Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Divining 2009

What have I done? In a moment of extreme foolishness I have signed up for the Londonbirders 2009 patchlist competition. Not only do I not really have the time to do this, but I must have the rubbishest most challenging patch in London.

I have inherited (due to location of flat) Acton and Southfields parks. A quick search of the omnipotent BirdGuides database suggests that there was once a fly-over Black-winged Stilt (which you must admit sounds flaky).

So here's the Google map. The green bits to the top and bottom are the parks in question. I'm competing with oases such as RSPB Rainham Marshes (home to Serins and Penduline Tits much to my disgust), Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (subject of many a previous blogpost) and other goodies - Hampstead Heath and Crossness LNR. I must be mad. The rarest thing I ever found on my patch was a Firecrest (proving conclusively that jogging is a good thing).

There are two teeny ponds on my patch - but no proper body of water. Southfields is host to a marvellous population of Stag Beetles - but they don't count sadly. So, my predictions for 2009 are as follows:

Ring-necked Parakeet, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Magpie, Jay, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Carrion Crow, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Sparrowhawk, Pied and Grey Wagtail, Mallard, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Swallow, House Martin, Swift.

That's 33 species (I think). Looking at the results for the 2008 competition I won't be troubling anything other than the wooden spoon. What I'm hoping is that I'll bird my patch more assiduously, generally carry my bins and notebook more than I do now, and trip over some unexpected wildlife (and I'm not fussy if it isn't all birds).

So I enter 2009 with a spirit of hope and curiosity as to what the year might bring. That's a good thing I think, and generally what birding should be all about. I hope to bring you news of unexpected finds (hopefully not all tramp-related) and the pros and cons of birding an awfully urban, unpromising patch. Happy Hogmanay!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

We're winding down for Christmas now. The office officially shuts noon Christmas eve, and reopens on 5th January. I'll be round and about looking after the website most of the time, but am planning some goose-filming in Galloway.

The sightings team will be on duty each and every day, yes including Christmas and Hogmanay. They are a wonderful bunch, and as ever I'm indebted to the good'uns who volunteer to work the holidays.

So, it only remains for me to thank you all for your support in 2008. To the photographers who send their marvellous pictures, the birders who send their sightings, all of the people who email us with their comments and suggestions, and the readers of the webzine and this blog. We have many plans for 2009, and I hope you all stick around to see them. I leave you with the BirdGuides Christmas film (I plan on doing one a year, a bit like the Queen).

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Do one thing!

Not since the April Fool flying penguins have I been so entertained by Auntie Beeb. We bring you:

Visit the website and do one thing.

Irish Whales

John Cromie (one of our illustrious directors) drew my attention to the very interesting Irish Whale and Dolphin Group website. They're doing some fascinating work, and I managed to enjoyably waste rather a lot of time poking around their site. I was particularly taken with their singing Humpbacked Whales on this YouTube clip: the first time singing Humpbacks have been recorded in European waters. Awesome in the true sense of the word.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Fancy a Shag?

Ok - I apologise for the risqué title. But I just HAVE to draw you attention to birdorable. Your Christmas shopping woes are officially over. Twitterworld has been buzzing for a couple of days about birdorable's fetching thongs, and how they could (at a pinch) be misinterpreted. Having a life-list of over 2000 emblazoned on your nether regions may or may not be a good thing. And as the evidence below shows: it could be much worse. (If you're easily offended look away now)
Now I don't have a dirty mind at all. But it rather occurred to me that there might be a little mileage in the use of the good old Shag gag. No sooner had I tweeted it than my dreams came true. Birders all over the world we bring you...
There are some 300-odd products in the Shag range. Including the priceless maternity range. I implore you all - go and have a look round birdorable's online store. There's something for everyone (not only puerile people like me). Do enjoy!

We have a winner!

In fact we have two winners. I won the office sweep-stake of, "What date will order number 100,000 fall on". This was by pure good luck rather than good guidance, and I have nobly donated my winnings to the mince-pie fund.

The real winner was Mr J. Evans of Newport, who, upon ordering a £6 Finding Birds in book, got rather more than he bargained for in the form of a complimentary BWPi and BBi. Hurrah! Mr Evans has been shopping with us for years and years, and we're delighted to reward such a loyal customer.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Worthwhile Whisky

I was going to put an article on the main site - but decided it was a bit too much like free advertising. The Famous Grouse is a familiar name in the UK, and well known for it's cheeky animated adverts. Well now we have the launch of a new cousin - The Black Grouse.

This is worth blogging about as 1) the advert is rather good and 2) 50p for each bottle sold is going to the RSPB. So - basically if you're going to buy a bottle of something to firstfoot* with and don't want to waste good single malt on it - this is the stuff to buy. The premiere of the advert is tonight at 9pm during Ramsay on Channel 4. BUT - I have a teeny version here... what a scoop!


The RSPB are putting the money from sales of the Black Grouse directly towards Black Grouse conservation. More info at

*I appreciate that the English may not be familiar with first footing. It involves Hogmanay, whisky, shortbread and a lump of coal. Further explanation available on request.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

How Not to Writeup a PhD

Max Whitby here posting from chilly Northumberland. I'm holed up in my cottage on Holy Island (where we occasionally hold BirdGuides planning meetings) writing up the PhD I am researching at Imperial College in London. Just three months away from the finishing line... but to get there I need to complete my thesis (and pass the viva examination).

Plenty of peace and quiet away from our busy office. The only trouble is the birds. Owls and raptors to be specific. Each day I share my lunch with the regular visitor above. Not quite Richard Bedford standards, but not bad given that I filmed the bird through my kitchen window.

Currently the Island is well populated with owls. I've had Barn Owl in my garden and you can see them early in the morning and in the late afternoon hunting along the walls of the grassy fields nearby. And Short-eared Owls are everywhere. There must be at least half a dozen flying throughout these short cold days. Yesterday this one dropped down almost at my feet before flying off straight past the camera lens.
Rumour has it there is also a Long-eared Owl roosting in some conifers nearby. Maybe I'll have a go for it once I write another 2,000 words. Ah well back to work...

Monday, 1 December 2008

Steppe Grey Shrike news

Last week the wonderful Olivia Hurton (landowner) emailed me to say that her Steppe Grey Shrike was nowhere to be found, but she had found a suspicious pile of appropriately coloured feathers where it used to hang out. Her husband was despatched to collect the feathers, and they were very kindly posted off to Mark Grantham at the BTO.

Mark has just emailed me to say that they aren't shrike feathers. At the moment he's not sure what they are but they are far too big to be shrike. Hmph. Worth a look maybe?

Friday, 28 November 2008

100,000 Order Number

Here at BirdGuides we are rapidily approaching our 100,000th order number - no mean feat, and an indicator of how popular our services and products are.

Anyhow, we are having a bit of a sweepstake in our offices in Sheffield & London, as to what date we'll hit the magical 100,000th order number. We've making a big thing of it, with a free Birds of the Western Palearctic DVD-ROM and a British Birds interactive DVD-ROM, valued at £199, to the customer who's order number is the magical 100,000!!

Our Christmas Elves have differing thoughts on the date - Elf Tony thinks we'll hit 100,000 on 10th December, Elf Andrew thinks the 7th and Packer Paul the 6th. I think the 9th, Fiona thinks the 8th. There's a lot riding on this - the stakes are high - £1 each!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving today on the other side of the Pond. So in celebration I'm posting a frame-grab of real Wild Turkeys. In the UK we associate Turkeys with cling-film swaddled domes of goose-pimpled flesh that may or may not fit in the oven on Christmas Day. In the US these magnificent galliformes roam freely. The Capercaillies of America I suppose.
Behind the Bins blogs about Turkey subspecies here. Very interesting.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Med Gull update

Des McKenzie emailed to tell me that "our" Mediterranean Gull wintering on the Round Pond at Kensington Gardens has been retrapped on its summer holiday.
Here it is in Pionierinsel, Hambug, Germany on 24th May this year. Looking very dapper with its hood on. Thanks to Uli Knief of the MedGull Team, Hamburg for furnishing us with a pic. A triumph for colour-ringing. Remember if you read, or recover, a colour ring then you can report it at

Scarce Umber

A quick moth pic from the weekend's snowy adventure. (Pic: Max Whitby)

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Extreme Mothing

To some people, the idea of mothing conjures up images of sultry summer evenings. Setting up traps in the hope of glamorous hawkmoths and exotic-sounding beauties such as Satin Lutestring. The whole mothing experience in November is rather different.

With half an eye on the weather forecast, last night was deemed to be mothing night for the month at the wonderful Perivale Wood. I rendezvoused at the wood with Andrew Culshaw and David Howdon wearing twenty-five jumpers and my new BirdGuides Beanie and was still cold. We inspected the temperature (2°C) - and set off on a round of (in my view insanely optimistic) sugaring. Sugaring involves dousing inanimate objects with a revolting mixture of Guinness, some ester that reminded me of bananas and molasses that has been stewed up until dark brown and sticky.We wandered round the wood anointing various tree trunks with gloop and "dusking". This marvellous word describes the art of swiping hopefully at fast-disappearing specks with a net whilst tripping over strategically placed tree roots. There was almost nothing on the wing, and instead we relied on finding moths roosting (which is a skill in itself - you need to "get your eye in").

Dusking in fact produced more moths than you might imagine in the conditions. We had a Feathered Thorn, several Winter Moths, Scarce and Mottled Umbers and a November moth. We popped them in pots for further inspection indoors - leaving our two MV (mercury vapour) skinners and one actinic heath trap running overnight. Break down this morning was scheduled for 07:30 (what luxury - this is the upside of mothing in the winter). We trooped around the circuit and yes, not one moth. Just snow.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

It’s Christmas!!! (Noddy Holder style)

Believe it or not Christmas is just around the corner, with, as I write, just 35 shopping days left. But here at BirdGuides our Christmas started way back in August (although with all the rain it did feel like December). We had a very successful Bird Fair at Rutland Water but no sooner was this over than preparations for the Christmas period began. With a host of new products and updated favourites, production was in full swing at the height of the summer; and with the production of the '09 catalogue in autumn plus preparations in our offices and staff for our busiest time of year, it’s always hectic in the latter half of the year.
So much so, we have to take on extra staff to cope with all the enquiries and orders. This year our ‘Christmas Elves’ are Andrew, Tony and Paul (shouldn’t that be Trolls?!). [Note from Fiona - where's Tony gone??]

Despite the current economic climate sales are up when compared to the same time last year, although the phones are quieter. This is due to people ordering online, which means less work for us in the office! We are approaching our busiest two weeks of the year, and are braced for the onslaught of orders, which of course will be fulfilled efficiently by the team here. Incidentally it’s probably worth noting our last ordering date deadlines, these dependent on where you are on the planet.

Thursday 4th December: Rest of the World (those quite remote areas!)
Tuesday 9th December: USA, Canada, Middle East, Australia
Thursday 11th December: Western Europe
Thursday 18th December: UK Mainland
Monday 22nd December: UK Mainland Special Delivery

Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Future Megas

Dave Dunford and I are interested in your opinions. The other day Dave cunningly started adding "future megas" to our database so that we're not caught on the hop when the next Nearctic stunner arrives at Cape Clear. (If you read into this that we weren't particularly well organised with the last couple, then you'd be right.)

So we did a quick and dirty list and added the following as our bets for the next "First for Britain and Irelands":

Cerulean Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Least Flycatcher
Tricoloured Heron
American Woodcock
Acadian Flycatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Louisiana Waterthrush
Gray's Grasshopper Warbler
Eastern-crowned Warbler
Cinereous Bunting
Swinhoe's Snipe

So what do you think? What have we missed? I imagine there are a few other likely contenders out there. Please leave comments with your suggestions...

Monday, 17 November 2008

Waxwing wanderings

There are certain birds that seem to charm their way into the hearts of birders. Relatively common birds by BirdGuides standards of mouth-watering rarities, but a bird that you fondly hope to find on your local patch - birds that bring a smile to your face each time you see them. I'm a bit like that about Firecrests, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and Hen Harriers.

One bird that falls into that category for almost everyone I know is Waxwing. A Nordic invasion that is welcomed by people that normally don't even go birdwatching. These cheeky chappies stripping the berries from Morrisons car parks the length and breadth of Britain feature heavily on our photo gallery. They're accessible, approachable, adorable and there's one somewhere near you! I attach the updated Bird Map so you can see how far they've spread so far.

16 Hours of British Birds

Hello Chairman Whitby here. This morning the postman has delivered an exciting package from Elf-Supremo Andy Hirst containing the first duplicated copies of the new BirdGuides DVD that we have been busy working on all year. That's our editor Jack Wylson proudly holding his copy. Sixteen hours of stonking footage covering 270 species on 4 discs. It has been a marathon project and we are relieved and delighted to see the finished product ready in good time for Christmas.

Lining the cutting room shelves behind Jack you can see some of the hundreds of camera tapes that we have accumulated during the past decade. In the course of this year we have transferred their entire contents onto hard drives (5 terabytes worth!) all carefully logged so that Jack can call up all the footage of any given species within seconds. This includes over 100 hours of recent material shot on our wonderful HD cameras (more about this in a future post).

Jack's task during 2008 has been to compile all the best footage we have on each species, using his judgement as an experienced birder to select shots that illustrate key ID features, interesting behaviour and plumage variations. Jack (in London) has then uploaded the compilation of clips to our FTP server so that Dave Gosney (who is based in Sheffield) can download them to view on his trusty laptop. Dave has then written and recorded new commentaries to match the footage and transmitted these back to Jack as digital files to edit into final sequences along with distribution maps, illustrations and sound recordings of songs and calls for each bird. The end result is a three to four minute portrait for each of the 270 species from which Fiona Barclay has then created the final set of four interactive DVDs. All very 21st Century.

Even with the DVD version now shipping, our labours are not yet over. Just when you might think it is time for a well-deserved rest, we still have more production work. All the edited videos need to be compressed for the iPhone and iPod Touch version. Roll on Christmas!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Review of the Week: 6th-12th November 2008 by Mark Golley

An illustrated version of this article is available on our website to webzine subscribers, at:

The week at a glance:

- STEPPE GREY SHRIKE in Lincolnshire
- CANVASBACK again in North Yorkshire
- GREEN HERON still in Kent
- HOODED MERGANSER still in Fife
- RED-FLANKED BLUETAILS in Norfolk and Kent

With the weather being what it was, it came as little surprise that, for the early part of the new week at least, the east side of the country continued to dominate the headlines as all manner of rarities peppered the coast. There were no real surprises, though; indeed, the bird of the week was rather predictable given the conditions, but that didn't it stop it drawing an appreciative crowd-for many it had been a long time coming.

The first-winter STEPPE GREY SHRIKE found near Grainthorpe Haven (Lincolnshire) on 7th was the first county record and only the third time the species has been seen during the 2000s. The last truly twitchable bird was on the Isle of Man in the summer of 2003 (and another was reported in Kent in 2004) but for those who follow the letter of the BOURC listing law, the bird at The Ayres NNR would not be countable on a British List. Quirky, huh? The bird performed admirably to all until 11th at least. In North Yorkshire, the adult drake CANVASBACK (candidate) re-appeared at Nosterfield Lake for an afternoon on 8th, after it first spent a couple of hours at the same site on 30th October. The bird remained on show for just a few hours until dusk and then went missing once more. In Kent, the first-winter GREEN HERON was still proving to be wonderfully obliging along the Royal Military Canal at West Hythe until 9th at least (thereafter it had either gone or no-one was going to see it). Another potential "mega" was still the cause of much discussion, and more miles driven: the first-winter, or female, HOODED MERGANSER that showed well around Tayport (Fife) from 6th-12th. The adult drake Hooded Merganser at Radipole Lake (Dorset) suddenly seems to have been elevated to rather grand status too after its TV appearance, and was still attracting visitors to 12th. As one species seeks approval as a bona fide mega, another must surely have to take its leave of headline status as we bid a fond farewell to RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL. What a few days it's been for this little gem: belated news appeared during the week of a bird at Brancaster (Norfolk) on 4th, which was followed by available individuals at Chapel St. Leonard's (Lincolnshire) and Blakeney Point (Norfolk), both on 6th, another on Holy Island (Northumberland) on 7th, then again on 9th-12th, while two birds were trapped and ringed on 8th (at Hollesley in Suffolk and Saltfleetby in Lincolnshire). The grand total for the autumn so far (from the first on Fair Isle in late September) is 13 birds and eight of those have been seen since the start of November. It seems staggering that since the famous bird at Winspit (Dorset) in 1993-the first chance many had to encounter the species in Britain-another 48 individuals have been seen since, compared to just 12 birds before it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been a pretty poor week for seabirds. There were single figures apiece for both BALEARIC SHEARWATER and SOOTY SHEARWATER this week, while around 300 GREY PHALAROPES were noted - 262 of those were seen from Kilcummin Head (Co. Mayo) on 11th. Elsewhere, 14 Grey Phalaropes were seen off Tiree (Argyll) on 11th and 10 off Ballynahown (Co. Galway) on 10th, while singles were dotted around from Shetland to East Sussex. With just a couple of POMARINE SKUAS noted (from Berry Head in Devon on 10th) we'll move swiftly on to SABINE'S GULL, with a juvenile off Holme (Norfolk) on 7th and an adult seen off Low-Newton-by-the-Sea (Northumberland) on 9th. There were fewer than 10 LITTLE AUKS to report this week, with six off Kilcummin Head on 11th the only count of any note.

On 7th, single CATTLE EGRETS were seen at Ellesmere (Shropshire), Bransbury Common (Hampshire), Marshside (Lancashire) and one remained at Sandy Haven (Pembrokeshire). On 8th, the two birds seen last week at Brampton (Cambridgeshire) were present again, while another was at Dorchester-on-Thames (Oxfordshire) and at least four birds were at Walton Heath (Somerset), with five birds there on 9th. Also on 9th, the Cambridgeshire birds relocated to Fen Drayton GPs and two were seen at Meare Heath (Somerset). The GREAT WHITE EGRET remained at Astley Green (Greater Manchester) from 6th-10th and the bird at Blashford Lakes (Hampshire) was seen on 7th. On the same date, one flew over Spellbrook (Hertfordshire) and on 8th another Great White Egret was seen at Bungay (Suffolk). In Leicestershire, a Great White Egret was again at Saddington Reservoir on 9th (after one was present there on 24th October) and one flew over Cley reserve, Titchwell and Holme (Norfolk) on 12th. SPOONBILLS struggled towards double figures this week, presumably because there was no news from Poole Harbour. At least five birds were still on Isley Marsh (Devon) throughout the week while singles were at the National Wetlands Centre (Carmarthenshire) to 7th and Abberton Reservoir (Essex) to 11th. The adult GLOSSY IBIS was still at Warton Marsh (Lancashire) to 9th while on 10th a SQUACCO HERON was reported flying past the Visitor Centre at Rainham Marshes (London). A WHITE STORK was reported near South Newington (Oxfordshire) on 10th. In Devon, the COMMON CRANE remained near Modbury to 11th at least, while in Norfolk around 30 birds were seen around Horsey on 9th, and singles flew over Ormesby Broad (Norfolk) on 10th and Southwold (Suffolk) on 11th. A CORNCRAKE was seen briefly at Rosenannon Downs (Cornwall) on 6th and a singing SPOTTED CRAKE was heard at Titchwell (Norfolk) on the same date.

A TAVERNER'S CANADA GOOSE was at Loch Gorm, Islay (Argyll) on 6th along with a RICHARDSON'S CANADA GOOSE (with it or another Richardson's at Loch Gruinart the same day). An adult RED-BREASTED GOOSE was at Pennington Marshes (Hampshire) on 6th (in the company of Canada Geese) before jumping into a Brent Goose flock the following day. Later on 7th, the bird appeared at Keyhaven Marshes and it continued to move between sites (and carrier species) until 9th. A ROSS'S GOOSE was seen flying over Abram (Greater Manchester) on 7th, while a Ross's or SNOW GOOSE was seen near Vane Farm on the same day. A flock of 13 Snow Geese spent 3rd-6th north of Skegness (Lincolnshire) and raised an eyebrow or two (origins for these will always be "unknown") while the provenance of single birds at the North Slob reserve (Co. Wexford) and Annagh Head (Co. Mayo), both on 9th, is less likely to cause debate. The bird in Mayo was seen again at Belmullet on 11th. Up in Argyll, the regular wintering Snow Goose was at Craobh Haven on 12th. In Norfolk, single BLACK BRANTS were at Titchwell on 8th and 10th-12th, and at Burnham Overy Staithe on 9th, while another remained around the Fleet (Dorset) to 12th and another was at Gosport (Hampshire) on 11th-12th.

Lingering drake LESSER SCAUP were at Holme Pierrepoint (Nottinghamshire) to 8th and Hogganfield Loch (Clyde) to 9th. A female was found at Helston Loe Pool (Cornwall) on 8th, remaining to 11th at least, while another female-type was found at Loch Ennell (Co. Westmeath) on 9th. On 10th-11th, a first-winter drake was at Lydney (Gloucestershire). An amazing eight RING-NECKED DUCKS were found at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 9th - a single, a pair and then a flock of five (could some of them possibly be the birds seen on Inish Mor earlier this autumn?) - with three birds still present on 10th and a female remaining to 11th. At Foxcote Reservoir in Buckinghamshire, the drake Ring-necked Duck was seen again on 12th. The only other birds reported this week were the female on Bassenthwaite Lake (Cumbria) on 10th and at Whitlingham Lane, near Norwich (Norfolk) on 11th-12th. The drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK was still at Calvert Lake (Buckinghamshire) on 8th-12th and the first-winter drake remained at Old Hall Marshes (Essex) from 7th-9th. A drake AMERICAN WIGEON was seen near Llangorse Lake (Powys) on 8th while GREEN-WINGED TEAL remained at Farlington Marshes (Hampshire), Capringstone Flash (Ayrshire), Kilcoole (Co. Wicklow), Belfast Lough (Co. Antrim) and Clonakilty (Co. Cork), with a presumed returning drake seen at Bell Harbour (Co. Clare) on 8th. New individuals were seen at North Cave Wetlands (East Yorkshire) and Kinneil Lagoon (Forth) on 9th (the East Yorkshire bird presumably relocating to Blacktoft Sands on 10th), and Wheldrake Ings (North Yorkshire) and Campfield Marsh (Cumbria) on 10th, with one again at Caerlaverock (Dumfries & Galloway) on 12th. The second-winter drake KING EIDER was still off Appledore (Devon) to 11th while Devon also hosted at least one female SURF SCOTER this week, one off Preston, Torbay on 6th-7th with another at Seaton Hole on 10th. A juvenile Surf Scoter was seen off Pendower Beach (Cornwall) on 6th and two young birds were seen off Doonbeg (Co. Clare) on 8th.

A ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD was seen at a handful of sites (Hilbre, Hoylake and West Kirkby) around Cheshire on 6th-7th (having initially been seen on 5th) while in Lincolnshire, birds were reported at Scamblesby on 7th and Dorrington Farm on 9th. Further singles were in Essex, at Orsett, on 8th and 11th, and in Kent, at Maidstone, on 10th and near Sandwich Bay on 11th. A DARK-BREASTED BARN OWL was at Embleton (Northumberland) on 7th.

The juvenile AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER was still on Omey Island (Co. Galway) on 7th with another at The Cunnigar (Co. Waterford) on 8th, and a juvenile was at Fen Drayton GPs (Cambridgeshire) on 9th. The DOTTEREL stayed around East Harling (Norfolk) to 10th at least, and the American Golden Plover reappeared there on 11th. Another Dotterel was seen at Nanjizal (Cornwall) on 7th. A first-winter LESSER YELLOWLEGS was at Clonakilty (Co. Cork) on 12th, while in a rather lean week for shorebirds, the LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER remained at Dundalk Docks (Co. Louth) until 9th.

The second-winter AZOREAN YELLOW-LEGGED GULL remained around the far west end of Cornwall this week, at Skewjack on 6th and Trevorian Pool on 8th. Around 15 CASPIAN GULLS were seen over the week, including three (two adults and a first-winter) at Calvert Lakes (Buckinghamshire) on 7th, with two adults at Ditchford Gravel Pits (Northamptonshire) on the same date. Two birds dropped in at Lea Marston and Coton Lakes (Warwickshire) on 12th, and two different birds, a first- and third-winter, were at Beddington Sewage Farm in London during the week. A dozen ICELAND GULLS included a juvenile at Southwold (Suffolk) on 7th and a juvenile KUMLIEN'S GULL was at Loch Ryan (Dumfries & Galloway) on 12th, while six GLAUCOUS GULLS included a second-winter at Donna Nook (Lincolnshire) on 8th-12th. The second-winter RING-BILLED GULL was still at Lamby Lake (Glamorgan) to 9th, while regular wintering adults were still at Westcliff-on-Sea (Essex) and Gosport (Hampshire) during the week. Further adults were at Dingwall (Highland) and in the roost at Carsington Water (Derbyshire) on 7th and again on 12th, at Portrush (Co. Antrim) on 10th-11th, briefly at Prescot Reservoirs (Lancashire) on 11th and at Clonakilty (Co. Cork) on 12th. Also on 11th, a first-winter Ring-billed Gull was seen at Wadebridge (Cornwall). The adult FORSTER'S TERN was at Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) to 7th at least.

In North Yorkshire, a first-winter female PIED WHEATEAR was found at Reighton Sands on 8th and stayed to 12th. This is the first Pied Wheatear for a couple of years (since one on Bryher, Scilly in October 2006) and the first in North Yorkshire since the super first-summer male at Scarborough in 1991. The young male DESERT WHEATEAR remained at Easton Bavents (Suffolk) to 7th and again from 9th-10th. Four more Desert Wheatears arrived this week: first-winter females were seen at Sandwich Bay (Kent) on 7th-11th and at Saltfleet (Lincolnshire) on 8th-12th, while males were seen around Lynemouth and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea (Northumberland) from 9th-12th and at Instow (Devon) on 12th. Staying in Northumberland, a BLUETHROAT was on the Farne Islands on 7th, with another at Girdle Ness (Aberdeenshire) the previous day. A HOOPOE was seen at Saltfleetby (Lincolnshire) on 9th. Three OLIVE-BACKED PIPITS were seen in the Northern Isles this week-on Bressay (Shetland) on 7th and Fair Isle (Shetland) and North Ronaldsay (Orkney) both on 8th. The SIBERIAN STONECHAT was still at Easington (East Yorkshire) to 6th and a PENDULINE TIT was seen briefly at North Foreland (Kent) on 8th. GREAT GREY SHRIKES mustered some 18 birds, with three or four birds in Norfolk and East Yorkshire, while the bird at Farmoor Reservoir (Oxfordshire) remained until 6th and the returning bird at Dalton Crags (Cumbria) was still present on 8th. Tiree scored an island first when a Great Grey Shrike was found at Cornaibeg on 12th. Well over 2000 WAXWINGS were on offer this week and it was Scotland that (not surprisingly) fared best again. A flock of 150 were seen around Inverness (Highland) on 6th and 140 or more were in Aberdeen on 7th. At least 100 remained around Arisaig (Highland) on 7th and on the same date, 150+ were seen at Stornoway, Lewis (Outer Hebrides). By the morning of 8th, numbers in Aberdeen had exceeded 200, rising steeply by close of play that day to just under 600 around the city! At least 500 were seen in a single flock at Allenvale Cemetery in Aberdeen on 9th, when another hundred were seen at Dunbar (Lothian) and 250+ were still at Pitlochry (Perth & Kinross) with around 100 in Perth on 11th. Also on 11th, at least 200 were in Dundee (Angus), 200 were seen around Stirling (Forth) and 145 were at Dunbar (Lothian). There have been no three-figure flocks south of the border yet; 84 at Ashington (Northumberland) on 8th was the closest we got this week. In Norfolk, the BLACK-BELLIED DIPPER reappeared at Glandford on 12th.

The surprise of the week in terms of warblers was the discovery of a female SARDINIAN WARBLER at Berry Head (Devon) on 12th. It's been 16 years since the last record of the species in the county, a female trapped at Prawle Point in May 1992. It was another excellent week for HUME'S YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS this week, with at least seven news birds seen. Last week's bird at Symbister, Whalsay (Shetland) remained until 7th, on which date new birds were found on North Ronaldsay (Orkney), on St. Mary's Island (Northumberland) and in Wells Woods (Norfolk). Three more new arrivals were found on 9th including two in Aberdeenshire, at Muchalls and Balmedie CP, with another in Northumberland, this one arriving at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. On 11th, a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler was seen on Bressay (Shetland) and was still present on 12th. At least 28 Pallas's Warblers were seen this week, with at least five birds each for Aberdeenshire (including two at Newtonhill on 9th) and North Yorkshire (two at Filey on 7th). Norfolk scored four and two were seen at Hartlepool (Cleveland) on 7th and one made it to Kent, seen at Westgate on Sea, also on 7th. Just under 40 YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS were pretty widely scattered with five making it across to Wales and one lingering down on Scilly, with almost all the others being seen in North-Sea-facing counties. DUSKY WARBLERS remained at Spurn (East Yorkshire) and Muckleburgh Hill (Norfolk) to 6th while three RADDE'S WARBLER made landfall on 7th, on Blakeney Point (Norfolk), and at Easington (East Yorkshire) and Scarborough (North Yorkshire). A male RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER was at Sumburgh, Mainland (Shetland) on 7th.

It seems ages ago that the weekly review was awash with TWO-BARRED CROSSBILLS but it really was only three or four months ago that the incredible Northern Isles invasion occurred. As predicted back then, there would be one bird that finally gave itself up to those on the mainland who hadn't come across the species until now. After near misses this autumn in private gardens in Durham and West Yorkshire, a male at garden feeders near Bilsdale (North Yorkshire) from 7th onwards proved very popular. The bird had been coming to feeders since 29th October (the very same date as the one in West Yorkshire) and continued to show until 12th. The last twitchable bird was the male at Hedgerley in Buckinghamshire in March 2003. A couple of probable ARCTIC REDPOLLS were seen with MEALY REDPOLLS at Horseshoe Point (Lincolnshire) on 8th, with one there to 11th. At Rainham Marshes (London) a couple of SERINS were seen to 9th, then four were seen on 11th-12th. Further single Serins were seen at Hengistbury Head (Dorset) on 6th and Sandy Point (Hampshire) on 9th. A RUSTIC BUNTING was found at Baltasound, Unst (Shetland) on 9th, remaining to 11th.

If you are fortunate enough to encounter anything of interest, or if you have travelled to see one of the birds mentioned on our Bird News Extra page, please:

- use the web page
- call us on our freephone number 0800 043 1003
- email us at
- text BIRDS RPT (followed by the details) to 07786 200505

We would love to hear from you with information on what you have found, or an update on what you've been to see.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

BirdMap - now with added Emerald Isle

Since the BirdMap was introduced, every time I've looked at it I've winced inwardly at the column of squares snaking downwards from the northeast corner. These mainly represent sightings from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which until now we've been unable to plot on the map. The fundamental reason is that the BirdMap is based on the Ordnance Survey's National Grid, which makes everything relatively straightforward - it's easy enough to convert an OS grid reference such as SK123456 into x and y co-ordinates (from the OS's grid origin, somewhere southwest of the Scillies), scale it to the map, and plot.

The Irish Grid (as used in Northern Ireland and the Republic) is a different kettle of fish - the "origin" is different and to make matters worse the grid is at an angle to the British grid (any mapmakers out there please excuse my cartographic illiteracy - I'm aware of the differences between 2D and 3D mapping projections, though I don't pretend to understand them). Another problem we had is the paucity of online mapping for Ireland - the UK has the excellent site, and from there and many other sources it's relatively easy to establish an approximate grid reference for most birding sites; not so across the Irish Sea. The online mapping sites that do cover Ireland (notably and tend to deal in latitude and longitude, which our mapping functions weren't equipped to deal with.

So for a long time I wimped out of the challenges of widening the BirdMap to include the island of Ireland.

The big breakthrough came when I discovered some useful public-domain functions on the OS website (actually written as macros on a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, but easily translated to the VBScript that we use). These allow conversion to and from the 2D systems of the Irish and OS grids to latitudes and longitudes in 3D. Some of the maths is pretty horrendous; for example:

III = ((nu / 24) * (Sin(RadPHI)) * ((Cos(RadPHI)) ^ 3)) * (5 - ((Tan(RadPHI)) ^ 2) + (9 * eta2))

but fortunately I didn't have to understand it all, I just needed to know some key constants that define the two grids, which my friends at kindly supplied.

This solved two problems in one go: (1) it gave me a means of translating the Irish x, y co-ordinates, via latitude and longitude, onto the same grid as the OS, and (2) it allows us to input grid references as latitude and longitude figures and convert to either grid. A few handy but fiddly functions later the groundwork was done.

It then took a while to source a suitable base map (thanks to our designer David Suttle, who spent a tedious afternoon emulating Slartibartfast as he traced the complicated outline of the British Isles for us) but it's all in place now. Another spin-off is that I've been able to increase the size of the map, which reduces, but doesn't entirely solve, the problems of congestion in bird-rich areas. Watch this space (and I might eventually be able to do something about the Channel Islands too). Oh, and I improved the "cacheing" as well, so older maps should load more quickly than before as they don't have to be recompiled every time.

Beyond the BirdMap, our new Irish-aware system has other benefits. Before now, our systems had no way of knowing that Kilbaha and Loop Head (to choose a pertinent example) are only a few miles apart. So our automatic systems that link new reports with previous reports of the same bird (which are designed to cope with inconsistent selection of adjacent "sites" by our contributors and operators but rely on our knowing the approximate location of the sites) didn't work in Ireland. They do now.

A further spin-off is the ability to provide links to Google Maps and Multimap for Irish sites, as well as lists of nearby sites and nearby birds, on our site pages. All this won't be 100% effective until we've completed the not-insignificant job of establishing references for over 800 remaining Irish sites, but we've done nearly 250 of the most productive sites already. We may be asking for your assistance at some point, though there's still some work to do on our publicly available site input pages so for now it's an in-house job.

The new BirdMap is at but access to today's map is limited to Bird News Extra subscribers and readers of our weekly email newsletter. As a free taster, though, anyone can look at the map for this date last year:


Monday, 10 November 2008

Abergavenny, Brown Rats and a Med Gull

I had a rather action packed weekend. I spent Saturday in Abergavenny at the Welsh Ornithological Society AGM touting my wares, at the kind invitation of Derek Moore. I sold pathetically little - but had enormous fun - camped in a room with the BTO who were doing a roaring trade in Christmas cards (so that's mine sorted for this year - very attractive Waxwings topically).

Sunday dawned with passable if windy weather, so Des McKenzie, David Lindo, Jack and I went on a planned shoot at Kensington Gardens. We had decided to do a short piece about inner-London birding for streaming on the site (on the principle that birders making a programme for birders ought to be rather better than Oddie on Autumnwatch). David is such a pro - so we got oodles done, and my programme might be rather longer than I initially anticipated. Des is a star, and filled us with fascinating facts about birding such a busy site.

One of the perils of KG is the fact it is infested with enormous rats that do rather well on leftover McDonald's and kebabs. I expressed a desire to film one of the critters, and Des immediately tempted one out of the ornamental shrubbery with a Rich Tea biscuit. They are unbelievably tame, and I got lots of excellent footage of a particularly rotund beastie nibbling crumbs in a cute fashion.

We did a few PCs (pieces to camera), and GVs (general views) and some walky-talkies and noddies and the heavens opened. Camera gear and British weather is generally incompatible - so we legged it for the bandstand to find it locked up - and therefore took refuge under a tree near the Round Pond.

Luckily it didn't last long - and we popped back out to film a PC about last year's wintering Mediterranean Gull (which interestingly came from the Elbe). We were just prepping the birds with application of further Rich Tea biscuits, when David shouted, "Med Gull!". And lo! It was true. With remarkable timing there it was. Last year's bird was back. Two days earlier than last year, and beautiful, ethereally white amongst the Black-heads. I'm embedding a frame-grab of the bird taken last year. We had a wonderful day, a proper giggle. Hopefully you'll see the results soon.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Review of the Week: 30th October-5th November 2008 by Mark Golley

An illustrated version of this article is available on our website to webzine subscribers, at:

The week at a glance:

- Presumed CANVASBACK in North Yorkshire
- Presumed PACIFIC DIVER again on Orkney
- BLACK-THROATED THRUSH reported in Norfolk
- RED-FLANKED BLUETAILS in Norfolk and Kent
- GREEN HERON still in Kent
- SNOWY OWL still on Scilly
- One or two GREY-CHEEKED THRUSHES on Scilly
- HOODED MERGANSER still in Fife

It was another week full of outstanding new arrivals, with almost every point on the compass represented, as is so often the way as October edges in to the first throes of November. Funnily enough, given that the vast majority of the week saw focus shift, at long last, to North Sea coastal counties, it was still birds from the Nearctic that proved the main draw, although the weather systems offered up (and provided in abundance) a wealth of birds, full of classic eastern promise.

The best bird of the week was arguably the (presumed) adult drake CANVASBACK that arrived at Nosterfield Reservoir (North Yorkshire) on 30th. The bird was present for most of the afternoon, in the company of some 20 Pochard, but sadly for those searching for the bird the following day, it was gone. As is often the case with the very rarest Aythya species, there has been some debate as to whether the bird's bill pattern, head shape and body markings were good enough for the bird to be judged as a pure Canvasback. A neat collection of images certainly show a very interesting subject and observers will remember similar questions being asked of the first twitchable bird, at Wissington and Welney (Norfolk) in 1997. On the Outer Hebrides, an AMERICAN BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT was found on the beach at Smerclate, South Uist on 1st, and was still present the following day. Across on Orkney, a potential PACIFIC DIVER was seen again off Stronsay on 1st and again on 4th (after the initial sighting there last week, on 29th). The easterly winds that dominated the week were welcomed by birders in east-coast counties who had been beaten into submission by weeks of westerlies, and whose patience was well rewarded. A female-type BLACK-THROATED THRUSH was reported for an hour at Holme (Norfolk) on 31st (following on from a briefly seen possible there the previous day). A rather more obliging Norfolk bird was the RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL that performed around Muckleburgh Hill, Weybourne from 31st-4th. A second Bluetail was found at Ramsgate (Kent) on 1st, and this bird was still present to 2nd. Staying in the Garden of England, last week's star attraction still drew in the crowds: the marvellous first-winter GREEN HERON remained along the Royal Military Canal at West Hythe to 5th. The cracking juvenile SNOWY OWL on Scilly moved to St. Martin's on 30th, where it remained to 3rd. Who knows where this impressive bird will appear next? Still on Scilly, the GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH at Porth Mellon, St. Mary's remained to 31st, with (presumably) another bird appearing on Bryher on 4th. Finally, the "is it or isn't it?" debate was in full flow with regard to the first-winter HOODED MERGANSER that remained in Fife this week. On 30th, the bird was found at Birnie and Gaddon Lochs, before relocating back to Tayport on 31st-4th. After reports suggested that it was a local escape, the heat was off but, after a little detective work, that theory seemed to be disproved. Who'd want to be on the BBRC eh?

Several coastal sites in the Northeast were witness to at least a couple of fly-by WHITE-BILLED DIVERS this week: on the morning of 31st, one flew past Newbiggin before being seen in the afternoon off Hauxley and Bamburgh (Northumberland) during the afternoon, while one was off Whitburn (Co. Durham) just after midday. An adult was seen off Girdle Ness (Aberdeenshire) on the same date, while the following day, November 1st, a moulting adult was seen off Whitburn. On 2nd, a White-billed Diver was seen in Bluemill Sound, Unst (Shetland), with another on Shetland, at Kirkabister, Mainland on 2nd. Only a handful of BALEARIC SHEARWATERS were noted this week (off Scilly, in Devon and East Yorkshire) and SOOTY SHEARWATERS were in equally short supply. Being in short supply is something of an alien concept to GREY PHALAROPES this autumn, with high counts this week of 119 at Lamb Holm (Orkney) on 30th and at least 197 seen near Gedintailor, Skye (Highland) on 2nd. Elsewhere, birds were seen from Shetland to Devon, with an inland bird at Farmoor Reservoir (Oxfordshire) on 30th-1st and two on the Goose Field at Lissadell (Co. Sligo) on 30th. A dozen or so LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS were seen off the Kent coast on 31st-1st, including five off Shell Ness on 1st. One was off Frinton-on-Sea (Essex) on 1st, with two more from Spurn (East Yorkshire) on 2nd. Further Kentish singles appeared on 3rd and 5th. Around 50 POMARINE SKUAS were recorded including, in Northumberland, five from Newbiggin on 30th and four past St. Mary's Island on 31st, along with four off Canvey Island (Essex) on 1st. A single LONG-TAILED SKUA was recorded from Thorpeness (Suffolk) on 2nd. Some half a dozen SABINE'S GULLS were seen around Norfolk and Suffolk on 1st-2nd. Around 100 LITTLE AUKS around the country included two sets of a dozen at Fraserburgh (Aberdeenshire) and Tarbet Ness (Highland), with at least 16 in Bluemill Sound, Unst, all on 31st.

Lingering single CATTLE EGRETS remained at Studland (Dorset), Sandy Haven (Pembrokeshire) and Inchydoney (Co. Cork) this week. Two birds were seen at Buckton and Brampton (Cambridgeshire) on 1st, while three birds appeared at Downholland Moss (Lancashire) on the same date. Also on 1st, singles were seen in Cornwall at Kingsmill Haven and Landulph Marsh, while six birds at Walton Heath (Somerset) was the largest group noted this week. In Essex, the GREAT WHITE EGRET was again at Abberton Reservoir on 1st, with another appearing in Northamptonshire, at Grafton Regis on 2nd and then Summer Leys on 3rd while one flew over Beeston Regis (Norfolk) on 4th. In Greater Manchester, one remained in the Astley Green area to 5th at least. The regular wintering Great White Egret was still in Hampshire, at Blashford Lakes, to 2nd at least. Once again, numbers of SPOONBILLS mustered around 30, with 15 birds in Arne Bay (Dorset) on 1st. In Devon, five birds were at Isley Marsh (Devon) throughout the week, and two birds were seen on Tresco (Scilly) on 30th. The adult GLOSSY IBIS flew west from Swillington Ings (West Yorkshire) on the morning of 1st and by the morning of 2nd it was back to its favourite stomping ground of Warton Marsh (Lancashire) where it was last seen in late July. A COMMON CRANE was found at Modbury (Devon) on 3rd, remaining to 5th. On Scilly this week, single SPOTTED CRAKES were noted on St. Mary's (at Lower Moors) and on St. Agnes (on Big Pool).

At Caerlaverock (Dumfries & Galloway) both CACKLING CANADA GOOSE and TAVERNER'S CANADA GOOSE were seen off-and-on throughout the week, while a RICHARDSON'S CANADA GOOSE was present at Mersehead (Dumfries & Galloway) on 30th. A ROSS'S GOOSE was again at Martin Mere (Lancashire) on 2nd and single white SNOW GEESE were again at Windwick, South Ronaldsay (Orkney) and Craobh Haven (Argyll) on 31st (both birds still present to 3rd) with further birds at Martin Mere (Lancashire) on 2nd and Spey Bay (Moray) on 5th. Two adult BLACK BRANTS were around the Fleet (Dorset) on 31st-1st, and another was seen briefly at Titchwell (Norfolk) on 1st and 3rd. Still in Norfolk, another was seen at Wells on 5th, with one at Cliffe Pools (Kent) the previous day, and another at Pagham Harbour (West Sussex) on 5th. At least one drake LESSER SCAUP remained at Hogganfield Loch (Clyde) to 4th, while the drake at Holme Pierrepoint (Nottinghamshire) remained to 5th. A juvenile Lesser Scaup was found at Angliham (Co. Galway) on 2nd alongside an eclipse RING-NECKED DUCK and, also in Galway, a new drake was at Lough Corrib on 4th. Further drake Ring-necked Ducks were at Foxcote Reservoir (Buckinghamshire) and Loch of Tingwall, Mainland (Shetland) and in Ireland single drakes were at The Gearagh (Co. Cork), Lough Fern and Inch Island Lake (Co. Donegal) and, up in Wicklow, at Kilcoole. A female Ring-necked Duck returned to Bassenthwaite Lake (Cumbria) on 2nd, having left there on April 9th. Drake FERRUGINOUS DUCKS were still being seen at Amwell GPs (Hertfordshire) to 30th and Calvert Lake (Buckinghamshire) to 4th, and one was at Chew Valley Lake (Somerset) on 3rd while a new bird appeared at Old Hall Marshes (Essex) on 2nd, remaining to 5th. Two drake AMERICAN WIGEON were seen in County Cork on 2nd, at Dooniskey and The Gearagh. Eight GREEN-WINGED TEAL were reported this week: on 30th, birds were seen at Belfast Lough (Co. Antrim) and Cresswell Pond (Northumberland) and on 31st, singles were at Kilcoole (Co. Wicklow), Farlington Marshes (Hampshire) and Mersehead (Dumfries and Galloway). The bird at Carrowmore Lake (Co. Mayo) was seen again on 3rd, the drake remained at Capringstone Flash (Ayrshire) on 4th and a new bird was at Clonakilty (Co. Cork) on 5th. The drake BLACK DUCK was still being seen at Ventry (Co. Kerry) on 2nd. In Devon, the KING EIDER remained at Appledore (Devon) to 5th, with a drake was in Mousa Sound (Shetland) on 1st. There was only one SURF SCOTER to report this week: a drake in Largo Bay (Fife) on 1st. Also on 1st, a little curio - a MARBLED DUCK - was seen at Hollowell Reservoir (Northamptonshire) before being flushed by a rower and it wasn't seen again. Then news emerged of a Marbled Duck at Wissington Beet Factory (Norfolk) on 25th October - could it be the same bird? At some stage this species must be destined for its rightful place on Category A, but quite which birds will be deemed as acceptable is a tough one to call. Talking of recent Category A additions, the popular drake HOODED MERGANSER at Radipole Lake (Dorset) was featured in the BBC's Autumnwatch show this week, given the thumbs-up by Bill Oddie, but whether the "10 Rare Men" are so well disposed towards it is one for next year's Rarities Report.

Raptors of note were, unsurprisingly, thin on the ground. A ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD was seen at Causey Park (Northumberland) on 1st, with another at Otmoor (Oxon) the same day, while the third of the week was seen on Hoy (Orkney) on 5th. Single WHITE-TAILED EAGLES were seen at Blair Drummond (Forth) on 30th and Vane Farm (Perth & Kinross) on 31st, while a wing-tagged bird was seen at Rosscarbery (Co. Cork) on 1st. A SNOWY OWL was seen at Balranald, North Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 3rd.

In Norfolk, the juvenile AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER remained near East Harling to 2nd (with the DOTTEREL still there for good measure to the same date), while further singles were at Needingworth (Cambridgeshire) to 30th, at Fillingham Lake (Lincolnshire) on 3rd-4th and at Omey Strand (Co. Galway) on 5th. Single WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS remained at Baile Gharbhaidh, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) to 30th (with the same bird perhaps then moving to South Ford on South Uist on 2nd), with another on St. Agnes (Scilly) from 30th-31st. The PECTORAL SANDPIPER was reported again at the Newport Wetlands (Gwent) on 31st and the LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER was still in Dundalk (Co. Louth) on 2nd-3rd.

In Cornwall, the second-winter presumed Azorean YELLOW-LEGGED GULL remained around the Sennen area to 3rd at least. Around 15 CASPIAN GULLS included two birds at Stubber's Green (West Midlands) on 30th, two birds at Ogston Reservoir (Derbyshire) on 31st, two birds at Shustoke Reservoir (Warwickshire) on 2nd and Beddington Sewage Farm (London) on 4th. Around a dozen ICELAND GULLS seen during the week included an inland adult near St. Neots (Cambridgeshire) on 3rd and a juvenile KUMLIEN'S GULL was at Forfar Loch (Angus) on 4th-5th. Up to 15 GLAUCOUS GULLS were recorded during the week, including an adult at Throckmorton Tip (Worcestershire) on 1st and two birds at Spurn (East Yorkshire) on 2nd. The same site and the same date also hosted a first-winter RING-BILLED GULL, the bird initially appearing at Bredon's Hardwick, earlier on 1st. A second-winter was at Lamby Lake (Glamorgan) on 31st-4th, while adults were at Westcliff-on-Sea (Essex) on 30th (with an adult at Canvey Island on 1st), Gosport (Hampshire and Timoleague (Co. Cork) on 31st and Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) to 1st at least. Still in Ireland, a FORSTER'S TERN was at Nimmo's Pier on 5th.

A male DESERT WHEATEAR was found at Easton Bavents (Suffolk) on 4th, remaining to 5th. The obliging first-winter male BLUETHROAT remained at Land's End (Cornwall) until 31st. Further Bluethroats were seen on Fair Isle (Shetland) on 30th, at Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire) on 1st and at Horse Shoe Point (Lincolnshire) on 4th. A HOOPOE was reported at Burgh-le-Marsh (Lincolnshire) on 30th and another was seen at Dyce (Aberdeenshire) on 5th. An OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT was reported at Holme (Norfolk) on 31st, with another at Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on 2nd-3rd. Two birds were seen on 5th: one was at Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire) and the other at Toab, Mainland (Shetland). Six RICHARD'S PIPITS were found far and wide this week: singles were on Lundy (Devon) and West Runton (Norfolk) on 30th; one flew over Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on 31st when one was at Kilnsea (East Yorkshire); on 2nd, single Richard's Pipits were at South Shields (Co. Durham) and on South Ronaldsay (Orkney); on 3rd, one was found on the Farne Islands (Northumberland); another was at East Head (West Sussex) on 4th; and on 5th, one flew over Ballycotton (Co. Cork). A SIBERIAN STONECHAT was found at St. Margaret's at Cliffe (Kent) on 30th, remaining there to 2nd, while two birds were found in East Yorkshire on 1st, at Easington and Withernsea, with the Easington individual remaining to 4th. At least 15 GREAT GREY SHRIKES were recorded during the past week, including as many as three birds in Surrey and three more in Norfolk. Also in Norfolk, a BLACK-BELLIED DIPPER was found on the Bayfield Estate, Glandford on 1st, staying only until early the following day, and another appeared at Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on 4th. One of the big stories of the week was the (relatively) early irruption of WAXWINGS into the country. Thousands arrived during the past seven days, with birds hitting Scotland en masse and on the English east coast birds arrived in some number too, while birds made it to Wales (a single on Anglesey on 2nd) and Ireland (two birds in Sligo on 1st). A flock of 100+ was at Arisaig (Highland) on 1st, with at least 120 at Ullapool (Highland) the same day. Over 200 birds were seen at Brora (Highland) on 2nd and on 3rd, a flock of over 400 birds appeared at Portree, Skye (Highland). Another 100 or more were at Pitlochry (Perth & Kinross) on the same date, and numbers rose at Arisaig (to 140+) and Ullapool (to 250). Another 100 birds were around Pitlochry on 4th and with sizeable double figure-flocks along the east coast it promises to be an absolutely classic Waxwing winter. But will anything rarer be dragged along with them?

Following on from a possible at Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on 31st, definite HUME'S YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS were found at North Gare (Cleveland) and Baltasound, Unst (Shetland) on 1st (the latter remaining to 5th), at Sandwich Bay (Kent) on 2nd and at Bru, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) and Symbister, Whalsay (Shetland) on 5th. Fans of PALLAS'S WARBLER have begun to enjoy the best autumn for this fabulous species in ages - it was something a slow start, with only two birds before this week, but it's been all change since then! On 30th, 11 birds appeared from Scilly to North Yorkshire, with three birds apiece for Holme (Norfolk) and Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire), with two more in Wells Woods (Norfolk). A further 14 or so were new in on 31st, with five or six new birds in Norfolk, with four birds at Holme. By 1st, another eight or nine fresh arrivals were noted from Scilly to Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Durham. Kent bagged three birds on 2nd and a couple of new arrivals hit Suffolk and by 3rd Northumberland was a new county to be represented as one arrived at Marden. On 4th, at least 10 birds were seen between Suffolk and North Yorkshire, with three at Donna Nook (Lincolnshire) and on 5th one was new to Lothian, at Torness. Dozens of single YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS were recorded alongside their rather more glamorous cousins; as many as 80 birds were noted, from Scilly to Shetland. The autumn's second DUSKY WARBLER was seen at North Foreland (Kent) on 2nd, with the third found later the same day at Spurn (East Yorkshire). On 3rd, new arrivals were found at Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire) and Muckleburgh Hill (Norfolk) and on 4th, one was at Bawdsey (Suffolk). A RADDE'S WARBLER was seen at South Gare on Teesside on 3rd-4th, with one reported at Foreness Point (Kent) on 2nd. Single BARRED WARBLERS were found at Holme (Norfolk) on 30th, on Holy Island (Northumberland) on 1st and at Hartlepool (Cleveland) on 2nd and a rather handsome SUBALPINE WARBLER was found in the hedges at Bempton Cliffs (East Yorkshire) on 31st, remaining to 1st; another was reported this week at Bawdsey. The BLYTH'S REED WARBLER remained on St. Agnes (Scilly) until 29th at least, and a new bird arrived at Mizen Head (Co. Cork) on 31st-1st was the site's, the county's and the country's second-ever record of the species, following the first last October. A male RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER was found at The Snook, Holy Island on 30th with single first-winters at Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire) on 31st, on Tresco (Scilly) on 1st, at Galley Head (Co. Cork) on 3rd, at Land's End (Cornwall) on 4th and at Stronsay (Orkney) on 5th.

A HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL was found at Loch Eynort, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 2nd, while at least three SERINS remained at Rainham Marshes (London) until 31st (and one was still present to 3rd) with another at Margate (Kent) on 1st. A PARROT CROSSBILL was reported in a garden at Mull of Oa, Islay (Argyll) on 5th while four single COMMON ROSEFINCHES were seen on Cape Clear Island (Co. Cork) on 30th, at Dawlish Warren (Devon) and at Cleadon (Co. Durham) on 1st and at Holland Haven (Essex) on 2nd. Finally this week, LITTLE BUNTINGS were seen at Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on 31st, on Cape Clear Island (Co. Cork) on 1st and at Polgigga (Cornwall) on 5th, while a RUSTIC BUNTING was found at Loftus (Cleveland) on 3rd.

If you are fortunate enough to encounter anything of interest, or if you have travelled to see one of the birds mentioned on our Bird News Extra page, please:

- use the web page
- call us on our freephone number 0800 043 1003
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- text BIRDS RPT (followed by the details) to 07786 200500

Friday, 7 November 2008

Top of the Pops

Dave carried out an interesting exercise yesterday, and worked out the Top 10 sites and species that our readers click on. The results are slightly surprising.

Top 10 birding sites:
  • Lakenheath (Hockwold) Fen 8037
  • Titchwell RSPB 7276
  • Minsmere RSPB 6865
  • Blacktoft Sands RSPB 6707
  • Portland 6515
  • Rutland Water 5955
  • Cley Marshes NWT 5694
  • Rainham Marshes RSPB 5486
  • Flamborough Head 5065
  • Spurn 4916
and Top 10 species:
  • Honey Buzzard 16812
  • Osprey 16246
  • White-tailed Eagle 15614
  • Great Grey Shrike 14738
  • Cattle Egret 14183
  • European Bee-eater 14018
  • Common Crane 13488
  • Spoonbill 13430
  • Glossy Ibis 13239
  • Black Kite 12983
Which brings me neatly on to another site-related topic. Did you know that you can improve your favourite site? It's really easy for subscribers to add a picture of any site you've been to - just click the upload site pic button (on the right hand side). We're currently especially keen to get Irish pictures, as we're a bit under-represented.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Waxwing winter

I've been studying the bird news, and the Waxwing reports are coming in thick and fast. We had hardly any last year - so I'm looking forward to catching up with some. With the help of lovely Dave the webmaster: here's the BirdMap with the week's Waxwing reports.

I've grilled every Hawthorn and Cotoneaster in West London but I haven't found any of my own yet.

Funny week here - the 2009 catalogue appeared from the printers today - so there's a general feeling of the calm before the Christmas storm. I had an excellent meeting with David Lindo this morning. We have plans for an exciting media adventure - so are off out on a shoot (of the camera variety) on Sunday.

Dave (lovely webmaster) is chained to the desk doing hideous web page creation - which I'm dutifully testing on FireFox for mac, Opera, Safari and Flock. I'm learning a good deal more about CSS and HTML than I would really like (much to Dave's entertainment). The rest of the team are beavering on our new iPhone software which Max promises to blog about later in the week. We'll see.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Fungus Foray

I am a member of the Selborne Society and it is a great privilege to take part in the many goings-on at Perivale Wood and Horsenden Hill. I moth there at least once a month, and it's some of the best birding to be had in West London. Yesterday there was a Fungus Foray - and despite the disgusting weather I trundled along. About a dozen people turned up - and we were led on a tour of the woods by Aleck Henrici who is a marvellous mycologist.

Well, I had no idea. What fun! I was seeing the wood in a whole new (and largely edible) light. We found dozens and dozens of fungi - from funny coral-types, through puff-balls, to the more familiar Wood Parasols and brackets (my favourite was an enormous Beefsteak). I particularly liked the Candle Snuffs and a King Alfred's Bun. VERY dangerous new obsession I think. There are thousands of species in the UK (and that's before you get into slimes and suchlike). I have enough trouble with birds and moths.

There's a most excellent fungus website called Rogers Mushrooms that I highly recommend. The picture is a Wood Blewit - and it really is blue! I'm told delicious - but someone else got their paws on it before I did.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Review of the Week: 23rd-29th October 2008 by Mark Golley

Hello Bloggers - a quick word from Fiona: I've decided to reproduce the weekly review (text only version) here so that somewhere on the interweb you'll be able to look back at the rarities from previous weeks. Good idea huh? Do enjoy!

An illustrated version of this article is available on our website to webzine subscribers, at:

The week at a glance

- LITTLE BLUE HERON reported in Carmarthenshire
- WILSON'S SNIPE on Scilly
- SNOWY OWL on Scilly
- ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK still in County Clare

The final full week of October 2008 passes by, presenting a trio of outstanding rarities as it goes. Often the pace of rarities can ease off as the month winds down, but the quality can often take an upturn and there have been any number of Grade A megas in November. For this year that's still to come of course, but for now there was the small matter of a potential British first to deal with.

The wide open spaces of the tidal grazing marshes at Banc y Lord near Kidwelly (Carmarthenshire) fell sharply into focus on 24th when news of a juvenile LITTLE BLUE HERON hit the headlines. The bird had been seen on a couple of occasions (over the course of the previous two weeks) prior to definitive views but was too far away for a conclusive identification. This two-week period alone would exclude the Irish Little Blue Heron from the mix (that bird was last seen in County Galway on 22nd). The expectant crowd that gathered from dawn on Saturday had plenty to look at as the wait began; but the wait went on and on, and nothing came. Well, nothing until the morning of 24th, when the original observer reported the bird in the very same spot. The game of cat and mouse seems to have begun all over again, but may not be helped by discussions regarding the identity of the bird in question.

No such problems for birders heading to Kent to enjoy the county's first (and the country's sixth) GREEN HERON, found along the Royal Military Canal at West Hythe on 25th. The rather showy first-winter bird had possibly been present since 22nd but, whatever the arrival date, it was yet another superb Nearctic arrival in this remarkable autumn. The bird remained to 30th at least. Down on Scilly, it was still pretty lively this week and the drama began on 26th when a bird initially called as a Red-backed Shrike was re-identified as a BROWN SHRIKE, which would have been the second record for the islands, following the bird on Bryher in September 2001. However, questions were asked throughout the day on 27th and, with the aid of a few cracking photos, the bird returned to being a Red-backed by dark and was still present on 28th. Still on St. Mary's, a WILSON'S SNIPE was identified on 24th at-where else?-Lower Moors (having first been seen there on 23rd). Quite how common Wilson's Snipe will prove to be is anyone's guess, but it seems highly likely that the small pools at Lowers Moors will be the place to search for this shiny new species in the years to come. St. Mary's hosted a GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH at the end of Porth Mellon beach on 26th, where it remained throughout the rest of the day and on to 29th. It could have been the bird first seen on St. Agnes, but in an autumn such as this, a second bird is equally as likely. The island completed a neat hat-trick when the Scilly's second RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL of the month popped up on 28th. The wonder of Scilly 2008 was well and truly cemented on 29th with the amazing arrival of a SNOWY OWL, firstly on Gugh and then heading across to St. Mary's (and lately on St. Martin's). Though not a "mega" in the listing sense of the word, the bird certainly merits a mention in the headlines: this was the first Scilly Snowy Owl since one spent much of March and April 1972 around the islands. A female or first-winter HOODED MERGANSER at Tayport (Fife) on 26th is definitely worthy of more than just a passing reference, given the mass of transatlantic quality that has been dumped on these shores this autumn. Could this bird make it on to the official record books? As ever, time will tell, and if it is seen again, and it has no obvious signs of captivity, then it could easily make the grade. In Argyll, off Uisead Point, a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS flew north during the morning of 27th. If it heads north, loops around the top of the UK, it could well be thrust into the North Sea, and with those strong northerly winds predicted, who knows where it could end up? In County Clare, the first-winter ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK remained at Kilbaha to 23rd. The autumn could have become even better still if the reported SIBERIAN THRUSH (at Nantmel in Powys) and NORTHERN FLICKER (in Hampshire, at New Milton) had come to pass, but it wasn't to be.

The adult WHITE-BILLED DIVER remained around South Ronaldsay, Orkney this week, seen again on 27th, while an adult flew south off Long Nab, Burniston (North Yorkshire) on 29th and another was seen from Kirkabister (Shetland) on the afternoon of the same date. A PACIFIC DIVER was reported on Stronsay (Orkney) on 29th but had not been confirmed at the time of writing. Up to 55 BALEARIC SHEARWATERS were seen during the week, with double-figure totals of 11 off Seaton, 12 past Berry Head (both Devon) and 16 from Portland Bill (Dorset), all on 23rd, the highest counts noted. SOOTY SHEARWATERS barely reached double figures, with birds noted from Scilly to East Yorkshire. The amazing autumn for GREY PHALAROPES continued this week, with over 400 birds reported. More than 110 birds were recorded around Orkney on 27th, with 41 near the Churchill Barrier No. 2 (with 53 there on 29th), 33 off Carness, and 26 at the Hunda causeway the highest counts reported. Elsewhere, 52 birds were seen at Gedintailor, Skye (Highland) on 27th-28th, 26 were seen by birders on board the Scillonian III crossing from Scilly to Penzance on the evening of 24th, with further counts of 24 from Land's End (Cornwall) on 27th and 21 from Porthgwarra (Cornwall) on 23rd. The Outer Hebrides fared well again, with as many as 48 birds recorded over the past seven days, including 13 from Griminish Point, North Uist on 24th and 10 off the Butt of Lewis, Lewis on 26th the largest counts. Prior to 27th, around 30 birds had been seen around Orkney, including 12 off the golf course at Stromness on 26th, while at least 40 were noted around Shetland. Some 20 LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS were seen this week, only in ones and twos, save for seven seen off Peninerine, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 26th, while three LONG-TAILED SKUAS were also noted: off Donna Nook (Lincolnshire) on 25th, and on 26th at Sandwich Bay (Kent) and Formby Point (Lancashire). Before the northerly blast that trundled down the east coast late in the week, just 12 POMARINE SKUAS were reported, while at least seven SABINE'S GULLS sadly included a dead bird picked up at Loch Slapin, Skye (Highland) on 25th (a Grey Phalarope was found in a garden near the loch on the same day, but it too died later). Hale and hearty Sabine's Gulls were seen at Portland Bill (Dorset) on 25th, and from Malin Head (Co. Donegal) and Kilcummin Head (Co. Mayo) on 26th (with another off the former site the following day) and two flew past Land's End on 27th. Three single LITTLE AUKS were seen this week, off Strumble Head (Pembrokeshire) on 24th, Turnberry Point (Ayrshire) on 26th and Aranmore Island (Co. Donegal) on 27th, while eight flew past Girdle Ness (Aberdeenshire) on 29th.

In East Sussex, four CATTLE EGRETS remained at Rye Harbour (East Sussex) to 23rd. In Dorset, one was again seen at Studland Heath (Dorset) on 23rd and 27th-28th, with another Dorset bird at Lytchett Bay on 25th. On 23rd and 28th a Cattle Egret was seen at Inchydoney Bay (Co. Cork) and the bird at Sandy Haven (Pembrokeshire) was still present on 24th, when two were noted flying over the M5 motorway at Yatton (Somerset). On 25th a Cattle Egret was seen at near Llanelli (Carmarthenshire) and the 26th saw single birds noted at Drift Reservoir (Cornwall) and White's Marsh (Co. Cork). Four GREAT WHITE EGRETS were seen this week, with the familiar bird at Blashford Lakes (Hampshire) seen on 25th-27th, and at Minsmere (Suffolk) the French colour-ringed bird remained to 26th at least. On 24th, single Great White Egrets were at Saddington (Leicestershire) and what may have been the same bird flew over Atherstone (Warwickshire) with another over the M60, near Salford (Greater Manchester). This latter bird must have accounted for the bird that was at Astley Green on 26th-29th. Numbers of SPOONBILLS dropped a little this week, with around 30 birds seen. Six were still on Isley Marsh (Devon) on 24th-29th and the week's high count was of some 15 birds in Arne Bay (Dorset) on 28th. The adult GLOSSY IBIS was again seen at Swillington Ings (West Yorkshire) on 26th and 28th, while 34 COMMON CRANES were seen at the Stubb Mill roost, Hickling (Norfolk), also on 26th. Three Cranes flew over Minsmere (Suffolk) on 27th and a WHITE STORK was seen at Desford (Leicestershire) on 28th.

Canada Goose enthusiasts would have been kept busy week with four different vagrant forms recorded. At Caerlaverock (Dumfries & Galloway) the CACKLING CANADA GOOSE (form minima) was still present to 28th and the TAVERNER'S CANADA GOOSE (form taverneri) was seen again there on 26th-28th. A second Taverner's was at Loch Gorm, Islay (Argyll) on 26th, along with a RICHARDSON'S CANADA GOOSE (form hutchinsii) and a TODD'S CANADA GOOSE (form interior), while also on Islay, a Richardson's Canada Goose was at Loch Gruinart on the evening of 26th. By close of play on 29th, at least four Richardson's Canada Geese were found around the island, including two at Loch Gruinart. Rather less complicated is ROSS'S GOOSE and one remained at various sites in Lancashire between 26th and 28th at least, while a SNOW GOOSE was in Aberdeenshire, near Slains Pool and then Meikle Loch on 26th. A second white Snow Goose appeared at Windwick, South Ronaldsay (Orkney) on 29th. On 25th, single BLACK BRANTS were seen at Butterstreet Cove (Dorset) and Pagham Harbour (West Sussex), the Dorset bird still present around The Fleet to 28th at least.

The two adult drake LESSER SCAUP remained at Hogganfield Loch (Clyde) to 28th and a drake was found at Holme Pierrepoint (Nottinghamshire) on 27th-29th (the first county record for a decade). Five RING-NECKED DUCKS were reported this week;, the drake remained at Foxcote Reservoir (Buckinghamshire) to 26th at least and an eclipse drake was still on Inish Mor (Co. Galway) to 28th. Two Ring-necked Ducks were at Carrowmore Lake (Co. Mayo) on 27th and the same date saw the drake still present on Loch of Clickimin (Shetland). Drake FERRUGINOUS DUCKS continued to be seen at Calvert Lake (Buckinghamshire) from 23rd-28th, Weston-super-Mare (Somerset) to 24th and Amwell Gravel Pits (Hertfordshire) to 28th at least. A new drake was found at Thornton Reservoir (Leicestershire) on 25th. The drake BLACK DUCK remained at Blanket Nook, Lough Swilly (Co. Donegal) to 23rd at least and another drake was seen again at Ventry Harbour (Co. Kerry) on 27th. In Northumberland, a drake AMERICAN WIGEON remained at Fenham Flats until 25th, while a drake at Broad Lough (Co. Wicklow) on 28th seemed to have brought his hybrid chums with him-four drake American x Eurasian Wigeon were present there too! There was a slight upturn in numbers of drake GREEN-WINGED TEAL this week, with at least six birds recorded. The Farlington Marshes (Hampshire) individual was still present to 26th and at Belfast Lough the bird seen first on 18th was still present on 28th. New birds were seen at Caerlaverock on 24th-25th and Capringstone Flash (Ayrshire) and Inner Marsh Farm (Cheshire), both on 26th, with another at Carrowmore Lake (Co. Mayo) on 27th. Also on 27th, a Green-winged Teal returned to Marshside (Lancashire). The KING EIDER remained at Appledore (Devon) to 29th, while an eclipse drake was found in Spey Bay (Moray), at Tugnet, on 23rd and a drake was in Mousa Sound (Shetland) on 29th. The drake SURF SCOTER in Lunan Bay (Angus) was still present from 24th-26th and a new drake was seen at Waterville (Co. Kerry) on 26th. A female Surf Scoter was seen off Dawlish Warren (Devon) on 27th and a juvenile was in Gerrans Bay (Cornwall) on 28th. The drake HOODED MERGANSER remained at Radipole Lake (Dorset) to 28th at least.

The only raptors of note this week were single HONEY BUZZARDS over Gibraltar Point (Lincolnshire) on 27th and near Brighton (East Sussex) on 29th, while ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARDS were seen at Eoropie, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) on 23rd and over D'Engayne Woods (Cambridgeshire) on 25th.

Waders also had something of a quiet week this week. An AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER was on St. Mary's (Scilly) on the afternoon of 26th, with a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER also on St. Mary's on 24th and 27th-29th, another on Tresco on 23rd-25th and one on St. Agnes on the afternoons of 27th and 28th (but which was seen heading to St. Mary's on the latter date). Further White-rumped Sandpipers were at Baile Gharbhaidh, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 23rd-28th, Leam Lough (Co. Mayo) on 24th, Pool of Virkie (Shetland) on 25th and Newport Wetlands (Gwent) on 26th, where the only PECTORAL SANDPIPER of the week was also seen, remaining to 27th. In County Louth, the LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER was seen again at Soldier's Point, Dundalk on 28th. New arrivals included a BAIRD'S SANDPIPER at Black Rock Strand (Co. Kerry) on 27th and American Golden Plovers at Ballymacoda (Co. Cork) on 27th, near East Harling (Norfolk) on 28th-29th (with a DOTTEREL there too on the latter date), and at Needingworth (Cambridgeshire) on 29th.

The dark, rather menacing-looking, second-winter probable AZOREAN YELLOW-LEGGED GULL was still being seen around Sennen (Cornwall) to 24th at least. Some 15 CASPIAN GULLS were recorded this week, including four birds at Long Drove, Cottenham (Cambridgeshire) on 25th, with three there on 26th. An adult KUMLIEN'S GULL was found at Lerwick (Shetland) on 28th. Eleven ICELAND GULLS included two at Scalloway (Shetland) on 26th, two birds in Ayrshire and on Orkney between 26th and 27th, singles at Liscannor (Co. Clare) on 23rd-25th, Coate Water Park (Wiltshire) and Draycote Water (Warwickshire) on 24th, Sligo Harbour on 26th and Whitehead, Belfast on 27th. The juvenile GLAUCOUS GULL continued to be seen at Ditchford Gravel Pits (Northamptonshire) this week (between 24th and 26th) while others were at Wood Wick (Orkney), Peninerine, South Uist (Outer Hebrides) and Liscannor (Co. Clare) all on 26th, at Dosthill (Warwickshire) on 29th, and on Fair Isle, where while two were seen on 29th. It was Ireland 5 England 1 in terms of this week's RING-BILLED GULLS: two birds were seen in Derry on 23rd, with an adult at Lough Foyle and a 2nd-winter at Limavady, and further adults at Cork City Lough (Co. Cork) on 25th, Black Rock Strand (Co. Kerry) on 26th and Nimmo's Pier (Co. Galway) on 27th. In Hampshire, the adult remained at Gosport to 25th at least.

In Norfolk, a RED-RUMPED SWALLOW flew east along Warham Greens on 23rd, while in Cornwall a delightfully showy BLUETHROAT performed to all comers at Land's End on 25th-29th. A couple of HOOPOES were reported on 24th; one (heard only) was on St. Mary's (Scilly) with the other near Basingstoke (Hampshire). The OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT remained on St. Agnes (Scilly) until 23rd while one of seven RICHARD'S PIPITS this week was also seen on St. Agnes on 25th-26th. The other birds were at Brew Pool, Sennen (Cornwall) on 24th, at Cardross (Clyde) on 26th, on Cape Clear Island (Co. Cork) on 27th and, on 28th, at Barton on Sea (Hampshire), Wilstone Reservoir (Hertfordshire) and Kilnsea (East Yorkshire). The young RED-BACKED SHRIKE was still at Wouldham (Kent) on 23rd-29th while GREAT GREY SHRIKES included two birds in Norfolk, two birds in the New Forest (Hampshire) and two birds in Dorset, while singles were seen in Bedfordshire, Berkshire and Somerset. As cool conditions drifted quickly down from the north on 28th, WAXWINGS began to arrive, with around a dozen birds noted, including three at Filey (North Yorkshire). On 29th, at least 25 birds were seen at Holme (Norfolk)-hopefully the first of many this winter.

A late warbler surprise came this week in the shape of a PADDYFIELD WARBLER on Lundy (Devon) on 29th, representing the first record for the county. A BLYTH'S REED WARBLER remained on St. Agnes (Scilly) this week, still present from 23rd-29th. There has been some debate as to whether this bird, complete with a newly acquired ring as mentioned last week (but ringed as a Reed Warbler), is the same bird that was seen from 12th-18th and it is pretty tricky to tell from photographs taken. The first PALLAS'S WARBLER of the autumn was found at Ovingdean (East Sussex) on 24th while just under 40 YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS included up to 26 in the far southwest: 12 in Cornwall and at least 14 on Scilly. Three BARRED WARBLERS this week included two birds on Scilly, both on 24th, with one on St. Mary's and the other on St. Agnes. The third bird was at Berry Head (Devon) on 27th. Scilly also laid claim to two of the week's three RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHERS, and again it was St. Mary's and St. Agnes that held the birds, while the third was seen at Dungeness Bird Observatory on 26th-27th.

And continuing the trend, Scilly hosted one of the two COMMON ROSEFINCHES seen this week, one on St. Agnes from 24th-26th, with the other appearing on Lundy (Devon) on 24th. At Rainham Marshes (London) a single SERIN was present on 24th, with last week's three birds topped by four on 26th, with three still present there to 29th. Another Serin flew over Barton on Sea (Hampshire) on 25th. The adult ROSE-COLOURED STARLING was still at Bowmore, Islay (Argyll) this week (after arriving in the middle of August). This week's review ends with news of a male PINE BUNTING in a private garden in Essex on 24th-this would be the second county record if accepted, following on from the popular bird at Dagenham Chase in February and March 1992.

If you are fortunate enough to encounter anything of interest, or if you have travelled to see one of the birds mentioned on our Bird News Extra page, please:

- use the web page
- call us on our freephone number 0800 043 1003
- email us at
- text BIRDS RPT (followed by the details) to 07786 200505

We would love to hear from you with information on what you have found, or an update on what you've been to see.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Since I started tweeting, I've bumped into lots of great birding blogs - especially American ones. Today I stumbled over the marvellous The Birders Report. Larry features a great story on bird strikes on skyscrapers. Now I know we're not terribly overcome with skyscrapers in the UK - but the youtube clip is very interesting viewing.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

DVD authoring finally finished!

Hurrah! Double Hurrah! I've finally finished authoring the enormous 270 species DVD. Phew! I may be allowed back out into the sunlight. I'll try and attach one of the videos here.


The DVDs are unbelievably full. Disc 2 (Crakes through to Auks) I had to fiddle with to get everything shoehorned in. Disc 1 was pretty full too, but I had a slightly easier time with discs 3 and 4. Now I just need to re-author the 130 species edition and the horrible pre-Christmas rush tasks will be almost done.

I hope you all enjoy the SpotCrake. One of my favourite birds from the 270.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

OGRBB updated

OGRBB is our rather clumsy acronym for the Online Guide to Rarer British Birds, and it's one of the unsung highlights of our Bird News Extra service. It's a database containing all accepted reports of past rarities in Britain and Ireland, since the year dot. It complements our other bird news services in that it contains only accepted records, and is compiled retrospectively when the dust has settled and the "ten rare men" (and their Irish equivalents) have made their deliberations. Anyway I've spent much of this week updating OGRBB to include the records from the latest British Birds Rarity Report so we're up to date to the end of 2007, for the UK at least.

I have to say this isn't my favourite job, for lots of reasons. Firstly, it's one of those tricky jobs that you only do once or twice a year, so it's a case of remembering/relearning how to do it every time. Secondly, it's horribly complicated. To save me having to reinvent the wheel, I did write myself a set of instructions a couple of iterations ago - which now runs to over 100 steps, some of them individually quite time-consuming. But something always seems to change each year to throw a new spanner in the works, so it's never an entirely smooth or familiar process. This is one reason why I haven't done it for two years, so we had got a bit behind.

Our collaborator Keith Naylor has made it his life's work to compile and maintain the underlying database of reports, spending hours poring over BB reports, checking references and consulting obscure journals for details of long-lost rarities. However, Keith works (for lots of very good reasons) in Microsoft Access offline, whereas our online database uses SQL Server. Both are Microsoft database products, so you'd think it would be pretty easy to transfer data between them, wouldn't you? Sadly not. For example, Access stores dates differently from SQL Server, and the latter can't cope with dates (at least in the data type we use) that are earlier than January 1st 1753 - and a few of the records in the database are older than that, so there's a bit of fiddling about to do there. The earliest record in the database, by the way, concerns a pair of White Storks that nested on Edinburgh Cathedral in 1416. So it's a bit of a chore to get the new data successfully into SQL Server, even before I start working on it. And then I have a list of integrity checks to make sure the species codes Keith uses match ours - and they never do - and so on. "Splits" are a particular nuisance here, and there have been quite a few in the last couple of years, as well as a bunch of tweaks to scientific names: fuscata becoming fuscatus and the like.

The service provides online lists of records, but also maps and graphs them. So the next chore is to produce all the necessary graphics. (Fiona said gaily yesterday "oh, I thought those were compiled on the fly" - I wish, Fi.) For the maps, we use a 3rd-party mapping program called DMAP, which is a handly little program written specifically for mapping wildlife data and saves me a lot of messing about with grid references and base maps - but its user interface is a little, shall we say, "individual", so it's not exactly a pleasure to use.

The other graphs and charts, showing records by year, month, sex and age for each species, are then produced using our own little application, written by John a few years ago in Visual Basic. Unfortunately, it uses a 3rd-party graphing API which, it seems, can only churn out 32 graphics at a time - and I've got to produce four different graphs for each of 290+ species we cover. So that takes a while, as I have to run the program 30 or 40 times. Oh, and it produces BMP (bitmap) files, which are too big for web use, so they have to be converted to more web-friendly GIFs. For that I use IrfanView, a handy bit of shareware, but which also has its quirks.

And then I have to upload all the maps and charts to the web server - 19MB of data at the last count, update a few introductory pages, and lastly transfer the new data from the local SQL Server database to the live one (at which point I cross my fingers and hope it all works).

Anyway - the job has had me tearing my hair out more than once, but it's done now...except I seemed to have cocked up the colours on the maps, so I'm going to have to compile, process and upload those again. Oh, and we're expecting a new database with 2005 and 2006's Irish reports in a few weeks, so I'll have to do it all again.

So...I hope you enjoy it and I hope this insight into the work required to compile it is interesting. We've made Arctic Warbler available as a demonstration: see