Monday, February 28, 2011


Today’s blog entry consists of photographs of Common Kingfishers, pictures I took recently in Makadai Bay, Hurghada, Egypt.


The Common Kingfisher is widespread across Europe, from Britain in the west all the way across to the most eastern part of Russia. Some European birds migrate towards the Mediterranean area in autumn and a small number winter in North Africa. The Kingfishers I saw in Makadi Bay could be wintering birds from central or Eastern Europe, Turkey or Iran because according to my field guide Kingfishers don’t breed along the Red Sea coast. There are scarce breeding records from coastal Morocco and also Tunisia, the latter a holiday destination where a few years ago I also saw Common Kingfishers.


The Kingfisher(s) always hung about in the early morning where a few boats reached into the shallow, clear waters of the Red Sea, and wherever small fish fed in abundance. In a few of these pictures it is possible to see fish scales stuck to the bird’s bill. Although I waited around a few times I didn’t get to take pictures of a Kingfisher with a fish, my ultimate goal.


Sunrise, Makadi Bay

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I have long thought that our local Buzzards, or at least some of them, move south and west for the winter and return unseen in the spring, but it’s only in more recent years when the species has spread into the Fylde and become quite numerous that their comings and goings have become more obvious. This is especially true in autumn when there are lots of youngsters around and their diurnal dispersal flights are both frequent and obvious.

The BTO Migration Atlas tells me that UK Common Buzzards aren’t truly migratory, but dispersive and a nice phrase this, “winter sensitive”, as to a large extent they depend upon earthworms as a winter staple food and are more likely to move from a location in hard weather. This afternoon I took a walk around Out Rawcliffe and over 4 woods counted a minimum of 14 Buzzards and possibly 16 where in the same area over the winter months I counted between 2 and 4 Buzzards only on most visits. Today, over one wood there were eight circling birds yet to settle which pair takes possession, with four birds debating the same over another wood, then a further two pairs above two other woods, with all the birds indulging in much calling and chasing behaviour.



The other very conspicuous bird today was the unexciting Stock Dove, another species that comes and goes in spring and autumn almost unseen. Today I saw two flocks, one of 28 birds and another of 12, plus at least 7 others as singles or doubles moving around a spot that has several suitable holey and ivy clad trees, where I also saw the Kestrel today.

The Buzzards and the Stock Doves rather distracted me from my walk over the moss but I had a good enough count of most of the regular stuff at the winter feed; 200 Tree Sparrow, 6 Yellowhammer, 4 Reed Buntings and several Chaffinch, with a couple of Blackbirds and a single Song Thrush shooting off ahead of me. Meanwhile a Peregrine came from behind me, not very high but too fast to photograph as it headed across to the neighbouring farm and the couple of thousand Starlings I could see milling about.

Most of the Stock Doves were on the big and now soggy field, with a flock of 70 Lapwings and 22 Skylarks also joining in, while 2 Roe Deer and several Brown Hares headed off at my arrival, long before the birds, a little reluctant to fly into today’s strong westerlies. I had a good count of Grey Partridge today, with 14 birds, probably all leftovers from the autumn releases, but at least they survived the winter shoots and may breed to augment any truly wild stock left.


Stock Dove

I took a walk through the plantation where apart from a few willow catkins, spring growth has yet to threaten our ringing rides still thankfully bare from the winter but waiting for the first Chiffchaff two weeks from now and Willow Warbler in four. Equally the trees were devoid of much birdlife save for a little flock of alder feeding Goldfinch, a couple of Blackbirds, the obligatory Wren, several chuckling Red-legged Partridge.

From the plantation I watched the next pair of Buzzards dive over and into the nearby wood where there was a nest for the last couple of years. It won’t be long now and things really will be buzzing.


Friday, February 25, 2011


Two weeks later I finally finished going through my pictures from Egypt, so picked out a number that as yet have not performed on the blog. Some of the species have appeared before, but in the absence of any birding on a wet and windy Friday and promised same again for Saturday, the bit of blue sky and memory of warm, sunny Egyptian days may cheer everyone up.

There was a particular Western Reef Heron in Hurghada that hung around the main jetty where the local lads fished with hand lines, but to amuse the tourists fed the heron by hand with freshly caught fish. The creature was so used to being fed it would stalk up and down the jetty in the hope of scrounging a meal. The Striated Herons weren’t so obliging and I would have to seek them out in quiet beach or boat spots in the early morning. In the second week of the holiday when most of the tourists went home, the beach camels took a well-deserved rest, the lizards came out to play and early mornings were the best time for Greenshank and Greater Sand Plover.

Western Reef Heron

Striated Heron

Striated Heron

Striated Heron

Sleepy Camel

Egyptian Lizard

Greater Sand Plover


There were a small number of very wary Stonechats about the hotel grounds which kept their distance so well I only bothered to get one photograph. I am pretty sure the ones I saw were all European Stonechats, and none of them Siberian Stonechats, although both occur in Egypt. The common crow of the area is Hooded Crow.


Hooded Crow

I suppose the highlight of my photography time was getting the chance to take pictures of a close Osprey, and on a couple of mornings sitting near a Kingfisher, none of which happens too often here in the UK.



Thursday, February 24, 2011


During the recent holiday to Egypt I saw many, many Chiffchaffs. This was not entirely surprising as unlike the closely related Willow Warbler which winters mainly in West Africa south of the Sahara, many Chiffchaffs also cross the Sahara and concentrate in Senegal, while many others remain in Mediterranean North Africa; also at least 3 often inseparable races breed in the Middle East, collybita (includes brevirostris), menzbieri and probably abietinus and at least two others visit. So at any time, and especially during winter, spring and autumn the origins of Chiffchaffs and race of each individual in Egypt is hard to determine. There is no doubt I heard and saw our familiar collybita, with both the typical “hweet” call and occasional snatches of “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff”. I also heard the “squeaky chicken” call frequently and on a couple of occasions, snatches of the fast, melodious song of Siberian Chiffchaff tristis, totally unlike the Chiffchaff song I know and more like a demented Dunnock.


Any day soon spring Chiffchaffs arrive in the UK and ringers know that in spring they may catch recently arrived Chiffchaffs carrying pollen residues on their bills. This pollen was deposited by the feeding strategy known as nectarivory, or birds indulging in sipping nectar from flowering plants during which flowering pollen is left on the bird itself, mainly around the base of the bill, the part of the bird most closely in contact with the flower. Nectarivory is also known to occur in some species of bats.


In Hurghada I witnessed many Chiffchaffs taking nectar, at times the liquid being visibly sipped as birds stuck their heads deep into the flowers, and upon the bird withdrawing from the flower, drops of the nectar spilling from their bill. A particular favourite plant of the Chiffchaffs was a flowering Mexican Saguara cactus shown in the photographs below. In a few of the pictures, by zooming up it is possible to see the nectar drops around the bill.

Chiffchaff on Cactus

Saguara catus

Chiffchaff on Cactus flower





In the two week trip I had one sighting only of Nile Valley Sunbird, another bird that takes nectar. In view of the tremendous number of flowering plants in Makadi Bay my single sighting was a little disappointing. The biggest numbers of Nile Valley Sunbirds do occur much further south than Hurghada, but in the last 100 years, and almost certainly helped by the building of tourist resorts, the species has spread from the southernmost parts of the Red Sea and up to the Cairo area where it breeds. I didn’t get to Cairo to look for more sunbirds so settled for my one brief encounter and a couple of distant shots.

Nile Valley Sunbird

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dry Spot

It was raining pretty hard this morning at home here near the coast when I contacted Will to see how the rain was 13 miles away near near Garstang, a town overlooked by the Bowland fells where rain is a way of life. “Dry” he promised, so 30 minutes later a single net was set for the finches, near the 14 nyjer feeders but away from the few titmice that linger around the peanuts near the kitchen window.

We are sure the Siskins roost nearby as they arrive in the tree tops in half-light with a great deal of noise then wait there until it is bright enough to attack the feeders; this morning about 60/70 Siskin arrived together with a much smaller number of Chaffinch, maybe 30, plus one or two Brambling.

Our totals today were 31 new birds and 13 recaptures, the majority of which were again finches. New birds, 23 Siskin, 4 Chaffinch, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Greenfinch and 1 Blue Tit. Recaptures, 10 Siskin, 2 Chaffinch and 1 Lesser Redpoll.

That brings our total of Siskin ringed here in 2011 to 105 new birds with 1 recapture from February 2010, but 21 recaptures already from this year’s birds. This suggests a large turnover of Siskins with a core of birds returning to the feeders regularly, so we take care not to overwork the site, allowing the Siskins plenty of time to feed. We await details of 2 Siskins caught here but ringed by other ringers, T879956 and X343298.

In January Chaffinch were the most numerous species here, replaced in February by Siskins, so it will be interesting to watch when both Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll begin to return in numbers, with today only one of each to trouble the mainly Siskin field sheet.

Siskin- adult male

Siskin- adult male

Lesser Redpoll



Other birds seen today, the Sparrowhawk that targets Blackbirds, chasing a Blackbird, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Nuthatch, 8 Jackdaws, one of which escaped from the net, and several wary Woodpigeons, far too clever to go into the net.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Slender-billed Gull

I am not the greatest gull enthusiast, but I came back from Egypt with a few pictures of Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei, as attractive as ever a gull can be, but the identity of which initially puzzled me until I consulted Birds of The Middle East back in the hotel room, after I had taken a few pictures of Makadi Bay.

Slender-billed Gull

Makadi Bay

Unlike our everyday UK gulls Slender-billed Gull is not numerous wherever it breeds and in consequence, very uncommon even in its winter quarters which includes Egypt. This is one of the few gulls I saw in the Hurghada area on the recent holiday, the other being Baltic Gull, which I was never able to photograph. The bird is a juvenile/first winter as shown by the black terminal tail band, and dark areas in the wings. Unfortunately my attempts at a BIF were not too good, but captured a few features of the creature.

Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gulls are a mid-sized gull, slightly larger than a Black-headed Gull, and they breed locally and patchily around the Mediterranean and the north of the western Indian Ocean (e.g. Pakistan) on islands and coastal lagoons and in the Black Sea regions of Russia, Turkey and Iraq. Most of the population is somewhat migratory, wintering further south to North Africa and India, and a few birds have wandered to Western Europe, but with luck it is possible to see them all year round in the Middle East.

Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gulls breed in colonies, nesting on the ground and laying up to three eggs. Like most gulls, they are gregarious in winter, both when feeding or in evening roosts, but It is not a pelagic species, and rarely seen at sea far from coasts. Lets face it, it beats a Herring Gull every time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Low Key

With a touch of south easterly breeze promised Will and I decided to ring at our somewhat sheltered, part woodland Lancaster site and save the anticipated session in his garden and the guaranteed Siskins of late for another, calmer day.

In contrast with our catch of Siskins on Wednesday, today’s was a slow session with just 18 birds caught, 11 new and 7 recaptures. New: 5 Chaffinch, 4 Blackbird, 1 Brambling and 1 Wren. Recaptures; 4 Blackbird and 1 each of Goldcrest, Dunnock and Chaffinch.



Most of today’s Blackbirds still carry a certain amount of fat with one large male tipping the scale at 130 grams, but two birds had zero fat scores. Bramblings remain in the area with 4 or 5 birds this morning, but low numbers also of Chaffinch. Other birds seen this morning: Sparrowhawk, 2 Nuthatch, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit.

Long-tailed Tit

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Coming soon, Kingfishers and the promised nectar sippers – watch this space.
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