Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chick Time

There’s not much to report today, but a few pictures nonetheless. 

A bright and breezy start at Fluke Hall gave a few warblers i.e. Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and 2 Common Whitethroat. There are a small number of finches in the area with 8+ Goldfinch and 4 Linnets today, with 4 - 6 pairs of Skylark. 

A check of Hi-Fly fields gave 30+ Swallows, 4 Swift and a single Sand Martin, with the pools and sea wall revealing 30+ Lapwing, 8 Oystercatcher, 25+ Redshank and a single Curlew wader-wise. A lone Kestrel from the Fluke Hall pair and on the lookout for an easy meal caused some panic amongst the waders when it flew across the fields, and then stopping to search the ground below. Like me the Kestrel knows there are small chicks about, but they are not easy to find with so many protective parents on watch. 




One pair of the 3+ breeding Redshank had just one chick. Thankfully and with it being just a few days old it was a “croucher” rather than a “runner”, nature giving wader chicks well developed legs and feet from an early age, partly to allow them escape from predators. 

Redshank chick

I found just one Lapwing chick today, the wind on the exposed seaward side of the wall making watching extremely difficult. 

Lapwing chick

Not much doing at Lane Ends - 2 Reed Warbler, Long-tailed Tits, with Tufted Duck, Teal and Greylags on the pools. 

Log in soon to Another Bird Blog for a bird’s eye view and more cool chicks.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What IS That Warbler? - Book Review

Identifying North American warblers was never an easy task. My first trip to Long Point Bird Observatory Canada to coincide with spring migration proved an eye opener in every sense. Luckily I’d spent weeks beforehand swotting the Peterson Guide so had a reasonable handle on species I might encounter as a volunteer bander and field worker. But as a UK birder used to seeing, hearing and instantly recognising the dozen or two warblers of a typical UK Springtime, nothing quite prepares for the diversity of colours, plumages and often similar calls of the warblers of the USA and Canada. 

So when a new guide to the continent’s warblers promises to be “groundbreaking” and make warbler identification “easier than ever before”, with the undertaking to help the reader to “effectively learn songs and calls”, I had to take a look. The book in question is “The Warbler Guide”, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. The book is not on general release until July 2013 but was kindly sent to me by Princeton University Press in advance and for review on Another Bird Blog. 

The Warbler Guide

My first impression was that although The Warbler Guide covers just 56 species it is a hefty book of 550+ pages and at 7 x 9 inches and 2 inches thick would fit more easily in a handy bag or rucksack rather than a jacket pocket. As in the style of many guides nowadays, the aides to identification in The Warbler Guide are based upon photographs, in this case more than 1000 coloured pictures of US and Canadian warblers. The photographs are in the main excellent, many are quite outstanding given the challenges in photographing such an intensively active family of birds. 

If someone is looking to open the pages of The Warbler Guide and begin birding, they may be initially disappointed as it is page 138 before the species accounts begin. Any early frustration should be quickly dispelled because while those initial pages add to the bulk of the book, they contain a number of useful innovations which should be studied in depth before using the species accounts. This is especially true for less experienced or starting-out birders who could well find themselves overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task they face in IDing warblers at any time of the year, more so in the fall when less easily identified youngsters appear with moulting adults. This book will be invaluable to that learning curve but will also prove a useful assistant to the more experienced birder who twice a year has to tackle the Everest of warbler ID. 

The early part of The Warbler Guide includes sections entitled “What to notice on a warbler”, with illustrative photographs highlighting characteristics like size, shape, behaviour, the face, the body and the undertail. There is a short summary of general ageing and sexing techniques which includes advice on how to use the age/sex codes at the species account pages. 

The Warbler Guide - What to notice on a warbler

There follows a lengthy, 38 page section devoted to helping readers ID warblers by listening to them. The authors explain about sonograms, how to listen to warbler songs and also how to learn chip and flight calls. As one who struggles with sonograms I am somewhat biased in thinking that there is no substitute for the old-fashioned way of learning bird calls and song by experience in the field. However I applaud the authors for their very detailed charts and explanations and their willingness to share the latest understanding of this element of birding. Luckily for me and probably for many others, the authors will make a library of warbler songs and sounds available via their web site in time for the book’s publication in July. Furthermore a Smartphone App and an enhanced ebook will follow in spring 2014. The fact that Smartphones Apps are now almost universal raises the question in my mind of whether this section of the book and the two-page sonograms placed at the species accounts will be redundant sooner rather than later, and that reducing the number of pages devoted to this subject could usefully condense the book and achieve a more portable size? 

An innovative “Quick Finder” section contains valuable sections on face portraits, side views of the whole bird, 45 degree views, under views, and also separate pages of Eastern and Western undertails. In addition there is a “quick finder” for the geographical East in springtime or the autumn/fall periods, together with a “quick finder” for the West based upon spring only birds. This “Quick Finder” section contains another 20 plus pages devoted to identifying a species through highly descriptive and comparative sonograms of similar sounding species. 

Faces - The Warbler Guide

Undertails - The Warbler Guide

The actual species accounts are designed to help a reader narrow down the possibilities, including as they do views from above, the side or below, but also additional photos and “distinctive” views. Where applicable a species is shown in both ”bright” and “drab” versions with bullet pointed features of note, together with additional photographs depicting a comparison of colouration, brightness or hue via a set of skins or a set of partial views. The latter is an often incomplete picture a birder knows only too well. Variations in colour or brightness occur all too often so the direct comparisons offered here are highly useful and extremely valid additions to the information. Another innovation is the use of a set of icons which indicate basic colouration patterns, silhouettes, ranges, and where you're most likely to see the species. 

Wilson's Warbler - The Warbler Guide

Here it is worth mentioning how the authors have included colour-coded maps at each ageing and sexing account, the map detailing where a species takes a different migration route in spring and fall/autumn. Each map has a migration-span chart alongside illustrating how Early, Middle and Late waves of warblers can occur in locations during each season. This small but important feature shows a great deal of thought by the authors in helping readers to understand how adult birds, but more especially inexperienced juveniles, can turn up out of place and/or out of time, thus pointing out why a birder should always expect the unexpected. 

Cape May Warbler - The Warbler Guide

The alpha-order species accounts take up pages 138 to 525. These pages also include pictures and descriptions of non-warbler species which nonethelesss share shape and size characteristics, ID traps for the unwary which occur with warbler flocks, e.g. bird families like kinglets, verdins, gnatcatchers, vireos and even sparrows. 

At the end of the book a set of picture quizzes with answers allow readers the opportunity to test out their new found skills, while more pages illustrate and describe the warblers in flight. For those of a scientific bent there is a taxonomic and evolutionary chart compiled from the latest DNA research and analysis, plus a table of weights and measurements. 

North American Warbler Taxonomy - The Warbler Guide

In summary The Warbler Guide is a fine book crammed with photographs, tips, expert advice, innovation and information designed to help identify a unique and beautiful set of birds. As noted at the start of this review my only caveat is that because the book is so comprehensive and chockfull of guidance the actual physical aspect of it may make it rather unwieldy when used in the field. 

There is a Facebook page at with more information and the book is available to order now at Princeton Press priced at $29.95 or £19.95.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

That’s Better

A fine, dry morning at last, and even the wind had dropped. Springtime here seems to have passed me by due to a combination of poor April weather, going on holiday, and then even more rubbish weather just when we needed it least. Now we are almost in June when migration ends and resident birds fall more silent. 

I set off from Lane Ends, packing a few rings into my bag - A size in case of late Wheatears, B for Skylark nests and D2 for any Lapwing chicks left after the crow assault and Hi-Fly’s farming activities. Lane Ends had singing Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler, and on the way to Pilling Water, the male Corn Bunting again, singing from a gate post. Out on the marsh were 3 Whimbrel, with a scan across revealing still 30+ Shelduck and 10+ Redshank in calling pairs. 

Corn Bunting

It was beyond Pilling Water where I found the Lapwing chicks, three of similar size but from separate broods. The grass up there is pretty long to find whole broods unless there is a “finder” and a “guide”, the latter to watch through binoculars and direct the finder to a spot where the Lapwing chick crouched to the ground. If only it was always that easy. 

Lapwing chick

The adults stay close, protesting loudly and keeping one eye on the intruder.



 Excitement over I walked towards Fluke Hall where I found more adult Lapwings but no observable chicks. In the area of Worm Pool I saw a couple of Redshank, 8 Oystercatcher, a Black-tailed Godwit, and perched up on the poolside vegetation a fine, male Whinchat. 


From the stile I counted a dozen or so Swallows and several Swifts hawking insects, my eyes diverted by a Buzzard leaving the trees of Fluke Hall, the raptor followed mercilessly by the obligatory crows. The crow shook them off just before it reached Pilling Water plantation. 

Buzzard and Carrion Crow

Small numbers of Goldfinch and Linnet flew over, with a single Pied Wagtail and several Skylark about. The Skylark weren’t for giving much away apart from singing and I think a few nests may have been lost after Hi-Fly’s recent bout of rolling and tidying. 

I headed back, a good morning’s work and a wonderful walk in the sun.

Stay tuned for more walks in the summer sun with Another Bird Blog with this post linking to Anni who would also rather be birding and Stewart in Australia where you can see a whole gallery of birds.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ringed Poll, Ringed Gull

Not much doing the in the strong northerly winds with a trip to Pilling proving not very productive. Lane Ends pools gave up the Greylags with young, the Canada Geese as yet without, a pair of Tufted Duck and a single drake Teal behaving as if a female was close by. The pool margins still hold two singing Reed Warblers and a singing Reed Bunting, with the recent Sedge Warbler and Willow Warblers not seen.

Donning jacket and hat I braved a walk to Pilling Water where I found Kestrel and Buzzard, the latter heading off towards Fluke Hall, the Kestrel in the direction of Damside. Any small birds were laying low in the wind, but I noted a pair of Greenfinch and the single Corn Bunting once again. In the poor conditions I decided to cut my losses and save the birding for another, hopefully better day soon where the coming weekend looks marginally better. So in the meantime I drove to Rawcliffe where between the rain and hail showers I did a little site management work as the (comparative) recent warmth is has spurred growth which threatens to turn woodland edge into woodland.

Out Rawcliffe  

A record came from the BTO of a bird handled at Rawcliffe Moss last year, a bird which bore a Belgian ring number 12231826, Bruxelles. The Lesser Redpoll ring was first ringed on 11 February 2012 at Sinaai, West Vlanderen, Belgium and then recaptured at Rawcliffe Moss on 20 October 2012, one of five Lesser Redpolls captured that day and one of 28 of the same species caught their during October of that year. 

Belgium is known as a regular haunt of Lesser Redpolls leaving the comparatively colder climate of the UK to winter further south, October being a peak migration time. The distance between the two sites is 555km, West Vlanderen being in a south south-easterly direction from Out Rawcliffe. 

Lesser Redpoll - Belgium to Out Rawcliffe

Lesser Redpoll

On holiday in Menorca I saw another ringed Audouin’s Gull this year, one of three Darvic ringed ones in recent years (BCFH, AHY2 and AH2D) spotted near the south coast resort of Sant Tomas. The gulls are part of the population ringed on the small Menorcan offshore island of Isla de L’Aire, a protected island where no one lives and no one is allowed to land without permission, a consent which is granted rarely. I learnt that AHY2 was ringed in 2005 and in 2007 spent at least some time in Barcelona, mainland Spain but was back in Menorca in 2008 and in 2009, but I didn't see that one this year.

Audouin's Gull - AHY2

In the late 1960s, Audouin’s Gull (named after the French naturalist Jean Victoire Audouin) was one of the World's rarest gulls, with a population of only 1,000 pairs. It has established new colonies, but remains rare with a world population of about c10, 000 pairs. This gull thrives on human practices of waste fish dumping. The population of Audouin’s Gull has risen spectacularly since the fishing industry, particularly in the Ebro delta of Spain, began dumping large volumes of fish waste overboard. Having adapted to this food source, Audouin’s Gull populations would now be decimated should the fishing industry choose to use the fish waste as animal food. In periods when the fisheries do not operate, Audouin’s Gulls have been seen to suffer food shortages, as well as becoming prey for the Yellow-legged Gull. 

The adult resembles a small European Herring Gull, the most noticeable differences being the short stubby red bill and "string of pearls" white wing primary tips, rather than the large "mirrors" of some other species. Audouin's Gulls take four years to reach adult plumage. 

Audouin's Gull - AHZD
Audouin's Gull- BCFH

Stay tuned for more from Another Bird Blog soon.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Menorca?

There’s no birding today, it's grandad duties looking after Isabella. So for blog regulars and “Menorca” Internet searchers here are some photographs from our recent holiday to that beautiful island. 

Sue and I go to Menorca because we adore the island scenery, admire the style, grace and friendly nature of the islanders, love exploring the countryside and the quiet little inland towns or perhaps visiting the historic cities of Mahon and Ciutadella. Two weeks of almost guaranteed sunshine plays a part too.

As ever, click on the pictures for a colourful slide show. 

 Mahon harbour

Es Mercadal

A bistro, Es Mercadal

While birding there takes second place to the actual holiday, any bird watching we do is a part of the relaxing time we have and the seeing afresh of common Mediterranean birds. Some years we pick up  new species for our island ”list” - this year Corncrake, Spoonbill and Glossy Ibis.

But bird watching is never easy in Menorca. Many of the regular species like Cetti’s Warbler, Nightingale, Firecrest, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Golden Oriole and Quail hide themselves away or stay distant whereby actually setting eyes upon any one of them becomes something of an occasion. Even the legendary and sought after Hoopoe is actually very shy in Menorca, more often heard as a distant 'oop-oop-oop' rather than seen well. Luckily I know of a regular breeding spot where both birds accept the busied click of the shutter button just once a year. 

Fornells bay


Bee Eater

Purple Heron

The Hoopoes weren't as far on as last year. This time I saw only the male as every fiftenn minutes or so he brought in food for the female's inspection, she sitting tight on the nest as he passed the food over without entering the concrete cavity.




In ten visits to the island I have yet to meet a Menorcan birder and whilst there may be a small number, I imagine they could be counted on the digits of both hands and more probably one. Bird watching seems not to figure in the Menorcan culture. There are hardly any visiting birders either, the more substantial list and reputation of nearby Majorca ensuring that most foreign birders head there instead of its smaller neighbour. There is no bird news service on Menorca, word of mouth being the only means of relating news between the transient population of mainly European bird watchers who spend a week or fourteen days there before returning to the colder north. 

Screen Hide at Es Grau

View - Es Grau, Menorca

Spotted Flycatcher

Little Egret

Little Grebe

Whiskered Tern

Ses Salines - Menorca

Black-winged Stilt

In other words, and for those who appreciate such things, bird watching Menorca Style is rather old-fashioned by allowing discovery of birds alone, unencumbered by the annoying bleeps of pagers and mobile phones or car loads of hyped-up folk dashing between one bird-hit and the next. OK, at the end of a week the list in your notebook won’t be long but there will be a wonderful selection of Mediterranean species, a number of common birds and a few “goodies” thrown in, all of them with no pressure involved to the bird or the birder. 

Turtle Dove

Booted Eagle

Bee Eater


Cattle Egret

Cattle Egrets


It wasn't just birds. We saw good numbers of European Swallowtail Butterfly on a couple of days - flying too fast and frequently to get pictures. We also came acrosss a few large grasshoppers - up to 3 inches long - the migratory Egyptian Grasshoper I think. Insect experts help required please.

Egyptian Grasshopper?

And at the end of another stress free day there’s always a quiet bar to while away the time, watch the sunset and spend quality time, planning another day of discovery and hoping that tomorrow’s Roller may be a lot closer. If not, there's always next year and an excuse for a return visit.

Bar at Es Grau

European Roller

Menorca Sunset

Please log in soon to Another Bird Blog for more news and views. I'm linking this post to Stewart's Gallery - World Bird Wednesday  in Australia- take a look for more bird pictures.

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