Friday, 29 November 2013

What About Those Essex Wolves?

I cannot get my mind off the incident earlier this week when Timber Wolves escaped from Colchester Zoo.  Apart from how on earth did they get out I am concerned with the over reaction to their escape. True some were "darted" and returned to their compound but at least one was shot dead.  Why?  Did the police/zoo owners think there might be real danger to the public or was it just panic?  Britain has become so sanitised over the centuries to real wildlife.  Countries as close as France and Spain live with wild populations of Wolves and although not everyone is happy including livestock farmers the majority of people do not go around scared stiff when in areas where they exist.  When in areas with Wolves it is very difficult to set eyes on one.  I am amazed that when the human race is besotted with domestic dogs they are so rabidly terrified of another dog. 

Timber Wolf photographed in Canada from 20 feet - I was quite safe.

This brings me back to Zoos.  What are they for?  If they are like Regents Park, Marwell and Chester etc and making a real contribution to nature conservation by breeding captive populations of threatened species destined for reintroduction back to the wild then surely that is a proper role.  Too many are just a menagerie for the public to gawp at exotic species in confined cages.  A way to make money but without any contribution to the conservation of the species concerned.  It is not enough to say well we are building up captive populations of threatened wildlife so everybody will be able to see them once extinction has taken place.  Maybe regulators should be stricter when licensing such establishments.  As far as Colchester Zoo is concerned watch out as they have several Tigers.  Heaven forbid if they escaped.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A Great Day Out

I rose early at 6am to drive to Haverfordwest. Peter and Rosemary Royle knew I would be at The Pembrokeshire Bird Conference later that morning so kindly invited me to try for the Western Orphean Warbler in their garden.  I arrived just after 8am and was asked to sit on a chair in a bedroom and wait  Lots of birds were coming to apples but not the warbler.  Peter and Rosemary had to go to get the conference ready so left me in charge of their house to lock up and get to Pembrokeshire College at latest 9.45am.

Western Orphean Warbler - Pembrokeshire photo Peter Royle

I enjoyed great views of commoner birds especially Great Spotted Woodpecker and Redwings but still no warbler.  At 9.10am I rose to pack up my camera as i thought I should get going.  A second or two later there it was.  Superb views adequately showing how large this species is compared with other sylvia warblers.  The light was poor so no photos so I locked the door happy.  At that moment I thought I heard a curse.  I had shut the door and flushed the birds momentarily from the garden.  It was then I saw a dozen figures huddled high in a hedge.  Sorry chaps but you were asked to come on Sunday.

The Conference was excellent.  Great talks all round, great food, good companionship made all the better for seeing such a rare bird in the UK.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Quick Look At Cilsarn Bridge

In beautiful sunshine I stopped by Cilsan Bridge for a quick look  My attention was first attracted to a large flock of gulls on the meadows apparently catching worms.  Most were Black-headed or Herring but there were quite a few Commons and at least 20 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Six Buzzards were also worming and  there were 6 Whooper swans alongside c30 Mute Swans.  Just as I was leaving 20 Lapwings flew in.

Lapwings in flight
Checking the garden today a Marsh Tit showed for the first time for some weeks.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Talking About Brazil

I spent a pleasant evening with friends from the Carmarthenshire Bird Club talking about my visit to the Pantanal, Brazil last year.  The talk contains images and information about the Hyacinth Macaw one of the World's threatened species but recovering because of ecotourism.  Hence the title of the talk Can a Parrot be that Big?.

Hyacinth Macaws

Thanks to all who turned out on a very nasty evening with torrential rain and high winds.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Back From Suffolk

I arrived back home in Wales this afternoon after a super evening yesterday.  I had been asked to talk about the great 20th Century Ornithological Events at The New Cut Theatre in Halesworth at a joint event organised by the Waveney Bird Club and The Suffolk Ornithologists' Group.  We also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the latter.  It was a great night I was able to meet with many friends including many I birded a lot with during my life in Suffolk.  The event was a sell out with 220 seats being sold.

Barn Owl - photo Brian Barker

On the way home with friend Patrick Barker we saw a super Barn Owl sitting on a public footpath sign at Wickham Skieth.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Waveney Bird Club Farm Walk.

This morning a good number of local birders turned up at Lodge Farm, Westhorpe, Suffolk to walk around the farm and learn about the conservation work being done by the Barker family.  In addition a number of bird ringers put up nets and caught over 70 birds to show to the attendees.  Youngsters seemed particularly pleased to see this happening.  Carl Powell was leading the ringing and his expert commentary and involvement with youngsters was most impressive.

Male Bullfinch

The best species caught were a Treecreeper and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  On the walk there were plenty of Yellowhammers and Linnets and for this part of the World good numbers of Bullfinches.  People seemed very impressed with the amount of birds on the farm and know at least here their taxes are being well spent on agri-environmental schemes,

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Morning On A Suffolk Farm

Awoke to a grey and cold day  and went for a walk with good friend David Barker around his splendid Lodge Farm.  Traversing a impressive 8 acre area planted just for the benefit of farmland birds it was no surprise to see good size flocks of Linnets and Yellowhammers.  There were masses of Wood Pigeons too and a handful of Jays squawking their way along an oak hedge.

Yellowhammer - photo Brian Barker

I spent an hour walking two field of grass searching for Grey Partridges.  There had been a covey of 12 the previous day but I failed even with the help of Indy the black Labrador.  I wish we could get members of our current Government to see this farm.  It is highly profitable but still hold high biodiversity thanks to an enlightened family.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Heading East

I am heading East first thing tomorrow morning to my native Suffolk.  On Monday in the New Cut Theatre in   Halesworth I am giving a talk on Great Ornithological Moments in Suffolk in the 20th Century and helping celebrate the 40th birthday of the Suffolk Ornithologists' Group.  The evening is being organised by SOG and the vibrant Waveney Bird Club.

If you are anywhere that part of the World then come along and take part in the fun.  If you have not got my book Birds Coping With An Obsession I will have them on sale and be happy to sign them as well.  The raffle will have lots of fabulous prizes including a pair of Swarovski binoculars and you will also get a piece of birthday cake.  I hope to see many old friends and some new ones too.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Crossley ID Guide - Goshawk versus Sparrowhawk

One of the most difficult identification tasks for a lot of birders is splitting Sparrowhawk and Goshawk.  I have been very fortunate over many years to have regularly seen both and this is certainly true where I now live in Wales.  We have a few pairs of Goshawks in this region as well as Sparrowhawks.

If you do not see Goshawks regularly then the perceived ID problems will be on your mind time and time again.  First of all forget the regularly used warning of “Watch out for big female Sparrowhawks”.  It is true that this can be an ID pitfall but once you realize that a male Goshawk and a female Sparrowhawk are so different then the problem will go away.

Goshawks are powerful birds and every bit of their courageous reputation is true.  A female should pose no problems as they are roughly the size of a Common Buzzard but there the comparison disappears.  I reckon that my first impression of a female Goshawk is that at glance it can resemble a Hen Harrier.  It is slimmer, longer tailed and more stream-lined than a Buzzard. This is particularly true of its flight.  The slow steady wing beats are just nothing like the fluttery fast wing movements of both sexes of Sparrowhawks.

It gets a bit more difficult with male Goshawks.  They can look a bit small but the deep chesty appearance is diagnostic as is the tail shape. Goshawks tend to have a more rounded tail.  If you get a good view the white under tail coverts are also very striking.  Sometimes you can get the impression that the white extends up the sides of the tail and even over the rump.  The latter is an illusion probably caused by the long under tail coverts extending over the tail area in flight.

Sparrowhawks  generally show much blunter wingtips whereas Goshawk wings are sharper at the ends and the head is much more protruding.

What is certain is the the jizz of both species is so different. The smaller Sparrowhawk is slight in stature and fluttery in flight.  The Goshawk is larger and much more powerful looking.  To be confident you need to see a lot of both species.  This may not seem possible but I am convinced that there are more Goshawks out there then we may be led to believe.  You just have to practice.

All of these features are well illustrated in the Crossley ID Guide and where else could you have such an assembly of photographs illustrating the points I have raised.  It is not a question of using the Crossley Guide as a replacement for any other guide but more a case of using it in conjunction with the rest of your library.  As further support for the Crossley Guide method think of this – If looking for a criminal would you rather have a painting or a photograph of the suspect?  Think about it.  Richard Crossley himself has told me that in most bird photographs you have an unfocused background but in his book the background is both in focus and a relevant habitat. For me this new volume will be essential as an additional aid in identifying difficult species.

Having said that I still want to know where the cricket pitch is with the flock of Red-throated Pipits.

To catch up with what others have been saying about the Crossly ID Guide click on

If you want to catch up with a Video Chat next week between Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens the click on

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Penclacwydd Rather Than Shopping

Rather than accompany Beryl around the Llanelli shops I went over to the WWT Wetlands Centre at Penclacwydd.  Checking out the scrapes in super weather I noted 20 Lapwings and then looking on the meadows to the rear 20 Black-tailed Godwits and about 60 Wigeon.

Male Gadwall

Looking from the Peter Scott Hide there were Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal and Gadwall.  the latter were indulging in feeding groups and as always making me stare in wonderment at their subtle plumage.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

November WEBS Count and More


The WEBS Count started at 10am so I set off at 9am.  As I passed Cothybridge I was amazed to see Rooks back on their nests and beginning the pairing up ritual.  Normally I would expect to see this behaviour in late December.

Male Red-breasted Merganser

It was a glorious day with tremendous light.  I arrived at Kidwelly Quay and took up my position.  The tide was rising and not expected to be very high.  I quickly began counting the commoner species and then noticed a superb male Red-breasted Merganser right in front of the Quay.  There were quite a few photographers around so the bird got well documented.  My count today was a bit difficult as 2 Peregrines and a ring-tail Hen Harrier caused the birds to move around in panic quite a bit.  The totals were11 Greenshank, 301 Dunlin, 375 Redshank, 27 Snipe, 70 Lapwing, 900 Golden Plover, 750 Oystercatcher, 1 Spotted Redshank, 70 Curlew, 72 Teal, 8 Red-breasted Merganser, 30 Pintail, 39 Brent Goose, 1 Shelduck, 2 Little Egret and 19 Cormorant.

Red Kite -resting

On the way home I stopped near Dryslwyn to photograph a Red Kite and then moved on to Cilsarn Bridge where I found at least 28 Whooper Swans and a female Goosander in the river. I should also mention I saw a Red Admiral butterfly today in warm sunshine - most unseasonal but very welcome.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Kites Galore

The sky was blue and the sun shining so I took a drive up to the moors above Brechfa Forest to Mynydd Llanllwni.  I first noted 4 Ravens and a Buzzard but the main highlight was up to 10 Red Kites paying a great deal of attention to the improved meadows below the moor.  There were no Golden Plovers to be seen which I thought might be around.

Red Kite

Returning home through the forest I did see Bullfinches on a number of occasions and this species must have done well here this year.  Before reaching home a couple more Red Kites graced the skies and then down came the rain again.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Surprise On My Doorstep

Such a fantastic weather this morning so we set off on a walk from our village of Salem.  At first there were not many birds to see except Robins, Chaffinches and Magpies.  As we headed up higher we did pick up a Buzzard soaring quite close and a flock of about 20 Rooks.  Several groups of Starlings were moving overhead and then as we turned to descend to the village a super Red Kite appeared in front of us. 

Lapland Bunting - photo Eric Hosking

It was as we were moving further down that a bird called and as we approached was flushed for the side of the tarmac.  It flew up calling loudly and then headed off south.  As soon as I heard it I knew it was a Lapland Bunting not a species I would have dreamt of seeing around here.  It shows you that scarce migrants can turn up anywhere.  Just before reaching home a small group of 15 Redwings flew across the road.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Have a Week of Fun with The Crossley ID Guide

From November 4th you can enjoy a week of visiting a number of blogs to see what the authors have been doing with their new Crossley ID Guides.  To discover what's on offer follow this link

I am doing my thing on November 14th when I will use this new and and different way of looking at birds to discuss the subtle differences between Sparrowhawks and Goshawks. Both these species are to be found area our house and I hope to have a day out looking for these elusive but superb birds.  The weather has been so appalling around here for the past week that I am hopeful it will change in the next few days.