Monday, January 31, 2022

Are We Surprised?

The answer is no. This happens more often than we know. All animal and bird lovers and those who enjoy the countryside should know what goes on when they are not around. 

Full marks to the RSPB and to the member of the public who realised what was going on.


I'm back soon. With positive news and no sickening, cowardly scumbags to spoil this blog.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022


Tuesday morning and there’s still no ringing while Avian Flu is around but there’s no harm in looking and planning for better days. 

At 0815 Andy picked me in up in his flash-black Mercedes for a 30 mile trip up to Dunsop Bridge, a village surrounded on all sides by the rolling hills of the Forest of Bowland, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The title ‘Forest’ refers to long established Royal hunting rights, and not as we interpret it today, as a large expanse of woodland. Nearby is Salter Fell Track, a pass along which the Lancashire Witches are believed to have been taken to their trial and later hanging at Lancaster Castle in 1612. 

Dunsop Bridge lies at the confluence of the River Dunsop and the River Hodder before the Hodder flows south to join the River Ribble outside Clitheroe. This is a peaceful, beautiful and mostly undisturbed part of Lancashire where the landscape, environment and ecosystems combine to support a varied bird, insect and animal population. 

Not least of the influential ecosystems are the renowned rainfalls and where on 8 August 1967, Dunsop Valley entered the UK Weather Records with the highest 90 minute total rainfall of 117 mm/4.6 inches. 

We have newly acquired permission to catch and ring House Martins at a long-established colony location during the spring and summer of 2022. Our trip today a reconnoitre, a lay of the land to establish the method, equipment and timings needed for our eventual visits once the martins arrive from Africa during April & May to start their colony reconstruction. 

House Martins
The morning was misty and dank with poor visibility as we drove the private track alongside a meandering stream to our destination, a light industrial/office building, ideally situated and of perfect height and seclusion for nesting House Martins. 

House Martin eaves
Dunsop Valley

We measured eighteen paces for a 40 foot net and twenty six paces for a 60ft across the grass immediately in front of the building where the west facing brickwork would allow a morning session away from glaring sun. Perfect. 

After chatting to the guys who work there we said our “see you soon” and headed back to the village and eventually the A6 road towards Cockerham and our out of action ringing station. 

Dunsop Bridge
As usual the Cockerham feeding station was busy with a steady turnover of birds visiting our seed drop spots - counts of 240+ Linnet, 20+Chaffinch, 15 Blackbird, 6 Reed Bunting, 4 Greenfinch and a couple of Moorhen. Moorhens are not averse to using feeding stations in the wintertime where they quite happily hoover up bird seed. There was the customary Sparrowhawk hanging around but giving just glimpses as it kept mostly out of sight of us and the birds it would target.


We still await an email from DEFRA/APHA and/or the BTO to let us know when the Avian Flu 10Km control zone is revoked so that we ring birds again.  

We’ve missed out on catching a couple of hundred birds and all the data that would provide during December/January; and now eight weeks later and almost February, there's no end in sight. 

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

Sunday, January 16, 2022

How Birds Evolve - Book Review

Here’s a book released in the US in October 2021 and now at large in the UK from 4 January. I suspect it’s late for publication caused by disruptions to business operations and normal life of recent months. Only last week did Princeton send a copy for review via Another Bird Blog and I do not understand why it only now appears in the UK, some 4 months later than the North American release.   

Let me say right from the outset that How Birds Evolve is an outstanding book, one that had I seen a week or two before would have elicited a “buy” recommendation as a Christmas gift for the birder in your life. Read on to discover why this is a book every birder should read and own. 

“How Birds Evolve - What Science Reveals About Their Origin, Lives, and Diversity” is the title of the 320 page volume by Douglas Futuyma. The author is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, State University of New York. His books include Evolution and Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. These are immaculate credentials from someone who describes himself as an “enthusiastic birder” and whose observations, experiences and ornithological studies in over 50 countries can be found throughout the book. 

A simple explanation to the science of birds’ origins is that birds grew from a group of meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods about 150 million years. Here were animals that survived in many different habitats, beings that evolved into the present day 11,000 bird species across the world. With such a close relationship to the extinct dinosaurs, how and why did birds survive? The answer is a combination of things: their small size, the fact they can eat a lot of different foods and have an ability to fly. These ancient birds looked quite a lot like small, feathered dinosaurs and they had much in common - their mouths still contained sharp teeth that over time evolved into beaks. After more than 140 million years in charge, the dinosaurs' reign came to an abrupt end when a huge asteroid strike and massive volcanic eruptions caused disastrous changes to the environment. Most dinosaurs went extinct while birds with winged feathers and the ability to fly remained until today, more than a little changed, but birds now near an extinction of their own. 

Each of the chapters of How Birds Evolve has a sub title that more fully suggests to the reader the overall flavour, focus and the detailed content within. This sub-titling is useful to someone like me who on first acquaintance with a book likes to browse the parts, maybe even begin to read a book in the “wrong” order so as to match with a special interest while beginning to familiarise with an author’s style. 

With twelve Chapters and over 300 pages, How Birds Evolve has so many highlights, so many fascinating, illuminating and enlightening segments that it’s almost impossible and perhaps unfair to pick my own particular favourite when other readers would choose differently. But, here goes. 

The first chapters, 1) In the Light of Evolution: Birds and 2) Evolutionary Science and Parrots, Falcons, and Songbirds: The Bird Tree of Life are unavoidably technical in their use of scientific descriptions and terminology for which the author both explains and apologises in advance. There sections include partly challenging diagrams, illustrations or charts where prior experience, knowledge and/or reading are desirable but certainly not mandatory e.g. terms like DNA, Messenger RNA, phylogeny, genomes. 

North American Warblers - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

A determined and persevering read of the text while studying the diagrams/charts will ultimately reward the reader by enabling a thorough enjoyment and understanding of later chapters and the whole book. Every one of the 12 Chapters is jam-packed with insightful narrative into the lives of birds together with accounts of how, where, when and why the rich diversity of birds is an important aspect of evolutionary biology. 

The three chapters ‘Highlights of Bird History’, ‘Finches and Blackcaps’ and ‘The Ruff and The Cuckoo’ I found especially entertaining and instructive because a number of the pages focused on familiar and recent topics. 

The author described how in real time of 2017 Galapagos scientists observed the development of a new lineage of Darwin's finches, and showed how under the right conditions, evolution can occur over as little as two generations. 

Futuyma relates how ornithologists at the University of Freiburg studying Blackcaps in two areas of Germany, 500 miles apart found that birds which spent winter in Spain had more in common genetically with their Spanish sun-loving counterparts than they did with their UK-wintering neighbours who bred in the same area. This led to the real possibility that the Spanish and UK-wintering groups of Blackcaps could be on their way to becoming two different species. 

The author introduced me to the theory of ‘cultural evolution’, a change us oldies witnessed in the UK during the years of foil topped milk bottles standing on our wintery doorsteps. We also discover that passerines learn many aspects of their songs from parents or neighbours whereby regional populations often diverge to form local dialects, something I have observed in the case of Yellowhammer, Chaffinch and Linnet. 

Remaining chapters continue in the same vein, pages crammed with good reading and packed with knowledge about the causes of variation within bird populations and several species that each tells a special, unexpected and therefore fascinating story. UK readers will enjoy the sections that feature Ruff, Collared & Pied Flycatcher and Snow Goose. There’s absorbing discussion about polymorphism in respect of a number of types of birds such as skuas, hawks and owls; for instance, 69 of the world’s 206 owls are classified as polymorphic for colour, usually grey or rufous, differences that arose out of the variation of evolution. 

The ancient Hoatzins of South America are avian cows. They eat leaves. They harbour bacteria in their crop that break down plant cellulose into sugars that the bird can use, just as cows and other ruminants do - convergent evolution at the biochemical level. Hoatzins climb trees with the help of claws on the point of their wings, a stage in the evolution of feathers. I decided that Chapter 6 How Adaptations Evolve which contains chart illustrations of bills, feathers, and ‘adaptations for climbing trees’ is a masterpiece of its own in what became a simply brilliant, entertaining and instructive chapter. 

Hoatzin and Bar-headed Goose - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

But there’s more, from tales and experiences and journeys around the globe where the author takes us from east to west to learn the genetic differences of Rock Partridge and Red-legged Partridge, or to the Crossbills of North America and ‘ecological speciation’. 

Red-legged Partridge & Rock Partridge - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

As every birder knows, Crossbills’ bills are highly specialised for extracting seeds from conifer cones. In North America Crossbills with differing call types specialise on different conifers and have bill differences adapted for the particular cones.  The Crossbills' calls create flock cohesion whereby birds with the same calls forage together and choose mates from within the flock. Ornithologists studying the Crossbills believe that changes taking place plus interplay with squirrels mean that ecological speciation is taking place and that there are now six species of North American Crossbills, the latest one Cassia Crossbill.  

Like all science, the science of evolution is never settled but taking place as we speak. “Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on Evidence.” 

Such a book would not be complete without the author reminding readers of the perils facing birds in Chapter 12 Evolution and Extinction. Since 1970 bird populations in North America have declined by 29%, a loss of 3 billion birds. At least 40% of the world’s species of birds are in decline with 1 in every 8 species threatened by complete extinction. Birds alone are not in peril. In the 541 million years since animals first diversified, there have been five mass extinctions. Many biologists are convinced we are near a sixth mass extinction uniquely caused by the actions of a single species, man. 

If there’s a reproach to be made of the modern day birding it is that birders focus overmuch on the rarity aspect without displaying that element of curiosity, the “what, why and when” of birds. It is a fact of the current birding scene that many do not trouble themselves too much about birds’ life histories, their day to day existence, or how birds came to be. 

How Birds Evolve is a moderately technical book to test the desire to learn more, to fill that gap, a book that with just a little perseverance will encourage even the most unimaginative twitcher to cast their bins beyond immediate vistas and inspire them to evolve into a more rounded birder. 

How Birds Evolve is accessible, exhilarating science for everyone – amateur birder, professional naturalist or just the average man. It’s a great book and one to read over and over and I thoroughly recommend it to all.

This is already my Bird Book of 2022 and I can't see it being bettered. 

Price: $29.95/£25.00 
Published (US):Oct 19, 2021 
Published (UK):Jan 4, 2022 
Size:6.12 x 9.25 in. 
Illustrations: 48 colour + 67 b/w illus. 4 tables. 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog for news, reviews, birding, bird ringing, bird photos and much more.

Linking today with Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Brambling Prize

In most UK winters the Brambling is a difficult one to find but a bird to prize. These cousins of the ubiquitous Chaffinch live north and east of here on the borders of Finland & Russia, venturing this far west in irregular numbers and unpredictable years. 

At the feeding station I‘ve listened for the nasal wheeze, watched the feeders and the ground beneath for weeks while studying the hedgerow for a flash of white rump amongst the Chaffinches. And then on Wednesday, joy of joys, at last a Brambling, crouching amongst half a dozen Chaffinches, an orange neighbour, reward for the seed drops and the interminable car washing after the tortuous muddy farm track. 

The finches scattered for no reason when I saw that the Brambling, now in a nearby tree, was male, perhaps even an adult but not for definite until and if we catch the star. 

Not that there’s any ringing just yet while Avian Flu is still nearby and APHA, the Animal & Plant Health Agency drag their feet on giving the all clear. Seven weeks, going on eight while waiting to hear when we can collect information for conservation. In the meantime and if at a loose end I could take up shooting birds as that’s allowed. Shooters have a route to the top, ringers do not. 

A couple of Reed Buntings, 3 Greenfinch, a couple of Blackbirds and 20 or more Linnets completed the count as I scattered more seed in the base of the hedgerow where even the Sparrowhawk’s long legs won’t reach. 

Here, and later back home, garden Greenfinches were in song, more species that so soon can see that spring is about to sprung. I saw Brown Hares on the move too, three together in the first of their Mad March ways. 



I left the Pilling farm and drove to Cockerham where at weekend Andy and I had prepared the seed plot for our now annual whoosh netting of Linnets and the sometime bonus of Skylarks and Stonechats. But never the wary Stock Doves that scatter at the sight of a vehicle. 

For the uninitiated, the idea of a whoosh net is to propel a fine net over ground feeding birds via elasticated bungees. The method is somewhat hit and miss as it requires the said birds to land in the tiny designated/prepared area and settle there long enough for the net to whoosh over them. Oh how we laughed when sitting for hours watching Linnets fly round and around without showing any interest in a mound of fresh, tasty bird seed that would mysteriously disappear before our next visit. 

Prepping the Square
The local Kestrel hovered above, and never one to miss a trick, has discovered the seed to be a regular source of animal protein. I dropped more rats and mouse seed and promised the 60+ Linnets we’d be back when APHA and BTO give us the thumbs up. 

After a number of years of sympathetic farming the most recent owner of Braides Farm has vandalised the place, torn out every perching fence and singing post, filled and levelled the vegetated ditches, built a huge midden of earth, and now imported hundreds of sheep to eat what’s left of the once green landscape. 

If there are any Skylarks this year, they’d best keep clear of grazing sheep. In the distance and mostly on an adjacent farm were up to 100 Whooper Swans and not much else. Once again, it’s “follow the money” to see that conservation and wildlife hits rock bottom in the Tory Grand Plan to level down. 

At least at Conder Green there are birds to see if a little early for the return of the bad boys the Avocets, black and white birds represented today by three Shelduck recently returned from their winter in the Wadden Sea, Dutch or German, take your pick. 

A single Little Grebe proved hard to locate, they too are heading back from whence they came for the coming spring. Wigeon were in good numbers of 60 or more, some hidden behind the islands while the tiny Teal were so numerous but scattered throughout that any count would be very inaccurate. 


Five Snipe moved around the mound of the near island and not seeming to hide as they mostly do, perhaps feeling safer on an island. Small numbers of Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew finished the wader scene. 

Time flies when having fun even if it’s the many and varied birds of spring that I’m really after so I headed home for a cup of coffee and to search my emails for one from APHA. 

No luck. Try again another day. 

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


Monday, January 3, 2022

Happy New Year

Too much food, too much booze and too few birds - that about sums up my last fortnight. It’s not for the want of trying when a number of trips out in less than ideal weather brought scant reward.  Or, from recent Australia but in England cricket parlance, “little to report and even less to trouble the scorers”. 

In recent days Buzzard, Kestrel and Merlin provided the raptors, but a few sightings only of Barn Owl or Little Owl where mild but windy weather with zero frosts meant no requirement to feed in daylight hours. 

Little Owl


Supplementary feeding areas gave counts of up to 180 and 80 Linnets at two places respectively while Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Reed Buntings and titmice added to the bulk.


Redwings and Blackbirds provided the thrush interest while a single Fieldfare asked questions about where they all fled to during November.


After five weeks we expect to be notified any day now that the 10km ringing ban is lifted; then  we can return to favoured ringing sites out Pilling and Cockerham way. In a previous post I remarked that shooters are also banned from their activities in Avian Flu areas. 

After this week seeing wildfowlers in our often shared haunts and engaging in conversation, it seems that I was mistaken. The guys were quite open about their shooting, two were not even aware of our local outbreaks of Avian Flu. This when Covid alone dominates news outlets and normal conversation.  

"BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) is advising members that an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been implemented across the UK." 

“In addition to the requirements of the AIPZ, housing measures came into force on 29 November 2021. The Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have brought in housing measures across the whole of the UK to protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza following a number of confirmed cases across Great Britain in recent weeks. The housing measures mean that it will be a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK to keep their birds indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures in order to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.” 

Shooting is not restricted as part of the conditions associated with this Prevention Zone. Neither is shooting directly impacted by the implementation of 3km and 10km control zones at sites where Avian Influenza is currently identified. However, BASC urges members to be vigilant and aware of the symptoms of the disease and to follow the latest biosecurity advice and measures required in the zones.” 

"Anyone attending a shoot should follow good personal biosecurity and regularly cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear and vehicles – this is particularly important if they have any contact with game birds, poultry or other captive birds. There is, however, a possibility – albeit remote - that wild birds shot or culled in pest and predator control could be infected with bird flu at any time of the year, so it clearly makes sense to avoid actions that could spread infection from killed wild birds into any kept birds, whatever their species. Do not use the same vehicles and storage facilities for shot and live birds without thorough cleansing and disinfection in between. Keep all shot or culled birds well away from any kept flocks. Likewise, wash or sanitise hands and wash clothing well after handling dead birds and before any contact with kept flocks to minimise spreading infection. Gundogs are not at any particular risk from bird flu but as a precaution do not allow dogs to eat any dead wild birds and do not feed uncooked shot or culled birds to animals." 

Just as witnessed in early 2021 UK wide lockdowns because of Covid, the rules applying to people following outdoor pursuits are different whereby shooting has a lower level of control than bird ringing, bird watching or even walking in the countryside. 

To paraphrase George Orwell, 'All countryside pursuits are equal but some countryside pursuits are more equal than others'.

Follow the money.

A Happy New Year to followers of Another Bird Blog, past, present and future.

Linking today to and


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