Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Mention and discussion of the UK and Europe declining bird populations has been a feature of this blog since it began some 10 years ago. 

Now, a recent study (September 2019) in the journal Science reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signalling a widespread ecological crisis. Let that number sink in for a moment. That's three billion - a number "3" followed by nine "0"s - 3,000,000,000.

The results of the study show huge losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats, from iconic songsters such as meadowlarks, to long-distance migrants such as swallows and backyard birds including sparrows. 

Eastern Meadowlark 

Tree Swallow 

American Tree Sparrow

"Multiple, independent lines of evidence show a massive reduction in the abundance of birds," said Ken Rosenberg, the study's lead author and a senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy. "We expected to see continuing declines of threatened species. But for the first time, the results also showed pervasive losses among common birds across all habitats, including backyard birds." 

The study notes that birds are indicators of environmental health, indicating that natural systems across the U.S. and Canada are now being so severely impacted by human activities that they no longer support the same robust wildlife populations. 

The findings showed that of nearly 3 billion birds lost, 90 percent belong to 12 bird families, including sparrows, warblers, finches, and swallows - common, widespread species that play influential roles in food webs and ecosystem functioning, from seed dispersal to pest control. 

Among the steep declines noted: 
  • Grassland birds are especially hard hit, with a 53 percent reduction in population - more than 720 million birds since 1970. 
  • Shorebirds, most of which frequent sensitive coastal habitats, were already at dangerously low numbers and have lost more than one-third of their population. 
  • Waders - the volume of spring migration, measured by radar in the night skies, has dropped by 14 percent in just the past decade. 
"These data are consistent with what we're seeing elsewhere with other taxa showing massive declines, including insects and amphibians," said co-author Peter Marra, senior scientist emeritus and former head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre and now director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative at Georgetown University. 

"It's imperative to address immediate and ongoing threats, both because the domino effects can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods and because people all over the world cherish birds in their own right. Can you imagine a world without birdsong?" 

Evidence for the declines emerged from detection of migratory birds in the air from 143 NEXRAD weather radar stations across the continent in a period spanning over 10 years, as well as from nearly 50 years of data collected through multiple monitoring efforts on the ground. 

"Citizen-science participants contributed critical scientific data to show the international scale of losses of birds," said co-author John Sauer of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). 

"Our results also provide insights into actions we can take to reverse the declines." The analysis included citizen-science data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey coordinated by the USGS and the Canadian Wildlife Service -- the main sources of long-term, large-scale population data for North American birds - the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and Manomet's International Shorebird Survey. 

Although the study did not analyse the causes of declines, it noted that the steep drop in North American birds parallels the losses of birds elsewhere in the world, suggesting multiple interacting causes that reduce breeding success and increase mortality. It noted that the largest factor driving these declines is likely the widespread loss and degradation of habitat, especially due to agricultural intensification and urbanisation. 

Other studies have documented mortality from predation by free-roaming domestic cats; collisions with glass, buildings, and other structures; and pervasive use of pesticides associated with widespread declines in insects, an essential food source for birds. More research is needed to pinpoint primary causes for declines in individual species. 

"The story is not over," said co-author Michael Parr, president of American Bird Conservancy. "There are so many ways to help save birds. Some require policy decisions such as strengthening the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We can also work to ban harmful pesticides and properly fund effective bird conservation programs. Each of us can make a difference with everyday actions that together can save the lives of millions of birds - actions like making windows safer for birds, keeping cats indoors, and protecting habitat." 

The study also documents a few promising rebounds resulting from galvanised human efforts. Waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) have made a remarkable recovery over the past 50 years, made possible by investments in conservation by hunters and billions of dollars of government funding for wetland protection and restoration. 

Raptors such as the Bald Eagle have also made spectacular comebacks since the 1970s, after the harmful pesticide DDT was banned and recovery efforts through endangered species legislation in the U.S. and Canada provided critical protection. 

Bald Eagle 

"It's a wake-up call that we've lost more than a quarter of our birds in the U.S. and Canada," said Adam Smith from Environment and Climate Change Canada. "But the crisis reaches far beyond our individual borders. Many of the birds that breed in Canadian backyards migrate through or spend the winter in the U.S. and places farther south -- from Mexico and the Caribbean to Central and South America. What our birds need now is an historic, hemispheric effort that unites people and organisations with one common goal: bringing our birds back."

Journal Reference: Kenneth V. Rosenberg, Adriaan M. Dokter, Peter J. Blancher, John R. Sauer, Adam C. Smith, Paul A. Smith, Jessica C. Stanton, Arvind Panjabi, Laura Helft, Michael Parr, Peter P. Marra. Decline of the North American avifauna. Science, 2019; eaaw1313 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1313

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

British Birds: A Pocket Guide - Review

Back in 2016 I reviewed the WILDGuides Britain's Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, at the time a new and entirely photographic guide to the birds of the UK. It received lots of plaudits and congratulatory reviews, including my own, and went on to become a best seller. Britains Birds Book Review.

At the time I made reference to the book’s bulk and weight as I considered that the proportions could result in the book being used as a reference book rather than a field guide. “….. Measures 6” by 8” and contains 3,300 colour photos within its 560 pages …. here was a hefty piece of work. It tipped the scales at 1200 grams, making it a candidate for inclusion in a large rucksack” 

That has all changed with the publication of the new WILDGuides British Birds: A Pocket Guide which as its title claims, is a field guide for the pocket rather than a rucksack. 

By the same authors, this is a slimmed down version of the original of 2016 now shrunk to a more manageable and user friendly 7” x 5 “. This mini version weighs in at a highly portable 400gms (14ozs). 

Whereas the original book covered all those species that have occurred in the UK (600 species) this latest book covers only the most regularly occurring species, 248 in all, plus 45 scarcer species. Amazingly, the new book still manages to include over 1,600 photos, all of which are of a very high quality indeed and where the reduction in size has not resulted in any lessening of definition. I did not check each photo against the earlier version but as you might expect, many if not most are replicas from the bigger volume.

The now condensed text is concise but thorough enough to help with identification. A Pocket Guide is well though out and structured to assist the reader.  The authors continue the essence of the first book and pack a huge amount of information in the pages without it being cluttered or overwhelming. 

By forfeiting the inclusion of the very rare species but including regular scarcities the authors have chosen their target audience well. 

This is a book that will appeal to beginners and to those with a modicum of interest in identifying birds who want to take their burgeoning awareness that little further. 

Priced at £9.99, this is another one of the top quality bargain books we have come to expect from Princeton's WILDGuides series. With Christmas around the corner this little book would make  a pleasing little gift for child or adult alike. 

Linking today to https://viewingnaturewitheileen.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

An Outstanding Event

This morning saw a heavy and highly visible migration of northern thrushes through our Oakenclough ringing site.  Andy, Bryan and I met at 0645 with nets up and set ready for 0715. 

We caught very few birds in the less than ideal conditions of a 12/14 mph southerly wind and bright sunshine on one net, but witnessed an impressive movement of Northern thrushes based almost entirely on North West to South East flight lines 

Our tally of ringing was just 12 birds - 9 Redwing, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Blackbird, 1 Robin. 


Song Thrush  

These nine birds were a tiny part only of a count from 0800 to 1100 that saw approximately 3800 thrushes - 2300 Fieldfares and 1500 Redwings. 

All was quiet until about 0800 when the influx of Redwings and Fieldfares began from the direction of the coast and Morecambe Bay some 15 miles away. It was slow at first, mainly Redwings then as the light and visibility improved we realised that a heavy movement was on the cards. So it began with flocks of anywhere between five, fifty and three hundred thrushes, mostly mixed. There was always a majority Fieldfare configuration, especially in the latter stages when good numbers arrived from a more northerly, even north easterly direction, flying quite low against the now fresh southerly wind. 

The plantation has a heavy and very brightly coloured crop of hawthorn and rowan berries that the thrushes targeted as soon as they landed. 

Redwing and Fieldfare


Other birds were in the mix, one or two Song Thrush, Blackbird and Mistle Thrush but almost certainly more in the general melee of hundreds of overhead birds. Otherwise- 25+ Chaffinch, 30 Woodpigeon and one Sparrowhawk that hunted the arriving thrushes. 

A further sighting was of three Jays, an essentially sedentary species unless acorn crops fail, when they must migrate to other areas for food. Such years may result in quite large numbers of Jays being seen on visible migration. This may be the case this year with many reports of Jays in unusual and non-regular locations. 

Eurasian Jay 

In recent days I looked on local Whats App Birding and Bird News, Twitter and Facebook but found no messages, posts or apparent interest in this once in a year spectacle. It would appear that Redwings and Fieldfares are not rare or exciting enough to merit a mention. 

The absolute best local web and information site I know belongs to Bryan Yorke, who come rain or shine, conducts daily visible migration counts at Burton in Kendal,  Arnsideand Silverdale Blog , some 20 miles just north west of Okenclough.  His sightings and counts give a useful comparison to our own. Bryan's very low counts from today seem to point to this morning’s thrushes taking both more coastal and also inland Pennine routes. 

"Wednesday 23rd October 2019 Taylors Fields, Vicarage Lane, Burton In Kendal 0730hrs" 

"Obviously the thrushes were not about other than a sprinkling which seemed to be going in various directions."

"Chaffinch: 306 (282 SE and 14 W) 
Linnet: 216 (213 SE and 3 SW) 
Redpoll: 3 SE (one party) 
Greenfinch: 1 SE 
Alba Wagtail: 11 SE 
Skylark: 6 SE 
Fieldfare: 98 (20 W/SW,10E,4E,4E,6NW,9W,30SW,15N) 
Redwing: 171 (5SW,3SW,30SW,12SW,50SE,1E,6E,30SW,10SW,9S/SW,5SW,10SW) 
Starling: 50W (15,2,4,5,20,4) 
Woodpigeon: 29 NW 
Pink Footed Goose: 6 SE at 1135hrs" 

Back soon folks. Keep logging in for more news, views and photos.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Chalk And Cheese

An extract from North Ronaldsay, Orkney Blog - 16th October 2019. 

“A fantastic day with birds everywhere, massive flocks of Thrushes moving across the island throughout the day; the huge rolling flocks of Redwings filling every field, coming in off the sea and dropping vertically out of the sky was something else! No real rarities were unearthed but it didn’t matter one jot with everyone just revelling in the spectacle unfolding in front of them; totals (largely underestimates) comprised 11 Herons, 3 Hen Harriers, 2 Merlin, 3 Jack Snipe, 283 Snipe, 13 Woodcock, 5 Short-eared Owls, 320 Robins, 2 Black Redstarts, 3 Redstarts, a Wheatear, 11 Ring Ouzels, 315 Blackbirds, 257 Fieldfare, 1,197 Song Thrush, 10,977 Redwing, 2 Mistle Thrushes. A brilliant day for the ringers with a total of 381 birds processed through the day”. 

Meanwhile on Saturday 19 October it was back to reality at Oakenclough where birding on North Ron’s scale is beyond our wildest dreams and ringing sessions mostly sedate. Chalk and Cheese spring to mind. 

I drove through patches of mist for our 0630 start. When I arrived fog enveloped the ringing station and stayed there for the first hour and more. Through the fog a few Redwings arrived and the first six birds to find the nets were Redwings. 

Slowly the rising sun burnt through the low cloud and by 0900 we were in bright sunshine. Visible migration today was stuttering with a piecemeal arrival of thrushes and finches until we packed in at 1120. 

Approximates - 125 Redwing, 40 Fieldfare, 10 Blackbird, 45 Chaffinch, 35 Goldfinch 20 Lesser Redpoll, 6 Greenfinch, 18 Woodpigeon. 32 Birds caught - 9 Goldfinch, 8 Lesser Redpoll, 6 Redwing 4 Chaffinch, 3 Coal Tit, 1 Blackbird, 1 Great Tit. 

Lesser Redpoll - adult male 

Lesser Redpoll - adult male 

Chaffinch - first year male 



Redwings are smaller than one might imagine, slighter than a Blackbird, slimmer than a Song Thrush and the perfect size to fit in the palm of the hand.  We fit a size "CC" ring on a Redwing and the larger "C" ring on a Blackbird. 

Although Oakenclough is woodland edge habitat we catch very few Blackbirds. The young male today was a first year bird and almost certainly a migrant rather than a local bird. 


We received more information about a ringed Lesser Redpoll, ARC5449 caught here at Oakenclough on 14 October 2019. The latest news told us that it was first caught and ringed at Ramsley Reservoir, Derbyshire, UK on 14 December 2018. The quite late date in December suggests that this particular redpoll, an adult male, might be a fairly sedentary individual able to winter in more sheltered areas of Britain rather than a traveller to more distant shores. A ringing recovery like this often raises more questions than it answers. 

Lesser Redpoll - Ramsley Reservoir, Derbyshire to Oakenclough 

More news and pictures soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

More Thrush

The forecast for Tuesday morning was about as good as it gets just lately - a gentle breeze from the north with a fair amount of cloud that would slowly break. That was enough to motivate us to head for Oakenclough again where Andy and I met up at 0645. We were joined by Bryan with Barnaby the Labrador. 

“Slow but steady” was the name of the game, with more Redwings, a few Lesser Redpolls and a couple of “unpredicteds” seen but not caught. Our catch was 26 birds - 8 Redwing, 5 Blue Tit, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Chaffinch, plus one each of Great Tit, Coal Tit and Robin. 

Redwings came in fits and starts of tiny flocks and a total throughout the morning of 80/100 individuals plus a handful of migrant thrushes - Blackbirds, 3 Mistle Thrush and 2 noisy Fieldfare, the latter our first sightings of this autumn.  The Redwings we see in October and November are pure migrants rather than winter visitors. This week has seen a sputtering start to this annual migration of northern thrushes whereby millions of Redwings and Fieldfares rush through Britain to then spend the winter in Iberia and/or France. 

Once into the New Year, it will be more difficult to see either species here in Lancashire with their journey back north in the spring undertaken rapidly, often under the cover of darkness. Of the eight Redwings, there was one adult, the remainder birds born this year. 



At this time of year most Lesser Redpolls we catch can be safely aged as first years, i.e. born in the current year. One of those caught this morning had almost no hint of colouration in its greyish plumage so must have been born very late in the year - probably a second or even third brood? 

Lesser Redpoll - first year 

Lesser Redpoll - first year

Surprises came first in the shape and sound of an overflying Ring-necked Parakeet. Andy saw one (or the same individual) here about a week ago. The Ring-necked Parakeet is the UK’s only naturalised parrot with a wild population estimated at about 10,000/15,000 pairs. Thankfully the population is centred mainly round the south-east of England. The cold winters of northern Britain may have worked in our favour to stop the further expansion of a species widely considered to be a pest. 

A couple of bright intervals half way through the morning saw a flurry of Swallows heading determinedly south directly overhead. We saw a two, five and then a bigger group of eight. While mid-October is fairly late for migrating Swallows, this is certainly not without precedent, especially during mild and wet autumns. 

During the morning we also noted two large flocks of Pink-footed Geese, 400 + in total, coming off distant Morecambe Bay and then flying south, perhaps towards the goose fields of South Lancashire. 

Otherwise birds - 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Sparrowhawk, 40+ Chaffinch, 8 Goldfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Back Into Action

Saturday 12 0ctober. I gave my ringing pliers a squirt of WD40. What with the trip to Greece and then the bad weather, they’d been deprived of action since 8 September. 

This morning it was back to Oakenclough hoping to see and to catch some autumn migrants. While I was away in Greece Andy had good success here with 126 captures including 55 Meadow Pipits, 31 Goldcrests, 9 Chiffchaffs and a single but late Tree Pipit. 

He caught just three Lesser Redpoll at a time of year when the species should pile through in good numbers. At this time of year it is usual to think about the “good” species but also vital to consider any that are absent,species that appear in lesser numbers than usual, and most certainly, any that are absent.   

We met up at 0645 to zero wind and 50% cloud-cover and hoped for an interesting morning ahead. Given the time of year and following several previous days of poor weather it might be fair to expect a generous helping of birds. It wasn’t to be with a disappointing catch of 13 birds for four hours work – 3 Redwing, 3 Bullfinch, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Blue Tit and one each of Song Thrush, Reed Bunting and Chaffinch. 

We saw our first Redwings of the autumn when small groups arrived soon after dawn and throughout most of the morning – in all about 70/80 individuals. The Song Thrush caught was associated with these arrivals. We catch few Song Thrushes here and the ones that we do are 99% autumn birds. 



Song Thrush

It was good to catch three more Bullfinch, two first year females and a first year male. That’s eight this year to date. Fingers crossed that this species can re-establish itself in the now re-energised plantation. 

Bullfinch - 1st year male  

Bullfinch - 1st year male 

Bullfinch - 1st year female

The Reed Bunting we caught was a first year male. 

Reed Bunting 

At about 1030 a heavy shower with hailstones brought an early end to our session. 

A squally shower 

Other birds seen – Tawny Owl, Sparrowhawk, 2 Pied Wagtail and 2 late Swallows.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Skiathos Blue

If the weather was kind to us in Skiathos, it has been very unfriendly since we arrived home. Going from wall-to-wall sunshine and 30 degrees and then back to the usual British rain, wind and 12 degrees is quite a shock to the system. 

Until I can get out birding or ringing I put together some pictures from 3 weeks in sunny Skiathos. There lots of pictures. “Click the pic” for a close-up. 

Skiathos from The Bourtzi


Old Harbour Skiathos  

Skiathos 1907

Skiathos 2019 

 Skiathos 2019

Skiathos 1907

The Bourtzi - Skiathos 

Birding Skiathos is unremarkable in September when despite the summery weather, many local birds have left for Africa and migrant birds from further north have also flown south. Although Skiathos is just 15 km from the Pelion peninsula of mainland Greece, this tiny island does not appear to attract a huge variety of migrant birds. Perhaps migrant birds from Northern Europe continue on a southerly track through the Peloponnese rather than take an easterly turn across the waters just to visit Skiathos? 


Of course there are always birds to see, albeit of a limited range of species. Our count was an unscientific approximation of around 40 species during our three weeks. As might be expected this included exotica like Scop’s Owl, Bee Eater, Eleonora’s Falcon, Blue Rock Thrush and Red-rumped Swallow, but also common species like Yellow Wagtail, Buzzard, Blackcap, Kingfisher and Raven. 

The most numerous migrant species were Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff, Red-backed Shrike, Wheatear and Barn Swallow with a constant almost daily turnover of individuals.

Red-rumped Swallow 

Yellow Wagtail 

Red-backed Shrike 

Spotted Flycatcher 

Blue Rock Thrush 


Yellow-legged Gull 

Eleonora's Falcon


There were thousands of butterflies this year with huge numbers of Swallowtails and Hummingbird Hawk Moths especially noticeable. 


Hummingbird Hawk Moth 

We had a jeep from local firm Mustang for 19 of our 21 days. Driving in Skiathos is a doddle; apart from Brits looking in the wrong direction while crossing the road, crazy quad riders, taxis on airport days, and the myriad of mopeds and motorbikes. Having a vehicle meant we could visit many parts of this beautiful island to enjoy the spectacular weather. 

At Hotel Ostria and also on our daily trips through this cosmopolitan island we met people from many European nations; Britain, Croatia, Romania, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Bulgaria, Germany, mainland Greece - Kalamata, where the world’s best olives are grown. All had come to experience the most picturesque and friendliest island in all of Greece where more than 60 beaches appeal to sun-seekers. 

In the mountains fire trucks are on permanent look out for fires that start in the tinder dry landscape of a Skiathos summer.

Fire Truck near Ligaries 

On the road to Ligaries 


Megali Aselinos Beach 

A cool start at Megali Aselinos

Megali Aselinos 

Megali Aselinos 

Road to Megali Aselinos



Skiathos Town

Coffee Time - The Bourtzi 

The Boatyard Skiathos 

 Koukounaries beach


That's all for now folks. Back soon with more pics and clicks on Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to https://viewingnaturewitheileen.blogspot.com.

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