Perhaps like many people I had some vague notions about the tale of the now extinct North American Passenger Pigeon but until this week I had never read anything substantial to make the story register in my own bird brain. 

To coincide with the 100 years anniversary of the Passenger Pigeon’s extinction I set about reading the sad and tragic story as retold in a new book entitled simply enough The Passenger Pigeon, on release now from Princeton University Press. 

The Passenger Pigeon - Princeton University Press
In the Introduction the author Errol Fuller makes it clear that the book is not a scientific textbook or a species monograph but more a commemoration of the Passenger Pigeon’s former existence. He magnanimously suggests that if readers desire a more technical book they should seek out earlier works of 1907, 1955 or perhaps another published recently in early 2014, A Feathered River Across the Sky by Joel Greenberg. 

While there are nine chapters to The Passenger Pigeon, not counting the Prologue, Introduction, Appendices, Acknowledgements, Further Reading and Index, the substance of the tragedy is essentially told in just four or five of the nine chapters. 

“Imagine” does indeed require a leap of imagination to understand how the Passenger Pigeon was once more than common, 25 to 40% of the total bird population of the United States, their numbers estimated at between 3 and 5 billion. And no, that’s not a typo it’s a “b” for “billion”. The number of pigeons literally blackened the skies, their vast flocks a mile or more wide and hundreds of miles long. As the pigeons descended from on high their combined weight would send trees crashing to the ground, their all-consuming need destroying whole crop fields and orchards while leaving trails of destruction in their wake. 

The chapters “Downward Spiral” and “Extinction” relate how the early explorers and colonists of North America were in awe and wonder of the flights of Passenger Pigeons, flights of such dimensions and numbers that the huge droves could take whole hours or even days to pass by an observer. Taking their cue from native Indians it didn’t take long for the newcomers to realise that the Passenger Pigeon was an apparently bottomless food resource and very soon pigeon meat was commercialised as cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century. 

There was a further reduction in numbers of pigeons from habitat loss when European settlers cleared millions of acres of forest for agriculture and townships, contributing to declines between about 1800 and 1870, and then a calamitous decline between 1870 and 1890. Throughout the years there was also hunting on a massive scale, the combined losses from the variety of pressures resulting in the previous abundance becoming unsustainable. 

As early as 1856 and as a consequence of the wholesale slaughter taking place, one Benedict Revoil dared to suggest that future ornithologists would never see Passenger Pigeons. One year later the Ohio Senate declared that the “wonderfully prolific” Passenger Pigeon “needs no protection”. Martha, thought to be the world's last Passenger Pigeon, died on September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. 

Is it more than ironic then that the name "passenger pigeon" derives from the French word passager, which means "to pass by" in a fleeting manner? Should we excuse the human race from blame as they had little or no understanding of the concept of extinction? While the words “extinct” or “extinction” had been in figurative use from the 15th century to refer to fires, lights, or the wiping out of a material thing such as a debt, its use in reference to a species did not appear until the late 1780s. 

Although there are many plates scattered throughout the book, from historic photographs, through to  the reproduction of the magnificent and impressionist painting Falling Bough (2002) by Walton Ford, and to those of the masterly and revolutionary artist John James Audubon, separate chapters are devoted respectively to “Art and Books” and “Quotations”. I rather enjoyed the poignancy and compassion of these pages as an antidote to the enlightening but ultimately depressing chapters which document the pigeon’s short existence on Earth.

In these pages I discovered that the Passenger Pigeon was included in H. Meyer’s Illustrations of British Birds as a “Rare Visitant” to these shores, and what a beauty it was, somewhere between a Mourning Dove and a Turtle Dove. Whether from their numbers one or two became Atlantic blown casualties is debatable but highly likely. And now I simply can’t wait to visit downtown Cincinnati where a mural of Passenger Pigeons covers one side of a large building at the corner of Eighth and Vine Streets and where Martha herself measures twenty-one foot from beak to tail. 

“Quotations” includes several graphic and meaningful descriptions of The Passenger Pigeon dating from the early 18th to the early 20th Century with just a couple quoted here:

The pigeon was known by our race as O-me-me-Wog… they naturally called it a wild pigeon, as they called us wild men - Chief Simon Pokagon 

The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers and continued to do so for three days in succession. The banks of the Ohio were crowded with men and boys incessantly shooting at the pilgrims….. multitudes were thus destroyed. For a week or more the population fed on no other flesh than that of Pigeons and talked of nothing but Pigeons - John James Audubon 

In the Introduction the author cautioned against using the word “celebration” to describe his book. I’m sure he was correct because The Passenger Pigeon is more a fitting memorial, an honouring of a bird that was simply too successful, too available and too numerous, but never a match for the greed and stupidity of man. 

Would that we never repeat the mistakes, but we invariably and inevitably do. 

The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller is on sale now from Princeton University Press priced at $29.95 or £ 19.95. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Once Bitten Twice Shy?

I wondered why it was taking so long to catch the single Wheatear along the sea wall at Pilling today as they usually go for a meal worm pretty quickly. When I eventually took the bird from the trap it proved to be wearing number L733748, an adult female “Greenland” caught here on 18th August exactly two weeks ago. Once bitten twice shy is the relevant idiom I think. 


Wheatear - adult female

So much for the theory that Wheatears migrate through here quickly; they certainly do in Springtime but less so in Autumn, especially if they are in post-breeding moult like this one was on 18th August. The moult appeared complete today, her weight up from 24.1gms to 28.7gms leaving her in good condition to set off to Africa very soon. 

Wheatear - L733748 adult female 1st September 2014

 Wheatear - L733248 adult female 18th August 2014

There wasn’t too much doing along the sea wall except for a noticeable influx of wildfowl to the shooters’ land with 270 Teal and 34 Pintail flying in from the marsh to the pools where feed is being put out and water pumped in from Pilling Water. 


Less wild were the first releases of Red-legged Partridge and “Mallards” in preparation for the cming shooting season with several hundred of each species in the area. Below is a photograph of the Mallards - gun fodder in a week or two providing that the beaters can persuade the ducks to fly after their pampered existence in large cages where they learned how not to find food in the wild. 


Two Green Sandpipers and 2 Grey Herons spooked from the ditches and on the marsh 13 Little Egrets, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Buzzard and 4 Meadow Pipits. Blimey! - It must be September if Meadow Pipits are beginning to appear. 

Meadow Pipit

More birds, news and views soon on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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