Wednesday, 12 March 2014

NGB February overview

A belated look back at NGB activity over February 2014, a month where water levels rose, storms rocked the south and heads pointed skywards to an aurora borealis spectacular.
Birdtrack competition

Yearlist competition

*Note: the rankings show the totals of NGB members who have signed up to these competitions.*

NGB combined 2014 yearlist
All NGB members from around the world have clubbed together to record every species to make up a 2014 WORLD YEARLIST!
As for February, NGB members had spent time in no less than 15 countries in 5 continents; from Iceland to Italy, Malta to Malaysia, Namibia to the Netherlands, and have enjoyed seeing every one of the 1114 species recorded on our joint world yearlist. The collection includes some extreme gems such as the Indigo Flycatcher, Crimson Sunbird, Bornean Banded Pitta, Checker-throated Woodpecker, Wrinkled Hornbill, Ural Owl, Cream-coloured Courser and Black Harrier

One bird on this list which deserves a special mention is the White-winged Flufftail, a bird seen by South African young birder John Kinghorn this month during an organised flush for this species, of which minimal information is known. The flush, organised by Birdlife South Africa, aimed to catch, ring and extract DNA of these birds, a tall order, but one which came good when only the 2nd ever White-winged Flufftail was caught and processed in SA history. These little birds are critically endangered and thought to migrate between Ethiopia and SA, though almost nothing of its habits is certain. 

Psychic Jack's predictions ANALYSED
Mystic Bucknall predicted for February: February is a difficult month to focus on, but I do see some sort of rare goose or diver, it looks like a Pacific Diver may be claimed but dismissed immediately, my advice is to not dismiss it so quickly, give it a second look… 
A mini influx of Bean Geese is also ‘on the cards’, get watching those flocks. 

A short, but not entirely false, foretelling. January's Pacific Diver stuck around on its lough in Northern Ireland for another month, and there were murmurs that it had been present much longer before it had been confidently identified... 
A Bean Goose influx was not as noticeable, though small flocks were well spread. 

NGB news
The month got off to a start with a group of NGBs enjoying the delights of Scottish birding, even jamming in on the limelight-loving American Coot during their travels, though many proclaimed that Capercaillie was their highlight.

Not even Mystic Jack could have predicted the first wintering Red-flanked Bluetail for Britain, and several NGBs journeyed to see it flash its tail and even engage in some singing. Durham's Myrtle Warbler was similarly twitched.

The power of twitter proved itself when NGB-er Samuel Perfect posted a picture to our Facebook group, sent by a friend, of an odd Chaffinch, with orange plumage, including Brambling-like wingbars and a curious ginger rump. We speculated on a Chaff/Bling hybrid until we posted the photo onto twitter, only to be told it was a Chaffinch, but a Erythristic one. This word, new to most of us, means that the bird experiences an absence of some pigments and/or an excessive production of others, in this case the pigment for red plumage. 

Remember 2013? Surely a year that will go down in the annuls of birding history in terms of rarities and something of a blessing for us younger birders, who have listened with slightly envious wonderment at the stories told by older birders of the rarity-padded years of the '70s and '80s. For those who want to keep a momento of this Annus mirabilis, Jonnie Fisk (of "This week in birding") has produced a poster which is available online and in store at The One Stop nature Shop, Norfolk; who have developed a very appreciated partnership with NGB. 

Scandinavian influxes are rarely unwelcome, case in point: Waxwings, Nutcrackers, Ace of Base, ABBA...but NGB were particularly pleased with a sudden surge in members from Sweden later on in the month, thanks in part to some the encouragement of 'established' members who have spent time/are currently studying in Sweden.

Extremely exciting news came when 2 NGB members: Zac Hinchcliffe and Jonnie Fisk were invited by the supremely hospitable and always-cool Birding Architect and creator of Biotope, Tormod Amundsen, to attend Gullfest 2014 - the Arctic's premier birding festival. They will do some talks on NGB alongside some extremely impressive birding figures from across the world, as well as enjoying the frozen delights of early spring Arctic birding. 

Not strictly birding related, but towards the dying days of the month, the Northern Lights graced much of the UK to perform a swan song for February. Many NGBs witnessed this ethereal glow on coastlines and elevated sites; maybe a once in a lifetime event for some places. I wonder how many birds were seen/heard during those enchanted moments of shimmering light? How many ears barely picked up the murmuring of estuary geese, the whines of Lapwings settling down, the seeping of some overhead passerine, over the visual feast evolving above them?

Other NGB Facebook Group discussion this month included the upcoming film A Birder's Guide to Everything, bird rings we have read and submitted (Med Gulls from Serbia and Belgium and BHGulls from Sweden and Poland), this fantastic photo, Team Tringa or Team Calidris?, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and Common Eiders in all their forms!

Did you see?
- 5th: The world's second albatross translocation was undertaken, with Chatham Island Albatrosses (the first was with Short-tailed Albatrosses in Japan). The Chatham Island Taiko Trust transported chicks from the The Pyramid -a rocky outcrop on Pitt Island, and the albatross' only breeding colony- to a site on the mainland in order to create another breeding colony - Why? 'The Pyramid' is thought to be at full capacity. The chicks will be hand-fed and plastic adult albatross decoys have been set to lure in others.
- In other Albatross news, Laysan Albatross Wisdom, aka: the oldest known bird in the world hatched another chick, her 35th on Midway Atoll. The atoll's first Short-tailed Albatross pair also raised their 3rd chick. 
8th: Hot on the heels of last year's crackers Corncrake who made it to an island off the coast of Brazil, a Spotted Crake was photographed enjoying a February sabbatical in the sun-kissed undergrowth of Guadeloupe, Caribbean!  
- The birding/taxonomy/seaduck lover community was tested in its tolerance for unusual theories when a story arose suggesting the extinct Labrador Duck was actually a Steller's Edier X Common Eider hybrid. 
- An unlucky bird smashed through the windscreen of an equally unlucky pilot's plane in Florida, thankfully causing little damage to the pilot who landed himself safely:

...and finally, my NGB Facebook post of the month goes to Samuel Jones, on the topic of his first Sunbittern sighting: how eloquently put!

Good birding to all for March!

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