Saturday, February 26, 2011

Variation in spring Aquatic Warblers

Both adult and immature Aquatic Warblers undergo a complete moult on their wintering grounds, so any variation shows by birds in spring is likely unrelated to age. All birds photographed in Catalonia in April 2010.

Bird 1:

Bird 2:

Bird 3:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Garden ringing

Back in Liverpool this weekend, hectically trying to sort out far too many things in too short a space of time. I wanted to try out my new 'super fine' mistnet though so opened it up in the garden for a few hours this afternoon. Within 10 minutes, it had caught 4 birds - a Blackbird, a Goldfinch, a Blue Tit, and a surprise male Blackcap (below - a 2cy that had undergone a fairly extensive post-juvenile moult).

Things quietened down after that though with only three more birds caught: another Blackbird, a Dunnock, and a Robin. All new birds, although sightings did include both the Robin and the Blackbird ringed last year, a ringed Wren, which is presumably the bird ringed at Christmas, and a ringed Goldfinch.

Friday, February 18, 2011

White City Waxwings

Another impromptu Waxwing twitch today, this time in better light and with the camera. Fifty-six birds in total, hanging out behind the BBC television centre. They spent most of their time sat high in a tall tree, occasionally dashing down to a patch of roadside bushes to feed. Footage obtained, although reasonable, was made up of multiple brief clips as the birds raided the berry crop. Here's a minute of the best bits cobbled together:

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I noticed these pop up on the British Birds website this afternoon: a taster of a potential new feature in BB. The idea is to bring you an insight into the lives of key figures in modern-day ornithology, by posing a standard set of questions – some serious, some less so. Not being a key figure in modern-day ornithology and thus unlikely to have my version published in BB, but still keen to give it a go, I thought I'd post my answers here for an insight into my life. Or possibly not.

Stephen Menzie Stephen has been interested in birds for as long as he can remember. He is a keen ringer and has a particular interest in moult, ageing and identification. He graduated in 2009 from University of Liverpool with a BSc(hons) in microbiology before moving out to Spain for three months to work as a ringer in the Aiguamolls Natural Park, Catalonia. Stephen now lives in west London where he works as a producer for BirdGuides.

What’s your earliest memory? Lots of muddled-up early memories; hard to tell which is the earliest. I guess being lifted up by my granddad so I could see over a wall and watch the traffic on the M62 about 5 miles away. I remember being fascinated by the way the cars twinkled in the sun and can't have been more than a couple of years old.

What was your first job? For many many years I was a paperboy. But one of those paperboys with a trolley and 500 papers to deliver, rather than a cool paperboy with a bag on a bike. Then I decided I was too old to be a paperboy, quit, and went and got a job in a pasty shop. I didn't like it much there, worked one weekend shift and quit... then went back to delivering papers.

How and when did you get into birds? I've been told that as a toddler I used to sit at the patio window and watch the birds outside. My family were encouraging and had a passing interest in birds themselves, at least enough to put feeders outside the window and teach me the difference between Blue and Great Tits and male and female House Sparrows (daddy sparrow has a bib, mummy sparrow has an eyebrow); it grew from there.

Who are your heroes and why? Do fictional characters count? If so, Jedis, I guess. For their fighting skills, their cold-hearted lack of emotion, and cool gowns they wear.

What’s the biggest conservation challenge/priority in your country today? Money: lack of; constant quest for.

What would get more kids interested in birds? Not trying to make birding cool; it's not, and kids know it's not.

What are your views on reintroductions? For globally threatened species, sure, go for it... but make sure it's done good and proper with the right subspecies and all of that; for locally threatened species, and especially for species that are on the edge of their natural range anyway, don't bother.

When did you last use a notebook? Erm, far too long ago... Interesting sightings get blogged; counts and notes go into my iPhone. I'm currently 'in the process' of purchasing a notebook to get back into the habit.

What was your best day’s birding? Probably not the best by most people's standards but I always remember by first ever trip to Spurn. I had about 12 lifers that day, ranging from Eider and Sooty Shearwater to Yellow-browed Warbler. It was my first ever experience of what a fall could be like and I can still remember the excitement of seeing my first Short-eared Owl pass by at close range.

What do you listen to in the car? Radio 1, or Vampire Weekend. I do own other CDs but I'm too lazy to change it.

Where and when would your ideal birdwatching day be? Northeast Catalonia in late April.

What bird species would you like to see most? I always said if a Masked Shrike turned up in Britain I'd travel any distance do see it. One did turn up, and I did travel to see it; it was a crappy dull juvenile and it was a complete let-down. So, adult male Masked Shrike still remains high on my list.

If you could go back in time, where and when would you go? May 2010, Aiguamolls, Catalonia. I really want to find out where I left my walking boots.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Getting out of bed in time to be in work by 9.

How do you relax? Watching trashy American teen-drama aimed at lower-than-average IQ tweens.

What keeps you awake at night? If I knew that, I probably wouldn't have so many sleepless nights.

What book would you take on a cruise? Cruise? Is that like some sort of pelagic?

What is your favourite quote? "Being English isn't about hate. It's about disgust. We're all disgusting." (Damon Albarn/Blur - Me, White Noise)

What are you doing to save the planet? Not having kids and not owning a dog.

Friday, February 11, 2011

pallidiceps BOWA

Reading this blog post the other day, I was struck by how different North American Bohemian Waxwings looked compared to birds over here in Europe.

pallidiceps Bohemian Waxwing, swiped from Dave Brown without permission

The most striking feature is the orange forehead and lower malar... but is this just an illusion? I'm not sure the orange is any brighter than on European birds - though I think it might be less extensive - but the body is certainly a lot greyer, which creates a higher degree of contrast and makes the orange look brighter, strikingly so. The greyer body plumage also seems to create less of a contrast between the wing coverts and the secondaries. To my eyes, the crest - at least in these few photos - looks shorter and 'less full' than European birds, even taking into account these birds being second-year (immature) birds. They have a more westerly distribution than Cedar Waxwing but, given their eruptive nature, I guess one in the WP isn't completely out of the question. A nice, uh-hum, "insurance tick".

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Waxwings in Acton

An impromptu trip out of the office this afternoon to take a look at a flock of Waxwings that had pitched up half a mile away, and introduce our app developer to the delights(?) of twitching. Admittedly a 5 minute journey followed by being the only people there and viewing the birds from the car probably isn't the most authentic introduction to twitching, but even so.
About 35 birds in total, they spent most of their time high on an aerial, diving down to raid a berry bush by the side of the road.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


There's a pattern emerging here. Three weeks of nothing followed by a trip to Hampshire. And usually in horribly blustery conditions.
Yesterday was no exception. I had agreed to take Ethan Kistler birding in the UK on his stop-over between the USA and South Africa. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't playing ball. First stop on our way west was at Wraysbury gravel pits. A 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull and a good collection of diving duck were the highlights.
Next up was Pennington Marshes where we had nice views of Black-tailed Godwits and (Dark-bellied) Brent Geese but not a lot else. Stopping off at a couple of roadside sites, we added things like Redwing and Fieldfare to our day list.
The New Forest heathland was bleak and completely birdless. Thankfully Blashford was slightly more productive with Bramblings, Lesser Redpolls, (Eurasian) Siskins etc brightening up proceedings. No sign of the Bittern on Ivy Lake, though a Water Rail showed briefly and the Great (White) Egret dropped in from a great height to land in front of the hide.

On Ibsley Water there was the usual collection of wildfowl including plenty of Goosander and a male Duddy Rook.
Talking of Rooks, we didn't see one all day. Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Bullfinch and Mistle Thrush were also conpicious by the absence. Target species for Ethan's next visit to Europe, I guess...