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.