Sunday, September 27, 2015

Greece - Still Birding

Sue and I are still in Skiathos, so apologies that there is no local news again. Instead here are more pictures and a few words about Skiathos until we return. 

The economy of Skiathos island is mainly centred on tourism and fishing, followed closely by crop and livestock farming. Skiathos is greener than someone might expect from many of the typical hot and sunny Greek island in holiday brochures. While Skiathos has many beaches they are often flanked by lush green hills. This landscape feature makes it one of the more naturally attractive Greek islands. Skiathos is also called “the boomerang island” because it is said that once someone has visited this island they will feel an irresistible urge to return. This is our fourth visit here. pic 

The island of Skiathos and the neighbouring one of Skopelos are both renowned for their population of wasps, and I daresay that the creatures are all pervasive on nearby islands and the mainland. No wonder then that Skiathos has a good resident population of Honey Buzzards, a raptor that specializes in raiding the nests of bees and wasps. The numbers of this buzzard are swelled in September by migrating birds from further north, but Common Buzzard also occurs here as a migrant. 

Eleonora's Falcon and Honey Buzzard

We always rent a Suzuki Jimny when in Skiathos. On the neglected roads and rough tracks of post-financial crisis Greece, the legendary robustness and fun factor of the tiny 4x4 is sought after by European tourists looking for an authentic Greek experience. For us it’s a bit of nostalgia for the electric blue Jimny we once owned. 

Birding Greek Style

You are never far away from a beach in Skiathos, but if sun bathing is not your thing, just a few yards away is the real Greece where a spot of birding is possible. 


Birding to the beach 

Red-backed Shrike

Yellow Wagtail



This year’s list of birds may not be the longest or contain a large number of rare birds, but it’s an eclectic mix containing a number of “goodies”. And boy, are we having a good time! 

These are the species so far during days split between exploring, chilling and soaking up the Greek sunshine: Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Yellow-legged Gull, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Spotted Flycatcher, Sardinian Warbler, Great Tit, Hooded Crow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Bee Eater, Eleanora’s Falcon, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Whinchat, Wheatear, Cuckoo, Common Whitethroat, Olivaceous Warbler, House Sparrow, Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Little Owl, Scops Owl, Common Buzzard, Raven, Hooded Crow, Yellow Wagtail, Richard’s Pipit, Caspian Gull, Hobby, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Blackcap, Linnet, Cirl Bunting, Lesser Whitethroat, Bonelli’s Warbler, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, European Shag. 

This week I managed a number of return visits to fellow bloggers but with just a smartphone and intermittent WiFi it’s not easy, so please bear with me for a while. I will be with you all soon. 


I hope everyone enjoyed this taste of Greece. Back soon.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Skiathos Birding

Sue and I are in Skiathos, Greece so there’s no local news. Instead here are few views of Skiathos together with one or two birds which can be seen in Skiathos during the month of September. 

Skiathos is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, the westernmost island in the Northern Sporades group, east of the Pelion peninsula in Magnesia on the mainland, and west of the island of Skopelos. Much of Skiathos is wooded with Aleppo Pine and a small Stone Pine forest at the Koukounaries location where there is a lagoon and a popular beach. The island's forests are concentrated on the southwest and northern parts, but the presence of pine trees is prevalent throughout the island. 


The name of the island dates back to ancient times. Skiathos took part in wars against the Persians and in 478 BC, became a part of the Athenian Alliance. Later the island was occupied by Alexander the Great and then by the Romans. During the Byzantine period it sank into oblivion. In 1204 was conquered by the Venetians and in 1583 by the Turks. It was then that the inhabitants of the old town Chora, abandoned it and constructed on the north side of the island on a nearly invisible rock, the fortress known as Kastro. 

The now derelict Kastro is famous as a place where the rare Eleanora’s Falcon is guaranteed. September is one of the best months to see this spectacular falcon by way of a dusty, bumpy ride over mountainous tracks followed by a trek on foot to the remote cliffs where the Eleanora’s nest. 

Jimny to Kastro

Eleanora's Falcon

Kastro, Skiathos

During the Greek War of Independence of 1821, many warriors from Thessaly opposite, took refuge on the island. Skiathos was liberated in 1823. In 1830, the local people, left the historic Kastro and rebuilt Chora (now Skiathos Town). 

Life in Skiathos has changed a great deal since those days. Luxury hotels slowly began to be built along its lovely sand beaches, tourist activity continually grew and Skiathos became one of the most cosmopolitan islands in Greece. The island of Skiathos has no villages and strangely as it seems, Skiathos Town is the only true settlement of the island. 

Skiathos Town

The coastal settlements were created in more recent years with the boom in tourism leading to the building of modern hotel complexes, rooms to let, shops, restaurants and cafes, close to the most beautiful beaches of the island. The town, which was built around 1830 on the remains of the Old Town, follows the traditional architecture influenced influence from the architectural style of mainland Pelion. Small whitewashed houses with tiles, balconies and small yards with flowers create the traditional neighbourhoods of Skiathos. 

In our small but perfectly formed hotel we awake to the sound of tinkling goat bells, free-range chickens and the resident Little Owl, but some days the Scops Owl. We take a cup of tea out to the garden to watch Red-rumped Swallows, Barn Swallows and House Martins swooping over the dewy grass. Up above there are more hirundines, often a Bee Eater and always an Alpine Swift or two. In the rows of vines, peppers, tomatoes and pomegranate trees are Blackcaps, Spotted Flycatchers, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. And there’s a seemingly permanent a Red-backed Shrike on the perfect fence. Birding pre-breakfast - what could be better? 

Spotted Flycatcher

Hotel, Skiathos

Red-backed Shrike

"Mikey" and his aubergines

Bee Eater


With just a smartphone on hand for 2 weeks it is unlikely I will be able to devote too much time to blogging, but I promise to return all visits and comments as soon as possible. 

In the meantime enjoy the photos, don’t forget to “click the pics”, and log in soon for more from Skiathos.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Rock Bottom Birding

£4.50 is a rock-bottom price to trim my hair, a bit of a snip really. But then there isn’t an awful lot left to cut, as Sue occasionally reminds me. At 0930 I took the two minute ferry from Knott End across to Fleetwood for the regular trim by the usual hairdresser. All done and dusted in double quick time I caught the 10am ferry back. 

The haircut was just an excuse to do a little final birding at Knott End before we pack suitcases in readiness for flying off to Greece tomorrow. 

The midday tide began to fill so I walked up river alongside the golf course where 2 Pied Wagtails fed along the shore while a further one dodged a series of golf balls arriving on the fairway. When the golfers caught up with their balls (not as painful as it sounds) the single Pied Wagtail joined the others feeding below the tidal wall. 

Pied Wagtail

There was a Grey Heron on the edge of the incoming tide with a Little Egret feeding among the rocks and stones a little nearer to the shore. Three more egrets flew down river towards Knott End and landed amongst the countless Oystercatchers scattered across the rocks of the mussel beds. The local mussel population is currently at one of its periodic lows with a resultant ban on gathering them; good news for the Oystercatchers to whom the ban doesn’t apply. 


Two Eider ducks floated up river with the incoming tide. Oystercatcher flew in lines above the ducks and towards their tidal roost as the mussel beds vanished under the incoming water. A tiny flock of Goldfinch flew over calling whereupon I counted less than ten of the flighty beasts. I took the well-worn path across the golf course and the fairway towards Hackensall, eyes and ears open for wayward golf balls, angry golfers and migrant birds. A small number of Swallows were headed north and into the prevailing wind. Were they on migration? It was hard to say but if so they needed to change direction eventually or they would find themselves across the bay in Morecambe, Heysham, or even Barrow, a fate worse than death. 

A Kestrel came by. The golf course is a favoured hunting spot with copses and scattered trees and tree boxes in which to nest. 


On the way back I clocked a couple of Meadow Pipits heading south, their thin, feeble calls reminding me that the autumn passage of this species has so far been equally faint. 

Back at the jetty a Greenshank surprised me as it flew away with a noisy triple call and the remaining Oystercatchers joined in a single-species foreshore roost, some 900 of them. A good number of Oystercatchers expend energy by flying up river to roostbut those who stay close to the mussel beds get first pickings when the tide recedes. There was a Grey Heron on the tide line still, a Little Egret along the shore, just 8/10 Redshanks to be seen, but 4 more Eider on the sea. 

The great and the good of Knott End recently unveiled a tribute to the artist L.S. Lowry who was a regular visitor to Knott End during the 1940’s and 1950’s. His paintings depicting this coastline were in stark contrast to his more famous, some say "gloomy", paintings of industrial scenes, but both contained his trademark “matchstick” men and women. In the near right background is the celebrated jetty and in the distance the town of Fleetwood. 

"LS Lowry" at Knott End

 Lowry plaque

It was time to hit the road. 

Τα λέμε σύντομα. Or as they say in Greece, “see you soon”.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Counting My Blessings

Sallie, a regular reader of Another Bird Blog, gave me a bit of a telling off the other day via a comment. “Was made green with envy when you reported "nothing much of note ..." Except for what I counted as over 100 birds, several of which would be amazing lifers for me! Count your blessings as well as your birds !!” 

Sallie is absolutely right of course that birders are often blasé about the birds and the birding experiences they enjoy on a very regular basis. I own up to a somewhat casual approach occasionally but do also realise I am lucky to have the time and wherewithal to indulge my passion by bird watching, bird ringing and even a little bird photography. Not everyone is so fortunate. So I set off birding this morning determined to be positive, impressed and alert to everything I saw, even down to the most routine or mundane. 

There was a brilliant start with a hunting Barn Owl. I pulled into a roadside gateway to check the road ahead which I knew to be a regular beat of an owl. And there one was in the half-light of dawn circuiting the fields and roadside some 200 yards away. There was no traffic so I switched the headlights to “off” and crawled in second gear to where the owl was. The owl was so engrossed in hunting that the car’s presence didn’t appear to trouble it except that it flew directly over once or twice. This was one of the two young Barn Owls I saw a week or more ago and I hope that the other has not met an untimely death as young Barn Owls often do. More likely is that the youngsters have now gone their separate ways as they must do - I hope so. 

Barn Owl

I was on my way to Conder Green and Glasson Dock where three or four hours of determined birding resulted in a fine list of birds. It’s a great place to go birding because of the wonderful mix of habitats - marsh, shore, both fresh and saline water, woodland, and even a spot of industrial thrown into the mix. 

 The Lancaster Canal - Conder to Glasson

2015 may be remembered as one of the worst ever for breeding birds but will surely be remembered as one which gave almost daily sightings of our spectacular UK Common Kingfisher. “Common” was the operative word this autumn with a guaranteed bird, occasionally two together on almost every visit here and to other local birding spots. Today was no exception as a Kingfisher was almost the first bird I saw at Conder Green. This particular bird is not especially cooperative to the photographer; perhaps because of the attention the busy spot receives by people eager to see the often elusive but beautiful Kingfisher. Who can blame them? 


The tidal creeks here at Conder Green remain the major focus as they always have a varied selection of waders to search through, together with numbers of Teal and Mallard. There’s a constant but sometimes subtle change in both numbers and species caused by the twice-a-day tides and mostly human, but sometimes raptor induced disturbance. 

Today’s count gave 44 Redshank, 33 Lapwing, 6 Curlew, 3 Snipe, 2 Greenshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Oystercatcher, 40 Teal, 22 Mallard, 2 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. 

Grey Heron

On the pool I located 7 Little Grebe and the newcomer of a Great Crested Grebe, almost certainly the same one of a day or two ago that sailed on the yacht basin at Glasson half a mile away. 

Visible migration has been thin this autumn and so unremarkable that noteworthy today were single calls overhead of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin, both of which found their way into my notebook. A couple of calls of Meadow Pipits overhead also pointed to migrating birds. Two Ravens above  distant trees and fields were almost certainly of local origin as the species now breeds not too far away. 

My walk along the towpath and old railway line found two Chiffchaff, one in stuttering and brief song, the other by way of its slurred contact call. I failed to find the recent flock of up to 100 Goldfinch but made do with a smaller flock of 18 Linnets and eventually located a dozen or so flighty Goldfinch plus a couple of Greenfinch. 

The population of our once abundant Greenfinch remains low, not helped by  the abysmal summer of 2015, so each sighting of even one or two birds is worthy of a note. 


So ended four hours of productive and enjoyable bird watching. What could be better? 

Find out soon when you log into Another Bird Blog again. 

Friday, September 11, 2015


There was another strong easterly this morning. Several days of east and south easterly winds have blown a few continental waifs, namely Barred Warbler and Wryneck, to this the west coast, but almost 20 miles to the south of here.

Barred Warbler - Photo credit: Radovan Václav / Foter / CC BY-NC

Wryneck - Phil Slade

If there’s one there’s almost certainly another of the same species lurking yet unfound is my philosophy. So I set off in the opposite direction for a spot of “bush bashing” at Glasson and Conder Green, as likely place as any to try for an unusual bird or two.

On the way north I pulled in at Braides Farm where a Buzzard hovered above the sea wall until crows came along to send the Buzzard to ground level. A tight flock of 70/80 Golden Plover tore around the fields at low level before eventually settling down somewhere in the distant grass.

The path between Conder and Glasson was pretty cool and windswept. At the car park a single Siskin flew over calling but remained invisible. My lonely walk gave little of note except for sightings of a single Chiffchaff, 9 Long-tailed Tit, 4 Linnet, a good sized but very flighty team of 80/90 Goldfinch, and a group of 8 Little Egrets flying down river.

I checked a couple of quiet spots at Glasson including my regular look in Christ Church graveyard. It resembles the textbook spot in which to find a rare bird like a Hoopoe, a Wryneck or a shrike but has yet to deliver.

I was almost there as a small warbler flit through the tree tops but then called the familiar slurred “hweet” of another Chiffchaff. Nearby was the resident Robin in autumn song and just Blackbirds rather than rare warblers tucking into the autumn berries.

Glasson Church




The church is alongside the canal towpath from where I could see lots of Swallows over the yacht basin just ahead. There’s still something like 500+ feeding and resting Swallows around and mixed in with them today 20+ House Martins.

On the water - 9 Tufted Duck, 18 Coot and the return today of a Great Crested Grebe. The grebes nest here in years when water levels are ideal and the spring and summer oblige. Not in 2015.

Great Crested Grebe

Glasson Dock

This was getting nowhere. It was too windy for finding warblers or much else so I drove to Conder Green to see the regular and always obliging waders and wildfowl. The counts today - 40 Teal, 7 Little Grebe, 6 Curlew, 4 Greenshank, 2 Spotted Redshank, 3 Snipe, 1 Ruff, 1 Kingfisher.

Another Bird Blog will be trying again quite soon. Please look in a day or two.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mid-Week Blues

The weatherman offered a couple of bright hours before the wind would pick up to make bird ringing impossible. The forecast for weekend looked more dire still, so it was now or never. I decided to head up to Oakenclough for a spot of solo ringing. 

There was full cloud throughout together with a cool breeze as the anticipated bright intervals failed to materialise. I ended up with a disappointing 10 birds - 4 Goldfinch, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Blue Tit, plus one each of Coal Tit and Blackcap. 

Good numbers of Siskins, 25+, were in evidence again but I failed to catch a single one. Even the normally exuberant Lesser Redpolls stayed out of sight with just a couple of flyovers to note. The light was so bad this morning I had to shoot birds in the hand at a far from ideal ISO1600. 

The Blackcap is a first year female. 


The Goldfinch below is a first year undergoing moult transition to a first year female. It is in body moult, hence the feather debris, has replaced the two central tail feathers and is in the process of re-growing the two outermost tail feathers. 


Goldfinch tail

A completely juvenile Goldfinch cannot be sexed until there is some colour around the head. By September a juvenile at this stage could be from a third brood and it is noticeable this week how many Goldfinches are still feeding recently fledged youngsters. The middle picture below was taken on Sunday 6th September. 



There didn’t appear to be many Chaffinches around this morning with probably less than 15 seen/heard. The only one caught had a severe case of viral infection to its legs, one leg far worse than the other. The Chaffinch was an adult male and apart from the leg infection seemed in overall good condition, having recently undergone a full moult. It goes without saying I hope that birds displaying any hint of this condition are not  given a ring on either leg.

 Fringilla papillomavirus

Ringers who catch good numbers of Chaffinches see this disease regularly. It is known as Fringilla papillomavirus (FPV). 

The species susceptible to this are Chaffinches and, to a lesser extent, Bramblings. In a large survey of birds captured for ringing in the Netherlands, papillomas were found on 330 (1.3%) of some 25,000 Chaffinches examined and both sexes were affected. However, cases usually occur in clusters and quite high proportions of local populations may be affected in outbreaks. The fact that cases occur in clusters suggests that the presence of affected birds presents a risk to others that are susceptible. The mode of transmission is not known but it seems likely that the virus may be spread via surfaces the birds stand or perch upon.

Even birds with large papillomas often appear to behave normally so, in some cases, the growths may be little more than an inconvenience and relatively minor irritation. However, lameness is sometimes observed.

My own observations over the years suggest that the disease is more prevalent where Chaffinches mix with chickens and wildfowl in both farm and smallholding situations, perhaps even in gamebird rearing situations where feed is either spread upon the ground or spilled via feeding devices. 

The morning’s birding was as equally quiet as the ringing - Sparrowhawk, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail and Great-spotted Woodpecker of note

Monday, September 7, 2015

Up To No Good

I offer no apologies for returning once again to the subject of the illegal trapping of Goldfinches. It is a subject highlighted on this blog a number of times. 


From The York Press - Tuesday 21 July 2015 

"A York man whose hobby was snaring wild song birds was caught setting traps by the roadside while going to Seamer Horse Fair, a court heard. Alan Smith, 59, was staying on a site in Gate Helmsley, en route to the fair, when he placed a cage in a nearby hedge. The trap, containing a Goldfinch and food, was designed to lure a second Goldfinch onto a perch, after which the cage door would slam shut. 

Prosecutor Katy Varlow said the bird - which Smith said he had got from a man in a pub in Leeds - was "extremely agitated". She added: "It would not go on the perch. It was banging against the side of the trap. It was clearly not used to being in captivity." 

Wildlife officer PC Graham Bilton, based at Eastfield, near Scarborough, removed the cage but Smith and his fellow travellers were off the site, Scarborough magistrates heard on Monday. However, the officer caught up with the same group of caravans when they pitched camp for a second time a few days later at Scagglethorpe, by the A64. Again, a cage had been laid out to snare a second Goldfinch, and this time a Goldfinch already caught in the wild was inside as a decoy, Ms Varlow continued, adding: "Small finches are extremely popular to be targeted for illegal trapping. 

"They're protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but very popular with the travelling community due to their melodic song and colourful attractive plumage." Smith, of The Clifton Caravan Site in Water Lane, York, was given a six month community order. He was also fined £100 with £85 costs and ordered to pay a £60 surcharge and £150 court charge. Presiding magistrate Pam Macfie said: "This is a most unusual case." 

I think not Pam. 

Smith admitted eight offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of taking and possessing wild birds, using a trap and using the birds as decoys earlier this month. Ian Brickman, mitigating, said: "He has no particular use for the birds. It's just a hobby. "There was no suggestion the cage was in itself cruel." 

PC Bilton said after the hearing: “It is important that those responsible for committing wildlife crimes are brought to justice. This type of crime can have a dramatic effect on local fauna and flora, yet often go unreported and are difficult to investigate.” 

RSPCA Inspector Geoff Edmond said the case highlighted the illegal trapping of song birds - which was just as much a problem as the targeting of birds of prey. He said: "It highlights our concern that birds are still being illegally taken from the wild when people should be able to enjoy seeing them in the countryside." 



Bird ringers catch and release Goldfinches and many other species so as to generate information on the survival, productivity and movements of birds, helping us to understand why populations are changing.

Periodically I check my blog stats to see the “who, why, where and when” of readers. It’s a way of finding out what people like to read about and for which species readers may have a special interest. Sometimes there has been interest shown in in Goldfinches.

The screen grab below from my stat provider is just the latest in a number of Internet searches to find ways of illegally trapping Goldfinches. The searcher enters their chosen words, in this case AOL, and the search engine provides a list of subjects which includes all manner of references to Goldfinches, including the blogs of bird watchers and bird ringers which will often innocently include the word ”Goldfinch”. 

Up To No Good

So, Internet searcher of IP Address 178-149-131-72 via Talktalk from Reading, Berkshire on 5th September 2015, we are on to you. Your motives in using search request "how can i catch a goldfinch" have criminal intent. 

The trapping, possession and sale of wild finches is an area of criminal activity which remains a widespread problem in the UK especially among travellers and immigrants from certain countries. Possession or control of a wild bird is an offence of strict liability. Anybody possessing wild birds is obliged to show that their possession is lawful. 

There is a ready market in the UK for trapped wild finches, and many species fetch £50 or more when sold. It has also been shown that some of the finches trapped in the UK are exported to other European countries such as Malta. 


Blog readers, bird watchers, bird ringers and bird lovers, please remain aware and vigilant that this nasty activity may be taking place close to you. If you see or hear anything which you think is suspicious contact the RSPCA or the Police immediately.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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