Thursday, January 27, 2011

Crossley ID Guide

This morning the postman Kevin came with a wonderful surprise, my pre-publication copy of The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds (of North America). As a fan of North American birds and a previous twice volunteer to Long Point Bird Observatory, I was keen to examine this promised for sea-change in birding guides.

And folks, before I go on to look in more detail at this book, my advice is to place an order right now, because as sure as eggs is eggs, the first print of this phenomenal publication is bound to be a huge seller resulting in a shortage for birders not quick off the mark to the book store or to place an Internet order.

Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds

The advance publicity by publishers Princeton University Press described the book as “revolutionary” in the way it changes field guide design to make better birders of beginners to experts, and anyone in between. Certainly the book is innovative, exciting even, in the way the reader can interact with what is in effect a real-life method to bird identification, reality birding, unlike the traditional pointed arrow, look-and-learn approach. Richard Crossley is an internationally acclaimed birder and photographer, birding since the age of seven and who by the age of 21 had hitchhiked more than 100,000 miles in pursuit of birds across Britain and Europe, but who now lives in the birding hot-spot of Cape May, New Jersey.

The quickest way to appreciate both the educational and fun way this book works is to take a look at some of the plates I chose with birds familiar to both US, UK and I guess mostly European birders. However birding is such a worldwide phenomenon I suspect some Far East blog readers have already tagged this book as a probable buy.

Crossley ID Guide - Common Tern

Crossley ID Guide - Peregrine Falcon

Unlike other guides which provide isolated photographs or illustrations, this is the first book to feature large, lifelike scenes for each species. The scenes, 640 in all are composed from more than 10,000 of Richard Crossley’s images showing birds in a wide range of views, near and far, from different angles, in varying plumages and behaviours and colours. The single image plate for each species is backed up by a small but accurate piece of text at the foot of the same page. I have to say that each bird scene page contains a wealth of detailed visual information that made me look at not only the overall montage of birds, but also each of the subtly different individuals, and to even then search again through the page for more birds to look at. Just like a birding trip in fact.

Crossley ID Guide - Red-necked Phalarope

The publishers quite honestly annotate this book as a “guide” rather than a “field guide”, a subtle but realistic difference when considering that the book weighs in at 700 grams and measures some 200 x 250mm. This is not a criticism, but rather by the natural depth of the publication’s subject matter and spectacularly innovative design, we should applaud the eventual compactness even if it does not fit in a pocket. Rather I see this book as a “stay at home, or preferably in the car” back up to a pocket guide, something to refer to and consult with when returning from the immediate bird encounter.

A hugely pioneering aspect to this book is an interactive website crossleybooks which as planned will include expanded captions for plates and provide species updates as they come along.

Whilst Crossley ID is primarily aimed at a US audience, I predict there will also be a large demand for it across the pond, not only for European birders who go to the US, Canada and Central America, but also from birders who look for Transatlantic vagrants over here.

Now here is the even better news - The truly remarkable and outstanding Crossley ID Guide will be available from March for the unbelievable bargain price of $35 or £24.95. Read more about it here

Crossley ID Guide – Black-bellied/Grey Plover

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For Locals Only

With the wind picking up to cancel out any ringing I turned to a spot of birding this morning and headed up to Conder Green as the first stop, where I picked up a decent little list of birds from the car park, the pool and the creeks.

The highlight was finding 3 Spotted Redshank together with the wintering Common Sandpiper in the creek below the bridge. It seemed that many Common Redshanks Tringa totanus left the area in the early winter cold but these spot-reds were an agreeable birding bonus today. The more predictable stuff was in low numbers with just 3 Curlew and 4 Redshank, but an increase in Teal to 65, 24 Wigeon, and on the pool a single Goldeneye. Up at Glasson Dock I counted 32 Tufted Duck, 2 Goldeneye, 46 Coot, 2 Cormorant, and 8 Mute Swan, with passerines represented by 3 Pied Wagtails and 12 Goldfinch.

Spotted Redshank

Common Sandpiper


From the top of Hillam Lane a quick look west revealed that many of the local waders were on either side of the road feeding in the saturated fields, with approximately 900/1000 Curlew and 180 Redshank. Down alongside the marsh in the hawthorn scrub I counted 40 Chaffinch and 8 Tree Sparrows plus a single Pied Wagtail.

Heading back towards Lane Ends a brief look at Braides proved that the Buzzard is now a regular, sat on a post below the sea wall again, but apart from a few more Curlews, the fields here, whilst appearing equally wet don’t seem to hold the same attractions as the flashes less than a mile away.

At Lane Ends I clocked the 2 now regular Goldeneye than took a a wander around the old ringing site, hoping to find maybe a Long-eared Owl. I settled instead for 4 Woodcock that flew off from my feet, each of them in quick succession from the now brambly, overgrown paths. The Woodcock that arrived in our area back in December seemed to have moved on south and west, and I wondered if these were birds new in ahead of the promised cold weather for the weekend?

More wet fields at Backsands Lane held just 3 Golden Plover and 1 Black-tailed Godwit amongst 700 Lapwing, 4 Curlew and a hundred or so Pink-footed Geese, the geese increasing as I watched when more turned into the stiff northerly before they dropped into the field.

Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew

Pink-footed Geese

It was an enjoyable morning proving the point that even the most well-worn of paths turn up welcome surprises now and again, but also that it’s hard to beat a bit of local birding.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not More Bramblings?

The BBC’s promised fog and frost didn’t materialise this morning so after a couple of quick texts at 0730 I set off to meet Will near Lancaster for a short ringing session where we hoped for a Brambling or two and more winter Blackbirds.

Sunday morning roads are fairly quiet at 8am so I wasn’t entirely surprised to see a roadside Barn Owl sat on a post along Burned House Lane at Stalmine. Trouble was I was alongside before I saw the owl, and had I stopped the car to wind down the window the bird would surely have flown off. In any case although I had my camera on the passenger seat, it had the short lens attached in readiness for birds in the hand, and fiddling changing lenses by the roadside would also result in the owl flying off. So at Lane Ends I pulled in to the lay-by and changed lenses in the hope that another Barn Owl might show between there and Lancaster. Amazing luck, half a mile down the road I spotted ahead a second Barn Owl sat on yet another roadside post, as Barn Owls are inclined to do on undisturbed mornings. Yet again the light was pretty dismal, and a sunny morning would make a change, but I rattled off a shot or two at ISO800 then dashed off to meet Will for 0815.

Barn Owl

A couple of nets sufficed for the short session and we caught 16 birds, 13 new and 3 recaptures. Birds caught: 6 Blackbird, 4 Brambling, 2 Great Tit and 1 Goldcrest, plus 3 other Blackbirds the recaptures.

Our Blackbirds still carry visible fat, but perhaps a little less than recent cold weeks, with the eight birds today varying between a more normal 97 grams and somewhat overweight 121 grams.



Apologies then for yet more pictures of Bramblings, but this winter has seen the group catch more than 70 individuals, many more than we catch during the average mild UK winter. This has been a chance to get to grips with ageing and sexing birds on a regular weekly basis, with all ages and sexes in direct comparison on the same day, rather than ones and twos caught on different occasions. And let’s face it, a “Brambling Winter” may not happen again for several or more years, and they are simply stunning birds.

Brambling – juvenile male

Brambling – adult female

Note the broad and rounded tail feathers on the adult female above and below, plus the well-defined, orange edged tertial feathers, compared to the paler edged tertials of the juvenile female.

Brambling – juvenile female above, adult female below

A juvenile female has more pointed tail feathers and less well-defined edges to the tertial feathers.

Brambling – adult female

Brambling – juvenile female

Brambling – adult female left, juvenile female right

Other birds seen this morning, 2 Nuthatch, 2 Jay, 3 Bullfinch, 1 Sparrowhawk, 15 Redwing, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker.

The weather forecast for the week ahead suggests the wind may prevent us getting another crack at Bramblings or indeed much else; but as ever we’ll see.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mostly Finches

Will and I were back to his Garstang garden this morning in the hope of another catch of finches as we had on Tuesday. We knew that just a few days later, the turnover of birds using the garden is such that most, if not quite all of today’s birds would be different individuals.

It turned out that the overall numbers caught today were similar to those of four days ago, but in differing proportions. At 0815 it was obvious we would catch Siskins because as we put up our single 60 net across the far side of the garden, many were arriving for an early feed, with our first catch consisting of 9 Siskin and a Robin, with many other Siskins still calling from the overhead alders.

In our 4 hour session we caught 53 birds, 42 new plus 9 recaptures from our own previous ringing sessions here, and an additional 2 Siskins bearing unfamiliar ring numbers, i.e. ringed elsewhere by other ringers. The two Siskins involved are X343298 and T879956, both adult males, and I suspect ringed last winter, but not necessarily in the North West of the UK. Obviously these will be entered on IPMR and the details eventually come to light, but if there is a ringer out there who reads the blog and recognises these numbers, please let me know.

New birds: Siskin 18, Chaffinch 12, Brambling 1, Goldfinch 2, Great-spotted Woodpecker 1, House Sparrow 1, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 2, Robin 2, Blackbird 2.

Recaptures: Chaffinch 4, Robin 2, Blackbird 2, Siskin 1.

Siskin – adult male “T879956”

Great-spotted Woodpecker

House Sparrow


Brambling – juvenile male

Brambling – juvenile male

The changeable nature of the recent weather (frost and fog today), coupled with the dynamic nature of finch flocks almost certainly accounts for the drop in numbers of feeding Brambling and Chaffinch from a few days ago, with this morning less than 10 Brambling and perhaps 120 Chaffinch, but a rise in the Siskin count to approximately 80 individuals.

A catch of four Robins today was notable and may represent the first signs of birds new to the locality prospecting for, or setting up garden territories. The 3 Blackbirds we caught continue to hold good fat reserves with weights of 105, 112 and 121 grams. An adult male Chaffinch with a wing length of 95mm was a recapture from 13th April 2010 but not in the intervening period, and it may be a larger continental bird.


Other birds seen from the garden this morning, a female Sparrowhawk, 60 Redwing, 4 Fieldfare, 8 Greenfinch, 4 Collared Dove. So it was very much another morning of finches, but who would ever grumble about that?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

At The End Of The Day

I had three birds to kill with one stone this morning, a swim followed by a sauna session with the other Saga louts – a chance to put the world to rights, the Post Office for some cash, and then finish off with an overdue haircut. But I forgot Roger’s closed on a Wednesday, so the long hair poking out from the bulging baseball cap will have to wait for another day. It’s an ill wind etc., so the time I saved allowed a spot of leisurely birding down Pilling way.

There’s not much of a report from Lane Ends, on the marsh 28 swans in the distant channel seemed to be all Whoopers, an equally far away Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 2500 Pink-footed Geese and 2 Little Egret. A Raven seen off by the other corvids enlivened things somewhat, as did a Peregrine taking to the air down towards Cockerham with yet more corvid attention. Once again the pools held 4 Goldeneye, 2 males and 2 females, a pair on each pool. Wednesday is Hi-fly shoot so I didn’t venture to the boundary of their shoot at Pilling Water, but I could hear the shots going off, and the associated noise and human activity was the reason for the long-range geese, wildfowl and waders.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose – courtesy USFWS

I motored to Conder and then Glasson Dock. The pool at Conder was totally deserted save for 18 distant Wigeon, outnumbering even the 6 Mallards. The creek itself was also quiet with single Redshank and Curlew but 30 or so Teal.

It was a nice afternoon, sunny, almost spring like, so I decided to mooch around sleepy Glasson Dock and maybe get a picture or two. I walked the dock, the basin and the canal and on the water came up with 8 Goldeneye, 28 Tufted Duck, 1 Cormorant, 48 Coot and 4 Mute Swan. The canal side proved a little more varietal but not numerous as the hawthorns and scattered trees of the church grounds yielded 1 Pied Wagtail, 18 Goldfinch, 1 Mistle Thrush, 2 Redwing, 3 Tree Sparrow and 3 Fieldfare.

Glasson Dock


Tufted Duck

It had been a quiet, uneventful couple of hours with just a few photographs of disinterested Tufted Ducks and slumbering Goldeneyes, and as I motored back towards Pilling I was ready to call it a day. Until that is a winter afternoon Barn Owl appeared near Crimbles, floating over the road and off into the fields to save the day in the last half an hour of daylight.

Barn Owl

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fifty Finches

It was a tale of two places this morning with a couple of early morning phone calls, de-icer on the car windscreen here at home and headlights through the mist for more than half the journey to Will’s house about 17 kms away. In fact the weather forecast had been poor, with the BBC’s promised breeze absent at both ends, which probably accounted for the diverse weather.

In any case it was the first opportunity for a spot of ringing for a while, whereby Will’s feeding regime kept the titmice near the house and fiches near net locations for the last couple of weeks of wind and rain. One sixty foot net was all that was required for a good catch of finches before Will’s afternoon work and my babysitting beckoned.

In a three hour session we caught 58 birds, 54 new, 3 recaptures, and 1 bird controlled, i.e. it had been previously ringed by another ringer in the UK. New birds: 27 Chaffinch, 16 Siskin, 6 Brambling, 3 Goldfinch, 1 Blackbird and 1 Blue Tit. Recaptures were: 2 Chaffinch, 1 Dunnock and 1 Siskin, first ringed 11 months ago on 19th February 2010 .

Any claims for the control Siskin? Ring number T879956 - Age 6 Male, Wing 73 mm and weight 12gms at 0930.

So of our haul of 58 birds, 54 were finches, very much in accord with the birds in evidence around the confines of the garden or just outside in the nearby stubble field, with approximately 230 finches comprising 40+ Siskin, 20+ Brambling, 150+ Chaffinch, 10 Goldfinch, 2 Lesser Redpoll and 4 Greenfinch. And the blog header picture of a month or two ago finally proved predictive as the Siskins returned with a vengeance this morning.






Of course finches are seed-eaters and raise their young on regurgitated seeds but also insects, while Linnets, Crossbills, Redpolls and Siskins are unique among birds in raising their young entirely upon seeds. Finch bills show unique modifications to help process seeds. Most have a groove in the palate that holds a single seed in place while the lower jaw crushes it and the tongue assists in peeling the shell. Finch bills can be thin, long, thick, or rounded, depending upon the specific types of seeds that are taken. Such specialization allows several species to co-exist within the same habitat. The seed-crushing bills of finches, which were adapted to various niches throughout the Galapagos Islands, proved integral to the formulation of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection when Darwin noticed large differences in the apparently identical species on islands just miles apart.




Other birds this seen morning, 2 Nuthatch, 4 Redwing, 3 Collared Dove, 6 Jackdaw, 5 Long-tailed Tit, 7 Blackbird.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Patience Is A Virtue

I held fire through the constant rain of Saturday, lasted out this morning’s downpour, and then ate lunch in the conservatory to the torture of more rainfall on the glass roof. Finally at 1330 the rain eased a little, the battleship sky turned a lighter shade of grey and I got out birding for an hour or two. I suppose I could have gone out in the rain, birding of sorts, driving around likely spots with all the other dudes looking for the “stakeouts”, the Bradshaw Lane buntings, the grebe in genteel St Annes, the diver diving in the dock, the Preston Gull, the plastic goose, etc., etc., but what’s the point of that?. It’s much better to do your own thing, that’s my philosophy: or as Thomas Edison is reputed to have said as he waited patiently for his electric light bulb to shine out – “Everything comes to he who waits”.

I got to Rawcliffe Moss via several flooded dips in the road but nothing too dramatic, except that near both Town End and Cartford Bridge the level of the River Wyre looked on the high side. The farm road was also pretty wet but nothing the Suzuki couldn’t handle.

Already the Little Owl had broken cover and sat in the usual spot even though the rain still spat out its final drops. Then almost immediately I got onto a little party of 5 Grey Partridge walking alongside the road towards the car, only to be frightened off by a Merc hurtling through the spray towards them, but just time to grab a photo of one in the grass.

Grey Partridge

Little Owl

Down the main track through the flooded potholes there wasn’t much to see but I parked up, donned wellies and struck out. Across the fields and over the wood Jackdaws battled it out with a Buzzard, and together they put to flight 70 Fieldfare, 5 Stock Dove and about 130 Woodpigeon. Down the track and 90+ Tree Sparrows, 5 Yellowhammer, 2 Reed Buntings, 2 Blackbirds and perhaps 10 or 12 Chaffinch, so difficult when they all fly off more or less together, but the soft flight call of the yellow bunting stands out from chippy calls of the finches and sparrows or the wheeze of the Reed Bunting.


At the big field I found the flock of Chaffinch that have used the same spot through the winter, but only 45 today, plus a couple of Linnets and one more Reed Bunting. Over towards the houses I located a Mistle Thrush, in the holly tree they always commandeer despite it now bearing almost no fruit – maybe they will build a nest in it in a week or two like the early nesters they are. I hadn’t seen the next Buzzard sat on the distant trackside post, not until it lifted off and flew west towards Pilling Moss and the safety of its regular wood and unvarying tree. The little plantation was quiet with a couple of Chaffinch and 4 Magpies, then 4 Roe Deer startled into action by me when they shot off at great speed, through the tree cover then over the adjacent field.


Roe Deer

It wasn’t a bad couple of hours birding, a bit of a bonus while having withdrawal symptoms for a day or two and suffering in silence, just as blokes do.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Through The Glass Darkly

I really thought there would be no blog today what with being stuck indoors by the rain, wind and dark skies with little to report from a brief trip out yesterday. Then my better half came up trumps and I thought “What the heck”.

Sue was washing pots in the kitchen, and please no jokes about sinks, when she asked if I could tear myself away from my PC, did I want to take a look at the bird on the fence just a yard or two away? There sat an adult male Sparrowhawk for about 30 seconds, taking a look around both mine and a neighbour’s garden before it dropped down and out of sight. But I can’t recommend taking photographs through rain-spattered glass on a dark January day.



This is one of the ways a Sparrowhawk hunts, waiting hidden for birds to come near then breaking cover before it flies out fast and low. A chase may follow, with the hawk even flipping upside-down to grab the victim from below or following it on foot through vegetation.

In the UK, research into the effect of Sparrowhawks on bird populations has been contentious, with conflict between the interests of nature conservationists and those involved in game shooting. However, declines in the populations of some British songbirds since the 1960s coincided with considerable changes in agricultural practices and also large increases in the numbers of Sparrowhawks, but when the Sparrowhawk population declined because of organochlorine use, there was no great increase in the populations of songbirds.

Both earlier and contemporary studies have found no effect on songbird populations caused by predatory birds such as Sparrowhawks, and analysis of long-term, large-scale national data from the Common Bird Census shows the decline in farmland songbird populations since the 1960s is unlikely to have been caused by increased predation by Sparrowhawks. The results of the study indicated that patterns of year-to-year songbird population change were the same at different sites, whether predators were present or not.

Here’s a better picture of a Sparrowhawk. The eye colour of Sparrowhawks deepens and intensifies with age, and in contrast to the almost orange/yellow of the male on the fence, note the paler yellow eye of this juvenile female.


My trip out yesterday was unfruitful, with little to report from a bright sunny day: A distant Peregrine at Lane Ends stood out from the equally far-off white blobs of 900 Shelduck and 6 Whoopers. Down at Braides Farm a Buzzard atop the sea wall looked out on wet fields crammed with 2500 Starlings and 200+ Curlew. From the top of Moss Lane that overlooks Lower Thurnham I saw my little count of Curlew eclipsed with upwards of 1000 of them spread across the miles of saturated and partly flooded fields.


From Bodie Hill many hundreds of faraway Wigeon and Lapwing grazed the marsh but I was content with a picture from a bright sunny day.

Bodie Hill

Let's hope for a better, brighter view tomorrow.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Do They Do That?

It’s only January 13th but this morning I saw a Collared Dove carrying nest material, a small twig, into a tall, dense roadside conifer. Just yesterday I swear a female Blackbird was weighing up the possibilities near the top of a garden conifer, a spot where Blackbirds built last year until a spring gale toppled the nest sideways. We know birds have in-built compasses that help them migrate, but they must also recognise the lengthening days as the North Pole tilts closer to the sun, then use their 365 day clock as a prompt to when they should begin the beguine with the opposite sex?

And I must admit, temperatures have climbed a bit in the last day or two, sufficient to activate the sap to rise perhaps, and definitely enough to finally thaw the pools at Lane Ends, even if that’s left us instead grey, gloomy and rain sodden. The pools held 3 Goldeneye today, the first I have seen there for some months, today a male and two females. I never ever see Goldeneye arrive or leave here, and if danger arrives they simply dive then surface further away, and they must come and go during darkness or near dark only.


From the sea wall I counted 26 Whooper Swans heading off inland, and on the inland, now very wet field, 90+ Greylag and half a dozen Pink-footed Geese, several Curlew and 2 Black-tailed Godwits. A short walk along the wall revealed 2 Little Egret, 2 Reed Bunting and a single Meadow Pipit.


I spent more time at Fluke Hall this morning, looking in the wet fields, the wood and the hedgerows and got pretty healthy counts, helped by the local Buzzard that flew a couple of sorties around its patch. As the Buzzard soared over, pursued by a posse of Jackdaws, even the ground hugging Red-legged Partridge panicked to such a degree that I managed to count 90+ heading for the safety of the Fluke Hall trees. Also here in the wet and partially flooded stubble, and flushed off during the Buzzard/Jackdaw fracas were 380 Lapwing, 70 Redshank, 450 Jackdaw, 135 Woodpigeon and 4 Stock Dove, with 2 Redwing and 3 Tree Sparrows pushed out from the roadside hedge. Rather strangely a single drake Wigeon sat on the Fluke Hall pool with the Mallards, but this may be the same injured bird I saw on the marsh a week or so ago that dived into the creeks to escape my rescue attempts.


Stock Dove

The fields behind Fluke Hall and up to and including Ridge Farm were awash with Pink-footed Geese, still finding old spuds down in the furrows where Lapwings hung about waiting for the geese to unearth animal goodies. I reckoned on something like 2000+ geese keeping out of range of guns and cameras, but with their comings and goings and general noise, it was the normal visual spectacle and aural treat.

Well I hope the weather picks up and allows a spot of ringing, but the BBC forecast for the next three days is dire, truly awful. But then last night’s prediction wasn’t too good, nor the one as late as 8am this morning, but in fact the morning was pretty bright with a hint of sun and not nearly as bad as the experts predicted. How do they do that?
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