Monday, December 31, 2012

So That's Where It Went

It’s official, 2012 was the wettest year on record for the UK, not that birders, ringers or bird photographers needed the Met Office to tell them that. 

Yesterday was no different, but in between the blustery showers I topped up the feeders Out Rawcliffe way, disturbing a gang of 20 or so Goldfinches in the process. If only the wind and rain would relent I could get a few nets up, have a half decent catch of birds and in-between times take a proper look around the site. I found the two Chaffinch flocks again, about 60 one stubble field, and then 300+ on another field half a mile away. There were at least 4 Bramblings mixed in the bigger flock but hard to pin them down while the whole lot were so flighty, the wind induced movement of nearby trees, hedgerow and the leaf-strewn stubble making the birds nervous of the slightest disturbance. 

Other birds in the area included pairs of Mistle Thrush and Kestrel, 30 + Skylark and 10+ Reed Bunting. 

Indoors again today during the wind and rain, so as a post filler, I thought I’d recap some personal highlights of 2012 and include some favourite photographs of birds and places. 

Last January Sue and I were in warm and sunny Lanzarote where Southern Grey Shrikes seemed especially numerous, often very close to the tourist beaches. 

Southern Grey Shrike


Spring came early in North West England, a feature being the movement north of Lesser Redpolls at the beginning of March when normally we would expect the phenomenon from mid-April onwards. After ringing over 90 of them during a warm spell of March weather, only 4 more were caught during April. I’d be happy to catch just stunning little Lesser Redpolls all year round. I’m still waiting to hear of a Belgium ringed one from September. 

Lesser Redpoll

The month of May saw Sue and I visiting beautiful Menorca for the umpteenth time, seeing friends we have made over the years and heading for birding spots discovered through our travels. 


Bee Eater

The summer wasn’t too kind to birds, numerous nests and planned ringing sessions lost to the weather. Even the persistent Swallows fared badly. Sadly one place I visited for several years to monitor breeding Swallows decided they did not want the Swallows anymore, going to great lengths to keep the returning birds out of the farm buildings. Truly, this is becoming a sad, selfish world in which we live. 

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

A result of the wet summer appeared to be poor fledging success, an example being a nest of three Sparrowhawks at Pilling where only one made it into the big wide world. Some birds spent time at nests which failed completely during the summery downpours e.g. a pair of Buzzards out on the mosses. 


Buzzard - Buteo buteo

Buzzard - Buteo buteo

A soggy Summer merged imperceptibly into an even rainier Autumn. Then before I knew it I was pitting my wits against returning Wheatears, catching more than a few via the mouth-watering meal worms. 


Meal Worms


Autumn is finch time, a goal being to continue with the work on Chaffinches begun in 2010. Although numbers were down, the results I hoped proved interesting and informative to ringers and local birders alike - More On Chaffinches 


December brought the orange ones, the Bramblings from the east and north. Europe’s loss is our gain, so with luck and in a day or two we’ll meet again in 2013. 


Let’s take this opportunity to thank all those who follow or read Another Bird Blog on a regular, occasional or even accidental basis. Although many are scattered around the world they are friends indeed, and without their support and comments the blog would be nothing. 

Happy New Year to all, and please visit again in 2013.

This week Another Bird Blog is linking to Weekly Top Shot  and Paying-ready-attention-gallery.

PS and don't forget, click on the pictures for a better qualty light box experience. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back To Normal?

Loading my gear into the car in the pitch black there seemed to be a lot of noise from the local Blackbirds. When I looked around to see the cause of the commotion a Tawny Owl in silhouette from the street lights sat atop a neighbour’s chimney pot. It was too dark to take a picture even and as I watched it the owl turned and flew back towards a local copse where it spends the daylight hours out of sight. 

There was a respite from the seasonal celebrations and even a break from the rain this morning, allowing time enough for a visit to Out Rawcliffe and a spot of ringing combined with a little birding. Driving through the lanes the Little Owl was sat up in the by now half-light; and for students of photography, the picture was taken with ISO3200. 

Little Owl

Having missed topping up the bird’s food for a day or two due to the weather and the intervention of Christmas I didn’t expect a huge number of birds. In fact it turned out OK with a catch of 17 new ones - 5 Chaffinch, 5 Goldfinch, 4 Reed Bunting, 1 Brambling, 1 Blackbird, and 1 Great Tit. 

Firstly, and because they are a rather special and sought after species, there’s a picture of today’s Brambling, another first year male. In the locality today were 4+ Brambling and 50+ Chaffinch. 

Brambling - 1st year male

I never tire of catching Reed Buntings, always so variable and interesting, never two the same. Today I counted 15+ Reed Bunting, a number similar to many recent occasions, but there must be a constant turnover of the species because recaptures are rare and I catch new ones on each visit. 

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

More than 40 Goldfinches about today, all with rather mucky bills but not too surprising as all their natural food must be permanently sodden with the constant rain.

Goldfinch - female

Other bits and bobs today: 6000+ Wood Pigeon and 5500 Pink-footed Goose in nearby woods and fields respectively, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel and 1 Mistle Thrush, the thrush in full song from a nearby wood. On the way home and near the river I clocked up two more Kestrels, and then in Hambleton village a roving Jay, a couple of sightings which finished off an agreeable morning. 

Log in soon and to see if Another Bird Blog can survive the rest of the festivities and then welcome in the New Year with good birding style.

This week we are linking to Anni who just like me would rather be birding at any time.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What’s The Excuse Today?

It’s getting to be a bad habit, this posting news a day late. So here is Sunday’s post with no justification unless a pre-Christmas haircut is a good enough reason? 

While I didn’t see a great number of species yesterday I did see many birds, if that makes sense. The job in hand was Out Rawcliffe, and where hoping for a dry and less windy spell of weather fit for ringing soon, I topped up the bird feeders and scattered a little mixed seed so as to keep the birds interested. All this wet weather has severely limited any opportunities to catch Bramblings as I did almost two weeks ago - And There's More  or Beasts From The East

The most interesting sighting on Sunday consisted of two large Chaffinch flocks, one of 300+ birds, the other of more than 200, the two flocks some three quarters of a mile apart. It could be that the huge flock of 700/800 Chaffinches I saw on 5th December had split up, both groups going their separate ways for now. In with the first flock were a minimum of 15 Brambling, and a further 8/10 Brambling in the smaller flock, but it is very difficult to get close to these big mixed flocks with so many pairs of eyes watching for danger. 



There’s still a flock of circa 30 Goldfinches, often in a nearby garden, sometimes on my few Nyger feeders, whereas I haven’t seen or heard a Linnet for months. The same garden holds a couple of Reed Buntings, several Tree Sparrows, a regular Mistle Thrush and always a Great-spotted Woodpecker - not your average garden selection. Counting the garden birds and other sighting led to a total of 18 Reed Bunting and 40+ Tree Sparrow. 


Reed Bunting

The huge flocks of Woodpigeons were still around, scattered far and wide through the woods and mosses, constantly on the move and just like the finch flocks, there are many pairs of eyes watching out for danger, especially with yesterday's 8,000+ birds.


A walk through and around a couple of woodland plots found a Woodcock, 2 Jay, 4 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 3 Buzzard and 2 Kestrel, and in a really badly flooded field, 300+ Lapwings. 

Leaving the wood and on the way back to the car, and seconds before it disappeared behind a wood, I caught sight of the elusive and well-travelled Hen Harrier of recent weeks. It is a hard bird to pin down to one spot but appears to be the same as the Pilling Moss bird, and if so has a regular hunting circuit of some miles north, south, east and west of Lancaster Road. 

It’s 24th December, so that’s mine and I guess many other folks' birding done for a day or two? Never fear, Another Bird Blog will be back as soon as possible - join me then.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wot? No Feathers?

After days of rain which limited outdoor activities today’s post is devoted to one of the occasional book reviews on Another Bird Blog. I received a review copy of a most unusual, probably unique book about birds, The Unfeathered Bird. 

When my friends at Princeton University Press promised to forward a copy of the book, and from the modest title, not quite knowing what to expect, I Googled “The Unfeathered Bird” for an initial flavour of the contents: 

A unique book that bridges art, science, and history 
  • Over 385 beautiful drawings, artistically arranged in a sumptuous large-format book 
  • Accessible, jargon-free text - the only book on bird anatomy aimed at the general reader 
  • Drawings and text all based on actual bird specimens Includes most anatomically distinct bird groups Many species never illustrated before” 
A succinct but descriptive summary and one which gives a clearer idea of the book’s innards while leaving room for discovery. It would be a book unlikely to fit into the category of a “Bird Book” as owned by probably the majority who go out in the field in search of birds, those “bird watchers/birders” who as a matter of course do not normally invest in books which are overly scientific, too arty, or lacking in the immediacy of news and information their pursuit demands. Maybe then it would appeal to a lesser number of birders with a scientific and/or artistic bent, ornithologists or bird artists alone, bird photographers, biologists, natural historians, and/or artists who use a variety of mediums? 

From Google again I found information about the book’s author Katrina van Grouw. In 1992 she gained an MA in Natural History Illustration for her illustrated thesis on bird anatomy for artists. It was when following and researching this topic further that the writing of The Unfeathered Bird became a burning desire, an ambition finally realised in the recent publication of the book. From other perspectives Katrina’s ornithological knowledge, including skills in preparing bird specimens and in taxidermy won her a curator’s position in the bird skin collections at London’s Natural History Museum, where she remained in the post for seven years before leaving in 2010 to concentrate on completing The Unfeathered Bird. Katrina is also a qualified bird ringer, having travelled widely on international bird ringing expeditions in Africa and South America. 

So what of the book itself? It consists of the customary introductory pages, followed by two other sections. Part One is a generic section based upon the basic bird structure of trunk, head and neck, hind limbs, and wings & tail. Part Two is entitled Specific and deals with the bird groups of Acciptres, Picae, Anseres, Grallae, Gallinae and Passeres, each with subdivisions containing the more familiar names e.g. owls, herons, swifts etc. If by modern day standards the order of appearance appears unorthodox it is because the author ordered the chapters in a system concerned only with outward structural appearances, and to “avoid the swampy territory of taxonomic debate” reverted to the first truly scientific classification of the natural world, the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus. 

The Unfeathered Bird covers more than 200 species of the world in more than 385 illustrations, many of the detailed drawings simply superb, others just truly amazing. Many of the sketches depict what goes on just under or on the surface of a bird without its feathers, often birds in typical postures or engaged in bird-like behaviour such as the act of flying itself, diving underwater, feeding, or displaying etc. Each plate has a corresponding page or more of text which describes the relationship between that particular bird or bird family’s anatomy to their evolution and the daily lifestyle and behaviour. Other less animated plates show particular features such as skulls, bills, feet or whole skeletons; in places this can be a whole double spread page - for instance the skulls and bills of Darwin’s finches, or the exquisite and perhaps life-size illustration which depicts the skull and bill of both Marabou and White Stork. 

Notwithstanding the book’s both highly artistic and technical approach it’s good to see Katrina dropping a splash of humour into many drawings; witness the skeletal Robin on the spade handle, or the skeleton of a Wilson’s Petrel splashing daintily through the waves. And Katrina, only a bird ringer forever scarred by the feet of a Coot could have depicted those huge, cruel instruments with such love, detail and accuracy. 

As one whose attempts at drawing birds is simply laughable I can only marvel at the skill, precision and sheer artistry involved in such an obvious labour of love displayed in almost 400 drawings. Katrina seems especially good at drawing feet, a part of the bird’s anatomy which many budding bird artists avoid by depicting their subject in vegetation or water. Here’s their chance - study The Unfeathered Bird and see how it’s done.

I’d be doing an injustice to Katrina were I to reproduce her drawings from my own photographs, especially when many are available online via Katrina’s own website The Unfeathered Bird gallery, where twelve reproductions can be viewed. 

As a taster below are a couple of my simple favourites - the foot, toe and claws of a Grey Heron and then the head and neck of the same species. 

Grey Heron - The Unfeathered Bird

Grey Heron - The Unfeathered Bird

I should mention that the majority of the drawings are reproduced in sepia tones, muted colours which work extremely well when set against the off-white background of the superior quality paper used. In fact the whole volume is beautifully produced with a look, feel and aroma of excellence. 

The many plates will be the first port on an initial introduction to the book, a natural enough occurrence but one that should not detract from the text of descriptions, explanations and discussions which accompany the illustrations. Each and every section of the text material contains highly readable facts about our feathered friends. That’s pretty much a précis of The Unfeathered Bird - art, history, geography, biology, evolution and birds, all rolled into one. And as the author is at pains to point out in the Introduction - “This book is not an anatomy of birds. That is to say, you won’t find any difficult Latin words or scientific jargon. You won’t learn much about the deep plantar tendons of the foot or the comparative morphology of the inner ear. Nothing beneath the skeleton is included—no organs or tissues; no guts or gizzards. There’s no biochemistry and very little physiology. This is really a book about the outside of birds. About how their appearance, posture, and behaviour influence, and are influenced by, their internal structure.” 

To go back to my original question then. Yes, here is a book with a wide appeal, a book which deserves to be studied by birders with a scientific and/or artistic bent, ornithologists, bird artists, bird photographers, biologists, natural historians, and artists of all persuasions. The author states that the original intention was a book aimed at artists and it was only during the early stages that she realised it could have wider appeal. In my opinion it was a realisation which has come to fruition in a beautifully crafted, scholarly and ultimately fine book. The Unfeathered Bird is available from  Princeton University Press  at $49.95 or £34.95.

People tell me it is almost Christmas, so to all readers and followers of Another Bird Blog I send seasonal greeting with best wishes for the New Year. See you soon.

This week Another Bird Blog is linking to I'd Rather Be Birding, and Stewart's Photo Gallery, so be sure to check them out. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Time Like The Present

There was too little time this morning, no chance of a spot of ringing, just a quick topping up of the bird feeders at Out Rawcliffe, followed by a hurried scoot around the birding block of the farm before the domestics of grandchildren drew me back home. 

Shame I didn’t have a couple of hours to spare as there was a good selection of birds in the wood and/or near the bird seed: 60+ Chaffinch, 10+ Brambling, 30+ Goldfinch, 4 Blackbird, 1 Song Thrush, 3 Redwing, 4 Fieldfare, 1 Yellowhammer, 15+ Skylark, 40+ Tree Sparrow, 2 Jay and 25+ Reed Bunting. In fields more distant in the direction of Pilling Moss were 200+ Lapwing and several thousand Pink-footed Goose.

The Reed Buntings here can be quite inquisitive, sitting up in the roadside hawthorns.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

A recurring feature of the last month or two on the inland mosses has been the huge flocks of roving Woodpigeons, pointed out on this blog on a couple of occasions, but barely mentioned in the rest of the blogosphere.

Very recently the number of Woodpigeons appeared to drop, but this morning they were about in their many thousands again, moving in droves between a number of woods and fields in their search for food, the flocks of hundreds and thousands turning the tree tops to a mass of grey. I entered a figure of 15,000 in my notebook but the actual number could be double or more, but whether these are newly arrived birds or part of the original influx is anyone’s guess. No prizes for counting the number of woodies in the shot below, just some of the birds in a single part of just one of many woods the birds used this morning.

A reminder here to anyone new to Blogger, clicking on the pictures gives a light box and slide show, much better than the pictures on the page. 


On the way off the farm I saw the resident pair of Kestrels, the wintering Pied Wagtail and the inevitable Little Owl, same time, same place.

 Pied Wagtail


Little Owl

The weather doesn’t look too clever for a day or two, a humungous low pressure over the Atlantic Ocean, heading this way with wind and rain for three or four days, resulting in few opportunities to catch those Reed Buntings or Bramblings. Never fear, if there’s half a chance Another Bird Blog will be out there somewhere looking for a bird or two to report. 
  Look Out!
This post is linking to Weekly Top Shot , take a look soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

No Sunday Lie In.

Sunday morning was taken up with Fylde Ringing Group’s (FRG) Turnstone Project, the catching and ringing of the local wintering population of those phenomenal ocean wanderers, Ruddy Turnstone, Arenaria interpres

I met up with the other guys at Fleetwood Marine Lake at 8am, Ian, Seumus, Huw and Graham, all of us keen to have the first go at the Turnstones during this winter. The Turnstones here spend a lot of time mopping up the leftovers of food scraps which local people put out for the now extremely tame wildfowl. 

For weeks Seumus and Ian had put out food in a small section of the same grassy area whereby when the opportunity arose, a whoosh net would be set to catch Turnstones alone, and hopefully no meandering Mute Swans or wandering wildfowl. 


Everything came good when plenty of Turnstones showed up for a hearty breakfast of chicken feed, resulting in a catch of 31 of the target species plus a few Starlings trying to get in on the act. One Turnstone was a recapture, a bird first ringed 23rd January 2012, and an individual which in the intervening period may have travelled to Iceland or perhaps further, the high Arctic of Alaska or Greenland. 

Each Turnstone we catch is now given a standard BTO metal ring, a colour ring, and a coloured leg marker bearing two letters. In this way we hope that wader watchers in Europe and North America will be able to report their sightings to the ringing group. If any readers of Another Bird Blog should see one of these marked Turnstones, they can report it here via the comments section and I will ensure that they receive all information relating to the bird. 

FRG Turnstone Project

Leg markers



After the Turnstone catch was processed and completed I took the opportunity for a photograph or two. The lately coming-to-bread Scaup has taken up with a few Tufted Duck and for whatever reason is now less keen to have her picture taken. There were a few Goldeneye and a good number of Redshanks knocking about the two-lake complex, both species adept at keeping their distance from prying lenses. 

Scaup and Tufted Duck



The next Turnstone catch should be in January but in the meantime be certain that there will be lots of birds featured on Another Bird Blog, so stay tuned. 

During this week Another Bird Blog is linking to I'd Rather Be Birding, Stewart's Photo Gallery, and  Weekly Top Shot, so be sure to check them out.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

And There’s More…

Bramblings that is, but only two new ones today. After the wind suddenly dropped at lunchtime I went to Out Rawcliffe where I checked and topped up the feeders, chucked more mixed seed on the ground and put up a couple of nets. 

At the moment the short days mean that with a midday start and birds heading off to roost soon after 3pm it leaves just a couple of hours catching time. Birds caught 1230-1430, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Brambling, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Robin, 1 Great Tit. 

Although it’s just a small sample of 11 birds, 8 of this week’s Bramblings have been first year males, the remainder three females. 


Brambling - first calendar year male

One of the male Chaffinches was especially “adult” with very squared off and dark tail feathers. 


Chaffinch - adult male

The Reed Bunting was a tiny first year female, wing length 73mm only. 

Reed Bunting

Other birds seen, in no particular order: 4000+ Woodpigeon, 1 Mistle Thrush, 3 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Jay, 1 Buzzard, 1 Merlin, 1 Kestrel, 8 Skylark, 30+ Goldfinch, 10+ Reed Bunting, 4 Brambling, 1 Snipe, 2 Woodcock, 18 Chaffinch. 



Tonight there’s babysitting, hence the rushed post. Never fear, Another Bird Blog will be up with the lark tomorrow looking for more birds to report. Stay tuned. 

This post is linking to Anni's I'd Rather Be Birding blog
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