Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Over And Out

This blog stays well clear of party politics apart from occasionally noting that politicians know or care little about the environment or birds in general, but will answer a question or give an opinion with clichés or words they think a questioner wants to hear. There are no votes in birds. 

The referendum of 23rd June is slightly different by giving ordinary people a chance to decide whether the UK should either leave or stay in the European Union. There is a clear choice based not along traditional party lines of left, right or centre, but on how people feel about being part of the EU. No one should feel obliged to vote how their usual party allegiance tells them. 

Supposedly there are 500 bird species protected by the EU Wild Birds Directive, but it has achieved little or nothing for once common birds like the Cuckoo, the Curlew, the Lapwing, the Turtle Dove, the Skylark, the Yellowhammer, the Corn Bunting or the Yellow Wagtail. They are all in serious decline as seen in my own local area during the past 30+ years. A vast amount of public money has been wasted, misspent or worse, in thousands of funded agri-environment schemes that are not adequately checked or controlled with the result that most of the schemes produce no meaningful increases in our UK wildlife. 

Turtle Dove - declined 88% since 1995 

Common Cuckoo- declined +49%

 Lapwing - declined +55%

Yellow Wagtail - declined +43%

Corn Bunting - declined +50%

In the European Union there are theoretical constraints on the killing of migratory birds but hunting continues unabated as the EU shows itself unwilling or unable to stop the slaughter. The situation in the Mediterranean is appalling. Every year, from one end of it to the other, hundreds of millions of songbirds and larger migrants are killed for food, profit, sport, or general amusement. The killing is indiscriminate with heavy impact on species already battered by destruction or fragmentation of their breeding habitat. Mediterranean hunters shoot cranes, storks, and large raptors for which governments to the north have multimillion Euro conservation projects. 

All across Europe bird populations are in steep decline, and the slaughter in the Mediterranean is one of the causes. The French continue to eat Ortolan Buntings illegally, and France’s long list of “quarry” birds includes many struggling species of shorebirds. Songbird trapping is still widespread in parts of Spain where migratory thrushes are a particular target. Maltese hunters blast migrating raptors out of the sky. Cypriots harvest warblers on an industrial scale and consume them in platefuls of “ambelopoulia” (trapped birds) at €50/€60 a time in law-breaking restaurants. 

One of the most damaging implications of Britain joining the EU has been the effect on our fishing industry by the UK giving up its territorial waters and protected fishing areas to the EU. The results of this disastrous policy have been witnessed just a few miles down the road from here at Fleetwood, a once thriving fishing port. As with most policies emanating from the centralised elite in Brussels, the Common Fisheries Policy was a major disaster. After its introduction in 1970, the CFP has been synonymous with decline of our fish stocks, deterioration of the environment, wasteful discarding of fish and the destruction of Britain’s fishing industry and communities. 

I worry about the unfettered freedom of movement across Europe, mainly the movement of both legal and illegal migrants, an ongoing disaster played out on our television screens on an almost daily basis. The population of the UK has risen relentlessly until it is close to 60 million due to immigration and the inevitable baby boom. The British countryside can never ever recover from the trashing now taking place to cater for the ever growing population of this tiny island. Each day I pass more and more green fields consumed by yet more houses and roads as hedgerows and trees are destroyed to heap yet more pressure onto our beleaguered birds. 

Staying in or leaving Europe should depend on other issues. Perhaps even the notion of democracy? Britain has little or no say in decisions reached by the other 27 member states or the unelected EU Commissioners who have too much clout in deciding how the EU is run. I don’t fancy living in a huge socialist experiment called The United States of Europe. That is the next stage of the EU plan - to swallow the UK and others into an amorphous mass that can be controlled more easily by an unelected elite without due democratic process. 

Meanwhile youth unemployment in Southern Europe continues near 50%, Greek debt soars to $350 billion and other countries line up to demand a vote on leaving the failing EU.

I know the argument – better to stay and use our influence to change the EU for the better. Unfortunately, and just like the Titanic, the dying EU is heading for the rocks where it and all aboard will sink without trace. It’s time for Britain, the fifth richest nation in the world, to jump into a lifeboat and sail to calmer waters. 

The historic and important decision for each and every UK resident is one I took weeks ago by putting an “X” in the box marked “LEAVE” of my postal ballot. Yes, I have already voted in the EU Referendum. I want OUT.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Upland Birding

I journeyed across the moss and in the half-light saw 2 Barn Owls and at least two Kestrels waiting for dawn to bring breakfast. Singing Song Thrushes seemed to greet me at every hedgerow, garden, spinney and wood. I hope our Song Thrush has had a good year - it certainly sounded like it this morning. 

"Click the pics" for a trip to the hills.

Song Thrush

Just for a change I was heading for the Bowland hills today, hoping to get some photographs of upland birds. Unfortunately the light was poor as it often is 1000ft above sea level. Never mind, there was a great selection of birds to see with one or two nice surprises, including brief views of a Ring Ouzel and then later on finding a Snipe nest. 


Two of the commonest and most obvious species this morning were Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits with good numbers of each on almost every stretch of road. There are lots of stone walls and fences for birds to use as lookout posts .There were 10+ Grey Wagtails too with plenty of Willow Warblers, Goldfinches and Lesser Redpolls in roadside trees and plantations. I didn’t do an exact tally but reckoned on 50+ species, not bad for a morning’s work. 

Pied Wagtail

Meadow Pipit

The Grey Partridge is pretty much extinct where I live near the coast but maybe they do better up in the hills 15/20 miles away.

Grey Partridge

Most blog readers will know of the saga of Hen Harriers which mysteriously disappear from Bowland and other Pennine Hills localities every year. The same readers will know why the Red Grouse is a favourite bird of those who own the land and shooting rights up here while the Hen Harrier is mostly unloved. Walking miles into the heather uplands might just find a Hen Harrier, but far more likely is a that a Red Grouse will tell a walker to “go-back-go-back” for their own safety. We're in the hills, but that's cotton grass, not snow.

Red Grouse

The most common wader this morning was Oystercatcher with many pairs dotted around the fields and using the stone walls as vantage points. Next came Lapwing with at least a couple of dozen, all of them with well grown flying young, except for a single running youngster, a day or two off flight. Luckily I had my ringing box in the boot for the first Lapwing of the year. This year the species has all but disappeared from lowland haunts, and now clings on by a whisker or less. 




Curlews were in evidence with birds still displaying but none coming close enough for pictures. Likewise Redshanks, a once common bird in these damp uplands but now like the Curlew, a wader in decline. 

I got lucky with a Snipe that I discovered on a gate post. The bird flew off and landed about twenty yards away in a clump of long grass. Undeterred I drove back the same way about thirty minutes later to see the Snipe once again on one of the posts of the gateway. Unconcerned at my presence the Snipe preened a while, took a nap, looked around and generally gave the impression of taking time out. When she eventually fluttered back to the same grassy plot I knew she had a nest. Four eggs - nice one. 





Other birds today – Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Common Sandpiper, Greenfinch, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, House Martin, Sand Martin, Swallow, Swift, Blackbird, Siskin, Linnet, Woodpigeon, Stock Dove, Collared Dove , Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Robin, Wren, Dunnock etc., 

A good morning’s birding was had by all.

Linking today to Eileen's SaturdayWorld Bird Wednesday and Anni's Birding.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesday Wander

Mid-day and it’s raining for the rest of the day. It was as well I managed a few hours birding earlier at Conder Green in the morning when the birds were pretty much a repeat of a week ago. Well we are in the doldrums of June when nothing much is on the move. 

The Avocets continue to occupy the same island as the Common Terns, but while the Avocets are eminently watchable the terns are playing hard to get. That latter might suggest the terns are close to the eggs hatching. There was a single Great Crested Grebe again today. I watched it hanging around and submerging into quite shallow water near where the male Avocet fed, just like a week ago. I came to the conclusion that the grebe was cashing in on the way the swaying motion of the feeding Avocet stirs up food from below the surface. 

Although the grebe’s diet consists mainly of fish they will eat insects and larvae including dragonflies, beetles, water bugs, flies and moths; they also take frogs, tadpoles and newts. 

Great Crested Grebe

There are still 4 Tufted Duck and 15+ Shelduck around but no sign of ducklings for either. A pair of Oystercatchers still has 2 young and although a handful of Lapwings have been around most of the spring there’s still nothing to show for their presence. I didn’t see any young Redshanks either but there was an increase to 40+ today perhaps as a result of failed and non-breeders arriving from not too far away. 

Two Grey Herons and a single Little Egret made up the meagre quota of herons. Swallows and House Martins were about in tens while it made a change to see a few Swifts – six in all hawking around the hedgerow and the farm buildings. 

A walk around the road and railway circuit found warblers, finches and buntings in the shape and sound of 3 Whitethroat, 4 Sedge Warbler, 1 Blackcap, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Reed Warbler, 4 Reed Bunting, 3 Linnet, 2 Goldfinch and 2 Pied Wagtails. 

Sedge Warbler


Sedge Warbler

Reed Bunting

Sedge Warblers have an old name of “sedge nightingale” from their habit of singing in the dark, especially when newly arrived on territory in spring. Their chattering, reeling, unmusical song is nothing like the song of a Nightingale, not that we get to hear any Nightingales here in North West England. 

Glasson Dock was quiet apart from Blackcap, 2 Whitethroat and a Grey Heron heading out over the marsh. A Lesser Black-backed Gull hung around the car park but rain was not far away.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
There’s more soon from Another Bird Blog. Don’t forget to pay a visit.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and Run A Round Ranch.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Recent Recoveries, Oakenclough

I recently told blog readers about a Siskin ring number Z470850 that Andy and I ringed at Oakenclough on 23rd March 2016. Just 21 days later on 13 April 2016 it was recaptured near Fortrose, adjacent to the Moray Firth in the highlands of Scotland. 


Now comes along another similar Siskin recapture, ring number Z470846 (the same ring string as the above), ringed on the same day of 23rd March 2016. This Siskin was also recaptured by other ringers in Scotland, but this one at Abernyte, Perth & Kinross on 8 May 2016. The Moray Firth is 416 kms due north of Oakenclough whereas Perth and Kinrosss is 284 kms due north.
Siskin - Oakenclough to Moray Firth

Siskin - Oakenclough to Abernyte

As we hoped at the time of ringing good numbers of Siskins, there was a good chance that a few would be later found in Scotland or even further north. 


We also received from the BTO recovery details about a Lesser Redpoll and a Willow Warbler. 

A Lesser Redpoll carrying ring number D948673 was originally ringed as a first year, a juvenile, on 29th September 2014 at Woolston Eyes, Warrington, Cheshire by the Merseyside Ringing Group. We recaptured this bird at Oakenclough on 20th April 2016 when we were able to determine it as an adult female. The dates of ringing and recapture are both at the peak of migration timing of Lesser Redpolls but clearly we have no indication of where the bird was between times.

Lesser Redpoll - Woolston Eyes to Oakenclough

 Lesser Redpoll

A Willow Warbler carrying ring number HPH224 gave us a very interesting recovery. Originally the warbler had been caught on 18th August 2015 at Cissbury Ring, near Worthing, West Sussex by Steyning Ringing Group.

With a wing length of 67mm it could not be sexed but was safely aged as a bird of the year, a juvenile. Willow Warblers do not winter in the UK but make their way to Central Africa where they winter. We can be certain that in August this bird was about to cross the English Channel to France on the next stage of its long journey.

Willow Warbler -  Worthing to Oakenclough

We recaptured the Willow Warbler at Oakenclough on 20thApril 2016 when the by now adult wing length of 69mm allowed it to be be safely assigned as a male. A lack of visits to Oakenclough since April has meant we have been unable to find out if HPH224 stayed around to breed. Hopefully we’ll catch up with it soon and add another piece to the jigsaw.

Willow Warbler

It's raining today and I've still not completely recovered from my virus, but with luck there'll be news, views and photographs soon.

Check out the new header picture, an Oystercatcher at Pilling.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday  and   Anni's Birding.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Purple Patch

Conder Green has its detractors, including those who complain they “never see anything there”. Perhaps it’s the same people who visit just periodically, expect to see the scarce birds that sometimes turn up there but who neglect to take an interest in the common birds that are always around? 

Anyway the old place is going through something of a purple patch at the moment with a pair of Common Terns breeding for the third successive year, and now this year a pair of Avocets. Both events have caused visitor numbers to increase and it’s good to see the interest shown. 

The Common Terns and the Avocets are both nesting on the same distant island of the pool where the water levels are currently ideal for species that wish to nest. A pair of Oystercatchers had two good sized youngsters this morning with three or four other pairs looking as though they might do similar. 



A few lingering Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta were in Menorca just a few weeks ago where my pal Javier told me that the Spanish name for Avocet is “cusisacs”, which means “sack-sower”; the curved shape of its bill being similar to the traditional darning needles used to repair sacks. 

It has taken Avocets a good number of years to adopt Conder Green considering the recent healthy populations in Morecambe Bay and on the Ribble Marshes, plus the fact that the species is now a regular rather than a spasmodic spring migrant in these parts. Not so on 1st April 1983 when I discovered one feeding along Pilling shore, following which the sighting was met with some scepticism by those who thought it an April Fool prank. Birders don't design wind-ups about rare birds.

The pool was quite busy, especially so when a Barn Owl appeared to jolt others from their parental duties. A number of birds joined in the mobbing to see the owl off site, including both terns, the male avocet and a couple of Oystercatchers but the owl wasn’t for lingering as it had food to deliver. It’s a rubbish shot but tells the story of how birds react to predators on their patch.  I saw a second or the same Barn Owl an hour or so later, this time from the road bridge. 

Common Tern and Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Also on the pool/creeks - 15 Shelduck, 15 Redshank, 2 Wigeon, 6 Tufted Duck, 3 Lapwing, 1 Curlew, 3 Greylag, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron and a flying visit from 12 Black-tailed Godwit. 

That’s a pretty good list by any standard but it’s not done yet as a walk around the area discovered 3 Stock Dove, 15 House Martin, 12 Swallow, 4+ Linnet, 2 Goldfinch, 3 Sedge Warbler, 3 Reed Bunting, 2 Reed Warbler, 3 Whitethroat, 4 Greenfinch, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Meadow Pipit and 1 Blackcap. 

Sedge Warbler

House Martins were collecting mud from the creeks, definitely building at Four Winds and trying to do so at Café De Lune where of course the proprietors have declared the martins to be persona non grata and made great efforts to keep the birds at bay. 

It was while watching the martins that a number of Redshanks exploded noisily from the nearby creeks as a Hobby shot through my vision and disappeared over the trees behind. Thoughts of the martins forgotten I looked for the Hobby without much hope, elusive creatures as they are.


That was a pretty eventful and productive morning on the old patch. I should do that more often.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and  Run A Round Ranch.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book Review - Listening To A Continent Sing

Sorry folks, the blog is still mostly out of action. The evil little beast that wormed its way into my system two weeks ago has landed me with a bout of viral myalgia, not the best condition for walking the sea wall at Pilling. I’m taking the pills and with luck I should be back in full song soon. 

Meanwhile I’ve been “Listening To A Continent Sing”, a new and unusual idea for a bird book, and one just published by Princeton University Press. 

It’s a tale of a 10 week bicycle based birding journey through 10 states of the USA, coast to coast. The teller of the story is Donald Kroodsma an Emeritus professor of Ornithology at the University of Massachusetts, a man with half a lifetime study of birdsong to draw upon. 

This celebrated ornithologist chronicles his 10-week, leisurely cross-country cycling/birding trip with his 24-year-old son. It’s a journey taken at a relaxed pace and one which draws the reader in to join their periodic stops and take in not simply the birds but the landscape they pass through and the people they meet along the way. There are delightful black & white sketches throughout the book, vignettes which portray a part of each of the thirty plus chapters by way of the birds encountered, the journey itself or even the characters met along the way. 

Hence we are amused but understanding of the bicycles dripping in the rain as our intrepid duo wait for the storm to pass from the dry of their tiny tent. In Virginia we meet The Cookie Lady, a hero of hospitality to cyclists from 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, and in Colorado we learn that “If it’s Tuesday, it must be BINGO”.

In Virginia father and son stop to gaze upon the killing fields of the American Civil War where 80,000 Union and 80,000 Confederate troops fought each other and where Field Sparrows and Yellowthroats offer their laments to ancestors who bore witness to the senseless moods of man. 

Our twosome cruise through the Rockies, arms held high to the sheer majesty of the mountains and the reader is lifted again by the author who hears Fanfare for the Common Man as his bicycle steers itself downhill. There are lots of such moments in this book. The author may be first and foremost known for his ornithology but he is also a man of words, and Listening To A Continent Sing” is an accomplished travelogue written with great style which makes for an enjoyable and highly entertaining read. It is a book to be enjoyed by birders or non-birders alike. 

Throughout the text are QR codes where the reader can break off and link to one of the 381 birdsong audios described during legs of the journey. I found this to be impractical, probably as a result of becoming engrossed in the story and the evocative writing and thereby missing the relevant code. I found it much more satisfactory to visit the accompanying web site Listening To A Continent Sing  where I could choose to listen by number, listen by state, listen by species, or my particular favourite, and a valuable learning tool, listen to the dawn chorus. 

This hardback book from Princeton University Press is now on general release and priced at $29.95 or £22.95 and I recommend it to readers of Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Blog.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Memory Lane Menorca

It’s been a rubbish week. Laid low with a vicious bug, lethargy has been the order of the day. I’ve barely eaten a thing, spent 10 hours at a time in bed and struggled to leave the house. Even the thought of a glass of wine has left me cold. 

But now it’s time to shake off the self-pity and head off to Menorca for the last time this year. It’s a journey we make each year to Punta Nati, a remote, unforgiving and brutal landscape of rocks and field after field of moonscape with dwarf vegetation but where speciality birds abound. Don't forget to "click the pics" for better images.

We left our hotel soon after breakfast, found our way to the Me1 and joined the commuter run to Ciutadella, Menorca’s second city. The Ronda, the Ring Road, skirts the busy city where with luck we’d find the purple signpost that would send us to the parallel world of Punta Nati just ten minutes from the old world charms of Ciutadella. 

I pulled the car into the barely possible parking spot, the wing mirror just a whisker from the stone wall. The old fellow came out to greet us as he always does and explained again in zero English how the Cattle Egret colony here is the only one for many miles, maybe even the only one in Menorca. In my best zero Spanish I nodded in agreement and motioned with the camera that a few shots later we’ll be on our way and leave the egrets to their squawking family squabbles and bad hair days. 

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Towards the point Bee Eaters were on the move, circling high in the sky, resting on overhead wires and bubbling out their unforgettable contact calls. There’s urgency in their excited calls. Some drift off, others move closer together before as a group their calls grow more eager and they’re off as one, specks in the sky and heading over the lighthouse, over the Med and towards Europe. 



Punta Nati

The calls of larks, buntings and pipits are constant as all seem to be in the throes of breeding. Searching for food, looking out for their nests, warning of predators or snatching a song; it’s all in a day’s work where the dry atmosphere and unrelenting sunshine takes its toll on a bird’s plumage. 

Thekla Lark

Short-toed Lark

Tawny Pipit

Tawny Pipit

Corn Bunting

Towards the lighthouse we eventually found a pair of Blue Rock Thrush, the calls of the male leading us to the spot where the pair lived. A Kestrel watched us as we went, the species is a common sight dashing across the bare fields and where there are more than enough vantage points. Red Kites lazed through the skies, their twisty tails a delight to watch in the remarkable blue of a Menorca sky. 

Punta Nati

Red Kite


An hour or two later the trippers arrive, fresh from their tourist maps looking for something to do, something to see, a little excitement on a sunny day. But unless they are into birds, and very few are, there’s little for to do except walk without purpose to the lighthouse and back, trample over unforgiving terrain along coastal paths and maybe sprain an ankle. Most give up at the sheer desolation of the place, jump back in their shiny hire cars and probably vow never again to visit Punta Nati. 

We’ve had our fun, seen some great birds, laughed at a few German tourists with their huge knapsacks and knobbly white knees but we kept the secret of Punta Nati. Now it’s time for a trip to the busy city ten minutes away. 

We park in the main square for all of two Euros and head to some favourite watering holes. 


The Aurora


The Harbour - Ciutadella

Ciutadella is a fabulous place, a working Spanish city which remains untainted by the tourism that has blighted so many other similar places. And after a dry, dusty trip birding along Memory Lane, what better than a coffee or two, an ensaimada or a bocadillo and a spot of people watching for a change?

Linking today to  Eileen's Saturday.

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