Sunday, December 10, 2023

Bluebirds, Blackbirds, And A Song

All through October and November we looked, listened and waited for Fieldfares to arrive in the west when their size, colour and loud chuckling voices would send our eyes skywards in appreciative glances. 

The Fieldfare is not a species a wide awake birder can miss when the thrushes make it from Norway in their dozens, hundreds, even thousands and drop into glowing-red hawthorn hedgerows to then feast like there’s no tomorrow. 


Maybe the constant wind and rain of autumn here in the west persuaded many to remain in the North East and then travel quickly south towards France and Spain rather than cross the backbone of England to warm wet Lancashire? 

Whatever the reason for the deficiency of recent weeks it was more than good to catch up with a small number of Fieldfares out Cockerham last week when the sun shone bright and Fieldfares looked their best. But for this interlude it might be February, March or April before Fieldfares make another appearance, this time on their way back to Northern Europe. 


In the days of the last century, before even me, the thrush we now call Fieldfare was known as Bluebird to distinguish it from its allies the Mistle Thrush, then named Greybird, and the accurately named Blackbird. 

As I focused on the Fieldfare’s multifaceted colours and clicked the button, I thought that Varied Thrush - The Haunting Voice of Ancient Forests, might be a more suitable name but posting pictures on the Internet of a Varied Thrush at Cockerham might cause a stampede through the narrow lanes.  For sure any such mistake, deliberate or otherwise, would upset local farmers and not help my notoriety among local birders. 

Near the top of the hawthorns up popped the ultimate rarity, a shyster; but no, not a politician, the timid, unsure, and now impossible to find Song Thrush. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw one, let alone a half chance at a picture, a species now hardly ever reported by local birders. 

It’s too late to rescue the British Song Thrush. We rip out hedgerows and blanket the countryside in concrete and white elephant windmills where Song Thrushes can’t live; but no one cares. Follow The Money. 

Song Thrush
The few Blackbirds around proved harder to picture than gregarious Fieldfares. The Fieldfares might sit there motionless for a minute, eyeing up a bunch of berries until they decided to eat while the Blackbirds stole through the black branches nicking a berry or two if they thought no one was looking. 




I drove back through Pilling where roadside Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Curlews provided a background symphony of wild calls to the thrum of traffic going nowhere while seeing nothing. 
Golden Plover




It’s always Lapwing to the fore, Curlews a little further away and Golden Plovers way back, 100 yards or more, out of sight out of mind, except to shooters. Yes in 2023, Golden Plovers are Schedule 2 species, which means that it is legal to shoot them outside the closed season and a feather in a shooter's cap to bag one.  

No one cares. Follow The Money. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

Book Review - Birds of China

Another Bird Blog today features a new release from Princeton Field Guides, Birds of China, published mid-December in the UK and mid-January 2024 in the US. 

There are two authors of Birds of China; Liu Yang, professor of animal ecology and ornithology at Sun Yat-sen University and a leading authority on the birdlife of China; Chen Shuihua is deputy director of the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, home to one of China’s largest collections of bird specimens. 

Birds of China - Princeton
Birds of China is the first complete English language guide to China’s fantastic birdlife and a testament to the massive strides the country has achieved in becoming a birding resource to its own people and a destination increasingly accessible to tourists. 

Birds of China in the year of 2023 is an English version, a translation from the Chinese National Geography (CNG) edition by the same authors first published in 2021. 

In China, birding and what is known as its “bird people” is a growing leisure activity that developed as recently as the 1990s when knowledge and identification was shared mostly by word of mouth.  Around that time J MacKinnon’s Field Guide to the Birds of China was THE guide to China but a book unlikely to be available to the majority of a population of some 1.66 billion people, even if they were able to find a copy in that vast country.  Given the huge advances in recent years about species, distributions and taxonomy the MacKinnon guide is now somewhat out of date and a newer and therefore more modern field guide was both overdue and very welcome. 

Upon opening the book there is a very useful, illuminating and rather charming two-page Forward - Chinese Birders - From Emergence to Citizen Science by SUN Lili, President of Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology. The Forward describes how birding is still very much in its infancy in China, home to 1400 species and 14% of the global total in a country of approximately 3.7 million square miles, a country that contains a huge and diverse variety of habitats.  China has three of the Earth’s nine major migratory flyways and the country is visited by 20-25% of the world’s migratory bird populations!

On scrutiny of the main text the translation from the original Chinese version works well however I will mention one or two potential drawbacks that might deter English speaking buyers. 

The Contents at Pages 11 and 12 list the species firstly in Mandarin Chinese followed by the Latin bird family e.g. Anseriformes, Galliformes, Gaviiformes etc. This means that English names do not appear until the individual species’ accounts and unless a reader is totally comfortable with Latin names they must turn to the Common Name/English Index at Page 651 to find the whereabouts of the family or species they seek. Other than this rather cumbersome process a flick through the pages will usually find the location of the waders, warblers and raptors etc in a familiar systematic order. 

Birds of China - Princeton

Because this single volume must contain information about 1500 species together with 4,000 illustrations & plates, the information is of necessity a little crowded into the 672 pages in order to make a portable book. Birds of China weighs in at a hefty 1.6 kg, making for a large contribution to a backpack of birding and/or travel gear. 

The guide follows a traditional layout of plates opposite the texts and, through annotations, points out salient ID features. The text is in Mandarin, English and scientific nomenclature for each species, making it accessible to a wide range of enthusiasts based in many countries. Here in the species’ accounts and on the illustrations plates I found the print a little small for my liking and also a pale shade of grey against the white pages where a black typeface would improve the reading experience. 

Birds of China - Princeton

Against the grain of recent bird guides based on photographs Birds of China boasts a set of painted plates from about 25 Chinese artists.  Without exception the paintings are very good, some exceptional  and where I was especially struck by the shrikes, herons, owls and raptors. The style of the paintings is very much alike throughout and it is difficult to see where one artist ends and the next begins. 

Birds of China - Princeton

Birds of China - Princeton

Birds of China - Princeton

Birds of China - Princeton

Upon delving further into the core of the book I was reminded of how many species we in the UK and Europe share with China, a point reinforced in recent years by the number of “new for the UK and the Western Palearctic species” which originate in the Far East. Birders travelling to China will encounter many familiar species among the exciting and vibrant birds they will surely see for the very first time. 

Relatively minor quibbles aside, I can thoroughly recommend this new guide, a ‘must-have’ for those with an interest in China’s birds but especially so for long-distance birders who like to explore exciting new places and opportunities. 

At £35 Birds of China is pretty much another bargain we have come to expect from Princeton’s output of birds and wildlife, a book that should find a place on many a bookshelf. 

Birds of China 

Price: $39.95/£35.00 
ISBN: 9780691237527  
Published (US): Jan 16, 2024 
Published (UK): Dec 12, 2023 
Pages: 672 Size: 6.13 x 9.25 in. 
Weight: 1.6 kg 
4,000 colour illustrations 


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Baby It's Cold Outside (And Inside)

“Minus 4° - potential for ice on roads” read the dashboard. I’d already decided that sunny and dry Wednesday would be a birding day of warm fingers, and hopefully one that might include a few photographs. I set off into the frosty landscape and headed for the A588 towards Lancaster. 

Pink-footed Geese were on the move high, south and east, to escape the inevitable guns, although a couple of hundred had stopped off in a relatively safe field bounded by a sparse hedgerow that gave a semblance of peace & quiet.

Each year becomes more difficult to both to see and to hear our wild geese on the ground as the disturbance to traditional haunts becomes more intense and threatening to feeding geese through "development", traffic - large & small, walkers, shooters, and yes, birdwatchers.

Pink-footed Geese

Approaching Lapwing Lodge and glancing left I couldn’t help but see a large raptor moving very slowly, almost hovering above a reed-fringed ditch that runs north towards the coast. The deep-v profile became more obvious upon closer approach, as did the size. But for the following traffic on the dangerous fast bend, a stop would have confirmed a Marsh Harrier, probably the same bird that has frequented this locality for several weeks now. 

The Marsh Harrier is no longer a spring and autumn migrant bird to our Fylde coast: it is now a year round resident that can be seen during the winter months, albeit in smaller numbers than at the peak the species’ autumn migration August to October. 

A stop at Gulf Lane found seven or eight Snipe hiding in the furrows of a ploughed field that has yet to dry out from the rains of August through to November. At the approaching car a few “snipped” away to hide elsewhere. A number of Lapwings were easier to spot than the crouching and immobile Snipe using their cryptic plumage to best advantage.


More Lapwings graced the field from here all the way to Braides Farm, Cockerham where more distant birds gave approximate counts of 490 Lapwing, 150+ Golden Plover, 80 Curlew and 40 Redshank. A single Pied Wagtail pottered along the pooled track. 

This has been a poor autumn for seeing Fieldfares but I caught up with some today on the road to Cockerham Abbey where they were feasting on the now dwindling hawthorn berries. Also a few Blackbirds and one or two Redwings.




A single Kestrel hunted alongside the road and spent time loitering at lookout spots in the hope of spotting a small mammal meal.  At minus 4 degrees a Kestrel needs to spend more time in search of food. 



Here's that familiar song Baby It's Cold Outside. A new version dedicated to people struggling to pay gas & electric bills and to that eminent scientist recently in the news for expressing very unpleasant views. 

Enjoy the rest of your week good people and then come back soon to Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Down To Zero

After yet another windy week our one out of seven days a week of ringing turned out to be Saturday. Overnight Friday/Saturday the temperature gauge dived to 0° whereby the Fiat’s heated seat and windscreen proved worth their weight in gold. 

I met Will at 0730 up at Oakenclough and where as I arrived he was already on with the mist nets. The sun stayed hidden behind the horizon as winter gloves made their first appearance. 

A quiet session ensued, highlighted by singles of Redwing and Lesser Redpoll included in our meagre catch of just 13 birds – 4 Chaffinch, 3 Robin and singles of Blackbird, Redwing, Lesser Redpoll, Coal Tit, Wren, and Blue Tit. 



Lesser Redpoll


More frustration followed by our failure to catch birds that we saw but which avoided our nets completely, e.g. Crossbill, Bullfinch, Siskin and Sparrowhawk. 

Loxia curvirostra, the Red Crossbill (North America) or Common Crossbill (Europe) is a small passerine bird in the finch family Fringillidae. Crossbills have distinctive mandibles, crossed at the tips, an adaptation enables them to extract seeds from conifer cones and other fruits. Adults are often brightly coloured, with red or orange males and green or yellow females, but there is wide variation in beak size and shape, and call types, leading to different classifications of variants, some of which have been named as subspecies.


Two parties of Crossbills, a gang of five then a larger party of 7 or 8 made their way and calling overhead as we watched a number drop into the area of a mist net. 

We failed to catch any but as the breeding season for Crossbills approaches we hope that some will stick around for the next several weeks. Common Crossbills nest very early in the year in English pine plantations, hatching their chicks in February and March to take advantage of the new crop of pine cones. 

Linking today to Eileen's Weekend.

Back soon with more pics, news and photos. Stay cool but stay warm and come back to Another Bird Blog on another day.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Standard Autumn Fayre

Surprise surprise. We survived Storm Debi, a “storm” hyped up by the usual suspects quoting 70 mph gusts from well-known exposed sites on cliff tops and unprotected coastal locations. Here in flat windswept Fylde the gusts turned out to be nothing more than the typical weather we experience for days at a time every autumn. Strong winds with bouts of rain, before everything returns to normal a day or two later.  

We know of course why they do it – to crank up climate alarmism for people who have yet to realise that the “climate emergency” is one big scam designed to part them from their money. 

Clearing our garden of neighbours’ sycamore leaves is a yearly event come rain or shine but inventive doom mongers have yet to claim that the late falling leaves of 2023 are due to global warming. 
Autumn Leaves

Early this week we pencilled in the only suitable day, of Friday for a ringing session at Oakenclough near Garstang. Will visited a week earlier with moderate success that included the catching of four Common Crossbills, a few Redwings and other bits and pieces. 

Yours truly, Will and Andy met up at 0730 to rain but forecasts of brightening skies and afternoon sun; before planning a ringing session we make it a rule to check at least two weather forecasts as they hardly ever agree. About an hour later the rain relented and we set to the job in hand and landed a good variety of species, 18 birds before packing in about 1100 when things turned suddenly quiet. 

We caught no more Crossbills, a rarely encountered species that would have enlivened the usual autumn fayre of 4 Blue Tit, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Siskin, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Goldcrest. 


Great-spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Redpoll

As autumn turns effortlessly to winter, so do the birds, with little in the way of numbers that punctuate September and October ringing sessions. 

Noted today, small numbers of Jackdaws, Woodpigeons and Starlings. Otherwise let’s hope that some of the influx of Waxwings, & Short-eared Owls to Scotland and the east coast of England can find their way westwards. Both species pictured below from previous winters in the Fylde. 


Short-eared Owl

Enjoy your weekend folks. Stay safe, warm and sane then come back again to Another Bird Blog for news, views and photos.

Linking this Saturday to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Some Things Never Change

It’s not just me. Studying the latest news on local web sites it is clear that most birders are struggling with the weather in being able to get outdoors for even a spot of birding, never mind ringing.  Apologies for the lack of posts in recent days and for the next week or so as Storm Debi is the latest Atlantic arrival to batter our lives. 

I raided the archives and found memories of warmer, drier days gone by in The Middle East and Egypt where politics and/or religion are often a cause of trouble.

After arriving in Egypt to tanks on street corners the holiday was uneventful but totally relaxing. Late on Friday November 8 2011 we arrived in Manchester safe and sound from Hurghada and The Red Sea, many miles from the shock waves still emanating from Cairo and other Egyptian cities. 

Sue and I had healthy tans from a wonderful holiday, and after two weeks of unbroken 28 degrees, together with staving off Pharaoh’s Revenge, we felt pretty relaxed about Egypt. Most other Europeans went home with tails between their legs at the first sign of trouble, and left mainly German and UK nationals remaining. By our second week, the early mornings saw a halt to  hostilities in the “Towels on Sunbeds War” and where available sunbeds on our deserted beach easily outnumbered potential occupants by five to one.

These unexpected plusses neatly allowed me to head off for a little local birding in the by now extremely quiet but lush, well-watered, green resort of Makadi Bay where Bougainvillea clad buildings greet at every turn. I quickly established a couple of miles local patch that comprised boating wharfs, the beach and numerous garden areas of the many four and five star hotels. 

The locals tell you that Egypt is 95% sand, where the Red Sea resorts are built on strips of land bounded by sandy shores on one side and desert sand on the other, Hurghada being no exception to that rule. That rather limits the birding unless car hire is taken, but that wasn’t on the agenda in strife torn Egypt. I found plenty of birding and photographic opportunities with morning and afternoon forays and gentle strolls around the beautiful bay.

Here is a flavour of the birds I saw in Egypt, and in the next week or two I hope to post more pictures after first catching up with blogging friends everywhere, news from my local patch here in the UK and get in an overdue ringing session.

Common and numerous everywhere in Makadi Bay are Bluethroats, wintering birds from the several races of Europe.

Makadi Bay


I found lots of ground-hugging Red-throated Pipits skulking about the quiet grassy areas where Cattle Egrets also fed as Kestrels and an Egyptian soldier kept a look-out.

Red-throated Pipit

Red-throated Pipit


Cattle Egret


Egyptian Soldier

The beach and the shore held Western Reef Herons and an occasional Striated Heron, crepuscular in their habits.

Sunrise, Makadi Bay

Striated Heron

Western Reef Heron

Stay tuned folks. Storm Debi can't last forever can she?

Another Bird Blog is back soon.
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