Friday, March 16, 2018

Something For The Weekend

Spring has yet to arrive. In fact the weather at the moment here in Lancashire is still like winter with low temperatures, biting easterly winds and even snow predicted for the weekend. 

Something For the Weekend 

With little prospect of birding or ringing I dipped into the archive for the sunny days of Egypt in 2011. 

The post from February 2011 seems especially relevant now as we in the UK await Chiffchaffs fresh from the wintering grounds, one of the first spring migrants. 


Ringers know that early Chiffchaffs often carry pollen residues on their bills. This pollen was deposited by the feeding strategy known as nectarivory, birds indulging in sipping nectar from flowering plants during which flowering pollen is left on the bird itself, mainly around the base of the bill, the part of the bird most closely in contact with the flower. Nectarivory is also known to occur in some species of bats. 


During the 2011 holiday to Egypt I saw countless Chiffchaffs and also saw nectarivory in action. The number of Chiffchaffs was not entirely surprising as unlike the closely related Willow Warbler which winters mainly in West Africa south of the Sahara, Chiffchaffs also cross the Sahara and concentrate in Senegal, while others remain in the Mediterranean North Africa of Egypt. 

At least 3 often inseparable races breed in the Middle East, collybita (includes brevirostris), menzbieri and probably abietinus and at least two others visit. So at any time, and especially during winter, spring and autumn the origins of Chiffchaffs and race of each individual in Egypt is hard to determine. The latest scientific and perhaps unremarkable opinion is that races of Chiffchaff interbreed freely, thus  making racial definition and identification in the field difficult if not impossible.  

There is no doubt that in Egypt I heard and saw our familiar UK collybita, with both the typical “hweet” call and occasional snatches of “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff”. I also heard the “squeaky chicken” call frequently and on a couple of occasions, snatches of the fast, melodious song of Siberian Chiffchaff tristis, totally unlike the Chiffchaff song I know but more like a demented Dunnock. 

In Hurghada I witnessed many Chiffchaffs taking nectar, at times the liquid being visibly sipped as birds stuck their heads deep into the flowers, and upon the bird withdrawing from the flower, drops of the nectar spilling from their bill. A particular favourite plant of the Chiffchaffs was a flowering Mexican Saguara cactus shown in the photographs below. In a few of the pictures, by zooming up it is possible to see the nectar drops around the bill. 

Chiffchaff on Saguara cactus

Saguara cactus - Egypt







In the two week trip I had one sighting only of Nile Valley Sunbird, another bird that takes nectar. In view of the tremendous number of flowering plants in Makadi Bay my single sighting was a little disappointing. 

The biggest numbers of Nile Valley Sunbirds occur much further south than Hurghada, but in the last 100 years, helped by the building of tourist resorts, the species has spread from the southernmost parts of the Red Sea and up to the Cairo area where it breeds. I didn’t get to Cairo to look for more sunbirds so settled for my one brief encounter and a couple of distant shots.

Nile Valley Sunbird

Egyptian Garden

Some of that sun and warmth of Egypt would  be very welcome right now. Maybe soon? Log in again to Another Bird Blog to check.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Back To The Linties

Linnets have hung around all winter at Gulf Lane but Friday morning and with a gentle breeze from the south east came the first opportunity for a month or more to catch a few. 

Earlier this week when I’d topped up the seed feed there’d been about 120 Linnets in the field, 8 or more Skylarks and 3 Stonechat dotted along the fence. 

I met Andy at 0700 and within ten minutes we had the usual configuration of nets ready for action. The Linnets appeared ravenous as they dived into the area of the food from the off. Well into March, the hungry month for birds, there’s not much of their natural food left so our seed mix is doing the job. 

We had a good catch of 23 Linnets but failed to catch a Skylark; despite two Skylarks being in the net, they both escaped before we laid a hand upon them. The Skylark is the Harrier Jump Jet of the bird world in being able to rise vertically from a standing start, even when partially enveloped by a mist net. 


Our catch of 23 Linnets comprised 8 first winter females, 2 adult females, 8 first winter males and 5 adult males. This brought our running total of new Linnets ringed during the Winter of 2017/18 to 237 individuals.

For only the second time at this site and with almost 450 Linnets behind us in two winters, we had only our second recapture – S800285 was ringed here on 2/11/2017 and recaptured today, but not in the intervening period. 

A glance at the coffee stained field sheet from today shows a few large males with wing lengths of 83mm. This was  surpassed by the very last adult male caught at 0930 with a whopping measurement and double checked via Andy as 87mm. Almost certainly this male will be from the Scottish and slightly larger sub species of Linnet, Linaria cannabina autochthona. By the way, and for those who collect such trivia, the old Scottish name for a Linnet is “lintie”. 

Today's Field Sheet



And now to work for the next hour or so in transferring the data for those 23 birds into the new BTO online database DemOn. 

DemOn - BTO

I knew that 87mm was a big one. DemOn gave me a validation warning.

"Wing-length queried as outside normal range of species – max 86mm"

"Validation warnings occurred when submitting the record. Please check the warnings, and click continue to save the record anyway. Please enter a comment for any warnings that require one before continuing. To go back and edit the record, click 'Cancel' ". 

A ringer’s work is never done but back soon with more news, views and photos.

Linking today to World Bird WednesdayEileen's Blog and Anni's Blog.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

First Poll

This morning’s ringing session seemed  a long time coming. We more or less abandoned Oakenclough last year after the storms of autumn followed by a winter to forget. But Andy’s done a sterling job with the feeders in the last couple of weeks by enticing birds back on site.

Wednesday dawned with a hint of better to come, a drop in wind speed and our first chance to catch up with small finches on the move at this time of year. Wind began at 6-8 mph from the south east, later 10-12 mph from the west with full cloud cover changing to sunny from the west. 

We met at 0700 and were joined today by Bryan. The session was pretty slow but we caught our first Lesser Redpoll and Siskins of the year together with a slight surprise in the shape of not one but two Mistle Thrushes. 

Fifteen birds caught: 3 Blue Tit, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Siskin, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Great Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Lesser Redpoll.

We’d heard two or more Mistle Thrushes in their usual loud song from treetops and watched as three of them crashed through the site in a territorial dispute. The Mistle Thrush as a very loud far-carrying song.  Click the start button below to hear the distinctive song of Mistle Thrush.

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush

We aged and sexed the two Siskins as one adult female and one first-winter male. They were released together and we watched as they flew off in close proximity. It’s a rule that ringers follow; if males and females are caught close to each other, as they often are, they are released at the same time. The same goes for possible family parties caught in late summer or autun. 



Goldfinches look rather splendid now as they move into their summer best. Look at the dark-tipped silvery bill of the male below. 


The redpoll was in fine condition so early in March. As suspected on first sight and confirmed upon closer examination, it proved to be an adult male. 

Lesser Redpoll

In recent years the Lesser Redpoll has been added to the list of garden finches like Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch. The BTO Garden BirdWatch survey shows a 15-fold increase in the use of gardens by Lesser Redpolls during early spring over the past five years. Having said that, they seem not to occur very much in gardens in coastal Lancashire where I live. I hope they become more common soon. 

Other birds noted this morning: 4 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Pied Wagtail, 20+ Oystercatcher, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 8 Lapwing. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Golden Oldie

Still the weather stops me from birding so I'm hitting the memory trail from the warmer, drier days of Lanzarote and January 2015.

Remember to click the pics for a light box slide show of Lanzarote.

We drove north and west heading for the coast at Famara hoping to find Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser, Stone Curlew and other bits & bobs along the way. After breakfast we said goodbye to the hotel’s Collared Doves and Spanish Sparrows, the two species which dominate the grounds and where the few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs stay mostly hidden amongst the greenery. Passing Kestrels may take a brief look at what’s on offer. 

Collared Dove


The male Spanish Sparrow is a rather handsome chap who inevitably bears the brunt of camera clicks while the less photogenic females look on. 

Spanish Sparrow

Spanish Sparrow

We took the road via La Geria, the wine growing area with its traditional methods of cultivation. Single vines are planted in pits 4–5 m wide and 2–3 m deep, with small stone walls around each pit. This agricultural technique is designed to harvest rainfall and overnight dew and to protect the plants from prevailing winds. The vineyards are part of the World Heritage Site as well as other sites on the island. This landscape is pretty much devoid of birds although the ubiquitous Berthelot’s Pipit or a patrolling Kestrel is often encountered. 


La Geria, Lanzarote

Berthelot's Pipit

We passed through farmland near the centre of the island Teguise and drove north towards the spectacular cliffs of Famara, stopping or diverting the Corsa across rough tracks to look for speciality birds of Lanzarote. Near Teguise a Stone Curlew flew across the road and landed in an uncultivated patch of land near to a half-grown chick - a nice find indeed. The chick crouched in an attempt to become invisible while the adult walked off and tried to distract me from its offspring.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew chick

Johnny Cash fans will know of the Boy Named Sue. In Lanzarote there is also a place named Soo, not far away from the Riscos de Famara and it’s a good area in which to look for Houbara Bustards. With just a small population in the Canary Islands, this species is mainly found in mainland North Africa west of the Nile and in the western part of the Sahara desert region in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. 

A Town Named Soo, Lanzarote

Houbara Bustard

Near Famara, Lanzarote

Looking for bustards, Lanzarote

As you might expect from a species historically hunted in large numbers the Houbara Bustard is very shy and will either hide or run from a vehicle. The cryptic plumage gives a bird the chance of escaping detection. 

Houbara Bustard

Houbara Bustard

We stopped at the windy Wild West town of Famara to survey the rugged cliffs and sandy dunes where we found Yellow-legged Gulls and a single Little Egret along the rocky shore near the jetty. We followed up with a light lunch before hitting the road back south taking detours along the many dusty trails in search of more birds. 

Little Egret

Sand dunes at Famara, Lanzarote

Lanzarote lunch

The Desert Grey Shrike was a lucky find, the bird diving into a grey, thorny bush that upon inspection held a newly built, lined nest ready for eggs, and which from the female’s behaviour were the eggs surely imminent. I took a number of shots and left the bird to her domestic duties. 

Desert Grey Shrike

Desert Grey Shrike

It had been a great day of exploration and discovery but time to head back to Peurto Calero and a well-earned rest. 

The LZ2 road Lanzarote

There’s more news, views and photos soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Blast From The Past

The whole country seems to have come to a standstill via The Beast from The East. Here on the Lancashire coast we escaped the worst of the snow with just a smattering of snow showers but days of minus temperatures. The easterly wind chill factor has made for bitterly cold and unfavourable birding weather. Even the garden has been devoid of birds except for Starlings and one or two Goldfinch.  Sue spent most of yesterday looking through the window but then about 4pm, I let her in the house.

So in the absence of any news and until the weather relents, I’m posting about our holiday to the warmer climes of Fuerteventura, The Canary Islands in January 2013. 

Although holding a certain attraction, the beaches of Fuerteventura weren’t the sole interest in our holiday. A hire car for a few days gave a chance to explore the island although at approximately 650 square miles there’s a lot of ground to cover, and a pure white car isn’t the best colour for approaching cautious birds. Remember to "Click the pics" for a close-up tour of the birds and the island.

Exploring Fuerteventura

Over the Plains Fuerteventura

The plains above Costa Calma and La Pared hold Houbara Bustards, Cream-coloured Coursers and Stone Curlew, but in a couple of tries we didn’t have much luck apart from 3 distant Stone Curlew and brief views of a running Courser. 

Cream-coloured Courser

There were lots of Lesser Short-toed Larks on the dry, open plains with small gangs of Linnets and occasional Southern Grey Shrikes. The Linnets are very unapproachable, as are the Goldfinches that can be glimpsed in greener parts of the island. 


Southern Grey Shrike

Lesser Short-toed Lark

We journeyed through the centre of the island through the village of Betancuria and on to the highest parts of the island at 600 meters, giving a spectacular outlook on the landscape below and distant views of an Egyptian Vulture. This species is apparently now rare on the island as they are elsewhere in its range and we had just two sightings of the vulture in two weeks. 

Egyptian Vulture

Exploring Fuerteventura

Exploring Fuerteventura

A walk exploring the outskirts and the village of Betancuria provided Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Kestrel, African Blue Tit, Spectacled Warbler and Trumpeter Finch. The latter three were all new birds for me with the wary Trumpeter Finch a particular favourite, due to its slightly comical appearance. 

Betancuria - Fuerteventura

Betancuria - Fuereventura

Trumpeter Finch

Trumpeter Finch

A few Spectacled Warblers were in song, and I guess the breeding season is quite early in these parts. 

Spectacled Warbler

The so named Canary Islands Stonechat is actually found on Fuerteventura only where it is said to be best found in the dried up river beds, the barrancos, dotted around the island. I found them in a couple of locations where houses ran down to the beach, one time finding one feeding on the tide wrack with Berthelot’s Pipits, until I disturbed it whereupon it flew chat-like to the nearby fence. To me they appeared much like a very dark-headed Whinchat rather than a Stonechat. 

Berthelot's Pipit

Berthelot's Pipit

Berthelot's Pipit

Canary Islands Stonechat - By Frank Vassen [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Exploring Fuerteventura

It seems were are stuck with the Arctic weather for a few more days but there will be a little local birding and ringing soon. Don'y miss it.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog and Eileen's Blog.


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