Sunday, October 29, 2023

Sunday Morning Twite

I changed the header. It’s a Twite Linaria flavirostris, a close relative of the Linnet Linaria cannabina, a bird featured many times here on Another Bird Blog. 

Most people wouldn’t notice a Twite - a small, streaky brown finch whose only colour is a bright pink rump and even that shows only in Spring. The rest of the year, it’s rather retiring and uncommon. Perhaps that’s why it’s disappeared from our uplands almost without us noticing. 

Here on the Fylde stretch of coastline in the extreme south of Morecambe Bay, the Twite is a winter visitor and autumn migrant. 

I was lucky this morning when two Twite put in an appearance out Pilling Way. Who can resist a few clicks when there’s Linnets and Twite around for direct comparison? A Twite has a distinctive and rather beautiful orange-buff ground colour to the face and the unstreaked throat. Brown streaking extends from the sides of the breast rather diffusely down onto the flanks, but the belly and undertail coverts are white. Unlike a Linnet, a Twite has an obviously yellow bill in winter, contrasting with the face. Twite have black feet and legs, a Linnet has paler brown/dark straw coloured legs.






The morning improved when a Kingfisher flew back and forth for several minutes and where I got the distinct impression there may have been two rather than the single bird that posed briefly. Here at this spot are hundreds of yards of ditches and dykes for Kingfishers and other water birds. Hence the Little Grebe, several Little Egrets and Reed Buntings flitting around the phragmites fringed ditches. 

Reed Bunting

Could it get any better? Well yes when a Merlin flew past pursued by a Crow and then a few minutes later a Marsh Harrier going in the opposite direction. The raptors were the reason for so much Lapwing activity with many 300/400 hundreds flying around in a seemingly random fashion but all the while keeping their distance from danger. 

A drive out Cockerham way produced a count of six Cattle Egrets feeding amongst some pretty muddy cows. Of course the egrets are adept at exploiting the churned up ground in which to find their prey of insects and worms that cattle disturb with their feet. The egrets also will sit on cattle to look out for insects but I have only observed this behaviour in the Med and not in the UK. 

Cattle Egret

It seems that the six Cattle Egrets weren't the only ones today. Another ten were seen a couple of miles away near the coast at Cockerham. The species may have had a good breeding season in the east with many now heading our way to enjoy the milder Lancashire weather rather than the cold of Europe. 

The forecasts for the week ahead don't look too clever but as always where there's a will there could be a way. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog for the very latest news, views and photos.


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Half Day Wednesday

A 0730 start is as late as it gets now. Next weekend we turn the clocks back an hour and head into winter. At seven-thirty Thursday it was still pretty dark and we hoped to catch a few early morning Redwings. 

We got the nets up in double quick time with the help of headlamps however the Redwings didn’t arrive and we settled for a couple of migrant Blackbirds. In fact the whole morning’s ringing turned out quiet with just 11 birds caught – 3 Blackbird, 4 Linnet, 3 Chaffinch, 1 Goldfinch. 



Our four Linnets proved disappointing when the combined count of a number of flocks totalled over 250 finches, a count that included a number of Goldfinches and Greenfinches, the latter not easy to pick out amongst fast flying gangs of small birds. 

All four Linnets showed features of Scottish birds and as usual all new birds, with a slim chance only of capturing a recent Linnet or a Linnet from elsewhere.

"Scottish" Linnet


There was a Sparrowhawk in attendance and then brief views of a “ringtail” Hen Harrier over the nearby marsh. 
Hen Harrier
Female and juvenile Hen Harriers, are known colloquially as “ringtails”, both look very similar, with brown on top, almost checkerboard brown and beige underwings, a white rump and a bearded tail. However, females are larger than males at 400-600g, compared to 300-400g. They're smaller than buzzards, but larger than crows. 

Storm Babet made little impression here on the west coast, a few windy days and nights but we are rather accustomed to that scenario and take it in our stride.

Keep an eye on the weather folks. And then come back here to Another Bird Blog for the latest news, views and photographs.

Linking today to Eileen;s Saturday blog.



Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Finches On The Move

Monday’s weather didn’t disappoint with a start of zero wind, zero rain, and a hint of a sunny morning to come. I met up with Will at 0715 and we set just a couple of nets, single panels for finches in the seed plot together with a 60 footer alongside a hawthorn hedge. 

We didn’t wait long for the first Linnets to arrive from the north and east, following their trajectory that is inevitably the same north to south direction as the set-aside seed plot. The route became busy as many small groups and larger flocks passed through and eventually totalled over 450 finches when we packed in about 1030. 

Not all were Linnets in the catch of 30 birds and the good mix of species - 16 Linnet, 5 Greenfinch, 2 Robin, 1 Great Tit, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Wren, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Redwing. 

The percentage of Scottish type Linnets is increasing at each visit now with our 16 Linnets today almost exclusively of that type. If and when “ferocious” storm Babet hits Scotland it will surely send more Linnets our way. 


Reed Bunting

The concentration of finches brought in a Sparrowhawk on at least two occasions and although we didn’t see a kill, the hawk would not be without a meal for long when so many birds were on the move. A cream top Marsh Harrier flew around hunting for a while where it disturbed Teal and Mallards from their shallows haunt before it too set off to try its luck out on Pilling Marsh. 

Other birds seen in our 3+ hours included 10 Redwing, 8 Skylark, 10 Chaffinch ,2 Cetti’s Warbler, 20+ Reed Bunting, 3 Pied Wagtail, 6 Meadow Pipit, 4 Whooper Swan.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting


Fingers crossed that Storm Babet is another figment of the weathermen’s imagination and that we can enjoy another excellent morning of birding and ringing very soon.

Storm Babet - Wednesday night
Stop Press. I studied several weather charts. You heard it here first.

Already I am downgrading Storm  Babet to a bit of a blow. They are trying to frighten us again! 

Linking at the weekend to Eileen's Saturday blog


Thursday, October 12, 2023

Terns of North America - Book Review

As promised, and despite my being poorly with a dose of Common Cold, saved only by a glass or two of ouzo held back in case of serious illness, here it is. 

My personal and early look at Terns of North America; A Photographic Guide by Cameron Cox, due for release on 24 October 2023.

Terns of North America - Princeton Press
Let’s not beat about the proverbial bush. This is a simply stunning book that every birder should own - an essential identification guide to not just North American terns, but the noddies and skimmers that in recent years have crossed the Atlantic to appear on the British List with increasing regularity. 

The book follows the expected traditional route of an Introduction from Pages 1 to 19 followed at Pages 20 to 197 by the Species Accounts. 208 Pages in all. 
Contents - Terns of North America - Princeton Press
The author’s Introduction quickly puts the reader at ease with the assertion that despite perceptions by some birders, terns do not present extreme ID challenges. He reassures the reader that difficult and real ID distinctions are few and far between, and mainly within larger Sterna terns. 

The section Tricky Thalasseus is especially welcome in dealing with similarities and differences between the North American Sandwich Tern, Eurasian Sandwich Tern and the so called Cabot’s Tern. 

Terns of North America - Princeton Press

Terns of North America - Princeton Press

Terns of North America - Princeton Press

The individual species accounts are found together, grouped under logical headings rather than in pure scientific order, a sequence that might still upset the purists. But this is an entirely acceptable device that makes for a highly functional field guide, one that will find its way into a backpack for that trip to the shore where terns and their allies congregate. 

For instance, a glance through sections entitled Large Terns, Crested Terns, Medium Sized Terns or Sterna Terns will quickly sort the possible from the unlikely. Equally, Marsh Terns, Pelagic Terns and Upland Terns can be found in their own respective compartments. As one might expect, Skimmers and Noddies can be found in a section all of their own. 

Terns of North America - Princeton Press

Terns of North America - Princeton Press

Terns of North America - Princeton Press

Within the pages are a small number of photo quizzes that I found quite difficult based upon my limited experience of North American terns, questions that those on the US side of the Atlantic might solve more easily. In any case, the answers and explanations can be found in time honoured fashion in the final pages. There is a very useful bibliography at Pages 198-201 followed by a mercifully short Index. 

There are 350 high quality illustrations, mostly superb photographs packed into 200 or so pages of Terns of North America, photographs that take tern ID to another level and demonstrate once again how quality bird photography is the future for field guides focused on birds. 

The sheer strength of the book lies in the many sensational photos of terns. Terns at rest, terns in flight, flocks of terns, mixed terns, mottled terns, immaculate terns, grey terns, black terns, carrot billed terns or banana billed terns. They are all in here where bird photography crosses into art and thrills the reader into discovering more about this rather special family of beautiful and elegant birds. 

I found myself browsing the many photographs so as to simply enjoy the experience and forgetting to read whole chunks of text. Stand out images included Aleutian Terns at pages 152/153, a Black Tern at 135 followed by a whole set of similar joys and then the fabulous Sandwich Tern in flight that opens the Species Accounts. 

As I browsed the hundreds of photos it came increasingly obvious just how many had been taken in The Sunshine State of Florida, that Beachy Hotspot of terns and skimmers. I know one or two birders in FL who right now will I suspect be clicking that link to Princeton, itching to get their hands on a copy of Terns of North America. 

The book is a great value for money prospect for cash-strapped birders who are often notoriously reluctant to part with their dosh, in this case for a meagre 19 or 20 species that already feature in guides they own. To not invest in this inexpensive book would be a mistake because it is bang-up-to-date in its detailed and simplified approach to sometimes challenging tern ID, whereby to head out onto a tern-crowded beach without might be a recipe to fail. 

Go on, treat yourself.  At £22 or $27.95 this book is another winner from Princeton. 

Price: $27.95/£22.00 
ISBN: 9780691161877  
Published: Oct 24, 2023 
Pages: 208 Size: 7.5 x 9.5 in. 
350 colour illus. 

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

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Saturday.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

One Of Each

On Tuesday morning Will and I met up to have a go for Linnets and anything else in the offing. Firstly I stopped off along the A585 main road and checked on the small group of Mute Swans, a couple of Whooper Swans and egrets that have spent a number of days on a single field. 

Two days before I saw two small, crouching white egrets that upon closer views were Cattle Egrets and not the usual Little Egrets that frequent these fields. There was Little Egret too, picking through the recently cleared crop of maize.

Cattle Egret

Little Egret
Our catching was extremely quiet even though there seemed to be lots of birds on the move in the way of 30+ Skylark, 15+ Pied Wagtail, 30 Greenfinch, 3 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 8 Redwing, 10 Reed Bunting, 8/10 Tree Sparrow, 12 Chaffinch and a dozen or more Meadow Pipit. 

Meadow Pipit
So many birds around attracted the usual raptors looking for a meal with single sightings of Merlin, Sparrowhawk and a fine “cream head” Marsh Harrier. 

Linnets came and went in their usual frustrating fashion, dipping in and out of the target area without staying long enough to be caught. The number of parties noted added up to 150+, therefore a catch of just two proved how difficult it can be to catch Linnets in any numbers when the species is so wary and flighty. Hardly surprising considering the attention their flocks receive from raptors looking for a snack. 

A Chaffinch and two Linnets was the sum of effort however both Linnets proved to be of the “Scottish” type, our eyes now well trained to pick out them out in a crowd. Look at the example below, a female with a very dark, almost black streaked cap with equally dark grey ear coverts and general dark streaked appearance. 

Scottish Linnet
Unexpected came two new Cetti’s Warbler that we were able to age and sex as both birds of the year, one male and one female. With wing and weights of 62mm and 15.3 gms; 56mm and 10.8 gms, the two displayed no overlap, unlike Cetti’s Warblers that remain unsexed in the winter months when biometrics fit into both camps, male or female.

Cetti's Warbler
Cetti’s Warbler first appeared in this area known as the Fylde in the early 1990s at Marton Mere, Blackpool. There then followed a series of sightings of single birds and ones or two through the 1990s and into the new millennium whereby the species became well established but never numerous in a small number of mainly coastal or near coastal wetland localities. 

The species remains very difficult, almost impossible  to see in the field, often the only clue to its presence the rattling burst of loud song that emanates from a patch of unkempt scrubby growth or reeds adjacent to water. 

Stay tuned folks for my look at a stunning new bird book sure to appeal to birders, everywhere, here in UK and for sure the United States.

Terns of North America by Cameron Cox

I have a copy of Terns of North America. A Photographic Guide. Coming soon on Another Bird Blog. This one you will definitely want. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Food For Thought

One of these days I will get around to a blog post about Sue & I and our 14 days in sunny Skiathos, our second home.  How we survived the aftermath of horrific storm Daniel and the accompanying floods that almost destroyed yet another Skiathos season. How the stoical, independent-minded, enterprising and hard working Skiathans returned their island to almost normal in less than a week while welcoming travellers to their magical island as if nothing had happened.  How we felt humbled and amazed that in the face of more disasters, their spirit, generosity and welcoming nature never faded a jot.  

Skiathos. Not My Picture.
For now it’s another ringing morning, this time on Monday at 0700 with Will, Andy and Bryan (not forgetting Barney) at our Oakenclough site on the edge of the Pennines above the market town of Garstang.  

The rather gloomy start did not faze us because over to the north just 12 miles away over Morecambe Bay the sky promised a bright, even slightly sunny morning that would part any clouds and propel birds through to our waiting nets. We were not disappointed when very quickly began an almost constant flow of migrant birds from the north; above and at eye level, heading south and west, hirundines, finches, wagtails, pipits, larks and even geese.  

Periods of processing and ringing birds by all four led inevitably to an incomplete and somewhat scratchy estimate of the species moving through and passing overhead – 220 Pink-footed Geese, 200+ Meadow Pipits, 60 + Swallows, 35 Siskins, 50 Chaffinches, 10 Lesser Redpolls, 60 Goldfinches, 15 Skylark, 20 wagtails, 35 Long-tailed Tits, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Sparrowhawk. And goodness only knows how many there really were!  

Meadow Pipit
Pied Wagtail

Reed Bunting

Meanwhile a single Blackbird and no other thrushes felt rather strange amongst the rush and totals of species and numbers on the move - food for thought. In the meantime Redwings, Fieldfares and Northern Blackbirds will be with us very soon on their trajectory to warmer climes.  

Birds ringed 0730 to 1130 – 53 of 12 species – 14 Goldfinch, 9 Chaffinch, 6 Meadow Pipit, 6 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Coal Tit, 3 Long-tailed Tit, 3 Great Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Robin, 2 Bullfinch, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Goldcrest.  


Lesser Redpoll - indeterminate sex first autumn

Treecreeper - first autumn

Meadow Pipit - first autumn

Siskin - first autumn male

Meadow Pipit- adult autumn

Meadow Pipit - adult autumn

Food for thought. In between the worry and expense of clearing up after Storm Daniel, and while caring for quests, our hosts Makis and Litsa of Hotel Ostria came to us in the garden one day with a freshly made Cheese Pie. Filo pastry with goat’s cheese filling, the pastry then glazed over with Greek Honey. Home made, simple yet divine.  

Skiathos Cheese Pie

"Philoxenia" - φῐλοξενῐ́ᾱ meaning "friend to a stranger” is about much more than a warm welcome; it is a complex moral code with deep roots in Greek culture and Greek daily life. 

Meanwhile in Western Europe and seemingly also in the US, led by media, big business and government there is an epidemic of cultural dementia coupled with a desire to obliterate our history and values. The Greek people don’t fall for such nonsense. and remain true to their beliefs.

Back soon folks with more tales, news, views and photos on Another Bird Blog. Stay safe, stay sane, stay strong.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

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