Thursday, March 30, 2017

Britain’s Mammals - A Review

On my desk for review today is a new Princeton field guide, a book which doesn’t feature birds but one that will be sought after by almost 100% of bird watchers. The book is the much awaited Britain's Mammals: A Field Guide to the Mammals of Britain and Ireland from Princeton Press. This is the latest in the series of best-selling WILDGuides. 

The authors of Britain’s Mammals are Dominic Couzens, Andy Swash, Robert Still, & Jon Dunn. Andy Swash and Robert Still were two of the authors of the hugely successful “Britain’s Birds”, first published in late 2016, a book which found its way into many a birders' library. This latest book is a companion to the bird guide and shares not only one of the authors, but also looks and feels the same as soon as the first page is turned. 

Britain's Mammals

Skipping introductory pages to books is a bad habit of mine, but on this occasion I found myself immersed in the Introduction to Britain’s Mammals. It really is essential reading by firstly reminding us that in comparison to birding, mammal watching is a minority interest with much to be discovered by those willing to devote time and energy. 

The Introduction explains in just a few succinct pages the life-cycle and biology of mammals together with a very useful explanation and diagrammatic display of the names and scientific classification of Mammalia. A handy text and photographic overview of the types of British mammals reminds the reader that in comparison to the comparatively easy pursuit of birding, the study of mammals requires different techniques. A potential mammal watcher must exploit various times of both day and night and often use different equipment and methods to find and photograph their elusive quarry. 

Britain's Mammals - Princeton Press.

Part of the Introduction, the History of Britain’s Mammals, describes how getting close to wild animals takes a great deal of concentration and patience to achieve any sort of result; watching mammals is infinitely more difficult than birding. There is a timely explanation of why. For seven centuries or more persecution and exploitation of both land and marine mammals was rife, with many species becoming extinct or their numbers seriously reduced. No wonder then that history has taught mammals how to avoid homo sapiens, their most deadly and persistent predator. 

I guess I suffer from many misconceptions about British mammals, the main one, borne out by a glance at the book’s Contents page, is just how many mammal species can be seen in the British Isles. It is easy to forget that the UK and Ireland terrestrial mammals like squirrels, voles, mice shrews, moles, hedgehogs, rabbit, hares, carnivores and deer are in the minority. Bats and marine mammals form the largest groups of British mammals, reflected in the 70 pages devoted to 30 species of bats and over 40 pages featuring 37 species of marine mammals – seals and cetaceans. 

Britain's Mammals - Princeton Press.

The field guide element of Britain’s Mammals has handy and up-to-date distribution maps on the species' page together with illustrations which denote both the status and size of the animal. A typical page contains tips and information on where to look for a particular animal, its habitat, habits, food, breeding behaviour and population status. Very often there is information and helpful advice on the tracks and signs that may give away the animal’s location and/or its identification.

There are seven pages devoted to illustrating animal tracks. The publishers even provides a ruler in the inside book cover for the reader to measure tracks they find and then compare with scale bars depicted at the illustrations on each relevant page at p46-52. What a simple but innovative idea from the authors to make this a fully interactive field guide. 

Britain's Mammals - Princeton Press.

I must make special mention of the photographs in Britain’s Mammals. They are almost without exception truly stunning given the difficulties of in the first place even seeing mammals in the British countryside. In particular, the photographs of bats, both in flight and at rest, are simply superb, as are the pictures of mice and shrews. These are animals which are rarely glimpsed by everyday field workers who spend many hours in the great outdoors. I can only marvel at the time, skill, effort and dedication devoted to taking these images. 

Britain's Mammals - Princeton Press.

In summary. The winning WILDGuide formula continues throughout this wide-ranging and attractively designed field guide that follows in the major footsteps of Britain’s Birds. There’s a fully photographic experience and high quality information from its approximately 500 colour photos and 325 pages. 

Britain’s Mammals is a book for simple enjoyment as well as for learning and I heartily recommend it to readers of Another Bird Blog. It is available now from the usual sources at $29.95 or £17.95 and is something of a bargain. 

Britain's Mammals and Britain's Birds - Princeton Press.

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Linkintg today to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

First “Phyllosc”

I met up with Andy for another ringing session at Oakenclough. After three or four night of clear weather and sunny skies to help migration along it was perhaps too much to expect a large catch. 

And so it proved with just 12 birds - 4 Goldfinch, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Wren, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Siskin, 1 Chiffchaff. 



Lesser Redpoll

The Chiffchaff was our first for the year here and although it was a male we did not hear it singing prior to it appearing in the net at 0900. By March 28th an early Willow Warbler might also be around. A cursory check revealed that appearance-wise our first “phyllosc” was clearly a Chiffchaff. On closer inspection primary 2= 7-8, and primary 6=emarginated, so therefore nothing but a Chiffchaff. It is not unknown that dull and dark-legged Willow Warblers can resemble a Chiffchaff, but also that Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff hybrids occur, even though they are very rare.


For phylloscopus enthusiasts and those with an interest in sub-species who may also enjoy scientific jargon, there was an interesting online paper recently. A dictionary will be useful to translate some of the terminology used by the authors. The paper is entitled “Patterns of genetic, phenotypic, and acoustic variation across a chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita abietinus/tristis) hybrid zone.” At 

Ornithologists studied a “hybrid zone” in Europe where a number of subspecies of Chiffchaffs are known to occur and interbreed. The paper’s conclusion is perhaps far from surprising to most birders - a mix of genetic ancestry shows extensive ongoing and past gene flow with at least one of the previously described subspecies of Chiffchaff unlikely to be a distinct species. 

Also, subspecies identification of Chiffchaffs in this region based (and probably elsewhere in its migration range! – my italics) on appearance is uncertain, as even an individual with apparently distinct looks such as “Siberian Chiffchaff”, can have a considerable proportion of its make-up hybridised from the other subspecies. 

Birding wise this morning we noted 3 Pied Wagtail. Also a single Mistle Thrush in song, one Sand Martin dashed through on a northerly track north and then within a minute of each other saw both the male and female Sparrowhawks of the local pair.

Linking this post to Anni's Blog and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Shift

I was a little delayed at seeing the -2°on the dash and waiting for frost to clear from the windscreen. I was motoring up to Oakenclough to meet Andy for a 0630 start to a ringing session. 

There was a little light, so rather than the main road journey with zero birds, I opted to head across the empty moss roads where there might be a Barn Owl or two looking for breakfast. 

Rawcliffe Moss, Lancashire

Success came with two hunting Barn Owls, the first at Stalmine and then another at Nateby. I paused briefly, mainly to make sure the owls flew away from the danger of the road before continuing north and east. 

Barn Owl

I sometimes wonder if the Barn Owl has fully adapted to the motor vehicle and to railways. Studies show that while starvation is a major factor, collision with vehicles is the leading cause of recorded deaths of Barn Owls. In some cases over 50% of all recorded deaths were attributable to some form of collision or other accident and within this category the most prevalent are road traffic victims, which form approximately 45% of all deaths. 

"Natural’ causes" account for roughly 30% of all recorded Barn Owl deaths. The most important is starvation, circa 25% of all deaths, followed by disease/parasitism at 3% and then predation at approximately 2%. Minor causes included other forms of trauma, drowning in water-troughs, and electrocution. 

This vulnerability to external factors shows why the population of Barn Owls fluctuates dramatically from one year to the next and also explains why the species has special legal protection in the UK. 

Our ringing session was fairly quiet with no obvious signs of migration other than once again, a decent catch of returning Lesser Redpolls. One of the Lesser Redpolls, an adult male with ring sequence beginning S211 proved to be from elsewhere. It’s always good to catch a bird from elsewhere in the expectation of finding out where the bird spent some of its earlier life. The unfamiliar ring number is now sent to the BTO and the original ringing details will be forwarded to us a later date. 

Today’s birds: 11 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Siskin, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Goldcrest. We caught our first Goldcrest of the year. With a wing length of 49mm and weight of 4.9 grams the bird tallied with the ringers’ rule that the two figures are always a decimal point apart. 


Below, the two Siskins – adult male and adult female. Siskin migration seems a little "thin" this year whereas Lesser Redpoll movement so far appears to be up to scratch. 



Below is adult male Lesser Redpoll S211etc, ringed elsewhere.

Lesser Redpoll

Below are details of Lesser Redpolls moving to or from Oakenclough since recommencing ringing here in late 2014.    

Ringed 02/02/14 Market Drayton, Shropshire - adult male
Recaptured 14/03/15 Oakenclough, Lancashire (116 km, N, 1 yr 40days)
Ringed 11/01/14 Walkden, Manchester, Greater Manchester - second year male
Recaptured 18/03/16 Oakenclough, Lancashire (49 km, NNW, 2 yrs 67days)
Ringed 29/09/14 Woolston Eyes, Warrington-  adult female
Recaptured 20/04/16 Oakenclough, Lancashire (60 km, NNW, 1 yr 204days)
S109508  Ringed 05/03/16 Dales Brow, Swinton, Greater Manchester - second year female
Recaptured 31/03/16 Oakenclough, Lancashire (52 km, NNW, 26 days)

Today's clear skies and little visible migration meant that “birding birds” were few and far between with 4 Pied Wagtail, 1 Reed Bunting, 2 Mistle Thrush and 5 Long-tailed Tits the best we could muster.

Linking today to Anni who too would rather be birding.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Garden Gore

The troublesome tail end of Stella has meant a week of enforced inactivity for yours truly. The local ban on ringing due to Avian Flu is now lifted but the wind and rain of recent days has given no opportunity for ringing or birding. 

In my own garden and those of close neighbours there’s been a Chiffchaff, a singing Mistle Thrush, a calling Tawny Owl, a steady stream of Goldfinches, plus a number of Dunnocks chasing around. 


Tawny Owl

More showers this morning, and as I typed away, Sue reported a killing taking place on the back lawn. 

From the bedroom window I saw that an adult female Sparrowhawk had just collared a Collared Dove and was in the process of finishing off the job by sinking its talons into the dove's flesh. A Collared Dove is a large bird and at the top end of the list of prey sizes a female Sparrowhawk can handle. 

After a minute or so the Sparrowhawk flew with it now dead prey to the quieter end of the garden and where in the shelter of the trees for the next fifteen minutes it would take its meal. The bottom of the garden near the trees and the fence can be pretty gloomy in the rain and cloud so I switched to ISO1000. 




A Sparrowhawk plucks its prey before it can eat the meat. By the end of its meal the Sparrowhawk's crop was noticeably bulging from eating a whole Collared Dove. The hawk flew off carrying the carcass and  left a pile of feathers only as evidence.







Remains of a Sparrowhawk meal

The weather forecast is slightly better for Friday/Saturday. Let’s hope there’s some birding or ringing by then. If so read about it here. In the meantime, don’t forget to keep an eye out for garden birds.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Here And There

At last a half decent morning without that nagging breeze, a chance to go ringing at Oakenclough where at 0630 I met up with Andy and Dave. 

Our catching was steady and on the slow side. It was dominated by finches and signs of early returning birds with the recaptures of a Lesser Redpoll and a Siskin. The Siskin was first ringed 11th February 2016 and the Lesser Redpoll first ringed 25th March 2015. So they were both early springtime birds but neither of them recaptured in the intervening periods. 

Total birds processed 23 of just four species, including the two recaptures: 9 Goldfinch, 5 Siskin, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Chaffinch and 3 Dunnock. 





Lesser Redpolls can vary in colouration with some individuals showing greyish tones with whiter wing bars than a typically brown example. They are however not to be confused with Common Redpoll which is always bigger and longer winged. 

Top and bottom below are an adult female and an adult male respectively.  In the centre is a first winter male Lesser Redpoll that is greyer than the average, especially on the mantle and the underparts.  The adult male is the recapture from today, first ringed here on 25 March 2015. 

Lesser  Redpoll - adult female

Lesser Redpoll - first winter/spring male

Lesser Redpoll - adult male

Other birds seen during the course of our ringing: 3 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Pied Wagtail, 2 Bullfinch, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goosander, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Song Thrush. 

On the subject of Lesser Redpoll. A week or so ago and quite by accident I discovered that the Lesser Redpoll is also alive and well on the other side of the world - in New Zealand. This all began when a fellow ringer (bander) in New Zealand contacted me after reading about Lesser Redpolls on this blog. Being a curious sort I delved further and discovered that New Zealand hosts a large number of birds that were introduced from other countries, mostly by UK and other European settlers during the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. 

The reasons for introductions were the same as those in the transportation of non-native birds to North America and other continents like Australia - the settlers missed the sight and sound of birds from their homelands, mostly birds of the then rural landscape. 

The list of European species on the other side of the world may surprise you as it did me; as it includes species like Little Owl, Rook, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer, Cirl Bunting, Starling, House Sparrow and Dunnock. 


A hundred and fifty years later less than a third of the species introduced managed to survive and breed in the wild, but some that did are now among the most common birds in New Zealand, especially the Lesser Redpoll. 

Don't forget. Login to Another Bird Blog soon for more news from here, there and everywhere.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

First The Fish

Thursday morning – a fish day. So I called at Jamie’s shop at Knott End for supplies of brain food - haddock and salmon then spent a while birding around the shore and the jetty. 

Knott End and Fleetwood

Oystercatcher numbers are in decline as many move north and inland to breed, but still 220+ on the incoming tide with a single Curlew and a few Redshank for company. Nine Turnstone fed below the jetty with 32 Shelduck and 15/20 Black-headed Gull on the shore. The wintering Black Redstart was in the usual spot, darting around the area of the residential flats where it seems to find plenty of food and not too much competition from aggressive Robins. 

Black Redstart


At Fluke Hall the local Tree Sparrows are getting a little noisy and very active around the nest boxes in the trees. I clocked the Grey Wagtail that has wintered in the paddock amongst the horses and their churned up ground and where there’s always two or three Blackbirds; a least a couple of Goldfinch singing, plus 2 Song Thrushes also in good voice. 

Along the roadside was a single Stonechat and in the still flooded field, 24 Pied Wagtail, 8 Meadow Pipit, more Blackbirds, a couple of dozen Curlews and displaying Lapwing. 


Near the wood I disturbed a Buzzard from the trees where a Grey Heron played doggo until the Buzzard flew at it. The heron flew off complaining loudly and left me with half a picture. 

Grey Heron

The Linnet/Avian Flu saga continues with still no ringing allowed despite two ringers desperate to mark a few Linnets that will soon go elsewhere. I put out more seed in the hope of a ringing session soon and where with luck we may just catch one or two of the Skylarks that are sticking around. 


I stopped at Braides Farm where wader numbers are down but where 34 Teal, 2 Shoveler and a single Grey Heron linger. Skylarks were in good voice and very visible here with upwards of 10 around. It has been a very mild winter where the inconspicuous Skylark can pick a living and hopefully come back strong in the coming weeks. 

At Conder Green the incoming tide filled a good half of the creeks and where the wintering Spotted Redshank is always to be found in exactly the same spot. The “spothank” begins to acquire a little colour, mostly in its primary feathers. Soon it will be off north towards Northern Russia and Scandinavia where it will breed. 

Spotted Redshank

The Spotted Redshank was first described in 1764 by Peter Simon Pallas, a German zoologist and botanist who worked in Russia between about 1767 and 1810. A number of animals and birds were described by Pallas, and his surname is included in their common names e.g. Pallas' Glass Lizard, Pallas' Viper, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Pallas’ Reed Bunting, Pallas’ Leaf Warbler. 

The current high water level makes the pool hard going for birds and birders alike. But still to be found – 2 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret, 95 Teal, 24 Shelduck, 18 Oystercatcher, 22 Redshank, 18 Wigeon, 3 Snipe and 2 Little Grebe.

Linking today to Wild Bird Wednesday , Anni's birding and Eileen's Blog.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Rant And Ring

There’s still no ringing allowed near home. DEFRA are taking no chances on the possibility that Avian Flu might still spread, but there’s no information about when the saga might end. 

Avian Flu Zones

What a shame that DEFRA’s inspectors weren’t on the ball in the first place when they would have seen that in this part of Lancashire gamebird rearing operations are environmental disasters waiting to happen. 

It gets worse. Each autumn in the UK many millions of cage reared pheasant, partridge and duck are released into the wild for the purposes of then shooting them. Pre or post, there is little or no qualified assessment as to the impact of the releases upon wild bird populations or the environment.

So called “game shooting” is big business in providing jobs and revenue for those involved whereby there is zero likelihood of anyone tackling the subject in favour of the environment or the landscape at large. In that word “anyone” I include politicians or political parties of any and every persuasion, pressure groups, wildlife charities, wildlife trusts, clubs, organisations and the various hangers-on who claim concern for the countryside. There are some like the BTO who must remain impartial to promote their scientific heartbeat, but there are other individuals and organisations that show little desire to stir the murky pot and we all know the reason why. 

Game bird rearing pens

Rant over. What happened today? 

Luckily Andy and I have a standby site outside the avian flu 10kms zone in the hills at Oakenclough but where the grey, wet and windy weather of late has kept us from going; until today that is when clear skies and a rising sun met us at 0645. That entailed an alarm clock call at 0530. Being a bird ringer is neither for the faint-hearted nor for those who have difficulty getting out of bed on a cold March morning. 

We had a quietish few hours with just 17 birds and finches once again in top spot: 4 Siskin, 3 Goldfinch, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Lesser Redpoll and 1 Bullfinch. 

The first winter female Bullfinch was only the third Bullfinch we have caught here. We see or more likely hear the species quite regularly but they don’t often come near our net rides. Their short, stubby beak is specially adapted for feeding on buds and they are particularly enthusiastic eaters of the buds of certain fruit trees. Due to their bud-eating habits, many thousands used to be legally trapped and killed each year in English orchards.

Bullfinch - First winter female
Bullfinch- First winter female

Bullfinch - First winter female

In all we saw and heard 12+ Siskins but Lesser Redpolls were decidedly scarce by way of the single one caught. 

Lesser Redpoll



Below is an adult male Chaffinch coming into full and colourful spring plumage. 


Coal Tit

Other birds seen today: 50+ Curlew, 18 Oystercatcher, 3 Pied Wagtail, 2 Goldeneye, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Grey Heron.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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