Monday, 17 December 2012

an update on Caspo

I mentioned in my last post that Caspo the friendly gull (as he shall now forever be known!), was ringed on the left leg. Well from Dave Coopers excellent photographs, it transpired that the ring number was PEAA, and now, they've discovered that the bird was ringed at Zwirownia Zakole, Jankowice, Babice, Poland. See John Coopers blog for information. This area is in the extreme south of poland, fairly near to the Slovakian border, and a few miles west of Krakow (map here). 

There do seem to be a lot of Caspo's around at the moment! I think there are at least two in the Newhaven area, three or four here (the two adults yesterday, a third winter, and possibly a separate adult found my Matt Eade and Bob Self), and lord knows how many at West Rise Marsh! A second-winter at Arlington in late November was yet another bird, so we're left with what I'd estimate are between 6-10 in the area! The reputation of Cuckmere, Newhaven and West Rise for gulls has been slowly growing, but this is still a remarkable concentration! it remains to be seen how long they will hang around with us for! 

In other news, senor Gearty twitched the Casps today. The first words from his mouth were; 'I still hate gulls'. Poor deluded boy! 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

caspo the friendly gull

today was, by any standards, a truly wonderful day for gulling! a flock in the Cuckmere just north of Exceat had a few great surprises in it. Alongisde Dad and the Coopers, We found in the flock

  • c450 Lesser Black-backs. This total is derived from counting based on photos I took of the flock, and is a bare minimum as there were birds flying in and out fairly often. There were also quite a few intermedius among the graelsii, looking through the photos I could pick out an absolute minimum of 35, and a lot of the gulls were face-on in photos, not allowing mantle comparisons. However, I think the majority were Graelsii. Interestingly, while looking through the photos, I found just two first-winters, the vast majority were in adult or near-adult plumage.
  • 30 Great Black-backs. the second commonest gull, there was a single third-winter and four first-winters among the flock, but once again adults dominated. Typically Great Black-backs dominate the gull flocks in the Cuckmere, so it seems that a) there were less of them and b) far more Lesser Black-backs today. 
  • 6 Herring Gulls- there were really very few in this flock! There are other gull flocks at Newhaven too, so perhaps they prefer it there for some reason! two first-winters, one third-winter and three adults were all I picked out.
  • 2 YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS. Patch ticks. Both birds were adults, identified by their square heads, intermediate coloured mantles (halfway between Herring and LBBG), shorter bills with obvious red gonys spots, and yellow legs. 
  • 2-3 CASPIAN GULLS. The two adults present were absolutely perfect! Both showed long and parallel-edged bills, a sloping forehead and small, beady, black eyes. The mantle shade was slightly darker than an argenteus Herring Gull to my eyes, and they both had extensive white on the primaries. One was seen in flight and showed a broad white tip to p10 and a large white mirror on p9, not unlike L. argentatus argentatus. Both had the classic pale yellow legs, and a heavily attenuated breast and long legs, giving them the classic jizz of Cachinnans. One showed a small amount of dark streaking on the rear crown, not a classic sign of this species, but everything else about it pointed to a Caspian Gull, so I'm happy with the ID myself. We were watching them for upwards of 45 minutes, amazing views of one of the most gorgeous gulls by far! There was also a possible 3rd-winter Casp, seen very briefly, that showed the beady eye and parallel-edged bill, and the typical posture. Sadly we lost this individual while gawking at one of the adults!
poor picture, but you can kinda see the bill, beady eye and leg colour! 

I did see a few Black-headed Gulls overhead, but all the birds in this flock were of the LWHG variety. Also feeding in the fields were 102 Canada Geese, 3 Greylag Geese (two showing an unusual plumage variation of a white band going horizontally accross the belly), the resident Bar-headed Goose, one of his love-children with a Canada, 30 Wigeon and 7 Teal. Aside from waterfowl, other species enjoying the flooded field were Little Egret(2), Rook, Moorhen, Woodpigeon, Oystercatcher (1), Curlew (20), Magpie, Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. A bright male Stonechat also briefly performed in one of the bushes by the side of the path before being chased off by a Robin.

*** note- one of the adult Caspian Gulls had a ring on the left leg, none of my photos leave it discernible but hopefully the birds will stay for the whole winter, and perhaps I might get a closer look at some point to read it? 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

two days, four dips

Fed up of those Waxwings!

When a flock of 20 was reported from Tesco's in Lewes, on Monday, I decided to pay a visit the following day in my free period. I met up with Michael Blencowe (admin of Lewes Wildlife facebook page, well worth 'liking' for updates on wildlife in the area!), but sadly, we both failed to see anything resembling a Bombycilla. They had last been reportd at about 12:45, an hour before we arrived, and Michael had recieved a call a few minutes beforehand saying a flock of 20 had appeared in a garden on Malling Down, surely the same birds! A Starling flying over caught me unawares, but other than that not a sniff of anything Waxwing like!

The Tesco Car Park did hold plenty of Redwing and Blackbird, and a possible abietinus/tristis Chiffchaff. Very uniform brown above and lacking any sort of yellowish tones to the belly, overall colder coloured than a typical collybitta. Sadly it didn't call, and was present for about two minutes before it carried on out-of-sight on it's circuit, so I can only say it was 'interesting'! 

Having failed miserably to find those Waxwings, I did console myself with two patch ticks at Lewes Railway Land. a WATER RAIL Was squealing away in the Heart of Reeds, where a Reed Bunting was also an overdue bird for patch. It put me 64-60 ahead against Jake in our competition, though he pulled it back to 64-62 today. Also present on the patch, 4 Siskin, a surprising concentration of 14 Moorhen in the fields, and some early singers, two Robins and a Wren. I think it's more likely they are holding winter territories (though I haven't heard of this behaviour in Wrens before). 

Today, the trains were broken in the morning. A little bit of frost, and suddenly trains break, rails lose power and general pandemonium catches like wildfire- how british! It had a bright side, in that Dad gave me a lift to college. I attempted a drive-by twitch of the Waxwings at the Ouse Estuary Project, failing (dip number two), and then we briefly tried the Tesco car park, which held the usual Redwings and Blackbirds, but nowt else, (dip number three!). A short walk around Lewes Railway land after school found a Kingfisher fishing around the partly frozen pond in the woodland, excellent views, and probably the most notable bird I've seen on this part of the patch! 

Back in Seaford I had a look for yet more Waxwings, the birds reported from Alfriston Road yesterday, but I was ultimately frustrated in my searches for a fourth time! A fly-over Rook was the best bird, also around were a Sparrowhawk, and a few singing male birds; 3 Robin, 2 Dunnock and a Wren. All in all a frustrating two days- give me some Waxwings!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A Frosty Days Birding!

At last had got out birding after feeling pretty ill these past two weeks! A nice frosty day at Pulborough today with a nice selection of birds seen around the reserve! As we left the visitors centre we were greeted to a Lesser Redpoll feeding close but on the thistle heads. In the courtyard we sepent around half an hour looking for the Lesser-Spotted Woodpeckers along with a few others. No luck but there was a flock of Siskins overhead around 10+. Have been disappointed with the lack of Winter thrushes around the reserve recently this time last year it would have been easily 50+ Fieldfare and Redwing even reaching over the 100 mark today only 3 Fieldfare and 1 Redwing! Disappointing...

On to the North Brooks now where the Ringtail Hen Harrier put in an appearance along with a rather pale morph Common Buzzard. Other raptors sighted today 1 Kesterl and 1 Female Sparrowhawk. There was a Juv Bewick Swan on the North Brooks but was not relocated after a while and we did not see the bird. Another one of our Siberian friends was recorded today on the reserve (not by us) and that was a Whooper Swan which raised a few eyebrows and was later thought to be a Bewick.
The Male Peregrine was seen from the hanger view point along with various duck. Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon, Pintail. 

There was a report of a Brambling yesterday on the cafe feeders I personally hadent see one in a few years so was pretty eggar to see this bird. As we got there a nice couple informed us the bird was seen    Every 10 minuets so was pretty certain we would see it. Waited an hour and half and still no luck now these birds may not be "rare" but are certainly becoming more scarce so was very disappointed! Oh well there is always tommorrow! 

Last stop of the day as its getting dark so early was Amberly Wildbrooks to see the Bewick Swans. At the view point we were greated to 4 which was an added bonus at there was only three reported before hand. Later another 2 joined bringing the total to 6 Birds.

George Kinnard

Friday, 30 November 2012

that was the week that was

I haven't had the chance for much pure birding since my last post on 17 November, but a few bits and bobs were around this week.

Monday was generally a quiet day, on Tuesday I had a quick walk around Lewes Railway Land in my afternoon gap, notching up Raven, Mistle Thrush, a few Goldcrests, and patch bird 62, a YELLOWHAMMER. Not the most glamorous tick, and I'm sure it just moved a few hundred yards from The Ouse floodplain (the only place locally that they do still seem to be numerous), to allow me a fine addition to my patch list. 62 species in anout 2 1/2 months isn't all that bad for an inland patch with very little in the form of wetland! highlights so far have been the Yellowhammer, plus Garden Warbler, Shoveler, regular Kingfishers, Common Sandpiper, Bullfinch, Siskin and Nuthatch, while Jake has managed 60 species including Redpoll, Brent Goose, Greylag and a Yellow-browed Warbler (not included in his total until it's hopefully accepted though)!

On Wednesday, Jake and I found little of note on the patch, scraping up a few Redwings. However, the flooding that has taken place is quite spectacular, with the wooded area now quite literally a swamp! It was probably the first time I've seen a Kingfisher fly through a woodland, though there probably were a few fish to be had! Walking down the Ouse revealed very little, 1-2 Peregrines between Lewes and Rodmell, a Water Rail squealing and a Little Grebe diving at Piddinghoe, and the expected ensembles of Lapwings, thrushes, gulls, Canada and Greylag Geese, Meadow Pipits and crows in the flooded fields, though nothing more interesting could be found among them.

On Thursday I managed to see three very diurnal Foxes in the Ouse, what looked like a vixen and cub if the fields by Bishopstone on the train into college, and another by Iford on the train out. I also heard a Starling givingly a pitch-perfect impression of a Yellow-browed Warbler, though the fact it was midway through a normal Starling warble gave it away slightly! It's remarkable what they can pick up on, or perhaps what they can sound just like by blind chance!

Today I managed a MERLIN on the train out of college, chasing down a Redwing accross the levels a mile or so south of Lewes. In Seaford, a FIRECREST called repeatedly, allowing me to be pretty sure of it's identification, but it was both a nice surprise and a self-gratifying discovery of my ears abilities when it showed briefly too, the supercilium gleaming in the sunlight.

that's all for now folks, keep you posted soon! 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

was it or wasn't it a spinoletta pipit?

well, in the end, no seems the blunt answer! As was kindly pointed out by Jan on brighton and facbook birders, this bird seems more likely to be a Scandinavian Rock Pipit- anthus petrosus littoralis. I've tried to collate some reasons for this conclusion below;

Suitable for?
Quite long, pale lower mandible, bird given quite a ‘worried’ expression
possibly Scandi or water pipit, resident petrosus in this area have a shorter, slightly more pointed bill(similar to Meadow Pipit), resulting in a sharper facial expression- though I’m not sure how reliable this is as a feature and certainly wouldn't advise it as a good method of separation
Very faint, kinks up slightly behind the eye but didn’t look very strong 
Seems to be more typical of petrosus, I have seen some petrosus locally with stronger super’s than this bird showed, though littoralis can have a weak supercilium. Seems to rule out Water Pipit
Bold white eyering
Probably very variable, best discounted- bolder than any petrosus present but as that was only five individuals, that's not saying a lot!
Moustachial stripe
Present but faint, not very easily discernible due to distance from bird, flat light and the way it typically posed
Seems a pro littoralis feature to me
Head  colouration
Neutral greyish brown, very little discernible streaking (consider flat light though)
Pro littoralis, lacking the olivey tones of petrosus
Pale, obvious white ‘triangle’ under bill, defined by presence of moustachial strikes
I think any of the pipits can show a pale throat
Quite heavy, blunt streaking, but streaks are well defined and cut off about halfway down the breast. Overall paler, creamy-white tone to breast
Pro littoralis, petrosus should show more suffuse, smudgy streaking and have a more olivey tone to the breast. Heavy streaking another sign that seems to rule out a Water Pipit
Quite ‘clear’ looking, creamy colouration but with more smudgy grey streaks than on breast
Smudgy grey streaks could be a feature for petrosus or (some) littoralis, but to reiterate what I said above, creamy colouration rather than olivey seems pro littoralis
dull greyish-brown, heavily streaked
Pro littoralis, a stronger, olivey tone is generally found on petrosus
Pale fringing to median and greater coverts, creating strong double wing bar
a stand-out feature compared to any resident petrosus I’ve seen in East Sussex, though this is quite a subjective feature to judge
Whiteish outer tail feathers, a la Meadow Pipit
Pro spinolleta or littoralis, it would be difficult to judge well enough to separate the two based on the views I got, but other factors seem to rule out Spinoletta thoroughly.
Could apply to any of the pipits as far as I’m concerned
Upright and wagtail-like, a line drawn from head to tail, when seen side-on and standing, would be at about a 60° angle to the ground
Posture has often been a useful way for me to pick out Spinoletta or littoralis, Petrosus  in my experience seems to have a more ‘crouching’ posture, if you were to draw the same line on a petrosus in it’s normal posture, it would come to about 45°, a noticeable difference

it did cast a more petrosus-like jizz in some photos, like this one where it appears
olive-tinged and short-billed, this wasn't quite how I remembered the bird in the
field however.

In the end, I feel confident enough to say I think was one, albeit not an atypical littoralis when concerning the strength of the supercilium. At some point it would be good to go and have another look, maybe in better light- perhaps my task for next weekend? definitely an interesting bird at any rate, and I'd appreciate any opinions you may have!!


Liam :) 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

fine birding on the suburban coast

Like all good days, this one began with a glorious lie-in, and I lazily dragged myself out of the house at about 9.00. My first port of call was the lovely SNOW BUNTING, once again showing brilliantly along Seaford seafront for myself, Peter Wilson, and several inquisitive passers-by, who I'm glad to say had great views without even needing any optics. Once we explained to people what the bird was they were also a lot more concerned to not flush it, which made for a far less stressful viewing! Bringing a tripod meant I also got considerably better photographs today than I had managed on Friday.

showing off the streaky mantle, reddish tertials, pale brownish nape, white wing flash

perched on the sea wall

just generally being too cute!

While watching our proud plectrophenax, I also picked up two Brent Geese passing high and to the east about 100 yards offshore- I used to think they were only to be seen moving along the coast on migration, but it does seem a few wandering birds move around East Sussex through most of the winter! After about 20 minutes of pure joy with my new best friend, I carried on west along the coast, checking Newhaven as I went.

it was generally very quiet- there was the regular winter flock of 200 Greenfinch, in which I tried and failed to string something rarer (I did briefly see a bull-necked, brownish looking bird with what looked like a short yellow beak, I think this was probably me just trying to string an odd view of a juvenile Greenfinch into a Twite though!). There were also plenty of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, but not a lot else. Not even a Ringed Plover or a Stonechat was noted! The Mill Creek held only the resident Redshanks and Little Egrets, alongside the two Little Grebes that have taken up winter residence at the port-end of Mill Creek, I first noted these birds on the train on Monday and have seen them twice since; quite remarkably, my first ever for Newhaven Tide Mills! Now they're here they'll probably stay the whole winter. It does leave the question, why are they here now and not before? My best guess is that these two are part of the small number that winter along the River Ouse, often being seen between Southease and Pidinghoe in the winter months, and decided to wander a bit further downstream for the winter. Alternatively, may they have wandered from the more substantial population about four miles further east, in the Cuckmere? I suspect the latter is more likely but who really knows? anyway, Newhaven wasn't quite as dead as I've described, a female Wigeon flew over my head from on the Mill Creek, before heading NE towards Arlington and the upper Cuckmere, and there were also several flocks, amounting to about 200 more Wigeon, that flew south to roost offshore of Newhaven. One of my latest ever migrant Siskins also flew over, heading east.
Little Egret fishing in Mill Creek

Walking through the port at Newhaven, I noticed quite a lot of gulls- in one group of seven Herring Gulls on a factory roof was one bird with a noticeably darker mantle than the surrounding birds- I tried to set up the camera to get a photo but they all took off, the dark mantled bird flying right over my head, and showing a lot of white in the primaries, including an extensive white tip to p10- a nice clear-cut Argentatus Herring Gull. You may wonder why I was walking through Newhaven port, and it certainly wasn't for the scenery! But I decided to have a walk around Peacehaven today as well, and this was the quickest way to get to a bus-stop. 

Not a lot was there to see on most of Peacehaven Undercliff, but I did eventually find my target bird, a WATER PIPIT. Barny Worsfold reported a probable around here about a week ago which had a very convincing description, so I've wanted to check it out for a while, and was delighted to find one! I noted the following on the bird;

  • white outer-tail feathers, the most diagnostic feature
  • a clear, whiteish double-wing bar
  • a pale, orangey lower mandible
  • the upperparts were a greyish, neutral brown in colour, lacking the stronger olivey tones of a Rock Pipit
  • the underparts where a lot paler, with a slight yellowish tinge, but generally a lot clearer
  • streaking on the breast ended quite abruptly about halfway down the breast, and there wasn't the same olivey-tinge to the flanks shown by Rock Pipit
  • the streaks were slightly finer and cleaner looking, lacking the dirty, suffused look of Rock Pipit. 
  • the call was, to my ears, slightly lower-pitched, and more pleasing to the ears, than Rock- and though I've yet to find any literature that supports this it is something I've noticed on the other two local Water Pipits I've found
  • In stance, it was quite upright and wagtail-like, frequently pumping it's tail to reinforce the expression. it held it's head higher than the Rock Pipits I normally see, which generally have a more 'slanted' posture, you could run a line from head to tail running in an almost 45 degree angle on a Rock Pipit in typical posture I find, whereas it would be more like 60 degrees on a Water Pip. 
I was also quite lucky to get some decent photos of the bird, which may hopefully come in useful for a description

It wasn't as pale underneath as some very 'classic' birds I've seen, but I'm fairly happy with said birds ID. It was on the area of undercliff immediately below Malinee Avenue, Peacehaven, while I think Barny reported a bird slightly further west, at Portobello Sewage Farm. Is it the same bird wandering, or a different one? I think this bird is quite easy to pick out, due to the mass of downy feathering on the left side of the breast, where it looks like some feathers have been pulled out (I noticed it tussling with Rock Pipits quite a lot). 

Heading to the bus stop at Peacehaven, I got quite a surprise when five SWALLOWS flew over heading East! They didn't hang around long, hardly surprising, as they must be in quite a hurry to leave by now! I had recently seen y latest every Swallows at Pagham, on the 11th, and this was pushing the dates back even further! To see five was remarkable as well, and it does give me hope that a few of these extreme straggling summer migrants might make it back ok. 

On getting the bus, I met up with Jake at Brighton Marina, which gave some great birding! Along the east arm, a delightful and fairly confiding juvenile Common Scoter was swimming about among boats, probably enjoying the easy life of a placid water with probably a lot of shellfish on the bottom! A Guillemot was offshore, and on the rocks of the west arm we could distantly see a Mute Swan and a few PURPLE SANDPIPER, a year-bird for me and the main reason for coming to the Marina, I have missed on these beauties since my last sighting in January 2011! We opted to trek accross the marina to the West Arm, and got a remarkable surprise in two Shag fishing in the channel just opposite the West Quay! They were so close they were attracting quite a spectacle from the passers-by, something I have never noticed occurring where Phalcrocorax are concerned before at all! But when you're that close, the up-ending dives are quite a spectacle, and certainly splash loud enough to attract a curious crowd- who were probably enjoying the antics of one poor juvenile who hasn't quite mastered fishing yet! He attempted to swallow A Flatfish that was almost larger than him, and ended up giving up on most of his hard-earned prey, which the entrepeneuring gulls instead stole away. 

It was a truly fantastic experience, the frantic energy of this inexperienced juvenile, combined with his gusto for catching fish and disappointing failures to engulf them, made for gripping but also slightly saddening viewing. There is something cute, endearing and wryly affectionate about a Shag, being far skinnier and more elegant than his common cousin. The up-ending dive is also rather spectacular from such a close range, and we were literally so close that, when he resurfaced, you could hear the sound of water being forced out of nostrils! It was perhaps my favourite point of the day, even including the magnificent views of Purplie we managed once we pulled ourselves away from them! There were 8 Purple Sandpiper among 20+ Turnstones on the rocks on the marina side of the east arm- alongside the very out of place Mute Swan sitting on the beach! They seem to be quite a coastal species in the Solent and can often be seen paddling aimlessly past the beaches between Christchurch and Keyhaven among pedalo-lookalikes, but this probably the first time I've seen a coastal Mute in Sussex! 
juvy Scoter, enjoying the placidity of a Marina

Great Black-back, pirate of the unfortunate Shag!

diving Shag!

Phalcrocorax Aristotelis

Purple Sandpipers- no zoom

the creme de la creme of Sandpipers!

"I have no idea what I'm doing"

Common Crane, Hooded Merganser, Black Brant and Gosport Ring-billed Gull

Although myself and my Grandad saw the COMMON CRANE and the HOODED MERGANSER just this week we decided to have a look at theses 2 smashing birds again today as we did not get the best of views last time. Started of at Amberly Wildbrooks RSPB where the COMMON CRANE was feeding away at quite a distance but never the less crystal clear views so very pleased! After 10 minuets of viewing the bird it took to flight gradually getting higher and higher over the Brooks. The bird headed towards Kithurst Hill and eventually drifted out of sight. As far as I know the bird still hasent been reported since.

Now of to see the HOODED MERGANSER yet again where the bird was on view straight away feeding in the channel. This bird is very confiding so it's well worth a look and comes quite close however this does not mean its a escaped bird as the other birds that have been sighted here in the UK have been accepted and they were also quite tame to my knowledge. Another nice suprize was seeing the BLACK BRANT amoungst the Brent Geese which stuck out like a swore thumb!

We then decided to take an over the border visit to Hampshire to see the Gosport RING-BILLED GULL which after around 10 minutes of searching we relocated the bird on the boating lake which gave views of 5 foot or so just like the Sabines Gull I saw in Brighton a couple of months back. The bird also came to bread and was a nice tick! A good days birding!

George Kinnard 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Snow Bunting, Seaford, 16 Nov 2012

my best attempt to document this bird. sorry about the fairly shaky quality but, well,
that's what you get with handheld footage on a bridge camera! 

Now, I know you want some words, of course you do! So against all sensible reason and discourse, I will ignore the urge to spend my friday evening sleeping like I should do, and endeavour to write some, for our lovely readers! 

November's been a bit quiet for birding, especially round school. I got in early today to have a check of the railway land, but all I had to show for my efforts were a few Redwing and Siskin among the regulars (and even these are becoming regular enough now, though I still keep note of them). There were also a small movement of Black-headed Gulls following the Ouse north, probably heading from their roost off Newhaven to feed further north up the valley. While doing some filming for a Media project, I noted a probable calling Firecrest, two Mistle Thrush flew over College and there were quite a few Coal Tits around the trees outside Cliffe House (one of the buildings that comprises Sussex Downs College). I also got a text from Dad, saying something like "Snow Bunting Seaford Beach east of the Buckle!". 

I was home by about 3, and twenty minutes later we were down at the beach. There, was, how to put this, an even larger urge shown by the general populace to bring Black Labradors down to this particular space on the beach today! I try not to get too frustrated by dog-owners, being one myself, but when a slightly senile old dear insists on throwing an old milk carton for her ungainly Lab right where the Snow Bunting was last seen, one does have to swallow quite a few expletives that are fighting to escape one's breath!

Thnakfully, the old hag, and the rest of her dogging contingent (I'm sorry for being so rude, but I need to let out this passive-agressive frustration somehow!), politely effed off eventually, and it didn't take too long to see our target. My words will struggle to describe the sheer, contented adorability of a SNOW BUNTING
but they will have to suffice. The dinkiest of yellow beaks was plucking what little seeds could be found on this stretch of the beach, while the overall colour is chameleon-like in it's ability to mimic the colour of the surrounding pebbles! The chestnuty breast-band and ear coverts, darker brown mantle and reddish fringed greater coverts all play a part in giving a very finely tuned camouflage. The white flash on the median coverts does make picking it out a little bit easier, and though, like many Snow Bunting, it was reluctant to fly, it was quite happy to briefly scuttle accross the shingle, in a similar fashion to a Ringed Plover, another bird very well able to camouflage itself in this habitat. The Bunting also has an adorably cute little black eye that endears me to it a lot.

This bird was also incredibly confiding, showing down to a few feet, so if you're in the area it is well worth checking it out! it typically favours the stretch of beach to the east of the Buckle Caravan Park, and if there are no dog about seems very approachable!

I'll leave you with one final photo- just look at him, for pete's sake!!! :)
 SB: "I'm so adorable"
 LC: "yes, yes you are!"

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

120,000 Amur Falcons massacred in just one week!

120,000 Amur Falcons massacred in just one week in north east India

This is a documentation of the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migratory Amur falcons (Falco amurensis) in the remote state of Nagaland in India’s northeast. We estimate that during the peak migration 12,000 – 14,000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale everyday. We further estimate that a mind-boggling 120,000 to 140,000 birds are being slaughtered in Nagaland every year during their passage through the state.
This is probably the single largest congregation of Amur falcons recorded anywhere in the world and it is tragic that they meet such a fate. Our team has alerted all appropriate authorities in Nagaland. Government officials we spoke to have committed to put an end to the slaughter and have initiated specific action steps outlined below. Conservation India will continue to monitor and report on the situation.
An estimated 120,000-140,000 migrating Amur Falcons are though to be killed in one week in Nagaland, NE India (© Conservation India)
It is significant to note that India, as a signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), is duty bound to prevent this massacre, provide safe passage, as well as draw up appropriate action plans for the long-term conservation of this bird. In the recently concluded Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), of which India is the president for the next two years, the importance of CMS in conserving species, and especially in stopping bushmeat hunting, was repeatedly stressed.


In October, huge numbers of Amur falcons arrive in northeast India from Siberia en route to their final destination — Somalia, Kenya and South Africa. This handsome little raptor has one of the longest migration routes of all birds, doing up to 22,000 km in a year. The birds are unusual in that they migrate a large distance over the sea and also continue their journey at night.
In October this year, a group of us (Ramki Sreenivasan from Conservation India, Shashank Dalvi, Bano Haralu, Rokohebi Kuotsu) travelled to Doyang reservoir in Wokha district to check out information that thousands of falcons were being hunted annually on the banks of the Doyang reservoir during their passage through Wokha district, Nagaland. The trip confirmed our worst fears.
Doyang is a rockfill dam and hydroelectric plant on the Doyang River, a tributary of Brahmaputra, 30 km from Wokha town in Nagaland run by the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO).
On Oct 21, as we were reaching Doyang reservoir at 0830hrs, we found two women walking along the road openly with about 60 skinned birds that turned out to be amurs. This was our first encounter with the species. We saw the dead birds even before we saw the live ones.

Number of Amurs around Doyang

Almost immediately, we saw thousands of amurs on the transmission lines along the mountain ridge. They seemed to travel overnight and reach Doyang during the early hours. They seemed to use these wires for resting and hawking insects. Amurs are known to be wholly insectivorous (Irwin 1981).

Amur Falcons gathering on pylons (© Conservation India)

Here we estimated ~6000 Amur Falcons at 0840hrs. This count was only from the wires visible to us, and the wires stretched for hundreds of meters in each direction (see attached slideshow). The next morning (Oct 22), at 0630hrs we counted ~12,000 birds on the same wires and ~23,000 birds flying above the Doyang reservoir. Later at 0830hrs the birds were seen using transmission lines. The numbers dropped considerably and by 1230hrs, very few falcons were seen on the wires.
Over the course of the day, we observed 12 hunters on the main road carrying between 60-200 birds per head totaling over a 1000 dead birds carried to their homes or local markets and even door-to-door selling.

The Massacre

1. Hunting process

The amurs spend the day on the transmission wires (almost entirely inaccessible to hunters) and descend to forested patches along the banks of the reservoir to roost (see map). The hunters ruthlessly exploit this particular behavior and set-up huge fishing nets (30-40m long, 10-12m tall) all over the roosting sites.
We accompanied one hunting group (of 4 hunters) to the other side of reservoir by rowboat where we saw several other hunting groups. Hunting groups consisted mainly of four hunters; some parties had two.

Huge fishing nets (30-40m long, 10-12m tall) are set up all over the roosting sites (© Conservation India)

Birds get caught in the nets in large numbers. These birds get tangled in the nets while they come to roost during late evenings or when they leave the roost early in the morning. The nets were permanent and the hunters come every morning to remove the trapped birds. The nets were observed over the entire roosting area giving virtually no safe area for the birds. Branches and paths were cleared to set up the nets.

Birds descending to roost in forested patches along the banks of the river are trapped in the nets (© Conservation India)
Each hunting group had set-up at least 10 nets. On an average, 18 birds (18.30, n=23) were caught per net; hence each group catches about 180 birds per day. This was confirmed with interviews with hunters. We were also informed that about 60-70 hunting groups operate every day. This means during the peak migration about 12,000 to 14,000 birds are caught everyday. This obviously results in a loss of very significant number of birds from population everyday. This year hunters started netting on 19th Oct (interview with hunter) and the netting will apparently continue till the end of migration. According to hunters the peak migration lasts 2-weeks (our group will confirm this over the course of the next week or two, plus will study it next year). Assuming just 10-days of peak migration through Doyang, this suggests a shocking 120,000- 140,000 birds removed from the population every year, and more if the migration lasts longer or if there are more hunting sites in the area (neighboring villages, districts, etc.). This number doesn’t include birds potentially killed using guns, catapults, etc. — a widespread and accepted practice amongst Nagas.
The captured birds are kept alive in mosquito nets or cane baskets near the nets so they can be exported alive to the customers and markets. From cane baskets, the birds are transferred to poles for ease of carrying into villages and towns. Birds eventually die in the process and these birds are de-feathered / plucked (like poultry) and smoked for sale (longer shelf life).

2. Sale

Each bird is sold for a price between Rs. 16-25 (always sold as number of birds for Rs. 100 ($ 1.9 / £ 1.2). This sale usually happens door-to-door in Pangti village (where most hunters are from) as well as nearby Doyang and Wokha towns. Hunters (and sellers) know that Amur killing is illegal and banned by the Deputy Commissioner (Wokha district) since 2010 vide an issued order (Order no: JUDL-13/DR/2008-09/ Dated, Wokha, the 16th Nov. 2010). We also came to know about a few Amurs on the sale in open markets in Dimapur, in the plains far away.

Most of the birds are sold alive for as little as £0.20 per bird! (© Conservation India)
It is still a mystery where huge numbers of dead amurs go everyday, as the local villages cannot absorb such numbers for their consumption. One of the hunters told us that two pick-up trucks from Dimapur were to pick-up the birds from Pankgi village (we couldn’t confirm this and passed on the information to the District Commissioner and Superintendent of Police). It is critical to understand where the bulk of the birds go.
Many birds are killed and eaten locally (© Conservation India)
By the end of the day, with the stench of smoked amurs in our heads, the scale and the ruthlessness of the massacre numbed us.

The Amur Falcon Massacre, Doyang, Nagaland 

Progress after our complaints

On the very same day as our verbal complaint (Oct 22nd), the dynamic Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Wokha district issued a fresh order against hunting of amur falcons (see new and earlier orders). This order was also carried in local newspapers. He also intimated the superintendent of police of Wokha about the killing and the potential trade in amur meat. He also alerted all community leaders in the area to enforce the ban. He set-up a meeting for our team member Bano Haralu to address the village leaders on 29th October 2012.
The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Wokha district Mr. Supongtakshi Aier and a district administrator addressed approximately 50 village heads, council members and student bodies of Pangti, Sungro and Akhotso villages in Pangti (since most hunters are from Pangti, the village closest to the Doyang reservoir).
The government officials categorically stated that any ongoing trapping and killing of birds after the DC order was a violation of the law and it would not be accepted. The respective village representatives were asked to inform their communities about the order and that violators would be fined. Village heads have agreed to inform their communities about the status of the Amur Falcons and to spread the message of being “guardians” to the birds rather than being “destroyers”. However, they expressed helplessness to put a total stop to the killing if some measures are not put in place to replace the “economy”generated by the killing of the birds during this season. The govt. has to address this on priority before the next season.
The Chief Wildlife Warden of Nagaland Mr. T. Lotha has issued instructions to his staff to seize all traps found in the area and has warned of stern action including arrests against offenders. Forest guards and personnel have been on duty since, and will remain till the end of the migration to monitor the situation. They have also begun to confiscate all live and dead birds caught by villagers. Live birds have been released and dead birds burnt. In some spots, nets put up by hunters have been removed.
A more robust and proactive plan is being thought out to be effectively implemented next year in the month of September a month before the migration season.
The issue has been brought to the notice of the Minister of Environment and Forests, Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan, following the meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) on Oct 31st, 2012 in New Delhi. The director of BNHS and member of NBWL, Dr A R Rahmani has written to the Hon’ble Minister to request the Chief Minister of Nagaland as well as the forest department of the state to immediately stop the massacre, and draw-up a long term conservation action plan for the species.
India has repeatedly pointed out that migratory birds are killed on their way to India in other countries — the primary reason why the Siberian Crane is now locally extinct in India. This incident goes to show that bloody, seasonal hunting sprees targeting migratory species is happening in India too, and we have to take immediate action to stop this.

UPDATE: 15th November
Birdlife International and the Bombay Natural History Society (Birdlife in India) have set up a Just Giving page where you can donate to help them raise money to prevent this massacre happening next year.
Give whatever you can to help stop this slaughter


Shashank Dalvi and Ramki Sreenivasan
Conservation India

November 2012

Taken from rare bird alert so all thanks is to them. 

Thank you


Common Crane Amberly Wildbrooks

We left at around 3:30pm to the COMMON CRANE at Amberly Wildbrooks today and arrived at 4:00pm on the dot. With the light fading at quite a speed I thought we were more likely to see the bird tomorrow. Waited around 20 minuets for the bird to appear which it didn't in that time so things did not look hopefull as the bird hadent been seen for half and hour anyway and it was just getting darker. On the way back we heard a commotion of Greylag Geese which were put in the air by the COMMON CRANE! Success! The unmistakable silhouette was showing well even in the gloom. The long stretched out neck being slightly drooped and could even just slightly make out the white stripe through the back of the head. 

George Kinnard

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Hooded Merganser

Looking forward to seeing the Hooded Merganser last Saturday I unfortunately was told I could not get over there as I had family comitments. Luckily and to my joy I finished early and was able to see the HOODED MERGANSER! As we first arrived things did not look hopefull as the bird hadent been seen for 3 Hours and the light was fading fast! I decided to walk further down the channel the bird flew down as this was as good a chance as any. Half way I heard the two other guys shouting "it's there, It's there!" I rushed back hoping the bird would still be in view! As I got back and got the scope out I was greeted to the HOODED MERGANSER! It's beautiful silhouette showed perfectly even at a distance however that was good enough for me! Cheers guys for letting me know! 

I should say there has only been 7 to my knowledge accepted records of Hooded Mergansers as most birds are popular in private collections and are often escapes if seen in the wild. As of yet the is nothing saying this bird won't be accepted. Many believe is may have been brought over by hurricane Sandy if it is a wild bird. Let's see how it roles on from here. If anyone else is intreasted the bird was seen again today (13th November 2012) at North Wall Pagham Harbour West Sussex. Feel as if I should give a shout out to Luke Dray who unfortunately put a lot of effort in trying to see 
  the bird but still hasent seen it! Althought he did get 1 Black Brant, 1 Water Pipit and a Curlew Sandpiper.

Friday, 2 November 2012

phylloscopic frustrations!

is 'Phylloscopic' a word? if not then it should be! By the way, this is a write-up of yesterday (1st November), so apologies for it being a bit late!

I started with low expectations, but I did hope the strong South-westerlies that had now been blowing for two days might have brought a Sabine's Gull or a Shearwater into the channel. as it turns out, in 40 minutes my totals were;

Black-headed Gull- about 20W

and that was literally everything! Not even a Common Scoter, a Gannet or a Brent Goose! It's a good thing skua's are such a decent bird, and november is such a good month for them! otherwise I would have considered this rather a wasted 40 minutes.

Another good bird seen was a SCANDINAVIAN HERRING GULL that did a flyby of the groyne at Splash Point. (I know I should have been in the shelters on such a miserable day, but it had been so crap I actually moved onto the groyne thinking I was somehow missing everything from where I had been!) The gull perched down on the concrete path briefly, allowing a fairly good study through the scope, before flying off towards a roost on the beach to the east. I noted

  • a darker mantle shade than  typical argenteus. However, I think this was quite a pale Argentatus, as it was very flat light and the mantle was lighter than some definite scandi's I have seen in bright sunlight! It was quite blueish grey as well
  • increased white on the primaries with big white tip to p10, and a tip-black spot-mirror pattern on p9 (see bad drawing below). 
  • in flight, the deeper breast gave it a more front-forward appearance than a british herring gull (and I checked by looking extensively at the rooftop gulls on the way home to compare!)
  • the head was fully moulted into winter plumage, unlike most of the argenteus that are currently about halfway through (Argentatus on average moults slightly earlier)
  • it had a heavy bill and big, brutish expression, more so than Argenteus

In my ultimate show of professionalism, I used Paint to show the primary pattern of an Argentatus! As a btief and interesting anecdote, I actually did a paint drawing to help get a Glossy Ibis accepted a few years back! I will have to dig that out one day!

On my way home, besides some gull-grilling on the rooftops, I also saw a Redpoll on Southdown Road, Seaford, and 4 Siskin flew north over the house. Both decent November records! Dad then told me about a Firecrest he'd seen in Blatchington Churchyard, which I decided to check out. A fateful decision! 

the Firecrest was calling almost immediately, and there were several Goldcrest, Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird in the churchyard. I heard a crest flock move off, so I followed them, and positioned myself so they would all be moving right in front of me to go from one tree to the next...

The first bird that dropped into view, I put bins on and thought, "bloody hell!"- it had a supercilium and a strong double wingbar! the super was too dull for Pallas's, so was it a Hume's or a Yellow-brow? It had an overall greyish cast and a very dull supercilium, just like the Hume's Warbler I'd seen in Belle Tout two days previously! But I didn't hear it call, and despite a lot of searching yesterday and today, haven't yet managed to see the bird again! 

However, in looking for it, I managed to see the following around Seaford; 

  • BRAMBLING calling over the Churchyard, the first I'd seen since 7 Oct, and completing the trio of winter finches for the day! 
  • a late HOUSE MARTIN flew over the Churchyard as well, my latest by seven days! 
  • 3-4 Chiffchaffs in Seaford, including one by Seaford Primary School with pluamge looking good for an eastern bird. wouldn't claim it without the call though
  • probably the same Firecrest in a tit flock by Seaford Primary School, giving gorgeous views in someone's garden!
  • one, or possibly two, Mistle Thrushes around Blatchington Hill and Seaford Primary School. 

The mystery warbler was of course frustrating, but it was put into perspective a bit when Jamie and Peter, two great birders from the Brighton area, found a probable YELLOWTHROAT on Scilly, but couldn't quite confirm it! From Peter's description it sounds the genuine article! However Jamie found a Red-eyed Vireo on Scilly last autumn, so it would be rather greedy for those two to claim another yank passerine this autumn!! 

Red Squirrels & Red-breasted Goose, a great 2 days...

After looking forward to my yearly holiday to Brownsea Island I finally got there yesterday. After only one and a half hours sleep from the Halloween party the night before I got up for 6:30am leaving at 7am. We got to Pool Harbor at about 9:30am just in time for a quick coffee at the pottery shop. We then got the 10am boat (we being me and mum). It took about 20 mins to get to the island on a very calm sea. Me and mum had a quick drink at the cafe and got to work finding the Red Squirrels. After 5 mins we found one dropping horse chestnuts on the ground and nearly hitting our heads! 

After failing at photographing that one my mum found a area with loads of them. I sat behind a fallen tree trunk and waited. After about an hour  got this shot...

(copyright 2012 Luke Dray)
Later we walked around the island more and found this Goldcrest in a tit flock...
(copyright 2012 Luke Dray)
Today we came home; just before we go home we decided to go for the Red-breasted Goose at Farlington Marshes HWT. It took us ages to find the car park as it very well hidden and hard to get too. As we arrived I asked a returning birder where the goose was and told me where to go. Luckily there were two birders already looking at the Goose and pointed it out to me. I got a few record shots of it.  

Brief history of this bird - as it has moved about the south coast quite a lot!

The first sighting of what I presume is the same bird was on 4 Nov 2006 on The Fleet, Dorset. it then moved to Poole Harbour from 18 Nov to 25 Jan, and subsequently moved to Keyhaven (Hants), and then Chichester Harbour (Sussex)- perhaps the brent flock it tagged into was slowly moving east, using all these estuaries as stop-offs? I certainly think a lot can be learnt about Brent movements from tracking a very obvious individual among a flock, and having a convenient vagrant that stands out this much!

The following winter the only report submitted and accepted by BBRC was from Chichester Harbour briefly in February, but again this begs the question of if it was moving east again? In 2008/09 it was reported in the Keyhaven area from 31st October onwards, and was then reported from Chichester from February to early March, again moving east!
I think in 2010 it took a vacation! There are no reports up to December 2010 (when RBA’s records database runs out!) and I don’t remember it being seen anywhere in early 2011. There was a RBG at Pett Level in December/January of that winter, but this bird tagged onto a flock of Russian White-fronted Geese, so was presumably different!
I saw the old familiar RBG at Stanpit Marsh, on Poole Harbour, in late October 2011, where it stayed for most of that winter, and it was reported from the Swale this October, before relocating to Farlington Marshes, where Luke has now caught up with it.
That’s now six winters (excluding 2010/11) for presumably the same bird, and it has been seen in four counties, at four widely spread wetlands. It’s interesting to note it’s eastward movements through the estuaries every year, at exactly the same time as brent passage is at it’s peak down-channel. In fact, since it leaves Chichester harbour in mid-march most years, it’s flock actually leaves slightly after the peak exodus in late February/early march.

However, in all these years, it has never been picked up in a brent flock moving down channel to my knowledge! Not at Selsey, nor Splash Point, nor Dungeness! How does such a jewel go unnoticed! It certainly gives me a good reason to go sea-watching once or twice in mid-march this year!

(Liam Curson)