Thursday, October 29, 2020

Elephant Bird

Another week of rain and wind goes by with no birding or ringing. We’ve had something like 150% of the expected October rain, but still it comes. 

With few birders venturing out even WhatsApp news is devoid of bird sightings except for recent day “pings” about Cattle Egrets from three local apps - Lancaster, North West, and Fylde.  Just a day ago came news of a local record number of 16 Cattle Egrets together at Freckleton, Fylde, plus a sighting of two more in the Cockerham, Lancaster area on the same day. 

Although I have seen Cattle Egrets all over the world, it was only in 2017 that I saw my first one in the UK, early December 2017 at Cockerham a few miles from home, quickly followed by a second in the spring of 2018. 

The Cattle Egret is now following the example of two other egrets, Little Egret and Great Egret, of  expanding to the north and west of Britain. But it must be said that the Cattle Egrets that plod around muddy cattle fields in mid-winter England rarely look as striking or exotic as the ones seen on the bright sunny days of Egypt, India, Menorca or West Africa. 

Cattle Egret - Cockerham, Lancashire

Cattle Egret - Cockerham, Lancashire

Cattle Egrets - Menorca
Cattle Egret - Egypt

Cattle Egret - Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Strictly speaking, the Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis is not an egret, despite the similarities in plumage to the egrets of the genus Egretta. It is a member of the heron (Ardea) family, the single example of the monotypic genus Bubulcus. Some authorities regard two of its subspecies as full species, the Western Cattle Egret and the Eastern Cattle Egret. Although similarly and mostly white, where there are hints of orange and yellow the eastern version is more strikingly colourful than the western.

Originally native to parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe, the Cattle Egret has undergone a rapid expansion in its distribution and successfully colonised much of the rest of the world in the last century. This is probably due in large part to due to its relationship with humans and their domesticated animals and where it acquired colloquial names such as cow crane, cow bird, cow heron, elephant bird, and even rhinoceros egret. 

Cattle Egret - Egypt

Cattle Egret - Menorca

Cattle Egret - India

Originally adapted to a relationship with large grazing and browsing animals, the Cattle Egret was easily able to switch to domesticated cattle and horses. As the keeping of livestock spread throughout the world, the Cattle Egret began began to occupy otherwise empty niches. 

Many populations of Cattle Egrets are highly migratory and dispersive, a trait that helped the species' range expansion. The Cattle Egret may be one of the few species to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the “wrong” direction by first arriving in North America in 1941, those early sightings were originally dismissed as escapees. The species bred in Florida in 1953 and spread rapidly, breeding for the first time in Canada in 1962. Cattle Egrets were first sighted in the Americas on the boundary of Guiana and Suriname in 1877, having apparently flown across the Atlantic Ocean. Cattle Egrets are now widely distributed across Brazil and other parts of South America. 

Breeding in the UK was recorded for the first time in 2008 only a year after an influx seen in the previous year. A pair bred again in 2017, and in 2008 Cattle Egrets were reported in Ireland for the first time. 

The Cattle Egret now has a niche in Britain, where it does not directly compete with other species and from where it will soon establish a viable breeding population. Unlike most herons the Cattle Egret is typically found in fields and dry grassy habitats, reflecting a greater dietary reliance on terrestrial insects and other quarry like earthworms rather than aquatic prey. With its perceived role as a bio-control of cattle parasites such as ticks and flies, the Cattle Egret should be seen as a welcome and permanent addition to British birdlife. 

Cattle Egret - Cockerham, Lancashire

Cattle Egret - Menorca

A glance at the latest local weather forecasts predicts yet more day of rain with perhaps an improvement by the middle of next week. I hope so. 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog or your WhatsApp birding news.    

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


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Old Ones (AreThe Best)

There’s little chance of birding or ringing until next week as an Atlantic storm heads this way towards us for the weekend. Friday looked a possibility but Sue and I have to go for our flu jabs at precisely 1012 on Friday morning. 

Instead and for this post I’m raiding the archives for pictures from Skiathos, Greece, this year and past years. Birds, landscapes, people. Enjoy and come back soon. Don’t forget to “click the pic” for best effect. 

The Bourtzi- Skiathos

Street Entertainer - The Bourtzi
The Bourtzi from the harbour

Near Xanemos

Spotted Flycatcher

Yellow Wagtail

Kechria, Skiathos
Notice Board - Skiathos Town
Eleonora's Falcon
Kastro - Eleonora's site

Great Egret at Strofilia
Little Egret at Strofilia

Skiathos Town


European Shag

Skiathos Town
Lonely Seat - Skiathos
Red-backed Shrike


Skiathos Town

Back soon. Don't go away.

Linking this post to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni's birding

Friday, October 16, 2020

That Friday Feeling

After Thursday morning’s monster movement of thrushes Another Bird Blog, I wondered if Friday might see similar, even though experience says that rarely does lightning strike twice. 

I arranged to meet Andy at Oakenclough at 0630 where the plantation swayed ominously in the easterly breeze, fiercer than the predicted 5 mph and closer to 10-12 mph. At the coast 30 minutes just earlier I’d left home to motionless trees.  Normally the other way around - breezier at coastal locations than inland sites. 

Very soon when nothing much happened we realised that this would be a quieter morning of both ringing and visible migration. Thrushes came in dribs and drabs rather than flurries of wings and the overhead calls of hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares. This morning the thrushes arrived from West and North West, sometimes obviously so against a distant backdrop of Lancaster City and Morecambe Bay. 

In all we counted approximately 300 thrushes, split 50/50 Redwing and Fieldfare. Our catch was just 21 birds – 11 Redwing, 4 Goldfinch, 4 Coal Tit, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Great Tit. 

The Redwings were caught soon after dawn with the rest of the meagre catch coming soon after when other species seen was limited to 15-20 Chaffinches in ones and twos arriving from the North West.  We asked the question. "Where are the Lesser Redpolls and the Siskins this autumn?" Both species appear to be in remarkably short supply.



At 0940 and when the thrushes dried up completely we called it a day - an uncharacteristic and early finish. 

On the way home and via Lancaster Road were 240 Lapwings on a still flooded field, 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and several hundred Pink-footed Geese. 


The geese have so far this autumn found a couple of new places to hide away out of sight, seemingly in fields that are not open to shooters - for now. The shooters of course will track the geese down and persuade the farmers to allow shooting access, often with the promise of a fat goose at the gate but destined for the Christmas table. 

Pink-footed Goose

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Thrush Rush

Thursday morning was starlit, dry and clear. To catch migrant birds our mist nets needed to be up and ready at dawn. I met Andy at 0630 at Oakenclough to an easterly wind of 15-18 mph when the forecast had indicated speeds of 5 to 8 mph. Far from ideal, but we cracked on working and hoped that the forecast was accurate if mistimed and that the wind would subside. 

While I’d been in Greece Andy had caught the first Redwings of the year, including a likely Icelandic one. This is the time of year when we hope to catch thrushes. Not just any old thrushes but the five major migratory species of the family Turdus that arrive in the UK from now and for the next several weeks. Our main target is Redwings Turdus iliacus and Fieldfares Turdus pilarus. Normally we catch very few Blackbirds Turdus merula, Song Thrushes Turdus philomelus or Mistle Thrushes Turdus viscivorous at this site. 

In autumn, Redwings gather along the Scandinavian coast at dusk before launching off on their single 800 km (500 mile) flight across the North Sea to the UK. In rough weather, many may crash into the waves and drown. 

Some Redwings come from Iceland to winter in Scotland and Ireland. Others come from Russia and Scandinavia to winter in southern England and further south in Europe. Fieldfares arrive from Scandinavia and Russia but quickly pass through our area where for a week or two they can be seen to form large flocks, often in the company of Redwings. Both species gorge on hawthorn berries until the trees are stripped bare. 

Prior to today and in six seasons here at this Oakenclough site, we'd caught 310 Redwings and just 18 Fieldfares, an indication of which species is the easier to catch. 



Today followed a similar pattern with a total of 27 birds caught made up of 19 Redwing, 2 Fieldfare, 2 Chaffinch, 3 Blue Tit and 1 Treecreeper. 



Small numbers of Redwings began to arrive in the half-light of dawn. At first and due to the cold stiff breeze we thought that these had come from a nearby roost. At the sky lightened the small groups turned into larger associations of mixed Redwings and Fieldfares, and then into larger flocks. Mostly these flocks arrived from the south east and then flew north and west towards the visible Morecambe Bay and Fylde coasts. We saw flocks of Redwings and we saw flocks of Fieldfares, but mostly the flocks were mixed and varied in the number and proportion of each species.   

By 1115 when we packed in to rain showers we estimated 1650 Redwings and 650 Fieldfares had passed through and overhead in four hours. 

It was about 1100 when the wind finally died a little by which time we felt sure that had the strength been less from the off, and because of the large number of thrushes on the move, we would have had a bigger catch.  Due to the direction of arrival and departure we thought that these 2000+ birds were arriving via the east coast then travelling through and over the Pennine Hills to the west coast. From there they would eventually continue their southward migration. 

The weather looks settled for a day or two. Maybe we will get another chance in a day or two?

Log in to Another Bird Blog soon to find out.

Linking this post to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Times They Are A Changin’

Here I am showing my age in quoting Bob Dylan from 1963. I’m off the road for a few days but Thursday and Friday look hopeful for my first ringing since arriving back from Greece. 

Meanwhile, here’s a topic tackled previously on Another Bird Blog right back to 2013. Some might accuse me of “banging on about it” - the subject of so called “game shooting”. Below are just five links to previous posts dedicated to the subject in attempts to draw attention to what is a national scandal – the killing for fun of many millions of birds. 

But now this weekend comes what is described as an “existential challenge” to the industry as none other than the RSPB takes sides in the ongoing debate. This from an article in The Sunday Times of 10 October 2020. 


“Pheasant shooting is facing an existential challenge as the RSPB prepares to end its neutrality on the sport by demanding reforms to protect native wildlife. More than 50 million non-native game birds are released each year by shoots, and conservationists say this has a devastating impact on other species. 

Only about a third of 47 million Pheasants and 10 million Red-legged Partridges released are shot and retrieved as the remainder become food for scavengers such as foxes, crows and rats, boosting their numbers. They in turn prey on threatened species such as Curlews and Lapwings. 

Reptile experts have also blamed the rise in pheasants for the decline in adders as the birds kill adult snakes and swallow young ones whole. Another concern is that some shoots secretly dump dead pheasants because the number killed far exceeds the demand for game meat. The Times revealed footage of dozens of dozens of dead Pheasants being dumped into a pit by a digger on a farm in Leicestershire last year, 2019. 


There are more than 5000 shoots and customers often pay thousands of pounds to kill hundreds of birds each day. The RSPB Royal Charter, granted by Edward VII in 1904 describes game bird shooting as “legitimate sport” and the charity has previously resisted calls from members for it to campaign against the mass release of birds. 

The charter says “The society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds and the legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the objects”. The objects include “conserving wild birds and other wildlife”. Mounting evidence of the harmful impact of the mass release of game birds, which has risen tenfold since the 1970s , prompted the RSPB last year to order a review of its policy. The results of that review are due to be presented at the charity’s annual meeting today. 

This summer the charity quietly adopted a set of “conservation principles” on game shooting which pro-shooting groups feared would place severe restrictions on the sport. Under the principles, game bird shooting “must not adversely affect the population of any native species”. Shoot practices should be “assessed for their environmental impacts and regulated, enforced and in some cases stopped”. Eight out of ten RSPB members strongly supported those principles in a survey conducted by the charity in February and March. 

Shooting groups fear that the RSPB which has 1.2 million members will use its influence to persuade the government to require shoots to obtain licences which could be withdrawn if problems were found. The charity has been calling since 2014 for driven grouse shooting to require a licence because of evidence that gamekeepers kill protected birds of prey. 

Tim Bonner chief executive of pro-shooting Countryside Alliance said he disagreed with some of the principles, which “had no basis in international treaties or other conservation thinking that we can find”. He added “The RSPB has increasingly been influenced by a small clique of people who are obsessive about their dislike of shooting”. 

Chris Packham, the wildlife broadcaster is a vice –president of the RSPB and also co-founder of the group Wild Justice, which is bringing a legal challenge against the government, accusing it of being in breach of the EU habitats directive by allowing the mass release of game birds without assessing the impact on wildlife sites. 

A survey of shoot owners, managers and clients commissioned by the RSPB found that many saw the charity’s principles as “the start of a slippery slope towards restricting or banning shooting”. A report on the survey results said there was a lack of trust in the RSPB’s “underlying motivations” with some feeling “let down by the RSPB… for example a lack of acknowledgement of the benefits it can bring”. 

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Natural England co-funded a review of the environmental impact of game bird releases and found that releasing large numbers could have negative impacts on habitats and wildlife. However, it concluded - “The evidence suggests that at least some of these effects can be ameliorated by following best practice relating to sizes and densities.” 


The decision of the RSPB to now take sides in this long going debate could well be a game changer. 

Red-legged Partridge

Watch this space for more news of the ongoing saga plus birding, ringing and photographs on Another Bird Blog.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Bits And Pieces

Here in Lancashire and since we returned back from Greece there’s been little but rain. I think the Greek gods have been telling us to return to Skiathos as soon as possible. We obeyed by booking our flights for 2021, hoping for a holiday in better circumstances for all concerned. And, we’ve booked for 3 weeks in May to coincide with spring migration when many species pass through Greece on their way to North and Eastern Europe. 

The Amaretto - Skiathos
Great Egret at Strofilias
Red-backed Shrike - everywhere

Baklava - Yum

While I was on holiday Andy completed a couple of ringing sessions up at Oaklenclough, despite his car being in troublesome mode; I warned him to stay away from French models. He and Bryan had a great morning on 17 September with a catch of 110 birds that included 85 Meadow Pipits. 

One of the pipits, an adult male, carried ring number ADB3348 from somewhere other than Oakenclough. It is quite unusual for us to catch a previously ringed Meadow Pipit because while Meadow Pipits are very common and widespread, they inhabit rather wild places where they are less likely to be caught or found dead. 

A few days later came the information that ADB3348 had been ringed more than 12 months before on The Calf of Man Bird Observatory on 10 April 2019. This date relates to a classic time of spring migration when the pipit was heading north, perhaps to Ireland, Scotland or even Iceland. Its return journey south in mid-September is peak autumnal migration of the species. This route south in September 2020 along the west Pennines and Oakenclough would suggest a bird of Scottish breeding origin. 

Calf of Man to Oakenclough
Meadow Pipit
Back home I’m still catching up with friends and family, and getting the garden shipshape for winter. Yesterday we had a Jay in the garden, the first for a number of years. It appeared to be searching the ground at the bottom of the garden where there are lots of windfall damsons and apples left for winter thrushes. 

I don’t think there was much wind here while we were away. There are loads of baking apples left on the tree and ready for taking and baking, even after all the neighbours have had their fill of apple crumble. 

Apple Pie Time

Give me a ring but bring your own bag. 


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