Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Gulf Matters

Almost three weeks had flown with very little birding and even less ringing to brighten grey days. Our last ringing session at Gulf Lane had been 9th January with an embarrassingly low catch of Linnets. We’d pencilled in a day last Wednesday but when overnight temperatures dropped to -6° with freezing rain, we chickened out from skating on ice. 

My blogging/birding pal David Gascoigne in Ontario tells me that on one day last week he woke to a healthy -19°. Undeterred, his group ventured out for their customary Tuesday Ramble

This Wednesday promised slightly better for us, without the freezing rain but still 0° with maybe a snow shower or two, but hopefully time to make amends. I met Andy at 0800 and we set the nets then waited for the Linnets to arrive. 

An hour long snow shower didn't help matters when the circa 200 Linnets disappeared from sight. It was only when the snow stopped and the sky brightened that they returned and we managed to catch a couple - two first winter males. So it’s back to the drawing board for now. 



Other birds seen today – 16 Whooper Swans and over towards the sea wall, a single Barn Owl. 

Whooper Swans

Today's snow was the first, and hopefully the last of the winter.

Snowfall - 30 January 2019

Stay tuned. There's birding ringing and pictures when the snow clears.

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

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Brambling Bonanza

With little local news, here’s a story for birders who like to hone their counting skills with massed waders; or flocks of finches perhaps? 

After good autumn counts of Bramblings on migration through the UK there were hopes that the better than average numbers might herald a “Brambling Winter”, a winter when Bramblings become relatively common.

It wasn't to be as the counts fizzled out and sightings of Bramblings broke few if any records, at least in the UK. My own autumn and winter count troubled a single handful of fingers.


Another Bird Blog featured the Brambling phenomenon in November 2018, but now there’s a follow-up to the story. 

Recent counts in Slovakia suggest that as is often the case, and despite the hopes of UK birders, many Bramblings have remained in Northern and Eastern Europe where as normal they exploited crops of beech and hornbeam. 

Cut to the TV News of recent weeks where heavy snowfall in Europe north of the Alps brought huge snow drifts, deadly avalanches and a degree of chaos to everyday life. 

Large falls of snow covered much of the Bramblings’ food supplies with the result that they fled south beyond the Alps and into Slovenia in search of new food supplies. During this time Slovenia remained relatively snow-free as newly arrived Bramblings homed in on the Zasavje area. It was here that other Bramblings had already found good feeding amongst carpets of beechmast following a heavy seed crop during a productive summer. 

Counts in recent days and weeks by Tomaž Mihelič and the other Slovene ornithologists of the country’s DOPPS - BirdLife Slovenia (Društvo za opazovanje in proučevanje ptic Slovenije) realised a count of between 2 to 5 million Bramblings in beech woods along the River Sava, a tributary of the Danube. 

 Bramblings, Slovenia (© Tomaž Mihelič)

Bramblings, Slovenia (© Tomaž Mihelič)

The counts showed a minimum of 2 million but probably as many as 5 million Bramblings, all contained in an area of about 100 square kms, a number representing a sizeable chunk of the whole European population. Every night the Bramblings packed into a stand of trees covering just 5 hectares (a circle about 250 metres in diameter). The exact site of the roost is not revealed so as to prevent disturbance, but it has drawn crowds of locals to watch each evening.

Stop press. With fresh snowfall around, latest counts suggest up to a staggering 10 million Bramblings. 


Looks like we in the UK will have to postpone our Brambling Winter to another year.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Murder On Hampstead Heath

An exchange of texts sealed the decision. The nagging south easterly wind and hint of more drizzle meant no ringing the following morning. Some things never change. 

Over the moss roads I found a regular but shy Barn Owl that would have little of my photography intent as it disappeared into - a barn. What else? 

In the same area only a year or two ago was an entirely different individual that would hunt long into the morning hours over a well-defined and regular circuit and cared little about a lens poking from a car window. Such are the subtle differences that sometimes allow us to separate one individual from another but where traditional nest sites prove their worth by allowing successive generations to breed in familiar places. 

Barn Owl 

New landowners at Braides have changed the landscape. Not to everyone’s liking I hear, with Natural England for one unhappy with the levelling of the previously Under-Stewardship land. There was still a good count of 2000+ Lapwing, a few dozen Redshank, several Curlew and a lone wagtail, but the distant scrape so valuable for wildfowl and waders has disappeared under an unfriendly plough. 

I’d not been to Conder Green for many weeks and by the paucity of on-line accounts, I had missed little. 

Except for 3 Egyptian Geese my counts proved strangely resonant of pre-Christmas days with 90 Teal, 45 Wigeon, 22 Redshank, 15 Curlew, 3 Little Grebe, 1 Little Egret and a single Rock Pipit. 

Christmas and New Year generated visits to Conder Green from bird watchers keen to tick the newly arrived exotic Egyptian Geese, a feral but now established affiliate to bird lists. 

There are thought to be around 200 pairs of Egyptian Geese in England, mostly in Norfolk and the south-east but the species rarely travels in any numbers to the colder north of England or even the warmer Fylde, hence the bird listers.

Whether these three probable siblings will stay around as one into the spring and summer is perhaps unlikely given the species’ known aggressive traits. 

Egyptian Goose 

It was around Christmas that a brutal murder took place on Hampstead Heath. 

“A pair of Egyptian Geese lived blissfully at Kenwood Pond on the Heath for many years. The original pair mated for at least seven seasons and produced up to seven goslings a year. The male was a good father, protecting his young from aggressive dogs, often rushing his family into the safety of the pond waters. 

Their lives were ripped apart by a territorial battle between the resident male and an intruder, who returned for a second time having been chased off earlier in the summer. The pair had survived the best part of a decade until the fateful day that the younger but stronger adult, perhaps even one of their own goslings from years gone by, returned to enact a bloody and hostile takeover. A bitter fight ended brutally, with the resident male killed and drowned in the pond below Kenwood House." 

Around a year ago the same pair were caught in a less traditional drama: a photographer described an incident where the now-deceased male goose took exception to a drone flying near to his family. The drone hovered near the nest and the male took off, crashing into the drone from above and sending it spinning into the water. 

If only someone had thought to mention this to the assorted politicians, Police, RAF, Army and Gatwick officials watching the invisible drone. Or perhaps the innocent couple who spent 36 hours in Police custody?

From Conder and up to Cockersands, the lanes were mostly unproductive. I heard lots of noise around the Tree Sparrow colony along Moss Lane where by now the sparrows are well aware of impending spring. 

Otherwise there was very little except for a small gang of 40-45 ground feeding Fieldfares and a couple of Kestrels. Fieldfares are mostly absent now, hard to find until their spring passage North begins in March and April. 


Meanwhile, and despite the dreary weather, the Linnets must be fed even though we aren't able to manage a ringing session. A count of 300 was pretty good and many soon dropped onto the fresh seed I dropped. 


Maybe next week, but the forecast does not look good. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Slaughter In Spain

I offer no apologies for the photographs in this post. They should be shared far and wide, mostly to our representatives in the EU and the UK. 

The slaughter of birds for amusement continues apace in many countries in Europe. It is commonplace in Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Malta and Cyprus to name the most notorious. 

From my friend in Spain, Fernando Gavilian Lopez. 

De cómo exterminar al Zorzal común. Capítulo 2. Imágenes de esta semana subidas a las redes sociales en España. La especie se nos va. 

Google Translation - How to annihilate the Song Thrush. Episode 2. Images uploaded to social networks this week in Spain. The species is going away.

I am so angry that words fail me. Isn't this what we adults should be doing in 2019?

Thank you.

Linking this post to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Down Memory Lane

Surfing as one might on a rather dull morning and on the website of Fylde Bird Club, Lancashire, I stumbled across a page full of their old Newsletters. The newsletters, now in PDF form and dated from 1983 to 2017 provide a source of historic local information to both members and non-members alike. 

Inside June/July 1983 Number 4, was a piece submitted by one Phil Slade about the finding of a rare bird on a June evening in 1983. In those days I was a member of the club, one of ten or twelve founder members who set up the club as a way of developing interest in the local site of Marton Mere, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

In the early eighties the mere was threatened with development by interests wholly unsympathetic to wildlife. Despite the SSSI the mere was a free-for-all to many varied interests with little concern for its status as an SSSI. Club members took on an evening rota to try and deter the many undesirable elements from destroying the site’s value – birds’ egg thieves, scrambler bikes, unruly dogs with and unruly owners, charging horses topped by inconsiderate riders. You name it, Marton Mere had the lot.  

After an encounter one evening with a muddy dog and an unpleasant owner I recall taking a different route to escape the abuse.

Read on …. 

Fylde Bird Club June/July 1983

Fylde Bird Club June/July 1983

Fylde Bird Club June/July 1983

Apologies about the quality of the images above.  This was pre-digital and pre-mobile phones.  Remember that?

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Also, from Page One above: "Information regarding breeding birds in the Fylde has been somewhat sparse, so strengths and weaknesses of locally breeding birds must unfortunately pass undocumented for another year - let's hope we can improve on this for the future".

Strange then that a year or two later some members of the club helped put a block on bird ringing at the mere, studies that would have provided much needed data. It was because of this myopia that I broke my relationship with the bird club.  It is only in very recent years, following a proposal from Andy Dixon plus a new enlightened approach from Blackpool Borough Council, that ringing is now encouraged and supported.

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Testing Times

Andy and I arranged to meet up at Gulf Lane this morning to test our latest theory about Linnets - we catch better on frosty mornings? 

There was a ground frost and a temperature of -1° at 0800. We had been here on Saturday 4th January and despite a spot count of 400 Linnets we caught a big fat zero, not a single one; the Linnets just weren't interested, this in contrast to 2nd January when we had a catch of twenty-seven. The difference between the two days was - on January 2nd there’s been an overnight frost followed by an icy morning of -2.5°. In total contrast the morning of Saturday 4th January was much warmer at 7°C. My post, Another Bird Blog of 2nd January - “Twenty seven was our best catch of the winter, probably helped by the frosty start and the Linnets’ keenness to eat”. 

These are wintering Linnets only, ones which and dependent upon the coming weather, may be back on their way North as early as March. That leaves us just eight or ten weeks to reach our target of 200 new Linnets for the winter period. Another 100 to go. 

We set the nets followed by another bucket of millet and rape seed then waited for the Linnet’s arrival. Although the Linnets arrived in good numbers – up to 300, we caught just four. All four were females today. So although it’s back to the drawing board for our next theory, we do not give up so easily and remain convinced that catches will improve. 

Linnet - First winter/second calendar year female 

Linnet - First winter/second calendar year female 

“Ringing has been an important research tool for the conservation biologist over the last 100 years. Effective conservation of wild bird populations requires understanding of bird ecology, the factors driving population change, and evidence that proposed conservation measures can be effective. Bird-ringing studies can provide a wide range of data types to aid and inform this process, and in many cases these data are not available without the capture and marking of individual birds.” 

The above is a summary of a paper from Ringing and Migration “The value of ringing for bird conservation”, written in 2009 by Guy Q.A. Anderson and Rhys E. Green. 

The full paper, too lengthy to post here, includes sections on: 
  • Movement between seasons in resident species 
  • Dispersal Migration routes and strategies 
  • Survival rates 
  • Productivity 
  • Genetic relationship 
  • How to improve the value of ringing for conservation gain 
Read the full paper at: 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Birding Glossary

Here I am on a miserable Sunday afternoon, mizzly, dank and grey with nothing on the telly, just the usual BBC propaganda, Sly News or tired old films. 

I got to thinking about the birding terminology, names and acronyms used in the world of birds here in the UK. Birding and birdwatching is a pastime that has evolved its own lifestyle, culture and even language. It is a way of life often mocked and misunderstood by those yet to experience the joys of ticking a mega bird or to suffer the anguish of a dick’s pip dip. 

So anyone looking to enter the world of birds may find the information below a useful Aide Memoir. Hopefully by studying and memorising some of the terminology it will allow them to slip seamlessly into the world of birds at a level appropriate to their experience – or not, as the case may be! Using the right jargon can be a passport to acceptance by the birding community, but getting it even slightly wrong can lead to being “sussed”, side-lined, and in extreme cases, quickly ostracised. 

For now we’ll skip the major terms of Birder, Bird Watcher, Lister, Bird Chaser, Twitcher, Ornithologist, Robin Stroker, and Rasberry. These are labels which need a whole post and more in which to explore the perils and pitfalls of acquiring such a tag for oneself or to apply to others.

I tried to put the list in some sort of logical order but gave up and opted for random. Where appropriate there are warnings as to when, where and why it may not be wise to use a particular expression or shorthand. Some are thought to be derogatory if said to another birder’s face, the bird itself, or made in reference to a hallowed bird organisation. The list is not exhaustive and I am sure readers can add their own examples.  
Let’s start with some simple almost self-explanatory ones for LBJs - Little Brown Jobs. 

Acros- Acrocephalus warblers e.g. Reed and Sedge Warbler etc. Also, reedy, sedgie. 
Hippos- Hippolais warblers. e.g. Icterine Warbler and Booted Warbler etc. 
Phylloscs - Phylloscopus warblers. e.g. Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler etc. 
Gropper or PG Tips - Locustella warblers - Grasshopper Warbler and Pallas’s Gropper respectively.
Mipit - Meadow Pipit
Tripit - Tree Pipit
Trepi – Tree Pipit - reserved for bird ringers only. Bird Ringers have exclusive codes which set them apart from mere birders. 
Wipit - Water Pipit 
Rokit - Rock Pipit 
OBP- Olive-backed Pipit 
Dick’s Pip or Dick’s - Richard’s Pipit 
RBF - Red-breasted Flycatcher 
Spotfly or Spofl - Spotted Flycatcher
Sibe - a vagrant of Siberian origin 
Yank - a vagrant (bird) of usually North American origin 
Pink Stink – An adult Rose-coloured Starling. A tip – Birders are wholly uncomplimentary about the starling family, unless it’s a Golden O – Golden Oriole.
Fawn Yawn – a juvenile or first winter Pink Stink. Think about it, or see “Collins” below. 
Junk Bird - Slightly controversial. A bird so common as to be worthless on a list other than a life list. For example - House Sparrow, Wren, Dunnock or Blue Tit. Or formerly, a Greenfinch.
Gringo - a Greenfinch. 

Beware of assigning an LBJ to the wrong family tree - an embarrassing mistake that breaks a birding social convention of “knowing ones Collins”. Collins Field Guide THE Most Complete Field Guide To The Birds Of Britain And Europe.



Now for a few members of the wading family: 

Barwit - Bar-tailed Godwit 
Blackwit - Black-tailed Godwit 
Hudwit - Hudsonian Godwit 
Curly Wurly - Curlew 
Peeps - reserved for North Americans on a UK birding trip - small Calidris waders that real birders call stints- e.g. Little Stint or Curlew Sandpiper 
Oyk - Oystercatcher. As distinct from an Oik who blocks the view during a twitch. 


And Seabirds: 

Manxie - Not a tailless cat but a Manx Shearwater 
Bonxie – Great Skua 
Commic Tern - Common/ Arctic Terns that are too distant to differentiate safely enough between the two. Beware of using this label and thus admitting to incompetence whilst in the company of a birder higher up the echelons of the birding world. 
As above - Corvid for use when unsure whether the bird is a Rook, Carrion Crow or Raven. N.B. Can be more acceptable than Commic Tern. 



Plastic - a bird which is likely to have escaped from captivity. Use with care as a “plastic” may by higher authority later become a “tick”, in which case can be retrospectively claimed as an “armchair tick”. 
Yuck Duck – similar to Plastic. A hybrid but often wild duck, mostly the result of a union between a Mallard and a farmyard duck. Take care not to spend time trying to ID such birds as they will never qualify as a tick. Furthermore, the observers' credentials as as serious birder will be seriously damaged.

In Part Two of Birding Glossary we explore other terms, some of which often induce controversy and even conflict into the genteel world of bird watching. Words like suppression, stringer, dude, lumper and splitter. 

Be there or be a dipper. But best not to be gripped off.

Linking this post to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

All Fired Up…....

…... and somewhere to go. After the news on New Year’s Eve that Linnet AYD5167 had been ringed on North Ronaldsay Orkney it didn’t need much persuasion to get out ringing again. Even better, the forecast promised near zero wind and a bright morning that would get hungry Linnets moving around. 

I met Andy at Gulf Lane to -2.5°C and where we hoped that lightning might strike twice by way of another ringed bird from the Highlands or the Islands. 

Gulf Lane - Pilling/Cockerham  - 2nd January 2019

Gulf Lane - Pilling/Cockerham 2nd January 2019

We set up the ringing station in Andy’s hatchback and made a mental note that now into 2019 all birds become a calendar year older and ageing codes change overnight; first year 3s become 5s and adult 4s magic into 6s.

Just think, if we could do that with friends and relatives we could post every birthday card on the First of January and never again worry about being in the doghouse by missing that vital one.

Oops, the first Linnet went onto the field sheet as a “3”, but we soon got into the swing of it and kicked off the ringing year with 27 new Linnets and zero recaptures. Twenty seven was our best catch of the winter, probably helped by the frosty start and the Linnets’ keenness to eat, not least on the bucket of fresh, dry millet and rape seed we deposited on the frozen ground.

Our best spot count this morning was of a maximum 300 Linnets, the only other small birds in the immediate area being Wren and Dunnock.

Linnet - first winter male Age "5".

The catch this morning comprised 12 first winter male, 8 adult male, 6 first winter female and 1 adult female; once again, a preponderance of males.

Field Sheet - 2nd January 2019

Here’s wishing all followers and readers of Another Bird Blog a Happy and Bird Filled New Year. 

Back soon with more about Linnets and other birds.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot.

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