Friday, 30 October 2015

#Inventabird – The Unspeakable Truth - by Robert Yaxley

Embedded image permalink
Those of you who enjoy messing around on Twitter might have seen my attempts to rewrite Darwin’s theories by inventing a few bird species of my own. Thankfully, a few other crackpot mavericks – I mean ornithology enthusiasts - have joined me, united by the #Inventabird hashtag. Creations have been diverse, including the Money Buzzard, Dessert Wheatear, Black-throated USB Driver, as well as my own Shearwater Tit, Narwhal Sandpiper, Granny Knot, Fish-tailed Cowcreeper etc. My 9yo daughter has been inspired too, and has contributed with the Spager, a desert waterbird.

My inspiration, such as it is, came from a dream a few years ago. It went a bit like this: I was birding on Fair Isle with some friends, scouring the nooks and crannies for tired migrants, when someone fervently screeched “LOOK! IT’S BRITAIN’S FIRST CURLY WARBLER!!” Of course, I raised my dream Swaro’s, and there it was, a Cetti’s Warbler relative with a bubbly perm hopping around on the floor. And then I woke up, bedclothes akimbo...

 After all, why has Evolution given us the Sunbittern and the Kagu but not the Funny Tern or Swiss Toni’s Warbler? Nature decides, and as a result we are denied the Pants Falcon. So, I thought, why not make it happen? In all honesty, I also wanted to rediscover some of my drawing skills which I had let lapse several years ago, and this seemed an ideal way to get back into the drawing habit. It is really quite amazing how much you can learn about birds from drawing nearly-but-not-quites. I have been experimenting with various media, but at the moment quite enjoy using a fineline pen. Some birds, however, need colour, such as the beer-bellied sandgrouse (flesh pink) for which I have used watercolour pencils.

So – here’s a few images – enjoy. #Inventabird is, as always, a broad and welcoming community, so please feel free to add a few of your own!
Embedded image permalink Embedded image permalink Embedded image permalink Embedded image permalink

Even some NGBs got involved with #Inventabird

Drew Lyness' Dessert Wheater is a personal highlight.

Embedded image permalink

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Winter is coming..

It's starting to feel and look a lot like Winter. Frost on the ground, Geese honking overhead and Redwings hopping about feeding in the trees. Winter is the time when the ducks, geese and swans take over the birding world and to me personally, the better-looking birds grace the British waters with their presence. There are many things that you can look for this Winter, starting with:

Bewick and Whooper Swans crash land in British waters with their very catchy-call. These two do look similar, but there are ways to tell them apart in the field.
©Jonathan Scragg
Whooper swans are larger than Bewick's with a triangular shaped head instead of the rounded shape of a Bewick. Bewicks are smaller (4ft), shorter necked, and a rounder head compared to a Whooper who is bigger (5ft), bulging breast, and longer necked.
© Drew Lyness
Whoopers will have longer bill, yellow will continue for 3/4 of the way to the bill tip so generally looks yellow-like at a distance. Bewick's on the other hand, have a smaller bill with the yellow only covering the basal half of the bill. The yellow patterns on each bird do vary.

Geese & Ducks!

©Amy Schwartz
Winter is the time to visit the coast, especially the WWT reserves, to witness thousands of geese 
©Drew Lyness
taking off and making an amazing noise! Pink-footed Geese and White-fronts are two species that arrive in great numbers and can often be seen. Things get a little more interesting with Geese such as Black Brants, Snow Geese, Bean Geese and Cackling Geese all possible things to rock up in Britain. My absolute favourite duck arrives in huge numbers in the Winter: Wigeon! Teal, Pintail, Wigeon are all common ducks that will be around this Winter. The more interesting and brain-fuzzling, if you haven't been on the birding scene for all that long, are three very similar species: (Great) Scaup, Lesser Scaup and Ring-Necked Duck. Winter sees me checking every Tuftie duck on Patch in the hope of one of the three. Great Scaup tend to have a green sheen to their glossy black heads, whereas Lesser Scaups have a purpleish sheen to the black and a small peak on its hind crown. Bill-wise: the Great Scaup will have a larger black nail on the end of its bill than Lesser (although not as large as that of Tufted Duck). Ring-necked Ducks will have light grey or brown flanks with a white spot towards the front, a peaked hint-crown and the banded bill is a general giveaway.
Ring-Necked Duck © Jonathan Scragg

© Gideon Knight
Early Winter is when the gull roosts really start to build up in numbers. Along with the usual Black-headed, Med, LBBG, GBBG, Herring and Common, there are usually one or two interesting gulls thrown in; Yellow-legged Gulls are one such species. Their backs are almost in the middle of Herring and LBBG in shape, more black in the wing with smaller mirrors, the beak is yellow, as are the legs, and the bill will have a large red spot on it. There is also a red eye-ring if you can manage to see it! Be aware of yellow-legged Herring Gulls!

©Gideon Knight
Caspian Gulls are similar to Herring and YLG but look longer-winged and longer, in general, with a mid-grey mantle, long black primaries, small dark eye a softer expression and long, pink legs. In 1w plumage, they have plain edged tertials unlike Herring's oak leaf pattern (a feature they share with YLG). They are the best looking out of all the 1w gulls. Little Gulls are also a regular sight during the Winter, these birds are easily picked out of a roost since they are truly tiny and in flight the wings will create a black 'W', adults have white wings. Other birds you may have the pleasure of seeing, although uncommon, are Ivory and Ross's Gulls. Next up are the white-wingers: Iceland and Glaucous... you can eliminate one easily: does it look like it wants to kill you? Yes? It's a Glauc. These birds are bigger and bulkier than a Herring Gull, have a stern look and the bill is bigger. A similar looking gull in some respects is the Iceland Gull. This bird also has a creamy-coloured plumage in 1W birds or a pale colour in adults. Icelands can be smaller than Herrings but are generally roughly the same size, the head is more round, the beak is smaller and they have a 'kinder' expression.
©Sam Viles
Returning Visitors!
©Jonathan Scragg
Winter is the time when your berry trees are filled with birds. Fieldfare and Redwing arrive back in the UK, both of these birds are fairly straight forward to ID, due to their distinctive plumages. One sight, which people will often travel to see, is that of a Starling murmuration. Watching these at dusk is a sight that every birder should witness at least once in their life; watching the birds create patterns in the sky is just mesmerising. Siskin, Brambling, Redpoll and Crossbills can be heard flying overhead, at feeders or in the bushes with other finches, and the brilliant sound of a Firecrest lurking in the bushes are all things to look forward to.  But not forgetting one of the most awaited arrivals to the Rowan trees of Britain: Waxwings. These perfect looking birds arrive annually along the East coast with some venturing further inland. The iconic look is unforgettable and seeing a flock of these is the highlight of the Winter for me. Another iconic bird of winter is the Bittern; that boom coming from the reed bed kickstarts winter. There is nothing like remembering how frustrated you were last winter, sitting in a hide for hours, wrapped up in every layer you could find, just to see a Bittern slowly move across the reeds for less than a minute, and then having to wait hours for another brief glimpse. One bird that is already pouring into the UK, is the Snow Bunting. These charismatic little birds visit our coastline for the Winter, although we don't get to see them in their sleek white plumage, they still look amazing in their Winter plumage and are just a delight to see.
©Jake Gearty
©Sam Viles

Rough-Legged Buzzard!
Ephraim Perfect has created a help guide to identifying Rough-Legged Buzzards from Common Buzzards. The reports for this species has already been seen on Birdguides and Rare Bird Alert with the reports coming from the east coast.

- Dan Rouse
Dan is an Environmental Educator for WWT Llanelli which is also her local patch. Currently conducting WeBS and NEWS counts for the BTO. When not in freezing in the field, Dan is a Trainee ringer with the Gower Ringing Group in South Wales.

NGB Patchwork Challenge - September 2015

As ever during early autumn, migrants both rare and regular adorned the patches of various NGB members throughout September. From continental raptors to gripping garden rarities, September produced some top birds throughout this extremely competitive league though, yet again, there was little change in the results tables, with a few notable exceptions. 

Looking first at the comparative league and things remain largely the same excluding Josie Hewitt's monumental leap from 4th to 1st, edging Amy Robjohns out of the top spot and pushing former front runner James Common further down the rankings. Josie's rise to the top was aided and abetted by a host of familiar migrants including a long overdue Wheatear as well as Redstart and both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers. The latter of which notched while ringing. Whether or not Josie will keep the top spot is open to speculation with the following three competitors well within striking distance should their luck pick up during October. Further down the table Ash Baines jumps a place from 5th to 4th at his Starr Gate-Fairlawn Road patch and former front runner Jonathan Scragg falls to fifth place.

Pied Flycatcher - Josie Hewitt

The NGB points mini league the top ten remains exactly as it was in August with the exception of Drew Lyness and James Common changing places at ninth and tenth. Joe Stockwell appears unstoppable at the top of the table with Jonathan Farooqi and Anthony Bentley firmly lodged in second and third place respectively. Lower down the table things are less clear cut and a few good finds could shake up the rankings somewhat over the coming month. 

Moving on to the finds and highlights this month and the prestigious title of "NGB bird of the month" almost certainly goes to the superb Red-Footed Falcon unearthed by Jonathan Farooqi on his coastal north patch (a photo of which can be seen below). Jonathan also managed a Yellow-Browed Warbler while Ash Baines noted a Wryneck in addition to two separate Barred Warblers, also notching some real patch gold in the form of two Kingfishers, a real rarity on site. Other notable cases of patch gold throughout September include both Black Tern and Little Stint for Rhys Chivers and a patch first Reed Warbler for James Common at Stobswood. The first in almost a decade no less. In addition to his earlier triumphs Ash Baines also nabbed Black-Necked Grebe on patch and David Gomer was lucky enough to turn up a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in his East Anglian garden, a sight that would turn many birders (particularly us northerners) green at the gills with envy. Well done David!

Red-Footed Falcon - Jonathan Farooqi

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Ringers Report- September 2015

A monthly roundup of ringing highlights from young birders, whether it be birds ringed, rings read or controlled in the field or ringing recoveries reported from elsewhere. Bird movements are amazing!

Craig Reed, 20 - Staffordshire
"September provided to be a good month attempting to net some lingering summer migrants left at our sites in Staffordshire. Reed Warblers, Blackcap and Chiffchaff provided the bulk but a couple of late(ish) Willow Warblers was a nice surprise. A number of Swallows were caught on one evening session and a ringing demonstration provided very productive with a feeding station been netted for the first time this autumn, and resulting in a large number of 'new' finches and tit species. The demo also included my first Stock Dove, a species that often seems to avoid the nets despite having decent populations at a number of our sites!"

Dan Rouse - Gower, Swansea
"September meant the BTO Cymru ringing course was brought to our Oxwich site. Throughout the course we had a number of good species including Stonechat, Whinchat, Swallow and plenty of finches. After the course, our usual sessions continued and some unexpected birds turned up which got everyone excited, these included Lesser Redpoll, Kingfisher and Skylark! Skylarks aren't too common on the site, though annual, but still a species I love seeing! We set up our pipit triangle with tape which resulted in 70+ Mipits and c10 Tree Pipits, we noticed there were wagtails going to roost at the bottom of one of our nets so the tape was played and 5 White Wagtails made an appearance!"

Tim Jones, 23 - Spurn Bird Obs, East Yorkshire
"A stunning juvenile Little Ringed Plover was only the 6th ringed at the observatory, a dusky juvenile House Martin was 'interesting' as was an influx of probable continental Dunnocks with big wings and white belly patches while ringing with Zac Hinchcliffe. September also brought some drift migrants including a Red-backed Shrike, Barred Warbler, several Redstarts and a Tree Pipit"

dark-rumped House Martin

probable conti Dunnock