Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Old Ones (AreThe Best)

There’s little chance of birding or ringing until next week as an Atlantic storm heads this way towards us for the weekend. Friday looked a possibility but Sue and I have to go for our flu jabs at precisely 1012 on Friday morning. 

Instead and for this post I’m raiding the archives for pictures from Skiathos, Greece, this year and past years. Birds, landscapes, people. Enjoy and come back soon. Don’t forget to “click the pic” for best effect. 

The Bourtzi- Skiathos

Street Entertainer - The Bourtzi
The Bourtzi from the harbour

Near Xanemos

Spotted Flycatcher

Yellow Wagtail

Kechria, Skiathos
Notice Board - Skiathos Town
Eleonora's Falcon
Kastro - Eleonora's site

Great Egret at Strofilia
Little Egret at Strofilia

Skiathos Town


European Shag

Skiathos Town
Lonely Seat - Skiathos
Red-backed Shrike


Skiathos Town

Back soon. Don't go away.

Linking this post to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni's birding

Friday, October 16, 2020

That Friday Feeling

After Thursday morning’s monster movement of thrushes Another Bird Blog, I wondered if Friday might see similar, even though experience says that rarely does lightning strike twice. 

I arranged to meet Andy at Oakenclough at 0630 where the plantation swayed ominously in the easterly breeze, fiercer than the predicted 5 mph and closer to 10-12 mph. At the coast 30 minutes just earlier I’d left home to motionless trees.  Normally the other way around - breezier at coastal locations than inland sites. 

Very soon when nothing much happened we realised that this would be a quieter morning of both ringing and visible migration. Thrushes came in dribs and drabs rather than flurries of wings and the overhead calls of hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares. This morning the thrushes arrived from West and North West, sometimes obviously so against a distant backdrop of Lancaster City and Morecambe Bay. 

In all we counted approximately 300 thrushes, split 50/50 Redwing and Fieldfare. Our catch was just 21 birds – 11 Redwing, 4 Goldfinch, 4 Coal Tit, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Great Tit. 

The Redwings were caught soon after dawn with the rest of the meagre catch coming soon after when other species seen was limited to 15-20 Chaffinches in ones and twos arriving from the North West.  We asked the question. "Where are the Lesser Redpolls and the Siskins this autumn?" Both species appear to be in remarkably short supply.



At 0940 and when the thrushes dried up completely we called it a day - an uncharacteristic and early finish. 

On the way home and via Lancaster Road were 240 Lapwings on a still flooded field, 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and several hundred Pink-footed Geese. 


The geese have so far this autumn found a couple of new places to hide away out of sight, seemingly in fields that are not open to shooters - for now. The shooters of course will track the geese down and persuade the farmers to allow shooting access, often with the promise of a fat goose at the gate but destined for the Christmas table. 

Pink-footed Goose

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Thrush Rush

Thursday morning was starlit, dry and clear. To catch migrant birds our mist nets needed to be up and ready at dawn. I met Andy at 0630 at Oakenclough to an easterly wind of 15-18 mph when the forecast had indicated speeds of 5 to 8 mph. Far from ideal, but we cracked on working and hoped that the forecast was accurate if mistimed and that the wind would subside. 

While I’d been in Greece Andy had caught the first Redwings of the year, including a likely Icelandic one. This is the time of year when we hope to catch thrushes. Not just any old thrushes but the five major migratory species of the family Turdus that arrive in the UK from now and for the next several weeks. Our main target is Redwings Turdus iliacus and Fieldfares Turdus pilarus. Normally we catch very few Blackbirds Turdus merula, Song Thrushes Turdus philomelus or Mistle Thrushes Turdus viscivorous at this site. 

In autumn, Redwings gather along the Scandinavian coast at dusk before launching off on their single 800 km (500 mile) flight across the North Sea to the UK. In rough weather, many may crash into the waves and drown. 

Some Redwings come from Iceland to winter in Scotland and Ireland. Others come from Russia and Scandinavia to winter in southern England and further south in Europe. Fieldfares arrive from Scandinavia and Russia but quickly pass through our area where for a week or two they can be seen to form large flocks, often in the company of Redwings. Both species gorge on hawthorn berries until the trees are stripped bare. 

Prior to today and in six seasons here at this Oakenclough site, we'd caught 310 Redwings and just 18 Fieldfares, an indication of which species is the easier to catch. 



Today followed a similar pattern with a total of 27 birds caught made up of 19 Redwing, 2 Fieldfare, 2 Chaffinch, 3 Blue Tit and 1 Treecreeper. 



Small numbers of Redwings began to arrive in the half-light of dawn. At first and due to the cold stiff breeze we thought that these had come from a nearby roost. At the sky lightened the small groups turned into larger associations of mixed Redwings and Fieldfares, and then into larger flocks. Mostly these flocks arrived from the south east and then flew north and west towards the visible Morecambe Bay and Fylde coasts. We saw flocks of Redwings and we saw flocks of Fieldfares, but mostly the flocks were mixed and varied in the number and proportion of each species.   

By 1115 when we packed in to rain showers we estimated 1650 Redwings and 650 Fieldfares had passed through and overhead in four hours. 

It was about 1100 when the wind finally died a little by which time we felt sure that had the strength been less from the off, and because of the large number of thrushes on the move, we would have had a bigger catch.  Due to the direction of arrival and departure we thought that these 2000+ birds were arriving via the east coast then travelling through and over the Pennine Hills to the west coast. From there they would eventually continue their southward migration. 

The weather looks settled for a day or two. Maybe we will get another chance in a day or two?

Log in to Another Bird Blog soon to find out.

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


Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Times They Are A Changin’

Here I am showing my age in quoting Bob Dylan from 1963. I’m off the road for a few days but Thursday and Friday look hopeful for my first ringing since arriving back from Greece. 

Meanwhile, here’s a topic tackled previously on Another Bird Blog right back to 2013. Some might accuse me of “banging on about it” - the subject of so called “game shooting”. Below are just five links to previous posts dedicated to the subject in attempts to draw attention to what is a national scandal – the killing for fun of many millions of birds. 

But now this weekend comes what is described as an “existential challenge” to the industry as none other than the RSPB takes sides in the ongoing debate. This from an article in The Sunday Times of 10 October 2020. 


“Pheasant shooting is facing an existential challenge as the RSPB prepares to end its neutrality on the sport by demanding reforms to protect native wildlife. More than 50 million non-native game birds are released each year by shoots, and conservationists say this has a devastating impact on other species. 

Only about a third of 47 million Pheasants and 10 million Red-legged Partridges released are shot and retrieved as the remainder become food for scavengers such as foxes, crows and rats, boosting their numbers. They in turn prey on threatened species such as Curlews and Lapwings. 

Reptile experts have also blamed the rise in pheasants for the decline in adders as the birds kill adult snakes and swallow young ones whole. Another concern is that some shoots secretly dump dead pheasants because the number killed far exceeds the demand for game meat. The Times revealed footage of dozens of dozens of dead Pheasants being dumped into a pit by a digger on a farm in Leicestershire last year, 2019. 


There are more than 5000 shoots and customers often pay thousands of pounds to kill hundreds of birds each day. The RSPB Royal Charter, granted by Edward VII in 1904 describes game bird shooting as “legitimate sport” and the charity has previously resisted calls from members for it to campaign against the mass release of birds. 

The charter says “The society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds and the legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the objects”. The objects include “conserving wild birds and other wildlife”. Mounting evidence of the harmful impact of the mass release of game birds, which has risen tenfold since the 1970s , prompted the RSPB last year to order a review of its policy. The results of that review are due to be presented at the charity’s annual meeting today. 

This summer the charity quietly adopted a set of “conservation principles” on game shooting which pro-shooting groups feared would place severe restrictions on the sport. Under the principles, game bird shooting “must not adversely affect the population of any native species”. Shoot practices should be “assessed for their environmental impacts and regulated, enforced and in some cases stopped”. Eight out of ten RSPB members strongly supported those principles in a survey conducted by the charity in February and March. 

Shooting groups fear that the RSPB which has 1.2 million members will use its influence to persuade the government to require shoots to obtain licences which could be withdrawn if problems were found. The charity has been calling since 2014 for driven grouse shooting to require a licence because of evidence that gamekeepers kill protected birds of prey. 

Tim Bonner chief executive of pro-shooting Countryside Alliance said he disagreed with some of the principles, which “had no basis in international treaties or other conservation thinking that we can find”. He added “The RSPB has increasingly been influenced by a small clique of people who are obsessive about their dislike of shooting”. 

Chris Packham, the wildlife broadcaster is a vice –president of the RSPB and also co-founder of the group Wild Justice, which is bringing a legal challenge against the government, accusing it of being in breach of the EU habitats directive by allowing the mass release of game birds without assessing the impact on wildlife sites. 

A survey of shoot owners, managers and clients commissioned by the RSPB found that many saw the charity’s principles as “the start of a slippery slope towards restricting or banning shooting”. A report on the survey results said there was a lack of trust in the RSPB’s “underlying motivations” with some feeling “let down by the RSPB… for example a lack of acknowledgement of the benefits it can bring”. 

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Natural England co-funded a review of the environmental impact of game bird releases and found that releasing large numbers could have negative impacts on habitats and wildlife. However, it concluded - “The evidence suggests that at least some of these effects can be ameliorated by following best practice relating to sizes and densities.” 


The decision of the RSPB to now take sides in this long going debate could well be a game changer. 

Red-legged Partridge

Watch this space for more news of the ongoing saga plus birding, ringing and photographs on Another Bird Blog.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Bits And Pieces

Here in Lancashire and since we returned back from Greece there’s been little but rain. I think the Greek gods have been telling us to return to Skiathos as soon as possible. We obeyed by booking our flights for 2021, hoping for a holiday in better circumstances for all concerned. And, we’ve booked for 3 weeks in May to coincide with spring migration when many species pass through Greece on their way to North and Eastern Europe. 

The Amaretto - Skiathos
Great Egret at Strofilias
Red-backed Shrike - everywhere

Baklava - Yum

While I was on holiday Andy completed a couple of ringing sessions up at Oaklenclough, despite his car being in troublesome mode; I warned him to stay away from French models. He and Bryan had a great morning on 17 September with a catch of 110 birds that included 85 Meadow Pipits. 

One of the pipits, an adult male, carried ring number ADB3348 from somewhere other than Oakenclough. It is quite unusual for us to catch a previously ringed Meadow Pipit because while Meadow Pipits are very common and widespread, they inhabit rather wild places where they are less likely to be caught or found dead. 

A few days later came the information that ADB3348 had been ringed more than 12 months before on The Calf of Man Bird Observatory on 10 April 2019. This date relates to a classic time of spring migration when the pipit was heading north, perhaps to Ireland, Scotland or even Iceland. Its return journey south in mid-September is peak autumnal migration of the species. This route south in September 2020 along the west Pennines and Oakenclough would suggest a bird of Scottish breeding origin. 

Calf of Man to Oakenclough
Meadow Pipit
Back home I’m still catching up with friends and family, and getting the garden shipshape for winter. Yesterday we had a Jay in the garden, the first for a number of years. It appeared to be searching the ground at the bottom of the garden where there are lots of windfall damsons and apples left for winter thrushes. 

I don’t think there was much wind here while we were away. There are loads of baking apples left on the tree and ready for taking and baking, even after all the neighbours have had their fill of apple crumble. 

Apple Pie Time

Give me a ring but bring your own bag. 


Monday, October 5, 2020

Review – Britain’s Habitats

When I arrived back from Greece a parcel awaited me – a book. Unfortunately the parcel got a little wet from White Van Man’s hiding place under a garden bench where it lay for five or six days. Therefore apologies if my images of pages appear water damaged – they are. 

My friends at Princeton University Press sent this new book for review, one they thought would be of interest to followers of Another Bird Blog. The book is the latest of the WildGuides series and carries the title BRITAIN’S HABITATS - A field guide to the wildlife habitats of Great Britain and Ireland . This is a fully revised and updated Second Edition following on from the First Edition published six years ago in November 2014. 

BRITAIN’S HABITATS -  Princeton University Press 

Two of the authors, Sophie Lake and Durwyn Liley are professional ecologists of some twenty years’ experience and with a passion for natural history, ecology and the environment. The other two writers, Robert Still and Andy Swash are also ecologists and co-authors of other WildGuides titles. 

This 2020 volume contains over 400 pages jam-packed with authoritative, detailed and specialised knowledge about the natural history of wildlife habitats in Britain and Ireland. There are more than 900 colour photographs from around Britain and Ireland with details and images of key species and features that apply to all habitat types. One of the new added extras to this edition is the inclusion of “gardens”, a deserved nod to the phenomenon of citizen science and the importance of data collected in the ever growing suburbia of Britain and Ireland of 2020. 

BRITAIN’S HABITATS -  Princeton University Press 

The introductory pages 8 to 39 are essential reading, explaining as they do the classifications that follow from page 40 which describe how each environment has formed. Each habitat is allocated two to four pages in which its characteristics are summarised along with its origins and development, the conservation needs and the flora and fauna that live there. The sections are illustrated by several excellent photographs in each that show typical examples of the habitat together with a representative selection of its plants, animals, birds and insects. 

This introductory chapter includes a historical timeline and maps showing the geology and climate of the British Isles. Pages 28-29 “Humans” displays a timeline of key events where man played major parts in influencing how Britain and Ireland changed. These two pages travel from the Glacial Period through to man’s arrival in Britain and Ireland, and then up to the present day when 15% of assessed species are in danger of extinction. 

Following the introduction is the bulk of the book comprising individual sections for each of nine principal habitats - woodland, scrub, heath-land, grassland, mountain, rocky, wetlands, freshwater, coastal, and other. “Other” consists of brownfield, orchard, garden and arable. 

Arable is at the present time thought to be 25% of Britain and 15% of Ireland cultivated land, a figure that will surely decrease as both nations continue to devalue the culture and history of arable farming in favour of grass for animal feed and the consumption of meat. As the authors point out, a suite of ephemeral plants was once widespread across arable land but where the use of agrochemicals and intensive farming techniques has led to the loss and even extinction of some plants valuable to insects, birds and small mammals. 

BRITAIN’S HABITATS -  Princeton University Press 

BRITAIN’S HABITATS -  Princeton University Press 

Each of the sections is further sub-divided into variants e.g, for woodland the sub-sections comprise Lowland mixed, Lowland dry, Beech, Yew, Wet, Wood Pasture, Upland Oak, Upland Mixed, Caledonian, Atlantic Hazel, Upland Birch and Coniferous. 

This format works beautifully by describing the types of vegetation that characterises each variation and the flora & fauna within. The structured and consistent layout of the book makes for easy location of individual accounts and the comparison of the habitats described. The text is easy to read and embrace while remaining not overly scientific. For readers like me with a major interest in just one branch of natural history (birds) the book opens up a treasure trove of previously unknown landscape, habitat and flora & fauna - Transition Mire, Alpine Pennygrass, the Whelk-shell Jumping Spider or the Scaley Cricket! 

These habitats and the creatures within constantly evolve as their numbers fluctuate, mostly downwards in recent times due to the malign influence of man. Yet, all need conserving if their particular individuality so that their common or often unique species can survive. 

This becomes the great strength of the book – an all-encompassing realisation that we are all in this together. Man will only survive if to the best of his ability he preserves not just individual species but the unique landscape and habitat of his environment and all of the creatures within. 

BRITAIN’S HABITATS -  Princeton University Press 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this book and for sure I will consult it frequently in future days and weeks. My only reservation is that the book presents as a field guide when in fact it will surely become a source of reference to amateurs and professionals alike in the field of ecological study and assessment. As such it is unlikely to be carried into the field and therefore deserves a larger format than 6” x 9” and where it can be consulted at more leisure, probably in a library, university, college or on the bookshelf of a professional ecologist.   

I think that anyone with an interest in the outdoors will thoroughly enjoy this book and perhaps as a result see the environment as a whole and how it fits together rather than the narrow focus of many naturalists. I recommend it to all readers of Another Bird Blog.

BRITAIN’S HABITATS - A field guide to the wildlife habitats of Great Britain and Ireland is on sale now. Princeton University Press  

$32.50 / £25.00 

ISBN: 9780691203591 

Published: 24/11/2020 


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Still Here

Yes, still here in sunny Greece. Resting up and posting while Sue readies herself for a wild night at Jimmy's Taverna. 

Birds are hard to find now that autumn migration is almost over. But I have been busy with the camera, so for this post check these photos for a taste of Skiathos, Greece.

Click the pic for enlarged versions. In no particular order................

Skiathos Town

Man and His Dog - The Bourtzi, Skiathos Town



Ferry to Skopelos


Turn Right


Digging For Bait

Rural Skiathos


Beware Of The Large Dog

Coloured Tree

Rural Skiathos

Skiathos Town - below

Great Egret

Back Soon. Don't go away.

Linking this post to Eileen's Blogspot.

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