Sunday, 6 July 2014

Ovipositing, Peregrines and Great White!

Today started with an early morning phone call from fellow birder and friend Matt Knott. Now when my mobile rings early in the morning and I see it is Matt, it means only one thing - a rarity!
With yesterday's amazing news of a Black-browed Albatross past Portland Bill, I must admit, I was slightly nervous about what Matt was going to tell me! However, it wasn't the albatross, but a good bird nontheless - Matt had literally just had a Great White Egret fly over his head at nearby Exmouth and head my way! Now, Great White Egret is a bird I have always hoped to find on the patch, but I couldn't resist heading straight out to see if I good "luck in" on Matt's bird - despite a quick dash out of the house and to the seafront and Otter, I sadly had no joy. A well deserved find for Matt for his early starts! Matt - if you are reading this - don't ever worry about ringing too early- I am always keen to hear about rare birds whatever time - no problem and thanks for the call.

Other highlights this weekend were a couple of juvenile Peregines that have recently fledged and an Emperor Dragonfly ovipositing in our garden pond! 
Ovipositing Emperor Dragonfly in our garden pond

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Leave our Beavers alone! Sign Petition

One of the Beavers happily minding its own business on the River Otter in April this year
Is DEFRA wasting public money on trying to re-capture a family of "wild" living Beavers on the River Otter in Devon?

Maybe? so it would seem:

George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative)
"We intend to recapture and rehome the wild beavers in Devon and are currently working out plans for the best way to do so. All decisions will be made with the welfare of the beavers in mind. There are no plans to cull beavers."

Up to three animals have been living on the River Otter for at least two years now without any known detrimental effect.
So what is the problem and
why the big fuss about them now, despite them having been living happily on the River Otter for at least 2 years?

Disease Risk? Lethal Tapeworm? - Negligible or Low
It has been suggested that a reason for the proposed removal of beavers from the River Otter is because of a "lethal tapeworm"
Echinococcus Multilocularis (EM) which beavers "can" carry?
This parasite is clearly fairly nasty but according to the DEFRA a beaver infected with EM : "can only transmit the infection directly to other beavers, wildlife or the environment through a definitive host (dog or fox) scavenging the infected beaver’s organs."

As such the
report clearly states the risk from the parasite as being either neglible OR low but uncertain dependent on the origin of the beavers.
Worth noting DEFRA's definitions of risk are:

Negligible = So rare that it does not merit to be considered
Low = Rare but does occur

Origin of River Otter Beavers?
Obviously, the beavers origin are unknown, but let's be honest, the chances of them having escaped from somewhere fairly local to Ottery St Mary would seem reasonable, as this is where the animals were first reported.....
Escot House, is a privately owned 19th Century home based in Ottery St Mary which do have a captive collection of beavers. They were imported from Bavaria, but Escot have apparently not had any animals escape.
Even if they had escaped from Escot, according to the DEFRA report: "A beaver imported from Bavaria (or other endemic area) poses a low risk of being infected with associated uncertainty"

Surely there is a better solution to all this than taking the seemingly brash approach and permanently removing the beavers from the River Otter because of a low disease risk?

If the risk to human health is more of a concern than I interpret it and it is essential they are captured then get the animals tested. Assuming they are free from the parasite, then allow a licenced legal release back to the River Otter.
But don't just put them in a zoo and make that the end of it.

This is a great opportunity locally to use the River Otter as an English Beaver study trial site.....

Good article from the Ecologist HERE

Sign petition to at least show your support for the Beavers in the wild and help stop the beaver's permanent removal HERE or HERE

Full DEFRA report can be seen HERE


"The risk of E. Multilocularis being imported and introduced in to a definitive host species (e.g. fox or dog) via beavers is dependent upon the probability an infected beaver is selected for import, it survives quarantine, it dies in a location accessible to a host species and is scavenged by a host species resulting in infection. Beavers infected with
E. Multilocularis cannot transmit the infection directly to other beavers, wildlife or the environment.
Onward transmission can only occur by a definitive host (dog or fox) scavenging the infected beaver’s organs.

Historically, beavers have been imported from two main areas namely, those from endemic E. multilocularis countries (e.g. Bavaria, Germany) and those from free countries (e.g. Norway). For imports from E. multilocularis free countries, the risk of importing infected beavers and infection being established in indigenous UK wildlife is considered negligible.

For beavers imported from endemic areas, the risk of being infected and resulting in the establishment of E. Multilocularis in wildlife is considered low but is uncertain due to the factors involved (e.g. beaver escaping, a fox scavenging an infected dead beaver, infection established in intermediate host species).
The consequences of E. Multilocularis being introduced into the definitive species (e.g. foxes) in the UK include disease establishment, loss of disease free status and therefore an increased risk for the human population being exposed to the parasite. To minimize the risk of E. multilocularis being introduced and establishing within UK wildlife, the only suitable risk mitigation measure would therefore be to source beavers from UK captive bred populations or from countries which are currently free of E.multilocularis"

Monday, 30 June 2014

MADEIRA - Debrief

Now well and truly back on terra firma and I have had some time to reflect on the Madeira Pelagics and review some of my photos. One thing is for sure, Pterodroma identification at sea is no easy task!
Despite the fanatstic views from the RIB, the birds are just so fast and your brain cannot take in the fine details required to try and id them. The only real way, is to take as many photos as possible and refer to the best current guide available: Multimedia Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Pterodroma Petrels by Bob Flood & Ashley Fisher with some excellent plates by Martin Elliott.
Of course, even with half decent photos, it is important to be aware of lighting conditions and different angles when assessing bill structure and underwing scores.

Below are my best shots of five individual birds which seem to show the best views of underwing and bill structure. I must stress, it is never wise to assess birds on single photos and the  notes (below) are based on reviewing other photos too (not shown). However, it is all a learning process and I haven't necessarily got it correct and I would welcome opinions.
In reality,  some birds are probably best left as Pterodroma sp......

Click on the images enlarge.

From left to right:

Bird 1 - This bird would seem to be a fairly classic example of Fea's (Desertas) Petrel with large head, thick set body and stout bulbous bill
Bird 2 - Though the underwing score is relatively dark, it is still in the range for Zino's. However, it is the small bill structure that id is mostly based. It appears thin and long  and fairly classic for Zino's

Bird 3 - Underwing score unhelpful to process, but bill structure and fairly large head would seem to suggest Fea's (Desertas) Petrel?
Bird 4 - Pretty dark underwing score throughout primary and secondary feathers, more indicative of Fea's (Desertas)/Cape Verde Petrel. Bill structure seems intermediate, so maybe best left as "Fino's"?
Bird 5 - High underwing score and fairly light build would all support Zino's, though bill size on the larger side for this species. Therefore a presumed male Zino's Petrel?

Many thanks go to both Hugo and Catarina of Wind Birds for another excellent and very well organised trip. Thanks also to Doug, Mike and Julie for a good humoured tour and to Tim Worfolk for his comments on some of the Pterodroma id.

Following the successful completion of this trip, Wise Birding Holidays donated £100 to the Freira Project, helping Zino's Petrel Conservation - More HERE

Please contact me for next year's dates:

Final tally of birds and other marine life below:

Madeira 16- 20 June:
Zino's Petrel
- Minimum of 4 birds

Fea's (Desertas) Petrel - Minimum of 3 birds
Pterodroma sp - Minimum 6 birds
Cory's Shearwater - daily sightings

Great Shearwater - 1 bird, presumed same on 18th and 19th
Manx Shearwater - 6+ birds on the 19th
Sooty Shearwater - 1 bird onthe 19th
Band-rumped (Madeiran) Storm Petrel - 1 bird on the 17th

White-faced Storm Petrel - 2 birds on the 17th and 1 on the 18th
Little Egret
Glossy Ibis-
a single bird on the 16th and 17th
Ruddy Shelduck - a single bird on 4 days
Osprey -
a single bird recorded on 3 days
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Common Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Red-legged Partridge
- heard
Quail - heard
Common Moorhen
"Atlantic" Yellow-legged Gull

Roseate Tern - 1 adult onthe 17th
Common Tern
Feral Pigeon
Trocaz Pigeo
n - 4+ birds on the 20th
Plain Swift - daily sightings

Pallid Swift - 1or 2 birds on the 20th
Bethelot's Pipit - 3 birds on the 20th
Grey Wagtail
European Robin

Common Blackbird
Blackcap - including the rare melanistic form
Madeiran Firecrest - 2 birds on the 20th
Common Chaffinch - of the distinctive maderensis form

Common Linnet
European Goldfinch
Atlantic Canary
Common Waxbill

Probabale Bryde's Whale - 1 on the18th
Sperm Whale - seven animals, including a group of six on the 19th
Beaked Whale sp - a single animal on the 18th
Bottlenose Dolphin - five on the 17th
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - minimum of five on the 19th
Striped Dolphin - at least one onthe 18th
Common Dolphin - 25+ on the 18th
Loggerhead Turtle - two on the 19th

Sunday, 22 June 2014

MADEIRA - Terrestrial Endemics

Enjoyed our last day with a grand tour of the island targeting the two key terrestrial endemics and other specialities: 

The very striking and attractive maderensis endemic race of Chaffinch

Trocaz Pigeon - endemic to the Madeiran archipelago

Berthelot's Pipt - Endemic to Madeira Islands and the Canary Islands

Madeiran Firecrest- Endemic to the Madeiran archipelago

Spectacled Warbler sat on top of theendemic plant, Pride of Madeira!

Saturday, 21 June 2014


Today was our final pelagic day we returned to a chumming spot to the North-East of the island, back in the Zino's Petrel hotspot. En route to the chumming spot we were entertained by more great marine life including a group of 6 logging Sperm Whales, at least 5 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and Loggerhead Turtle.
We arrived at our chumming spot at around 5pm and found the wind and some very big swells in excess of 2 metres - which feels pretty big in a small boat! We had no luck with the hoped for Storm Petrels, but were entertained by some very fast moving Pterodromas in the wind.

Earlier in the day we took our usual walk along the river and were treated to some excellent views of the very rare melanistic form of Blackcap - a crazy looking bird. I had always been intrigued by thisform when first reading about it prior to my first visit to Madeira in 2009.

Melanistic form of Blackcap - this form is quite rare and only known from Madeira and the Azores

Sperm Whales

Presumed Zino's Petrel - High underwing score, relatively small bill and fairly light build

Cory's Shearwater - seen daily and heard from our hotel room at night

Thursday, 19 June 2014


Another day, another pelagic and more education on the difficulties of Pterodroma id at sea. This time the calmer seas gave us all an easier ride as we chummed to the South-East of Madeira. The morning was spent birding the local area around Machico again.....

Atlantic Canary

Monarch Butterfly

Ruddy Shelduck - vagrant to Madeira

One of the many Madeira Wall Lizards

Great Shearwater

The island of Bugio - part of the Desertas Islands and the breeding ground for Fea's (Desertas) Petrel

Presumed Fea's (Desertas) Petrel

Same bird as above

Different bird and undetermined so Fino's Petrel for now!

Bulwer's Petrel - always busy on the chum slick

MADEIRA - Days 1 & 2 No Pain No Gain!

Day 1 - Arrival
I arrived on the island of Madeira on Monday with my small Wise BirdingHolidays group and after the spectacular views from the plane we soon touched down at Madeira’s relaxed airport. Catarina and Hugo where there to meet us and within just 10 minutes we were checked into our hotel in Machico overlooking the sea.

We ventured out for a short walk along the river and got off to a great start as we saw 3 vagrants visitors to the island. An Osprey, Ruddy Shelduck and Glossy Ibis as well as the expected Atlantic Canary, Common Waxbill and endemic races of Grey Wagtail and Goldfinch.

After an evening meal at the hotel, Hugo and Catarina picked us up just before sunset and we headed up to the famous breeding peaks of Pico do Arieiro at around 1,800M. As we arrived, we were greeted by Dr Frank Zino and his wife Elizabeth who had come along in the hope of mist netting some birds! Unfortunately, the wind was too gusty to put the nets out, but it was a great honour to chat to Frank Zino and enjoy the fantastic experience of both male and female Zino’s Petrels calling above our heads as we glimpsed the odd shape whizz past us. A real must for anyone visiting Madeira and made all the better by sharing it in the company of Frank Zino!

Day 2 - Pelagic One
After a leisurely morning and wander around the river again we took time to relax before having lunch and taking the short stroll to meet our boat, the now famed Oceanodroma. After our safety briefing and donning lifejackets we were soon on-board and watching a pristine adult Roseate Tern on nearby rocks. Then the fun really began!
As I have said before, after my last trip to Madeira in 2010, this pelagic is not for the faint-hearted and is something of an endurance test. We left the shelter of the outer harbour of Machico and headed between the gap in the cliffs on the eastern side of the island, where we  soon entered  the rougher seas. Every now and again the boat would rise and then drop into a trough with a bang and we all became accustomed to taking the pressure on our knees and using them like a spring. There was no time to even think about feeling sea sick as we slowly headed into the wind and the large swelling waves. Sea spray slapped us in the face at times, but I just kept reminding everyone it would all be worth it in the end! Two hours of discomfort and pure concentration on the sea and ensuring your body reacted to the movement of the boat  and we finally reached our chumming spot to the north-east of Madeira. Here, the first chum block was dropped over the side and within just 20 minutes we were in Pterodroma and Storm Petrel heaven!
Quite incredibly we were soon watching Zino’s Petrel, Fea’s (Desertas) Petrel and White-faced Storm Petrel within just 20 minutes of dropping the chum! Pelagic birding in Madeira is exhilarating and quite exhausting but totally worth it with views of seabirds that simply cannot be beaten!
Below are some photos from our first 7hrs at sea on our first pelagic trip

Fea's (Desertas) Petrel - a real brute of a bird with a very large bill, a considerably dark underwing with score of zero (North Atlantic Seabirds:Pterdromas by Flood & Fisher). Also note the prominent large-eyed impression which "may possibly" be a useful feature

Fea's (Desertas) Petrel - same bird as above

Zino's Petrel - This bird was seen immediately before the above bird and was a useful comparison. It showed a high underwing score 4 (though not shown here) with obvious white flashes along with small bill and overall light build

Zino's Petrel - Same bird as above
Presumed Zino's Petrel - though quite dark underwing scores in comparison to the first bird though caution is needed when reviewing underwing scores due to harsh light giving a false impression of more white than actually shown! The bill and structure in comparison to the Fea's (Desertas) Petrel would seem to suggest Zino's

White-faced Storm Petrel - We were treated to two of these fantastic birds which entertained us for the whole triip "kangaroo jumping" up and down the chum slick

Sunday, 1 June 2014

LUNDY - Shearwaters and Wagtails

Just returned from a couple of days helping the Mrs with Manx Shearwater monitoring on Lundy Island. We spent a couple of days with help from Beccy, the Lundy Warden, setting out some Manx Shearwater breeding sample plots across different areas of the island. Currently, the whole island is surveyed for Manx Shearwaters every 5-6 years using a method of tape-playback at each and every suitable looking nest burrows to get an accurate idea of how the population is recovering, since the island was officially declared rat free in 2006. This survey takes at least one week of intensive effort covering all the accessible slopes and a team of around 10 surveyors. The idea of the sample plots is that they are small enough to be monitored annually and to give an indication of how the population is doing in between the full surveys every 5-6 years.
Most of the time, the Mrs was cracking the whip and I was on my hands and knees listening for responses from the burrows and walking up and down the steep slopes, so not much time for birding! However, it was very rewarding work, as the results we got seemed to show the population is still increasing - which is great news! The Manx Shearwater population on Lundy was approximately300 pairs in 2001 compared to the last full survey in 2013 which showed there to be just under 3,500 pairs!
We even found a few birds that had already started to re-colonise the recently removed areas of rhododendron. All good stuff and great to see the results so positive after such a hard and long project of ensuring the island became rat free.

Time for birding was few and far between, but a report of a Black-headed Wagtail on my last day enabled me some time to have a look for the bird. The only bird I could find was a Grey-headed Wagtail (Motacilla f. thunbergi), that I assumed to be  the bird originally reported as BH Wagtail?
Grey-headed Wagtail is a northern breeder of Scandanavia and a species I recently saw in Finland just a couple of weeks ago, but still a good bird for Devon  and nonetheless a good find for the original finder and good of them to alert me to the bird in the first place......

Manx Sherwaters from the Oldenburg Ferry

Cream Tea Birder surveying the slopes of Lundy for Manx Shearwater

Sika Deer

Lundy Island looking towards Rat Island and the Quay

Cream Tea Bird on the island she has put so much work into for seabirds!

Grey-headed Wagtail

Grey-headed Wagtail

Sunday, 25 May 2014


Finland has plenty of other wildlife other than just the owls. Other specialities include species like the Siberian Tit and Siberian Jay and of course breeding plumaged Red-flanked Bluetail. Capercaillie and Black Grouse are common "roadside birds" and breeding waders are everywhere with leking Ruff and displaying Wood Sandpipers. Hundreds of breeding plumaged Little Gulls and summer plumaged Red-necked Grebes, things you rarely see in the UK. A great country full of birds and very few people. Many thanks to our top Finnature guides, Antero and Petri.

Siberian Tit

Arctic or Mountain Hare

Muskrat aka toilet brush

Willow Grouse

Female Capercaillie

Male Black Grouse

Little Gull a true highlight of the tour with 100s of birds


Red-flanked Bluetail

Female Three-toed Woodpecker

Male Pallid Harrier - a small breeding population has recently established

Our Group