Thursday, December 23, 2021

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Yay. We’ve gone beyond the shortest day with many reasons to be cheerful. From now on each and every morning and evening will see increased daylight as temperatures climb and winds subside. Birds will sing and flowers bloom. We will say goodbye to news & media doomsters and their visions of apocalypse around every corner. The viruses avian and human will fade into distant memory. My gold shares will rocket as crypto crashes, again.

Happy 2022 everyone. May all your days be bird filled.

Here’s a post I knocked up earlier while waiting for the rain to stop.

It was quite recently and not for the first time that a reader in the US thought that a UK Coal Tit was one and the same species as the North American Black-capped Chickadee. Their  respective scientific names are Periparus ater and Poecile atricapillus, two related species of the same bird family known in the US as "chickadees" and in the UK as "tits". The two species are remarkably similar but where similarities occur in other species of animal or bird, confusion is avoided by understanding and/or investigating the respective scientific or Latin names.

Black-capped Chickadee

Coal Tit

For many birdwatchers the use of scientific names is boring or inconsequential, at best a riddle and of interest only to ornithologists who speak Latin. But as well as a means of allowing people throughout the world to communicate unambiguously about birds, the name give an insight into the origins of the scientific nomenclature and hence the bird itself. Here are some examples and a few pictures from Another Bird Blog archives.

There’s a question that often crops up on TV quizzes, one designed to trap the unwary. Which bird has the Latin name Puffinus puffinus? The correct but perhaps perplexing answer is of course Manx Shearwater. In days gone by the word “puffin” was a synonym for a shearwater and not the unrelated seabird Atlantic Puffin, hence it was the shearwater and not the puffin which earned the Latin title of Puffinus puffinus

The “manx” refers to the species’ former abundance on the Calf of Man a small island lying to the south of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, while "shearwater” describes the birds’ mode of flight which skims or shears the water. 

Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus

The scientific/Latin name for Wigeon is Anas penelope. I’m somewhat disappointed that the Anas part of the name for such a creature should simply mean duck-duck. It’s from the Latin anas and the Greek respectively, a duck that in Greek mythology was reputed to have rescued Penelope when she was thrown into the sea. 

Eurasian Wigeon - Anas penelope

Would anyone who has slept under a duck down duvet that contains feathers plucked from an Eider duck Somateria mollissima disagree with the Latin meaning “very soft woolly body”? 

Eider -  Somateria mollissima

Now for an easy one, Barn Owl. Tyto alba simply means white owl. I think we can all agree on that one for the often ghostly apparition that will sometimes allow a photograph or two.

Barn Owl - Tyto alba

One might think that the rustica element of the Latin name Hirundo rustica refers to the reddish forehead, throat or the often pink underparts of our common Swallow. In fact it means a rural or rustic swallow. The Swallow is a bird which graces our countryside for a few short months of the year. Long may it continue to do so until the politicians succeed in concreting over the entire landscape of England. 

Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica

I’ve not heard of any Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus finding their way to the UK this autumn and winter but if they are around soon I’ll be looking out for the “chattering silk-tails” that their Latin name describes. The Bohemian part of their common name tells us the species’ wandering habits were reminiscent of tribes of gypsies or Bohemians. The silk tail is self explanatory when an observer or lucky bird ringer receives close views of this beautiful species. 

Bohemian Waxwing -  Bombycilla garrulus

The Phylloscopus collybita of Chiffchaff translates as Phylloscopus a leaf-watcher, and collybita originating from a word meaning money-changer. The clicking, repetitive sound of the Chiffchaff’s song "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff" was thought to resemble the sound of coins being clinked together. 

That’s a really interesting if somewhat esoteric explanation which may or may not be the truth. Readers should think about that one in the Springtime while watching and listening to a Chiffchaff in the tree canopy.

Chiffchaff -  Phylloscopus collybita

There was a Jay Garrulus glandarius in my garden just this this week, taking a break from raiding the young oak tree in a neighbours garden. Jays are often silent but “acorn-eating chatterer” would apply on many occasions. 

Jay - Garrulus glandarius 

Please excuse my bout of name dropping today. It's not something I normally do or even like to hear from others, but hopefully there will be more posts and news soon. 

In the meantime here's wishing readers, new or old a very Happy Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2021

A Numbers Game

November 26th was the day of the BTO notification that our bird ringing would cease with “immediate effect.” The now almost annual outbreak of bird flu in our geographical area had struck yet again in Preesall/Pilling, just a few miles from our coastal ringing sites in Pilling and Cockerham. 

Luckily we have our ringing site at Oakenclough on the edge of the Bowland Hills that is well outside the 10km control zone and so unaffected by the ban, except that until now inclement weather prevented ringing here too. 

This upland site is close to a reservoir, the water catchment placed strategically to collect the maximum amount of water from both rain and run off from surrounding land. The open situation of the site also means a fair amount of windy weather too; rain and wind, the nemeses of bird ringers everywhere. 

At last, a bout of high pressure promised a few days of settled weather and ringing, even though we knew that mid-winter catches at this site are small in numbers. I met up with Andy at 0700 in the blackness of morning, less than a week from the shortest day and the Winter Solstice of 21 December. Soon the days get steadily longer, lighter, warmer and may be even drier? 

The first net round brought a couple of always nice to see Redwing into the nets but none of the 50+ Fieldfares that stopped briefly before continuing to the east. 



Just as expected our catch was low in numbers with just eleven birds, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Redwing, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Goldcrest and 1 Wren. At least we managed a spot of ringing; and as a bonus the sun appeared. 



Coal Tit

Birding was pretty quiet with Barn Owl, a single Siskin and the aforementioned Fieldfares the highlights.  

On the way home I noted near Nateby a pair of Kestrels at roadside poles. As I carefully stopped hoping for a photo the male flew across to a tree which held a good sized crow nest; a tree worth keeping an eye on in the coming months. Kestrels begin their courtship in the cold winter months to ensure their bond is secure before the breeding season begins. Pairs usually mate for life. 

Looking forward, we are on countdown, hoping to hear soon that the ringing ban is lifted at our coastal site. But in any case I will be visiting soon to top up the supplementary food.  

Failing that we will return to Oakenclough for another dozen or so birds. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog. 

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


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mission Possible

Avian Flu still rules in this part of Lancashire where bird ringing remains verboten until sometime never. Avian Flu also made the TV News headlines as an afterthought. Yet another panic story, as if there aren't enough to scare everyone witless and to place lives and normal freedoms on hold. 

Those temporary restrictions don’t stop a little bird watching or even topping up seed at supplementary feeding stations when suitable precautions are taken to minimise any spread of infections.

On Friday the mission was to seek, find and to count birds at both feeding stations and then to add some variety to the birds’ everyday food. A bucketful of rape seed, Niger and white millet gets them coming back for more, especially once temperatures dive and overnight frosts make natural seeds unpalatable. 

Supplementary Bird Food

The wind dropped overnight and left a touch of frost, but not enough to freeze shallow ditches and dykes. 

Pilling Lancashire
There’s a bonus to the avian flu because for now shooting in the 10km zone is also prohibited, which means that our coastal geese and wild fowl have a temporary reprieve from becoming a Christmas platter. 

A number of large skeins passed over, a constant flow of noise above, in all several hundreds, maybe 4/5000 thousand. 

Pink-footed Geese

Geese leaving their overnight roost are especially noisy, a constant conversation of shrill doggish yaps from each and every bird to their immediate neighbours in the line, perhaps a relative, a sibling or a parent. If only we could learn goose talk we might listen in to where they are heading, where are the best meals safe from disturbance, prying eyes and the threat of guns. 

And why do geese fly in V formation? Scientists have determined that the V-shaped formation that geese use when migrating serves two important purposes. First, it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of them, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. Birds that fly alone beat their wings more frequently and have higher heart rates than those that fly in formation. It follows that birds that fly in formation glide more often and reduce energy expenditure. 

The second benefit to V formation is that it is easy to keep track of every bird in the group. Flying in formation may assist with the communication and coordination within the group. Pilots of fighter aircraft often use this formation for the same reason. 

Our morning goose flights can last for hours for anyone minded to watch. This is a daily winter occurrence, background noise to which Joe Bloggs becomes accustomed and immune. 

I too took my eyes off the geese and looked to the job in hand while the geese continued their morning mission inland. 

At our erstwhile ringing plot I found 130+ Linnets and a couple of Chaffinches. It was just as well I concentrated on a count because on the extremes of the Linnet flock a tail-wagging Stonechat flicked into view. And along the ditch were the ubiquitous Wren, a Blackbird and the ever present Reed Bunting, a wintering species that relies on animal food during the summer months but switches to a seed diet in the winter. 

Reed Bunting
A couple of hunkered down Snipe flew from beneath my sploshing feet, the grass wetter and the water deeper than first appeared; my wellies had been a wise choice. 

The pool nearby held 20 or more Teal, an approximate count as a handful or more remained partly hidden. A single Grey Heron and a solitary Little Egret stayed in the trees as I looked from 50 yards away. 


Rain arrived from the west with immaculate timing - my appointment with BT. Another Bird Blog goes Fibre Broadband in 2022. There’s no stopping us now. 

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


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Gulls. A Review.

Along comes another field guide for review - Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: An Identification Guide from Princeton Press. This new volume devoted to gulls and gulls alone was due to go on widespread sale from 23 November in the UK and April 2022 in the US but now it is finally on my desk with a new UK publish date of 14 December, the late arrival no doubt due to the pandemic. 

The authors of “Gulls” are more than qualified to write the book. Peter Adriaens is an ecologist who has travelled widely to study and photograph gulls, including gull and tern colonies in Belgium and the Netherlands. Mars Muusse is a Dutch birder specializing in gulls and the founder of the gull identification website Gull Research Organization. Philippe J. Dubois is an ecologist, author, and editorial director of the journal Ornithos. Frédéric Jiguet is a conservation biologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and director of the Center for Research in Biology and Bird Populations. His books include Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East here,

In the last book review on Another Bird Blog I suggested we might be near the end days of bird field guides comprised of line drawn bird illustrations. “Europe’s Birds shows again how recent advances in camera optics and a photographer’s ability to fully exploit this progress have led to the demise of line drawn and painted guides, books that are not obsolete but now used by fewer birders.” 

Those few words provoked comments from a number of birders who disagreed in preferring line drawings, the Collins Guide getting several mentions. That’s fair enough but Gulls of Europe is another almost entirely photographic guide, one that on first glance may appear to the reader to be comprised of line and colour drawings. Close examination reveals that many of the 1200 colour photographs/illustrations are not line drawings but photographs that have been digitally processed to remove considerable backdrop so as to then emphasise and clarify the colours, shape and structure of the gull. 

The method must be comparatively easy with gulls in flight but less so where the original photograph contained full and/or busy backgrounds. I must say that the processing has worked extremely well whereby the images are both comprehensive and impressive e.g. White eyed Gull at Pages 88-93. And of course, because the images are taken from modern high quality photographs, they remain faithful to each individual bird and the time & date the camera clicked. 

Two full pages of photographic credits provide testament to the number of photos and photographers involved in the book. The editors also picked wisely for the book’s cover with the main picture depicting a pair of beautiful Ross’ Gulls stood on northern ice. 

In the Introduction the authors explain how the book uses ‘cycles’ to describe age classes, a term which helps to avoid problems with using calendar years or terms such as ‘first winter’, ‘second winter’ etc. It is not always realistic to divide plumages into strict and separate plumages when large gulls in particular have long and protracted moults that can last for months at a time. As the authors add, this cycle system has the added benefit of being applicable in both hemispheres where a species occurs both North and the South of the dividing line. 

Hence the individual species’ accounts at Pages 26-314 of 45 gull species employ cycle nomenclature throughout. This might prove a little worrying, even perplexing on a first encounter by an unaccustomed reader, but on later reflection makes sense by using an alternative aging method that combines with a fuller understanding of gull plumage. 

At Page 27 the authors wisely warn readers of exceptions to their cycle system in the few species accounts that differ from the norm set by the majority. The exceptions are Ivory Gull, Audouin’s Gull, White winged Gulls (Glaucous and Iceland), Pallas’s Gull, Baltic Gull and Heuglin’s Gull. 

The geographical area and the species covered in 'Gulls' encompasses Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and so include all taxa from the wider Western Palearctic list, north, south, east and west, where such species have occurred at least once. 

As one might expect each species account contains a precise summary of range together with a matching coloured map of acceptable size and clarity. The maps shown are for those taxa that breed within the Western Palearctic; the maps’ accuracy will I’m sure be subject to scrutiny, discussion and debate by gull enthusiasts with experience of more obscure species featured, e.g. Viking Gull, Steppe Gull. Or even Relict Gull, the latter a species so poorly known that there can be no map. 

At £30 UK and $40 US the Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East is more expensive than recent Princeton offers but a relatively small price to pay for birders ready to splash the cash on this latest must have book. And let’s face it many of those same birders would happily pay the same £30 and more for a tank full of juice to twitch a Steppe Gull that arrives on the coast of Aberdeenshire. 

‘Gulls’ deserves to find a place on any serious birders book shelf. For gull enthusiasts, gull gurus and those who simply can’t get enough of gulls this book will already be on order for this underrepresented branch of ornithological literature. I give top marks to Princeton for making the book available to us all.     

Gulls of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: An Identification Guide. Price: $39.95 / £30.00 at Princeton Press.

ISBN: 9780691222837 
Published (US): Apr 5, 2022 Published (UK): Dec 14, 2021 
Copyright: 2022 
Pages: 320 
Size: 6.75 x 9.25 in. 
Illus: 1,200 photos + illus. 

Postscript. For Continental readers of Another Bird Blog who might prefer, there is a French Edition - Les Laridés du Paléarctique occidental - Guide d'identification des mouettes et des goélands. 


Thursday, December 2, 2021

Good Morning

I set off in the dark and drove towards Lancaster. The temperature hovered around zero under a clear starry sky that hinted at a sunny day. As it does so often, the morning began with a Barn Owl, but not in the usual spots. 

The owl was at Conder Green where it hunted over the areas of rough grass areas that surround the pools. I watched the owl for a while as it played hide & seek with the camera until it flew off towards Glasson Dock’s roadside barns. 

Barn Owl

The light wasn’t perfect yet but good enough to clock the wildfowl and waders where scans and counts revealed 28 Wigeon, 4 Little Grebe, 1 Goldeneye, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret and 48 Teal. There was no sign of the recent Green-winged Teal but my overall count of teal species was below recent averages whereby Teal are good at hiding in the reedy margins with the result that some remained unseen. 


Waders were the expected handful of species that rarely changes in winter composition but fluctuates in numbers. Today all of them proved to be in a flighty mood - 65 Lapwing, 22 Redshank, 6 Curlew and a single Oystercatcher. 

A Kingfisher obliged by sitting at the water spillway but briefly. Within a few seconds it was gone, skimming across the flat water to an unknown spot at the other end of the pool. 

The few passerines around numbered 11 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Blackbird, 1 Dunnock, 1 Wren along the hedgerow, hawthorns that hold few birds, probably because there is constant disturbance from vehicles large, small and inevitably noisy in using the parking spot. 

Perhaps local birders can answer this question – where are all the unglamorous Dunnocks this autumn and winter? I have seen, heard and ringed very few all year. The species is even absent from the garden, most unusual. Theories please.

I took a drive up to Cockersands and picked up a few extra species that included a small flock of mixed Redwings and Fieldfares, about 30 birds in all that flew between tall trees and a single hedgerow. Near here and Gardner’s farm a Kestrel sat atop a roadside pole and approximately 130 Whooper Swans stayed noisy and distant. There are very few berries left now following a quite average berry crop this autumn. 



On the way back home a stop at Braides Farm found a rather decent if somewhat approximate number of Lapwings (500), Golden Plover (750) and 40 or more Redshank. I wondered why all were so difficult to count, very flighty and taking to the air for “nothing”, flying around and then dropping back into the fields. It was a Sparrowhawk, a large female sat on a broken down post in the centre of the mayhem where it watched for the opportune moment and a meal. 

I let the birds be then drove to Gulf Lane and the feeding spots we cannot work for ringing purposes because they are close to a case of Avian Flu in Preesall/Pilling. 

I dropped more seed on the ground for the count of 125 Linnet, 12 Chaffinch, 4 Blackbird, 1 Fieldfare, 1 Great Tit, 1 Robin and 1 Moorhen. It's very frustrating that we are barred from catching and ringing these small passerines. Let’s hope we can return to our ringing quite soon.  


Back soon with more news, views and photos on Another Bird Blog. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Double Whammy

There’s a double blow to our ringing plans this weekend. Number One is the weather with a Red weather warning of severe winds up to 70mph over northern Britain as Storm Arwen passes over in a north to south direction. Sat here in my office there’s a hoolie blowing and I’m not for going anywhere until Monday when the winds should ease. 

Wednesday saw another visit to Project Linnet where Catch of the Day was that extreme rarity - a Song Thrush. After a little levelling off in recent years the graph seems to be heading in a downward direction again via “a rapid decline in England” - BTO Bird Trends. 

For what it’s worth the decline in this part of Lancashire seems especially marked where the Song Thrush is no longer a garden bird and is one that receives barely a mention on local bird news Internet sites. Our own catches of Song Thrushes number so few that catching a Song Thrush becomes a Red Letter Day. 

Bird Trends - British Trust for Ornithology
Song Thrush 

In addition to the single Song Thrush we caught 1 Redwing, 2 “continental” Blackbirds, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Greenfinch, 1 Robin and added another seven Linnets to our totals. 




Just as were looked forward to better weather next week, Friday morning brought unwelcome Blow Number Two. 

“Dear Philip” 

“Avian influenza H5N1 (pathogenicity to be confirmed) has been found in a premises near Poulton le Fylde, Wyre, Lancashire. A 3km and 10km Control Zone has been put in place around the premises. Please see the map here for more information (search on SD3748). 

You are being notified as we can see you, or your ringing group, have either submitted ringing records from close to the outbreak in recent years or your postal address is within the area. 

Effective immediately, as a precaution, the following measures apply: All ringing is suspended within the 10 km Control Zone as outlined on the map until further notice. 

We will inform you by email when ringing can recommence and we will be monitoring the situation during the BTO Christmas period.” 

Avian Flu Hotspot
A couple of our local ringing sites fall into the exclusion zone, another unwanted blow to our commitment to local bird ringing, activities that monitor bird populations for the benefit of society as a whole. Project Linnet (and farmland birds) is now on hold until sometime in 2022. 

This latest episode is the third recorded outbreak of bird flu at the same Preesall/Pilling premises 

Once again in 2021 the avian virus has been found where Pheasants, Red-legged Partridge and Mallards are reared in captivity so as to be released into the countryside for shooting. This is a subject covered many times here on Another Bird Blog, in the birding press on a regular basis and in National newspapers on a number of occasions. As ever there is no interest from the UK Government or other parties to put a stop to an archaic practice that has such a devastating impact upon native species. 

The BTO Atlas of 2013 tells me that the numbers of captive-bred Pheasants released into the wild has increased fivefold since the early 1960s to around 35 million birds annually. Some 15 million Pheasant are shot annually. 

Captive Pheasant rearing

“High densities of Pheasants potentially have negative effects on native species, but these have been poorly studied. Indirect effects possibly include modification of the structure of the field layer, the spread of disease and parasites and competition for food. Recent research indicates that infection with caecal nematodes from farm-reared Pheasants may be contributing to the decline of Grey Partridge.” 

Grey Partridge

When I watch hordes of young Pheasants thundering through late summer fields and woodland edge there is no doubt in my mind that their effect on the environment is wholly negative. 

The BTO Atlas also states that there has been a 91% population decline of Grey Partridge in the UK between 1967-2010, during the Breeding Atlas of 1968-72 and the Breeding Atlas of 1988-91. 

“Local extinctions may be masked in some areas by the release of captive-bred birds onto shooting estates: about 100,000 captive-reared Grey Partridges are released in Britain each year”. The Atlas gives no figures on the number of captive-bred birds subsequently shot for sport; neither does it give any indication of how any surviving birds impact upon any truly wild Grey Partridge population. 

Given that the Grey Partridge is in any case a secretive and difficult species to study, any such investigation would by now be almost impossible to conduct. 

The problem is further complicated by the release into the same environment of Red-legged Partridge, a picture I know only too well from local farms. 

Red=legged Partridge
"As more farms diversify into shooting, the number of Red-legged Partridges released has increased and this is illustrated by the National Gamebag Census, where numbers shot quadrupled between 1990 and 2005 (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust 2013). It is estimated that 6.5 million partridges (Grey and Red-legged) were released across the UK in 2004, and 2.6 million were shot. There has been little research on the impacts of released birds on native species, but there is some evidence that shooting operations based on large-scale releases of Red-legged Partridges could be implicated in local extinctions of Grey Partridges.” 

Red-legged Partridge

To my unscientific but daily birding eyes that last sentence would seem to be a gross understatement. 

At the end of the day there is one conclusion to be drawn from this now familiar, sorry story. 

Nothing will change - just Follow The Money. 


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