Archive for August 2015

Mid to late August 2015: The Bird Fair, lots of ringing and a Bird Race.   Leave a comment

This post covers our visit to the Birdfair and some ringing at Lytchett Bay and Durlston plus a postscipt about a late August Poole Harbour big day.

The annual British Birding Fair, normally just refered to as the Birdfair  is held at Rutland Water near Oakham in Rutland, Britain’s smallest county. Over the three days an estimated 20,000 visitors visits hundreds of stands and go to hundreds of talks and other events. All profits go to Birdlife International and during its lifespan the event has raised 2.5 million for bird conservation.

Now in its 27th year, the Fair seems to just keep growing and growing. There are so many marquees, stands, exhibits and talks to go to that it is impossible to do it justice in one day. What I enjoy more than anything is meeting up with loads of friends from previous trips abroad, old twitches in the UK or fellow birders from back home.

IMG_6402 Royal George hotel

On the 21st and 22nd of August we paid our annual visit to the British Bird Fair at Rutland Water. We stayed overnight some 12 miles away at this pleasant hotel at Cottingham but unfortunately they didn’t do breakfast (which we had already paid for) until after 9 am, far too late as we wanted to be at the Fair by then.

Book signing at the Wild Sounds stand

This photo of book signing on the Wildsounds stand was taken at a previous Bird Fair and shows a typical view of the Birdfair – large numbers of birders perusing books, trying out optics, planning future birding holidays etc.

IMG_6373 WEO

One of the unusual thing about the Birdfair is that ‘wildlife celebrities’ wander around from event to event with all the rest of us and you can find that the bloke in the row in front of you at a talk is none other than Bill Oddie.

IMG_6376 Swifts need you too

Stands selling or promoting wildlife tours and various countries, outdoor clothing, books, optics and wildlife art are joined by numerous conservation organisations such as the RSPB, Birdlife International and Swift Conservation (above).

One talk I especially wanted to go to was by Magnus Robb of the Sound Approach. After his discovery of the Omani Owl in March 2013, which he described as a new species at the time, it has been shown by others that the old type specimen of the closely related Hume’s Owl is a different species from all the other Hume’s Owls (ie those that that are regularly seen in the Levant and Arabia). It has been speculated that the type specimen of ‘Hume’s Owl’, which was collected in Pakistan 135 years ago, is in fact an Omani Owl. Magnus confirmed that their DNA analysis of feathers from a recently trapped Omani Owl proved this to be the case and in addition an owl found trapped on someone’s balcony in north-east Iran also proved to be an Omani Owl. So instead of discovering a new species, the Sound Approach rediscovered one that hadn’t been seen for 135 years and extended it’s range from two narrow wadis in Oman’s Al Hajar mountains to an area that covers NE Iran and southern Pakistan, although of course not all areas in this vast range will actually hold Omani Owls.

For more details see http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/v2/Content/Sound_Approach_Unravelling_the_mystery_of_the_Omani_Owl.aspx?s_id=519400636

For an interview of Magnus Robb by Martin Garner go to https://soundcloud.com/birdingfrontiers

For my account of my trip to Oman to see Omani Owl see https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/1st-9th-february-2014-the-omani-owl-twitch/

IMG_6390 Omani Owl resolved

Magnus shows a photo of the Iranian example of Omani Owl.

IMG_6398 DIMW talk

Perhaps the most entertaining talk was in the evening of the 21st was an account of ‘best days birding in Britain’ from Bill Oddie, Adam Rowlands, Lucy McRobert and Ian Wallace. Each gave a short account of their most outstanding day in the UK. All but one account was about a day full of migrants and rarities but Lucy told of the day she saw all four species of grouse in Scotland. Her best line was when she described a male Capercaillie as the ‘most magnificent cock I’ve ever seen’.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

DIM (Ian) Wallace, here talking to another birding legend Killian Mullarney, is a true legend of the birding scene. Now in his eighties he is known for his eccentric manner, evocative paintings, editorship of the groundbreaking BWP handbooks, his many pioneering identification articles and his indefatigable rarity finding. Some of his discoveries have been mocked by a later generation of rarity experts but we can say that without doubt that many of the field criteria that are routinely used today were first established by DIMW.

The BTO were holding a ringing demonstration and nearby they had a poster showing all foreign UK ringing recoveries accrued over the 100+ years of the ringing scheme. Of course they can’t label every dot to species, so it is interesting to speculate which species are involved in the far-flung recoveries. Without doing any additional research I guess that the concentration off Labrador/Newfoundland would refer to seabirds like Kittiwake, Fulmars and Great Skuas, the coastal South American ones would almost entirely be Manx Shearwaters, coastal southern Africa are various tern species, the Cape and Natal are Barn Swallows, the Australian and southern oceans are Artcic Terns. Presumably most recoveries from the Levant are Lesser Whitethroats but what species were recovered in Canada just east of the Rockies, in interior South America, in Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia and far eastern Russia on the northern shores of the Sea of Okhotsk? Note the paucity of recoveries from north-east Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, showing that with the exception of Lesser Whitethroats few if any British birds enter African via this flyway.

IMG_6403 Ring recoveries map

A map of all BTO ringing recoveries.

The above map leads on nicely to my bird ringing which has kept me pretty busy during this month. Early (0430) starts, the need to keep up to date with uploading the data collected and in addition, my attempts to collate a lot of the data and other articles into a long-awaited ringing group report has meant that I have had little time to work on this blog. But there again its better to be busy in retirement than to sit around watching day-time TV as many retirees do!

I have been trying to get to Durlston as often as I can during the month, hindered though by the unseasonal weather we have been experiencing. Unlike some ringing stations where the ringers live on site and can quickly respond to changes in the weather, Durlston is a 30 minute drive away, so we don’t usually visit on days that start wet then clear later, or are characterised by intermittent rain. That said this ‘autumn’ we have made nine visits in August and three in July, ringed 658 birds of 28 species with a further 127 birds ringed in the spring.

IMG_6362 adult gropper

This time of year is the most interesting both in terms of the variety of species we ring and also in the range of age classes that we see. Freshly fledged juveniles, birds in the middle of the partial post-juvenile moult, freshly moulted first years, juveniles of species like Long-tailed Tit that have a full wing moult soon after fledging, adults in active wing moult, adults that have completed their moult and abraded adults that defer moulting until they reach their winter quarters (like this adult Grasshopper Warbler) can all be seen during the same ringing session.

IMG_6370 Common Redstart - better

One of the most attractive migrants that we see at Durlston is the Common Redstart, this first year was ringed on  18th August ….

IMG_6369 Black Redstart juv

…. on the same day we also trapped this juvenile Black Redstart, a much rarer species that we have only ringed once before. In view of the scarcity of this species and that this bird is a recently fledged juvenile, it is possible that this bird is the offspring of the adult female we ringed on 23rd April this year. Incidently we also trapped a Common Redstart on 23rd April meaning we have had two double-redstart days this year. Photos of the adult birds in April can be seen on an earlier post on this blog.

IMG_6417 Lytchett Heath

We have also been ringing at Lytchett Bay. As well as our usual site in the reeds near the River Sherford we have also been using a new site at Lytchett Heath which has been very productive both in terms of the number of birds ringed but also in the number of controls (birds previously ringed by others) we have encountered. I hope to post a summary of recent recoveries/controls in a future post.

IMG_6414 Lytchett Heath

On a cold morning the dew on the cobwebs is most photogenic …

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

…. even more so when the sun rises.

IMG_6365 juv Beardie

This recently fledged Bearded Tit, a species that has recently been placed in its own family, was one of the highlights of a recent ringing session.

P1180532 Bluethroat TE LB

But the real highlight of our recent ringing was this first year male Bluethroat that was trapped on 29th August. We had a public ringing demonstration for the sites owners, Dorset Wildlife Trust, at Lytchett Heath and most of the group were there to help. Some opted to ring near the River Sherford where this bird was trapped. There was just enough time before the demo for those interested to rush over from the heath to the Sherford (leaving the heath site well manned of course) to see it before it was released. Photo by Terry Elborn.

Bluethroat 3 Lyt bay 29.08

The eponymous blue on the throat shows that this bird is a male. At least two populations occur in Europe, white-spotted birds in southern/central Europe and red-spotted ones in Scandinavia but the ‘spot’ within the blue of the throat can only be seen on spring males. At this time of year it is most likely that this bird is of the red-spotted race. Photo by Bob Gifford.

And finally on 30th August sixteen, mainly local, birders took part in a Poole Harbour bird race, that means keeping within the geographic boundaries shown in the Sound Approach’s ‘Catching the Bug’. I have always been keen on doing a January bird race as it seems a great way of kicking off the New Year and it is a good way to meet up with friends that you haven’t seen since before Christmas. During my working years I was always busy when the idea of an August Poole Harbour race, with just two per team, was first mooted. Initially I wasn’t too keen this time either, but when Margaret said she would like to join me we formed a team.

Unlike the keenest we weren’t up at 0430 to try for owls and nightjars but started birding in the Studland area at 0700. We had a stroke of luck when we bumped into Mike Gould and Tom Carly just after they had found a Wryneck, but after that most of the rest of the day was predictable. After birding around Studland we visited the southern edge of Poole Harbour, Middlebere, Arne, Swineham and Lytchett Bay (where the wader bonanza really boosted the list) Having reached the ‘ton’ and with Margaret having hurt her leg getting out of the car we decided to quit but after freshening up we headed for the post-race gathering and managed to pick up two more species, Yellow-legged Gull in Holes Bay and Jay in Poole Park giving us a final score of 102.

With Margaret being the least experienced of the twelve participants and with us taking a fairly relaxed approach it was clear from the onset that we weren’t going to win, but we didn’t come last. The winners, the Sound Approach’s Paul Morton and Nick Hopper, set a new record for birds seen/heard in one day in Poole Harbour with a score of 130, smashing the previous best of 123.

The following pictures show most or all of the participants plus Marie and Mo who came along for the evening. Out usual pub was packed solid with a ‘sausage festival’, the next had run out of beer(!), a third was  closed, so we settled with the ‘Slug and Lettuce’ with a very nice curry at nearby Tandori Nights.

IMG_6418 post race drinks1

L-R: Marie Smith, Mo Constantine, Jackie Hull, Mark Constantine, Mike Gould, Tom Carley, Paul Morton (straight from the race still with his wellies on) Nick Hopper and Shaun Robson.

IMG_6422 bird race drinks2

In addition this photo shows: Steve W Smith (standing far left – his position not his politics), Peter Moore, James Phillips, Steve F Smith, Terry Elborn, Margaret and in bottom right Nick Hull.

8th – 9th August: Hen Harrier Day and a Black Stork   Leave a comment

This post covers two things that occurred very close to each other on or near the Arne RSPB reserve over this weekend. The first was ‘just’ another vagrant bird turning up, albeit a very good one. A Black Stork was discovered flying over the Arne RSPB car park late afternoon. It was later seen in flight by a few local observers and seemed to be going to the Wytch causeway which is adjacent to the Wytch Farm oil field. Several observers went to the causeway, but I didn’t pick up the news until about 7.15 p.m. and I headed for the Wytch Channel, a great advantage as it meant I didn’t have to go anywhere near the traffic jams at Corfe Castle. I made the right choice as I arrived to find a handful of observers getting great views right in front of the hide. Not only that but it was in he company of three Spoonbills. A few Swallows, a duckling Shelduck and at least one Green Sandpiper can also be seen in the picture. There has been a small influx of Black Storks recently involving three or four birds (apparently from France as one seen in the north-east was colour ringed).

Bl-Stork Aiden Brown

This is my third sighting of a Black Stork in the UK but the first in Dorset. In my haste I left my camera at home, but I was given permission to use this nice shot by Aidan Brown: see his ‘Dorset Diary’ http://www.surfbirds.com/community-blogs/DD

IMG_9101 Middlebere

Margaret was busy with our granddaughter Kara on the 8th and opted not to go for the stork, but we returned on the 9th prior to attending the nearby ‘Hen Harrier Day’. From the heath near Middlebere we enjoyed a nice panorama but no stork.

IMG_9102 Middlebere

When we got to Wytch Channel where I had seen it the day before we learned that it had been present early in the morning but had since departed down the channel towards Poole Harbour.

IMG_9121 Hen Harrier Day Poster_edited-2

The poster for the second annual Hen Harrier Day.

So for the uninitiated, what is Hen Harrier day? In recent years it has become clear that the UK’s breeding Hen Harriers are being obliterated on their upland breeding grounds, but not all their breeding grounds, just those managed as grouse moors. Although persecution has probably always occurred the publication of a study about a decade ago showed that Hen Harriers will feed on Red Grouse (along with other things) has seen their numbers decline dramatically. In addition, to increase the size of the ‘bag’, grouse moors are burnt to provide fresh young heather shoots, this practice causes run off which affects water quality for those in the catchment area, all predators are ruthlessly slaughtered and even species that compete with them for the heather like Mountain Hares are disappearing.

I’m not against hunting per se, but feel that shooting interests can’t take the law into their own hands. Shooting of ALL birds of prey is illegal. The argument that they can’t make big profits unless they destroy raptors (as well as being an admission of guilt) is facile, what would be said if a road haulage company broke the law by forcing their drivers to speed, drive for more than the legal number of hours etc just to increase their profits, they would be prosecuted immediately.

Although the situation is bad in parts of Scotland, it is in northern England that this wanton slaughter is most acute. There is habitat enough for 300 pairs of Hen Harriers in England but this year (as far as I know) only seven pairs attempted to breed. Two of these were on Forestry Commission land but of the remaining five, all of the males disappeared away from the nest. Careful wardening has meant that those who wish to harm Hen Harriers can no longer risk approaching the nest but appear instead to shoot the males when they are foraging, the nest then fails as the eggs chill when the female leaves to feed. The shooting lobby is clearly on the defensive as deliberate misinformation has appeared on a spurious website called ‘you forgot the birds’ which claims that the RSPB’s monitoring of the nests has caused the nests to fail. Clearly not the case when it was the male who vanished away from the nest. It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion over an issue it’s another to make up blatant lies.

It appears that other raptors (Peregrines, Golden Eagles) are targeted as well, but the situation with the Hen Harrier is the most serious. I can’t cover all the arguments here, but they will be presented in Mark Avery’s new book ‘Inglorious’ http://markavery.info/2015/03/05/16924/ or see http://www.henharrierday.org/

So back to Hen Harrier Day, this is the second attempt to draw attention to the plight of these birds just as the ‘glorious twelfth’ grouse season gets underway. The get together at Arne was just one of a series of events across the country. OK, perhaps it didn’t make the headlines on the BBC news but its a start.

Remember what Ghandi said ‘first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win’. We seem to have passed from stage two to stage three – just one more stage to go.

Hen Harriers used to be much commoner on their wintering grounds here in Dorset than they are now. We want them back!

Hen_Harrier_Circus_cyaneus

A female Hen Harrier photographed in Italy by Lorenzo Shoubridge was taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

Pennine Way 002

Here at Edale in Derbyshire the well-drained, porous limestone hills to the south meet the impervious millstone grit hills in the foreground. This produces a blanket bog, covered in heather which is suitable for Red Grouse. From here, the start of the Pennine Way, all the way north to Scotland lie the grouse moors, in places raptors remain unmolested, but in others they mysteriously disappear.

IMG_9104 bath bombs

The campaign against the slaughter of Hen Harriers is led by various organisations, Birders Against Wildlife Crime, the RSPB, Mark Avery, Chris Packham and by our friends Mark and Mo Constantine of LUSH. To raise money for radio tags to monitor the lives and deaths of each years chicks, LUSH have produced a Hen Harrier ‘bath bomb’, all proceeds from their sale will go to this campaign.

IMG_9111 Hen Harrier Day_edited-1

About 120 protesters assembled at the Arne RSPB car park then marched to a nearby view-point to hear the speakers.Those at the very front of the procession from the car park got brief views of the Black Stork flying up the Middlebere Channel. Several of the attendees seem keener on scanning for it than listening to organiser Luke Phillips introduce the speakers. We were lucky and had distant views of the Black Stork soaring off to the west just after the event was over, but most birders here missed it.

IMG_9116 Mark & Paul HH Day

Mark Constantine describes how the Hen Harrier bath bomb will be promoted at every LUSH shop in the UK.

IMG_9113 Wildlife crime officer

Dorset Police’s Wildlife Crime Officer explains about the Police’s roles in combatting wildlife crime, saying that the police do not consider it a low priority and if a wildlife crime is ongoing then it is perfectly in order to dial 999.

Circus_cyaneus_0 Luuk Belgers

And finally another stunning photo of a Hen Harrier, this time a male. The photo from the Internet Bird Collection was taken in the Netherlands by Luuk Belgers – why would anyone want to shoot a bird as beautiful as this?

Late July – early August 2015: the start of the autumn ringing season and a birthday on a boat.   Leave a comment

I haven’t uploaded anything to the blog since I reported on our week in East Anglia, Leeds and Derbyshire as I have been very busy preparing for the main bird ringing season.

Although we ring birds throughout the year, the maximum activity both from the birds and from the ringers is in the ‘autumn’ period from mid July to mid November. Many people roll their eyes when you describe late July as ‘autumn’ with comments like ‘we haven’t even had summer yet’ but if you’re to describe the northbound birds in March, April and May as being on spring migration, then the south bound movement which can start as early as June and is well underway by mid to late July must be the autumn migration. Indeed in early June late northbound migrants like Sanderling and some Reed Warblers can overlap with southbound ones like Green Sandpipers.

As July progresses local breeders leave their natal area and disperse and the first long distant passerine migrants like Sedge and Willow Warblers reach our sites. To continue to monitor the numbers and movements of these birds we need to be ready.

IMG_6258 FLC net ride1

The first thing that needs to be done is to clear all our ringing areas of several months of bramble, black thorn, fern, gorse and nettle growth. In some locations a strimmer can be used in others local regulations mean it has to be done with a pair of shears. This net ride is at our Fleets Lane site in Poole.

IMG_6269 Garden Warbler 3

July/August is the most fascinating time of the year for the ringer as young birds have either to start/are undergoing/or have completed the post-juvenile moult and adults are undergoing a full or partial moult depending on moult strategy of the species concerned. This 1st year Garden Warbler has undergone it’s partial post-juvenile moult before migrating and will undergo a complete moult during the winter in Africa. This species is very much the exception in the Sylvid babblers (members of this genus have been shown to be babblers and are not related to other warblers at all) as adults also have a complete moult in Africa. In almost all of the other Sylvias adults have a complete moult before migrating and hence have fresh plumage just like 1st year birds, making ageing more tricky.

IMG_6273 juv male Blackcap

Another common Sylvid babbler is the Blackcap. Juveniles of both sexes have dark brown crowns and the black cap of the male only appears during the post-juvenile moult. This is thought to be an evolutionary strategy that prevents the adult male treating his own sons as rivals.

IMG_6263 juv Blackcap wing

A partial post-juvenile moult means that the bird replaces body feathers on the head, body and on some or all of the wing coverts but not the primaries, secondaries or tail. Often the primary coverts and one or more of the outer greater coverts remain unmoulted as can be seen in this Blackcap. After the moult is complete careful evaluation of the contrast between (in this case) the single unmoulted outer greater covert and the new inner ones will allow this bird to be aged as a 1st year until it has a full moult at this time in 2016.

IMG_6254 Gt Spot juv wing

To show how complicated this moult business is, take a look at this juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker (you will have to take my word that it has the red crown of a juvenile). Although it is only a few months old it is already undergoing a full moult with four outer primaries still to be replaced, the 5th growing and the rest completed. Strangely in its 1st year this species moults either none or some (but not all) of its primary coverts, so in the spring the primaries are fresh and the coverts are abraded.

IMG_6337 Lytchett Bay

This time of year is by far the best for ringing at our rather muddy site at Lytchett Bay. Reed and Sedge Warblers are present in abundance and there is always a remote possibility of the ringing the globally endangered Aquatic Warbler that passes through in very small numbers.

IMG_6261 Kingfisher

As well as Acrocepahalus warblers we also ring small numbers of Kingfishers every autumn. These birds move down the rivers to the estuaries after breeding. Usually only one or two are present at the site but up to twelve are been ringed annualy showing an ongoing migration. We often catch a bird we have ringed in previous years and one of our birds was re-trapped in Totten, Southampton.

IMG_6339 Kingfisher

Kingfishers can be aged by the colour of the upper surfaces of their (tiny) feet, smoky in 1st years, orange in adults. The colour of the base of the lower mandible can be used to sex them, orange tones in females (in this photo) and black in males (as in the previous photo), although this difference is more marked in adults.

IMG_6340 Lytchett fields

The RSPB has been managing some of the fields at Lytchett Bay and has built a view-point overlooking one of the ponds and has just installed an information board ….

IMG_6341 no pubic access

…. on exactly the same day that Wessex Water put up this sign on the lane that leads to the viewpoint (and to their water treatment works). Talk about a lack of joined up thinking!

IMG_6276 Bearded Tit LH

On the other side of Lytchett Bay is Lytchett Heath, an area owned by Dorset Wildlife Trust. We have permission to ring on the heath and nearby reedbeds. A busy morning last week resulted in the capture of over 100 birds including this male Bearded Tit. This is another bird of uncertain affinities, it certainly isn’t a tit, it has been allied with the Asian parrotbills, but now resides in a family of its own. It’s English name is also controversal, not a tit, so the name Bearded Reedling has been used, but it’s not ‘bearded’ either. I suppose Moustached Reedling would be a step too far.

IMG_6278 juv Redstart

The most surprising bird at our Lytchett Heath session was this Common Redstart in full juvenile plumage. Birds are not thought to migrate until they have almost completed their post-juvenile moult, so this bird probably hatched nearby. Although relatively numerous in the New Forest, this is a scarce breeder in Dorset, for example the 2011 Dorset Bird Report mentions just three sites, seven singing males and four fledged young for the whole county.

IMG_6280 juv Redstart LH

The name of the 14 Old World species of redstart, is derived from the colour of their tail, the Old English for tail being ‘steort’. Pioneer ornithologists in America found an unrelated bird (now classified as a New World Warbler) with red in the tail and called it American Redstart, but the name ‘redstart’ was carried over to a multitude of related warblers in the Neotropics, all of which have white not red in the tail. Recent attempts to rename these Neotropical warblers as ‘whitestarts’ has met with ambivalence.

IMG_6282 Poole Quay

In complete contrast to my early morning and muddy ringing sessions we attended a lovely birthday celebration hosted by our friend, fellow birder and moth-er from Swanage, Phyl England.

IMG_6287 Phyl and Paul

Phyl, here seen with Paul Morton, is celebrating her 80th, yes 80th birthday!

IMG_6300 Phyl's birthday cruise

Of course, as the hired Brownsea ferry cruised around the islands of Poole Harbour, we celebrated in the traditional manner.

IMG_6294 Brownsea castle

I was expecting that we would sail around the back of Brownsea, past the castle and the lagoon and return to Poole Quay ….

IMG_6297 South Haven

…. but instead we went past the Haven Hotel and out of the harbour mouth ….

IMG_6307-Old-Harry

…. towards the rock pinnacles of Old Harry.

IMG_6309 Old Harry

Indeed we went so far past Old Harry that we wondered if Phyl and her family had arranged to be dropped off at Swanage.

IMG_6311 Moon rise

Expecting a mainly social event, I had only brought my pocket camera so I couldn’t do justice to this beautiful red moonrise.

IMG_6323 Sandbanks ferry

It was almost dark by the time we passed the Studland ferry re-entered the harbour.

IMG_6326 full moon

…. and with the full moon shining on the water ….

IMG_6329 Poole Quay at night

…. we got back to Poole Quay about 2220. Thank you very much for a lovely evening Phyl.

IMG_6350 Janis and Kitzie

And finally Margaret’s daughter Janis has been looking after this little dog, Kitzie, for a friend.

IMG_6342 M and Kitzie1

I’m not much of a dog person, but have to admit that he was quite endearing (and no, we have no plans to get one).