Thursday, June 30, 2011


I read a comment this afternoon that got me thinking about counting.

The highlight [at Spurn on 28th June] was 3 ALPINE SWIFT sightings during the day, and it asks the question is it just the same bird going round? Well we can’t prove anything but we think there probably were three different birds today as there was a very heavy passage of Common Swifts moving south during the day. 8,000 flew south, flying low, direct and straight towards Lincolnshire, with no birds appearing to be u-turning.
I've always been dubious of counts that involve a stream of passing birds, largely through personal experience. I remember once being at Portland with two friends. They were seawatching from the obs balcony one evening. Manx Shearwaters were passing by at a reasonable pace - all close inshore and all heading left-to-right. I was jotting down numbers as they called them out every five or ten minutes. "8... 30... 15... 17... 9... 32... 16... 16... 8... 27... 15... 15... 9... 31..." and so on. There was clearly a pattern emerging. I grabbed one of the scopes, pointed it a few degrees higher and told my friends to watch what was happening further out to sea. There were Manx Shearwaters, all heading right-to-left; first a flock of about 8 birds, then a flock of about 30, then about 15, then about 16. The same four flocks were flying round in a big anticlockwise circle. Had we not looked further out to sea, the total count could have been nearing four-figures by dusk!
I've heard of this thing happening to other people too: a partially leucistic bird seen several times over a morning's seawatch, despite the fact the it was always seen flying one way and never seen to fly back the other way; and other similar stories.

So what of the Spurn swifts? It strikes me that the '8,000 Common Swift' argument might be slightly flawed; what if there were only 2,600 (8,000 ÷ 3) Common Swifts and they all went round in a big loop three times, each time bringing the same Alpine Swift with them?

I know I'm saying 'only' like 2,600 swifts is an insignificant number but the principle should stand that dividing the total number of swifts by three acts to divide the probability of three Alpine Swifts by three. And a big loop with birds flying through Grimsby and back over the Humber further up wouldn't require individuals to U-turn for them to be double (triple) counted. That's my rather sceptical take on it, anyway; I'm more than happy to receive angry comments from East Yorkshire locals pointing out why my theory is completely and utterly wrong!

And as for vis'migging and the difference between a bird that's actively migrating and one that just happens to be flying over... Don't get me started on that topic!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


from Acton, Greater London, UK
Here is a bitch.

bitch [bich]
- noun
1. a female dog
2. slang
a. a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman
b. a lewd woman
3. a butterfly twitch

And here is what they are bitching.

A Purple Emperor.

There are some things about Purple Emperor that are worth knowing, one of which takes me back to about an hour prior to the above photo. Purple Emperors spend a lot of their time in the treetops but on sunny days they come down to lap up minerals from the woodland floor; they seek out the best source of minerals they possibly can. Banana skins are good; so is dog excrement; and so is decaying flesh. We didn't have any bananas with us, nor did we have a dog (or its excrement). However, keen-eyed Max, somewhere along the A45, spotted a roadkill fox. An unscheduled stop later and we had an extra passenger in the back of the car.

Sadly(?), the body was extremely fresh and lacked the degree of seepage needed to entice down thirsty butterflies and so young Master Brush remained in the car whilst we headed off into Fermyn Woods. We needn't have worried though as we soon found a crowd of people huddled around Purple Emperor that had come down to the path of its own accord; no carcases needed. Further on round we found several more, which we had all to ourselves.

I also had the chance to try out a new app on my iPhone. 360 panorama. It pretty much does what it says on the tin. Click on the photo below for a full all-the-way-round view of (an admittedly actually quite dull-looking) Fermyn Woods.

Other butterflies around the wood included a Silver-washed Fritillary and several White Admirals. Birds included a Raven, plenty of Marsh Tits (heard but not seen), some Red Kites, a Yellowhammer, a Yellow Wagtail, and the usual woodland stuff.

And in the afternoon... if you go looking to buy a Sunday Times in west London this afternoon, well, good luck!

The cover story - T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land for iPad - is a project that all four of us in the car have been involved in in some way or other and we needed copies to send to various people, frame, etc. By 'some way or other' I mean that two of the four are co-founders of Touch Press, one of the four worked extremely hard on the proof-reading and marketing for the app, and one of the four (umm, that would be me) edited a promo video... Which, by the way, if you have Sunday Times on your iPad or access to the website, you can watch.

And what of the fox? He's currently in refrigeration, on his way to playing a starring roll in Touch Press's up-and-coming Skulls app.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Blogging on location

from Box Hill, Surrey, UK
I'm testing out a new app I've installed on my iPad. It should give me the ability to update my blog from wild and remote locations. Like Box Hill National Trust reserve, Surrey.

I suspect the formatting might be a bit iffy - I can't find any way to have pictures right centred but not text-wrapped; and they automatically upload at 281 pixels wide unless you manually change each one individually. But anyway. Enough about the app and more about tonight. I've never been to Box Hill before but it seems like a lovely place. I had a quick scout around before dusk; a family party of Long-tailed Tits and a female Green Woodpecker yaffelling away angrily at a Red Fox were the highlights.

Back in the car park, it was all far too civilised. We had candles, wine and delicious salad...

We nearly had escargot too, but apparently you have to feed them lettuce for a week before you can eat them. Which got me thinking, what if you fed them chillies, or pineapple; would they come preflavoured?

As the sun set, the International Space Station passed overhead.

Either that or there's a pixel blown in my camera.

Exciting moths included this V-pug:

And this Small Elephant Hawk-moth:

We also found a Glow-worm, thugh sadly by the time we'd got it back to the car it had stopped glowing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Barn Swallow x House Martin hybrid

from Acton, Greater London, UK
This (presumed) Barn Swallow x House Martin hybrid was trapped and ringed on the evening of 8th May 2010 as it came into roost at dusk with a flock of Barn Swallows at Aiguamolls Natural Park, Catalunya, Spain.

The feathered legs are a trait inherited from the House Martin side of the bird's family tree:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the lack of anything more interesting to say...

Here's something that was published six or so months ago in the BTO's Ringers' Bulletin.

I'm not sure how these things work with copyright etc, so here's hoping the BTO don't come chasing after me with a big pointy stick.

Whilst I was ringing in Catalonia, Cetti's Warbler was one of the bread-and-butter species in the nets, which gave me plenty of chance to study the subtleties of ageing them. Due to space restraints, the above article is a slightly shorter version of what I'd originally written; I may, one day, put the fuller (and considerably more illustrated) version online somewhere. Because, as M.I.A. once sang, I've got more hot wings than the KFC so, er, no funny business.

Friday, June 10, 2011

van Duivendijk

Great excitement this morning when this was plonked on my desk*:

A full review will appear sometime between now and the start of August but, briefly, it's got an extra 50 species compared to 'the blue version', some clever comparison tables, and (according to the back cover) "includes significant updates to more than 570 species accounts. Oh, and it's a lot bigger!

*Read: wrestled out of FB's hands before she'd even had time to remove it from its packaging.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Red-flanked Blacktail

There's plenty of questions I'd like to ask about this bird, though I won't for fear of receiving a sharp blow to the back of the head with a pair of ringing pliers. What I would like to know though is, does that message really say what I think it says?

I don't know if I should laugh or pack my bags and move away from this messed up country as soon as I can...

Friday, June 03, 2011

More hypnorum

A bit of ringing in the garden this evening produced a trio of juvenile Greenfinches and a juvenile Great Tit - the adult birds seem to have become wise to the position of the nets.
Here's a juvenile male Greenfinch:

And here's a juvenile female:

Also in the garden was this queen Bombus hypnorum, sunning herself on a tree trunk.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Garden ringing

I was up (too) early this morning to do a bit of pre-work ringing. I set up a 9 m mistnet aiming to catch passerines; imagine my surprise when I looked out of the window to find an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull thrashing around in the net! Not what you expect to catch in a small suburban garden surrounded by trees... Sadly though, despite sprinting out the door, the gull managed to free itself just before I got to the net.

More expected totals from today consisted of eight Long-tailed Tit, four Greenfinch, two Starlings, two Goldfinch, a Blue Tit, a Great Tit, and a juvenile male House Sparrow.