Friday, December 22, 2006

Here they are...

...the nine Mallard ducklings from Martin Mere. Due to the recent spell of cold weather, and freezing nights, the staff at Martin Mere have moved the ducklings into the heated Flamingo exclosure - so their future seems to be assured. We can only wonder what their concept on the world will be for their generation of young - incubating while its snowing perhaps?
Photo from Liverpool Echo at

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nest Record Unit

I’ve just received a Christmas update from the Nest Record Unit. To date, over 18,000 nest records have been submitted which is very much in line with this time last year. So, if everything goes to plan, even with the poor breeding season of Barn and Tawny Owls they are still expecting to hit the 30,000 mark for the third year in a row.

In 2006 they have spent a lot of time nursing IPMR into the Nest Record scheme and working on the NRS database and archives in order to save time and energy on future analyses. In 2007 one of their aims is to incorporate the Barn Owl Monitoring Scheme fully into the NRS.

Finally, new publicity leaflets have been printed in order to explain all about the scheme and how volunteers can contribute their records. This is in the face of a worrying decline in the number of ‘open-nesting’ species records being returned – it’s so much easier to monitor nest-boxes. So, it you have a robin, dunnock, blackbird or a song thrush nesting in your back garden, a single nest record card returned from one of these would be more valuable than say – thirty nest box blue tit returns. Further details can be found on the website at or contact the nest records unit for an Introductory pack.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


It’s December, nearly Christmas, and we have yet to experience anything like wintery weather. Indeed, a House Martin was reported over Anglesey, and there are still Swallows off the Kent coast – a Blackcap was even present in the Orkneys. A report from Oslo had Robins, Chiffchaffs, Redwing and Fieldfares still present in Southern Sweden - when seeing any one would be remarkable, but seeing them all was classed as astonishing. We can all guess why – GW.

The World Meteorological Organization said that ten of the warmest years since records began in the 1850s were in the last 12 years - 2006 ranking a provisional sixth. For the northern hemisphere surface temperatures are 0.58°C above the 30-year mean of 14.6°C/58.28°F and Autumn 2006 (September-November) was exceptional (in large parts of Europe) being more than 3°C warmer than the climatological norm.

The astonishing thing is that these changes are happening so fast they are occurring within a lifetime. Many of us will have anecdotal evidence of things we used to witness when running around in short trousers /skirts, that are not being repeated now.

We need to understand what is going on, why and how. This is how you can help – record everything (and then tell some one about it). For birding records log onto Birdtrack ( and input them; or send them to the Local Biological Records Centre (Merseyside BioBank - soon to be based at Court Hey Park /The National Wildflower Centre in Liverpool); or for those really hooked on these changes, to the Phenology website (

An exert from the Daily Telegraph added a day after the above: Martin Mere, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Rufford, Lancs, reports that it has a brood of nine mallard ducklings, either six months early or six months late – it is hard to tell.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Oceanodroma leucorhoa

Few could have failed to notice the recent spate of reports concerning large, seasonally atypical, numbers of Leach’s Petrels seen from our shores. The prevailing weather conditions from the west have forced many of these usually ocean-going wanderers to our shores at a time when they are not normally seen. Generally speaking we only witness small numbers in August and September – offshore at Heysham, Blackpool, Formby and in the Mersey estuary at Seaforth – with the biggest count in 2005 (112) seen off Formby Point in October. So numbers witnessed this month are both atypical and unusual.

Nationally birds have been reported from coastal areas extending from the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, south to Land’s End, including the west and south coasts of Ireland, right around to at least Dorset on the south coast of Britain. The largest movements were reported off the Glamorgan coast and Merseyside. Interestingly, obviously disorientated, birds were also seen moving up the River Severn - generating sightings from many inland areas. In all, the consensus seems to be that about 2000 birds were involved in this ‘wreck’, during a seven day period.

The largest number reported anywhere was of 190 flying out of the Mersey near Crosby Marine Park on December 9th. The next biggest total was of a 155 from Glamorgan. Elsewhere, locally, 74 individuals were reported from the North Wirral Coastal Park and 68 from Hoylake; with smaller numbers from other Wirral coastal areas.

Historically birds have only been reported in Lancashire in nine winters (Dec-Feb) since the mid-1960’s. The highest counts from these winters were seven off the Wyre and Lune estuaries in early February 2002; which serves to demonstrate the significance of these recent counts. (If you have any sighting reports, and/or counts, please submit them to the County Recorder Steve White (email removed to prevent spam - Bob) for inclusion in the 2006 Lancs Bird Report). Email me directly and I will pass it on - my contact email should be known to you.

In the last 60 years there have been only twelve ‘Leach’s autumns’ the most significant of which was 1952 when over 7,000 birds were thought to have died, after being forced inland away from their feeding areas during bad weather. Obviously, with the current bad weather set to continue for a few more days we may witness a few deaths amongst this latest influx. However a bit of perspective, the National Trust at Fair Isle predict that, annually, over 14,000 Leach’s Petrels are lost to marauding Great Skuas on this one island alone.

Image from Liverpool Daily Post

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Marshside no more!

Don't panic - it's all in the name(s). To many it's simply Marshside, to others it's Marshside 1 and Marshside 2. But now, no more. Marshside 1 is to be known as Rimmer's Marsh after the Rimmer family who grazed stock there at the end of the 1800's and Marshside 2 will be known as Sutton's Marsh for the same reason. The current tenant farmer of Marshside 2, oops Sutton's Marsh, is Tom Sutton whos family has been grazing stock on the marsh for four generations. Tom's comment was: 'I'm sure the cows and birds aren't much bothered what we call the marshes - they love the place all the same.' True enough, but it does help to know where the 5052 Black-tailed Godwits and 2840 Golden Plover are hanging out; not to mention the odd Water Rail or Jack Snipe. But, I suppose it will still be Marshside, with a quick reference to Rimmer or Sutton by way of detailed geography.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

BTO R&M Conference

I have just returned from this conference, having made the visit just for Saturday. The first talk of the morning by Peter Jones (recently retired Senior Lecturer Edinburgh University) on ‘European migrants in Africa’ was interesting. Reduced to a single factor it appears, from his work, that the major reason for birds suffering on migration is their inability to fatten up, usually on berries, for their return journey to these shores.

Andre Raine (now of BirdLife International) made a formal presentation on the Twite ringing that has been going on under the co-ordination of Dave Sowter (North Lancs RG). This work was first presented at our conference in 2004, and Andre brought it all up to date. (See Ringing and Migration 23(1) 45 (2006).

The Witherby Lecture was given by Professor Theunis Piersma from the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, on Red Knot. He told us how these birds find their food (via a pressure wave detected by sensors at the bill-tip), that they trade-off visiting food rich sites against predator risk, and that they have very long memories (twenty years apparently). A sample of his work can be found at:

The afternoon lectures were a little less intense, but no less interesting, when Chris Hewson (BTO) talked on Population Changes in Migratory Birds, Chas Holt (BTO) on the impact of deer grazing affecting vegetation understory and thus nesting birds, and Alex Lewis (RSPB) on factors affecting Willow Tit declines which, apparently, may be a consequence of us not looking for them in the right habitat in the first place.

Mixed in with all this was the Ringers AGM, the BTO AGM, BTO sales, posters, and pictures and books for sale – not to mention the highly productive ‘meet-and-greet’ of other BTO volunteers and staff. All in all a busy day! Oh, and I was elected to BTO Council - your inside track into new dealings at the BTO!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Faster and higher.

Our world is getting increasingly noisier; and so to for birds. The close relationship between bird song and sexual selection means that it is imperative for males in song to be heard by prospective females. A recent study published in Current Biology has looked at singing Great Tits across Europe -– both in cities and forests. They found that, in order to successfully compete against background noise, city dwellers tend to sing faster, and at a higher pitch, in order to be heard. It can be assumed as to why this has come about the question though is how - is it genetic? Is it selection of the fittest for this particular environment? Or is it simply a vocal flexibility.
Interestingly this is not a man-made phenomenon; chaffinches have been demonstrated to increase their song frequency in a similar way in response to increased natural noise – such as waterfalls or torrents. So, if you want to be heard - shout louder!