Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More About Goldfinches

It looks like Goldfinches are definitely on the move, and it doesn’t take much extra daylight to notice a turnover of birds in my garden. Catching them reveals the birds using the feeders are not the same individuals, and I caught another 7 today, 5 males and 2 females, plus 2 Starlings and 2 new Blackbirds.




I occasionally check Another Bird Blog stats, out of curiosity, but also to discover how and why people find my blog, to find any trends or which particular items generate more interest. Just once or twice I have noted searches done for “Goldfinch” that included the word “catch” or “catching” that led the search to my blog, one in particular from an Essex location. Recently I found the following on the Internet – an article from The Independent newspaper - July 2010.

“The Goldfinch’s sweet song and bright plumage has also made the tiny songbird prey to bird baiters who are entering urban woodlands with pots of glue to catch the birds, which they can then sell for up to £100 a time. The practice is becoming prevalent in east London, particularly among North African communities where having a songbird in the home is a tradition.

The methods employed to catch the birds are particularly cruel. The hunters put a bait bird in a cage in a bush or tree before smearing the branches with rodent glue. When the bait bird sings it attracts other goldfinches, which flock to inspect the intruder in their habitat. When they land on the branches they become stuck in the glue. Too tiny to free themselves, they can later be plucked off by the baiters. As goldfinches are particularly territorial they can refuse to sing when in an unfamiliar bush. To combat this, some baiters will burn out the bait bird's eyes with a hot needle so it is no longer aware of its surroundings.

Catching wild birds in Britain is illegal. Sergeant Rowan Healey, of Scotland Yard's wildlife crime unit, said: "In the Sixties and Seventies birds like these would be sold in pubs in East London. But as people in this country have become more environmentally aware we don't do that anymore. These birds are caught in places like Walthamstow Marshes or the Lea Valley and are sold from cages outside shops. The fact that they are on display makes it clear that some members of those communities are not aware that catching and selling the birds is illegal.

We need to educate the public that this is a crime. Even if people buy these birds innocently they are inadvertently breaking the law and could be prosecuted."

The catching of Goldfinches and other birds is carried out by bird ringers for purely scientific reasons and research with a permit issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1990, and all captured birds are released immediately back to the wild. I would guess that if there are people in the wider community trying to find out how to catch Goldfinches illegally, it is reasonable to assume that they will use the Internet to try and discover ways of catching them. There is no way of preventing them reading blogs about bird ringing, or indeed birding blogs that name localities or identify concentrations of Goldfinches.

I post this information to make other bird watchers and ringers aware of the fact that the illegal trapping of Goldfinches may be taking place in the area they live, and that not everyone taking an apparent interest in bird ringing or bird watching activities may be doing so for genuine or legal reasons. There is nothing particularly new about this problem, but perhaps useful to remind ourselves occasionally that not all share our love to see birds wild and free, or wish to discover more about their fascinating lives.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lazy Day

More than a week on I think I’m still suffering from post-holiday blues and lazyitis. So when Will said he wasn’t available for ringing, coupled with an overnight layer of ice on the car, I had a lie in until I felt like doing a spot of garden ringing to get back in the swing of normality.

All ringers know that the quickest way to clear a garden chockfull of birds is to put up a mist net, and predictably my previously busy garden went suddenly quiet as the birds took off to neighbours’ peanut and seed hoppers, neatly avoided my freshly filled Niger bait. I caught the usual garden fare, Goldfinch, Blue, Coal and Great Tit plus Blackbirds and House Sparrows old and new, but it’s good to see Goldfinch numbers building up in January and with luck they will bring along a few Siskin and Redpoll soon.

Coal Tit


House Sparrow

And to fill the page, some final bird pictures from Lanzarote. There are also a few non-bird pictures which may raise a smile or provoke a few comments, especially since previous ones proved popular with some blog readers. After this no more pictures from Lanzarote, promise.

Spanish Sparrow

Best Of Pals - Teguise

Street Food - Teguise

Mother-In-Laws Lanzarote Style

Yellow-legged Gull

Audience - Teguise

Collared Dove

Street Entertainer - Teguise

Southern Grey Shrike

Shopping Bag- Puerto Del Carmen

Common Sandpiper


Friday, January 27, 2012

From Grey To Blue

Goodness knows I tried today. I set off at 11am and got to Backsands Lane at Pilling where I counted up the waders on the flood, 260 Dunlin, 65 Redshank, 28 Curlew and 33 Oystercatchers, before the rain and clouds arrived. In Lane Ends car park I grabbed a butty hoping that in the meantime the rain might stop but it didn’t, it just got worse and I was back home by 1pm.

So in place of the planned Pilling post, here’s an account of a sunny day in recent Lanzarote, an island which is pretty difficult to bird, where in January not much vegetation grows through the dry volcanic soil, with small birds proving difficult to find. At least it stays sunny, with blue skies throughout and not a drop of rain in our two week stay.

Walks from the hotel through residential streets and out towards distant volcanoes produced plenty of Southern Grey Shrikes. The shrikes seem almost a garden bird in the Puerto Calero area, a habitat they share with the ubiquitous Spanish Sparrows and Collared Doves, small numbers of Chiffchaffs, together with ones and twos of difficult to see but constantly “tacking” Blackcaps. One morning I found a flock of 50+ Lesser Short-toed Larks, but this seemed to be a one off, unlike my occasional sightings of Linnets, but these in threes and fours only. I thought it rather strange that our common Starling is rather uncommon in Lanzarote with my sightings confined to three or four groups of 10/12 birds in 2 weeks on the island.


Often the shrikes seemed to be in pairs with the males singing from prominent perches, often TV aerials, and in late January the birds could be at the start of their breeding season. The Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis keonigi I saw on Lanzarote is closely related to the European Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, the species separated in 1997. A couple of the most noticeable features of the southern species seemed to be the darker grey colouring and larger head, with a few individuals I saw having a very narrow, often indiscernible white line above the black face mask, or a hint of a coloured flush among the breast feathers. With the shortage of small birds I imagine the shrikes feed mostly on small insects, a probability confirmed by the ones I saw spending considerable time either on lookout posts or searching the dusty ground below.

Southern Grey Shrike

Southern Grey Shrike

A sign on a well-worn track hinted I might find Houbara Bustard, but searching across the barren ground in several areas on a number of days produced none, just Berthelots’s Pipits and Linnets. A local tourist guide told me that the bustard is virtually extinct on the island, confined to a few places I never reached.

Bustards About?

Berthelot’s Pipit


Coastal walks north and south from Costa Calero harbour could be more productive, with lots of gulls patrolling the shore, Sandwich Terns, more shrikes and pipits, and a chance of a wader or a passing Kestrel, the latter the only bird of prey I saw on the island. The Kestrels on Lanzarote, Falco tinnunculus dacotiae are noticeably paler than our UK nominate race, although I think migrant Kestrels occur here too.

Yellow-legged Gull


In the harbour one morning we chanced upon a Common Sandpiper which posed quite nicely for my camera. This was the morning we found other Lanzarote birds posing for a fashion photo-shoot, the assembled yachts providing a colourful backdrop.

Common Sandpiper

Lanzarote Posers

Lanzarote Posers

There, I just knew those sunny scenes would cheer everyone up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wary Times

It looked as if the afternoon might be the better part of the breezy day, so I delayed my trip out to Rawcliffe Moss until lunchtime; mistake, within minutes of arriving the showers began and I spent the next couple of hours warily studying encroaching banks of cloud or dodging bouts of rain and hail. In between I managed to see a few bits and pieces, details to follow.

As I drove onto the farm where we ring I saw 2 Kestrels in the vicinity of a several holey trees, one of which Kestrels bred in last year. The winds of the winter have done their best to finish off already damaged trees and come springtime I imagine there will be lots of suitable sites for hole nesting species like Kestrels, owls and Stock Doves. Talking of Stock Doves I saw a flock of 21 here today, the largest number I have seen for a while, with a slightly larger number of 40+ Woodpigeon. Unlike Wood Pigeon, the Stock Dove is not classed as a quarry species, but I find the dove is as equally wary of man as the well shot at Woodpigeon. I had to hide away in an old shed and be very quiet and unobtrusive to get the photograph below where the doves cautiously approach food put out for free range hens.

Stock Dove

At and near the feeding station were 220+ Tree Sparrow, 45 Chaffinch, 8 Reed Bunting, 2 Yellowhammer, 3 Goldfinch, 15 Long-tailed Tit and 4 Blackbird, with an overflying gang of 30 Linnets.

A walk north led me to find 2 Mistle Thrush, by now a certain pair, and that winter rarity a single Fieldfare. Just 3 Skylark up here, with 4 Grey Partridge and a gang of 200+ Jackdaw and numerous crows feeding in the stubble. Jackdaws from regularly shot farms are as hard to photograph as Stock Doves.


I walked through the deserted plantation, flushing a Roe Deer from the depths of last year’s growth and sussed out a couple of new net rides for the forthcoming spring ringing. Birds in here at the moment are few and far between, just crashing off Woodpigeons, a few Blackbirds, a couple of Wrens and early singing Dunnocks.

The walk back south to my car gave a single Buzzard and a third Kestrel, two pairs on the farm then - that’s good.


The forecast looks better for Saturday, maybe even a welcome spot of ringing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Foxy Finish

Tuesday’s constant rain wasn’t an incentive for doing much, despite my not getting out much since the holiday. This morning dawned better, so it was good to get back to the local patch today where in a couple of hours I saw more species than in two weeks on Lanzarote, where although my birding was part-time, finding birds in early January proved difficult.

Not so at Pilling today where my walk turned into a good birding session even though the grey skies kept my camera in the bag. Apologies then for archive photos to illustrate today’s sightings.

On my way to Lane Ends I drove along Fluke Hall Lane to the din of 400+ Jackdaws feeding in the wet stubble field. Stopping to look closer all I could find extra were c15 Redshanks and a single Bewick’s Swan, although as I watched, 4 honking Whooper Swans flew over to the marsh. At Damside instead of the usual Lapwings were 65+ Oystercatchers and a few Redshanks probing the soft soil of the soggy fields.


I hadn’t done Lane Ends for weeks but I began to see familiar birds. Six European White-fronted Geese were in the field opposite Lane Ends, and when I checked the quiet pool the wintering Kingfisher flew low across the water to a safe distance but where partly obscured by the trees I could just make out the orange breast. Around the plantation about 15 Chaffinch fed, with at least 2 Dunnock in full song.


I didn’t find any Goldeneye today, just a single Tufted Duck amongst the Mallards. A look for wildfowl on the marsh revealed 4 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 320 Shelduck, and with the tide only partly in, 60+ Teal, 4 Wigeon and 6 Pintail. A walk to Pilling Water turned up 4 Little Egrets, with the sole concession to passerines 3 Skylarks, but give them a week or two and they will be in full song. I can’t wait.


Back at the car park I tried to count the distant Curlews and Lawings, a couple of hundred at least of each. It became more difficult when a pair of Red Fox appeared, when as one sat and watched, the other, which appeared to be the larger dog fox, circled the group of by now very alert waders. The fox splashed through the marsh as it unsuccessfully tried to approach the birds, before running off towards the sea wall. By now the second fox had also set off in pursuit of a meal, making a wide arc around the birds, before heading off towards the Cockerham end of the sea wall. Naturally, the foxes caused some panic among the waders but a number of them stayed put, perhaps far enough away from the foxes but from where they could remain watchful.

The foxy encounter was a great finish to a fine couple of hours and it’s good to be back birding on home soil. I’m ending with a picture of a species I saw today, but unfortunately not in such good light or so close, a Little Egret in the Lanzarote sun.

Little Egret

Sunday, January 22, 2012

More From Lanzarote

I’m still catching up with emails, family and friends; it is still too windy for any ringing or much sensible birding so here are more pictures and stories from the recent holiday to Lanzarote.

With an average of 17 days of rainfall a year Lanzarote is a dry island, where the desalination industry provide most of the island’s water, a situation which provides for very little standing water for freshwater waders. One of the few places to look for wading birds is the working salt pans, Salinas de Janubio on the south coast of the island. As a trade-off with Sue for visiting the shopping resort of Playa Blanca I spent half a breezy day wandering over the paths of the salinas where I notched up a couple of species for the trip. In the strong breeze lots of birds hid behind the low walls of the salt beds, with others staying on the less windy side of the inland lagoon.

I found some familiar species, Dunlin, Sanderling, Redshank, Grey Plover, Greenshank and Common Sandpiper, with less frequent UK visitors like Kentish Plover, together with the impossibly bright pink, long-legged Black-winged Stilts. Also here were single digit numbers of Swallow, House Martin and Common Swift, with a few Cattle Egrets nearby plus a single Little Egret.

Black-winged Stilt



Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover

Common Sandpiper

Salinas de Janubio

At the mirador café visitors can sit and gaze out over the salt pans as Berthelot’s Pipits wander through the car park.

View from The Mirador Cafe, Salinas de Janubio

Berthelot’s Pipit

Near Janubio is the green lagoon of El Golfo, where subterranean sea water seeps through the volcanic Lanzarote rock, the process turning the water bright green from the minerals the water meets. Lanzarote has anywhere between 100 and 300 extinct volcanoes, the number depending upon which tour guide you consult. I parked the Astra hire car under a volcanic precipice hoping a bit more of the jagged cliff edge might fall and finish off the old wreck.

Green Lagoon, El Golfo

Volcano’s Edge

Volcano’s Edge

El Golfo is a pretty sea-side resort where fish restaurants gut their fish on the beach whilst the gulls wait expectantly. Yellow-legged Gull was pretty much the only gull I saw in two weeks in Lanzarote, with just the occasional Great Black-backed Gull or Sandwich Terns fishing offshore.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

Little House - El Golfo

El Golfo

Back at the hotel was a quiet bar for a glass or two of Lanzarote wine after a thirsty day’s birding, or shopping.

Hotel Costa Calero

Stay tuned folks for more from Lanzarote or local birding soon.
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