I'm back in Serbia again for another Long-eared Weekender. Whenever I tell people that you can see hundreds of Long-eared Owls very easily I am usually met with by wonderment. But there are people out there that simply just can't believe that that many owls can be seen. Well my message to you doubters is to get your backside on a plane and come to witness this amazing urban phenomenon at first hand.
In just one day my group and I recorded around 500 birds the vast majority of which were in the town square at Kikinda near the Romanian border.
These birds are so easy to see. Some are skittish with the birds in the actual square being the most complacent.
For every one owl that you find there are another six that you just haven't picked up.
I can never grow tired looking at these majestic birds
This book is definitely one for the Christmas wish list. Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle's exhaustive study of this prettiest of the bird families in the Americas is eye watering. The detail that these lads go into is astounding!
Being based in the UK means that I don't come into contact with too many of these gorgeous creatures in my normal birding life. Of course, they do turn up on our shores in tiny numbers of a small variety of species that are much loved by the rarity hunters amongst us. Perhaps the most famous Wood Warbler, to give them the name that I knew them best as, was the Kent Golden-winged Warbler of the late 90's that I failed to connect with on the then biggest twitch of all time. Of course, these birds are not true Warblers as we in the Old World would know, but indeed thin-billed buntings that have filled the niche that the Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs and all our other warblers would have taken. In fact, I think that the official term for the American family is New World Warblers.
The Warbler Guide does not dwell on such trivial matters as to what the family name should be but just steams straight into how to identify the 56 species of New World Warblers to be encountered in Canada and the US. The text is straight to the point; straight down to the business of identification.
During the breeding season many of the species are pretty distinctive with the males of most species looking like feathered jewels. The book takes you though a tour of the topography of the birds before fleshing out the statement: what to notice on a warbler. This covers everything from hoods to wingbars to crown patterns, facial patterns, general colorations, size, habits, habitats - the list goes on. Plus there are photographs of everything.
There is a thorough section of the book devoted to listening to warbler songs. Elements of the songs are broken down through sonograms covering every concievable variation of call/song known. Reading this alone should make you an overnight expert in the vocalisations, that much I know. Before the species accounts, conveniently ordered alphabetically and not taxonomically, are a series of useful plates providing at a glance of practically all the species clocked at different angles as you would see them in the wild. Most useful, I thought, was the underview spread that dipicted images of individual species as if viewed from below.
The species accounts included many pictures of each species in a variety of poses, plumages and zoomed in detail. The text covers brief notes on the main identifying features alongside a distribution map. Additionally, there are also pictures of comparision species with text explaining why those species differed from the one being discussed.
Rarites are dealt with at the end of the species accounts and are each given a double page spread that follows the same format as the main species accounts. Helpfully, there is another section of the book that discusses similar non-warbler species like tits (or Chickadees, if you are North American!) a couple sparrow species and Kinglets. Interestingly, Yellow-breasted Chat and Olive Warbler, two species that I thought of as warblers, are included in this section. Clearly, I have some reading up to do.
As if this was not enough, the vexed subject of hybrids is tackled. Fortunately, according to the author, hybrid warblers are rare. Even so, a few are featured to help the unwary. And there's a quiz right at the end. I love quizzes!
This book is certainly worthy of a place on anyone's heaving book shelf. It is refreshing, stunningly illustrated and importantly, educational. If you want to get to grips with North America's Warblers, you will need to tightly grip The Warbler Guide!
As if I haven't already gone on about it enough, I have to say that my recent trip to Texas was an eye-opener. I expected a landscape similar to what I experienced in and around Tucson, Arizona - dusty desert. Instead, I was surprised as to how lush some of the areas I visited were despite there being an ongoing drought. The birds were awesome, the people incredibly friendly and the experience impeccable.
The Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival was the main reason for my visit and would not have been possible had it not been for Keith Hackland from Alamo Inn - a must stay location for any visiting birder. I met Keith around four years ago at the British Birdwatching Fair where he originally invited me to Texas. I thought that it would never come to be. But it happened. I tell you what, Keith is the nicest and most gentle man you are ever likely to meet. He was a superb host and now a very good friend of mine. I would like to publicly thank him and his family for making me feel so welcome and for making my Texan experience such an amazing one.
TUB with Doug Gochfeld - fantastic leader and good geezer!
Scott Whittle, TUB, Doug Gochfeld & Tom Stephenson - The ATeam (minus me!)
TUB with South Texas Nature's Nydia O. Tapia-Gonzales
Special thanks to Nydia who along with her colleagues at South Texas Nature facilitated my trip to Texas.
The Ring Ouzel plate from Richard Crossley's ID Guide to Birds of Britain & Ireland
I'm back home after a superb 10 days exploring the Rio Grande Valley in southeastern Texas. I have come back to a grey, cold London with the prospect of snow high on the cards. Down at Wormwood Scrubs we are still struggling to see our target of 100 species and are currently stuck on 98 having been so since late September.
One bird that we eagerly await every year to add to the year list is the occurance of Ring Ouzels - my favourite bird. Every year for the past 10 we have received visits from this most mysterious of our British thrushes. Quite why they chose to visit my urban patch with such regularity has always been a puzzle for me. They are normally birds of wild mountainous regions yet I associate them amongst urbanity standing in trees with the cityscape spread out behind them as a backdrop. A totally incongruous sight, I'll tell you.
When my migrants come they often don't announce their presence. We just know to keep a sharp lookout from mid to late April, our spring window and from late September into early November for autumn birds. This year we didn't manage to catch sight of any birds in the spring. This has occasionally happened before as birds may literally pass through at a blink of an eye; pausing to catch breath for a couple minutes before heading on north. If you are not in the right place at the right time then you your chance to see them has gone. This autumn we were fretting. Time was running out and although a few were being seen in the London area crucially, we were not seeing any on the patch.
One Saturday morning in late October whilst I was playing football, I got the phonecall that a male had been finally sighted on the patch. It hung around for five minutes before disappearing. I was elated. Our yearly record of sightings had continued. But I was also deeply disappointed because I had not seen my favourite bird this year. I consoled myself later by staring at the Ring Ouzel plate in Richard Crossley's ID Guide to Birds of Britain & Ireland. It was like looking at a beautiful compilation of the Ring Ouzels I have seen in the past.
For more on the Crossley Guide check out http://blog.press.princeton.edu/crossley-uk-blog-tour-schedule/
There will be a live video call with Richard Crossley and writer Dominic Couzens on November 21 at (http://shindig.com/)
Three hours drive from the Rio Grande Valley on the northern tip of Mustang Island lies the town of Port Aransas. It had a quaint seaside feel to it with lots of local Texan businesses, hardly any of the big chains and a load of great birding sites.
I was the guest of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce who treated me beautifully.
They introduced me to this wonderful place - rammed with birdlife!
I am David Lindo and I am The Urban Birder - broadcaster, writer, talker and bird guider.
My whole vibe is about getting urbanites to realise that there is a whole world of wildlife under their noses in the world's cities.