Thursday, April 28, 2022

How Birds Live Together - A Book Review

There’s another book review today, the soon to be released “How Birds Live Together - Colonies and Communities in the Avian World” by Marianne Taylor.  

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

Marianne Taylor is a freelance writer, editor, illustrator, and photographer, the author of more than thirty books on natural history, including The Gull Next Door reviewed in Another Bird Blog in November 2020. 

How Birds Live Together is not a run-of-the-mill bird book; the clue is in the sub-title of “Colonies and Communities in the Avian World”. This book is not a field guide or a species/bird family monologue but is instead a fascinating and many faceted collection of essays grouped around the “who, what, why, where, when and how” of species that live together in often quite different habitats and environments across the world. 

I suspect that the author’s approach to this subject is a first, a line of attack that until now has not have been explored in a single book about birds. (I stand to be corrected by my ever knowledgeable readers). It’s more likely that accounts and study of avian interactions are separate sections within a book devoted to a single species or to a family of birds where social living, feeding interaction, or piggy-backing on other species is a notable or unique feature of the subject matter. 

The Contents list of How Birds Live Together doesn’t give too much away but instead leaves the reader to imagine, suspect, and/or to eventually discover what lies within. The species and topics covered are worldwide where some will be familiar to many birders and wildlife enthusiasts at least in name or place if in not in the finer detail explored and pictured. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

For instance, High Rise explores the world of sea cliffs with spectacular pictures of the many birds that use the famous Bass Rock of Scotland, Leopold Island, Canada or Grassholm, Wales. The remarkable picture of Arctic auks at imminent risk from a marauding Polar Bear almost begs the reader to shout “Behind you”. This Chapter has many such splendid photographs, like the one of murres and kittiwakes of Nanavut, Canada or the North American Cliff Swallow, a species that can glue a nest to improbably perpendicular cliff faces. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

Tree Houses almost needs no further explanation as the author takes the reader on a world adventure of Florida, Rook & Crows, or by stopping off in super-colonies of the Everglades where a mammoth survey in 2018 found 139,000 nests of storks, ibis, spoonbills and herons. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

I discovered that Red-footed Falcons live communally often taking over old or existing nests of colony nesting Rooks and that the interrelationship of the two species is such that their breeding ranges can be mapped one on top of the other. 

Within the Chapters are several accounts devoted to a single species, e.g. the Cliff Swallow and the uninvited housemate that is the Greater Ani of South America, a member of the cuckoo family which employs the modus operandum of brood parasitism against another species. 

There is also a species profile of the Common Starling, a misunderstood bird but one whose high speed synchrony and murmurations are a familiar example of how birds live together by using safety in numbers to outwit predators. Inland Waterfronts contains the most amazing double page image of Lake Natron in Tanzania, a lake turned from blue to pink by the arrival of many, many thousand, possibly millions of Lesser Flamingos. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

In the Chapter entitled City In The City I discovered the best place in the world in which to see Lesser Kestrels and where the colony nesting falcons are as close as one metre to the next nest and where chicks sometimes wander from one to another. 

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton

A winter visitor to the UK, the Fieldfare, receives a slot in the book via Secret Society, a chapter that considers the breeding and nesting strategies of a variety of species. Often nesting colonially the resulting gangs of Fieldfares have a rather unique way of using their collective weight to repel and discourage nest raiders. 

All of the above and more is contained in How Birds Live together, a quirky, eclectic and informative mix about birds from all compass directions - North, South, East and West. It’s a book that deserves to find a good number of readers eager to move on from identification and learn more about birds as species and animals in their own right. 

As I worked through this book I felt that the Chapters, the topics, the individual entries and examples were occasionally disjointed and fragmented, jumbled in choice and presentation whereby a number of sections may have worked better with a longer read. Overall that was my personal preference and other readers may find the layout and presentation and the length of each topic more to their liking. 

Otherwise the book is beautifully produced, illustrated and finished with a number of superb and simply stunning photographs for the reader to enjoy. This is a book to return to over and over again, one that would make a lovely gift to someone starting out on a journey of  discovering birds.   

How Birds Live Together - How Birds Live Together - Princeton
Price: $29.95 / £25.00 
ISBN: 9780691231907 
Published: May 10, 2022 
Copyright: 2022 
Pages: 224 
Size: 7.5 x 9.88 in. 

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


Thursday, April 21, 2022

This And That

Tuesday 19 April - There was no traffic on the road when in the semi darkness a Barn Owl drifted across the road ahead. It’s a regular spot for Barn Owls and best visited when there’s a little more light. I pulled up, clicked a few shots and then motored on to my real destination. 

Barn Owl

When I arrived at the Pilling ringing site, all was quiet and the temperature gauge showed -1.5°C so I elected to employ just two nets, one at a time, so as to warm my hands in between. I reckoned that there would not be too many new birds around following the clear frosty night. 

I was right. Just 4 birds caught, 2 Blackcaps (male and female), 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Willow Warbler. 



Reed Bunting

Willow Warbler

There was little else to see or to hear during the “one bird an hour” session. Although local reports mention other insectivores like Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler , Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Whinchat and Swallows, the numbers are low, and those same species have yet to appear at our ringing site. 

Still, it wasn’t too bad sitting in the now warming sun, coffee and hot-cross bun at hand,  day dreaming of birds yet to come in May, home or away. 

Email news arrived of adult male Lesser Redpoll APN5870 caught at our ringing site Oakenclough, Nr Garstang on 14 April. It was another of the regular south to north movements that we have come to expect with our redpoll captures. 

In this case APN5870 was first ringed 62 days before in a suburban garden in Bracknell, Berkshire on 11 February 2022. This redpoll may have wintered in south-east England however I tend to think that it had more likely wintered across the English Channel and in February it was already migrating north to its eventual destination some way north of Oakenclough. 

Lesser Redpoll - Bracknell to Oakenclough

Perhaps the redpoll was looking to join with the huge numbers of Lesser Redpolls in the birch woods of Scotland. 

While not strictly “garden birds” Lesser Redpolls will visit bird feeders at certain times of year when their natural foods become scarce. The species seems to prefer niger seed (aka thistle or Nyjer), but the seed must be fresh and aromatic when they are more likely to find it and to return day after day. The species’ natural food is the seeds from birch, alder and spruce.

Lesser Redpoll
Like most finches, the redpoll family are susceptible to salmonellosis because of their flocking behaviour, therefore garden feeding enthusiasts must have a scrupulous bird feeder cleaning regime. 

On Thursday morning I checked out our Sand Martin colony to see how many had arrived and so as to guess when might be the first visit for ringing purposes. A stiff easterly wind blew dust and sand across the face of the colony as about 15-20 Sand Martins circled around. 

Sand Martin colony

None seemed interested in returning to old excavations but it was rather a cold morning for builders. I pencilled mid-June into the memory hole. 

Nearby were two pairs of Oystercatcher and a pair of Pied Wagtails, both of them probably a little further on with their year than the Sand Martins; especially since the Oystercatcher tried to see me off site in case I found his partner sat on eggs. 

Back soon with more this and that. Don’t go away. 

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

Monday, April 18, 2022

Insectpedia – A Review

I have been looking forward to meeting up with Insectpedia - A Brief Compendium of Insect Lore, the latest in the Princeton series of “Pedia” Books. My first acquaintance with this family of books came via Birdpedia in 2021 - Birdpedia .

And here is Insectpedia which is not on general release until early May but can be pre-ordered now from Princeton the publishers or other outlets. 

Insectpedia- Princeton Press
Princeton’s Pedia books are encyclopaedic but tiny in size; the series travel the wonders of the natural world, from A to Z. These brief compendiums cover wide ground in sympathetic, often funny, but always fascinating entries on the science, natural history, and culture of their subjects, e.g. Dinopedia, Geopedia, Treepedia, Birdpedia, Florapedia and Fungipedia. 

Every birder knows that birds and insects have a close relationship, in many cases interdependence based upon the fact that many birds eat insects; some eat them all year round, and migrate long distances to make sure of an abundant supply. Others eat them in the summer months and then switch to a more varied diet in winter when there are fewer insects around. Lots of bird species also feed insects to their chicks. 

Insects are an important part of the diet of hedgehogs, spiders, bats, fish, frogs and toads. Some insects eat other insects, including wasps, beetles like ladybirds, and ants. Another crucial role that insects play is in pollination, helping plants turn their flowers into fruits. They also contribute to the breakdown of plants and animals after they die, helping to keep our environment clean. 

Insects have been a part of the human diet for many thousands of years, and many cultures still relish insects as food. Increasingly the cultivation of nutrient- efficient insects may be seen as a way of feeding the booming human population. There’s food for thought! 

Insectpedia- Princeton Press

Insectpedia has an explanatory Preface with hints as to what a reader should expect, but unfortunately there is no list of Contents, nor at the back of the book, an Index. This is only slightly irritating, whereby as well as a cost-saver it could be a deliberate ploy to make the reader visit and enjoy every page in one or two sessions, something that I was happy to do. 

Each subject matter has but one or two pages in which to grab the readers’ attention and Eric R. Eaton’s engaging, enthusiastic style invariably tempts the reader into his lair and looking for more. 

Insectpedia- Princeton Press
Insectpedia- Princeton Press
There are dozens of entries in the 200 pages and many “chapters” of these miscellaneous chunks of reading set in in alpha order with topics ranging from ‘A’ for Acarinaria, bees or wasps that carry squadrons of cleaning mites, right through to ‘Z’ and Zombie Lady Beetles. In between there are Camel Crickets, Exploding Ants, Jumping Beans, The Schmidt Sting Pain Index, and Flea Circus, the latter a remarkable and unlikely entertainment that thrived as late as the 1980s. Yes, millenniums, I remember as a pre-Internet child being taken to see one such circus where I emerged into daylight enthralled if a little itchy. 

Insectpedia- Princeton Press
Vespa mandarinaria aka “Murder Hornet” tells a cautionary tale of how global media, irresponsible journalism and click-baitery can induce widespread irrational fear. Now where else have I read that recently? 

Eric R tells the tale of the Weta, or Wetapunga, the Maori name for the Giant Weta, a nationally endangered species of New Zealand but now confined to a few remote islands. This three inches long beast lays claim to being the world’s heaviest insect by weighing in at over 70 grams, the weight of our UK Song Thrush. 

Who knew that we Homo sapiens share 60% of DNA with Drosophila melanogaster and that 75% of the genes known to cause human disease can be found in fruit flies? Insectpedia is crammed with such curious facts and figures about the creatures we love to hate or to fear in equal measure. 

And while Hilltopping may soon become the latest trend in sexual penchants at your local park, it is a way that some butterflies, wasps, ants, beetles and dragonflies use promontories as rendezvous sites for mates. Hilltopping is a form of lek polygyny, or lekking, a term familiar to all birders. 

This review with the examples above gives just a taster of the insect goodies found in this fabulous little book. It is highly readable, informative, engaging, occasionally witty, and mostly light-hearted in a way that should actively encourage a spirit of inquiry and further investigation from any reader. 

Mention must be made of Amy Jean Porter’s black & white illustrations dotted throughout the 200 pages and which accompany many entries. These are mostly delightful or instructive, and occasionally chilling when combined with a specific subject, as in the Tsetse Fly portrait at Page 169. 

Insectpedia is quite simply a terrific little book and amazing value for money in this rip-off age of consumerism. Eric R Eaton and Princeton must be congratulated for this latest winner in the series. 

Please birders or otherwise, buy this book. At £10 it’s a fraction of the stinging cost of a tank of petrol.  

Insectpedia- Princeton Press

Hardcover Price: $16.95 / £9.99 
ISBN: 9780691210346 
Published: May 3, 2022 
Copyright: 2022 
Pages: 200 
Size: 4.5 x 6.75 in. 
Illustrations: 51 b & w  


Saturday, April 16, 2022

Slow Burn

The spring has been Slow Burn rather than Fast Track North. A couple of weeks of cold weather put a damper on northerly migration and at some point these birds have to get a rush on to bag the optimum breeding spots. 

Local bird and WhatsApp news tell of ones and twos only of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, all species that normally arrive in a rush in early April. Hardly anyone has reported Swallows or Sand Martins or even Wheatears. House Martins are a distant dream and Swifts a Lottery Prize. 

Thursday morning and at last warms winds from Atlantic West Africa might well deposit both variation and numbers in the hills above Garstang where Oakenclough became the destination and a meet up with Andy and Bryan at unearthly 0615. 

Birds caught: 8 Willow Warbler, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Chaffinch 1 Goldfinch, 3 Coal Tit, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Blackcap, 1 Blackbird. 

At last then, a few Willow Warblers caught, some from previous seasons and as we might expect for mid-April, mostly males and one female. Female LDL516 had been first ringed at Oakenclough 4 June 2020, male LDL808 first ringed on 11 May 2021. 

Willow Warbler

Lesser Redpoll
One of the Lesser Redpolls came with a ring from elsewhere. APN5870 was not one of our rings and may have been ringed north or south of our recapture. After the holiday break we will find out where it was originally ringed. 

Visible migration was nil except for two Swallows while a total of 20 birds caught is better than recent efforts as we await the arrival of species such as Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and the two flycatchers, Pied and Spotted. 

The holiday weekend will be family time with probably no birding or ringing until Tuesday next. Log in then to Another Bird Blog for the latest news on Spring 2022. 

Next week will also see a book review here on the blog, a new book that will interest many birders and wildlife enthusiasts. And it’s a ten quid bargain! 

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


Friday, April 8, 2022

An Improving Picture

The temperature readout showed -1°C and warned of “possible icy roads”. It was 0530 as the wipers scraped across the icy windscreen. I pressed the heated seat buttons, one for me and one for the jacket draped over the seat. I was driving to meet up with Andy and into the hills of Oakenclough where it’s always two or three degrees colder than the Fylde coast. 

Over Rawcliffe Moss the car lit up two Roe Deer frozen in the approaching main beam so I slowed and turned off the lights so as to let them walk across the fields towards the rising sun. It’s best not to panic wild deer into a mad dash, especially if there are fences nearby. 
Roe Deer

As ever, and after a couple of poor catches out Pilling way we hoped that things could only get better, despite talk of continued cold weather in Spain, Portugal, and France, countries through which our migrant birds must pass before reaching the UK. 

We caught migrant and newly arrived Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in the first hour but then faltered through until 1030 without catching anything too exciting in the way of species or numbers. 

Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Coal Tit were caught at feeding points while Coal Tits are something of a local speciality because of the proximity of a stretch of conifers. 

15 birds of 9 species caught - 3 Great Tit, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Robin, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Wren, 1 Dunnock, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff. 

Lesser Redpoll
Willow Warbler

Lesser Redpoll

Coal Tit

Other species seen – 2 Blackbird, 2 Buzzard, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Pied Wagtail, 2 Brown Hare. 

Brown Hare

Pied Wagtail

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

Back soon. Don't go away.


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Redpoll News

After the promising warmth of late March the first week of April saw a plunge in temperatures, cold northerly winds and the return of rain. The week has been pretty miserable with no opportunity for ringing and little in the way of birding news here on the blog. 

In absence of anything more, I’m posting news of a couple of recently notified Lesser Redpoll recoveries from birds previously ringed at our site at Oakenclough, Near Garstang. The second one reinforces the cold weather effects of early April.   

Lesser Redpoll ALJ4397 was first caught on 12 August 2020 when it could reliably be aged as a bird born in that same summer. In August 2020 it was just a few months old, without any obvious male or female plumage characteristics, so was databased as a “juvenile/first summer”. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll - Oakenclough to Woolston Eyes

The same individual was recaptured by Merseyside Ringing Group on 13 March 2022 at Woolston Eyes, Warrington, 577 days after the first capture. By now and after a period of 577 days of plumage changes the Merseysiders were able to see that ALJ4397 has become an adult female. 

Woolston Eyes, Merseyside

It seems likely that on both occasions ALJ4397 was caught in the act of migrating, on 12 August 2020, heading south and on 13 March 2022 heading north, both dates suggestive of a Scottish origin. 


The second redpoll, one from this very same week of cold weather, Lesser Redpoll AKE3862, another first year individual of indeterminate sex was captured at Oakenclough on 13 November 2019. 

Lesser Redpoll

This redpoll was found dead on 3 April 2022 at Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland during a spell of very cold weather. 

On the information report, the finder remarked that AKE3862 was “Freshly dead - within about a week. Poor condition indicating cold weather. Temperature at night around freezing for the past four nights”.  

872 days had passed since the original capture with nothing in between to indicate where AKE3682 had been in those interim seasons or during migration times. 

Lesser Redpoll - Oakenclough to Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway

Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

As in the first example above, but now in a more obvious way, it seems that AKE3682 was a bird of Scottish origin heading south on 13 November 2019 and then on 3 April either arriving at its migration destination in Scotland or about to continue to a more northerly journey's end.


The weather is looking more promising for Saturday now. Fingers crossed for more news, views  and pictures to entertain regular blog followers.


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