Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Mixed Bag

Been totally busy recently giving talks and leading walks for a range of different organisations ranging from Wildlife Trusts to the Womens Institute. The latter talk was of particular interest. I was invited by the Borough Belles based near London Bridge, to come in and speak to their members about the wonders of urban birding.

I imagined speaking to a group of cake making elderly ladies. Instead I was confronted with a roomful of cake making mostly under 35 year olds! I took the 40-odd women out onto the street (so to speak) and we went for a walk pointing out what I could in the evening light. When we got to the Tate Modern by the Thames we were treated to a Peregrine sailing around the main tower.

Back in the church hall I gave them a brief presentation that seemed to go down well. Indeed, in the following days at least four of the ladies have been in contact telling me of their ornithological finds! 
A male Cockney House Sparrow
Since my last posting I was also asked by the London RSPB Office to front the Cockney Sparrow Count. The object of the exercise will be to get ordinary Londoners to count their local sparrows. So if you live in the capital get counting!

Common Greenshank (David Fettes)
Finally, the ultra rare Nordmann's Greenshank that I thought that I recognised from an image taken in Taiwan turned out to be a summer plumaged Common Greenshank. Some of my more learned colleagues were quick to point out its long legs and non-bicoloured thick bill - amongst other features.

Ah well, I'll find a real one another day....

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Mystery son of a seedeater

All images by Paul Davis
Urban birder Paul Davis sent me this selection of images taken of a weird bird that he could not recognise coming to his feeder in his Mitcham garden in south London.

At first I thought it was some strange escaped weaver species but closer examination, especially of its upperparts, left me thinking that it could be a melanistic male House Sparrow. Melanism is the opposite of albinoism and is rare in House Sparrows. In all my decades of watching them I have never seen a melanistic one, although I have seen albinoism and partial albinos. The grey patch on the crown of the depicted bird is totally consistant with that of a normal male House Sparrow. Furthermore, a search on the net resulted in me finding footage of another similarly plumaged bird on the continent. Paste and see what you think.

So, is it a House Sparrow?

Let me know what you think.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Hidden photo

Nordmann's Greenshank (David Fettes)
Have you ever had a situation when you've gone through a set of photographs and stumble across a gem?

This evening I was going through a cd of several hundred photos taken by David Fettes, the photographer I took with me to Taiwan last month when I noticed this one. He had inadvertently taken a shot of a Nordmann's Greenshank. This wader is globally endangered with an estimated world population of no more than a thousand birds. Although they can be found wintering (or at least on migration) along the coastlines of southeast Asia, their breeding and wintering grounds are poorly known. They do winter on the coasts of Taiwan, so this bird was not wholly unexpected.

It was a nice surprise though!

Monday, 4 June 2012

It was nippy up north!

Atlantic Puffin (David Fettes)
It has taken me two days to sufficiently warm up after a stupendous week on The Shetlands. I never really appreciated just how far north these islands were - literally just 200 miles east of Norway. Nor did I fully comprehend just how big the main island was - some 100 miles long by 30 miles wide, or something like that. But what I didn't account for in any way was how cold it would be. Despite the sun shining on some of the days a merciless wind sometimes blew to duly freeze me. I had to resort to wearing two pairs of trousers, three t-shirts, a jumper, jean jacket and raincoat plus two pairs of hats and some gloves!!

During my week I visited Fetlar, Yell, Unst as well as circumnavigating the main island. I picked up all the usual suspects that you would expect to uncover on these magical isles including a single female Red-necked Phalarope, Puffins, Black & Common Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Great Black-backs, Common Gulls, Arctic Terns, one pair of Common Terns, Arctic Skuas, Bonxies, Greylags, Eiders, orgies of Shags, Great Northern & Red-throated Divers, Lapwings, Curlews, Whimbrels, Dunlins, Sanderlings, Ringed Plovers, Twites, Starlings, Hooded Crows and plenty of House Sparrows amongst other species.

Of course, The Shetlands are famed for the number of hot rarities that it attracts. Well, I managed to dip on a Yellow-billed Diver, Black-headed Bunting (which would have been my first in 25 years) and was turned the other way speaking on my mobile when an adult Long-tailed Skua flew past. But did manage to see a lingering Icterine Warbler and discover a Short-toed Lark along the road outside my hotel on Unst plus find and co-find two seperate female Golden Orioles above and around my wooded adopted local patch on Unst. Coupled with those discoveries I also enjoyed watching Shetland scarcities like Wood Pigeon, Hobby, Sparrowhawk, Carrion Crow and a Dunnock.

Every birder in the UK and beyond must come and visit these islands at least once in their birding lives. It's like being a football fan and going to a big game at Wembley or going to Buck Palace and meeting the Queen. They are things that we just have to do.

My gratitute goes out to Shetland Wildlife for facilitating my visit and making me feel so welcome.