Saturday, December 31, 2011


It's been a funny year, I think; I say 'I think' because I can't actually remember most of it.  Being in the office, birding abroad, and seeing nothing at Barnes are recurring themes.  I worked out that this year I've spent over 30 hours sitting on a plane and over 48 hours sitting in airports waiting to sit on said planes. The upside, though: I've had the chance to go to some great places and meet some fantastic people.

It started in March with a trip to Eilat. I was like a kid in a candy shop, ticking off practically every species whose distribution is limited to longitudes east of Lowestoft. My adventures at the Eilat Bird Migration Festival, in the form of a video diary, are only here.

In September I headed east again, this time to Georgia. My Georgia 2011 trip report is, er, in prep.—I'll write it up one day, I promise!

Then I was off again, this time to Portugal to spend a fantastic week birding the south of the country with João Jara. There's a write-up of my week online here.

I finished the year back in Israel, this time in the north of the country. Fewer ticks this time round but still the same top class quality birding. An overview of my week at the Hula Valley Bird Festival is online here.

And at various points in between times:

I visited the top of Tower 42, London;

took Sir David Attenborough's nose off with a clapper board;

saw some dragonflies;

(yes, I know that one's technically a damselfly)

and some butterflies;

got anal over Woodpigeon moult;

and ate sushi.

That is all. Vive la 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Otterspool promenade

Per madre, there were "hundreds of seagulls" at Otterspool prom yesterday; probably a result of the high tide, strong winds and lashing rain pushing the birds up onto the grass and keeping the dog walkers at home.  It was still bucketing down today, which suited Otterspool gull watching just fine—you can watch from the car—so I headed down there for an hour after lunch.

The wind had dropped today and, despite the rain, there were several dog walkers out and about doing what dog walkers do best: walking obliviously through flocks of roosting gulls and Oystercatchers.  I did manage to find one adult Mediterranean Gull at the far end, though, which came close enough to the car to warrant getting the D-SLR out.

Despite the grim conditions and the dull light, I quite like this shot.

Another adult Med Gull was on the playing fields along with two Curlew and four Mistle Thrushes.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Foul weather birding

I wanted to test out my 'new' coat (new in the sense that I bought it in November 2010 but it still had the label on it) and my new trousers (new in the sense that I bought them in the sales yesterday), and what better way to test them than to head down to Moore in conditions that were, as my nanna would say, not fit to turn a dog out in?

Here's a Long-tailed Tit taking advantage of the tail wing:

Talking of Long-tailed Tits... I was checking through a Long-tailed Tit flock that was slowly making its way along the edge of the wood a) looking for something, anything, that wasn't a Long-tailed Tit—a Common Treecreeper was the best I could muster—and b) looking at variation in head pattern and, on close birds, leg colour. Activity b) is a sort of work in progress crackpot theory currently based on observation of three individuals in the hand; but anyway, that is, for now, by-the-by. As I was looking through the flock, I clapped eyes on a very pale-headed individual; or, more correctly, an individual with a greatly reduced lateral crown stripe.  More-or-less somewhere between 1 and 2:
Artwork by Szabolcs Kókay from Dutch Birding 30:5

It was quite striking really but, despite staying with the flock for about twenty minutes, I only ever managed to see the bird twice (including the initial sighting); and both times it was for just long enough to register the head pattern, then it would flit off and melt away. No chance to check out the rest of the bird's plumage. Could the lateral crown stripe on rosaceus ever be so thin or might this bird be europaeus? How common is europaeus in the UK? According to this it's a BBRC description taxon but is that just because no one looks at Long-tailed Tits unless they have a snowball head? The Migration Atlas lists a ringing record of one bird (race, as far as I'm aware, undetermined) that was ringed in October in Norfolk and recaught the following September in Belgium; that is—or was up to 2002 at least; I'm unaware of any records since that would change that status*—the only international recovery, with no records of birds coming 'the other way'.  That's not to say, of course, this bird wasn't of Continental stock, arrived in Norfolk to spend the winter, was ringed and then headed back home to Belgium.

Anyway, an interesting bird, the Moore bird. Kind of like a poor man's caudatus.  Eventually the birds headed higher into the trees where they became backlit and hard to track, so I headed off to look at some gulls.


There were also 21 Grey Herons lined up on the leeward side of the island.  Two 1cy birds:

One, I guess, 2cy bird:
The retained (juvenile?) greater coverts are pretty obvious, worn and brown as they are; the wispy black crown feathers were rather short, too. But according to the (surprisingly scant) literature, the forehead should be grey.  Hmm...

And 18 birds that appeared to be adults (3+cy):
Also with a couple of unmoulted greater coverts? But lacking the obvious contrast shown by the presumed 2cy bird above. You might have to look close.

And the best news of all: despite the torrential rain and howling gale, I stayed as dry as a bone and snug as a bug.  Country Innovation and Craghoppers are to be congratulated.

*Edit (30-12-2011): There has been a record of birds coming into the country; three birds ringed in Belgium on 10th October 2001 were subsequently recaught in Essex on 21st of the same month—thanks for Mark Grantham; details at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


And the resulting damage:

It's the Christmas holidays—whoop whoop—and that means one thing: catching up with all the stuff that's been piling up waiting to be done for the last six months.  With today pretty much being my only free day this week, and with it being dry, I took the chance to head down to Woolston Eyes.  Thirty birds were caught around the feeders with the above Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Lesser Redpoll being the best of the bunch.  Sightings included two Yellowhammers flying over, a couple of Goldcrests, Redwings etc, and big numbers of Woodpigeons (one flock of 500+) passing overhead.  Also two Wrens ringed, both first-year birds.

Note moult limit in greater coverts:

Sunday, December 04, 2011

London Wetland Centre

It was back to birding with a bump today; not a single Common Crane, Pied Kingfisher or Laughing Dove seen. Nevertheless, there were a few niceties at London Wetland Centre. Nicest of the niceties was this Jack Snipe on the wader scrape:

Also present: a Common Snipe, a drake Shelduck, two drake Pintail, 11 Stock Dove, three Egyptian Geese, some Wigeon, a pair of Stonechats, and a mixed flock of Goldfinch, Siskin & Lesser Redpoll.

Most interesting was a Goldcrest giving sub-/plastic-song.  It gave the recognisably Goldcrest 'cyclic' song but often finished the phrase with a Robin-like warble.  Occasionally it would just warble like a Robin; occasionally it would give a Blue Tit-like phrase; occasionally both strung together.  It was feeding constantly, never pausing and never opening its bill.  I managed to get a very short recording of the bird by thrusting my phone at it—short because, not surprisingly, on thrusting my phone into the bush it flew out the other side.  I haven't amplified the recording so you might want to turn up the volume.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival roundup

I've cobbled together the best (hmm) of the footage, cunningly grabbed half a dozen festival attendees to do some talking (so I don't have to), and put together this short piece showcasing some of the birds, some of the mammals, and a bit of the art at last week's Hula Valley Bird Festival. With apologies for shaky footage and even shakier sound.

And there's also a short(ish) article on BirdGuides detailing the week with a collection of pictures.  Click >here< to view.

On the subject of British Eagle Owls

I think most people know my rather right-wing views on Eagle Owls in the UK.

You might want to pause it at 6 seconds; after that it gets a bit irrelevant (unless escaped Eagle Owls have set up a pension fund).

But, just to add some weight to argument against "birds without jesses etc (possibly) being of wild origin"; as if all the proper scientific stuff in British Birds wasn't enough:

I was sent some images this afternoon by my granddad of an Eagle Owl at The Barn Owl Centre in Gloucester.
He's called Kaln and flies without jesses, rings, &c, which makes him a delight for those professional photographers who prefer 'controlled' situations.
So there you go—an Eagle Owl of known (captive) origin with no physical signs of captivity. Food for thought.