Friday, September 28, 2018

Colder than Greece

Boreas the Greek God who brings winter winds tried his best to stop us leaving Skiathos on Tuesday night and early Wednesday. But by Wednesday lunchtime he’d run out of puff but the leftover headwind meant the plane had a flying start and didn't need a refuel at Kavala as planned. Most unusually, Manchester was bathed in sunshine when we landed an hour early. 

There was some catching up for me when I met Andy at Oakenclough on Friday morning where the temperature hovered around 6° rather than the accustomed 25° of Greece. In two weeks of my absence Andy had dodged the rain and caught over 250 birds with the usual good mix of species including Bullfinch, Meadow Pipits and yet more Mistle Trushes. 

It was a similar story today with 33 captures of 12 species, only one of which was a recapture from recent days - 8 Chaffinch, 6 Meadow Pipit, 6 Goldfinch, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Blackcap, 2 Dunnock, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Song Thrush. 

We have discovered that we can catch Mistle Thrushes up here in the Pennines, more so in the autumn when the species is on the move and when small parties or single birds pass overhead or stop off at our ringing site. These birds may be the remnants of post-breeding flocks that disperse towards the coast or lowlands for the winter whereby we have seen up to 60-80 on occasions. Equally they may be pure migrants from further afield but it is impossible to be sure to which category an individual belongs. 

The six of this week have all been of first year/juvenile age. 

Mistle Thrush 

Mistle Thrush 

The single Song Thrush (a first year/juvenile) seemed to have some weakness in the feather structure of both wing and tails. The outer primary feathers were very worn and faded while the tips and ends of every tail feather had completely worn away. 

Song Thrush 

Song Thrush 

Song Thrush

90% or more of the Meadow Pipits we catch in the autumn are first year/juveniles with their characteristic mix of juvenile and post-partial moult feathers. Below is a fine example of an adult wing in September; this adult has completed a full moult so that all of the coverts, secondaries, primaries and tertials are of the same age and colour. The whole wing looks uniform across its width as opposed to a first year wing with a mix of feather ages. Similarly, each tail feather is new and fresh as well as wide at and near the tips. The tail of a September juvenile/first year is straggly, thin, and worn with a much more pointed appearance. 

Meadow Pipit - adult 

Meadow Pipit 

The morning was rather clear with a good number of birds passing high overhead. Mostly, and from their calls they appeared to be Chaffinches, as confirmed by Chaffinch being the most ringed bird of the morning. Otherwise we caught not a single Redpoll or Siskin, but 3 Linnets seen here is very unusual. 


Take a look at that pointy tail – another first year/juvenile female Blackcap. 


Chiffchaffs have been so scarce this year that it was most pleasing to catch two this morning. Both juvenile/ first years. 


Birding in-between ringing clocked up lingering summer visitors in the shape of 4 Swallows and a single Yellow Wagtail. 

Otherwise, 8 Pied Wagtail, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Nuthatch, 5 Cormorant, 40 + Lapwing and 300+ Greylag Geese on and around the nearby reservoir.

Linking today with Anni's Blog and Eileen's Blogspot.

Monday, September 17, 2018


September means Skiathos where Sue and I join the Boomerang Club, people who return year after year to this very special Greek Island.  Don't forget - click the pics.

Skiathos is the most popular of the Sporades, the group of islands east of Volos and north of Evia on mainland Greece. The island of Skiathos is actually an extension of wooded Mount Pelion 100 miles away on the mainland and the scenery reflects this. Skiathos is a green island with pine forests and abundant water with fig, olive, plum, and almond trees, as well as grapes. 


Leaving Skopelos

Skiathos embraced tourism many years ago where on glistening beaches, wooded hillsides and in peaceful valleys are a number of the finest hotels in Greece. We stay in one such place that shall remain our secret.

Skiathos has much to offer people of all ages and nationalities from Northern climates seeking a blast of September sunshine. We find ourselves amongst fellow Brits, East Europeans, Finns, Danes, Norwegians and even the occasional German. Luckily we don’t do lying on the beach so the sunbed issue never arises, but the queue for the bus to lively Skiathos Town at 1800 hours can be problematical. 

"Every September Skiathos holds the Katsonia Festival held in memory of the submarine Lambros Katsonis sunk on 14th September 1943 close to Kastro, the former capital of Skiathos located on the northern tip of the island." 

Memorial to the sinking of Lambros Katsonis 

"Whilst trying to intercept a German troop transport during World War Two, the Lambros Katsonis was sunk by the German submarine chaser UJ-2101. This tragic event resulted in the drowning of 32 crewmen, including the ship’s captain, as well as 15 other crew captured by the Germans. 

Amazingly, three of the ship’s crew – Lt. Eleftherios Tsoukalas, the ship’s executive officer, and petty officers Antonios Antoniou and Anastasios Tsigros managed to swim to the shores of Skiathos, an epic feat which took them nine exhausting hours. They hid on the island until they eventually managed to return to Egypt and rejoin the Greek fleet.” 

For beach lovers there are over 60 sandy beaches in Skiathos, including Koukounaries rated 7th best beach in the world and best in Greece. Banana Beach just around the headland is the island's only naturist beach, perhaps because it is more remote and very sheltered. Most of the beaches are easy to reach by bus or moped as they are generally alongside the only main road on the Island and reached by following a track or dirt road. 

Ligaries or Kechria?



The remotest north-coast beaches like Ligaries, Mandraki and Ttsougria are accessible only by jeep, dirt-bike, foot or donkey. We hire a Jimny jeep for our stay even though there is an excellent bus service that plies frequently between Skiathos Town and Koukounariés resort, 7.5 miles west. The buses call at 26 numbered stops where our own is Bus Stop 16, the small resort of Agia Paraskevi at the entrance to Platanias valley.

The often crowded bus, standing room only, is an essential Skiathos experience where the aromas of a day on the beach, mozzie cream, wasp deterrent and a meal of garlic mushrooms & tzatziki make for a heady experience. 

Skiathos Bus

The Jimny is essential for exploring the more remote parts of the island where their remoteness involves often tortuous, bouncing progress over terrain badly rutted by winter storms that cascade off steep hillsides onto unmade tracks below. 

Skiathos jeep

To Evagelistria

View from Kanapitsa

The success of the first Mamma Mia filmed in 2007 around neighbouring Skopelos created a sort of mass-hysteria when people who loved the movie travel to Skiathos looking for the island depicted in the film. The cultists may not find those actual scenes, rarely meet up with Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan or Donna, but are never disappointed. 

Mamma Mia

In Skiathos Town cafes, gyro joints and tavernas line the sunny boulevard where pristine yachts shine in the everlasting sun. Goldie Hawn is rumoured to be a regular in Fresh Café, hot from her $30 million yacht moored off-shore. We can vouch for the coffee and the wedge of marbled cake that arrives with each order but we have yet to meet Goldie. 


Eating out each evening without worrying about the washing up is something of a bonus. And it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.


Taverna Maistrali 

No Name Gyros - Skiathos Town

Skiathos is a beautiful island where the only drawback is the difficulty of arriving or leaving due to the airport's notoriously short runway and summer thunderstorms that emanate from the hot mainland. Delays and cancellations are the stuff of legend. Touch wood. We have experienced the spectacular thunderstorms that light up the night sky but not the resulting delays. 

Skiathos Landing 

The birding here is casual, an adjunct to the holiday of relaxation and the vibes of Greece. Yes, there are birds to be found, especially since I seem to be the only birder on the island. Just as we like it. 

Woodchat Shrike 

Eleonora's Falcon 

 Yellow Wagtail

Red-rumped Swallow 

Red-backed Shrike 

Spotted Flycatcher

Hobby -

Honey Buzzard -


Come late September the island winds down from the hectic five months of tourism when many businesses close and their owners return to Volos, Thessaloniki and Athens for the winter.

Ferry to mainland Greece

Skiathos subsides into normal as those left on the island breathe a sigh of relief until it’s time to start all over in May of the following year.

Back soon in Blighty. Now watch the video for a real feeling of Skiathos. 


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Scope Watch

Birding situations often arise where we need greater magnification than binoculars can provide. I'm not one for humping a telescope and tripod around. I like to travel light, and very often my camera on a shoulder is second only to a pair of bins around my neck. But I always make sure there’s a telescope in the car for those occasions when birds are a long way off and maybe one or two require special attention and a more detailed appraisal. 

A telescope can be an expensive piece of kit but is probably essential for someone looking to expand their birding into new territory. Here’s a round-up of some of the best scopes on offer at the moment, so if you’re in the market for greater magnification, check them out. 

I have not included prices as these vary to some extent. I believe that the ones featured below are available on both sides of the Atlantic, Europe and other continents. Yes, birding is a global phenomenon as shown by the “hits” on Another Bird Blog from the World over. 

Here are those telescopes. 

Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85

Vortex Razor HD 27-60x85 

I use inexpensive Vortex bins. I rather like the brand because their robust build with sharp optics take a hammering from almost daily use in all sorts of weather. 

The Razor HD 27-60×85 scope is engineered with an oversized objective, superior glass, and specialized coatings. It gives clear and bright images at all magnifications and lighting conditions. It also minimizes light loss and maximizes image brightness with Vortex’s XRPlus anti-reflective coatings. The Porro prisms have highly dielectric coatings designed to improve brightness, clarity, and colour accuracy. 

Kowa TSN-553 15-45×55 

Kowa TSN 553 14-45 x 55 

The Kowa TSN-553 15-45×55 uses low-dispersion PROMINAR fluoride glass that reduces chromatic aberrations that when paired with the multi-coated optics and two-speed focusing mechanism produce bright and clear images. The impressive zoom range allows the user to take in a wide field of view for general viewing purposes and the ability to draw subjects in close for more detailed observations. 

Swarovski ATS-65 HD 20-60×65 

Swarovski ATS-65 HD 20-60 x 65 

The ATS-65 HD Spotting Scope with eyepiece is a rugged yet refined scope from Swarovski. It is compact, relatively lightweight, and particularly well-suited for birders who like to carry a scope at all times. Swarovski’s ATS series combines the high image quality and world-class workmanship consumers can expect from this renowned company. 

ZEISS Victory Harpia 85 

Zeiss Victory Harpia 85 or 95

This is the rather expensive flagship of the Zeiss range. The extra-low dispersion fluoride glass of the ZEISS Victory Harpia 85 or 95 Spotting Scope ensures crisp and sharp views. 

The Harpia is somewhat unique. The wide-angle zoom mechanism has been placed in the objective end of the scope near the focusing wheel, not in the eyepiece, which allows greater flexibility in the way the image is presented.  The makers say that it is easy to clean off oils, spots, dust, and dirt without residue due to the LotuTec coating on the exterior lens. Sounds like the one for me, but I need to save up for one or raid the grandkids' piggy banks.

Leica APO-Televid 82 25-50 x 82

Leica APO Televid 82 25-50 x 82

Lightweight, easy-to-manage, and offering top optical performance, the APO-Televid 82 delivers brilliant views of nature that are rich in detail and contrast. In addition to conventional viewing, there is a special camera adapter that allows it to convert into a high-powered telephoto lens. 

The above is just a selection of the telescopes you can find on the Internet. Very often there is a You Tube video with a spoken review and detailed analysis of the product.

Try a DuckDuckGo search for “birding telescope”. You will get something like 240,00 results! Good Luck.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Friday Feeling

Thinking that Friday morning might be OK for birding wasn't a great decision. The broken rainbow that fell from black clouds above made a pretty good pointer to the never ending showers that followed. It was windy too, much more than the Granada forecast and the whole morning felt like September had well and truly arrived. 

A Cockerham rainbow 

It was two weeks since I last visited Conder Green (25th August) so I headed there first. I'm not sure where the wagtails had roosted overnight but the first stop for many of them was Conder Pool where I counted a remarkable 80+ Pied Wagtails and 2 Grey Wagtails along the far bank. The wagtails were so far away that I'm pretty sure more were hidden out of sight over the bank and behind the pool. 

This last week saw a push of Swallows headed south and it was noticeable today how few were around with 70+ feeding over and around the early morning hedgerow the best count by far. Otherwise there were just twos and threes along the lanes towards Cockersands where last broods are still about the farms buildings. 


The grassy margins of Conder held large numbers of Lapwings, so numerous and so mobile that a count is of 450+ is but an estimate. Once or twice the loose flock erupted into a cloud of flight as if all of those present received the same message of danger at precisely the same moment. Birders call the spectacle a “dread”. The more scientific term for the phenomenon is “Swarm Intelligence” or SI. 

“Although there is no centralized control structure dictating how individual agents should behave, local, and to a certain degree random, interactions between such agents lead to the emergence of "intelligent" global behaviour, unknown to the individual agents. Examples in natural systems of Swarm Intelligence include ant colonies, bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, fish schooling and microbial intelligence.” 

Other waders and wildfowl today – 32 Redshank, 5 Greenshank, 3 Snipe, 2 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Common Sandpiper, 14 Teal, 3 Little Egret. 


Very evident today was the number of Starlings. This is the time of year when we have an influx of Continental Starlings that spend the winter here in the UK rather than colder parts of Europe. Twice I saw newly arrived Starling flocks pursued by raptors – firstly by a Sparrowhawk and then later by a Merlin. Neither raptor caught their breakfast. 


I stopped off at Gulf Lane where I saw the earlier mentioned Merlin. The Merlin had scattered a field full of Lapwings, Starlings and Curlews which is no mean feat for a bird hardly bigger than a Mistle Thrush. The Merlin flew towards the junction and left a dread of waders in its wake as it inspected the field of set-aside where I’d just counted 35 Goldfinches and 20 Linnets. 

We have cut a ride for when finch numbers build.  We think that the good summer, a glut of natural food together with a prolonged breeding season may have delayed the arrival here of  both Linnets and Goldfinches. But when they arrive in numbers we are ready with an already cut catching area to build on the 400+ Linnets ringed during the last two winters. 

By now it was raining again, more heavy showers, grey skies and quite windy. I called it a day and headed home to catch up with news, birds and the “real” world. 

We seem to have left summer behind but my pal David in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada tells me it was 35 degrees there on Wednesday. You can read about his weather, birds and bird ringing, together with his liking for coffee and cake on his blog Travels With Birds.

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Purple Patch

I was unavailable for Tuesday’s ringing session when Andy ringed another 35 birds at Oakenclough. He caught the first Siskins and Lesser Redpolls of the autumn and another couple of Tree Pipits but then excelled by catching an adult Spotted Flycatcher, the first full-grown “spot-fly” for a number of years. 

Not to be outdone I met up with Andy for another 0630 start on Wednesday. Oakenclough’s recent purple patch continued with 42 more captures of 12 species. There was an exciting morning of birding too, topped off by an adult Hobby about 11 am. 

We caught steadily from the off as finches provided the numbers while “others” provided the “star” birds: 14 Goldfinch, 9 Chaffinch, 4 Great Tit, 3 Meadow Pipit, 2 Blackcap, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Tree Pipit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit. 

Both of today’s Blackcaps, a male and a female were birds of the year (juvenile) with the female showing faint fault bars on the tail. Fault bars are pale bands sometimes seen on wing and tail feathers and which are probably due to reduced metabolism with less melanin deposition during the growth of feather, typically during days when food is scarce due to natural causes or poor weather. We have seen few fault bars on young birds’ tails this year, almost certainly a consequence of the best year ever of UK weather as a whole and the best since 2006 in the North West. 


 Blackcap- juvenile/first year female 

Today’s single juvenile Tree Pipit had a tiny mite attached to its face at the bottom of the right eye. We occasionally find such things around the eye and head of a bird but without specialist knowledge we can do little if anything to help. However, it is said that such ticks drop off when the ticks are finished feeding without any long term effect on the bird. 

Tree Pipit 

Tree Pipit 

Meadow Pipit 

I hope everyone spotted the difference between Meadow Pipit and Tree Pipit? 

Chiffchaffs have been strangely absent this summer and autumn, today’s recently moulted adult the first since 26th March. 


In recent years we are finding a number of juvenile Goldfinches in full primary moult (replacing all of their primary feathers) in late/summer early autumn. These are juveniles from the earliest broods of April/May and June whose plumage is well worn by late summer. In the picture below the outer feathers are the browner and worn ones; the darker, blacker ones and the short, still emerging feather are the new “adult type” feather. However, the bird is still classed as a first year/juvenile until 1st January 2019 when of course it becomes a second year. 


It’s good to welcome back Siskins and Lesser Redpolls even though we caught just one of each - both adult females. 

Lesser Redpoll - adult female

 Siskin - adult female

Siskin - adult female 

Tail feathers

The birding was pretty spectacular this morning, even with the limited time between rounds. There was an early arrival of 150+ Swallows which arrived so soon after dawn that we thought to be from a local roost. As the morning progressed their numbers increased at the same time as a large influx of House Martins and a handful of Sand Martins. Our estimate of the numbers involved in both visible migration and those lingering while feeding was 375 Swallow, 260 House Martin and 10 Sand Martin. 

With so many hirundines about, we speculated about the possibility of a Hobby. About 11 am Bryan cottoned on to a raptor that arrived from the west and shot quickly through where the Swallows and House Martins were feeding. We had less than a minute as the Hobby circled and then flew directly over our heads where we were able to identify it as an adult rather than a bird of the year. 

Hobby - Falco subbuteo 

Other birds – 8 Grey Wagtail, 6 Pied Wagtail, 7 Buzzard, 2 Sparrowhawk, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Nuthatch. 

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