Friday, 30 December 2011

Tawny Owl back again

At the start of this year we blogged about the dramas of a pair of Tawny Owls nesting in a camera nest box - the male disappeared half way through the breeding season leaving the female to fend for herself and four chicks. She managed beautifully with all four young fledged successfully. Now the female is back at her box and she seems to have found a new mate.  You can watch the latest footage on the BTO's YouTube channel and we'll blog about the latest news from Maison Tawny as and when anything happens.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

All five BTO Cuckoos back in the same country

A message received by BTO at 03:13 yesterday morning shows Martin has moved from Central African Republic in to Congo, joining the other four Cuckoos. He has moved 368km (228 miles) south of his previous position and is now close to Lyster and Clement. For the first time since they left East Anglia all five cuckoos are once again in the same country.

Messages received from the other four Cuckoos show that there have been no other significant movements. You can follow the progress of each Cuckoo on the BTO Cuckoo blogs.

An overview of the project, presented by Phil Atkinson at the recent BTO annual conference, can be viewed below:

Monday, 5 December 2011

Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970 to 2010

Defra's National Statistics Release (Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970 to 2010) can now be viewed online as a pdf on the BTO's website

Key BTO monitoring schemes are the basis of the latest wildbird indicators, which show a further decline in farmland birds to their lowest ever level. Woodland birds, water and wetland birds and seabirds have all shown an increase over the last year whereas the wintering waterbirds show a slight decrease in England, but a slight increase in the UK.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Gamekeeper admits poisoning Buzzards

From an RSPB press release issued today:
RSPB welcomed today's (1st December 2011) conviction of a 45 year old man at Lanark Sheriff Court for poisoning four Buzzards using the lethal banned pesticide Alphachloralose.
David Alexander Whitefield admitted killing the birds whilst employed as a gamekeeper at Culter Allers Estate in South Lanarkshire in 2009.
Commenting on the conviction RSPB Scotland Head of Investigations, Bob Eliott, said: "We’re delighted with the outcome of this case. We now await news of the sentencing which will take place on January 5, 2012. We hope this will reflect the serious nature of the offences committed. RSPB Scotland is working with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAWS) which includes Scottish Government, Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and others to bear down on the perpetrators of crimes against birds of prey. It’s high time that such illegal activity which damages Scotland’s international and domestic reputation was consigned to the history books."

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 6

It's my last day here in the Hula Valley and I'll be sad to leave.  The festival has been excellent with great birds, a fantastic location and, as in Eilat, world-class festival guides.

This morning we were out early for another Agamon Hula park mobile tour ride; we've seen some amazing birds this week but there can be few things that compare to thousands of cranes coming out of their roost in the morning.  The birds then fly into the nearby fields and allow a close approach by the tractors and trailers.

Other birds seen on the morning tour included two Marsh Sandpipers, a smart male Siberian (maurus) Stonechat, and close views of a Pied Kingfisher.  No sign of any Jungle Cats, which just goes to show how lucky we were with our multiple sightings earlier in the week.

Variation in Common Crane eye-colour:

After some breakfast back at the hotel we headed back to the park where we took a look at the family of Black-shouldered Kites, some Golden Plovers in one of the fields, more 'eastern' Stonechats etc. Then this afternoon we sat in on some of the lectures at the scientific conference that is taking place at the hotel—including excellent talks by Tim Appleton and Pete Dunne.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 5

Another excellent day at the Hula Valley Bird Festival today.  We headed back into the Golan in an attempt to clean up on a couple of the area's bird that we'd missed previously. We succeeded with excellent views of at least five Finsch's Wheatear, though sadly Long-billed Pipit eluded us. There was plenty more on offer, too, with Blue Rock Thrush, Eastern Imperial Eagle, flocks of Serins, Bramblings, plenty of Mountain Gazelle, two Red Foxes, Calandra Larks, a Syrian Woodpecker, and the usual Long-legged Buzzards etc.

Habitat shot

And one to show the feather detail...

One of our Finsch's Wheatear sites also happened to be a memorial to those who lost their lives in the fighting that took place in the Valley of Tears, near to the Syrian border; a really beautiful landscape.

The afternoon was spent back at Agamon Hula Park where we again had 'the usual' (Black-shouldered Kite, 1000s of Cranes, Hen Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle...) along with two Yellow Wagtails, a Griffon Vulture, a smart male Namaqua Dove, and nine Wild Boar that emerged from the reed bed at dusk.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 4

I had hoped to upload all of my pictures of each of last night's dinner's twelve courses but, again, I'm short of blogging time. We spent the full day exploring the Bet Shean valley south of the Sea of Galilee today then, after sunset, visited the opening of the Drawing Inspirations from the Hula Valley art exhibition; now it's dinner time and then we're off to a concert by Paul Winter.

Yet again, we had lots of great sightings of amazing birds: Desert Finch, Dead Sea & Spanish Sparrow, eagles, a singing Southern Grey Shrike, flocks of Pygmy Cormorants, Whiskered Terns, literally 100s of Black Kites, dozens of Black Storks etc etc.

 A dark-morph male Marsh Harrier was particularly striking:

My apologies for the appearance of gull photos in two posts on the trot; though I make no apologies for including photos of this beauty:

There was also an young Pallas's Gull in the flock:

And this Heuglin's Gull:

Finally, for a bit of fun, who can tell me how many species are in this photo and which species they are?

(That's a subtle way of saying I don't know, though my best educated guess is four)

P.S. For anyone following Yoav's blog and wondering why I'm one behind with my festival days; the festival officially started on Sunday but since I didn't arrive till Monday morning I'm down a day.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 3

An even briefer update this evening than the last two nights; we're off out again in a minute for a posh 12 (yes, twelve) course meal!

Another excellent day in the field, this time on the Med. coast at Maagan Michael.  Lots of all three Kingfishers, Citrine Wagtails, Temminck's Stints etc etc. and some decent gull flocks to search through.  The small gull flocks were made up of Black-headed and Slender-billed with three 1st year Med Gulls hidden amongst them.  The larger gulls were mostly Armenian with one (presumed) adult Baltic; also a few showing a varying number of "Caspian-like" features, though I'm not convinced any of them were anything other than [slightly atypical] armenicus (but feel free to disagree!).

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Hula Valley Bird Festival - day 2

Oh dear, this "blogging on location" isn't going to plan at all.  I'm having such a great time at the festival that I've had no time to write a proper blog post.  We've spent another full day in the field (this time exploring Mount Hermon and the Golan plateau) and I've just got back to my room after watching an excellent presentation by photographer-in-residence, Thomas Krumenacker.

After yesterday's Jungle Cat sightings, we scored today with excellent views of two Wolves.  By the time I'd grabbed by camera they were already on the other side of the valley.

The mammal list is ticking along nicely with Egyptian Mongoose, Egyptian Fruit Bats, Golden Jackel, and Copyu all seen.  Birds spotted today included Sombre Tit, Horned Lark, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Western Rock Nuthatch, and, at Hula Nature Reserve in the evening, a spectacular harrier (including several Pallid) and Merlin roost.

Eastern Imperial Eagle

Merlins at dusk

Monday, 21 November 2011

Greetings from Israel!

It's the end of my first day here at the Hula Valley Bird Festival and it's fair to say I'm pretty cream crackered. To cut a long and foggy story short, I've had exactly zero minutes of sleep since yesterday morning and, after a full day in the field, I'm struggling to keep my head off the desk in front of me, let alone write a blog post that attempts to be vaguely interesting. So instead, here's a photo dump of interesting stuff I've seen in the Hula Valley so far. Enjoy!

Hula Lake at dawn

 Pied Kingfisher

More Pied Kingfishers... spot the impostor.

A gang of Armenians

Purple Heron

Smyrna Kingfisher

Black-shouldered Kite

Jungle Cat

Friday, 18 November 2011

Ghosts of Gone Birds

On Wednesday evening, we took a trip across town to Shoreditch to take a look at the fabulous Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition. While we were there, we were lucky enough to be able to chat to Ceri & Chris, co-creators of Ghosts, about the project, the art, what they hope to achieve, what they want to do next, and Ceri's recent visit to Malta.

The exhibition runs in London until Wednesday 23rd November 2011.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Dipper from Norway to Essex

Here's an interesting story from the BTO Ringing Blog:
Continental Black-bellied Dippers are recorded most years on the islands in the north of Scotland and on the east coast of the UK. However, ringing recoveries have been surprisingly lacking in the origin of these migratory Dippers that visit the UK in the winter. More than 1,900 Dippers were ringed under the BTO ringing scheme during 2010, 1,700 of them ringed as chicks. Encounters of ringed adults are rather low outside of special projects, and recoveries of foreign ringed birds are very unusual. 
So we were quite surprised when we had a phone call about a Dipper from Norway! This is the third ever recovery of a Dipper with a foreign ring found in the UK and this bird was unfortunately attacked by a cat near Colchester, Essex. We don't know yet where in Norway this bird came from but previously we have had two other movements of Dippers between the British Isles and Scandinavia, as the map below illustrates. Both birds were ringed as chicks. The one in purple was ringed on 22 May 2004 near Bergen and later controlled by ringers in Voe (Shetland Mainland) on the 2 Feb 2006. The one in yellow was ringed north of Kristiandsand (south Norway) on the 31 May 1993 and later found killed by car the 28 Oct 1993.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

British Trust for Ornithology 2011 awards

Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor at the Independent and author of the best-selling Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, was presented with the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Dilys Breese medal, awarded to outstanding communicators who deliver BTO science to new audiences. 

During the last few years Michael has provided a major impetus for the BTO’s migrant-related work. Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo is dripping with BTO-related material and his follow-up articles on Nightingales and Cuckoos provided a benchmark which was followed by journalists, not only here in the UK, but around the world. 

Michael really understands conservation and environmental issues but, more importantly, he really understands the importance of the work of the BTO. Many of our summer visitors, birds like the Nightingale and the Cuckoo, have experienced alarming declines; we have lost more than half of both during the last twenty-five years, and Michael has gone out of his way to support this work by putting BTO messages before an Independent audience, including decision-makers and opinion-formers. 

Presenting the medal to Michael, Dame Barbara Young, President of the BTO, said, "I am delighted to present this award to Michael, with a small number of words he can grab your heart - he is a very fitting recipient." 

Michael commented, "I had the great pleasure to meet Max Nicholson, one of the driving forces behind the formation of the BTO in 1933.  Max saw the power of harnessing the interest of amateurs in the collection of meaningful data - BTO has continued to do so ever since.  I am delighted to receive this award and thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Additionally, Dr Ian Hartley was awarded the Marsh Award for Ornithology for his significant contribution to the field, and Henfield Birdwatch’s Mike Russell received the Marsh Local Ornithology Award for their published study on the birds of the Parish of Henfield, Sussex. Earlier the same day, we also honoured the long service of 12 of our BTO Regional Reps, who have all dedicated 25 years of time and effort to supporting our volunteers.

The ceremony was hosted by the Society for Wildlife Artists.

Friday, 28 October 2011

'My' Cuckoo crosses the equator

Back in August, I sponsored one of the BTO's sattelite-tagged Cuckoos; I decided to sponsor Kasper since, at the time, he wasn't getting much attention.  Lyster was still in the UK, Clement was making waves by taking a westerly route through Iberia, and the other two birds – Martin and Chris – had taken what looked, on paper, to be exciting routes.  Kasper, on the other hand, had taken a seemingly boring route of straight lines down through Italy and into Africa.  In actual fact, though, this route had taken Kasper over the high Alps and across one of the widest stretches of the Sahara.  With knowledge of this, his route didn't seem so boring any more!

In another exciting addition to Kasper's journey, news came today that he has rocketed south from his last location and is now residing south of the equator.

In other Cuckoo news, Lyster – despite being the last Cuckoo to leave the UK – has now leap-frogged Clement and has headed south as far as Equatorial Guinea.  Both Martin and Chris are still in the Congo rainforest, whilst Clement has stayed in Nigeria.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Productivity Plummets

Portugal - day 5

Today we headed northeast to Parque de Natureza de Noudar, near Barrancos on the Spanish border.  The park was fantastic; well equipped for visitors and also with accommodation for those who wanted to stay in the area for longer.  It was also, in my opinion, the most breathtaking location we've visited this week as far as scenery goes.

Highlights from the park were varied and included an Otter in the river that marks the border with Spain and hundreds (if not thousands) of Crimson Speckled moths.  The biggest surprise, however, came from the skies with an unexpected White-rumped Swift.

Also at least one Black Vulture.

Crag Martins were extremely common and we also caught up with species such as Rock Sparrow and Cirl Bunting.

Part of the park's "being well equipped for visitors" includes golf buggies, which visitors can take out for the day to explore the trails.  We couldn't resist.

(Almost) sunset on our final full day in Portugal:

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Portugal - day 4

It's been another long but highly enjoyable day. We headed south, to Algarve, where we started with a boat trip. Highlights included a wide range of wader species, a Slender-billed Gull, and a some Fiddler Crabs.

Next we visited some salt pans where we found a a Caspian Tern and a flock of Audouin's Gulls and more waders.

At a second site, we came across Booted Eagle, a juvenile Little Tern, a juvenile Common Tern and several more Caspian Terns.

At Quinta do Largo pool we got good views of Purple Swamp-hen and a juvenile Littler Bittern, plus Pochard, a male Tufted Duck, Red-crested Pochard, and plenty of Azure-winged Magpies.

We finished the day at a fantastic little reserve, Castro Marim—a series of working salt pans in the very southwest corner of Portugal—before heading back to Mértola for dinner with the mayor...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Portugal - day 3

This morning started much as yesterday did, less the Azure-winged Magpies and with the addition of a Little Owl and a Blue Rock Thrush.
Red-rumper over breakfast

Then we stepped things up a gear (ha) and headed for... the steppes.

Again, I'm keeping this brief since we're only just back at the hotel after our evening meal and I'm quite keen to get off to bed.

Despite the 34 °C temperatures, the birding has once again been fantastic.  We started with another Black Vulture, Calandra Larks and good numbers of Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Soon we came across four eagles in the sky above us; two Bonelli's and two Spanish Imperial!

Spanish Imperials make Bonelli's look like tiddlers...

Then we had excellent views of Great Bustard.
This is uncropped:
Damn autofocus!

And here's what (predictably) happened next:

Thankfully these birds were slightly more co-operartive, though they were more distant (this photo has been cropped):

Two Hen Harriers and some Little Bustards were soon added to the day list.

Here are the two species in the same photograph. You might have to trust me on the Little Bustard part:

Good numbers of Red Kite were seen over the day, after a bit of searching we managed to find a late Lesser Kestrel, and we finished the day with absolutely stunning views of an immature Spanish Imperial Eagle perched on the ground.