Wise Birding Holidays

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Wood Sandpiper

Good to be back on the patch after a month in Mongolia - More on that later if I find time.

Back on the patch a Wood Sandpiper flying around and calling and landing briefly a couple of times was great to see on the evening of the 8th August. It was only my third on the Otter with the last one being on the 12th August 2014.
More good waders for the Otter came on the 11th with Sanderling and 2 Greeshank. It would be nice to get a Little Stint or Curlew Sand or something better in the next few weeks!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Beaver Time Again

The beavers on the River Otter seem to be a lot more elusive this year despite a lot of looking over the last few weeks. Therefore I was pleased to see an old friend (Patricia - pink tag right ear) on the river last night. Fingers crossed she may produce more kits this year???

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Outer Hebrides - The Uists

I have recently returned from a week with Helen and good friends Lee and Rachel to the Outer Hebrides. We spent a week on the island of Berneray, joined to North Uist by a causeway. The Outer Hebrides are truly stunning and packed full of wildlife and it is a place to which I will certainly return.

Wildlife highlights for me were seeing Corncrakes, finding a Lesser Yellowlegs, experiencing some seawtaching at the famous Aird an Runair and simply seeing all the common breeding waders.
Other highlights included a great bike ride to Cheese Bay, a superb walk to North Lee with stunning views all around and catching up with the Detectorists!
Below are just some of the highlights.....

The island of Eriskay

Corncrake performing at the RSPB Reserve Balranald


Common Seal on Berneray
One of the many fabulous beaches on Berneray

Common Seal on Berneray

Male Hen Harrier on North Uist

Male Hen Harrier, North Uist

Short-eared Owls were seen regularly on Berneray

Our seawatch day produced all 4 Skuas 

Pomarine Skuas

The Island of Eriskay

Sanderling and Dunlin were common on the beaches 

Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones at Aird an Runair, North Uist

Purple Sandpiper, Berneray

Sanderling and Dunlin

One of the many stunning and deserted beaches

Dinger and Walls

Team Berneray

Rock Dove, Berneray

Black-tailed Godwits at Loch Bhrusda, Berneray


Lapwing Chick at RSPB Balranald

Lesser Yellowlegs, Loch Bhrusda, Berneray. A bird had been present on the island of Vatersay
aprroximately 70 miles to the south of Berneray, but I think it may be a different bird
based on some plumage differences. I will post a video in the next few days.
View over Lochmaddy and North Uist

Friday, 4 May 2018

Bonaparte's Gull and Beaver

A morning surveying with Russ in Dorset today started well with a Red Kite en route at 06.05hrs SW over the A3052 near the Beer turning which had presumably roosted nearby.

After the survey we decided to take a 10 mile diversion to Longham Lakes where the Bonaparte's Gull performed very well. I'm certainly no gull expert, but although it looks very much like an adult it does have a black strip on P9 and some black markings on the primary coverts/alula area which would make it a 2nd Summer or 3rd Calendar Year. This would also fit as I believe it is a returning bird from the previous year when it was a 1st Summer. It spent most of its time harassing a group of Tufted Ducks and stealing molluscs from them as they re-surfaced. It would then carry the mollusc off in it's crop to presumably later break the shell undisturbed.

This evening a walk along the Otter was worthwhile as I saw only my second Beaver sighting of the year, a young animal (without ear tags) from last year. The previous sighting was on 30th April this year and was the green tagged male.

3rd Cal Year Bonaparte's Gull at Langham Lakes, Dorset - Check out that classic leg colour

3rd Cal Year Bonaparte's Gull with 2nd Cal Year Black-headed Gull, Longham Lakes, Dorset

Bonaparte's Gull showing black strip in P9 & black markings in the primary coverts / alula area making it a 3rd Cal Year
You can just make out the mollusc in its crop!

Bonaparte's Gull, Longham Lakes, Dorset - Carrying mollusc in crop

Bonaparte's Gull, Longham Lakes, Dorset

Sunday, 29 April 2018

A feeling of Spring

Today I managed to get around most of the patch but late in the day and it was the first time this year that it truly felt as if there had been a decent arrival of migrants, for the Otter area anyway! Highlight bird of the day was a Common Whitethroat in the garden taking the house list to 72 - The last being Common Redstart in 2015 - See HERE 

Anyway, back to today where I covered the West cliffs and the East side Top fields. The predominant arrival certainly seemed to be Willow Warbler with 30+ birds. 
Other notable species were:
Spotted Flycatcher - 2 east side
Lesser Whitethroat - 3-4 east and west side
Common Whitethroat - 6 east and west side
Garden Warbler - 2 west cliffs
Wheatear - 1
Whimbrel - 5 east fields
Yellowhammer - singing male west cliffs

One of 2 Spotted flycatchers  - My first of the year

MEGA - Common Whitethroat in the garden!

Whimbrel over the east top fields

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Minnesota 2018: Owl & Pussy Cat

I have been meaning to post some highlights from my recent Minnesota trip in February 2018 where we enjoyed exceptional views of Canada Lynx and Great Grey Owls. 
A few highlights from this Wise Birding Holidays Tour below:

The Canada Lynx - in stalk mode!

The Canada Lynx - a truly stunning animal

This Great Grey Owl hunted just metres from us!

Monday, 23 April 2018

Hazel Dormouse

Migrants around the patch have been few and far between over the last few days, but it was great to hear and see a Lesser Whitethroat back on territory again just north of White Bridge. I first saw it on the 20th April and only today recorded my first Common Whitethroat! Both Reed and Sedge Warblers have been obvious over the last couple of days and a drake Wigeon still remains on the scrape. Two Whimbrel were feeding on the scrapes this evening.

Clear highlight of the day must go to seeing my first Hazel (Common) Dormouse. I was very lucky to be invited along by a friend who is a licensed Dormouse holder to assist him monitoring some of the boxes that he checks every year. It was a real treat to see this amazingly cute mammal, sleeping soundly as is typical for this time of year.

Hazel Dormouse, East Devon

Lesser Whitethroat, White Bridge

Female Common Kestrel, near White Bridge

Male Chaffinch, near White Bridge

Friday, 13 April 2018

East Budleigh Sparrow DNA

On the 3rd November 2017, good friend and fellow naturalist Dave W sent me a photo of an "odd" looking sparrow that he had photographed in his East Budleigh garden. Dave is always good at noticing anything out of the ordinary, so I was keen to view his photos. My first thoughts were that it seemed to fit the plumage of an Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae), a species originating from the hybridisation of House and Spanish Sparrows and considered by some to be a full species. I excitedly requested further photos. 
Ironically, Italian Sparrow was a species Dave was unfamiliar with as it was not illustrated in his first edition Collins Bird Guide. I was grateful for the opinion of Devon birder Tim Worfolk, who illustrated the Italian Sparrow plates for HBW. His comments based on the photos alone were reassuringly positive.

It was difficult to predict the interest that such a bird would have in the birding world. 
I knew there was still a big question over the bird's origin, but on plumage alone the bird looked very good. So I prepared Dave as best I could knowing there would certainly be some interest, particularly in light of the recent decision for British Ornithologists' Union (BOU) to adopt the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) World Bird List where Italian Sparrow is treated as a full species.

After final discussions with Dave W to make sure he was happy and with the re-assurance that the bird was now visiting bird feeders (provided by RSPB) that we had put up away from Dave's garden to give a more suitable public viewing area, we agreed to release the news to the wider world. I did this through Twitter and the Devon Birds website on 11th Nov 2017 therefore allowing anyone the opportunity to see this interesting bird.

The "East Budleigh Sparrow" has since received a steady flow of visitors from various parts of the country. Thanks must go to Dave (for first noticing the bird), the good will of many of Dave's immediate neighbours, the RSPB for the feeders and the very understanding East Budleigh residents.

It is not the first time that a sparrow resembling an Italian Sparrow has been seen in the UK. A number of records have been reported from Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire at least. However, none appear to look quite as clean and pure on plumage alone when compared to the East Budleigh bird.

In 2018, once interest from birders had waned, an application was made to the BTO to trap the bird and take a DNA sample (3 flank feathers), with a view to hopefully finding out more about its true origin. Permission was granted from the BTO and Dave agreed for the bird to be caught in his garden where it was trapped in a mist net on the 9th April 2018. The bird was caught with minimal fuss and processed very swiftly  thanks to the efforts of a very professional small team of licensed ringers, led by Steve Waite. 
See Steve Waite's account HERE

The feather sample has now been sent to Prof Martin Collinson of Aberdeen University, who has now become the British guru on such avian DNA tests. 

My understanding is that the DNA tests are unlikely to be able to show 100% Italian vs Spanish, but hopefully it will be able to confirm if either of the bird's immediate parents were a House Sparrow, or not!

Whatever the outcome of the results, it is certainly an interesting bird and it will be great to find out the story behind its origin.  
If you wish to see the bird, it is still present as of the 14th April at least and seems to be showing interest in the female House Sparrows. 
Please view only from the designated areas on the map at the bottom of the page.

Molecular analyses found that italiae possesses DNA from both Spanish (P. hispaniolensis) and House (P.domesticus) Sparrows. Nevertheless, it is morphologically distinct from both parent species, and has reached species level and is now treated as a distinct species by some taxonomy groups. From Handbook of Birds of the World Alive

Possible Italian Sparrow: East Budleigh, April 9th 2018

The head area showed some paler flecking.
On closer inspection this was buff in colour and there were no obvious grey feathers coming through the crown.

Though House Sparrows have a slightly down curved upper mandible, this is clearly much longer than normal.
Such bill abnormalities are not uncommon in the wild with various passerines

Steve Waite taking bill measurements of the bird

Hopefully some of the questions as to the bird's true identity will be answered from these feathers and the associated DNA

East Budleigh Sparrow by Steve Waite