Saturday, November 28, 2015

Better Birding - A Book Review

Princeton University Press asked if Another Bird Blog would like to take a look at a book due for publication in January 2016. 

The book is entitled “Better Birding”, the authors George Armistead and Brian Sullivan. George Armistead is events coordinator at the American Birding Association and has led birding tours on seven continents. Brian Sullivan is the photographic editor for Birds of North America Online, author of numerous papers on bird identification and the recent co-author of The Crossley ID Guide. 

It comes then as no surprise that “Better Birding” is unashamedly directed towards a North American audience. Yet because the book is devoted to better ID techniques of bird families shared across the Northern Hemisphere or vagrant species which show up on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, many of the chapters contain pages of undoubted interest to a UK audience. 

"Better Birding" - Princeton University Press

There is a 15 page Introduction to “Better Birding” which contains pages on understanding the basics of bird watching, including rarities, bird calls and sounds, moult, taxonomy and the concept of separate species. There is another heroic attempt to explain the difference between a “birder” and a “bird watcher”. I found that much of the introductory section contained information which has been repeated many, many times in books about birds by numerous different authors. The subtitle tells us the book contains “tips, tools and concepts” which make for better birding in the field, suggesting that it is suitable for several levels of birding experience. If so I suspect that many readers would find a good deal of the Introduction both familiar and superfluous and not read it, but instead move quickly to the meat of the book. 

The authors explain how they decided the major content of the book. At first glance it appears to be an eclectic and quite random list of species but missing out obvious candidates for a book focused on ID; for instance, warblers, small shorebirds and the numerous brown sparrows of North America do not feature. Apparently the ones chosen fit three criteria: 1) ones that allowed the building of core birding skills 2) subjects that the authors considered required a fresh approach, or 3) some that the authors thought might especially fit the format of the book. 

So ‘Better Birding’ doesn’t offer a comprehensive field guide to every species. It is more an ID guide which discusses and illustrates some of the more interesting, challenging or less glamorous groups of birds that a birder or bird watcher might wish to consider in more detail. The authors should be congratulated in sticking to their chosen parameters and not falling into the trap of producing yet another full field guide to North American birds but instead focusing on/singling out a number of bird groups worthy of special mention. After all, warblers and small shorebirds usually receive more than their fair share of attention. 

The book works extremely well in respect of its chosen contents when considering my list below which details the 270 pages of 9 Chapters devoted to: 

Waterbirds - pages which encompass loons/divers, swans and the complexities of white herons. 

Coastal Birds - eiders, murrelets and pacific cormorants. 

Seabirds - explores the similarities or otherwise of Northern Gannet and boobies together with pages on tropical terns, and also petrels/gadflys. 

Large Shorebirds looks at the closely related curlews - Whimbrel, Bristle-thighed Curlew and Long-billed Curlew, together with a further section about godwits.

Skulkers focuses on a group of sparrows which can be both hard to see and to identify - Le Conte’s, Nelson’s, Saltmarsh and Seaside and also tackles four small wrens - Marsh, House, Winter, Pacific and Sedge. 

Birds of Forest and Edge. This chapter looks at the elusive accipiters (hawks) and the difficulties presented by streaky, reddish/brown American Rosefinches. Meanwhile, Aerial Insectivores highlights high-flying swifts for closer scrutiny. 

Night Birds. Nocturnal species like screech owls and nighthawks present unique difficulties for diurnal birders. 

Finally, a 50 page chapter covers birds of Open Country and includes black corvids, kingbirds, pipits, longspurs and cowbirds. 

"Better Birding" - Princeton University Press

The illustrations in Better Birding take the form of 850 colour photographs and a handful of maps. The layout of the pages is highly effective and the illustrations are almost without exception of great quality and placed within the text to good effect. The many photographs are impressive, a number of them spectacular, and as we might expect from someone who co-authored the Crossley Guide, show birds in real time and in real habitats rather than line drawings. A number of composite pictures show similar species on a shared canvas, a now familiar technique that works to the readers’ advantage when studying plates which depict eiders, petrels and shearwaters in flight across the ocean. 

"Better Birding" - Princeton University Press

As a UK birder I found the chapter on eiders particularly useful as it includes the four species of eider which occur in the UK - Common Eider, King Eider, Spectacled Eider and Steller’s Eider. Likewise, the pages which include a discussion around ID’ing the four godwits of Marbled, Hudsonian, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed make a useful contribution to my library.

 "Better Birding" - Princeton University Press

The accounts of pipits cover Red-throated Pipit, Sprague’s Pipit and American Pipit and quite rightly include reference to the vagrancy occurrences in North America of Pechora Pipit, Olive-backed Pipit, Siberian Pipit and Tree Pipit. I can’t agree however that our UK Tree Pipit is “nondescript”!

 "Better Birding" - Princeton University Press

The book’s title might suggest that “Better Birding” is aimed at novice birders; I thought it highly suitable for mainstream bird watchers but also for more experienced birders who take their ID prowess seriously. The book includes a large number of North American species and groups of birds which often require a good deal of effort in the field coupled with an element of birding experience and skill. Studying this book may well move those birding skills and understanding up a notch or two in readiness for future challenges when a birder finds themselves a tick, or better still a rarity for others to enjoy. 

For UK birders there is much in the book to read and digest, not least the fine sets of photographs which depict several species we see on rare occasions only. 

Princeton University Press rather missed the Christmas Sleigh in scheduling Better Birding for publication in mid-January 2016. However it can be ordered online from Princeton University Press at $29.95/£19.95 or as an eBook from various online sellers.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday, Anni in Texas, and in Maryland, USA Eileen's Saturday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are you feeling better yet?

Wow! Aren’t scientists clever and extremely well paid for sometimes explaining the obvious to us lesser beings? According to ‘Psyschology Today’, 10th November 2015, “Gardening, hiking, bird watching, or just walking outdoors not only makes us feel better, it may keep our brains healthier.” 

“Developing a close relationship with the natural world apparently offers something more: improving and sustaining our cognitive capacity. Studies have shown that interacting with nature relieves stress and restores our ability to concentrate. In fact, research on the practice of shinrin-yoku (or forest bathing) in Japan has found that people who simply sat in the forest for 15 minutes, then slowly walked around, taking in the site for another 15 minutes experienced a significant reduction in salivary cortisol. Research has shown that cortisol adversely affects our brains, damaging the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. A reduction in cortisol could help keep our brains healthier. 

Just being out in nature helps us feel better and think better. Psychologists at Oberlin College USA randomly assigned 76 undergraduates to take a ten-minute walk in the woods beside a small river and to then spend five minutes contemplating the scene. The students then took a walk in an urban setting near buildings and concrete parking lots, and spent five minutes taking in that different scene. The ‘wood walk’ produced not only more positive emotions, but also demonstrated significantly greater attentional capacity and ability to reflect on life’s problems than the urban setting. 

Finally, being out in nature may keep our brains healthier in later life. A longitudinal study of over 2000 Australian men and women over sixty found that daily gardening was linked to a 36 percent reduction in the risk of developing dementia. 

If you’d like to begin experience these effects for yourself, try stepping outside. Look at the trees around you, the sky above and then listen to the birds. Pause for a few moments in your busy day to enjoy the healing and sustaining beauty of the natural world.” 

So I followed the experts’ advice and went out to do a spot of birding, something I’ve been doing for half a lifetime. 

At Fluke Hall I abandoned a planned walk because there was a shoot underway; there would be no birds to see while the shooters developed their close relationship with the natural world. I drove north where at Wrampool Brook a flock of 110+ Linnets circled a weedy set-aside plot. The birds flew around several times before eventually diving into the crop to feed, but apart from a handful of Curlews in an adjacent field there seemed to be no other birds just here. 


At Braides Farm was a hovering Kestrel, a Buzzard along the sea wall and a single Little Egret wandering about the area of the midden. It was time to look at Glasson and Conder Green. 

On the pool at Conder Green were 10 Little Grebe, 3 Goosander and 12 Wigeon with a Spotted Redshank, 4 Snipe and 60+ Teal in the creeks. There was another bird watcher here trying to get close to nature by walking directly towards the waders and wildfowl along the top of the creeks. Cue all the birds to panic and loudly depart the scene with much haste. Investing in a telescope, keeping a distance from wary species, or staying in a vehicle is often the only way to see birds, especially at Conder Green where the ever present Redshank is indeed the “sentinel of the marshes”. 


There were few birds left so I drove around the Lanes of Dobbs, Marsh, Moss and Jeremy where a single Whooper Swan stood in a field with 6 Mute Swan, and beyond them 2 Buzzards near a line of trees. There are good numbers of Buzzards everywhere at the moment, numbers which probably represent an autumn/winter dispersal of Scottish and more northern birds. 

Along Moss Lane I found a medium sized flock of Fieldfare, the birds alternating between feeding up in the hedgerows or down the fields according to the volume and noise of passing traffic. The Fieldfares were in the company of a good number of Starlings whereby I estimated 180 Fieldfare and 400 Starling. 


It’s good to see 8 Goldeneye back at Glasson Dock. They are a little late after the mild but wet autumn but they will be with us now until March/April and will rarely leave the yacht basin where they mingle with Tufted Ducks - 44 today. 


I made my way home wondering if being out in nature helped me both feel better and think better. Not sure, I may have to do it all again tomorrow to decide.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday's Birds

Sunday morning began with an early drive to the edge of The Forest of Bowland at Oakenclough where the ringing site is topped up with bird food twice a week, even when the weather prevents any ringing there. In addition to enabling a study of birds on site the supplementary feeding station adds to natural foods available to birds in the leaner winter months. Studies have shown that giving wild birds’ additional food on a regular basis can assist their survival and enhance breeding success in the following spring. 

All seemed quiet around the feeding spot with no sign of the 40+ Goldfinch from earlier in the week and just two or three hanging about near the Nyger seeds. Goldfinch flocks are highly mobile so I hope the birds weren't too far away, especially as it was last November and into December which produced very good catches of the species.

With the preponderance of conifer trees here Coal Tits are ever present as their small bills allow them direct access to the tiny holes of the Nyger feeders. Meanwhile the Great Tit, Blue Tits and Chaffinches stay around so as to take food from the ground. We avoid the use of peanuts or mixed seed feeders and instead use Nyger feeders and ground feeding as a means of targeting the several species of finches which occur in this area. 

Coal Tit

Great Tit

Additional birds seen this morning included 8 Blackbird, 2 Mistle Thrush, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Nuthatch, 2 Raven and 2 Pied Wagtail. 

Meanwhile there was notification of the recovery of a Lesser Redpoll ringed here on 19th October 2015. A first year male ring number Z652570 was recaptured by other ringers some 16 days later on 4th November 2015 at Woolston Eyes, Warrington, a distance of 61kms from Oakenclough. While the distance involved isn’t tremendous the recovery does once again demonstrate the southerly autumn dispersal of this species, and because the bird is still in circulation it could provide more life history information at a later date. It is probably in France or Belgium right now until the early spring when Lesser Redpolls begin their return migration. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll - Oakenclough to Woolston Eyes 

From the A6 at Garstang I took a leisurely drive home via the mosslands of Rawcliffe, Pilling and Stalmine where I counted at least 11 Buzzards spiralling over the fields, with at one point six quite close together in a single kettle of air. I suspect that this morning was one of the few in the last four weeks where the sky was both clear and calm enough for Buzzards to soar. 


The fields alongside Lancaster Road are well flooded and it was on just a couple of fields here that I counted 1500+ Lapwing, 30 Golden Plover, 260 Black-headed Gull, 45 Common Gull, 40 Curlew and 6 Skylark. 

Nearer to Stalmine was a roadside Kestrel as well as a feeding party of half-a-dozen Redwings and 50+ Fieldfares. The autumn berries are disappearing quickly leaving the Fieldfares to live up to their name and search for animal food in the soft ground rather than concentrate on a dwindling supply of berries in the hedgerows. 




Log in next week for more news, views and bird photos on Another Bird Blog.

In the meantime take a look at more birds Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mr Tumble Goes Birding

Who said that birding is a harmless, safe and gentle pursuit? 

This morning I was dodging the heavy showers at Fluke Hall, doing a circuit of the woods and the sea wall when I slipped down a wet, grassy bank to land with an almighty thump in a muddy ditch. That’s what you get for trespassing. Not to worry as by then I’d seen a good selection of the birds on offer, even if I did get another soaking and a sore back. 

From the car parking spot and about 50 yards away in a very wet stubble field I could see more than 30 Pied Wagtails and 6 Meadow Pipits feeding, with just a handful of Chaffinch closer to the trees and hedgerow. If there’s an alarm call the Chaffinch seek sanctuary in the adjacent trees while the pipits and wagtails rely on their greater manoeuvrability to stay safe. A party of 18/20 Twite flew over the hedgerow and they too landed in the same field but even further back. In the woodland edge - 2 Song Thrush, several Blackbirds and a handful of Chaffinches.

These birds needed to be on their toes as there was a Kestrel about as well as one and possibly two Sparrowhawks. While the Kestrel seemed more interested in spotting mammals from telegraph poles I saw a Sparrowhawk both hedge-hopping and then slipping through the trees ahead of me. Later, one was pursued across a field by ever vigilant crows. The hawk flew into the wood, turned an impossible corner and then disappeared from view, a favourite trick of the Sparrowhawk and one which it further exploits by often concealing itself in the trees and lying in wait for unsuspecting prey. 


To the west of the wagtails and pipits were 400/500 hundred Pink-footed Geese searching through the stubble. I walked east and left the geese feeding rather than spook them up into the sky and make them find an alternative place to feed. 

I made a beeline for the sea wall and to where Whooper Swans sounded out their presence. The swans aren’t nearly as accommodating as when they first arrive in October and although as a protected species they are not shot at directly, they are around when geese and wildfowl are targeted by the guns. Hence the 42 Whooper Swans I saw from the sea wall eyed me warily before flying another fifty yards or more out to the tideline. Better safe than sorry. 

From the sea wall I counted 8 Little Egrets scattered across the same marsh, and with the tide out and in the far distance a Peregrine beating up the Lapwings and flocks of Knot. 

Whooper Swans

The fields around here are well flooded with drainage ditches full to the brim after three or more weeks of rain. I stood at the end of a field drain watching a Grey Heron wading through the sodden stubble looking for a meal. Just then a Kingfisher called as it flew fast and low along the ditch towards me before landing on the concrete rim less than 10ft away. It spotted me, called again and set off back along the ditch from whence it arrived. It was just 50 yards from the wood where I saw probably the exact same bird last week. 

A Kingfisher sighting is always welcome but the species is so shy that nine times out of ten a flash of blue, a single or double whistle and a fleeting glimpse is all there is. Beggars can't be choosers  where Kingfishers are concerned.


Pilling, Lancashire

On the wildfowlers pools were 80+ Shelduck, a couple of Teal plus hordes still of the shooters’ released Mallards and Red-legged Partridge. 

The rain arrived again. I’d had a rewarding two or three hours and it was time to stagger home, but not until I slid down the ditch and onto my arse. Luckily a bottle of pain relief is kept in my office for such eventualities. 

Be sure to join Mr Tumble again soon with more birding adventures on Another Bird Blog.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ruff Stuff

We've been Battered by Storm Barney and still the weather doesn't improve. I'm unable to do any ringing or meaningful birding at the moment.

Last week on Another Bird Blog I described how I saw two Robins came to blows in a fearsome territorial dispute and how such clashes can lead to the death of one of the combatants. 

Robins aren’t the only bird species to exhibit aggression towards their own kind. I was reminded of this today when reading about a recent piece of research by the University of Sheffield which identified the genes that determine the mating behaviour of the male Ruff. The Ruff Philomachus pugnax is another argumentative species, its binomial name referring to the aggressive behaviour of the bird at its mating arenas. Philomachus is derived from Ancient Greek philo - "loving" and machē "battle" and pugnax from the Latin term for "combative”. 

Ruff - Photo:Ian N. White / / CC BY-ND

Many years ago I used to make regular springtime visits to Warton Marsh on the River Ribble to watch Ruffs on an open grassy area of the marsh. It was fascinating to watch the males in elaborate displays that included wing fluttering, jumping up and down, standing upright or crouching with their ruff erect. The birds often lunged towards or stabbed at rivals with genuine aggression. It was all somewhat comical to watch but deadly serious to the participants. 

The Ruff were indulging in a 'lek', a mating system where males of the species gather together and invest all of their energy into attracting females to mate with them. The Ruff is one of the few lekking species in which the display is primarily directed at other males rather than to the females, and it is among the small percentage of birds in which males have well-marked and inherited variations in plumage and mating behaviour. 

Ruff - Photo: A.J. Haverkamp / / CC BY 

Ruff - Photo: Hiyashi Haka / / CC BY-NC-SA 

Alas, Ruff no longer use this local site, the marsh and the immediate area has changed due to the usual “development” and disturbance. Nowadays my sightings of Ruff are restricted to migration time or occasional wintering birds. 

Recently, and by using genome sequencing, researchers from the University of Sheffield have identified the genes that determine the striking and often agressive mating behaviour of the male Ruff. Within this specific mating system three distinct breeding behaviour are identifiable. 

• Territorial breeding males have spectacular plumes around their neck (which is why these birds are called Ruffs) and head, and vary enormously in colouration so that each male is distinguishable. 

• Non-territorial so-called 'satellite' males, which are distinguishable by their white feathers, concentrate on stealing mates from the territorial displaying males. 

• A third type of male, which is thought of as a 'cross-dresser', mimics females. They are able to hide from other males in the lek, so avoiding territorial aggression, and succeed by effectively stealing mates from the resident males. 

Ruff - Photo: Ian N. White / / CC BY-NC-SA 

The new study, by an international team including researchers from the University of Sheffield, Simon Fraser University (Canada), and the University of Edinburgh, published in Nature Genetics, shows that the three distinct breeding behaviour types are encoded by a 'supergene' . This supergene was created several million years ago by a chromosomal rearrangement, which originally allowed the female mimic to evolve and coexist with the territorial males. 

Lead author of the study, Professor Terry Burke from the University's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: "The special feature of the supergene is that it allows lots of genes that are next to each other on a chromosome - which in this case determine multiple traits including hormones, feathering, colour and size - to evolve together and create two distinct behavioural traits. 

"This process is similar to the one that led to the evolution of separate sex chromosomes, and indeed the alternative forms of the supergene combined together to create the third type of bird personality -- the girlfriend stealer. "The Ruffs provide a neat example of how small genetic changes can lead to major differences in attractiveness and behaviour. This process is fundamental to the formation of separate sexes and separate species." 

He added: "Unlike young men at a social occasion who have each chosen a different approach to courtship, whether that's showing off or paying a compliment, for these birds there is no choice in the matter. It's their DNA that dictates how they win a partner." 

Story/Source - Journal Reference: Clemens Küpper, Michael Stocks, Judith E Risse, Natalie dos Remedios, Lindsay L Farrell, Susan B McRae, Tawna C Morgan, Natalia Karlionova, Pavel Pinchuk, Yvonne I Verkuil, Alexander S Kitaysky, John C Wingfield, Theunis Piersma, Kai Zeng, Jon Slate, Mark Blaxter, David B Lank, Terry Burke. A supergene determines highly divergent male reproductive morphs in the ruff. Nature Genetics, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3443

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Out For The Count

Today the rain finally stopped, the wind took a break and there was a chance to do some birding. 

I started off at Conder Green. After a week of rain the pool was pretty full and the River Conder rushed to the estuary at a fair old rate. It’s easy to forget that this normally lethargic stretch of water begins at Littledale in Bowland, drops down through Quernmore, Ellel and Galgate before meeting the Lune estuary at Conder Green. By the time the water reaches the coast it is usually little more than a puddle, and only when the tidal Lune rises does the Conder swell with estuarine water. 

The name of the river was recorded in the 13th century as Kondover and Kondoure with the meaning "crooked waters". There has been a watering place here for many a year next to the twisting creeks where Grey Herons, Kingfishers and others search for food. The inn dates from the late 17th century when storks and herons were one and the same and birders a rare sight. 

Grey Heron

 The Stork - Conder Green

Conder Green

In the creeks this morning were waders and wildfowl - 75 Teal, 2 Goosander, 6 Snipe, 3 Black-tailed Godwit, 20+ Redshank, 4 Curlew, 1 Spotted Redshank and a single Little Egret. On the swollen pool I counted just 12 Little Grebe and 4 Wigeon. 




The road towards the bridge had handfuls only of House Sparrows, Chaffinch and Greenfinch plus a single Pied Wagtail. I searched for the wintering Common Sandpiper but didn’t see it this time. 

I was soon heading for Fluke Hall but stopped at Braides Farm thinking that the fields there might be flooded after recent rain. A distant flash held bathing Starlings and a couple of Curlews but otherwise nothing except for a watching Buzzard along a fence. At Sand Villa were 2 Kestrels, one hovering beside the road with another gliding low over the field play-acting as a Sparrowhawk. 

At Fluke the midday tide was starting its plan to cover the marsh as huge flocks of mainly Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Redshank joined in the roost flights. The brief sun had gone to be replaced by the usual grey stuff and I wasn’t for counting. Let’s just say “many thousands”, especially the Knot. 

 Mainly Knot

There was a Mistle Thrush calling from the tree tops of Fluke Hall while down below a Kingfisher flew across the woodland pool and then out of sight. This particular Kingfisher seems to be a regular whereas the many autumn sightings at Conder Green and Glasson have dwindled to zero. Also in the wood I found 12-15 Blackbirds and 15+ Chaffinch. 

It was here in the wood that I observed two Robins in a very physical territorial dispute, going hammer and tongs at each other for a minute or so. At one point both birds were splayed out on the ground kicking and pecking at each other, rolling over and over until one broke off and flew into the undergrowth but pursued by the other. It’s not unknown in these disputes that one Robin should actually kill the other. The Robin is a good looking but pugnacious fighter and not to be taken at face value. 



In flooded stubble at Fluke Hall were approximately 23 Pied Wagtails and a handful of now wintering Meadow Pipits. It was difficult to be more precise with numbers as the birds were constantly flying across the field and then dropping into the lines of peaty stubble where they might disappear from view. 

Pied Wagtail

Towards Ridge Farm a flock of 70/80 Twite proved very mobile between the sea wall and the hedgerow until they eventually flew off towards the farm and out of sight. 

An enjoyable morning’s birding. There’s always something to see with Another Bird Blog so please visit again.

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Name Dropping

I realised I’d not posted in almost a week. In fact I’ve hardly birded in almost seven days since the weather took a severe turn for the worse with almost constant rain and wind. It’s much the same today with yet more forecast for the remainder of the week. So for today here’s filler for the blog until such time as I can get out birding or ringing. 

It was last week when deliberating over two very similar looking but geographically separated species the UK Coal Tit and the North American Black-capped Chickadee that I had reason to ponder their respective scientific names - Parus ater and Poecile atricapillus. 

For many birdwatchers the scientific names of birds are a bit of a bore, at best a riddle and of interest only to scientists who speak Latin. But as well as a means of allowing people throughout the world to communicate unambiguously about birds they almost always give an insight into the origins of the name. Here are some I gleaned from both the Internet and books. 

There’s a question that often crops up on TV quizzes, one designed to trap the unwary. Which bird has the Latin name Puffinus puffinus? The correct but slightly confusing answer is of course Manx Shearwater. In days gone by the word “puffin” was a synonym for a shearwater and not the unrelated seabird Atlantic Puffin, hence it was the shearwater which earned the Latin title of Puffinus puffinus

The “manx” refers to the species’ former abundance on the Calf of Man a small island lying to the south of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, while "shearwater” describes the birds’ mode of flight which skims or shears the water. 

Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus

The scientific/Latin name for Wigeon is Anas penelope. I’m somewhat disappointed that the name for such a gorgeous duck should simply mean duck-duck. It’s from the Latin and Greek respectively. 

Wigeon - Anas penelope

Would anyone who has slept under a duck down duvet by way of feathers plucked from an Eider duck Somateria mollissima disagree with the Latin meaning “very soft woolly body”? 

Eider -  Somateria mollissima

Now for an easy one, Barn Owl. Tyto alba simply means white owl. I think we can all agree on that one for the often ghostly apparition.

Barn Owl - Tyto alba

One might think that the rustica element of the Latin name Hirundo rustica refers to the reddish forehead, throat or the often pink underparts of our common Swallow. In fact it means a rural or rustic swallow. The Swallow is a bird which graces our countryside for a few short months of the year. Long may it continue to do so until the politicians succeed in concreting over the entire landscape of England. 

Swallow - Hirundo rustica

I’ve not heard of any Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus finding their way to the UK this autumn, but if they are around soon I’ll be looking out for the “chattering silk-tails” that their Latin name describes. The Bohemian part of their common name tells us the species’ wandering habits were reminiscent of tribes of gypsies or Bohemians. 

Waxwing -  Bombycilla garrulus

The Phylloscopus collybita of Chiffchaff breaks down as Phylloscopus a leaf-watcher, and collybita originating from a word meaning money-changer. The clicking, repetitive sound of the Chiffchaff’s song was thought to resemble the sound of coins being clinked together. 

That’s a really interesting if somewhat esoteric explanation which may or may not be the truth. Readers should think about that one in the Springtime while watching and listening to a Chiffchaff in the tree canopy.

Chiffchaff -  Phylloscopus collybita

There was a Jay Garrulus glandarius in my garden this week, taking a break from raiding the young oak tree in a neighbours garden. Jays are often silent but “acorn-eating chatterer” would apply on many occasions. 

Jay - Garrulus glandarius 

Please excuse my bout of name dropping today. It's not something I normally do or even like to hear,  but hopefully there will be more posts and news soon. 

In the meantime stray tuned to Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday’s Birds

There’s rain and wind forecast for several days ahead. Chances were that this morning might be the only weather window for a spot of ringing so I met with Andy at Oakenclough at first light. Heavy cloud greeted us and while for the next fours there was no rain there was also little in the way of visible migration with blocking cloud in all directions. 

A quiet session of ringing produced just 19 birds, below par for this site. 6 Goldfinch, 3 Chaffinch, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Siskin, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Fieldfare and 1 Blackbird. 

Visible migration proved to be equally quiet with a single flock of Fieldfares this morning when 50+ birds arrived from the north. Just one first year male found the nets before the pack of thrushes moved quickly through the site and left to the south. Otherwise we saw less than 10 more Fieldfares until midday. After catching about 60 Redwings in the past two weeks the species was conspicuous by its absence this morning with less than 10 seen. Blackbirds were more in evidence with 16+ in the area and a single “Continental” type male finding the net. The two Siskins were both males, one an adult the other a first year. 


Siskin - adult male

Siskin - first year male

Chaffinches and Bramblings were on the move with 70+ Chaffinches over in several small flocks and 3+ Bramblings among them. Luckily the Bramblings made several calls as they arrived with their cousins as otherwise and in the poor light we may not have seen them. 

A flock of 40+ Goldfinches were/are local birds with the 6 caught including two recaptures. Other sightings included a male Sparrowhawk, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Pied Wagtail. 

There was visible migration of Woodpigeons with several flocks overhead and travelling rapidly south, about 120 in total. Later as I drove home via Out Rawcliffe I noted several hundred Wood Pigeons feeding in a single stubble field. Also, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel along Lancaster Road at Pilling.

While the forecast rain may limit any ringing for a day or two there will be some birding to report so log in soon for more news and views.

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Good Garden Stuff

The fog didn’t clear until about 1pm. That would leave about three hours birding before the light failed and the return of the evening mist; not ideal. Meanwhile the garden held a few birds by way of mainly Goldfinches, a species which has been unusually scarce here all autumn. 

When I saw a Nuthatch on the feeders and a Mistle Thrush in the apple tree I decided to do a spot of garden ringing. I didn’t catch the thrush or the Nuthatch but 17 new birds was pretty good for a few hours work - 7 Goldfinch, 5 Coal Tit, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Great Tit and 1 Blue Tit. 


Great Tit


This autumn has seen good numbers of both Goldcrests and Coal Tits, two species chiefly associated with conifer forest. Although not strictly migratory the Coal Tit is known to experience irregular irruptions caused by food shortages in their preferred woodland habitats. It is during such times that Coal Tits move into gardens and other habitats and when bird ringers catch more Coal Tits than they normally would. The majority of birds are found to be first years and out of an catch of say 15 or 20 Coal Tits it is normal that 99% are birds of the year and that an adult is the exception to the rule. 

“Coal” in the bird’s English name may simply refer to the mainly black and grey colour compared to the more colourful and common British tits, the Great Tit and the Blue Tit. A German name for the Coal Tit is "Tannenmeise" which translates as "fir tit", perhaps a more suitable descriptive name for a species able to exploit an otherwise birdless coniferous forest? 

Coal Tit

The Coal Tit has a huge distribution range occurring from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from boreal forests north of the Arctic Circle to the montane forests of the Himalayas, China and Taiwan. It’s a species to benefit from extensive planting of conifers in Ireland and Scotland by extending its UK range into the Western Isles of Scotland and the Atlantic coast of Ireland and so increase its overall population. 

Range and Distribution of Coal Tit

From Wiki and for my North American readers who will note that the Coal Tit is almost identical to one or more of their chickadees - "Most authorities still treat the Coal Tit Periparus ater in the subgenus Periparus, but the American Ornithologists' Union considers Periparus a distinct genus. This is supported by mtDNA cytochrome b sequence analysis; Periparus seems to be closer to the Poecile tits and chickadees than to the Great Tit and its relatives."

The fog returned for overnight and tomorrow morning but be sure that there are more birds, photos and news soon.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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