Thursday, 31 March 2011


Like some crazy gull x Bee-eater hybrid, this one would never get past BBRC, but I wonder what it could possibly be strung as? Answers on a postcard please...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Blue Tit update

After my first post on the 'twitterpated' Blue Tit, it's only taken her a month to get round to nest-building. She's furiously at it now though, with beakfuls of moss and 'stuff' dragged in on a regular basis now.

You can't quite see it here, but the mysterious 'nestbox shuffle' makes a bit more sense now. As the amount of nest material builds up in the box, the shuffle compacts it down round the sides of the box and will leave a decent cup in the centre of the box. Mystery solved!

This is perfect timing as well, as the BTO's Nest Box Challenge launched last Sunday, so my Blue Tit will be one of the first dots on the map. It's so easy to join the survey, so do go and have a look today.

The rest of the nesting season has been a bit slow, with my short forays out (both of them) producing just one Wren nest. You just know it'll be one the male builds and is never used, but we'll see.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 8

I'm back in the UK now, but here is my video from my last morning of the Eilat spring migration festival. With apologies for the amount of shaky through-the-scope footage!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 8

It's my last day here in Eilat. This morning, to end the festival, we went on a last-ditch-attempt mop-up tour. It proved worthwhile, starting with a female Semi-collared Flycatcher (plus Chaffinch and European Bee-eater, new for the trip list), then on to a Broad-billed Sandpiper; next was a pair of juvenile Striated Herons in the marina; then finally Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and a male Cretzschmar's Bunting in the IMAX park. I'll post today's video when I'm back home. Need to dash... I've got a plane to catch!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 7

It's my final full day at the spring migration festival here in Eilat. I've had a bit of a lazy day, catching up on a few things that needed doing and staying local in Eilat. Two White-eyed Gulls off North Beach were the highlight, and a Pied Kingfisher was briefly along the canal there.
I'll spend this evening at the round-up lecture here in the hotel; tomorrow morning will be spent on a quick "mop-up" tour of the local area before heading to the airport to catch a flight home via Tel Aviv. So, I suspect this short video is going to be my last post from on the ground at the festival - I'll post an update of the final day when I'm back in the UK and a slightly more carefully put together summary of the whole festival when I have time. I can honestly say though that the whole trip has been superb, and massive thanks has to go to all of the festival organisers and trip leaders who have done a more-than-brilliant job over the last seven days.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 6

This morning I joined the Uvda Valley tour and, under grey skies and with strong winds, headed up into the mountain valley. We soon found a large mixed flock of larks, mostly Thick-billed and Short-toed though with some Bimaculated mixed in. Trumpeter Finches were also mingling amongst the flock.
A female Citrine Wagtail, a female Namaqua Dove and a Collared Pratincole were at the sewage works; the fields nearby were very productive with several Red-throated Pipits, Woodchat Shrikes, Wrynecks, a mixed flock of yellow wagtails (mostly Black-headed with one 'superciliaris' and at least one flava/beema-type), an Ortolan Bunting and two Cretzschmar's Buntings.
At Yotvata, the fields contained several more Red-throated Pipits along with Water Pipits; a Lesser Short-toed Lark called in briefly, a Booted Eagle dropped down on some prey nearby, and an Oriental Skylark gave fantastic 'scope views as it fed in the cut grass.
The evening was spent back at Yotvata. Three species of bird were seen - Stone Curlew, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, and, oddly, Isabelline Wheatear. The owl gave stunning views. We also scored with several mammal species: many Cape Hares, three Jackals, a Red Fox, and three Desert Hedgehogs.

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 5 (evening)

Last night was 'Rambo night' - a trip north to look for Nubian Nightjars and Hume's (Tawny) Owls. Our first sighting of a Nubian Nightjar came quickly, before we had even arrived at the favoured site. At the site, we managed to get good views of two or three birds as they sat on the tracks around the saltmarsh. Then we moved onto the Hume's Owl site, where we quickly located a pair of calling birds that gave fantastic scope views as they sat on the cliff face.
WARNING: This movie contains no bird footage... though it does contain a recording of a male Hume's Owl!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Something about Bird Observatories

This is a bit of a shameless plug for everyone to pay a spring visit to a Bird Observatory, but then if you never have you don't know what you've been missing! We have just added Portland as our 'Featured Site', so do go and have a look at what this gem has to offer. But other Obs happenings today have included the ringing of a Short-toed Treecreeper at Landguard BO (Suffolk).

This is the first record for Suffolk and there has only been one record further north, at Hornsea Mere (East Yorkshire) in 1970. The first was at Dungeness BO back in 1969 and since then the Obs has hosted no fewer than 12 of the 24 records, including two together on 7th October 1978. Of the others, three have been ringed at Sandwich Bay BO (Kent) and two have been ringed on Portland (Dorset). This is an incredible run of records, but is testimony to the ringing effort at the Observatories. Pre-2000, 16 of the 20 records were of birds caught for ringing, though interestingly the last four records have all been field sightings.

So there must be more out there somewhere, so get out your copy of Svensson, gen up on wing bars and alula patterns and get yourself to a southeast Bird Observatory.

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 5 (morning)

I'm uploading today's video early because tonight is 'rambo night' - Nubian Nightjars and Hume's Tawny Owl, hopefully!
I spent this morning at the IBRCE ringing station with Re'a, Roni, Teun, Bram and the other volunteers there. On the walk up to the station, two Pied Kingfishers were along the canal. I arrived just as yesterday's male Ménétries's Warbler was retrapped; sometime late a second bird, a female, was caught. Other highlights includes a Hoopoe, a female Woodchat Shrike, a Squacco Heron, and an Eastern Orphean Warbler.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 4

The great thing about the festival here in Eilat is that there's no obligation to take part in every festival tours. So, if like me this morning you want to take a lie-in and catch up with some sleep, you're free to do so. It also gives the chance to do a little bit of exploring yourself. I took a wander through Eilat, where I found several House Crows along with the usual Spectacled Bulbuls, Laughing Doves etc. At North Beach, a dark morph Western Reed Egret was present and several Eastern Bonelli's Warbler were migrating through.
In the afternoon, I joined Yoav and the group for a trip to the km19 pool. The pair of Little Crakes were still showing exceptionally well and, around the cattle sheds, we found a smart male Namaqua Dove. Sadly the latter decided to fly north before I can set the camera rolling. At least one Red-throated Pipit flew north over, a couple of Isabelline Wheatears were around the site, and Short-toed Larks and Spanish Sparrows were feeding in the cattle sheds.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 3

It was another early start in Eilat this morning with the minibus leaving at 4am, heading to Nizzana in search of desert species. It was a long day but we managed a good haul and, in addition to the species features in the film clip below, we managed to see Bonelli's, Lesser Spotted, Short-toed & Steppe Eagle, Cretzschmar's Bunting, Rüppell's Warbler, Masked Shrike, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, and Eastern Orphean Warbler.
Given the nature of the terrain we were birding in, a lot of the birds have been filmed from the car, so please do excuse the slightly shaky footage of some of the species!

Nest recording season is upon us

After my first migrants the other day, I had my first signs of local breeding, with nest-building Long-tailed Tits in the garden. Even the nestbox Blue Tit is now paired up, but not yet got round to nest building. So it'll soon be time to get out and start nest recording in earnest...

If you've never thought about nest recording then do consider getting involved. As long as you follow the guidelines of the Nest Record Scheme, it's safe and easy to get involved. Even starting off recording birds in and around your garden is good experience, so why not find out more?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 2

It's the second day of the spring migration festival here in Eilat, and the first full day of tours. I opted to head up to the Dead Sea in search of some of the specialities that area has to offer. Led by Itai Shanni, our group of six left the hotel at 5am to head north. The array of species on offer was amazing, though frustratingly several proved to be just that bit too flightly, flittly or scuttly for me to keep up with. The result: good views of Sand Partridge, Cyprus Pied Wheatear, Fan-tailed Raven, Scrub Warbler, Long-legged Buzzard, and Graceful Prinia but no usable footage of any! Here's a summary of the day with some birds I did manage to film:

My first migrant (at last!)

At last, my first summer migrant! We were preparing net rides for an autumn of ringing on the coast yesterday (as my scratched arms will testify) and singing across the valley was a half-hearted Willow Warbler. Only a bit of sub-song (bettered by the myriad resident Chiffchaffs), but heralded the start of spring for me. Our site is somewhere down this valley and looks good for spring (photo copyright Sheila Russell).

So whilst I've been missing out, the rest of the world has been hard at it finding migrants. The weekend saw the first two Bluethroats (Suffolk and East Yorkshire), a Hobby in Essex and LRPs and Ospreys all over the place. Add to that reports of Blackbirds and Tawny Owls with fledged chicks and things are cracking on...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Eilat spring migration festival 2011 - day 1

I'm lucky enough to have been invited out to Israel to take part in the fabulous Eilat spring migration festival.

After an overnight flight from Heathrow to Tel Aviv followed by an internal flight down to the Red Sea resort, getting my head on a pillow was almost as high a priority as getting out birding. Almost. It did mean that most of today was taken at a rather leisurely pace, though.

Late morning was spent taking in some of the local avifauna - species such as Palestine Sunbird, Spectacled Bulbul, and Laughing Dove, all within the hotel grounds; late afternoon was spent on a tour of the famous km20 pools with the amazingly knowledgeable and always helpful festival 'flock leaders'.
Here's a short video with a summary of some of today's best bits:

Friday, 18 March 2011

Donald & Jeff Watson Raptor Award 2011

The Donald & Jeff Watson Raptor Award is awarded annually by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups, in memory of two outstanding raptor ecologists. The winner of the 2011 Watson Award is Geoff Sheppard, from the Dumfries & Galloway Raptor Study Group.

Geoff has been secretary of the West Galloway SOC group since 1976 and has been the BTO Regional Representative since 1983. His dedication to a 25-year study of Barn Owls is outstanding and deserving of recognition, with as many as 100 sites being checked at least three times per year. The scale of Geoff’s study has to be seen to be believed, with great attention to detail, which will allow the data to be utilised by ornithologists long into the future. It is for this reason, combined with his ability and keenness to instill an interest in birds in everyone he meets, that Geoff was awarded the Donald and Jeff Watson Raptor Award.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Hide etiquette

I've been catching up on the furious competition between BTO and RSPB in the BTO vs RSPB BirdTrack Challenge and their competing Mealy Redpolls. Whilst RSPB took to filming theirs in the Lodge hide, the BTO turned to mist nets to get a much closer view.

But this made me think of shocking hide etiquette, with RSPB crashing round in their hide...

...and BTO completely ignoring the 'hide' bit of hide and using it as more of a step ladder.


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Spurn in the 1950s

Apologies for anyone expecting a blow-by-blow historical account of the early days of one of the east coasts premiere birding hotspots...

But for anyone not familiar with the history of the Bird Observatory, then either get hold of a copy of the recently-published second edition of 'Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland' (co-edited by a certain BirdGuides staff member) or have a quick look at this film in the Yorkshire Film Archive.

Of course, some things at Spurn just don't change in six decades...

Million birds ringed in 2010!

The BTO announced today what we'd all suspected for a while - that 2010 was a record-breaking ringing year. With a productive breeding season and (finally!) an autumn migration of note, we all knew the total would be good, but topping the million is still pretty impressive. So well done to the record 2,700 ringers who worked hard through the year to hit this total.

The full totals are all on the BTO website, where you can also check out the totals for your own county. It was good to see my 1,000 birds were a reasonable chunk of the 7,200 ringed in Cornwall and my garden Tawny Owl was the only one ringed!

More detail on the milestone can be found on the webzine.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Cetti's on the move

Cetti's Warblers generally don't do much of interest, so it was with some surprise that Pemrokeshire Ringing Group recaught two ringed birds this winter at Kilpaison Marsh. These were both birds that had moved over 300km, which is quite exceptional for a Cetti's! One had been ringed in June 2010 at Bainton (Cambridgeshire) and the other at Marsworth (Hertfordshire) in June 2007, both being recaught at Kilpaison in October/November 2010. Long movements of Cetti's Warblers are very unusual indeed, and these are the longest within the UK.

Incredibly there was also a record of a Belgian-ringed Cetti's (ringed in August 2009) recaught at Holme Pierrepont (Nottinghamshire) in October 2010! This is the third from Belgium to be found here, with other recoveries of birds ringed in France (3) and the Channel Islands (2).

Monday, 7 March 2011

Spring is in the air!

As soon as the sun comes out, everything gets going! This report has just been sent on to the BTO from Nottinghamshire:

"Seen Friday 25th Feb 2011 at 4pm. Adult Robin removing fecal sack from nest. There has been sights of adult Robins collecting food for the last 2 weeks, we expect to see fledglings in the next week or so. They are a little late this years due to December weather, in previous years we have had Robins sitting on eggs over Christmas, they do very well here lay 2 eggs and produce 2 birds."

And we've also just heard that the first Tawny Owl chicks have been ringed as well! More on 'Demog Blog'...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Name the raptor

Well this is causing a bit of a stir... Funny-looking Merlin, dodgy hybrid or a slightly odd American Kestrel? Take your pick... But it was in Co Meath yesterday, with a photo appearing on Irish Birding: