Wednesday, May 18, 2022

May Days

Apologies to regular readers who perhaps realised I had gone AWOL without leaving a forwarding address. I promise to get back to you all very soon. Yes, it was holiday time in Greece.

This was our eleventh time in Skiathos and our first visit to the island in spring. Sue and I missed out in both May 2020 and May 2021 due to Covid but at last we made it, despite the best efforts of TUI and Manchester Airport.  

Skiathos runway

Spring was only slightly different from late September trips when the landscape is parched following a typical Greek summer and when many summer birds have gone south. In early May the weather was initially cooler but by the second week scorching sun and a familiar twenty five degrees. Once again I was the only birder on the island, birding as much as possible, if you get the drift. When is a birder not birding is the question?

Our usual hotel The Ostria at Agia Paraskevi opens in late May so this year we stayed within a stone’s throw at Spiti Oneiro, a Greek title that translates as ‘Dream House’. It’s an apt name for so many homes in faraway, relaxing Skiathos. 

Dream House - Skiathos

We know Dream House well as one of our welcoming watering holes and places to eat during September stays. It’s a little off the beaten track so very quiet, a friendly, laid-back sort of place with just nine apartments, bed & breakfast if required or room only. Proprietors are Dad Kostas and daughter Efie, two wonderful, helpful and kind people who go out of their way to make guests feel at home. 

Kostas Stergiopoulos

We reserved a room via Efie and book flights directly. This makes for a more personal experience as well as ensuring our money goes into the local economy rather than a percentage into commission to third parties.

Courtesy of Magda of Mustang Motors we picked up the Jimny jeep at the airport and filled it with expensive petrol, fuel that lasts a while on quite tiny Skiathos Island. At Euros 25 a day the jeep works out as both convenient and cost effective when a couple of trips to other parts of the island by local bus costs about Euros 8 each time, e.g into Skiathos Town or the opposite ends of the island Koukounaries, or Troulos. 

The furthermost north part of the island is in any case accessible mostly by car, sometimes a 4x4, more so after a wet winter. It was in January and into March this year that Skiathos had several bouts of snow followed by a legacy of soggy roads and tracks.

Skiathos Life - Facebook January 2022

Two weeks of uninterrupted sun and zero rain made for lots of photos of Skiathos if not too many bird photos as early May proved a little late for heavy migration and in any case Skiathos has a quite small bird list. 

The "best" and most unexpected bird proved to be a Little Bittern which I saw on and off for two weeks in a reedy ditch where stream frogs Rana gracea were probably the reason for the bittern's presence. Most of the time I glimpsed the thing climbing through the thick reeds and only once did I get a decent photo. My sighting may be the first recorded sighting of this small bittern species  on Skiathos where birders are rare even non-existent but I imagine the Little Bittern is pretty common in Greece as a whole.

Rana gracea

Little Bittern

The first week included Bee Eaters, Black-headed Buntings, Red-throated Pipits, Richard's Pipits, Yellow Wagtails, Red-backed Shrikes, Woodchat Shrikes, Whinchats, Red-rumped Swallows, Barn Swallows, Marsh Warblers & Reed Warblers, Hobbies, Buzzard, Olivaceous Warblers, Scops Owl and a good number of daytime singing Nightingales. Sea birds consisted of the ever-present Yellow-legged Gulls, European Shag and numbers of Cory's/Scopoli's Shearwaters searching the mill pond Aegean Sea.

Barn Swallow

Black-headed Bunting

Red-rumped Swallow

Woodchat Shrike

Yellow Wagtail

Red-throated Pipit

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike

Yellow Wagtail feldegg

By the second week the birds dried up with the increased temperatures and we were left to enjoy the sunshine, deserted beaches and the company of Hooded Crows and Yellow-legged Gulls.   

Hooded Crow

Yellow-legged Gull

There are lots of photos of Sunny Skiathos below. Enjoy and don't forget to "click the pic" for a better view.

Skiathos Town

Skiathos Town

The Bourtzi 

Skiathos Town

The Bourtzi

Rural Skiathos

Above Skiathos

Essential Shopping in Skiathos

Skiathos Town

Skiathos Boatyard

Skiathos Boatyard

In the Boatyard

View from Mylos Taverna




Back soon with local news and views.

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Sixes And Sevens

Temperatures didn’t improve throughout the week. Although the days have been fine, the cold,  nagging easterly winds and cool daylight hours have definitely held back migration of insectivorous species. 

On Wednesday I met up with Andy for a 6 am start hoping that we might catch new migrants. We did, but 6 Sedge Warblers and 2 Great Tits was our sum total and by 10 am we had packed up as nothing much was about to happen. 

Perhaps the “best” bird of the morning was a Corn Bunting, singing from the same spot as a week previously. We suspect it has yet to find a mate so may not stay around much longer in what is now a Fylde landscape containing very few Corn Buntings. 

Otherwise, a single Willow Warbler did well to avoid our three nets. 

Sedge Warbler
Corn Bunting
During almost four hours we saw no Swallows, House Martins or Reed Warblers, three species that are normally here by this date. The slow spring and lack of Swallows this year seems to be a topic of conversation amongst birders and people who spend time in the countryside. 


Gluttons for punishment we arranged to go up to hills of Oakenclough on Friday for another 6 am start. The morning was equally cold with the temperature gauge reading 2.5 degrees and a “possible ice” message as I set off for the 35 minute drive. 

We didn’t fare any better than Wednesday with just six more birds caught - 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 1 Blackbird and 1 Goldfinch. We had a good count of 12 to 14 singing Willow Warblers on site and we think that a good number of the later arriving females have yet to arrive and meet up with the Willow Warbler of their dreams. 

The two Blackcaps comprised one male and one female. The male was in an unusual stage of plumage with his cap still showing a lot of juvenile brown amongst the black cap. By April any juvenile brown from the previous year should have long gone. Although weight was normal, the overall plumage looked in a poor and weak state and we suspected the bird wasn’t in the best of health. 


Willow Warbler

The Greylags up here in the hills are quick off the mark to breed, seemingly oblivious to any type of weather. On Friday we saw two pairs with three youngsters each, pretty good going for 29 April. 

There was a Kestrel hanging around for a while and then miracle of miracles, two Swallows put in a brief appearance by dive bombing the Kestrel. A pair of Pied Wagtails was on territory along the stone walls, a plot that they seem to keep throughout the winter. 

I know that next week will be better for both news and photographs. Tune in then. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

How Birds Live Together - A Book Review

There’s another book review today, the soon to be released “How Birds Live Together - Colonies and Communities in the Avian World” by Marianne Taylor.  

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

Marianne Taylor is a freelance writer, editor, illustrator, and photographer, the author of more than thirty books on natural history, including The Gull Next Door reviewed in Another Bird Blog in November 2020. 

How Birds Live Together is not a run-of-the-mill bird book; the clue is in the sub-title of “Colonies and Communities in the Avian World”. This book is not a field guide or a species/bird family monologue but is instead a fascinating and many faceted collection of essays grouped around the “who, what, why, where, when and how” of species that live together in often quite different habitats and environments across the world. 

I suspect that the author’s approach to this subject is a first, a line of attack that until now has not have been explored in a single book about birds. (I stand to be corrected by my ever knowledgeable readers). It’s more likely that accounts and study of avian interactions are separate sections within a book devoted to a single species or to a family of birds where social living, feeding interaction, or piggy-backing on other species is a notable or unique feature of the subject matter. 

The Contents list of How Birds Live Together doesn’t give too much away but instead leaves the reader to imagine, suspect, and/or to eventually discover what lies within. The species and topics covered are worldwide where some will be familiar to many birders and wildlife enthusiasts at least in name or place if in not in the finer detail explored and pictured. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

For instance, High Rise explores the world of sea cliffs with spectacular pictures of the many birds that use the famous Bass Rock of Scotland, Leopold Island, Canada or Grassholm, Wales. The remarkable picture of Arctic auks at imminent risk from a marauding Polar Bear almost begs the reader to shout “Behind you”. This Chapter has many such splendid photographs, like the one of murres and kittiwakes of Nanavut, Canada or the North American Cliff Swallow, a species that can glue a nest to improbably perpendicular cliff faces. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

Tree Houses almost needs no further explanation as the author takes the reader on a world adventure of Florida, Rook & Crows, or by stopping off in super-colonies of the Everglades where a mammoth survey in 2018 found 139,000 nests of storks, ibis, spoonbills and herons. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

I discovered that Red-footed Falcons live communally often taking over old or existing nests of colony nesting Rooks and that the interrelationship of the two species is such that their breeding ranges can be mapped one on top of the other. 

Within the Chapters are several accounts devoted to a single species, e.g. the Cliff Swallow and the uninvited housemate that is the Greater Ani of South America, a member of the cuckoo family which employs the modus operandum of brood parasitism against another species. 

There is also a species profile of the Common Starling, a misunderstood bird but one whose high speed synchrony and murmurations are a familiar example of how birds live together by using safety in numbers to outwit predators. Inland Waterfronts contains the most amazing double page image of Lake Natron in Tanzania, a lake turned from blue to pink by the arrival of many, many thousand, possibly millions of Lesser Flamingos. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

In the Chapter entitled City In The City I discovered the best place in the world in which to see Lesser Kestrels and where the colony nesting falcons are as close as one metre to the next nest and where chicks sometimes wander from one to another. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

A winter visitor to the UK, the Fieldfare, receives a slot in the book via Secret Society, a chapter that considers the breeding and nesting strategies of a variety of species. Often nesting colonially the resulting gangs of Fieldfares have a rather unique way of using their collective weight to repel and discourage nest raiders. 

All of the above and more is contained in How Birds Live together, a quirky, eclectic and informative mix about birds from all compass directions - North, South, East and West. It’s a book that deserves to find a good number of readers eager to move on from identification and learn more about birds as species and animals in their own right. 

As I worked through this book I felt that the Chapters, the topics, the individual entries and examples were occasionally disjointed and fragmented, jumbled in choice and presentation whereby a number of sections may have worked better with a longer read. Overall that was my personal preference and other readers may find the layout and presentation and the length of each topic more to their liking. 

Otherwise the book is beautifully produced, illustrated and finished with a number of superb and simply stunning photographs for the reader to enjoy. This is a book to return to over and over again, one that would make a lovely gift to someone starting out on a journey of  discovering birds.   

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton
Price: $29.95 / £25.00 
ISBN: 9780691231907 
Published: May 10, 2022 
Copyright: 2022 
Pages: 224 
Size: 7.5 x 9.88 in. 

Linking at weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

This And That

Tuesday 19 April - There was no traffic on the road when in the semi darkness a Barn Owl drifted across the road ahead. It’s a regular spot for Barn Owls and best visited when there’s a little more light. I pulled up, clicked a few shots and then motored on to my real destination. 

Barn Owl

When I arrived at the Pilling ringing site, all was quiet and the temperature gauge showed -1.5°C so I elected to employ just two nets, one at a time, so as to warm my hands in between. I reckoned that there would not be too many new birds around following the clear frosty night. 

I was right. Just 4 birds caught, 2 Blackcaps (male and female), 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Willow Warbler. 



Reed Bunting

Willow Warbler

There was little else to see or to hear during the “one bird an hour” session. Although local reports mention other insectivores like Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler , Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Whinchat and Swallows, the numbers are low, and those same species have yet to appear at our ringing site. 

Still, it wasn’t too bad sitting in the now warming sun, coffee and hot-cross bun at hand,  day dreaming of birds yet to come in May, home or away. 

Email news arrived of adult male Lesser Redpoll APN5870 caught at our ringing site Oakenclough, Nr Garstang on 14 April. It was another of the regular south to north movements that we have come to expect with our redpoll captures. 

In this case APN5870 was first ringed 62 days before in a suburban garden in Bracknell, Berkshire on 11 February 2022. This redpoll may have wintered in south-east England however I tend to think that it had more likely wintered across the English Channel and in February it was already migrating north to its eventual destination some way north of Oakenclough. 

Lesser Redpoll - Bracknell to Oakenclough

Perhaps the redpoll was looking to join with the huge numbers of Lesser Redpolls in the birch woods of Scotland. 

While not strictly “garden birds” Lesser Redpolls will visit bird feeders at certain times of year when their natural foods become scarce. The species seems to prefer niger seed (aka thistle or Nyjer), but the seed must be fresh and aromatic when they are more likely to find it and to return day after day. The species’ natural food is the seeds from birch, alder and spruce.

Lesser Redpoll
Like most finches, the redpoll family are susceptible to salmonellosis because of their flocking behaviour, therefore garden feeding enthusiasts must have a scrupulous bird feeder cleaning regime. 

On Thursday morning I checked out our Sand Martin colony to see how many had arrived and so as to guess when might be the first visit for ringing purposes. A stiff easterly wind blew dust and sand across the face of the colony as about 15-20 Sand Martins circled around. 

Sand Martin colony

None seemed interested in returning to old excavations but it was rather a cold morning for builders. I pencilled mid-June into the memory hole. 

Nearby were two pairs of Oystercatcher and a pair of Pied Wagtails, both of them probably a little further on with their year than the Sand Martins; especially since the Oystercatcher tried to see me off site in case I found his partner sat on eggs. 

Back soon with more this and that. Don’t go away. 

 Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas .

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