Sunday, 24 November 2013

Birding, Science and Recruiting future Conservationists!

A Focus on Nature are trying to encourage the younger generations to get active in birdwatching, natural history and conservation. A recent idea has been to set up an inter-university challenge which sees each university compete with each other trying to record as many species and sightings as possible from within the university grounds.
Being part of the Next Generation Birders, a sister group to AFON, it would be rude to not set up Bangor in the competition with Ros Green et al.
The group is still in the early stages, because a lot of the pre-existing active birders at Bangor Uni left last year. Attending the Bangor Uni Freshers Fair in September on the Bangor Bird Group table, there was a great deal of interest in the group and we got over 150 people to sign up for emails and several new members. Ros set up a facebook group just this week and we've already had 38 members join the group (after being forcefully added by us...but still!)

One of the main reasons for setting up the competition, for me, is the competitive side that a life of being the youngest sibling and bird listing has implanted deep inside me. If we were in the middle of London for example, I guess I may not have been quite so eager to join the competition.

I genuinely think that Bangor has quite the competitive edge. Given the location, there is a great chance of some otherwise hard to get birds appearing on almost every single trip out. How many Universities in Britain can say that almost without fail, you can see Little Egret and Black Guillemot from the Uni campus?

During my time at Bangor, I've so far seen Osprey, Chough, Red Kite, Great Northern Diver, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Brent Geese, Whooper Swan, Lapland Bunting, Waxwing, Gannet, Common Scoter, Spotted Redshank and Green Sandpiper from 'Bangorian' soil. I think that given enough effort, 125 species won't be out of the question.

I think the only thing missing from Bangor, really, is any freshwater. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anywhere where there is even a pond! This will almost certainly make Coot, Moorhen and Tufted Duck blockers!

So how does this help birds, birding and conservation? Well it's simple: BirdTrack. All the records will be entered into BirdTrack and there will be prizes for the most records entered by an individual, most species seen and 'Birder of the year' (for the person that spreads the word of conservation and natural history, and is just an all round top birder!)

So without further ado...COME GET US ABERYSTWYTH!!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Not my standard blog post...

Unlike 99% of my blog posts, this post will feature no sightings, no trip reports, so ID features etc. Instead, I thought I'd use the 'eDiary function' of an online blog and write about my opinions of the recent Dusky Thrush 'suppression' in Devon.

On 26th October, a garden in Brixham, Devon played host to what could well be argued as the prettiest species of thrush on the British list - a Dusky Thrush. Yes, it wasn't quite the adult male as seen in Leigh, Gtr Manchester back in December 2010, but by the look of the photos, it would certainly get the pulses going if it happened to catch the business end of my binoculars! The bird was present in a private garden until the 2nd November and then news was released about the bird on 17th. The reasoning behind the suppression, for me, was reasonable. The bird spent the duration of its visits in 6 gardens in the estate, with all of these gardens only being visible from within the houses themselves. The birder who initially found the bird went around the 6 houses and discussed the possibility of granting access to birders in any of the houses and as the majority were non-birders, the idea of (potentially) several hundred people visiting this quiet housing estate wasn't exactly the most attractive scenario in the world. In addition, the finder even contacted the local police and asked for their advice and understandably, even they suggested it wasn't a very safe idea. The difficult decision of suppression was therefore the most sensible option.

Anyone reading this who doesn't think this was the right thing to do, then you clearly live in your own little world where you're allowed to only think about yourself and don't take into consideration others around you (probably explains a lot about the nay sayers anyway!). I guess the number who think that is wrong is very very small indeed, but the main reason why people are disagreeing with the 'etiquette' of this fiasco is that the bird was actually seen by quite a notable number of non-residents who were invited by the finder to see the bird. Apparently some long-distance twitcher also were invited to see it. This is where most people seem to think the finder broke the 'rules of twitching'.

Here's my view on the decision made by the owner: Perfectly understandable! By 'invitation only', you can regulate the number of twitchers affecting (or not affecting depending on your view!) the local population of the non-birding housing estate. 'Invitation only' means that you know exactly what sort of people will be descending on the estate, which is the responsibility of the person putting out the news at the end of the day. If the whole ladder scenario from the White-throated Robin happened on my street, I think several people would have a hell of a lot to say about it. In addition to this, if you invite people to come, you know who they are, so you can give direct instructions that you know they'll follow to be as discrete as possible when in the vicinity of your house.
Not only this, but I were to find something that I knew would be a nightmare to get people to see, whether there be no parking or whatever, I would do everything in my power to make sure it was possible, but if it's not, it's not. With a twitch,  you've no idea how many people are likely to turn up as so many variables come into play e.g. day of the week, geographical location, how many people need it, how many people would be likely to travel x distance to see the bird etc. Inviting close friends etc if perfectly fine I think. Mainly because...they're your friends! You know them, you can trust them, you want to share your little bird of magic in your garden with them.

One thing that really is getting on my nerves about this particular topic is that the vast majority of people who are complaining about bad etiquette and how only in exceptional circumstances would no access be allowed are people that saw the Dusky Thrush at Margate this year, so what on earth is the fuss about?! I was extremely busy with fieldwork when the Margate bird, so had no chance of getting to see it despite it being one of my all time targets to see. If access was granted, I probably would have tried my best to get down there.

I think one of the main pieces of information that people seem to be missing is that this bird didn't appear in a private woodland or cemetery or similar, this appeared in gardens of the general public. There are very few people in the world that would happily let 300 complete strangers walk aimlessly into their home to see something. I remember hearing that people were watching the Oriental Turtle Dove from the owner's kitchen whilst the kids were sat at the dinner table eating breakfast. I can't believe how unbelievably intrusive that image is and how unbelievably tolerable that owner of the house was. There are very few people in the world that are quite so accommodating.

You have to put yourself in the shoes of someone who finds a very rare bird in their garden. If you are fortunate enough to be able to sort out a field for parking and live in an area where 100+ people won't affect any other household, then that's great, but not everyone is as lucky as the owners of the St. Brides house (of which I am incredibly grateful for them allowing access for the Orphean). In my street for example, if someone has a party and 5 cars turn up, the whole street knows about it and that's a maximum of 25 people. What happens if 50 cars turn up (assuming car pooling of 5 people in every car which we all know isn't likely!)? If you think that you'd just put the news out and assume that it would be ok with the neighbours at it would be during the mid-week when they're at work, or would only be a short time thing, you're unashamedly selfish.

When someone finds a rarity, what if they don't own a pager, or a news subscription, or are friends with any local county recorders? They are just local birders who enjoy birding for themselves. Are you suggesting they HAVE to report the bird to someone? No, of course not. Whenever anyone reports a bird, it is done by their own free will and what the guys at Birdguides, RBA, Birdnet etc do by spreading the news is a great privilege. They don't have to sit at a computer every day reporting everyone's sightings across the internet, but they make our birding life more exciting as a result of it.

Twitching other peoples finds is a privelege...not a right. If you are getting annoying by something like the Dusky Thrush, so much so that you have to bitch about it on the internet and bad mouth the finders, then you need a new hobby as a hobby should be an enjoyable past time...why are you playing at?

Saturday, 16 November 2013

(Western) Orphean Warbler - St. Brides, Pembrokshire - 16th November 2013

Western Orphean Warbler - Paul Rowe -
Chris Bridge and I back to the old days!

Chris and I went down to see the Orphean Warbler in Pembs with Julian Hughes who drove down there for Friday morning. It seemed to take forever to get to the site after heading south through deepest darkest Wales, but I have successfully visited every county in the UK except for East Sussex (unless you also count Isle of White as its own county). Pembrokshire was beautiful!
The bird itself appeared after about 10 minutes on site, but I was just not able to get a decent view of it except a prolonged flight view as it headed behind the house away from the apple trees it favours. I noted a heavy bodied grey warbler with a darker head and very heavy bill.
After about 10-15 minutes, it appeared again and landed in its favourite apple tree with yellow apples and went out feeding actively on half an apple about 2-3ft off the ground. Getting my scope on the bird, I was occasionally rewarded with superb views of the bird right in the open. It was a great bird but almost came across as two different birds from the front and back with the front half being very pied with a very white throat and dark head with a pale grey eye and heavy dark bill. In contrast, the back of the bird was very brown and sandy with a worn appearence on its upperparts and a coffee stained belly, flanks and undertail coverts. When in the scope, I was occasionally rewarded with views of the bird pointing completely downwards revealing its undertail coverts with no dark centres to the feathers visible which would certainly help point towards Western. I managed about 4-5 prolonged excellent periods of viewing the bird over the course of the morning, until the pattern of the birds foraging changed somewhat and it flew across the garden. This meant that I got prolonged views of it right in front of the house, so managed some good views of the tail in flight. White was restricted to the outer tail feathers and it appeared like a plain stripe along the outer edge to the feathers with a blob like tip (no obvious extra pattern) again pointing to Western.
The bird disappeared for the next half and hour to 45 minutes with everyone waiting for it to come back to the apple tree. I wasn't convinced it would because it started behaving differently, so I turned around and watched the woodland it flew into. After about 10 minutes of disappointment when seeing movement and only seeing Goldcrests and tits, I noticed something a bit larger through the centre of a large birch. I got the bird in my bins and was annoyed to discover a female Blackcap. However, I then saw a bird about 2ft away from it which had leaves over its face so couldn't be sure what it was, but it just didn't look like a male Blackcap. It moved slightly and I noticed a white eye staring at me! It was the bird! I managed to get most people onto the bird, but it soon moved out of sight. Over the next ten minutes, we got occasional views of the bird but it was very elusive indeed.
Julian, Chris and I gave it another half hour, but then decided we weren't going to get much better views than what we'd already got, so we left very happy indeed! 
About 90 people estimated to have visited during the morning with peak numbers of about 50 people at a time. Good to see familiar faces such as David Campbell, Lee Evans and Steve Gantlett.
Many thanks to Julian for driving and many thanks to the owners of the house for allowing us birders to access their home. A great bird, a great place and a great twitch!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Yellow-legged Gull - Aber Ogwen - 14th November 2013

Yesterday a message appeared saying: 'Richard's Pipit at Aber Ogwen in field south of car park found by H Cook. Flew off tho.'

Ros Green, Chris Bridge and I gave it a go about 1 hour after the original sighting, but there was sadly no sign. When giving up and heading back to the car, Ros noticed a gull flock on the sands and me being me, I couldn't leave them unchecked. I hoped for a white-winger, but a quick scan revealed a very chunky, very dark mantled Lesser Black-backed Gull which was possibly intermedius, but not much else.

A second scan and I noticed a striking 1stw LWHG that instantly stood out to me. It was remarkably long winged with very black primaries and black tertials with a very thin pale border (no pale notching). This contrasted to the grey brown mantle and darker brown coverts. It also had a very white headed appearance with a darker smudge on the ear coverts with a black eye and very black bill. The bill was really chunky with an obvious blob tip. I was pretty happy this was a first winter Yellow-legged Gull, but wanted to see it flap. When it did, it revealed a very white rump and only very slight windows in the inner primaries which helped confirm my suspicions. Note the rubbish post-field sketch below.

Consolation for dipping the Richard's Pipit.