Friday, August 31, 2007

SAC the Dee

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has made a bid for special conservation status for three estuaries.
The estuaries - the Dee, Humber and Severn - have been earmarked by the government as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect vulnerable wildlife and habitats.
Defra has written to the European Commission to seek SAC status for the three candidate sites, to add to the UK's 611 SACs covering just over two and a half million hectares. This is part of a long-running process of designation of UK conservation areas under the EU Habitats Directive.
The Dee Estuary is the sixth largest estuary in the UK. It contains extensive areas of salt marsh, much of which is ungrazed. On low spring tides, over ninety percent of the estuary dries out, exposing the fifth largest extent of mudflats and sand flats of any estuary in the UK, containing many invertebrates, including worms, shellfish (e.g. cockles) and shrimp-like amphipods. These provide a rich source of food for birds and fish. The estuary also provides habitat for migratory fish species, which spend their lives in the sea and spawn in the River Dee. The site also includes areas of a once extensive dune system along the north east coast of Wales (Talacre). The dune areas support a rich variety of plants, including the rare petalwort. The sandstone cliffs of the Hilbre Islands support much sea cliff vegetation.

Picture is the work of Thelma Sykes, a local artist, for whom the Dee provides a huge amount of inspiration and influence. See her work at:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Taurine, spiders and bolder birds

In a report recently published by the University of Glasgow

researchers reveal that birds preferentially feed their young spiders containing taurine. Taurine is an amino acid which is also found in breast milk and energy drinks. The beneficial qualities of taurine include aiding the development of premature babies and reducing blood pressure in human adults, but it has not previously been known how taurine influences the development of birds.

By comparing the behaviour of wild blue tits that were fed a taurine supplement, mimicking a diet rich in spiders, with blue tits that were not, researchers were able to observe the long term impacts of this vital nutrient.

They found that taurine had a significant impact on the personality and memory of the birds. Those who were fed taurine as chicks were on average much bolder and better at learning in adulthood, than their counterparts who were not fed the extra taurine.

This explains for the first time why birds feed their young spiders at a particular stage in their development and how parents can permanently alter the behaviour of their offspring via the food that they select.”

This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University Of Glasgow, the picture was provided by UoG.

Question: how will it be before we see Taurine supplements in our bird seed as a way of influencing reproductive outcome?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Some 'me' time.

Given the strangely good weather for a bank holiday I took myself off ringing. Visiting one of my sites in Cheshire I arrived while it was still dark to put up five nets and set up one small tape lure. During a morning of six hours I caught 96 birds, 86 of them new and ten retraps from previous years, of fifteen species. Long-tailed tit was the most prolific capture (31) mainly in family parties of 9, 7 and six. Next was Blackcap (18), all juveniles, eight male and six female, with the rest still too young to tell what they were going to be when they grow up! There were sixteen Chiffchaff, interesting as some were in moult requiring a bit more attention, but only one Willow Warbler. There was the usual smattering of tits and finches with a solitary Wren and juvenile Blackbird. Also caught though were singles of Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler, plus a very noisy and aggressive juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker. Pictures show Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

MRG 50th Anniversay Report

Merseyside Ringing Group was founded in 1954, originally as a partnership by Rob Cockbain and Graham Thomason. Over the intervening fifty years the Group has ringed over 580,000 birds and had nearly 1,500 overseas recoveries. MRG has produced a special 50th anniversary report, 88 pages of A4 size, summarising hundreds of spectacular ringing recoveries in maps, tables and text, and some of the papers published by MRG members. This report is now free to download (as a 90-page Microsoft Word document) from the Groups' website at:

Bird Fair - Rutland

Well I eventually got there, my first ever visit to the Bird Fair. After a 2hour, fairly simply, travel across country we arrived in that period between the early birds and the masses - we drove in and parked thinking 'not very busy'. We paid our contribution to the saving of Belding's yellowthroat, otherwise know as the entry fee, and entered marquee 1. Wow, here (and in the other tents) were stalls to virtually every birding destination upon the globe, some I'd heard of and some were new! It was a holiday planners paradise.
Interspersed between all these were the bird food stalls, optics, wildlife trusts, the BTO (of course) - three stalls, general, WeBS and Garden Birdwatch and the RSPB with one stall alone, cynically in my opinion, dedicated to bequests to the organisation.
It was a social nightmare - the people I was with eventually left me behind to undertaken my conversations with all those people whom I had not seen for ages. In the end I probably spent more time in conversation that I did in actually experiencing the fair- or maybe I did experience what the fair is all about.
Would I go again - yes; would I go every year - probably not. Whatever, if you haven't been, try and go at least once. It's a good day out and experiencing the atmosphere is a memory to be stored away for those wet and boring days sat in at home.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Services in Ornithology

Meant to post this last week but forgot. The Services in Ornithology Annual Report 2005-06 (#395) has appeared on the JNCC website at:
This report details results of the BTO/JNCC partnership for the year 2005-06 giving an overview of some of the key results and findings for the year. What's more, it's free.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

RSPB Conwy Ringing Demonstration.

Was asked to help at this ringing demonstration over the weekend as ringers in North Wales are few. It was a bit of a shock to the system with an awakening at 3.20am (believe me it was still dark). After picking up another volunteer - Jack Taylor from SW Lancs Ringing Group - we got to Conwy for just before 5.30. We put up just four nets (200ft) and, with a tape-lure running, we caught 154 birds in a little over three hours, which was good going. In addition we managed 19 species which was excellent as far as the public were concerned - from Wren to Sparrowhawk. Blue Tit and Reed Warbler were the most common, but the Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warblers were nice birds to have in the hand for show. By the end of the morning most of those present knew all about emargination as a ways and means of distinguishing Chiffchaff from Willow Warbler and those in moult produced other interesting morphological features. The sparrowhawk was undoubtedly the bird of the morning although the single solitary House Martin that blundered into the net was a interesting second.

Friday, August 10, 2007

EU Birds Directive

Today, the journal Science publishes a BirdLife International (RSPB driven) analysis showing that the European Union’s Birds Directive has made a significant difference in protecting many of the continent’s most threatened birds from further decline. The report is 'dry' with odds ratios, proportional odds models and such like, so read the Daily Telegraph report instead at:;jsessionid=

The Science paper shows that the Birds Directive has clearly helped those species considered to be most at risk, partly through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). The Birds Directive was adopted in 1979 and is now binding law for all EU countries, it requires special conservation measures for a number of listed species.

There are 46 species listed for protection in the UK - either as a nesting species or a winter visitor - and at least 23 of these species have increased. Apart from Bittern, Peregrine, Nightjar and Kingfisher most of these 23 are only winter visitors or migrants through the north-west. Interestingly Avocet is only noted as 'fluctuating' (but increasing overall) -well certainly here.

Image 'borrowed' from John Dempsey's blog at:

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The National Atlas

Time and effort are gearing up now in order to get all this underway. Meetings of organisers are being held and paperwork is being prepared ready for distribution. In addition a multitude of Counties are also undertaking local Atlases at the same time. The Atlas website ( is a wealth of information, allowing you to register on-line to undertake survey work and to monitor how things are going. The maps show how tetrad allocation is progressing through the UK.
In the next week or so I will be allocating tetrads on a first come first served basis. Some people have already got their requests in so, if you want to do your own selected tetrad let me know as soon as you can.

Nan Ron ringing

Have recently returned from a week of ringing on the island of Nan Ron off the north coast of Scotland. Although it was wet, especially underfoot, the weather didn't affect any planned ringing. The island is spectacular and uninhabited which means that we have the place to ourselves. Some ringing is done during the day - Great Skuas, Shags, gulls and any passing passerines - but most of the ringing effort is directed at night catching of Storm Petrels using tape-lures and mistnets.

This year we managed a final total of 847 Stormies where approx a quarter were retraps, and we did manage one Norwegian and one Portugese control. Of these we took biometrics (wings and weights as indicators of body condition) on over 200. We also took some poo and vomit samples for a study being undertaken by Cardiff University.

Additionally we also ringed two Snipe, 12 Shag, 3 Great Skua, two Swallow and five Meadow Pipits. This year the number of passing passerines was almost non-existent, whether this was due to the fact we were on the island two weeks earlier than usual, or the cold and damp Scottish weather had played a role, we'll never know.

Photos show general shot of the islands' coast, setting a mist net in amongst the rocks at a place called 'the slabs' ready for catching at night, a Great Skuas nest and egg.