Friday, February 24, 2017

Review - Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

New field guides come thick and fast nowadays. No sooner have we invested in and digested a new one than yet another appears to tempt us. And rather like new cars that grow in size from the previous model and prove a tight fit in narrow lanes and car park spaces, so do the dimensions of field guides seem to outgrow their hoped for size. Fitting the latest ones into the average Barbour or multi-pocketed jacket requires a fair amount of ingenuity. Either that or the pristine volume lies forgotten in the glove compartment or sits at home waiting to be consulted upon our return home, thus defeating the object of a guide for use in the great outdoors. 

But now along comes a new field guide that promises not only 860 species and 2,200 photographs but undertakes to fit it all into a genuine pocket size of 190mm x 135mm and less than 30mm thick. For those of us brought up with feet and inches that equates to a handy and less than 8in x 6in x 1½in and weighs in to an acceptable 800 grams. 

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

The book under the spotlight today is “Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East” by Frédéric Jiguet and Aurélien Audevard, two distinguished French ornithologists. The latter may be better known by British birders from his occasional articles in Dutch Birding and Birdwatch. The book has been translated into English from the original French Edition aimed at an International audience rather than a British one. 

I was grateful for the brief eight pages that comprised the Contents and Introduction. Anyone who buys a serious guide that covers Europe, Africa and The Middle East will surely appreciate minimal information about how to identify birds and the part played by habitat, weather and the various seasons of the year.

The brevity of the early pages allows the remainder of the 435 pages to be devoted entirely to the birds. And those pages are very good with every species mentioned depicted by way of very good quality photographs to help identification and where distinctive features are signposted to the reader.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

The book is bang up to date with the inclusion of species such as Scopoli’s Shearwater, Cabot’s Tern and a good range of single-record phylloscopus warblers that have appeared in Europe in recent years. It is very comprehensive in its coverage of the huge range of gulls which appear rarely in European waters from as far afield as the Azores and Arctic Northern Finland e.g. Baltic Gull and Azores Yellow-legged Gull. 

One of the things I did like is the inclusion of escaped or introduced species such as the Parrotbills in Italy, the Leiothrix in France & Spain, Weavers, Bishops, Mynas and Munias from Iberia, or the Iago Sparrow found in Holland. From experience we know how such species often find a niche, multiply and soon go on to become naturalised to their adopted country. There are also birds I’d not seen in other guides e.g. "Thick Billed" Reed Bunting", Grey-necked Bunting and “Ambiguous" Reed Warbler”.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

In fact the whole book really emphasises how we in Britain and the near Continent are in the centre of a huge Birding Universe where birds from North, South, East and West can and do occur, including as the book does, many pages devoted to North American birds. 

Students of taxonomy and sub-species may find the book’s treatment of their subject inconsistent by way of inclusion of for instance, the slightly different races of Mediterranean Spotted Flycatcher while omitting the sometimes noticeably different seven sub-species of the Common Linnet found across Europe.

I found the explanation and pictures of the two races of Greater White-fronted Goose, flavirostris and albifrons to be less than ideal while just two photographs of Common Redpoll fail to describe adequately the Lesser Redpoll as both widespread and commonplace in Britain and parts of Europe. But then as mentioned earlier, this is a book aimed at a cosmopolitan audience rather than a wholly English speaking one, and neither do the authors claim the book to be a treatise on taxonomy. 

The textual descriptions are of necessity succinct, simply to allow the number and variety of species covered to fit into the easily portable book described above. Likewise the number of maps and photographs allowed for each species’ ages, plumages and postures is somewhat compromised by the available space, but not enough to deter a serious birder looking to buy.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Overall I really liked the quality, look and feel of this book. The size, layout and composition makes for a truly usable field guide rather than a coffee table book. By integrating the three huge areas of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East it covers a range of species not previously seen in an everyday field guide. 

The Birds of Europe, North Africa, and The Middle East is available now from the publisher Princeton University Press or the usual Internet outlets. The price is less than £20.00 or $30.  I reckon that's a good buy.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Catching Up

Apologies first for yesterday posting again a duplicate post from last week. This was a bungled attempt to update the blog and Google wasn't very forgiving of my blunder. Doh!

What with one thing and then another I’d not been out birding or ringing for a good few days. Finally today I attempted a few hours out in the less than ideal conditions of yet another cloudy, grey morning. 

A drive along Backsands Lane at Pilling revealed the grand total of three Pink-footed Geese and a far cry from the many thousands of recent weeks. There’s not been the same numbers of geese in fields close to home, towards the river at Stalmine or even flying to and from the direction of Pilling, their usual route overhead. I get the distinct feeling that the mild weather of late has sent many pinkies heading back to Iceland. 

And just this week I have noticed a gang of 30+ newly arrived, noisy Goldfinches coming to the garden, plus the usual garden birds in song. I suspect that at least one pair of Blackbirds, a pair of Greenfinch and a pair of Song Thrush nest building in the thick hedgerows and conifers of some neighbours’ gardens. Spring is almost here.


Today at Gulf Lane the Linnet flock was down to 35 only, a major drop from the 300+of late January and as late as 3rd February. 

The still flooded and ever distant flood at Braides Farm held 200+ Curlew, 120 Lapwing, 30 Wigeon, 15+Redshank and a couple of Shelduck. 


At Conder Green I watched a Great White Egret hunting the water’s edge and to then take a fish. Intent on watching the egret I hadn’t spotted a Grey Heron close by. But as the egret grabbed a fish from the water the heron launched an immediate ambush and flew at the egret in trying to snatch the fish or intimidate the egret into dropping its meal. 

I was somewhat pleased when the slightly smaller egret reacted very fast and managed to swallow the fish in one motion before the heron could win the contest. I don’t recall ever seeing the two species so close together before so it was quite instructive to see the size comparison, even at some distance. 

Great White Egret

Great White Egret, Grey Heron (and Blackbird)

Otherwise the pool and creeks were comparatively quiet by way of 25 Wigeon, 15 Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 60 Teal, 10 Curlew and 1 Little Egret. There now seems to be 4 pairs of Oystercatchers on territory with 15+ Oystercatcher  in total.

A swimming Redshank

Storm Doris is on her way across the Atlantic Ocean and due to hit us overnight. Tomorrow may be a day for reading in which case I’ll take a look at my review copy of a new field guide due out in March. 

The book’s is entitled “Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East”, an entirely photographic guide by Frédéric Jiguet & Aurélien Audevard at  

Birds of Europe, North African and the Middle East

Read about it soon on Another Bird Blog. Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday and Anni, who would rather be birding. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Snowy Storm

Here in the UK there are two separate and quite distinct species - birder and bird photographer. And they don’t always co-exist in perfect harmony. 

Birders often use the disparaging epithet of “togger” to describe someone who simply takes bird photographs but has no real interest in birds as animals and their place in the Tree of Life.  In return I am sure that photographers use a similarly unflattering word to describe the many birders who simply want to look at birds but who have no desire to photograph them. I must admit I don’t know what the latter word is, but perhaps after today I might find out?  However, and as far as I am aware the two points of view haven’t come to physical violence just yet, unlike in Canada. 

The National Post of Canada of 9th February 2017 -  “In Ontario shouting matches and crude language have invaded a world of bucolic harmony”.

“The bird world has rival human factions: purists who admire birds from a distance, and some photographers who put out bait - live mice from a pet store to get the dramatic shot of a bird of prey swooping in. The two sides don’t play nicely. And conflict has grown since digital cameras opened up nature photography to amateurs, while cell phones, Facebook and GPS help crowds converge on rare birds. 

“It almost comes to blows sometimes if birders are going to see an owl and there are photographers there,” said Mike Runtz, a naturalist who teaches biology at Carleton University. “There’s a real amount of verbal abuse that goes on between the two groups. They don’t like each other. Photographers don’t like being told what they can and cannot do and birders don’t like seeing birds harassed.” 

At the heart of the fractious dispute are owls, especially Arctic species like the Great Grey and the Snowy Owl that often arrive in the more populated parts of Canada in winter. There are Great Greys and Snowys around Ottawa in early 2017. 

Snowy Owl - courtesy USFWS

The Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club posts sightings of birds on its website, but has stopped telling where to see owls “due to increasing and widespread concerns of disturbance of wildlife and property.” The Ontario Field Ornithologists, a provincial organization of birders, also omits owl sightings. Snowy Owls are fairly tolerant of humans, especially the big, photogenic Arctic species, Runtz said. “And since these owls tend to stay in one area once they turn up that makes them very prone to being harassed by photographers.” 

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says it’s legal to use mice from a lab or pet store because they aren’t wildlife. But if you trap or catch a wild mouse to use as bait, you need a small game licence. As for the owl, the ministry says baiting is legal as long as the birds is not “killed, injured, captured or harassed as a result.” 

But Runtz argues it is wrong to train wild animals to approach humans for food. He said Facebook and Flickr sites “have become trophy rooms for photographs,” replacing the old trophy rooms full of animals with antlers and horns. And photographing owls is a big-money sport. A number of expert guides will take well-to-do amateur photographers on week-long “Snowy Owl workshops” in Ontario and Quebec for $3,000 or more. This raises the pressure to deliver the best shot. 

Snowy Owl - courtesy USFWS
Runtz once saw a group with lawn chairs in the snow, and they had put out sticks where an owl could perch about five metres away. “They would throw mice down, hoping the Hawk Owl would land on the perch. Runtz told them they should not do this “and they were very vocally rude to me about sticking my nose in other people’s business. “It really is remarkable.” 

Runtz also said there’s a place near Kingston where owls are known to gather in winter in the forest, and photographers will find a sleeping owl and throw things at the bird to get a shot with its eyes open.  An owl flushed out in daytime may be attacked by other birds. 

Local birder Bruce Di Labio said he sees some grey area in putting out bait, because he isn’t sure owls are being harmed. “The argument goes back and forth: We feed (other) birds, so what’s the difference? … I never found an owl that died of being overweight, and I have found numerous owls that starved to death.” But he was surprised by the behaviour of a Snowy Owl a few years ago. It watched him stop nearby and “the next thing I knew it was down on a fencepost, begging for a handout." He agrees friction is growing, including shouting matches. 

"When Great Greys came south in large numbers a few years back, people would show up with a cooler full of live mice and be constantly feeding them, and there would be a shouting match going on. Not grabbing each other but definitely a heated argument. Baiting has become more popular since the invention of the digital camera and everybody wants to get the greatest shot,” Di Labio said. “Before digital the old guys would spend a week in the woods to get one good shot. Now you just throw down a live mouse.” 

Great Grey Owl- Photo by jok2000 CC-BY-SA-3.0 Wiki Commons

Life is tricky for those caught in the middle. If one photographer puts out a mouse, are other photographers who do not use bait supposed to stop shooting? One local photographer who asked not to be identified because of the bad feelings blames “a vocal minority,” and tells this story: “Two springs ago, I was up on the ridge at Mud Lake minding my own business photographing a bird. Suddenly a birder walks up to me saying in a loud voice, ‘You should know, you should know,’ over and over again. “He had taken objection to another person playing a (recorded) call for another bird maybe 40 feet from me. I told the birder I have nothing to do with it and he said, ‘Well, you should tell him not to do it.’ These are the types that will yell at people. I think they would be that way no matter what hobby they took up.” 

Some photographers are quite open about the practice. Ethan Meleg, a professional nature photographer from Midland, Ontario describes which shots on his website are the results of baiting. 

The National Audubon Society, on the other hand, opposes it and bans photos that use baiting from its contests. It says owls can become too comfortable around people and may be drawn to cars that stop on roadsides, where traffic is a danger.” 

Maybe there’s a lesson or two to be learnt here in the UK from this story. While it is against the law in the UK to use live bait to capture or photograph birds or wild animals we do have a similar problem with the uncontrolled dissemination of information that places unnecessary attention onto sometimes vulnerable and often protected birds. And here too in Britain, owls are a particular attraction.

Litttle Owl

This was especially true a few years ago when a local influx of both Short-eared Owls and Barn Owls led to whole tribes of birders and toggers targeting one particular location on an almost 24/7 basis for weeks on end. This eventually led to a local farmer whose land the owls hunted becoming especially irate after being told to “F..k Off”. This followed his advice to one individual about hazardous parking on a single track road vital to the local farming community, a band of people normally very helpful to the cause of conservation.

Barn Owl

Let’s be honest. It is no longer unusual to read in the press of both birders and toggers invading private locations where they upset local residents by their careless parking on roadside verges and narrow lanes at often ungodly hours. Unfortunately such selfish behaviour tars all birders and photographers with the same brush, and everyone gets a bad name whether they deserve it or not. 

What's to do then?

Just stay calm folks. Brew a cup of tea, sit down and have a think. After all, it's just a bird.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mist With Splits And Joins.

Friday. I met Andy up at Oakenclough for a ringing session.  The scene that greeted us was not quite as promised by the weather forecast and nothing like the clear morning I'd left at sea level fifteen miles away. In place of a starry sky was low cloud, fog and far from ideal conditions for catching birds. Our experience is that birds don’t move around much during foggy and misty conditions. 

Misty Start

Towards Bowland

The sun never broke through and as we expected, birds didn’t arrive in high numbers. Nevertheless we left quite happy that we’d managed to catch 16 birds. Unusually for here and for the first time ever, Blue Tit proved to be the most numerous bird of the catch with 7 Blue Tit, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Siskin, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tit and 1 Lesser Redpoll. 

Adult Male Siskin
Adult Female Siskin

Adult Female Siskin

Adult Male Siskin

First Winter Male Goldfinch

We caught our first Lesser Redpoll of the year, a fine first winter male. 

First Winter Male Lesser Redpoll

First Winter Male Lesser Redpoll

The Lesser Redpoll is included in The British Ornithologists' Union (BOU) decision to adopt the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) World Bird List taxonomy for its British list from 1 January 2018. The redpoll complex will be reduced from three species to two - Common and Arctic - meaning the loss of Lesser Redpoll as a species. So after being split into three species in the year 2000, ringers will be lumped back to where we were 17 years ago when the Common and the Lesser Redpoll were as one. Isn’t science wonderful? 

Other changes to the British List will mean that the total of species recorded in Britain will increase slightly by way of a number of 'splits' recognised by IOC but not currently by BOU. Isabelline and Red-tailed Shrikes will become two separate species, as will Bean Goose when there are both Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose to tick. Thayer's Gull will be recognised as a full species and not a subspecies of Iceland Gull. 

Two-barred Warbler will be elevated to full specific status rather than continue as a subspecies of Greenish Warbler. Two other Far Eastern vagrants - Eastern Yellow Wagtail and Stejneger's Stonechat will be given full specific status, as will North America's Least Tern. Each of these will therefore become species additions to the revised British list. 

One loss from the future British list is Hudsonian Whimbrel, which will remain a subspecies of Whimbrel and the two not split into separate species.

Meanwhile, back in the real world it’s now a good 12 months or more since the Oakenclough site was treated to an overdue makeover by way of uprooting the huge stands of rhododendron followed by a replanting scheme of native trees. It gets pretty cold up here on the edge of the Bowland Hills but the new trees do have the advantage of a good supply of rainwater where they are more likely to die from drowning than from drought. 

Replanting at Oakenclough

Other birds today: 1 Bullfinch, 10 Siskin, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 20 Lapwing, 4 Oystercatcher, 6 Curlew.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Owls and Things

After a couple of pretty windy days there’s no ringing just yet but I made a couple of visit to our Linnet ringing site to put out a mix of millet and rape seed. The lifting of the exclusion zone and the ban on ringing within the area is due to be lifted on 28th February.

There are still 170 + Linnet around plus a watching Kestrel and 10/12 Stock Dove taking advantage of the seed on offer. The local Carrion Crows have found a source of food in last season’s maize field. 

Avian Flu


Carrion Crow


Looking at the forecast I’m hoping to get out birding on Wednesday and ringing in the hills on Friday when the wing drops off. 

Meanwhile here’s an interesting and recent item I found on the Internet. The story centres upon research being carried out near here at Lancaster University. The video features Barn Owls and research into the often incorrect and inconsiderate use of rodenticides and how such mistakes lead to the poisoning of Barn Owls and other birds of prey. 

Clicking on the “You Tube” icon will take you to a full screen viewing. 

A friend of mine who operates a pest control business told me years ago how careless some farmers are about how they both store and use rat poisons. He’s found containers of rodenticides lying around in barns and outbuildings, sometimes with the contents scattered nearby. This is the type of misuse that can cause secondary poisoning, where an animal is poisoned after consuming another animal that has eaten and digested poison. This can occur in birds of prey such as owls or hawks and mammals such as foxes and badgers. 

Secondary poisoning can also occur when poisoned rodent bodies are not disposed of quickly and efficiently so as to ensure that no bird or animal take the poisoned corpse. 

Read more about the work of the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme and how you can help by clicking this link 

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday's Fields

The Pink-footed Geese - “pinks”, “pinkies” or simply “geese” to us locals are in huge numbers this week, perhaps up to 20,000. I think there's been an influx from South Lancashire and Norfolk with many beginning their leisurely journey back to Iceland via Scotland in time for the breeding season. They will not be the first on territory though as following a whole series of mild winters, some say global warming, many pinkies now spend the winter in Iceland and so save themselves the danger and energy requirements of a 2,000 mile round trip to the UK. 

Usually the geese stick to the flat-as-a-pancake fields of Cockerham/Pilling/Stalmine area and don’t often venture even the few miles north to the pastures of Thurham. Here Lower Thurnham stays at sea level but Higher Thurnham can rise to the dizzy height of 50 metres above.

"Click the pics" for a chance to count the silent pinkies. Sorry there's no soundtrack.

Looking down from the A588 onto the partly flooded fields gave a new perspective to the challenge of counting geese when each and every field held hundreds, sometimes thousands of our pink-footed friends. And then towards the coast just half-a-mile away were something like 500 wild swans, a mix of Whooper Swans and ten or twelve Bewick’s Swan. 

Pink-footed Geese at Thurham

Pink-footed Geese

"Pinkies" at Thurnham

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Goose

 Wild swans at Thurnham

Whooper Swans

Geese at Higher Thurnham

Down to Cockersands the fields swarmed with both Lapwings and Golden Plovers, impossible to count with accuracy but certainly numbering in the early thousands of each. 

There was nothing much doing at the caravan site except for a number of Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow although a Chiffchaff at the entrance gate was a pleasant surprise. 


Conder Green proved quiet birding with a reduction to 95 Teal, 18 Redshank, 2 Little Grebe,2 Wigeon 1 Little Egret and 1 Spotted Redshank. Noticeable were the three pairs of Oystercatchers and now clearly on territory in three distinct locations across the pool and islands. 

I travelled back via Gulf Lane where there are still 170 wintering Linnet. Also here - 8 Stock Dove ,1 Little Egret, 1 Kestrel and 1 Reed Bunting. 

I drove back home via Pilling/Rawcliffe and Stalmine mosses where I saw 4 Buzzards and then 2 Kestrels and also caught up with 20 or so Corn Buntings in the usual spot. Maybe it’s not just geese on the move as I found 3 separate flocks of Fieldfares totalling 425 individuals but managed to see just a single Redwing. At one tiny flood were 8 Pied Wagtails. 


The weekend weather forecast looks dire to say the least but with luck I will be out there birding. Stay tuned to see what turns up on Another Bird Blog.

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Back To The Hills

It’s a while since Andy and I met up at Oakenclough. I guess we have been busy with the Linnet project down Pilling way which is now on hold until the local outbreak of the avian flu gets jetted out of town by the experts from DEFRA. 

About 12kms from the coast, outside the exclusion zone of the bird flu and on the edge of the Bowland birding during December and January can be quiet so we made no visits for weeks. Only recently did we start to feed here with Niger seed because as soon as the calendar heads into the shortest month we reckon to catch a few finches. These will include birds from the south and south east already making their way north even though it's just February. 

So we met up at 0715 for a spot of overdue ringing with an uneventful session yielding just 11 birds of 4 species for the IPMR database: 6 Goldfinch, 2 Siskin, 2 Chaffinch and a single recapture of a Coal Tit from 2016.

Outdoor Office


Siskin - first winter female

Siskin - adult male

Today's Input

Other birds seen this morning - 2 Sparrowhawk, 1 Buzzard, 1 Pied Wagtail, 15 Oystercatcher, 15 Greylag, 18 Chaffinch, 1 Siskin. 

Meanwhile and back at home, the painting is done and I persuaded Sue to invest in a birdy rug to keep my feet warm in the office. How’s that for dedication to the cause of birding?

Indoor Office

Log in soon. There are always more birds on Another Bird Blog.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Choices, choices

The sunny start left me with a dilemma. Paint the walls of the spare bedroom or go birding? 

Do It Yourself
After their overnight roost on Pilling Marsh geese were dropping in some numbers when I arrived at Backsands Lane. Several thousand pinkies led the charge with many heading to inland fields across to Bradshaw Lane and Eagland Hill a mile or two away; but the several hundred keen for an early breakfast settled into the immediate pastures. I counted 24 White-fronted Geese more or less together across the same pasture, plus their hanger-on again, the feral/escape Red-breasted Goose. 

Pink-footed Geese 

White-fronted Goose

Note the picture below. While hordes of geese feed there will always be lookouts assigned to watch for danger. One wrong move from a birder, a slammed car door, or a passer-by with a barking dog and the geese are off into the air to find a safer place. 

 Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Goose, White-fronted Goose, Red-breasted Goose

There’s a really dark pinkie that doesn’t look too well, perhaps suffering from a recent dose of steel shot from the now almost finished shooting season. 

Pink-footed Goose

I motored on up to Gulf Lane where although we can’t ring birds at the moment because of the outbreak of avian flu 3 kms away, we can still feed the Linnets. The Linnets were around in their usual numbers with 300+ feeding in our drop-spot of millet and rapeseed. Walking through the set-aside I flushed a Snipe from underfoot, a Grey Wagtail from the ditch and a Skylark from the next field. 

As an aside, the latest figure from the avian flu outbreak is that 65,000 birds used for breeding in the shooting industry are to be “humanely slaughtered” in several locations. Suffice to say that the whole episode is a shocking indictment of the business of breeding birds for pleasure shooting. 

Rawcliffe Moss held a good variety of birds by way of at least 8 Buzzards circling in the morning air plus a couple of Kestrels on roadside lookout posts. Many thousands of Lapwings and Gulls crowded the still partly flooded fields but unfortunately I’d no inclination to count the masses involved. 

I stopped in the spot where earlier in the week were thrushes, buntings and a Stonechat. Lesser numbers today but still 40 Fieldfare, 22 Corn Bunting, 12 Stock Dove, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Yellowhammer, a Stonechat and a couple of Skylarks. I noticed today that Skylarks are suddenly becoming more vocal, not necessarily singing but certainly chirruping as they go about their business and a probable prelude to their season starting soon. 

Corn Buntings

I was pushed for time and with the cloud increasing I headed slowly home. 

Now where’s that paint brush?

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday, Anni's Birding and Viewing Nature with Eileen.

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