Thursday, 29 October 2009

The State of the UK's Birds 2008

The State of the UK's Birds is a report published by the RSPB for a coalition of conservation organisations, including the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, The Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The most recent chapter, the tenth anniversary of this annual report, shows the mixed fortunes of Britain's birds, with over 60 per cent of the UK's rare breeders increasing due to targeted conservation efforts but 4 out of 10 common species declining.

Some of the key bird conservation stories coming from 10 years of the report include:

- A continued decline of farmland birds
- The dramatic rise of Bitterns from 19 to 82 males
- An increase in the numbers of Dartford Warblers, Nightjars and Woodlarks in line with the positive management of heathland
- An increase in the number of Corncrake, Stone Curlew and Cirl Bunting, thanks to positive habitat management
- A dramatic recovery in the fortunes of the White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite, thanks to reintroduction programmes
- An increase in the number of Little Egrets, which only bred for the first time in the UK in 1996
- A decrease in the numbers of Kittiwake and Guillemot, two species of seabird having their most important EU populations in the UK

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Conservation Director, said: "Over the last decade we've enjoyed some cracking conservation successes, including removing some threatened species from the Red List and increasing the populations of Red Kite, Bittern, Avocet, Osprey, Stone Curlew and Cirl Bunting. However, these triumphs are countered by continued declines of some widespread species, like the Skylark, Kestrel, Willow Warbler and Grey Partridge."

I think every birder can relate to these findings. I can remember the thrill of seeing my first Red Kite, many years after I started birding, during a visit to the last toehold of mid-Wales to see these majestic birds. Many years later they are a common sight in many parts of the UK. At the same time the Grey Partridge is now a very scarce visitor to my former local patch in Norfolk and Willow Tit hasn't been recorded in the area for many years. Let's hope this report stimulates new efforts to protect not just the rare birds of Britain but the many once widespread species that are in serious decline.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Black-throated Accentor

I enjoyed this video from our Swedish cousins about the 2nd ever Black-throated Accentor in that country (with NO records at all in the UK). The crowds on day two on a cold, wet and miserable day are testament to its rarity! Spot local birder Nils Kjellen with a glint in his smile.. I have yet to find out if this is the same Nils Kjellen who spends every morning at Falsterbo counting migrating birds.. (Edit: it is the same Nils Kjellen - thanks to Andreas for confirmation)


Never mind David Beckham's beard, check out the facial hair on the handsome chappies below.. These guys showed very well in a reedbed on an extremely still morning today, my first trip out for 2 weeks given work commitments. Autumn has notably progressed with many trees now devoid of leaves and a distinct nip in the early morning air. Migrants were still moving, albeit in much lower numbers than early October. Notable passage of Woodpigeons with sprinklings of Starling, Brambling, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. A group of 5 Woodlark was nice to see on the deck in a weedy field and Goldcrests 'tinkled' their way through the shrubs. All of the 'phylloscs' seem to have moved on and there has been a notable arrival of winter birds on the patch, including Blackbirds and Robins.

Hopefully I can get out a bit more in the next couple of weeks - must be Waxwing time any day now and there is a good chance of Great Grey Shrike and Rough-legged Buzzard on the patch.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Long-billed Starling

Check this out... it's a monster!

Sunday, 18 October 2009


A work trip to China has meant that I haven't been able to get out into the field for the last week or so.. very frustrating for a birder in mid-October! However, China was not without its highlights including the food.. I am a great fan of Chinese food but when this was offered at the buffet, I just had to decline...

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Birds, birds and more birds

Today was Barnacle Goose day. An incredible 46,440 migrated past Sydvestpynten between 0700 and 1615. Even coming from Norfolk, I wouldn't have enough fingers to count these: the total count posted here is courtesy of Frank Jensen-Hammer who put in a mammoth stint at the point today. I was there for a measly 2 hours between 1000 and 1200 before the urge to potter around looking in bushes for the ever hoped-for Yellow-browed Warbler got the better of me. I failed (again) to locate a YBW but I did have a pretty good day. Migration was again heavy after the coldest night of the autumn so far with Woodpigeons (33000+), Chaffinches/Bramblings (50000+) and Eider (3500ish) dominating and there were also good numbers of Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Larks (both Wood and Sky), Siskin and lots of Goldcrests in the surrounding area (I counted 200+). There had clearly been an arrival of Wrens, too, with every bush seeming to hold at least one and sometimes several. Robins were also apparent and the first good numbers of Redwing were passing overhead with regularity, uttering their characteristic "seeeeep" call. A few of the local Bearded Tits were flirting with migration but could only manage it across the canal to the adjacent reedbed.. even that looked tough for them - their wings really are tiny and they whirr at an incredible rate to get not very far, not very fast..

Highlight of the day must go to a Jack Snipe that flew in from the west, almost settled about a metre away from me before finally settling just a few metres away in some short wet grass on the edge of a pool. Could I see it once it landed? Not a chance.. Thinking it would be a good photo opportunity I slowly edged towards the area where it landed, scanning with my binoculars every few paces. But, as is often the case with this species, it proved invisible and I almost trod on it before it flew up and settled further away on the lagoons.

As I searched every bush and shrub (is there a difference?) for a YBW I came across more Goldcrests, Siskins, Chiffchaffs (many of an eastern race with a two-tone call) and lots more Wrens.. An adult White-tailed Eagle overhead was a bonus as was a Red Kite that drifted west. The only thing that slightly spoilt my day was a puncture on my bike (my fourth in two weeks after having none for two years!) that meant I had a 3 mile walk pushing said bike to the Metro station to get home... Grr..

As I write I can hear the Swedish football supporters who have, as is the tradition here, taken over the main square in Kongens Nytorv ahead of their World Cup qualifier clash with Denmark later this evening... all seems to be in good spirits (so far at least).

Photos: Barnacle Geese; White-tailed Eagle; a Bearded Tit flirting with migration; and one of the hundreds of Goldcrests that arrived overnight.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Guest Photo

As the days get shorter and darker here in Copenhagen it's great to be reminded of warmer climes.. The photo below was sent to me by Pallab, a talented musician and media expert whose uncle, Colonel Bimal Sarkar, is a bird fanatic and takes bird photos in India. This one is a particulary colourful Yellow-backed Sunbird - a little confusing as it doesn't have a yellow back - and is appropriately entitled "Riot of Colour". The photo was taken in Cooch Behar near the Indian/Bangladeshi border. I am no expert on Asian birds but I guess the reason it is without yellow back is because it's a young bird or in winter plumage. I am sure Asian bird fanatics can enlighten me... Anyway, big thanks to Pallab and his uncle - Colonel Bimal Sarkar - top shot!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Finches galore

After a few days of lousy weather (great for sea-watching - see Phil's blog from just across the water in Sweden) I knew that the first decent day with south or south-westerly winds would produce some good visible migration. Like a true vis-migger yesterday morning I was on site at dawn and it did not disappoint.

Between 0800 and 0930 the passage of finches was quite simply immense. The sky was full of Chaffinches and Bramblings with many other birds interspersed including Meadow Pipits, a few late Tree Pipits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, Crossbills, Skylarks, Woodlarks and even a Hawfinch. Small flocks of Great and Blue Tits were also gathering at the point and, after several aborted attempts, finally made their move and headed out to sea. Magic stuff. I tried to have a go at counting but with birds passing through on a broad front (as far as the eye could see to the east and to the west), I knew it would be difficult. I decided to (very scientifically) look in one direction for one minute and count roughly how many birds passed. I could then double that (given the passage was equally heavy in the opposite direction) and that would give me an estimate of the total number of birds that passed in 60 seconds. I counted 420 birds, so doubling that for the opposite direction gives me 840 birds per minute. That works out at around 50,000+ per hour. Incredible. Quite simply the biggest passage of birds I have ever seen.

Meanwhile, it's all happening on the Azores.....!

Photos below: no, this isn't a test shot to show how much dirt there is on my lens, it's actually a bunch of finches crossing the moon; migrating bramblings (second and third photo); and a chaffinch with no wings - amazingly this didn't seem to hinder its ability to migrate - the wonders of nature...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

October gales

A strong WSW gale was blowing today during a short vigil at Sydvestpynten. There was a large gull movement with good numbers of Black-headed, Great Black-backed and the odd Herring/Common mixed in. 95 Cormorants west in one hour was also a good count. Not much else - 2 unidentified distant divers (probably Black-throated), a few Eider and a very brave juvenile Marsh Harrier that headed out to sea directly into the gale force wind.. A search of the bushes produced a few Chiffchaffs and good numbers of Robins but little else.. Unless I am at a good sea-watching point, strong winds are my least favourite conditions - they makes it a devil to pick up the movement of small warblers in swaying trees (not conducive to finding Yellow-browed or Pallas's Warblers!).

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Rare vis mig sighting

In all the excitement of yesterday's vis-mig at Sydvestpynten I inadvertently forgot to relay to you the rarest sighting of all - the US First Lady's plane. Yes, it's true, Obamamania has hit Copenhagen. Michelle is in town today (with Oprah Winfrey) and her husband, Barack, is due tomorrow morning. All to chase the 2016 olympics, for which the Obama's home town, Chicago, is a contender. I managed to snap the photo below of this rare vagrant as it made its way south just before 10am, shortly after dropping off the First Lady to work her charm on the International Olympic Committee. The distinctive colouration and markings on the wing serve as diagnostic features.

Michelle herself has been seen shopping in Copenhagen's exclusive stores - Magasin and Illum - and today had lunch with the Danish Queen at Amelienborg. Nice.

Photos below: A rare vagrant seen from Sydvestpynten at 10am; and the First Lady herself.

More migration

With most of the sub-Saharan migrants now gone, migration is dominated by those species that spend the winter in southern Europe or North Africa. Birds of the northern forests and the open lands in central Sweden, such as finches, sparrowhawks, larks and pipits, are now moving in good numbers. Given the forecast was for a clear day with light to moderate westerlies, I got up early yesterday to spend the first couple of hours after dawn at Sydvestpynten. The migration was spectacular with the sky filled with finches between 0800 and 1000. Literally thousands streamed through, mostly Chaffinches but with a good number of Bramblings, Siskin and Linnets and a good sprinkling of pipits and larks.

Sparrowhawks lingered at the point, always on the look out for tired migrants taking a breather in the last few bushes before the sea.

I was at the point with Stig Kjaergaard Rasmussen, one of the regulars on southern Amager. He spent all morning on site and logged the following totals:

Chaffinch/Brambling 11,500; Linnet 165; Siskin 650; Crossbill 14; Meadow Pipit 585; Reed Bunting 348; Woodlark 22; Skylark 60; Grey Wagtail 7; Great Grey Shrike 1; Merlin 1; and Blue Tit 60.

It is always a little odd for me to see Blue Tits migrating and they are rather nervous migrants when confronted with water. The one in the photo below made 3 attempts to fly out to sea but, after a few hundred metres, returned to the last bush. Then, finally, it plucked up the confidence to go for it and the photo below shows it leaving the shore.

On a clear day it is possible to see the nearest land to the south at Stevns Klint. Many migrants fly west and then south around the bay but many also just fly out straight south across the bay. I have produced a crude google map that shows the observation point at Sydvestpynten and the main migration routes in Autumn.

Photos: Sparrowhawk looking for tired migrants; Blue Tit making its move; bye bye Blue Tit, see you next Spring!