Saturday, 21 December 2013

Golden Eagle found poisoned in the Angus Glens

RSPB Scotland yesterday condemned those responsible for the killing of a satellite-tagged Golden Eagle, found poisoned on the hills above Glen Lethnot in Angus. The bird was discovered after Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, who was monitoring the eagle's movements, became suspicious when the satellite signal remained static for several days. He immediately alerted the police and RSPB Scotland investigations staff who later visited the area, which is intensively managed for grouse shooting, and a search of the moor allowed the recovery of the dead bird.

 The eagle's movement's prior to its discovery poisoned.

Tests carried out by the Scottish Government laboratory of Science and Advice for Scottish agriculture confirmed that the bird had been poisoned. The eagle, named "Fearnan", was ringed as a chick in a nest near Loch Tay in Perthshire in June 2011 and had spent much of its life in Badenoch, before moving to the Angus glens in early November. Just three weeks later, it had been poisoned.

The poisoned Golden Eagle © RSPB Investigations Team

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: "This appalling incident involving a species recently voted as the nation's favourite bird, marks a dreadful end to the Year of Natural Scotland. We have recently submitted a petition to the Scottish Government, asking for the Golden Eaggle to be officially designated as the national bird of Scotland. Incidents such as this show very clearly why this iconic bird needs not just our recognition, but also greater protection. We sincerely hope that those responsible are swiftly brought to justice and would encourage those with information to come forward."

In the past five and a half years, another four eagles, a Red Kite and seven Buzzards have been shot, poisoned or trapped on sporting estates situated in the Angus Glens. In January 2013, the nest tree of a pair of White-tailed Eagles was felled. No-one has been prosecuted for any of these offences.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB, fitting the satellite tag harness onto the eaglet prior to stitching and glueing the harness bands to establish a good fit (© Keith Brockie)

Mr Housden added: "I will be asking the environment spokesperson of all the parties in the Scottish Parliament to take cross-party action to stiffen the penalties for those convicted of such offences and to look again at the regulation of sport shooting. The current state of affairs is simply unacceptable."

A recent report by RSPB Scotland revealed that a significant number of incidents of illegal killing of birds of prey took place in areas managed for driven grouse shooting.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Thoughts on the Baikal Teal in Lancashire

Following the report of a drake Baikal Teal at Marshside RSPB, Lancashire yesterday an image subsequently emerged via social media. The digiscoped image from the finder appeared to show a drake with an unusual face pattern, lacking the black vertical line running from below the eye to the chin.

Initial internet searches failed to find any comparable images of drake Baikal Teal with this vertical line absent, and this aligned with news that a hybrid had been seen the previous week resulted in the incorrect conclusion that this individual was one and the same and of hybrid origin.

Later yesterday evening an image was circulated apparently showing a drake Baikal Teal from Japan that did not show the black vertical line (see here).  We did some further digging however and located the original image and additional images taken the same day of this presumed 1st-winter drake in Japan that clearly show it did have the black vertical line albeit a narrow one (see here). In addition communication with the observer of last week's hybrid pointed to a different second individual being involved.

In order to try and clarify the identification and establish whether drake Baikal Teal can ever lack this black line we emailed various individuals for comment. Our first response came this morning from Peter Kennerley, who has extensive experience of Asian duck. Peter made the following comments:

"In my personal experience drake Baikal Teal would always show this vertical line...However it is variable in width, on some narrow, others broad"

"...the lack of a black bar on the face isn't a hybrid character (but could be the result of inbreeding from a captive population?)"

Further comments from ex-BBRC chairman Colin Bradshaw provided a plausible suggestion that may explain the absence of the black line commenting thus

"It not only lacks the dark bridle but also the black triangular patch below the eye that this extends from. What I am not clear is whether the bridle feathers are grown in black tipped white and then the white tip abrades off [quite likely I would think].  In that case this white bridle would be a short-lived but common transient feature of all males. However if they grow in black straight away then it wouldn’t."

After further searching an image taken in Japan in December (see here) and another image of a captive bird here may provide further evidence in support of Colin's comments as both individuals have a faint dark line appearing, perhaps as the paler feather tips abrade.

This all points away from my original thoughts that the facial pattern was as a result of hybrid origin and it will be interesting to see, if this individual lingers, whether the face pattern changes in the coming weeks or the line remains absent. Proving its origin however is a whole different ball game!

A short video from Crossens Marsh was made available (via Youtube) by Pete Hines this evening.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Hand-reared Spoon-billed Sandpipers seen in Thailand and China

One of this year's hand-reared Spoon-billed Sandpiper has been seen for the first time in the wild, more than 8,000km from where it was released. Twenty-five of the critically endangered birds have been raised over two years by an Anglo-Russia conservation team on the Russian tundra, before being released to join their wild-born counterparts in migrating to South-East Asia. Until now, it was unknown whether any would be seen until they returned to Russia to breed aged two years, but this month one has been observed on the coast near Bangkok (Thailand), and another in southern China.

 Hand-reared juvenile Spoon-billed Sandpiper (photo © Roland Digby/WWT)

WWT Head of Species Conservation Department, Baz Hughes said: "This is really exciting news! We now know that Spoon-billed Sandpipers, raised by our avicultural staff on the Russian tundra, can migrate with their wild counterparts to wintering areas a quarter of the way around the globe."

Conservationists take eggs from wild Spoon-billed Sandpiper nests, prompting the parent birds to lay a further clutch. The hand-reared chicks are safe from predators and, with the wild-raised chicks from the second clutch, it increases the total number of birds fledging by up to ten times.

Mr Suchart Daengphayon from the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand saw the sandpiper at Samut Maneerat on 7th November. The hand-reared birds are all marked with small white plastic leg flags - marking birds allows them to be identified later and helps reveal information about their movements and behaviour.

Christoph Zöckler, Coordinator of the East Asian- Australasian Flyway Partnership's Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force said: "We've learnt an enormous amount about the sandpipers' movements over the last few years but there are big gaps. While we still don't know all the places they stop over on migration, we can't protect them or address any threats they face there."

Wader expert Nigel Clark from the British Trust for Ornithology added: "Marking Spoonies tells us many things. Studies in the early 2000s gave us some understanding of what was going wrong - not enough young were returning to breed. By marking birds now, we will be able to tell if what we are doing to conserve them is working."

Surviving predators on the breeding grounds is the first in a series of perils that have claimed most of the species. Coastal wetlands along their migration route have been reclaimed, leaving the birds without sanctuary or food, and illegal trapping in nets is widespread. Incredibly, within a week, a second hand-reared Spoon-billed Sandpiper was spotted by Jonathan Martinez of the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society at Fucheng, in southern China. He also reported a vast number of illegal nets on the 500km coast north of Fucheng, which the bird had evidently avoided on its southward migration.

Dr Rob Sheldon, RSPB's Head of International Species Recovery, said "Just when we thought we'd solved the problem of illegal hunting in Bangladesh and Myanmar, it now appears that trapping of waders is a widespread problem in China too. BirdLife International and its new partner, the Chinese Ornithological Society, will be working hard to address this serious issue in future."

Evgeny Syroechkovskiy, Chair of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force said: "The plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper has rallied extraordinary levels of support from all around the world. But conservation is costly and the Spoony needs this support to continue if it is to survive. We, as conservationists, are looking at every opportunity to focus our limited funds where they will make a difference."

Guidance on reporting Spoon-billed Sandpiper sightings is available from the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force. To follow the progress of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation breeding programme visit

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Subalpine Orientation

One of the interesting identification discussions of the Autumn was in relation to the male Eastern Subalpine Warbler at Mid-Yell, Shetland between 1st and 8th October. With apparently differing views emerging at the time as to whether this individual was 'Eastern' or 'Western', we plumped for simply reporting it as 'Subalpine Warbler' to reflect that.

As time has passed and with the publication of a new paper by Svensson in this month's BB, there should be no doubt that this was an Eastern Subalpine Warbler. You can see Martin Garner's post here for further details and images.

At the same time as the Yell individual, another male was found by Martin Kitching of Northern Experience Wildlife Tours while on a busman's holiday birding in Druridge Bay on 4th October. It  remained until the following day. Being just down the road, I caught up with this male on its first afternoon and enjoyed some brief views as it moved around the blackthorn and roses. Aware of the potential three-way split in the, perhaps not too distant, future I was keen to see if we could 'do' this one to sub-specific identification. There was much discussion of identification features while on site with Martin and one or two other birders in attendance.

Both Martin and I gained an impression of a bird with quite whitish underparts with a pinkish tinge around the upper breast and flanks. We also thought the white sub-moustachial stripe looked quite broad. It didn't call during the hour or so I was there. Confusingly, some of the images that began to emerge later that evening seemed to show a richly-coloured individual contrary to our observations in the field. It's fair to say this prompted a fair bit of head-scratching and re-reading of existing literature. Snippets of the yet unpublished Svenson paper suggested tail pattern could be all-important in determining the sub-species (and the possible future armchair county tick!).

Martin was able to get back the following day and with a great deal of diligence captured a flight shot that highlighted the all-important tail-pattern feature described by Svensson as part of his proposed split of cantillans into iberiae (a subspecies of Western Subalpine Warbler S. inornata) and cantillans sensu stricto (now the nominate subspecies of Eastern Subalpine Warbler) thus "In central and south Italy, adults and many first-years have a narrow white wedge on the inner web of the penultimate retrix, whereas the Franco-Iberian population has a small square white tip to this feather, not a narrow wedge" (Svensson 2013. A taxonomic revision of the Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans. Bull BOC 133(3): 240–248).

Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Druridge Bay, © Martin Kitching

As can be seen from Martin's image above the 'penultimate retrix' (or tail feather) on the Northumberland individual clearly shows a narrow white wedge extending up the lower half of the inner web. Combined with our observations in the field on the extent of underpart colour  and the thickness of the sub-moustachial stripe, this would suggest that if/when the proposed split is adopted this individual would fit neatly into the 'Eastern' side.

Currently Northumberland has only one record of Eastern Subalpine Warbler (S. c. albistriata): an individual trapped in November 1963 at Hauxley. This could, of course, be subject to change post any split/review.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Autumn in the Dordogne

BirdGuides webmaster Dave Dunford has just returned from a surprisingly productive week in the Dordogne region of France: birding highlights included Southern Grey Shrike and Black-winged Kite on the Faux Plateau - both rare this far north - and superb sightings of newly arrived wintering Wallcreepers at Le Grotte du Grand Roc and Les Eyzies in the Vézère valley. It's hard to believe that the latter can be seen more conveniently anywhere in Europe. Details of these and many other sites are available in Birding Dordogne by David Simpson, published by BirdGuides; a new and expanded edition is in preparation and is expected to be published in the New Year. Quite a few butterflies were still on the wing, including lots of Clouded Yellows, rather fewer Berger's Clouded Yellows, Grayling, and (pictured) a very late Oberthür's Grizzled Skipper.
Reptiles still around included European Wall Lizard (below) and Western Whip Snake.
David's wildlife tours and superbly sited and appointed gite are warmly recommended: see for more information.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Good news for Amur Falcons so far

After the atrocities involving the trapping of an estimated 100,000 Amur Falcons in Nagaland, north-east India last autumn (see video here) were revealed, quick conservation measures were put in place to avoid a repeat in 2013.

So far in 2013, more than 300,000 Amur Falcons have arrived in Nagaland on migration. However, thanks to a campaign organised by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), squads of ex-hunters and youths from three villages in the area have been patrolling the falcon roosting areas day and night to ensure they are safe. The squads report that not a single falcon has been killed, thus honouring the pledges made by local Naga villages to help save the species.

Large flocks of Amur Falcons, such as this photographed in South Africa in February 2012, will hopefully be a commoner sight in years to come thanks to efforts in Nagaland. 
Image © Gary Waddington
WTI and Natural Nagas started the project to prevent the slaughter of Amur Falcons earlier this year, with support from CAF-India in collaboration with Nagaland Forest Department. The Village Council Members of three villages pledged that their respective villages would not hunt or kill falcons and made it a punishable offence. This was preceded and followed by a number of awareness campaigns and meetings with the villagers.

The original article, on the WTI website, can be found here.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Sardinian Survivor?

Tuesday I needed a change of scenery after two weeks of Yellow-browed Warblers and little else on my usual patch. I took the opportunity to head up to one of my favourite birding sites - Mire Loch at St.Abbs Head NNR (Borders) - to catch up with the male Sardinian Warbler that reappeared on 25th September after first being present in June.

Sardinian Warbler, Mire Loch 27.09.2013 Bruce Kerr

Active and showing well as it fed in the low canopy just above the main path, I watched it for a while before moving off through the scrub to search for migrants. A couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, a Mealy Redpoll and rear end views of an elusive Red-breasted Flycatcher later it was time to go.

On the drive back south I began to wonder about its prospects if it stayed and what was the latest date for previous Sardinian Warblers, so resolved to dig out some details when the opportunity arose. 

The BirdGuides ORB Archive was a good place to start. Delving into the records revealed that by the end of the 20th century none had made it past 11th November; an adult male in Shetland in 1992 holding the prize for staying power.

Perhaps the best indication of whether a Sardinian Warbler could make it through a British winter came in 2002/03 when a male first found in Norfolk at Old Hunstanton between 27th September and 15th October 2002 was thought to be the same individual that reappeared over 16th-24th Marsh 2003.

Again in 2003, a male and female in Skegness, Lincolnshire made it through to 4th January and 11th January respectively. Was it a coincidence that all three of the longest-staying individuals recorded in Britain happened in the same year? What seems apparent is that winter 2002/03 was fairly tame, perhaps on the dry side with little by way of prolonged snowfall or rain after the Autumn, at least on the east coast (see here for one summary). The second half of winter, the first three months of 2003 provided the sunniest start to a year since 1893 (source).

Hardly a revelation that mild winters help might increase the chances of one of these Mediterranean warblers getting through a whole winter. So the prospects for the St. Abbs Sardinian, in its location sheltered from the worst of the gales to the east, are probably not brilliant, but given a mild winter it might at least make it into 2014.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Topical Record Shot

In the thick of Autumn we've been a little busy to get any further record shots, or even any blog posts, up since mid-September. However the Sora currently lingering on Tresco jogged the memory of our webmaster Dave Dunford to search through his prized collection of record shots for this stunning example of the genre taken in 2005 on Lower Moors of the last Scilly Sora.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Record Shots

Recent days have seen a celebration via Twitter of a certain genre of photography often forgotten - the record shot. Keen to highlight the talents of those birders capturing real record shots, the kind you need to squint at and study for several minutes to decide if there's even a bird in the frame, there has been a good-natured and humorous stream of great examples tweeted and critiqued using the #recordshot hashtag.

Here at BirdGuides we're out in the field regularly (some of us in more far-flung fields than others but let's put that to one side): we know that when you're trying hard, when you're really flogging the local patch and the best you can manage is a barely discernible shadow amongst the shrubbery or a dot in an otherwise empty vista, Photos of the Week can be hard to swallow.

We thought it might be a good idea to find a place, here on the BirdGuides blog, to champion the very best record shots from those with not much gear but plenty of idea. So we've set up an email address that you can send your very worst  best record shots to and we'll aim to select one each week to publish as our 'Record Shot of the Week'. Alternatively, tweet us direct at @BirdGuides with the hashtag #recordshot.

Just to get you started, here's one of ours, a decent swell, a bird diving frequently for long periods and a handheld iPhone produced this rather smart record shot of a Long-tailed Duck.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

BTO Cuckoos: Fourteen now south of Sahara

The latest positions of the BTO's Cuckoos, as of 11th September 2013

Patch became the latest Cuckoo to reach Africa, following closely behind Whortle, and both have now successfully crossed the desert. This means that, of 18 birds this year, only 4 perished on the journey and, amazingly, 14 of our tagged Cuckoos are south of the Sahara, having covered the trickiest part of their migration. This is much better than last year, showing how unpredictable life is for migrant Cuckoos.

Whortle left Spain and by 1st September he was in southern Algeria. He continued onwards and stopped close to the Niger river in central Mali, an area that will be nice and green at this time of year. He crossed the desert, cutting across in quite an easterly direction and consequently wasn't far behind the other Cuckoos who had travelled south and then east. He continued to make good progress and by early morning on 4th September he was close to the border with both Burkina Faso and Niger. His location was between the Partielle De Faune D'ansongo-Menaka, an area which was apparently first created to conserve giraffes which are sadly no longer there, and the Sahel Reserve. He was roughly 730km (500 miles) to the north-west of Ken and Skinner at the time - not too bad given his comparatively late departure! Since then he has ventured into Niger.

Signals on 2nd September revealed Patch was heading south from Italy; by 3rd September he was flying over north Libya and 29 hours and 1,900km (1,160 miles) later he had crossed the Tenere desert and was in Niger. Signals through the evening of 4th September and into 5th September continued as he travelled south. The next signal, and the first of good quality, was received on the afternoon of 6 September and showed him in the Yobe region of Nigeria, having completed the last part of his desert crossing.

From Yobe, Patch travelled north-east throughout the early hours of 7th September, in an apparent beeline for Lake Chad, and by mid-afternoon was north of the lake. Last year Chance also stopped here, along with Chris and Mungo, and all stayed in the area for a while. It was actually the last location we received for Mungo and presumably the end of his journey. Chance has arrived in the area of Lake Chad in the last few days, after a slow trip from Niger. Livingstone also spent a matter of days here before heading further south.

From the Central African Republic, David has now travelled further east to south Sudan and is in a similar location to that of last year. He is close to one of the birds tagged in Belarus. Interestingly, three of the other birds from Belarus have already travelled much further south, with one bird in south Congo and two in Angola.

Derek, Ken and Skinner remain in Nigeria, along with Tor.

You can keep up to date with all the Cuckoos on the BTO website. Catch up with out partner projects tracking Cuckoos tagged in Germany and Belarus here.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

The best photographs of juvenile Caspian Gull ever taken in the UK..?

Bird photographer Mick Southcott is a firm favourite in the BirdGuides Iris galleries, being renowned for producing quality images of both common and rare birds over the years. On a trip to Dungeness in mid-August, where he had photographed juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls the week previous, Mick came across two smart juvenile gulls at the fishing boats - one clearly a Yellow-legged, but the other differing somewhat in terms of both structure and plumage. Mick has kindly allowed us to reproduce a few of his fantastic images of the second bird below:

There are number of features clearly visible in these fabulous shots that don't ring true with identification as Yellow-legged Gull - or indeed Herring or Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The latter two species can easily be ruled out by the overall paleness of plumage, clean tail and rump pattern, all dark tertials and relatively advanced state of moult and wear. Structurally, the bill is relatively long, thin and lacks a significant gonydeal angle while in the lower image, the bird appears quite long-necked. The middle two images betray the bird's long and lanky legs - all of these structural qualities are suggestive of Caspian Gull. Another clincher is the stunningly white underwing portrayed in the second shot - only cachinnans would show such unmarked axillaries and underwing coverts, particularly at this young age - the body and head are also already very pale. Further good indicators include the greater covert pattern and the also the markings on the moulted scapulars - both visible in the lower image.

Despite British birders scrutinizing gulls more closely than ever, juvenile Caspian Gulls remain a genuinely rare sight in Britain with no more than a handful of records annually. There is only a small window in which they may occur on our shores: from the very end of July through to early/mid September, when birds' moult generally becomes well advanced towards first-winter plumage. Given this rarity and gulls' tendence to favour locations where, more often than not, they give distant views, Mick has done exceptionally well to capture a magnificent and highly instructive series of shots that illustrate this much sought-after age class superbly. And what a beautiful, elegant gull to to boot! These surely must be some of the best ever shots taken of Caspian Gull in the UK?!

You can find plenty more of Mick's Caspian Gull shots on this post on his blog, 'Birding the Day Away'.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Golden Eagles breeding at three years old: a first for Scotland

For the first time ever in Scotland, two young Golden Eagles have been found to lay eggs at just three years old. Normally, Golden Eagles breed for the first time from four to six years old. Only once before has a three-year-old eagle been confirmed to lay eggs, and that was in southeast Spain.

This new information about the breeding behaviour of the species was discovered through a satellite-tagging project run by the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Natural Research and the RSPB. Two satellite transmitters were attached to young Golden Eagle in Galloway and Strathspey in July 2010. Two young females laid eggs this year, at just three years old, having mated with older males in the Scottish Borders and Aberdeenshire.

Golden Eagle, Mull from the Iris galleries © Brian Rains/Wild About Mull

Roy Dennis, Director of the Foundation commented, "This is very exciting, as it is the first proof in Scotland that Golden Eagles can breed here at three years. It shows that when they live in areas with plenty of food and little competition, can breed at an early age. Unfortunately, the eggs did not hatch but that is not surprising for such young individuals."

Professor Des Thompson of SNH, who chairs the group running the work added, "Both areas where these young Scottish eagles have bred were previously identified as having several unoccupied territories. Previous research has pointed to a link between persecution and younger Golden Eagles managing to secure territories and attempting to breed. The shortage of older females may explain why such young birds have managed to breed. Provided the right conditions now prevail - persecution free, good availability of prey, good weather, and appropriate habitat - then we hope that these birds will attempt to nest again next year and young will fledge. This would signal the start of an upturn of the fortune of Golden Eagles in these areas."

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

White-tailed Eagle breeding success in Fife

For the first time in almost two centuries, White-tailed Eagles have bred in the east of mainland Scotland. Conservationists confirmed today (20th August) that a pair released in 2009 as part of a successful reintroduction project, have raised one chick in a Forestry Commission Scotland wood in Fife.

Between 2007 and 2012, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland, with additional financial support from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Fife and Rural Tayside LEADER Programme 2007-2013, reintroduced a total of 85 eagles to Scotland's east coast. Their progress and whereabouts continue to be regularly monitored by project staff and volunteers.  Having found a safe and secure home, the adult pair successfully reared a healthy male chick which was fitted with a leg ring and white wing tags with black numbering, earlier this summer by trained and licensed ringing experts.

Adult White-tailed Eagle, Mull from the Iris Galleries © Debra Pickering

Minister for Environment and Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse said, "This is fantastic news — it is the first chick in almost two hundred years to be hatched on the mainland of the east coast, which was the ultimate aim of the reintroduction project. I hope it will be the first of many of this magnificent species which will eventually spread their territories right across Scotland. I'd like to thank all partners who have played their part in making this exciting and special event happen."

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland added, "This chick marks a huge milestone in our partnership to restore White-tailed Eagles to their former range in the south and east of the Country. This success further strengthens the strong bond we have formed with the people of Norway, who kindly gifted birds for release in Scotland throughout the reintroduction process, which started over 30 years ago on the west coast. Young birds successfully released 5-6 years ago are now pairing up in the wild-and we are very excited a chick from a nest in Fife has safely fledged. We owe a great deal to the project staff, farmers, landowners, partners and of course the general public for their support and enthusiasm. Our focus now will be to continue monitoring this youngster and the other east coast birds with the expectation of more breeding attempts next year. These wonderful birds are back! As always project officer Rhian Evans is keen for any east Scotland eagle sightings to be reported to her via email."

Ron Macdonald, SNH's Head of Policy & Advice said, "After almost 200 years, it's wonderful to have a sea eagle chick fledge again in the east of Scotland. With the west coast eagles already established, this is a good step towards a healthy population of sea eagles across the country."

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scotland commented, "The arrival of this chick marks the beginning of a new era for the sea eagles in the east coast of Scotland. The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to be involved in reversing the fate of these rare, once native, birds. They are part of Scotland's natural heritage and it is the prospect of glimpsing rare species, such as the glorious sea eagle, that attracts visitors to our shores bringing much-needed tourist income to our communities."

Once a regular sight in Scotland's skies, the White-tailed Eagle was driven to extinction in the Victorian era. The last native eagle was killed on Shetland in 1918. The species only returned to the UK following a successful reintroduction to the West of Scotland, starting on the Isle of Rum in 1975. As well as helping return the UK's largest birds of prey, the project has also strengthened links between Scotland and Norway, where the sea eagle population is strong. Project staff worked closely with Norwegian colleagues visiting nesting sites and selecting suitable chicks to use for the East Scotland reintroduction. Although the majority of the Scottish population remains on the west of the country, the species is now regularly spotted in Eastern and Central Scotland too.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Bon Bon!

When Tim Cleeves rang us during the afternoon of 14th to say that, along with Maurice Hepple, they had just been watching an adult Bonaparte's Gull at Cresswell Pond in Northumberland, our first thoughts were that it might be the adult that had been seen around Whitburn and Cleadon (Durham) on 10th and 13th for it hadn't yet been reported that day. However, Tim's comments on the Cresswell adult suggested otherwise, describing it as having a 'full black hood' that looked 'pristine'.

Sure enough once Maurice had returned home, sent some of his images through and allowed us the opportunity to compare them with the video footage of the Durham bird from a few days earlier, shared by Whitburn Observatory stalwart Paul Hindness, it was immediately apparent that the North East is indeed currently hosting two different adults - the Whitburn individual has clearly begun to lose its summer hood, showing extensive white flecking around the face.

Adult Bonaparte's Gull at Cresswell Pond (courtesy and copyright M Hepple)

Bonaparte's Gull, adult, Whitburn Steel (courtesy and copyright P Hindness)

Tim and Maurice watched the Cresswell adult fly off to the south and so far it has not been relocated. Incidentally, the Whitburn/Cleadon individual was last reported on Tuesday so while there are two birds, tracking down either is set to be a challenge.

Thanks to Tim Cleeves, Maurice Hepple and Paul Hindness.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Yellow-legged Gulls in late summer

It's almost a cliché to state that gulls "are not to everyone's taste". Indeed, that may well be the case – habits, habitat and oft-bewildering identification challenges tend to put a lot of people off. That said, increased airtime – largely thanks to dedicated internet sites such as the wonderful – has contributed to an ever-growing band of birders dedicating their time to searching the various rubbish dumps, estuaries, ports, harbours and beaches at which gulls tend to gather.

At this time of year, Yellow-legged Gulls are at their most numerous across Britain & Ireland as post-breeding dispersal from breeding grounds further south and east brings birds to our isles. Good numbers can generally be found across much the South East and parts of the Midlands, with gulls lingering to moult before their numbers gradually drop off again throughout the autumn (though plenty do stay for the winter).

The River Thames estuary is really the hub of Yellow-legged Gull activity in Britain, and mid-July to mid-September generally witnesses the highest counts reported as birds congregate to moult in the area – for example, 145 were at Rainham on 9th September 2012 and, just yesterday (6th August 2013), 142 were counted on the Kent side of the Thames between Greenhithe and Dartford.

The Rainham area is a great place to get to grips with Yellow-legged Gulls, with the late summer period also offering a fine opportunity to compare juveniles with their Herring and Lesser Black-backed counterparts. Though birds are often feeding out of view on the dump itself (to which there is strictly no access), birds can be watched from the adjacent riverside footpath as they commute to the river to bathe and loaf. Though birds can often be swimming mid-channel at high tide (and thus may be distant), low tide sees them loafing on the exposed foreshore where they give excellent views from the footpath. Parking is available in the riverside car park off Coldharbour Lane (grid reference TQ516801). From here, walk southeast along the river for up to a mile to view any concentrations of gulls along the river.

In a three-hour visit to Rainham yesterday morning, I had at least 35 Yellow-legged Gulls of all ages, with juveniles and adults being the most common age class. Take a look at the juvenile below, and see if you can work out what makes it a Yellow-legged:

It is worth noting that this individual has an atypical bill colouration - Yellow-legged Gulls almost exclusively show dark bills well in to their first winter (and the following summer) - but, apart from that, exhibits classic plumage. Note the overall paleness to the underside and head, dark 'shadow' around the eye, covert pattern, largely brown tertials with limited notching at the tips (some have no notching) and, crucially, scapular pattern. The bird has already begun to replace a number of its juvenile scapulars with second-generation feathers (those with the anchor-shaped markings on) - this early moult is almost unheard of in Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, given that they fledge up to several weeks later than Yellow-legged and generally look as though they are 'fresh from the nest' in early August. Note also the bird's slender, long-winged structure and long legs.

The same bird is portrayed above in flight, illustrating the characteristic tail pattern of the species - a largely white rump and upper tail (with limited brown flecking) and a crisply-defined and narrow black tail band that tapers towards the outer tail feathers.

Happy gulling!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

BirdGuides Server: Planned Maintenance

The BirdGuides server requires routine maintenance and will be unavailable from around 10:00 today, Wed 31st July. This will affect the BirdGuides website, iPhone/Android app and all our services, but not this blog. The maintenance is not expected to take more than two hours, but progress updates, if required, will be given here. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

European Cuckoo study

Following our webzine article yesterday, which detailed a new study on Cuckoos that has been launched in Germany and Belarus, Dawn Balmer very kindly pointed us in the direct of a fantastic new map that the BTO have together on their website. It details the positions of all the satellite-tagged Cuckoos across the two countries as well as those from the BTO's own study:

The latest position of all the satellite-tagged Common Cuckoos - click for a larger version

For more details and to keep track of all the Cuckoos, visit the European Cuckoo study page on the BTO website.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Frampton Sandpiper footage

This afternoon has been dominated by a confusing series of reports from Frampton Marsh RSPB (Lincs). Yesterday (24th July), a White-rumped Sandpiper was reported from the reserve, with a single image appearing on BirdGuides earlier today. News came this morning of the bird's continued presence but, during the afternoon, a new image was posted on Twitter, showing a bird that appeared to be a Baird's Sandpiper.

Though the two-bird theory seemed feasible, John Moon kindly emailed the sightings team a short while ago with a sequence of digiscoped video footage that he obtained on site yesterday afternoon. To us, this appears to be the same bird as that photographed today and again looks to be a Baird's Sandpiper:

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Irish Council Leader Calls For Open Season on Hen Harriers

In an extraordinary response to reforms on CAP payments the Limerick Leader newspaper recently published comments from Limerick Council Chair John Sheahan that included a call for an 'open season' on Hen Harriers if certain fiscal conditions for local farmers were not met.

Irish Hen Harrier from the BirdGuides Iris Galleries © Polina Kasapova

We have reproduced part of the news article and Councillor Sheahan's reported comments below:

Following the conclusion of the CAP deal, Cllr Sheahan called for a review of Natura 2000 sites, their designation and compensation for landowners adversely affected.
“Farming in the marginal lands of CountyLimerick is being decimated by the kosh of SPA. No proper plan is in place to assist farmers badly affected, total control is now with the National Parks and Wildlife Service – a cloak which our ministers and officials are happy to hide behind”, said Cllr Sheahan.
Large swathes of land in West Limerick and in some cases entire farms are designated to protect a predatory bird known as the Hen Harrier, he said.
“To some of us this name was an addition to our vocabulary, in days gone by it was a hawk. This protected bird has the power to stop a landowner reclaiming land, planting forestry, or constructing a windfarm.
“Following the bad weather of the last few years farmers are facing choices of how best they can manage their lands, and I stress their lands, to maximise its use and try and remain viable as part of the farming community. This is next to nigh possible with current restrictions.
“I believe now is the time to reassess all this. I believe the current CAP deal has scope within it to do so, there is no reason in my mind why this bird cannot coexist with some forestry and windfarms”, said Cllr Sheahan.
Since time began the world and all its components have evolved said the cathaoirleach.
“Charles Darwin proved this, the Hen Harrier will also evolve with changes we make. Landowners should be given the discretion they require to introduce a proper mix of activity and those who are adversely affected adequately compensated.
“Budget 2014 is coming earlier this year to suit the new fiscal treaty for Europe. I have written to the relevant ministers seeking a meeting to address this on behalf of the affected landowners of CountyLimerick”, said Cllr Sheahan.
“Budget 2014 should be the deadline for this and if nothing happens by then ‘open season’ should be declared on the Hen Harrier”, concluded Cllr Sheahan.

The Hen Harrier is a species of high conservation concern in Ireland  (as it is in the UK), and is protected under regional, national and international legislation. We believe it is wrong that anyone, not least someone in a position of influence and responsibility such as a council chair, should be making comments inciting people to break the law and illegal persecute Hen Harriers (or indeed any other birds of prey).
Councillor Sheahan can be reached via email at if you would like to share your opinions on his comments with him.

Update: It emerged this evening that Councillor Sheahan represents Ireland at the EU Committee of the Regions a body that ' represents local and regional government in the EU policy formation and decision-making processes'. Ironically and given the comments attributed to him in the report rather worryingly his 'commissions' are on the Environment and Natural Resources groups. We have no doubt that many in Ireland will be wondering how someone who holds wildlife in such poor regard could represent the interests of Ireland's environment fairly and responsibly.

Original Source: Raptor Persecution Scotland

Monday, 22 July 2013

White-beaked Dolphins in the North East

Regular readers of our news page will be familiar with the occasional 'Cetacean News' messages that appear among the bird news now and again. While many of the reports often emanate from far flung islands and headlands, mid-summer can produce a flurry of activity along the east coast and this year has been no exception.

Minke Whales have featured heavily in recent weeks with up to a dozen individuals seen from Filey Brigg with others at Beadnell, Whitburn and off The Farnes. Northumberland and Durham have also had one or more prominent groups of White-beaked Dolphins showing very well to seawatchers at Whitburn, Seaton Sluice, Newbiggin and into Druridge Bay.

Adult White-beaked Dolphins are surprisingly large and occasionally responsible for reports of 'Killer Whales' in the North Sea from those unfamiliar with cetacean identification as a result of their size and prominent dorsal fins. The tall (but nowhere near as tall as in Killer Whale) falcate dorsal fin combined with the white/grey pale stripe running along the side of the body should however mark this species out in the North Sea.

Calm seas obviously make for better viewing and current sea conditions are very good for viewing along much of the east coast. White-beaked Dolphins can cover a large distance very rapidly and when feeding can come fairly close inshore and as can be seen in the phone-scoped videos below, taken over the last couple of days from Newbiggin, Northumberland, they are often acrobatic.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Cambridgeshire Bird Atlas 2007–2011 now available

Cambridgeshire Bird Atlas 2007–2011
Louise Bacon, Alison Cooper, Hugh Venables
Published by the Cambridgeshire Bird Club, July 2013
ISBN 9780902038271
£15.00 + £2.00 p&p
Available to buy from NHBS and Amazon

The Cambridgeshire Bird Atlas 2007–2011 is now available to buy. It provides a complete and comprehensive overview of the summer and winter distribution and abundance of birds in the county. There are 500 detailed maps which show where 167 bird species can be found breeding or wintering. Facing the maps are expert species accounts interpreting the maps and placing them in historical and national context.

The atlas has been compiled from data collected for the British Trust for Ornithology's national UK Bird Atlas 2007–2011. That project, perhaps one of the largest examples of 'citizen science' ever undertaken, involved over 40,000 enthusiastic volunteer surveyors over four summers and winters.

For this Cambridgeshire Bird Atlas, almost a thousand contributors – from professional ornithologists to ordinary birdwatching members of the public – provided details of the birds they saw, either during timed visits to specific Ordnance Survey squares, or as roving records through the seasons. Species have been mapped at a closer level of detail than for the national atlas – at the 2 km square level; there are just short of one thousand such squares within the county boundary. Records were received from 90% of these squares.

The Atlas highlights the changing fortunes of Cambridgeshire's birds. There have been some winners, particularly among birds of prey; Peregrines, Marsh Harriers, Hobbies, Buzzards and Red Kites are flourishing. Among the rarer breeding birds, Bitterns have returned to a number of the county's nature reserves, which also now have breeding Cranes, Avocets, Little Egrets and Bearded Tits. The washlands of the Ouse and Nene continue to hold very important numbers – in a European context – of wetland wintering and breeding birds.

The Atlas also shows patterns of decline among species of extreme conservation concern. The scarce birds of ancient woodland – Hawfinch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodcock – barely hang on as county breeders; and Tree Pipit, Redstart and Willow Tit have been lost. Once typical farmland birds, for which Cambridgeshire remains an important county – Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove, Corn Bunting, Yellow Wagtail, Yellowhammer – continue their free-fall decline both in the county and across the UK as a whole.

The readable species accounts in the Cambridgeshire Bird Atlas 2007–2011 will be accessible to birdwatchers, or anyone interested in wildlife, at whatever level of expertise.  The Atlas maps and data will also be highly relevant to local government, to schools, and to other agencies, institutions and organisations involved with planning, land-use, ecology, the environment and nature conservation in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

See sample pages:

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

BTO Cuckoos reach the Mediterranean

The first of this year's satellite-tagged Cuckoos have reached the Mediterranean, though up to four remain in Britain.

Most of the birds which have left Britain have followed the traditional route via Italy, though two at least have headed south-west on the recently discovered second route through Spain. These 14 cuckoos had cleared the English Channel by 7th July, but three birds known to be still in Britain are from those tagged in Scotland at the most northerly site used on the scheme. The final bird out of the 18 currently being tracked - named Karma - has disappeared with no updates coming from its tag.

Another bird - named Whortle - has travelled over 1,000 km (620 miles) in about 48 hours to get to its current location in France, while other individuals are in Germany and Corsica. One, which remains in Britain, still needs to be named by a generous sponsor.

 The latest position of each of the tagged Common Cuckoos - an interactive map is available on the BTO Cuckoos page.

To follow each Cuckoo's progress, the BTO has an ongoing multi-blog for each bird, continuously updated as data from the tags comes in. Visit for more details.

Monday, 15 July 2013

RSPB temporarily closes St. Aidan's visitor centre

With regret, the RSPB has had to take the decision to close the visitor centre and car park at St. Aidan's, near Great Preston in Leeds (W Yorks), following the news that current landowner, UK Coal, has gone into administration. The carpark and visitor centre at St Aidan's will be closed from the evening of 12th July 2013 until further notice. However, access to the footpaths and bridleways across the site will remain open, and the RSPB Aire Valley warden and ranger teams will continue to have a presence on site to ensure the ongoing enjoyment of visitors.

 The visitor centre at St. Aidans RSPB: closed until further notice

UK Coal, which went into administration on 9th July, had been due to hand over the site to Leeds City Council (LCC), who would then have leased the land to the RSPB. However, the current situation has created significant uncertainty over when the handover and subsequent lease will be in place. In the meantime, the RSPB has no legal tenure and cannot continue to operate the car park and visitor centre on the basis of goodwill alone.

Darren Starkey, Site Manager of the Aire Valley, said: "It is with huge regret that we have taken this decision. Since opening in May, we have had an extremely positive response to the site from thousands of visitors, and I would like to say a very big thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. In the meantime, I would actively encourage people to continue using the site to enjoy the splendid wildlife and scenery."

A number of issues caused a severe delay in UK Coal transferring the land to LCC, which meant the site was not leased to the RSPB. However, at the end of 2012, the public rights of way on St. Aidan's were unofficially opened which led to the site being heavily used. On the understanding that good progress was being made on the site transfer and subsequent lease, the RSPB decided it would be better to have a presence on site to help manage access and ensure the site was being used appropriately. So, in agreement with UK Coal and LCC, St. Aidan's opened under RSPB management on 24th May this year, but with no formal lease in place. UK Coal has still not finalised an agreement, which has led to the RSPB's decision to close.

Darren added, "We will continue to work with LCC and UK Coal to reach a satisfactory conclusion, ensuring all necessary agreements are in place, and will hopefully be in a position to reopen the site as soon as possible."

Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, a number of events planned to take place on site have had to be cancelled, including the Summer BioBlitz on 20th-21st July and Fun Run on 1st September. The binocular and telescope demonstration day, planned for 3rd August, will now take place at RSPB Fairburn Ings, four miles away. Due to the now limited car parking facilities at St. Aidans, anyone wishing to visit the Aire Valley by vehicle is encouraged to visit the RSPB's nearby site, Fairburn Ings, which remains fully open and has fantastic facilities.

For further information please visit or call the RSPB Fairburn Ings visitor centre on 01977 628191.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Cumbrian Gamekeeper illegally 'disposing' of Common Buzzards

A brief warning that the above footage is quite graphic.

It depicts Cumbrian gamekeeper Colin Burne brutally murdering two Common Buzzards with a stick before tossing them in to a bucket adjacent to the trap - apparently this is an example of how gamekeepers manage our native wildlife in order to preserve their 'sport'. This week, Mr Burne pleaded guilty to the intentional killing of Buzzards at Carlisle Magistrates Court.

Read the full story on the BirdGuides webzine.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The best photobomb in birding... so far?

US birder Matt Daw recorded what is surely the best 'photobomb' ever seen in birding when, during the morning of July 7th while videoing a fishing Least Bittern at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico), the first US record of Rufous-necked Wood-rail ran through his field of view! The video can be seen below:

The Rufous-necked Wood-rail breeds in mangrove swamps from Mexico south to northern South America and is an utterly unexpected find so far north - as previously mentioned, it represents the first occurrence of the species in the ABA recording area.

How long is it before something similar happens in the Western Palearctic or, more specifically, Britain & Ireland? And what mega will it be...?

Likely scenarios for such an event to occur perhaps concern birders photographing/videoing of large flocks of birds such as waders, gulls, terns or seabirds. How galling would it be to film a huge feeding flock of Manx Shearwaters, only to notice a Black-capped Petrel sneak through after the event?!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Ascension Frigatebird on Islay

The summer sunshine and a quiet morning had us thinking it was all over for the next few weeks until we received an email from the site manager of The Oa Reserve on Islay simply stating 'photos taken in Bowmore Harbour by visitors this morning, looks like an immature frigatebird to me".

Expecting a deathly morning on the news, Josh Jones almost fell from his chair when the first image downloaded: perched nonchalantly on the harbour wall was a juvenile Ascension Frigatebird! I counted 13 exclamation marks in Josh's replies to the email and liberal doses of adjectives such as 'incredible' and 'remarkable'. And, as such, the summer 2013 rollercoaster was about to reach another high as he was able to break news of Britain's second-ever Ascension Frigatebird, almost sixty years to the day since a moribund individual was discovered on Tiree.

After checking the exif data from the images and some detective work Josh found that the photo of the bird perched on the harbour wall was taken at 08:25 with the flight shot at 08:43, crucially suggesting the bird was not moribund/exhausted and was more than able to fly.

Ascension Frigatebird (Photos: Jim Sim)

Two further potential sightings emerged during the afternoon: a report of the bird perched on the gunwhale of a ship southwest of Portnahaven and then, perhaps more crucially for potential twitchers, it was seen drifting over Carnain at 16:00.

There has been no news so far this morning although at least 30 twitchers are reported to be on the ferry over to Islay at present. Let's see how Saturday unfolds...

Monday, 1 July 2013

Bridled Tern!

 Bridled Tern © Alan Tilmouth

Another blocker bites the dust!

BirdGuides' very own Alan Tilmouth has just seen the Bridled Tern on Inner Farne (Northumbs) - and it seems like it's showing well, judging from the above photo that he's just tweeted. The last truly 'gettable' Bridled was the 1988 bird at Cemlyn Lagoon on Anglesey. Many will be hoping this one sticks around until tomorrow - an early boat is leaving Seahouses at 06:00.
A further sailing with Serenity will leave at 10:00, £10/person for later arrivals, book with Andrew on  07984 668093 to secure a place.

A great find for Will Scott and another great bird for the Farnes. Check out the Farnes blog by clicking here.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

White-throated Needletail

There will be much more written and by the looks of this some great pictures on the White-throated Needletail but first image from the back of the camera from our news manager Josh Jones this morning.

Late Afternoon Update
And off the camera into the Birdguides Iris Galleries...
White-throated Needletail (© Josh Jones)

Evening Update
Sadly after providing a memorable day for the birders that made it to Harris, news filtered out early evening that the White-throated Needletail had collided with a small community wind-turbine on South Harris and died. An incredibly sad end for what was, for some at least, one of, if not the most, enigmatic species that has graced the British Isles in modern times.

 White-throated Needletail photographed post-collision and
© David Campbell
BirdGuides Webzine subscribers can now read a full account of the day in a webzine article here.  If you want to subscribe to the BirdGuides Webzine or any of our other news services you can do so here.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A Little Good News

Following on from the devastating news from the Little Tern colony at Crimdon, Co Durham earlier in the week it was great to see some positive news coming from the Little Tern colony at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow in Ireland today.

In what is expected to be a busy week for the wardens. the first chick hatched with a second in the same nest appearing not too far behind. It's sad to think that at least 50 of these would have been appearing around this time at Crimdon.

Little Tern chick and nest (© Niall Keogh)

You can keep up to date with further developments at this closely monitored site on the Kilcoole Little Tern Conservation Blog.

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Rare First

The BirdGuides news team are used to information being reported from a variety of sources using all sorts of methods (email, text, phone, Twitter and so on) but yesterday provided an opportunity to obtain bird news from a rather more unusual source.

The WWT have a variety of webcams running on a live-feed from their website covering, among other things, Barn Owls at Caerlaverock, Beavers at Martin Mere and breeding Avocets at Slimbridge. When we discovered that the Avocet webcam was also picking up the occasional sighting of a female Red-necked Phalarope that was first found early yesterday morning, we found ourselves glued to the screen!

Sure enough, every now and then, the phalarope would walk across the screen though during the day there were long periods where it wasn't on show. Yesterday evening, as the Avocets moved away, the phalarope gradually came closer to the scrape and was visible more frequently up until around 21:30.

 Red-necked Phalarope at Slimbridge WWT, 20th June 2013 (© James Lees/WWT)

Even when the phalarope wasn't around, there was plenty of action to witness with Avocets seemingly chasing off everything that moved - it was particularly amusing to watch one of them take on a party of seven Greylags at one point! Occasionally, other waders appeared such as an early-returning Green Sandpiper that dropped in once or twice.

Though we haven't seen the phalarope yet this morning, it's well worth logging on and giving it a bit of time yourself - you can view the WWT webcam by clicking here.

Thanks to James Lees for allowing us of his phalarope image.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Egg theft leaves Durham Little Tern colony facing extinction

Frankly, it was gut-wrenching to hear that the colony of Little Terns on Crimdon beach, County Durham had been subject to a massive egg theft. Durham Heritage Coast wardens estimated that around fifty eggs were taken from sixty-five nesting pairs overnight on Wednesday. It must have been a grim realisation for them to arrive early yesterday and find the colony stripped - hours of hard conservation work gone to waste in a matter of minutes thanks to one appalling act of selfishness and greed.

Little Terns from the Iris galleries (© Steve Seal)

In 2012, 110 pairs of Little Terns at Crimdon failed to raise a single chick due to natural predation, and 2013 has seen far fewer pairs nesting there. This is an absolutely massive set-back for the future of the colony and extinction seems a genuine possibility. Niall Benson, Durham Heritage Coast officer explained that “There’s only one set of large footprints, so it is a man and likely to be a single person.”

One set of footprints! It's incredible just how destructive humans can be in such a short space of time. The sad reality, though, is the eggs are highly unlikely to be solely for a personal collection and will no doubt be sold for hefty sums to like-minded collectors.

Inspector Dave Coxon, of Durham Police, said: "We are currently working with members of our Coastwatch scheme to identify any suspicious behaviour and, as with any report of theft, we will investigate it thoroughly and aim to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Anyone who might have any information at all should contact Durham Police.

Read more on the BBC website or Journal Live.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Batumi Raptor Count need count coordinators

Batumi Raptor Count are seeking enthusiastic and dedicated raptor-watchers to serve as a Count Coordinator and strengthen the team for the entire autumn 2013 season. The team of count coordinators lead the daily operation of the count and guarantee the quality of the monitoring. If you think you might wish to apply, please read more here: Send your application by 20th May 2013 if you wish to be considered for the position.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

RSPB Bempton seabird cruises

Gannet and Puffin Cruises

Take a gannet and puffin cruise and you’ll find yourself surrounded by thousands of seabirds, including colourful Puffins swimming around the boat, and other seabirds plunging head first into the sea to catch some fish. On the three-hour round trip from Bridlington Harbour, ideal for both beginners and experienced enthusiasts, you’ll visit the spectacular chalk cliffs at Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head — a seabird city home to hundreds of thousands of nesting seabirds.

Skua and Shearwater Cruises
Alternatively, instead of sailing to Bempton Cliffs, try our skua and shearwater cruises later in the season which sail out into the North Sea searching for migrating seabirds on their long journeys south. Look for shearwaters, skuas and terns amongst huge numbers of other seabirds including auks and gulls. These trips are slightly longer to allow time to go in search of these exciting seabirds.

Saturday 4 May at 9.30am
Saturday 11 May at 5.00pm
Sunday 19 May at 9.30am
Sunday 26 May at 6.00pm
Saturday 1 June at 9.00am
*Sunday 2 June at 10.00am — FAMILY
Saturday 8 June at 5.00pm
Saturday 15 June at 9.30am
Saturday 22 June at 4.45pm
Sunday 30 June at 9.30am
Sunday 7 July at 4.00pm
Saturday 13 July at 9.30am

Saturday 31 August at 9.00am
Saturday 7 September at 10.30am
Sunday 15 September at 9.00am
Saturday 21 September at 10.30am
Sunday 29 September at 8.30am
Saturday 5 October at 9.30am

All the cruises leave from Bridlington harbour and last between 3–3.5 hours (except for Family; see below).  Tickets are priced at £20 per adult, £10.00 per child under 14 or £50.00 per family ticket (2 adults + 2 children).

For those of you with children we are running a special family cruise this year tailored especially for them on Sunday 2 June at 10.00am.  This will be a much shorter cruise, lasting about 1.5 hours, and will include children's quizzes, special commentary and family competitions.  Ticket prices for this cruise will be just £10.00 per adult and £5.00 per child under 14.

For bookings, or more information on these and other events, please phone 01262 850959, email:, or visit

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Atlas of Migratory Bird Hunting

Do you live in an area where hunting of migratory birds takes place? If so, Dr Paul Jepson of University of Oxford is interested to hear about it. Hunting of migratory species is still widespread but we lack any easily accessible overview of its distribution or trends.  The project aims to provide an opportunity for anybody who has witnessed migratory bird hunting or knows of places past or present where it occurs to their knowledge. You can help map the hunting of migratory birds by filling in this questionnaire:

Ortolan Bunting

Monday, 25 February 2013

Tawny Owl on eggs

It may still be February, but breeding is well underway for Tawny Owls. The BTO website has a live web-cam pointing at and in one pair of Tawny Owls; you can watch what they're up to here:

The pair's first egg was laid on 6th February and by 11th February there were three eggs in the nest. The female is now incubating the eggs — a task that will last about 28 days.

They're not the only birds to be nesting so early in the year. A Collared Dove in Thetford was on eggs before January was out! Full story here:

Friday, 22 February 2013

3rd Global Bird Watchers Conference, Gujarat

Back in January I received an email inviting me out to Gujarat, India, to visit the 3rd Global Bird Watchers' Conference — unfortunately for me, I was in Oman at the time and by the time I was back home it was too late to sort out the necessary visa for visiting India. Thus I sadly missed out on what I am assured was an excellent and successful conference. Uttej Rao kindly sent me a selection of photographs from the conference to show me what I missed out on, including some superb photos by Filipino photographer Ramon Quisumbing of the birds seen.

Uttej says: “The conference went of very well and was well appreciated by everyone. We had about 88 foreign delegates from 40 countries and about 210 Indian delegates. Here are some pics of what you missed. In a couple of pictures you might notice that the surface looks like snow. It is actually salt that has formed on the surface of the desert over a period of years. On bright moonlight nights it gives a awesome look as you can see a bed of white for miles on. This stretches for well over 100 kms.”

Sociable Plover — Ramon Quisumbing

Plain Prinia — Ramon Quisumbing

Painted Stork — Ramon Quisumbing

Green Bee-eater — Ramon Quisumbing

Cream-coloured Courser — Ramon Quisumbing

The 4th Global Bird Watchers Conference will be held in January 2014 (tentatively pencilled into the diary for 4th January). Details of the conference will be posted on the GBWC website; anyone wishing to attend can also contact Uttej Rao.

You can also read about Nick Moran's trip to the 1st Global Bird Watchers' Conference on our webzine here.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Off to a Flyer!

2013 got off to a flying start with butterflies seen on the wing and a small moth migration experienced during the first weeks of the New Year.

The unseasonably mild weather tempted a number of butterfly species out of dormancy with sightings of Brimstone, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Speckled Wood and, most surprisingly, Painted Lady all reported. At Perivale NR (London), David Howdon (one of our mothing buddies) found an overwintering Comma. Can you spot it below?

Red Admirals in particular seemed particularly drawn by the glorious New Year’s Day sunshine experienced in some parts of the UK with individuals seen in Surrey, Hampshire and Gloucestershire.

But it wasn’t just butterflies that were tempted out by the warmth. Early January is usually a barren moth for moth-ers with Winter Moths and the occasional Dark Chestnut the usual suspects.  But mild southerly winds from the Continent prompted a minor moth migrationwith reports of Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella), Silver Y (Autographa gamma), Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella), Rusty-dot Pearl (Udea ferrugalis), Small Mottled Willow (Spodoptera exigua) and Dark Sword-grass (Agrotis ipsilon) recorded along the south coast of England during the mild spells.

Thanks to Liam Creedon at Butterfly Conservation. To keep up to date on the latest butterfly sightings visit First Sightings 2013.