Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bees can count...

...apparently. Carefully controlled research in Australia has confirmed that bees can count - certainly up to three, and maybe to four. Placing bees in a specially designed environment such that they could not use sound or smells to navigate they managed to find their way to an exit hole marked with a series of dots. Is this really counting, or just pattern recognition? Who knows? But, all of a sudden, evolution has to be re-written as we are now not that dissimilar to bees, or is it the other way round. It never ceases to amaze me, even in today's world, that money is still avaialble to spend on interesting but questionably, useful research.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The 2008 breeding season.

Results have been just released on the 2008 UK breeding season. 2008 was a cool wet summer being wettest in July and August, thus affecting those birds that have later broods. This following on from the wet summer of 2007.
Birds that had higher levels of average productivity were Chiffchaff (+22%) and Long-tailed tit (+16%) as they tend to be early season nesters. Great Tit (-35%), Song Thrush (-35%) and Garden Warbler (-34%) all did badly with reduced productivity levels with Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Willow Tit, Blackcap, Robin and Dunnock all having reduced productivity levels in the 20%'s.
Constant Effort Site ringing and the Nest Record Scheme will monitor how these birds are faring this year - particularly after the cold snaps of winter.

30 years of BGBW

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch celebrates 30 years this month. In support of this, and the fact that the BTO now has a Garden Birdwatch Ambassador in Merseyside, we cheekily invited ourselves (or were we invited directly , I forget) along to their now annual event held within the Palm House in Sefton Park.
Due to the poor weather overnight, and that fact that Liverpool were playing Everton in the afternoon, the day was not as busy as previous years. However, we met and chatted with a lot of members of the public and a good day was had by all. Thank you to those who turned up and said hello.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Love em or leave em

They are often hailed as the waterfowl equivalent of the Feral Pigeon - you either like them or hate them with no inbetween. "Canada geese will need to be culled in their thousands because they pose an increasing risk to aircraft, a leading government adviser has revealed. Dr John Allan, an expert in bird management, warned that the birds were large enough to "bring a plane down" if sucked into an engine".
Already studies at Manchester airport have been undertaken to monitor over-flying Canada Geese - where they go to and from when over-flying the airport.
It will come - Canada Geese numbers are increasing dramatically annually. It will only be a matter of time before they will need to be controlled in some manner.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Migration and stopover of Manx shearwater

An interesting paper recently appearing in Proc Royal Soc B. Using small data-loggers placed on 6 breeding pairs of birds captured and recaptured on Skomer Island workers have been able to work out the route and stop-over sites of these shearwaters as they enjoy their pelagic 'winter' away from their breeding grounds.
The data loggers used not only recorded their approximate positions but, at 10 minute intervals during the recording period (mid Aug 2006 to June 2007), they also logged whether they (the logger attached to the birds' leg) was submerged or not. This then permits estimation of just how much time each bird spent sat on the water.

The first image shows the route taken by each of the 12 birds, and the inset the occupancy contours during their over-wintering stay off Brasil.
The second image shows the stopping off locations - big circles 10 days, small 5 days, outward from the colony with a crossed circle and open circles movement back to the colony. The 'on-land' stopovers serve to indicate possible position location errors rather than feeding at inland sites.
Apart from a longer return migration in males there does not appear to be any significant differences over migration between the sexes, except for something termed 'pre-laying exodus' when females leave the breeding colony to, it is assumed, visit rich feeding areas in order to amass the nutrients sufficient for it /them to develop its one egg - which comes in as a massive 15% of its body weight.
The full article is "Proc R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1577" (on-line publication)

Monday, January 19, 2009

ELP or PLP, or both?

ELP, ecological light pollution, is light that occurs when it shouldn’t i.e. at night or in places where it is normally dark. This permits animals and insects to be mobile when, under normal circumstances they would be asleep.

PLP, polarised light pollution, is much more of a problem in than it can occur either during daylight or at night. Many organisms require ‘light’ to see but, additionally, many birds, insects and reptiles have developed the ability to utilise polarised light. The primary source of natural polarised light is water but in today’s environment asphalt, gravestones, cars, plastic sheeting, floating plastic waste and glass windows all have a polarised light signature that can overwhelm natural levels. This creates problems for those animals that have utilised polarised light in order to structure their lifecycle, particularly aquatic animals, or those that rely heavily upon water. We have all heard of birds flying into buildings and swans landing on roads – it is all to do with the polarised light signature in that they think they are landing on water.

Published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment is recent research that indicates that polarised light emanating from structures within the built environment can overwhelm natural cues controlling animal behaviour. Researchers have suggested that, despite the growing human impact on certain communities of animals, the worst examples of PLP could be reduced: use of alternative building materials or employing methods to mitigate the problem, such as adding white curtains to dark windows or adding white markings on road surfaces.
The team's findings could also offer conservationists an alternative way to deal with problematic species, such as insects destroying trees – by creating a massive polarised light traps to ‘crash’ bark beetle populations.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Who is this woman? - she gets everywhere

Ex-face of Birdtrack and now national face of the National BTO Atlas her photo seems to crop up everywhere. Now it's appeared on the BTO webpage advertising Training Courses (which is the real reason for this post). See: for 2009's Bird Survey techniques and Bird Identification Courses. For non-professionals £40 for a day course and £165 for 2.5 days is excellent value for money by anyones standards.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2007 - 1000 - 4450

In 2007 over one thousand birdwatchers visited 4450 sites in order to count Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers. The results of their endeavors have just been published. In comparison to the last full survey in 1984 Little Ringed Plovers have risen from approx 620 pairs to 1115 pairs, while Ringed Plovers have dropped from 8617 pairs to 5438 pairs. In addition the fall in Ringed Plovers has not been uniform across the UK - in England they are down 47%, Wales 6%, Scotland 41% and Northern Ireland 66%.

Greg Conway, the national organiser, said "Whilst we are delighted that there is good news for Little Ringed Plover, we are really concerned about Ringed Plovers. These birds are an important feature of six of the UK's Special Protection Areas, five in Scotland and one in England, and we need to understand how numbers can be falling so rapidly, despite the protection that they are being given".

A summary of the report appears in Jan/Feb BTO News, whilst a full report will appear in Bird Study later in the year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My counter has gone.....

A sad day - my blog counter has gone! It was a freebie and that I thought was that. Not so. Because my blog has had so many hits of late it seems I need to 'upgrade' to a paid one - didn't say that in the small print. Maybe I'll just get another free one, or maybe wont even bother at all - whose counting. Better still I could use my bird counter!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Good listening....

Funny how things come in groups - my wrens below and now the same question (three times in two days). Volunteers have asked me what I would recommend as a teaching aid for learning bird songs and calls. Well, here it is: Bird Songs and Calls by Geoff Sample. An excellent easily listened to set of CD's split by habitat (and time of the year) it portrays bird song as you would actually hear it in the field. In fact anything by Geoff is a good bet for adding to your 'listening' arsenal of bird books. The book has changed its cover so I'm putting up two images

Wrens in a box!

During the recent spell of cold weather we have been watching wrens going to roost in a nest box on the side of our house. Counting (badly!) we reckoned there were somewhere between five and eight. Image my surprise this morning when 23 were recorded in the box. I have no idea if this a record for the number of wrens roosting as one group but I was impressed.

Garden Birdwatch Conference

Yesterday morning I was at the Merseyside Garden Birdwatch Conference. This conference was held to launch the Garden Birdwatch Ambassador scheme in Merseyside and South West Lancs. With funding from the National Lottery, via the Heritage Lottery Fund, the BTO has secured funding to appoint Birdwatch Ambassadors the length and breadth of the country. These volunteers will be working to a) promote the Garden Birdwatch scheme and b) the BTO and bird recording in general.
In Merseyside Janet Gillam was recruited to the post so, if you belong to some Natural History Club, Gardening Club, Parent-Teacher Association, RSPB local group or any other local organisation that would like to receive a talk from Janet either contact me, Janet or the Birdwatch Office in Thetford to arrange a date.
Presentations given to the audience of Birdwatch participants were: Paul Stancliffe (BTO) on ‘Are gardens good for birds or birdwatchers?’, Helen Greaves (Merseyside Biobank) on ‘Welcome to wildlife recording’ and Peter Fearnon (SW Lancs Ringing Group) on ‘A bird in the hand’.
See: for further details of the scheme.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

maybe, just maybe....

After birds I like butterflies so it was with interest I read an article suggesting that Large Tortoiseshell butterflies are (possibly) breeding again in England. No one knows why our native breeding population died out but the fact that they may have recolonised from the continent is exciting. Summer sightings at Branscombe, Devon, and on the Dorset coast last summer were of such levels and duration that breeding was considered a likely possibility - other than just an influx from the continent. Butterfly Conservation are asking all to watch out for the butterflies this summer in the hope that breeding can be confirmed. This is, of course, assuming our inclement weather will permit a decent butterfly and insect breeding season.

Out of Africa.

Remember this! Some time this year the BTO will launch an 'Out of Africa' survey which will monitor all bird species migrating to our shores from Africa. While we spend lots of time and money protecting these birds when they are here we are doing very little to protect them in their wintering grounds in Africa. Indeed we probably know very little that is meaningful about their current distribution and habitat requirements in Africa. We do know that rainfall in Africa is a very important component of survival but, after that, we are probably guessing. Additionally, we do know from data collected in the UK over the last 30 years that Yellow Wagtail numbers are down 70% while for Turtle Dove, Cuckoo and Whitethroat declines are 88%, 67% and 62% respectively.
Today Roy Armstrong, Liverpool Graduate and now Senior Lecturer from the University of Cumbria, launched a research programme entitled Project Gambia. This study will aim to collect crucial data about bird populations in this small country in Africa - as one in ten of all UK breeding species are in some way dependent upon Gambia.