Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Review - Birds of Prey by Brian K Wheeler

New books arrive thick and fast. Up for consideration today are two books released together as companion field guides to North American raptors - Birds of Prey of the West & Birds of Prey of the East. The two are due for publication any day but for the benefit of readers of this blog, I managed to get my hands on a copy of each hot off the Princeton press. 

Birds of Prey of The West - Princeton Press 

Birds of Prey of the East - Princeton Press

After the run of photographic field guides and PC & IPhone apps of recent years I felt somewhat relieved to see that the art of the classic field guide is not lost but alive and well in these two volumes from Brian K Wheeler. 

A glance at the author’s unbeatable CV gives a clue as to the expertise displayed in these two superb books. 

“Brian K. Wheeler has been studying, painting, and photographing birds of prey throughout the United States and Canada for more than fifty years. He is the illustrator of Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guides), the co-author and photographer of A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors, and the author and photographer of Raptors of Eastern North America and Raptors of Western North America. His photographs have appeared in many other books and in many bird magazines.” 

In the author’s own words. “The journey began when I was seven years old, when I earnestly started drawing birds and mammals, first on old canvas pieces, then on cardboard, and then on white watercolor paper with transparent watercolor paint. Later, I used the thicker opaque watercolor medium called gouache." 

"My first watercolor paintings of wildlife date back to age 12, and I sold my first painting when I was fourteen. Painting wildlife and especially birds was my passion, and I drew or painted every day. By my early twenties, I concentrated mainly on birds. My late teens and twenties were spent learning bird anatomy. I spent much time with waterfowl hunters and preparing road and window killed specimens for museums.” 

Both books are lavishly illustrated with really stunning, lifelike paintings which depict an enormous range of variations of age, sex, colour, and plumage. Princeton claims that the two books “feature a significant amount of plumage data that has never been published before”. I have no reason to doubt that given the dazzling number of plates and the variety contained therein. 

The painted figures illustrate plumage and species comparisons in a classic field-guide layout with each species shown in the same posture and from the same viewpoint, which further assists comparisons. 

 Red-tailed Hawk - Birds of Prey of The East

Bald Eagle - Birds of Prey of the East

Facing pages of text include quick-reference identification points and brief natural history accounts that incorporate the latest information. There are rather few bird photographs in either volume but where included they are of the best quality to illustrate a particular point, e.g, the authors explanation of the difficulties in re-establishing the Aplomado Falcon in the wild. 

Snail Kite - Birds of Prey of the East  

Swainson's Hawk- Birds of Prey of the West

Range maps appear exceptionally detailed and accurate and much larger than those in other guides, often full page as shown below. The maps also show up-to-date distribution information for each species and include the location of cities for more accurate reference points for the reader. 

Turkey Vulture - Birds of Prey of The East

Turkey Vulture - Birds of Prey of the West

This highly detailed information is further enhanced by discussion & analysis of sub-species, plumage variations, morphs, proposed splits & joins and the intermixing or interbreeding of species. For instance the Red-tailed Hawk in its many and various forms is treated to a fifty-five page essay in each volume. Similarly, eleven pages of the Eastern volume are allocated to describing the Peregrine Falcon in all its types. 

Peregrine Falcon - Birds of Prey of The West 

Birds of Prey of The East

Something rather new and extremely useful in this type of classic field guide is the inclusion of colour habitat photographs and brief explanatory notes next to the maps. A location is all very well but for the author to show the reader the actual habitat to explore is a beyond handy indeed. 

"Wyoming. Note excrement whitewash below aerie left of pine tree in the foreground midway on cliff face”! My exclamation. 

Zone-tailed Hawk - Birds of Prey of the West 

Despite the author’s scholarly approach and experience the guides never lapse into jargon or become overly scientific; they remain accessible and highly readable throughout. These are mighty books for raptor enthusiasts who take their birds of prey seriously. They represent a new standard for bird field guides. They go beyond the definition of a guide and reach into the realms of dissertation, systematic study and detailed exploration. 

I really cannot praise these two volumes enough. Both are “must-haves” for the serious raptor aficionado. 

Available now at Princeton Press and Princeton Press at $27.95 or £22.00 for each volume.

Linking today to Anni's Texas Bird Blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


A Linnet 

Readers who follow this blog may have read about the Linnet project at Pilling/Cockerham. Over two winters we have caught and ringed over 500 Linnets hoping to find out more about Linnets that spend the winter on local farmland and coastal marshes of The Fylde of North Lancashire. 

We have suspected that many originate from Scotland with previous evidence of a summer nestling from Shetland recaptured at our one ringing site in winter. Now comes news of another Linnet and its connection to Scotland. 

We ringed Linnet S348682 as a juvenile/first year female on 2 December 2016. In the both the following weeks nor the next winter did we recapture her. Fast forward to 27 April 2018 when S348682 was recaptured by another ringer at Clachtoll, Lochinver, Highland, Scotland, a distance of 496km and an elapsed time of 511 days from the ringing date. By now the ringer had aged and sexed the Linnet as an adult female with the spring date suggestive of a possible breeding locality. 

Linnet - Cockerham to Lochinver


Clachtoll is a coastal fishing and crofting village, situated on the Bay of Clachtoll, on the north western edge of Scotland. Almost certainly the Linnet had returned in April 2018 to the actual locality in which it was born or somewhere close.

Results like this motivate us to continue with the Linnet project for 2018/19. Such returns make all those cold morning starts and freezing fingers worthwhile. 

A Sand Martin 

Readers may recall that just last week on 23 May Andy and I suspected we caught a rather old Sand Martin. The martin bore a ring beginning with the letter “D”. So I punched in D350512 into Demography Online and hey presto, a few days later came a result. 

Sand Martin D350512 was ringed as a juvenile at Icklesham, East Sussex on 2 September 2103, four and half years, or to be exact, 1724 days prior to our recapture at the Cockerham nesting colony. Here we were able to sex it as a male. 

Sand Martin  

Sand Martin - Sussex to Lancashire

The comparatively short journey between Sussex and Lancashire is dwarfed by the yearly journeys of Sand Martins. D30512 has already flown several times between Africa and England and vice versa.

I make it ten journeys of about 2,500 miles each time, by road or as the crow flies. You do the maths.

Lancashire to Sahel

Millions of Sand Martins spend the Northern winter in the belt of hot and dry land immediately south of the Sahara known as the Sahel. Here they depend on areas of water in river flood plains and when rainfall is high, more martins survive. But in times of drought the Sand Martin population drops quickly. 

In the late 1960s, numbers in the British Isles fell by around 70% as a result of drought in the Sahel. Recent wetter winters have allowed numbers to recover but the species is very dependent upon climate and its effect, both here and in Africa.

An aside. Are other bloggers having problems with comments not appearing in their designated email accounts? It seems it's a Google problem but I wish they would fix it soon.

So apologies in advance if I am a little tardy with replies. I am having to go into the blog comments via Google + rather than read them in the everyday email account.        

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Back On Patch

There was a stiff north-easterly wind as I set off over the moss roads. It had been three weeks without birding the local patch so I was keen to see what had taken place in this “silent spring”. Via the Internet I’d read local blogs and bird club pages where all agreed that a number of species were down or even missing – Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers, Swallows, Swifts, House Martins and Reed Warblers; the same names kept cropping up on the list of absentees. 

Until this morning I’d not seen a Swift in the UK, just several thousand in Menorca over a week ago. It was almost 1030 this morning before I saw my first 2 UK Swifts of the year, both heading purposefully into the wind and out over Morecambe Bay. 

The early start gave a number of Whitethroats, both singing but also skulking as they do. Maybe they are just trying to catch up with the days they lost on the way here? But less than a dozen Whitethroats for almost four hours of birding in suitable habitat represents a poor show. 


At least the recent dry days gave farmers a chance to catch up and for now the flash floods are gone.  Many a field is ploughed & seeded or stripped bare by the first cut of silage. 

Rawcliffe Moss, Lancashire 

The moss roads produced an interesting mix. I checked out the Buzzard nest of some weeks ago where the foliage now almost completely hides the nest. The two adults were very close by but silent and I’m pretty sure there are small young up there in the tree tops. 

Buzzard Nest 


Close by was a singing Lesser Whitethroat, a Kestrel and on nearby fields, 6 Stock Dove. There was a Curlew displaying too, an upland breeding species that nests in very low numbers here on the coast.  
An hour or two around the Cockerham, Conder Green and Cockersands area proved to be inconclusive. I saw lots of Sand Martins at Cockerham but Swallows and House Martins were noticeable by their low numbers, even absent from regular spots along Moss Lane. 

In this part of Lancashire our Swallows have suffered a series of poor, short summers of rain, cool temperatures and the loss of many traditional nesting sites. The cumulative effect of these changes is that two or three broods have not been possible in a season and there are less young available to fly to Africa in the autumn. The additional pressures of the Swallows’ long and hazardous migration mean that the numbers of Swallows returning to breed in our Northern summer declines each year. Swallows are stuck in a vicious circle from which they struggle to escape. 

I managed to see and hear about six Sedge Warblers, plus a handful of Whitethroat but not a single Reed Warbler in the phragmites ditches alongside the lanes. I'm hoping the lack of visuals of both Reed and Sedge Warblers is down to a late start and the females laying low while on eggs. 

Sedge Warbler  

Brown Hares have done well this year where perhaps the farmers’ reluctance to enter their fields in the wet spring helped hares progress. Skylarks may have benefited in a similar way and it was a very visible but not necessarily vocal species this morning with a good number seen along Jeremy and Moss lanes. Skylarks too are mostly at egg stage in late May and I didn't see any carrying food today.
Brown Hare


Along Moss Lane I saw two broods of young Lapwings, adults with three good sized chicks and then adults with but a single youngster. Sadly I also saw the beginnings of a post-breeding season gathering of 15-18 adults whereby both failed or non-breeders join together in a loose flock to compare notes and discuss what they might do different next time. 


There’s good news from Conder Green where a second pair of Common Terns have claimed the island spot vacated by the Avocets of early May that upped sticks and went elsewhere. The other pair  of terns still claim the man-made pontoon.

Common Tern 

Also here – 5 pairs of Oystercatcher, 3 pairs of Tufted Duck and 2 pairs of Redshank.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Book Review - Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands

When I arrived back home after two weeks in Menorca, there was a parcel waiting. It was a review copy of Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands, freshly out as the newest addition to the highly successful WILDGuides titles. The author John Bowler is a conservation officer on the island of Tiree in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. He is the author of a number of field guides, including Wildlife of Seychelles (Princeton WILDGuides). 

Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands - Princeton Press


So how does the new book stack up? Firstly, the clue is in the title. Potential buyers should note that this new volume is a more than a bird guide. It is a “wildlife guide” and therefore includes a guide to not just birds but also mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and dragonflies. 

The book covers the key wildlife sites to visit on each of the islands of Macaronesia and provides an overview of each island’s geography, climate, habitat types and current conservation efforts. As in previous volumes Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands follows the now well established WILDGuides formula of an illustrated but mostly photographic field guide, a highly successful and addictive recipe of guides that cover a wide range of animals, birds and insects across an equally diverse range of countries and continents. 

There is quite a lot of information to fit into the 244 pages, especially so when in comparison to Birds of the Atlantic Islands by Tony Clarke (2006), the current favourite bird guide to the islands. This has 365 pages for birds only, although admittedly it covers both the Cape Verde Islands and the Azores in addition to Madeira and the Canaries. A note for buyers, potential or actual - Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands does not cover Cape Verde Islands or the Azores. 

Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands

Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands

Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands begins with a useful and highly readable thirty page Introduction that includes a section on Main Wildlife Sites. This will prove invaluable to first time visitors and those on a short holiday visit to any of the islands as a pointer to sites that might suit their particular interest, be it birds, animal or insects. 

“Birds” are at Pages 31 to 139 with the remainder of the 244 pages devoted to mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and dragonflies. The birds covered amount to 163 species which causes no major problems but it does mean that rare migrant birds that birders might encounter or species they specifically look for are not shown; Yellow-browed Warbler or Little Bunting spring to mind, as does the certainty of finding a North American vagrants or two. To the casual visitor this will not matter too much. Die-hard birders are in any case more aware of the possibilities of finding rare birds in such a geographical location and will almost certainly be able to name unexpected species they encounter. 

A minor niggle. There are no scientific names alongside common English names next to the images and to find this information the reader must refer to the List of Species at the back of the book where they are listed in an unhelpful scientific alpha order. 

The species accounts are very concise and well written throughout with the adjacent photographic images of very high and often impressive quality. Space requirements dictated by 244 pages inevitably mean that the many plumage, age and in-flight differentials of birds do not always feature in photographs, although this is covered in the text to some extent. In contrast, and to one whose knowledge of insects is cursory, the images of butterflies and dragonflies appear to show a number of variations of both colour and type to suit the average enthusiast. 

 Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands

 Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands

Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands

The section on mammals, reptiles and amphibians, which of course includes sea mammals, the cetaceans, is equally well documented with some excellent photographs. This is as it should be since the waters in this part of the Atlantic Ocean are some of the best in Europe in which to see whales, porpoises and dolphins. 

If you are a birdwatcher only you may have decided you do not need this book over and above Tony Clarke's Birds of the Atlantic Islands already on your bookshelf. That might be an unwise decision because I do not know of any birder who in the course of their birding, especially outside of their immediate local patch, who does not come across an unfamiliar animal or insect and immediately wish to put a name to it or find out more. This single book allows you to do that in one slim volume.  

So all in all the guide is a well balanced mix aimed at the enthusiastic regular visitor to the area but also a useful introduction for those making a first trip to these all year round islands. For those people this is a must-have book for any trip to the region covered as it fills the gap for an affordable, portable, accessible, accurate all-encompassing wildlife guide to Madeira and the Canary Islands. 

Wildlife of Madeira and the Canary Islands

I can definitely recommend this guide to readers of Another Bird Blog. I rather wish it had been in my suitcase when I visited both Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in recent years. If only I’d been able to identify the whale that sailed slowly past Puerto Calero or to sort out those Fuerteventura butterflies. 

At a little over 200 pages this book is succinct, highly portable and inexpensive. It has the added advantage of not catering for bird obsessives alone, something we should applaud. 

The book is available at Princeton Press for  a bargain basement price of £20 or $24.95. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Packet Of Smarties

I met up with Andy for our first Sand Martin ringing session of 2018. Like me, Andy had been on holiday, me in Menorca, and he in Turkey. Birders and ringers are ultra-competitive and as we swapped tales of sunny days his Eleonora’s Falcon was pretty good but I reckon I smashed him with 5 Golden Orioles, a European Roller and a Red-footed Falcon. 

There was no such exotica today. It was back to the bread and butter of Cockerham, the piping of Oystercatchers and the steady buzz of Sand Martins all around us as we waited to catch. Last year was very poor for our catches here as the so-called summer kept thwarting our planned visits. 

This year the colony is more tightly packed and so far at least, the weather is much better. We counted 200+ Sand Martins in attendance with most of the occupied nests in the softer strata layer of the quarry face with at least 75 holes in use. 

Sand Martin colony 

Sand Martin

We caught 68 Sand Martins. The catch was made up of 63 new birds, 3 returns from previous years (all from June 2015) and one bearing a quite old ring. The ring series beginning D350 told us that this bird had been ringed a number of years ago as our own series beginning “Z”, finished last year. We are now on the newer series of rings with a three letter prefix and four numbers. 

We also caught a male bearing a Paris Museum ring - “Click the pic” below. After these records are entered on the BTO database Demography Online, we will find in due course find out where both the French ringed and British ringed D350512 Sand Martins visited during their extensive travels. 

Paris, French Museum bird ring 

Sand Martin 

On the way home I checked out the Oystercatcher nest mentioned here on the blog on May 3rd, the day before I set off to Menorca.  I really didn’t expect to see the Oyk still sat after the attentions of the local crows. But there she was large as life, with a little vegetation cover, and now hopefully just a day or two until those chicks hatch. 


Stay tuned. there's more birding soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog

Monday, May 21, 2018


We saw lots of Hoopoes during our two week expedition to Menorca. Hang on, let me rephrase that a little. We heard many a Hoopoe; probably several dozen. We saw less - five or six individuals on a typical day.

"Click the pics" to see Hoopoe action.


The Hoopoe’s “oop,oop,oop,oop” call carries many a mile over the quiet landscape of Menorca. But this mainly shy bird often calls from the cover of a copse, a dry stone wall or the corner of a distant building. For an apparently highly visible bird with a funky hairdo the Hoopoe can be difficult to spot. Its striking but basically sandy-brown plumage blends well with the dry landscape while the black & white wing pattern and the bird’s erratic butterfly flight allows the bird to dissolve into the dappled light of a Menorca day. 


The Hoopoe is very common in Menorca where it occupies a wide variety of habitats: vineyards, gardens, parks, woodland and agricultural situations. In fact anywhere that will hold a dark cavity in which they can raise a family. 

The stink from a Hoopoe nest is legendary. The female secretes a substance of foul odour from the uropygial gland. This liquid smells like rotten meat. Due to the unpleasant smell, most predators stay away from the nest. On the other hand, insects, the Hoopoe's food, will be attracted but may find themselves to be the next Hoopoe meal. 

I didn’t test out the smelly nest theory when I found a nesting pair during the first week of our holiday as it was a hands and knees job. The nest site was an inch or two from the ground with the danger of rubbing my nose into soil and debris from the unkempt surroundings. 



Initially I thought that the adults were feeding only tiny young as they carried quite small morsels of food into the lump of pre-cast concrete with a handy cavity. Mostly the adults took items through the hole and left quickly, but on occasions the slightly smaller female stayed in to brood the chick(s). One food item seemed to be favoured, a small, red spherical creature that appeared to be a spider or bug. On other occasions it was definitely spiders of one sort or another. 






May 18th was our flight home day. So on the late afternoon of the 17th I left Sue packing and drove for a last look and check of the Hoopoe’s nest. I was glad I did because after a while and soon after the female departed the nest, a younger head appeared at the hole. 

The youngster peered out into the world it would soon inhabit. Passing cars, footsteps, sounds of laughter & joy from a nearby villa and swimming pool. The click of a camera from the window of a Fiat Panda didn't phase the youngster as it waited patiently for mum to return.

Hoopoe chick

Wow. That’s some gape; pure white, unmissable in the darkened depths of a nest when the adult arrives with a pile of grubs to share. Maybe there was only one youngster after all? We'll never know but my guess would be that the young Hoopoe was big enough to fly away on 18th May at much the same time as we flew back to Manchester Airport. 

In the UK the Hoopoe is uncommon enough to be an attraction for twitchers. I guess it’s those jazzy looks, the wish to see that slow fanning in and out of the headdress or to hear that mellow “oop, oop, oop”? 

Bird ringers will testify that in the hand the Hoopoe is something of a disappointment. Beneath that colourful finery lays a rather scrawny skeleton that seems in desperate need of a good meal. But I must admit a Hoopoe does make for a nice ringing “tick” and a good enough photograph.

Linking today to Anni's Blog and World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Wedding Free Zone

I'm back from Menorca with a few photos and tales to tell. Click the pics for more sunny days from the Gem of The Mediterranean, 4th – 18th May 2018. This was our fourteenth visit to this the most beautiful and carefree of the Balearic Islands. 

People have in the past said to me “Are you going to Minorca or Menorca?”, but the two words “Minorca” and “Menorca” are interchangeable. Menorca is the preferred local name, Minorca the English version. Menorca has its own language, Menorquín, which is a dialect of Catalan, but Spanish is widely spoken. 

We picked up the hire car at the airport thanks to our friends at Momple,  a local family business since 1974 and highly recommended in preference to the bigger names of car hire. A small car is ideal for sometimes narrow and twisty roads Menorcan roads. We noted more than one hire car with bent wing mirrors or recent dents.

Within ten minutes and minimal paperwork over, we headed for our destination of two weeks, the beach side resort of Sant Tomas. From Sant Tomas it’s a ten minute drive to the major road of the island, the Me-1. From there the fish-bone layout roads lead to authentic and unspoilt inland towns and to touristy coastal resorts north & south plus the major cities of Mahon or Ciutadella at each end of the island. 



It rained all of the day we landed. Ready for a rest after our 2am start we remained optimistic for the next and following days. Sunny skies arrived soon and stayed until the end. Witness the following photographs.

There are bits and pieces around the hotel. Sardinian Warbler, Blackbird, Spotted Flycatcher, Hoopoe, the two local gulls Yellow-legged & Audouin’s, plus shearwaters in mostly distant view. On most evenings one or two Scops Owls put on brief shows as they came to feed on beetles and moths. Sadly, the local Woodpigeons have become as bold as our own British ones and rather to the expense of the local Turtle Doves that have now become harder to find in Sant Tomas and the local countryside.

Audouin's Gull

Turtle Dove

Spotted Flycatcher 




When the sun came out the local lizards warmed up too. On our travels this year we spotted albeit briefly, a Fox Vulpes vulpes, the same species as our UK one but the one we saw of a very sandy shade almost like the colour of a golden retriever.

Italian Wall Lizard 

It’s one of our favourite runs. Towards Es Mercadal with stops here & there along “Dusty Road” at Tirant and the swooping run to Cavelleria and back followed by lunch at Fornells village. We stopped to rescue a Hermann's from traffic.

 "Dusty Road", Tirant

Hermann's Tortoise

May flowers 

May flowers 

Playa Fornells from Tirant

Bar at Tirant

To Cavelleria


Red Kites, Kestrels and Booted Eagles line this route with the occasional Egyptian Vulture. We fell lucky on a couple of days with singles of both Red-footed Falcon and European Roller on the roadside wires. The kites and eagles appear to never, ever land, not for the car bound photographer and certainly not for the brightly clad cyclist or walker.

Red Kite 

Booted Eagle 

Egyptian Vulture 

European Roller 

European Roller

Red-footed Falcon 

 Red-footed Falcon

Tawny Pipits seemed harder to find this year, as did both Thekla, Short-toed Lark and even the normally plentiful Stonechat. I fear that Menorcan farmland birds may be in similar decline to our own UK ones. In contrast, Corn Buntings appeared as ubiquitous as ever.

Tawny Pipit

Corn Bunting 







Stay tuned. There's more to come from Menorca soon, a book review, plus back to local birding when time allows.

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

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