Win 50 kg of bird seed! Worth £95 in our monthly garden competition
Still Britain’s best-valu birding e magazine
25 years as the UK’s number one
EXCLUSIVE! Big Garden Beak Watch Birds with weird bills – survey results inside
Tune in to the
sounds of Spring How to ID Whitethroat and other PLUS! 5 fantastic warblers from their songs birdsong A bird we hardly notice but talk about all the time
A close encounter with the elusive Hawfinch
■ Good news from Scotland for Golden Eagles ■ The quest for a dark morph Montagu’s Harrier ■ The best UK sites for an eagle experience ■ Where to see 5,000 Honey Buzzards in a month
April 2011 £4.10
CDs up for grabs
April’s star species
Ring Ouzel The Blackbird is one of our most familiar and most domestic birds, appearing in every garden and known by everyone from the tiniest tot to the most senior of citizens. It is the sort of bird which will hop around the lawn looking for worms while you are gardening or just pottering, rivalling only House Sparrows and Robins for tameness. Its closest British relative, though, could not be more dissimilar in its behaviour. Ring Ouzels are wild, ultrashy birds, shunners of humans and human habitation. They are birds of uplands and wild Raven-haunted dells. It was odd, therefore, that this last exceptional winter there were several records of ouzels in gardens. In April, though, there is a chance to catch them on passage on their way up to the north, west and higher ground. From mid-April, Ring Ouzels pass through the heart of the country, stopping off on their
way at favoured sites. They have a real preference for areas that bear a passing resemblance to their wild breeding grounds, and may appear at the same sites year on year. These are usually areas of high ground and/or tightly rabbit-cropped grass with some trees or bushes to escape into, often (though not always) well away from human habitation. Take an early trip to a favoured site for the best chance of finding one (before dog-walkers or other walkers see them off). Most birds pass through quite quickly, though some will linger for days if they take a fancy to a particular site. In addition to the shyness which gives any bird an extra feel of desirability, Ring Ouzels are blessed with striking white breast crescents, long, silver-edged wings and subtle fringing on the body feathers. They are truly beautiful thrushes.
The facts Latin name: Turdus torquatus Length: 24-27cm Wingspan: 38-42cm Diet: Invertebrates and berries Population: 6,000-7,500 pairs
CONTENTS every month
This month 20 Project eagle
70 Seabirds galore
6 Your Birding Month
31 Scandinavian migration
74 Our biggest invisible bird
12 Five places to visit
34 Going solo in Norway
78 Swans upon a time
15 Your Birding Events
38 Montagu’s Harrier
82 Birding by bike
16 Your Birding News
43 Texas holiday offer
84 Big Garden Beak Watch
19 BTO Spotlight
How Golden Eagles are making a comeback Where to see a sky full of raptors
Dominic Couzens on a self-guided holiday One man’s search for the dark morph Special price for Bird Watching readers 4 Bird Watching 2011
Hop aboard our special reader holiday Why we should pay more attention to swans Mute, Whooper and Bewick’s in folklore Around Europe on a motorcycle The results – exclusive to Bird Watching
The best birds – and how to find them The best sites for spring migrants What’s on near you this month
New hope for threatened species Kate Risely listens out for a Cuckoo
Amazing garden gift g Get Bird Watchin door delivered to your ceive re d every month an ete pl a Gardman Com it. Feeding Station K See page 50 for more...
44 Fascinating Life of...
61 Pull-out ID Guide
115 Highland Diary
48 Best Bird Garden
71 Weedon’s World
116 Your Birding Letters
50 Great Garden offer
87 Your Birding Gear
119 Your Birding Pics
53 The Urban Birder
91 Bird Watching Bookshop
120 Your Birding Questions
55 Go Birding
93 UK Bird Sightings
122 This Birding Life
Hawfinch – nature’s stone-crusher
Meet our first winner – and take part, too Subscribe to Bird Watching today David Lindo visits St Albans
10 brand new wildlife walks for you
Garganey identification made easy Mike stands up for some unsung birds New Bushnell bins reviewed
Great deals on the latest titles All the best birds seen by you
Ray Collier’s letter from the Highlands Corvid cull prompts huge response
Readers share their favourite photos More on the Chaffinch foot problem
Jane Robinson takes over Jack’s diary www.birdwatching.co.uk 5
great sites to bird this April
1 RSPB Belfast Lough
Just 10 minutes from the centre of Belfast is this excellent RSPB site (pictured) with lagoons and loughside habitats. Spring sees flocks of migrating waders, including Black-tailed Godwits, and the gradual departure of the large concentrations of wintering wildfowl. Grid ref: NW 500 328 Postcode: BT4 1FT
2 Stodmarsh NNR, Kent
Set on the Stour Valley, near Canterbury, Stodmarsh contains a mix of reedbeds, marsh, wet woodland and open water and in spring the place is alive with the sound of warblers and Nightingales. As spring develops, Bearded Tits will start to develop their broods. Grid ref: TR 222 618 Postcode: CT3 4BE
3 Loch Ruthven
An attractive, peaceful loch fringed by birch woods, this is the premier site to watch the quite magnificent Slavonian Grebe in its breeding habitat. They start to arrive in midMarch, but are at their finest between April and June and can be watched from the hide. Grid ref: NH 638 280 Postcode: IV2 6UA
4 RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire
One of the best sites in the country for lowland breeding waders, including perhaps the highest density of breeding Black-tailed Godwits in the UK. With Marsh Harriers and even a chance of a Crane, this is a great site, particularly in spring. Grid ref: TL 318 991 Postcode: PE7 2DD
5 Dolydd Hafren, Montgomeryshire
This 42-hectare reserve near Welshpool comprises the largest untouched area of floodplain meadow in the county, drawing in birds such as Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and breeding Snipe and Curlew. Grid ref: SJ 202 001 Postcode: SY21 8AH 12 Bird Watching 2011
Image by David Wooton (rspb-images.com)
More sites to visit 10 more excelle nt bird walks for yo u to enjoy this April in Go Birding, startin g on page 55
OVER THE PAGE The best birding events near you
GOLDEN EAGLE FACTS AND FIGURES Size Golden Eagle Wingspan: 220cm
European Numbers Countries with 100+ pairs
UK Numbers Breeding pairs ● = 10 pairs Golden Eagle
White-tailed Eagle Wingspan: 240cm
UK France Norway Sweden Finland Austria Switzerland Spain Italy Greece Albania Croatia Bulgaria Romania Russia
project eagle It’s one of the UK’s best-loved animals. A bird on top of many British birders’ must-see list. And today it faces a brighter future... By Matt Merritt and Anna Taylor
t remains one of the UK’s most iconic birds, a genuine Holy Grail among breeding species for many birdwatchers, because of both its rarity and its attachment to some of the wildest, most remote parts of these islands. Yet, while numbers of Golden Eagles in the UK have recovered from an all-time low in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and have been steady for some time, the eagles have remained under severe pressure. In England, for example, a single pair of Golden Eagles in the Lake District from the 1970s onwards never developed into larger numbers, and after the death of the female bird in 2004, no more breeding has taken place. But now the prospects of this magnificent raptor have been increased with the designation of six new Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in its Scottish stronghold, a major boost to the conservation of a species faced with ever-diminishing habitat as well as other threats to its existence. The process of designation began when the Scottish Government made a request to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to identify new sites for protection, based on scientific studies. A consultation process led by SNH targeted landowners and users, relevant industries and organisations as well as members of the public, and broad support for the plans led ministers to approve the new sites last October. RSPB Scotland welcomed the news, with a spokesperson saying it was “delighted at the decision” and adding: “This is a major step forward… these new SPAs are amongst the best places in western Europe for these great birds.”
00 Bird Watching 2011
Special Protection areas This map of Scotland shows just how large an area the new SPAs cover
■ = Original Special protection areas ■ = New Special protection areas
golden eagle Image by Edwin Geisbers (Nature Picture Library) Captive bird
Montagu’ By Keith Offord
One man’s obsession to photograph one of Europe’s most sought-after birds
t was possibly the imagery of Andalucia as depicted in Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer’s Morning which initially fired my imagination and inspired my first September visit to this vibrant region of Spain more than 20 years ago. Despite relentless coastal development since Laurie Lee’s travels, the true Andalucia, thankfully, still exists today, only a few miles inland. There I found all the elements of a country whose very culture has been shaped by previous centuries of Moorish occupation – mosque-like churches and raw, untamed flamenco music reminding me that Morocco and the African continent are no distance away. In fact, on a clear day the imposing Jbel Musa can be seen, the first wall of Moroccan rock, just nine miles away across the Straits. Small hilltop clusters of whitewashed houses – los pueblos blancos – with shady alleyways, silent and deserted in the midday lull, overlook a landscape little changed by the passage of time. Small fields, burnt to straw from the unremitting summer sun, are bordered by lines of lethally spined prickly pear. Goats wander freely and grey-brown pigs, un-tethered and unenclosed, wallow in muddy pools. Hoopoes
38 Bird Watching 2011
Migratory raptors gather near Tarifa before crossing to Morocco (in the background)
probe in the shade and Sardinian Warblers scratch from banks of Gum Cistus. This was the perfect backdrop against which I was to witness one of the great spectacles of bird migration – the annual passage of raptors and other soaring birds on their way to Africa. Every year hundreds of thousands of Honey Buzzards, Booted Eagles, Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites and Egyptian Vultures (to name just a few) hitch a lift to Africa on the thermals, attracting raptor enthusiasts from all around the world.
During my first visit, days on end were spent enjoying eye-level views of this massed avian pilgrimage from a variety of watch-points, chosen according to wind direction. Between raptor watches, I would explore unspoilt valleys inland, where sun-baked fields were infused with bright yellow Carline Thistles and exotically coloured Two-tailed Pasha butterflies floated lazily between strawberry bushes. It was here that I first encountered one of our most elegant raptors. Slim of wing and long in
The quest for the dark morph
The best chance of seeing the scarce and stunning dark morph of Montagu’s Harrier is en route from Spain to Africa
The extended primaries of this adult male Montagu’s Harrier give it additional buoyancy
the tail, this is a bird which seems too frail to withstand the buffeting winds which it sometimes faces on its journey to sub-Saharan Africa. I watched, mesmerised, as it sailed back and forth on raised wings, low over the scrub, one minute beating forward, the next dallying as it scrutinized the ground below. In a trice, as agile as a cat and with acrobatic precision, it would twist around to snatch whatever was there – perhaps a locust or grasshopper. It was poetry in motion, and thus began my lifelong passion for the Montagu’s Harrier.
It seems that there are certain fields with knee-high vegetation rather than tightly grazed grassland that are favoured by Montagu’s Harriers, and over the days, I returned repeatedly to these fields to marvel at the avian ‘paper aeroplanes’ as they lazily beat into the wind. Adult males in their pale blue-grey livery and chestnut-dashed under-parts were the least numerous, and contrasted totally with the cryptic mottled browns and buffs of the adult females, whose white rump was the most conspicuous feature. Perhaps the most beautiful
plumage phase was that of the more numerous juveniles whose crisp dark upper wing feathers were perfectly fringed with pale buff, the face highlighted with a gleaming white mask – while the underparts were a rich fox-red. The rarest of our three regular harrier species with only a handful of nesting pairs in the UK, the Montagu’s is the only one which is wholly migratory. The breeding range extends across much of northern Europe, the Middle East and into Asia, with all populations travelling south for the winter. Its lightweight build and extended primaries give it an astonishingly low wing-loading compared with other harrier species, ideal for its manner of hunting and long migratory journeys. Mixed raptor flocks would occasionally have a Montagu’s among them and against the broad-winged Honey Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles they would looked positively dainty with sharp, slim wings, not unlike a Kestrel. Their buoyancy was obvious as I watched birds swinging up into the heavens on thermals, as if powered by motors. I have returned countless times, never tiring of these graceful birds, and it was on one such occasion that a newcomer joined the scene. It was the same shape and build as the birds I had been watching, but with a totally unfamiliar livery – as black as smoke on both the upper and underparts – a colour I had never seen before. I could not work out what I was looking at. Was this a new species of harrier? www.birdwatching.co.uk 39
All images by Keith Offord
go Bernard Jones and Bill Nash
TOP TIP presented by
Visit the café, Information Centre and Llama Park near Wych Cross, 01825 712040.
Site guide Grid ref: TQ 469 308 Difficulty
Old Lodge NR
A unique habitat between Ashdown Forest and the High Weald
ongbirds welcome you to this enchanting little reserve in this reposefully beautiful county tucked between the High Weald and Ashdown Forest, with the wide prospect of breathtaking views to the far horizon to spur you on. The reserve is leased from the Stuart family and the Old Lodge Estate and the Sussex Wildlife Trust is preserving this unique habitat of heathland, the result of thousands of years of animal grazing on light, sandy soils. The gorse
and heather attract interesting birds and no doubt you will hear and see the resident Stonechat perched on its favourite gorse and dashing out to catch insects. This is also a good place to hear and see Tree Pipits, Whitethroats, Green Woodpeckers and the inevitable birds of prey, such as a Hobby pursuing the local dragonflies later in the year. The boggy streams and ponds are worth a look and the Scots Pines hide nesting Redstarts and maybe other
species such as a Woodcock. Another exciting bird is the Nightjar that lives on the heathland, and several pairs are known to breed here. You may even see a Fallow Deer and be aware that there are Adders! Black Darters and Golden-ringed Dragonflies can be seen around the ponds later in the year. Bernard Jones and Bill Nash
How to get there: On the B2026 (which runs north-south from Edenbridge to Uckfield) on the west side half a mile before the junction with the B2188 is the Old Lodge car park. Postcode: TN22 3JD Where to park: At Old Lodge car park (grid ref: TQ 469 308). Distance and time: Approximately two miles, so allow at least a couple of hours. Terrain: Unsurfaced paths, gentle and steep slopes. Accessibility: No wheelchair access. There are some stiles and gates and steps at the entrance. Dogs allowed but must be on a short, fixed lead. Facilities: None on site but all in the nearby Ashdown Forest Centre, www.ashdownforest.org Public transport: Nearest railway station is Crowborough. National Rail Enquiries, 08457 700240. Local buses, call 01273 474747 for further details. Sites nearby: Go Birding: Bewl Water (March 2009), Buchan Park (February 2009), Ashdown Forest (May 2007).
V5 OS 1:50,000 Region 1 Southern England www.memory-map.co.uk 0870 743 0121
Organisations: Sussex Wildlife Trust, tel: 01273 492 630; website: www.sussexwt.org.uk Club contact: Sussex Ornithological Society, Secretary Mrs Val Bentley, e-mail: email@example.com County Recorder: Nick Paul, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Maps: OS Explorer 135, OS Landranger 187 & 188.
Start at the car park and go left (south-west) and walk the track along the side of the pine trees keeping a lookout for Redstarts nesting here. There may be a Crossbill or two and various tits, and there’s always the possibility of Goldcrest or Firecrest, both of which are on the current list. Green 68 Bird Watching 2011
Woodpeckers are common here. Follow the track up through the woodland checking for Woodcock, Tree Pipits and more common birds such as Greenfinch and Chaffinch. Hawfinches are seen here too. Approaching the heathland where Nightjars live and breed, you may see
Stonechats or even a Dartford Warbler. The skies above may be home to Buzzards and other birds of prey – Peregrine have been recorded here. As you come down to Keeches Bridge and cross the stream, have a look at the pools where dragonflies abound in summer, attracting Hobby.
TOP TIP presented by
Visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds – it’s a popular site.
Site guide Grid ref: SX 228 689 Difficulty
Golitha Falls NNR
Picturesque woodland reserve with River Fowey tumbling through
f you’re searching for a relaxing springtime walk amid stunning scenery, then Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve is well worth a visit. With the River Fowey flowing through its wooded banks in a series of attractive cascades, and wild flowers such as Bluebells in bloom, it’s a remarkably beautiful place to visit at this time of year. Owned and managed by Natural England, and situated on the south-eastern edge of Bodmin Moor,
this SSSI consists largely of sessile oak, mixed oak and ash, with some beech, birch and small areas of open meadow. A fairly diverse array of birds can be found here, from Kingfisher, Dipper and Grey Wagtail to Garden Warbler, Redstart and Buzzard. Otter, salmon and sea trout are attracted to the clear water, and in summer, a variety of butterflies including Silver-washed Fritillary can be found. With a number of well-defined paths running through the reserve, you can
explore as much or as little of this 18-hectare site as required, but the suggested route should provide a good chance of seeing the full complement of birds present. Martin Hall
V5 OS 1:50,000 Region ? Xxx www.memory-map.co.uk 0870 743 0121
How to get there: The reserve is located approximately three miles north-west of Liskeard and just over a mile west of St Cleer. Access is via minor roads running off the A38, A30 and B3254. Postcode: PL14 6RY Where to park: Use the car park by Draynes Bridge. Distance and time: The walk along the river and through the woods is about a mile. To avoid the higher woodland paths, you could walk along the riverbank to the falls and return the same way, but you would miss some of the woodland species. Terrain: Well-defined paths, which can be muddy and slippery in places. Walking boots are recommended. Accessibility: Accessible at all times. Facilities: There are public toilets at the car park. The nearest pubs are at St Cleer and Crow’s Nest, a short distance to the east. Public transport: The nearest train station is at Liskeard. Western Greyhound bus 574 runs from there to St Cleer (Mon-Sat). For details, call 01637 871 871, or visit www.westerngreyhound.com Sites nearby: The whole area is good. Try the moorland around Minions, about two miles north-east of the reserve, for Raven, Peregrine, Stonechat and Curlew.
Check the sky above the car park for possible Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, while Chaffinch and tits can be found in the shrubs and trees around the perimeter. The rocks protruding from the river near the bridge are good for Dipper, Grey Heron and Grey Wagtail. Kingfisher may also be seen, either perched or flying low along the river. Otters hunt here, although you are more likely to find prints on the riverbank than April 2011
see the animal itself. As you progress downstream, check trees for Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and Nuthatch. The meadow which can be glimpsed beyond the opposite bank may reveal Green Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail and Jackdaw feeding on the ground. Scan the rocks and banks around the numerous small falls, or ‘tumbles’, for Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Wren may be seen darting between trees on the
Organisations: Natural England, www.naturalengland.org.uk Club contact: Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society, Tony Bertenshaw, email@example.com, www.cbwps.org.uk County recorder: Darrell Clegg, firstname.lastname@example.org Maps: OS Explorer 109, OS Landranger 201.
wooded banks, while Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Redstart and Long-tailed Tit are also likely. Spend some time searching the trees in the higher woodland for Garden Warbler, Wood Warbler, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff and Redstart. Tawny Owl may occasionally be flushed from their daytime roosting places, and Sparrowhawk is also a possibility.
UK Bird FEBRUARY
Visitors to Poole, Dorset, were treated to two ultra-tame visitors from North America at the same time: a first-winter Long-billed Dowitcher and a first-winter Ring-billed Gull. Search for Ring-billed Gull in European fieldguides from the 1970s and you won’t find it. However, it has since become such a regular visitor to the country that it no longer counts as an official rarity. Needless to say, both Poole birds were extensively photographed.
Highlights: A Kumlien’s Gull was at Chew (21st). A Crane flew over Clevedon (11th). Flocks of up to 30 Waxwings remained in Bristol. Clevedon/Portishead: There was a Bittern (6th), 12 Avocets (12th & 25th-27th), a Hen Harrier (12th), Firecrest (20th) and Corn Bunting (26th). Black Redstarts were seen on four dates. Five Purple Sandpipers remained. Severnside: A probable Red-throated Diver (19th) was an excellent record. Geese are unusual so 10 Greylags (8th), with three (16th), and three Brents (7th) were welcome. The Bittern (10th and 12th) and Black Redstart (7th) remained. A Water Rail was an unusual garden visitor (7th-8th & 16th). Strong winds brought in 200 Kittiwakes (4th-5th). Unusual waders included a Jack Snipe (9th & 19th) and Woodcock (18th). There was a Red Kite (17th). The Reservoirs: Chew logged a Ferruginous Duck (12th), two different Ring-billed Gulls (19th, 26th & 28th), a Grey Plover (13th), Greylag (18th-21st), Black Redstart (19th) and Curlew (24th). A White-fronted Goose there (17th) moved to Blagdon (18th-20th). Five Scaup were seen mainly at Blagdon, but also visited Chew. A Smew was at Blagdon (from 11th). Other sites: An early, or wintering Ring Ouzel was in a Rangeworthy garden (10th). Red Kites flew over Portbury (16th), Patchway (17th), Bath, Clifton (28th) and Kelston (28th). Four Jack Snipe at Yate Common (22nd) and a Black Redstart in an Ashton Vale garden (20th) were unusual. Richard Mielcarek
Alderney: There were 12 Chaffinches at Corbletts and three Long-tailed Tits at the Nunnery (1st). Two Redwings were at Clos de Cables (2nd). Three Buzzards flew over the Trois Vaux, with a Barn Owl over the scramble track (4th). A Peregrine was at Newtown (4th) with a Barn Owl there (15th). Gannets were back on Les Etacs (5th). Six Long-tailed Tits and a Blackcap were at Picaterre Farm (7th). A Woodcock was on the Giffoine and a Grey Wagtail at the Harbour lights (9th). A Peregrine hunted over Longis Common, with a Sparrowhawk over Saye Farm (10th). Twenty Curlews were on the golf course (11th). Three Bramblings and eight Chaffinches were in Crabby (12th). A Brent Goose was in Longis Bay (13th). Five Chiffchaffs were in the Vallee Gardens (14th). Two Ravens were over the Ups and Downs (17th). Two Mute Swans were in Crabby Bay. Jersey: At St Ouen’s Pond, known in Jersey as La Mare au Seigneur, there was at least one Bittern and a few Bearded Tits plus a dozen Marsh Harriers all month. In Queens Valley, the reservoir held at least one Little Grebe, one Kingfisher and a few drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and up to nine female
96 Bird Watching APRIL 2011
Goosanders all month. A dozen or so Siskins were regularly on the Alders on the upper mud pond car-park area, including a singing male. At Goose Green Marsh at Beaumont the Red-breasted Goose was present most of the time. On the sandpits, about 11 Pochards, mostly males, were often present except when they were on the Pond at St Ouens nearby! Seventeen Greenshank and 31 Wigeon were on Queen’s Valley (3rd) and nearby a Hen Harrier quartered all month. At Catillon nearby there were 50 or so Fieldfare moving often towards La Hougue Bie. At Grouville Marsh eight Gadwall stayed all month, plus up to 85 Snipe, a few Jack Snipe, 100 Teal and four or more Water Pipits. In Grouville Bay two female Eiders fed together at the beginning of the month in the La Rocque area with 20 Common Scoter and 50 Red-breasted Mergansers. On the beach 87 Bar-tailed Godwits and 860 Dunlin were of interest as they fed often with Little Egrets. A Cattle Egret was in the La Rocque Pontac area in fields with cows. A Whimbrel was with 160 or more Curlews at Le Hocq rocks at high tide (6th). Six auks of unknown species were offshore the breeding cliffs at Plemont (17th) and Razorbills were sitting offshore Grouville Bay during the month. On 20th, 300 Turnstone roosted at La Rocque. On 26th, 20 or more Sandwich Tern were feeding at La Rocque with feeding Gannets. At St Ouens Pond there were 66 Shoveler, 20 Teal, a Pintail, 11 Pochard, four Gadwall, and a pair of displaying Great Crested Grebes. At Grouville marsh were four Jack Snipe, six Woodcock, 85 Snipe, 10 Teal, and eight Gadwall, plus 50 Coot. At the St Ouens golfcourse there were still 200 Coot at the end of the month. Mark Atkinson, Bertram Bree
Highlights: Last month’s Lesser Scaup remained on Dozmary Pool and the Pacific Diver remained in Mount’s Bay. The possible tundra Peregrine was at Walmsley (to 28th). The possible Northern Harrier was at Skewjack (10th). A Black Kite was at Hewas Water (3rd). Other sites: A Whooper Swan was at Drift (13th) and a Bewick’s Swan at Par (4th-7th). A Greenland White-fronted Goose was present all month at Drift. Three Pinkfeet, a tundra Bean Goose and the 15 Barnacle Geese remained around the Camel Estuary and Walmsley. The Ring-necked Duck was at Gwithian (1st-16th) before moving back to Stithians (26th). Long-tailed Ducks were at Loe Pool (2nd-17th) and Sennen (1st-2nd). A Smew was on Siblyback (8th-9th). Black-necked Grebes peaked at 36 in the Carrick Roads. Around a dozen Bitterns were reported, including three at Marazion. Three Spoonbills were around the Camel Estuary and two on the Tamar Complex. Cattle Egrets were at St Winnow (5th-19th), Wadebridge (16th) and two at Lelant (14th). Purple Sandpipers peaked at 54 at Jubilee Pool, Penzance. Little Gulls were in Carbis Bay all month, on Hayle (7th) and at Drift (19th-27th). Ring-billed Gulls were at Par (4th) and Torpoint (24th). Possible Azorean Yellow-legged Gulls were at St Just (9th) and Pendeen (25th). An Iceland Gull was at St Levan (6th), with Glaucous Gulls at Stithians (16th) and Gwithian (19th). A Black Guillemot was off Cape Cornwall (25th). Two Puffins were off Pendeen (24th). A Waxwing was in Helston (1st-17th), a Swallow in Camelford (16th) and a Wheatear at St Mawes (15th). The Rose-coloured Starling remained in Penzance. Two Hawfinches were in Falmouth (7th). Lapland Buntings were at Gunwalloe and Hawker’s Cove, with 100 near Port Isaac (28th). A Snow Bunting was at Sennen (1st). Sara McMahon (01752 242 823)
North Devon: Two Smew were at Barnstaple (2nd), with 12 Bar-tailed Godwits, ten Gadwall, two Pinkfeet and 11 Sanderling (7th). A Black Redstart was at Braunton throughout, with a Lapland Bunting (2nd). Lower Tamar Lake logged 52 Coots, ten Teal, 41 Goosanders, a Pintail, three Gadwall, two Willow Tits, Great
Long-billed Dowitcher, Poole Park, Dorset 12 February
Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch. A Smew was at Pottington (7th), when a Red-necked Grebe was on the Taw Estuary. Seven Spoonbills were at Isley Marsh (7th). At Yelland (22nd), there were 66 Turnstones, 57 Grey Plovers and four Bar-tailed Godwits. Bradiford Reserve had a Smew and Green Sandpiper (22nd). Penhill Marsh had 221 dark-bellied Brent Geese. Bursdon Moor had a Hen Harrier and Merlin. Fremington had two Whimbrels and a Green Sandpiper (27th). South Devon: A Black Kite flew over Slapton (1st). A Smew was at Topsham (3rd-27th). A Snow Bunting was at Hope’s Nose, Torbay (6th-7th). Aylesbeare Common held a Great Grey Shrike (8th-24th), with another at Venn Ottery (11th-12th). A Hawfinch was at Ide, near Exeter (9th). A Surf Scoter was at Dawlish Warren (from 12th), with a Long-tailed Duck there (12th-23rd), and Glaucous Gull (22nd). A Cattle Egret was at Bishop’s Tawton (17th-26th). A Glaucous Gull was at Exmouth (20th). An early Osprey was at Powderham Castle Lake (22nd). There were two Sand Martins and a Green Sandpiper at Exeter (24th). A Wheatear was at Brixham (28th). Thurlestone Bay: The Pinkfoot and four Goosanders were last seen (1st) and the Slavonian Grebe (3rd). The first Little Grebe appeared (22nd). There were Red-throated Divers (18th and 28th) and Great Northern Divers (2nd and 23rd). Maxima were 60 Wigeon, six Gadwall, 75 Teal and eight Shovelers. Common Scoters were scarce with just 30 (28th). There were nine Ringed Plovers, three Sanderling, a Purple Sandpiper, 40 Snipe, seven Turnstones, a Woodcock, just five Golden Plovers and the last 14 Lapwings (7th). A Bittern flew over (23rd and 25th). A Marsh Harrier was noted (from 20th). There were three Water Rails and four Water Pipits. A Black Redstart was on the coast (17th and 28th). Three Cetti’s Warblers were at South Milton Ley and Thurlestone Marsh. Chiffchaffs peaked at 12, with two Blackcaps and 21 Reed Buntings. The last big Starling roost was 80,000 (6th). Howard Bottrell, Harvey Kendall and Mike Passman
Highlights: The Long-billed Dowitcher moved back to Lodmoor. Two Cattle Egrets were at Fordingbridge. Great Grey Shrikes remained at Arne, Wareham Forest and Six Penny Handley. Ring-billed Gulls were at Radipole and Poole Park. Two Black Brants were at Ferrybridge. Four Smew remained at Longham Lakes. Waxwings were widespread. Christchurch: Stanpit had its earliest ever Sand Martin (25th). Also there was a Spotted Redshank, Jack Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Sandwich Tern, Water Pipit and numerous Waxwing flocks. A Lapland Bunting flew over
Hengistbury Head (28th), with 450 Cormorants and 12 Purple Sandpiper there too. All three divers passed the head, along with Common Scoters and 5,000 auks, mostly Razorbills. Poole Harbour: Three Marsh Harriers and a Hen Harrier remained. Nine Spoonbills were at Arne. A Long-tailed Duck was off Shipstal point. There were 1,200 Avocets at Middlebere with 219 Bar-tailed Godwits at Shore Road. A record 86 Mediterranean Gulls were on Brownsea Lagoon. Black-necked Grebe numbers stayed high off Studland with Slavonian Grebes, Red-necked Grebes, Eiders and Velvet Scoters there too. Spotted Redshanks were at three sites. The Red-crested Pochard was still on Littlesea. A Sandwich Tern was in Shell Bay (14th). Three Golden Pheasants were on Brownsea. Weymouth and Portland: The first Wheatear arrived on Portland (23rd). Three Bitterns were at both Radipole and Lodmoor. Both sites held Marsh Harriers. Lodmoor also hosted a Water Pipit, Scaup, White-fronted Goose, Firecrest and Green Sandpiper. Radipole had a Goosander and good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls. Two wing-tagged Great Bustards were at Moonfleet. A Siberian Chiffchaff was on the Bill, where Great and Pomarine Skuas, and the first Manx Shearwaters passed by. Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes were in Portland Harbour. Fifty Barnacle Geese and 30 Scaup remained at Abbotsbury. A Smew was at West Bexington. Other sites: A Red Kite, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and two Wood Larks were at Sherford Bridge. Eight Storm Petrels were off Durlston. Hatch Pond had four Bitterns. A Dipper was at Mangerton Mill. A Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier were at Six Penny Handley. A county record 181 Ravens were at Minterne Magna. Thirty Bramblings were in Blandford Paul Morton (http://dorsetbirds.org.uk)
Isles of Scilly
Highlights: The three Mistle Thrushes remained in Porth Hellick at the start of the month. Two Long-eared Owls were between Porth Hellick and Salakee (3rd). Six Brent Geese on St Martin’s (10th) were seen from Bar Point, St Mary’s (12th). A Yellow-legged Gull flew from Porth Loo towards Porth Mellon (11th), when a Black Redstart was near the quay. Eight Whimbrels and a Bar-tailed Godwit were at Bar Point (12th). Tresco held four Pinkfeet, four Long-tailed Tits, a Short-eared Owl and Little Grebe (12th). A Long-eared Owl and Siberian Chiffchaff were in Lower Moors (13th), with two Siberian Chiffchaffs on St Agnes. A Short-eared Owl was at Porth Hellick (14th & 17th) with a Firecrest there (17th & 28th). A Common Scoter and 12 Great Northern Divers were seen from the Garrison, St Mary’s (13th). Two Mediterranean Gulls were on Porth
UK Bird FEBRUARY Mellon and a Glaucous Gull at Porth Cressa (18th). There was a Red-necked Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, two Slavonian Grebes, a Black-throated Diver and 26 Great Northern Divers off the Garrison (19th). A Siberian Chiffchaff was at Porth Hellick and the long staying Black Redstart at Little Porth (27th). A Cetti’s Warbler was reported (28th). Will Wagstaff
Highlights: A Cattle Egret was seen several times around Shapwick Heath/Ham Wall. Six Great White Egrets regularly roosted at Ham Wall. Three Spoonbills flew over Catcott Lows (24th). A Great Grey Shrike was seen again at Chetsford Water (19th). There were 14 Waxwings in Yeovil (to 6th). Snow Buntings were at Lucott Cross (19th) and Brean Down (26th). Cheddar Reservoir: Highlights included two Black-necked Grebes, two Scaup and two Red-crested Pochards (to 19th) and a Brent Goose (11th). Four Mediterranean Gulls roosted (23rd). Shapwick Heath: A Spoonbill appeared (24th). A drake Smew (13th-14th) joined the long-staying female. Nine Whooper Swans and a Hen Harrier roamed the area. A Short-eared Owl was noted (13th). The Great Grey Shrike was seen again (1st). An early Sand Martin flew by (23rd). Other sites: The 14 Pinkfeet remained on the Steart peninsula (to 6th). Eleven Brent Geese remained at Stolford. Two Short-eared Owls were at Huntspill Sluice (19th) and three at Tadham Moor (13th), one remaining (to 28th). A Spotted Redshank was in the Brue estuary (10th). A Firecrest visited Brean Down (24th). Julian Thomas (SOS: www.somersetbirds. net)
Highlights: Bitterns were at Erlestoke and the Water Park. A Great Grey Shrike was at Corton Down. The Whooper Swan remained at Little Wishford until mid-month. The Waxwing invasion continued to delight and included 86 at Swindon, 64 at Longbridge Deverill, 59 at Westbury, 56 at Trowbridge, 30 at Warminster, 16 at Salisbury and 15 at Sherston. One colour-ringed bird, re-trapped in Swindon, had been marked at Stromsay, Orkney in October 2010. A Firecrest arrived at Green Lane Wood and there were two at Westbury STW where Chiffchaffs were also in song. Thirty Crossbills were at Savernake. Bramblings, Blackcaps and Siskins were widespread. There were Common Redpolls at Nightingale Wood and Chippenham. Rob Turner
While the national media were distracted by rare doves, and the nation’s twitchers equally drawn by Essex/London’s Slaty-backed Gull, a quiet mini-invasion was occurring. The birds in question were ‘northern’ Long-tailed Tits (the northern European nominate subspecies), one of the cutest of all European birds, and there were five of them together in a churchyard in Dymchurch near Dungeness, Kent, this month. Their appeal comes particularly from their all-white heads, which transforms lovely birds into exceptional ones.
Highlights: A Rustic Bunting at Biggleswade (18th) was the first record for Bedfordshire. It
Highlights: An Avocet was at Theale Main Pit (14th). An Iceland Gull was at Queen Mother Reservoir (8th). A Siberian Chiffchaff was at Sandhurst SF (23rd). Eight Tree Sparrows were at Jealott’s Hill (1st). Mealy Redpolls were at Greenham Common (2nd-20th), Moor Green Lakes (12th) and Padworth Common (27th). Dinton Pastures: A Bittern was at Lavell’s Lake (to 26th). A Jack Snipe was seen (21st). The Firecrest remained (to 26th). Theale GP: The four White-fronted Geese remained in the Burnthouse Lane area. An Oystercatcher was at Main Pit (from 13th) with two (25th & 27th). A Mediterranean Gull was at Moatlands (20th & 27th). Other sites: Lower Farm GP held an Oystercatcher and Caspian Gull (7th). Three Bitterns were at Dorney Wetlands, and one at Woolhampton GP (2nd-8th). A Scaup was at Bray GP (26th-27th). Three Smew were at Twyford GP (1st) and two at Wraysbury GP (5th). Three Curlews were at Moor Green Lakes (22nd). Three Mediterranean Gulls were at Queen Mother Reservoir (3rd-19th). Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were at Moor Green Lakes (1st) and Broadmoor (27th). Waxwings were at 25 sites including 250 at Warfield. Marek Walford (www.berksbirds.co.uk)
Highlights: A Great Grey Shrike was at Hillesden (from 25th). An Iceland Gull was at Little Marlow GP all month and a Glaucous Gull roosted regularly at Calvert. Waxwings were widespread and totalled 500 birds, including 123 at Cliveden (8th). Ten Bitterns were at five locations. Two Water Pipits were at Drayton Beauchamp (24th). A possible Great White Egret at Woodburn Green (13th) would be the sixth county record. Calvert Lakes: The gull roost had an Iceland Gull (4th), Kittiwakes (6th & 27th), three Caspian Gulls, seven Yellow-legged Gulls and Mediterranean Gulls (9th, 27th & 28th). Four Bitterns were present. The Black-necked Grebe remained all month.
Black-backed Gulls were noted. There was a Water Pipit, Great Grey Shrike, three Waxwings, two Mealy Redpolls, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, 220 Siskins, 60 Bramblings and 20 Lesser Redpolls. The Avon Valley held 16 Bewick’s Swans, 11 Whitefronted Geese, eight Curlews, a Merlin, two Hen Harriers, a Peregrine and two Wood Larks. The Starling roost over Ibsley Village peaked at 2,500. There were 18 Waxwings in the Ringwood area. Hayling Island: A Glaucous Gull (17th-18th) joined the overwintering ‘white-winged’ Herring Gull. Offshore, Eiders peaked at 150, with 60 Gannets, three Slavonian Grebes, four Black-necked Grebes, a Scaup, Black-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Fulmar and two Kittiwakes. In Chichester Harbour, the dark-bellied Brents were joined by two pale-bellied birds (1st), a Black Brant (19th) and Ruddy Shelduck (12th). An Egyptian Goose was at Sinah (3rd). Sanderling peaked at 310 and there was a Greenshank (14th). Overwintering birds included three Sandwich Terns, two Black Redstarts, a Whimbrel, Blackcap, Firecrest and Treecreeper. Lymington-Hurst: Wildfowl included a Red-breasted Goose, 10 Goldeneyes, three Scaup, three Common Scoters and three Eiders. Red-throated Divers peaked at 218 and Slavonian Grebes at six. A Bittern was in the Avon Flood reedbed (26th). A Red Kite, White-tailed Eagle, Hen Harrier, two Peregrines and two Merlins were logged. There was an Avocet, two Jack Snipe at Sturt Pond, 10 Spotted Redshanks, a Whimbrel, three Ruff and just 48 Golden Plovers. A Pomarine Skua was seen from Milford (5th). Twelve Kittiwakes were offshore (7th). Mediterranean Gulls peaked at 106, with many birds pairing up. There was a Water Pipit, Cetti’s Warbler, Dartford Warbler and Lapland Bunting. Titchfield Haven: There were nine Pintails and three Scaup. Bitterns were seen regularly. A Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine, Water Rail, Avocet, Golden Plover, eight Mediterranean Gulls, an Iceland Gull (20th), Kingfisher, Rock Pipit, Cetti’s Warbler, Firecrest, Bearded Tit, Treecreeper and two Ravens were noted. A pale-bellied Brent Goose, seven Eiders, five Common Scoters, 14 Red-breasted Mergansers, five Goosanders, a Slavonian Grebe and Guillemot were offshore. On nearby farmland, there was a Red-breasted Goose (to 13th), Bittern, Peregrine, Golden Plover, Waxwing and Firecrest. Other sites: There were 14 White-fronted Geese and a Black Brant at Farlington Marsh. A Red-crested Pochard was at Woolmer Pond, a Scaup at Hook with Warsash and a Smew at Farlington Marsh. Bitterns were at Hook (16th & 22nd) and Testwood Lakes (four on 14th). Two
Cattle Egrets were viewable from the Fordingbridge area. Eleven Black-necked Grebes were in Langstone Harbour. The White-tailed Eagle remained in the Downton area (to 12th) and then relocated to the Newnham/Old Basing area (from 23rd). A Little Gull was at Weston Shore (26th), with a Glaucous Gull there (18th). A Ring-billed Gull was at Gosport. Waxwings were widespread. A Black Redstart was at Fratton (19th). A Water Pipit was at Lower Test Marshes (1st), with two (26th). Richard Carpenter with Jackie Hull, Andy Johnson and Steve Piggott
Highlights: Amwell held four Eurasian White-fronted Geese, seven Smew and two Bitterns. Three Smew were at Stocker’s Lake (4th). Two Water Pipits were at Wilstone Reservoir. Marsworth Reservoir held four Bitterns. Waxwings included 150 at Hatfield (13th). Eight Hawfinches were at Bramfield and five at Danemead NR. Robin Chittenden, Birdline East Anglia. What’s about today? Simply phone 09068 700 245. Please contact us with your sightings - phone or text 07941 333 970 or email email@example.com Calls to 09068 700 245 charged at 60p per minute from BT landline - other networks vary.
Dungeness RSPB: Bewick’s Swan, Goldeneye, Smew and Goosander were present (4th). A Black-Necked Grebe and a Slavonian Grebe were recorded regularly over the first week, and there were also Bittern sightings plus a Woodcock and a Firecrest. There was a hat-trick of grebes (8th), with Red-necked, Black-necked and Slavonian all recorded. Five Bewick’s Swans, 17 White-fronted Geese and eight Smew were on the ARC Site. Also of note were a pair of Ravens. Penduline Tit was the highlight (21st), plus Rock Pipit, Goldcrest and Firecrest. A Caspian Gull was recorded as were Marsh Harrier, Cetti’s Warbler and a Scaup. Dungeness Observatory: Four hundred auks flew east (1st), when Red-throated Diver and Gannets were offshore, plus Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Red-necked Grebe and Great Skua. There was a Glaucous Gull and two Firecrests (2nd), two Ravens and Red-throated Divers (5th), 570 Great Crested Grebes flying west (6th), and two Ravens and a Peregrine (8th). A seawatch (9th) produced 200 Red-throated Divers, 270 Gannets, 133 Kittiwakes and 98 Brent Geese. Five Velvet Scoters, two Goldeneye and 209 Kittiwakes were recorded. A second-winter Caspian Gull was among other roosting gulls (18th). There were four Pintail, 26 Wigeon and 375 Brent Geese (19th), when glasses were raised to Ray Turley, a Dungeness hero who passed away in
Purple Sandpiper, Hampton near Herne Bay, Kent
was among several hundred Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers and was possibly spooked by a Merlin. An Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, two Smew and two Scaup were at Stewartby Lake. A Pinkfoot and Eurasian White-fronted Goose were near Bedford sewage works. A Pinkfoot was also at Southill and Broom GP. Waxwings included 280 at Linslade (5th). A Water Pipit was at Fenlake Meadows (9th) and Willington GP (11th). There were 110 Tree Sparrows at Southill. Robin Chittenden, Birdline East Anglia. What’s about today? Simply phone 09068 700 245. Please contact us with your sightings - phone or text 07941 333 970 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Calls to 09068 700 245 charged at 60p per minute from BT landline - other networks vary.
Jubilee River and Dorney Lake: The family party of four Eurasian White-fronted Geese remained. Three Bitterns were seen. A Mediterranean Gull was present (25th). Little Marlow gP: A Caspian Gull (19th) was unusual here. Three Mediterranean Gulls and three Yellow-legged Gulls were seen. A Black-tailed Godwit appeared (20th), with three (22nd-24th). Dave Parmenter (www.bucksbirdclub.co.uk)
Blashford Lakes: Maxima included a Red-breasted Merganser, two Smew, a Shelduck, 200 Goosanders, 36 Goldeneyes, six Pintails, two Black-necked Grebes, two Bitterns, a Great White Egret (to 11th), a Ruff, Green Sandpiper, 71 Black-tailed Godwits and the first returning Redshank (23rd). A Caspian Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, 2,400 Black-headed Gulls and 340 Lesser
questions Your birding
Your bird problems solved by our experts
Little Owl hunting with one eye
This Little Owl appears to be blind in one eye
I work on a railway crossing in Fradley, near Lichfield, and I took this photo of a Little Owl at around 8.30pm one evening. You will notice that he is blind in one eye. He has been back a couple of times since and seems to be catching food OK (although he does miss a lot) – have you ever seen anything similar? Lee Douglas Brown, email We have occasionally seen other birds like this, with what appears to be a cataract, but it’s interesting that it should be an owl. While they do have very sharp hearing, to enable them to locate prey in low light or darkness, their hunting does also depend on superb vision. It’s heartening to read that he seems to be feeding OK, as birds with physical disabilities often struggle to do so, as well as being targeted themselves by predators. Perhaps, from what you say, he’s making up for his blindness with sheer persistence and hard work!
Nature’s Feast QUESTION OF THE MONTH This was found in my garden in mid-January. It is a tight-knit bundle of feathers. There is nothing solid inside it, and it is extremely light. It was out for a couple of weeks before I brought it in. It held together during that time and seems to have lost no feathers. The ‘underside’ contains soft downy feathers. What is it? Andy Ward, Lutterworth, Leicester This is very unusual, but we reckon that it’s probably the result of a kill by a predator, maybe a Sparrowhawk. The clump of feathers would have been torn away from the prey, and the skin that originally held it together could then have decomposed. It’s hard to say exactly what the feathers come from, though – a Pheasant looks to be a possibility. Send in your garden bird questions and you could win these treats from Nature’s Feast: 1.75kg Sunflower Hearts, All Seasons Sunflower Heart Feeder and 110g Dried Mealworms For information, and to order Nature’s Feast products, call Freephone: 0800 093 9123; Email: customer.care@ naturesfeast.co.uk, or visit: www.naturesfeast.co.uk
120 Bird Watching 2011
What is this mystery item?
What is my unusual garden visitor? There is a bird visiting my feeding table which is a petite and very neat version of a Tree Sparrow, but the cap is black not brown and the bib is larger. As it flies away, two white tail feathers are clearly visible. Do you have any suggestions? Is it a Reed Bunting? Bob Bell, South Cambridgeshire Without a picture, it’s hard to say anything for certain, but our money would be on a male Reed Bunting. They have a black cap and bib, and white outer tail feathers, but while they’re pretty distinctive in full breeding plumage, they can be much harder to ID in winter plumage, when the cap and bib are less striking. Although, as the name suggests, they’re a bird of marshy, reedy areas, they do sometimes visit gardens and feeders, especially in harsh weather. We know of a couple of Cambridgeshire gardens that get regular visits.
Waxwings in conifers Some of the many Waxwings which visited Dunoon were high in the Sitka Spruce but returned to it frequently, and I also saw a flock of 40 in a pine tree (their favourite food here seemed to be Yew berries). In Mull, I twice saw Waxwings in conifers, apparently foraging as well as sitting at the tops of the trees. Would it be correct to assume that they not only use tall conifers as vantage points, but also as a source of food? George Newall, Dunoon, Argyll Waxwings certainly eat the berries of some conifers, such as Yew and Juniper (these are actually cones, rather than true berries), but it’s also possible that they were looking for insects, as Waxwings will eat these (either taken in mid-air, or gleaned from trees and shrubs) as well as their more familiar diet. Last autumn, because the Waxwings arrived in the UK much earlier than usual, it was noticeable that a lot of the birds continued to feed on insects right up until the first blast of cold weather in late November.
Readers have continued to supply information in response to Judith Huygens’ question in our February issue about a Chaffinch with a deformed foot. Steve Boyce of Old Woking, Surrey, wrote to say: “I have also seen this condition on several of the dozen or so Chaffinches that visit my garden. It definitely appears to be some form of fungal growth but only seems to be affecting Chaffinches. I have not witnessed this condition on the Greenfinches or Goldfinches that visit. Judith also mentions that the condition does not appear to hinder the bird, but I have seen Chaffinches with a more advanced stage of this growth, which looks like the bird is wearing white boots, and they have a degree of difficulty when moving around on the ground. Does anyone have any idea on the cause of this growth, as I believe it is not uncommon?” Gerry Studd’s afflicted Chaffinch
Why ignore Wood Duck? I was walking by the river at Bradford on Avon last week when I saw what I later identified as a male Wood Duck, a lifetime first and No 82 this year, but when I looked in the full British List it was notable by its absence. I understand it is an exotic, brought into this country as an ornamental addition, as were Canada Geese and Mandarins, but these are on the list. Why is the Wood Duck excluded? Barry Nicholson, via e-mail Good question, but the short answer is that the BOURC consider that there’s reasonable doubt that any Wood Ducks seen in the UK are genuinely wild and/or self-sustaining. While the other species you mention are also here as a result of escapes from collections, they’ve become established in such numbers that they now survive and breed without any help from humans. It may well be that Wood Duck’s status changes as and when numbers increase and a breeding population is established.
Planning Farnes visit My wife and I are planning a visit to the Farne Islands, Northumberland, and would like to experience the famous dive-bombing Arctic Terns. Could you please advise on the best dates for this activity, which would also coincide with opportunities for viewing Puffins? Thanks. Mike Goodman, via email
Gerry Studd, leader of East Berks Local RSPB Group, said: “The article seemed to have missed a possible cause of the distorted Chaffinch’s leg. Perhaps the quality of the photograph did not help? “I photographed a similarly afflicted Chaffinch at Maple Lodge Nature Reserve in August last year, and my first impression when seeing the bird was that it had stood in some freshly laid mortar, flown off and some of the material had stuck to its feet and legs and eventually hardened. “Having processed the photograph and had a closer look at the leg, a bit of ‘Googling’ indicated that this might be a quite common problem known as ‘Bumblefoot’, a wart-like growth, which particularly affects Chaffinch and to a lesser extent Brambling.” Gerry also added that regular and thorough cleaning of feeders can help prevent the spread of this and other similar conditions, something we can only reiterate. Finally, Ray Charles e-mailed to say: “I have just been reading the February 2011 issue of Bird Watching and saw the pic of the female Chaffinch with what was described as a piece of fatball attached to its foot – I have one exactly the same that visits my garden.” Ray Charles reports this female Chaffinch with the same problem
The best months for this are May, June and July, when tens of thousands of birds should be present. The islands (there are 28 of them, off the coast of Northumberland) have breeding Guillemots, Kittiwakes and four of the five species of British tern – Arctic, Common, Roseate and Sandwich – as well as Puffins (known locally as the ‘Tommy Noddy’). The middle of the season is probably the safest bet – by June, breeding should be in full swing, and there’s less chance of your trip being disrupted by storms. Have a great time, take a hat – and watch out for those terns – they take no prisoners! www.birdwatching.co.uk 121