Sunday, 26 June 2016

Paddyfield Warbler

12th June 2016
At 4am the sky is still a deep blue-black, it's pretty chilly and I'm glad of my warm jacket. With lunch, notebook, manual and flask stuffed into my rucksack I hurry to catch up with Alan who was already on his way into the monitoring site. We are at the fantastic and very dramatic St. Abbs Head National Nature Reserve in the Scottish Borders with the sounds of gulls and other seabirds rankling the air and as we set up the equipment there's the faint tang of salt in the air; with everything ready we begin. This special ringing survey is part of the BTO's Constant Effort Site scheme which "provides valuable trend information on abundance of adults and juveniles, productivity and also adult survival rates for 24 species of common songbird." Alan has been monitoring this site in the same way every year for more than twenty years and is incredibly patient and deeply knowledgeable. He is also a BTO licensed ringing trainer and is my teacher and mentor.

Chiff-chaff and woodpigeon call nearby and down on the loch a little grebe trills. Up here on the wood edge we log gorgeous common scrub-land and woodland birds like whitethroat, goldcrest and song thrush. We also had several retraps of the little sedge warbler, a wonderful songster of scrub and reedbeds. These sedge warblers hatched and fledged here and then flew to Senegal (see this great blog) or thereabouts for the winter and have returned to breed again in the same reedbed in Scotland. These were all small marvels but expected. What we did not expect was a totally different bird altogether.

First off it this new bird seemed very plain in the dull light and with a large pale supercilium. It called quietly with a chirriping swallow-like chatter and was obviously feeding well and in good condition. We took a variety of detailed key biometrics including lengths of specific flight feathers and wing length and, after a bit of head scratching we saw that all the data pointed to one thing - this was a Paddyfield Warbler, and this bird is a long, long way from home!!

Paddyfield warblers breed in temperate central Asia in low vegetation such as long grass, reeds and rice and winters in Pakistan and India. So it is a rare vagrant to western Europe with small breeding populations along the western shores of the Black Sea around the border between Bulgaria and Romania. At the same time as our bird, a male turned up singing in Finland (see here). Here is video and sound recording of it's simple song, some pics and some more info from Birdlife International. Here is a close up of the bird - check out the different feather types especially those modified bristles at the gape of the beak.

And here is the marvellous Mire Loch.

Mal Grey

With kind permission of Mal Grey 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Daredevil nesting!

There is daredevil nesting going on along one busy winding road in West Yorkshire. And superb busy these roads do get at rush hour so if I was a bird, looking for a suitable place to nest, I probably would not choose this three-foot high section of road. But then again, I am not a bird. One very brave in my opinion pair of birds have indeed decided to build a nest and raise their young in this wall. Scores of cars pass within a foot of the wall each hour making their survival a thing of marvel. What kind of birds...a cracking pair of Coal Tits!

I only spotted this as I had stopped for a minute to return a missed call and noticed a small grey blur disappear into the wall. I really hope they make it, and that the young venture forth from the nest at some quiet time of day; fingers crossed for them!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Down in the rushes

So, this little gem: Mystery pattern and all fluffy too, but who? This richly marked bird is amazing, but what is it?

Great guesses from you all: young fluffballs of blackheaded gull, capercaillie, lapwing, dottrel, osyercatcher, red grouse, redshank and.....snipe! This is indeed a totally gorgeous young snipe chick, and check out his rich cryptic markings, they are its ticket to staying camouflaged and un-eaten! The last one I saw was also in a quiet marshy corner, in 2015.

I only spotted this marvel by pure chance as I walked through a field and up jumped the mum from my feet. A quick scan of the ground right at my feet revealed this little gem - can someone can age it from the length of its bill please? I turned to leave and stopped abruptly again to change direction slightly; can you see why?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Other things you get in barn owl boxes


Good guesses folks: gannets, crow, juv. crow however this month's top prize goes to Rick who got it spot on - a Jackdaw! This is indeed a jackdaw chick or pullus and I had no idea their eye were such a gorgeous blue. Adult jackdaws have a white eye which is use to good effect: Researchers in Cambridge and Exeter have discovered that jackdaws use their eyes to communicate with each other – the first time this has been shown in non-primates - how cool is that!

Here is the image enlarged - you can see round the eye lots of 'quills' which are feathers still developing and growing, or in-pin.

On one farm three of four barn owl boxes had broods of jackdaws in, complete with great nests of sticks, cow hair and mud. They were not far off flying so fingers crossed they'll soon be empty and ready for re-occupation by owls someday soon. A natural tree site has been used by barn owls in the past. There was lots of white splashes on the tree so I was hopeful of it being in use by an owl however, when I carefully peered into the recess, I found not an owl but.....

...a female mallard! She peered back at me and I quickly retreated; she must be around 3m up!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Brilliant barn owls!

Barn owl box inspection time again, and there are a lot to inspect! The first visits of the season a few weeks ago were not very promising however, this time I am very happy to report we found some pure white gold! Last years vole crash year dramatically hit owls and raptors breeding success with many pairs in 2015 not even breeding at all. So this year really counts and now it looks like it will be a reasonable if slower season. The first box of the day was in fact a kestrel box and with the female sitting tight we quickly left. The first owl box of the day had a single adult with very smart dark markings on the facial disc; she also had quite a buff tinge to the breast. She is a new bird to the area and so fitted with a unique BTO ring she had her vital statistics (biometrics) taken and was returned to the box and to her nest of 3 gleaming moon-white eggs.

A short hike along a track took us to a box with....a stock dove on also on 3 eggs. On the last farm of the day we looked into four boxes. Last year's visit had owls in boxes that this year were either empty or had different barn owls in; I wonder where the previous owls have gone? Three of these boxes had broods of another species (more on this in a later post - a clue - it has blue eyes!). The fourth has a bonny barn owl and some very young owlets. See here for a great poster of the growth of a barn owl from egg to adult in 63 days from the Barn Owl Trust. Another great pic of young owlets on Arkive. and here is a pic of a day old chick! All our work is curried out under license as this is a protected Schedule 1 bird.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Watch out - little lapwings about!

Great sign to be spotted on the eastern outskirts of Eldwick - please do slow down!

The farmers here are lapwing and curlew friendly whereas the road is a deathtrap for them and after a massacre a few years back - I think five were flattened in a couple of days - a kindly local resident now puts this up each year to remind drivers to watch out for wee fluffballs on legs. There are chicks of all sizes about at the moment (see pic here from earlier posting) so as my grannie used to say Keep yir eyes peeled!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A little bit of boxing...

A quiet season so far with boxes either empty or with furry beasties in rather than feathers! Fingers crossed for a few more owls soon. One tawny owl box did have an addled egg in, underneath a great whorl of fresh squirrel bedding.

Barn owl box, placed in open (poplar) stand - doves and squirrels so far!

Tawny owl box with fresh squirrel bedding poking out and below, the old, long deserted addled tawny owl egg.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Thorne: birds birds birds

Walk quietly and you will be surprised at what is there. I'd heard Thorne and Hatfield Moors mentioned in birding circles for its birdlife and decided to head out there one evening in May (also see posts here and here). You approach along an old road past a field of solar panels, into scrubland laced with the the thick tang of the Mayflower blossom, and on to the moor edge itself. Once there you slip into birch groves, the air thick with the song of turtle doves. Non-stop cuckoo, reed warbler, chiffchaff, and reed bunting sing from behind you, to your left, right and ahead and above you are swifts, dashing falcons and buzzards.

Peer though thick reeds out along ditches and channels and there'll be something to see: today's show is a smart lone drake teal bathing. Water rail are in there too, somewhere, calling loudly from the depths of thick cover. The funny crinkly black stuff is part of the water-management of the moor.


Pad most quietly to the clearings and scan carefully. This time there is something very special to see, there, motionless in an old sun-bleached birch. Look though the bins, WOWSER, this is not any bird, it is the best bird of all, a hobby, right there in front, not 100 yards off. Their eyesight is superb and so it will have already clocked you but still freeze to the spot and watch until arms feel too heavy to hold up and the gnawing of many, many mosquitoes becomes unbearable. Then it is home-time. Blackbirds salute the sinking sun and it is time leave the moor to the creatures of the night...

I only have a little snap snap camera so for real top hobby pics see Jack Barnes' amazing Zenfolio