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WIN! A unique VIP day with the Rutland Ospreys JUNE 2013

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HOBBY BY THE DOZEN! 8 of the best sites revealed


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Puffins PLUS Chough, Guillemot, Raven, Razorbill and more

June 2013 £4.10


RARITY RUSH! All the latest rare bird news near you from top twitcher Lee Evans

Rock Thrush

Baikal Teal

Woodchat Shrike


tyto alba

14 your birding news

like the Puffin and the Kingfisher, the barn owl is one of those instantly recognisable birds, which everyone knows, even if they haven’t necessary ever seen one in the wild. And even when they have caught sight of one of these pallid beauties in their headlights, many misidentify the “huge white owl” they saw as a Snowy owl. this is partly because most non-birdwatchers have no idea that the Snowy owl is an extremely rare bird, whereas there may be as many as 25,000 barn owls flying around the country. the mistake is also aided on its way by the difficulty of judging size, particularly of birds only ever seen in books; Snowy owls are truly enormous, closer in size to a small, fat eagle than, say a tawny owl, whereas barn owls are decent sized but hardly huge, their size enhanced by the brilliance of the white. the latter is the third cause for confusion for the innocent. barn owls are very white birds, especially viewed from underneath; only the back, wings and head are marked with delicate gold and grey. luckily, for anyone searching for a barn owl this summer (there are up to about 5,000 pairs countrywide, a number which shows signs of increasing in the last 20 years), they are among our most diurnally active of owl species. when there are hungry young in the barn, waiting for an endless supply of fresh voles, barn owls can be seen hunting over rough grassland in full daylight, though there is even more activity at dawn and dusk. they have a buoyant, almost weightless flight style on rather stiff, rounded wings, punctuating the effortless glides of the patrol with Kestrel-like hovering before the deadly foot-first pounce. they are widely distributed across the country, except the central and eastern highlands of Scotland and the far north and outer isles. barn owls are birds of various types of open country, including farmland (with rough edges) and fenland, verges and so on. they require some kind of hollow area for nesting, whether it is a barn or other outhouse, a hollow tree or a indeed a nestbox, which they readily take to.

87 UKbS rarity round-up Lee Evans brings us the biggest rare bird news

90 UK bird Sightings Our comprehensive guide to what was seen where

in the field

6 your birding month Everything you need for a brilliant June

30 Stranded at sea! Well, sort of... Birding between tides on Holy Island Cover Story

33 win a viP day at rutland water Enter now to spend a day with the Ospreys

49 id Guide How to recognise Stock Doves in flight

52 Capercaillie capers Join us on a trip to see these sought-after giants Cover Story

Barn owl

newS Including calls for lead shot to be banned Cover Story

bird of the month

53 Go birding 10 pages of walks in our famous routes section

79 your birding Gear New kit on the market, from binoculars to postcards

80 reviews Vanguard Endeavour ED 10x42 on test

birdS & wordS

17 the Urban birder David Lindo visits Jerusalem

19 bto Spotlight Kate Risely on the plight of the House Sparrow

21 weedon’s world Mike struggles to remember. It’s his age, you know... Cover Story

22 hobby: King of the summer sky

Cover Story

34 South Stack

Where to see dozens of these aerial acrobats Head west for stacks of brilliant birds

40 dominic Couzens on... ...Manx Shearwaters and their long-distance lunch trips

64 Cranes Could we soon see huge flocks in our skies?

68 ringed Plover How we can help to protect these beach nesters

74 little tern Why conservation efforts in Germany are so important

82 bird watching bookshop Big savings on the best titles

105 highland Scene Ray Collier’s monthly diary from Scotland

106 letters Your views, plus Jack Robinson’s diary

109 your Photos A selection of the best pictures sent to us this month

110 your birding Questions Your problems solved by our experts

112 John wright’s Sketchbook Bird artist John’s visual diary of spring at Rutland Paul Sawer (FLPA - Images of Nature)

4 Bird Watching 2013 5

great skua this big, mean-looking brute of a bird is very much a British bird, with some 60% of the entire global population of 16,000 pairs breeding in our islands (the rest live around other parts of the north-east atlantic, such as the faeroes and iceland). there are closely related species (the South Polar and Brown Skuas) in the antarctic and subantarctic, but the original Bonxie is very much a northern bird. at this time of year, great Skuas can be found at the breeding sites, while later in the year they will pass along the coasts (and cross-country) in order to reach their wintering grounds off the Spanish and african coasts. they are larger than the three other northern skua species (sometimes known as jaegers), and dumpier, with a more gull-like profile. However, all skuas have long wings and a powerful flight which is different from a gull’s more lazy approach, and Bonxies in particular have bold white flashes in the wings. the size and wing flashes make the great Skua by far the easiest of the skuas to identify at sea. the powerful flight is, of course, an adaptation to their partly parasitic way of life, pursuing birds as large as gannets until they sick up their fishy catch for the skua to feast on.

Factfile Size: Length, c50-38cm, wingspan, 125-140cm; so roughly the same size as a Herring Gull diet: Fish, mainly regurgiated by other seabirds, such as Gannets, plus birds and carrion Population: 9,600 pairs, all in Scotland, mainly in offshore islands, especially Shetland, Orkney and Outer Hebrides, as well as smaller islands, such as Handa. At colonies such as that at Herma Ness, northern Unst (Shetland), the birds are so accustomed to humans walking through the colony that they may ignore visitors (rather than viciously attack them) n Breeding/ Summer n Passage

Mike Lane (Alamy)

What’s a bonxie? the name Bonxie is what the skua is called in its Shetland stronghold (and among many birders in the rest of the uK) and probably has a norwegian origin (the norwegian word bunke can mean

12 Bird Watching 2013

dumpy body, like with these dumpy brown seabirds). Bonxie does not refer to the birds’ fondness for attacking the heads of intruders into their nesting sites, as some mistakenly believe…

Thomas Hanahoe (Alamy) 13

birding challenge

Seawatching on dry land

in the

middleocean of the

Steve Newman and pals strand themselves on Holy Island’s causeway to see how many species they can see...

iving just 10 minutes from Holy Island in Northumberland, I often cross over the causeway to look for Red-necked Grebes in the channel, or for some of the great migrants that can drop in on an easterly wind. The island is cut off from the mainland twice a day for up to five hours at a time, depending on the tide. Access is by the causeway, which has a rescue box halfway along the main crossing. Friends and I had often talked about going out to the causeway and getting stranded by the tides to do some “seawatching on dry land in the middle of the ocean” as rarities are often reported from here. That’s why we found ourselves, on a warm morning in April, parking in the causeway car park on the mainland side, ready to take the 10-minute walk out to the bridge. We had hoped the easterly winds would send something over to us on migration and now realise morning is the best time of day to do this trip, as in the afternoon you can carry on birding on the island. So, how did it pan out? Read on...


30 Bird Watching 2013


Pull into the car park. Get our gear out and spot Jackdaw, Chaffinch and Dunnock all hopping around. A beautiful male Yellowhammer in breeding plumage watches from atop the Blackthorn hedge. A male Stonechat is sitting on the remains of the concrete cubes that dot this shoreline.


We start to walk across the causeway and can see a Mute Swan in the channel and hear a flock of some 12 Eiders ‘mewing’. Even from where we are, we can see that the flock consists of some 10 males all vying for the attention of two females.


We arrive on the bridge. The tide is well out but around us we pick up Curlew, Redshank, and Shelduck on the flats with Herring and Black–headed Gulls flying overhead. A solitary immature Long-tailed Duck is in the channel (it stayed there for the length of our stay) and the male Eiders are throwing their heads back in their courtship display.


The first signs of the tide getting closer start to appear, and Carrion Crow, Oystercatcher and Rock Pipit get added to the list. It’s also coffee and sandwich time, to ‘tide us over’, on the rescue box steps. Very strange looks from many of the people in their cars as they pass by.


A flock of Turnstones fly past some 20 yards away from the bridge, letting us know they’ve been pushed into the bay by the incoming tide. Just about cut off now.


A Grey Heron flaps majestically by, heading out to the rock pools on the north shore of the island. I begin to realise I should have brought some sun-cream. What I think is an Osprey, high above, heads northwards, while a solitary Wigeon flies past in the distance.


Tide still coming in very quickly, and the day has gone from being warm and bright with white fluffy clouds and blue sky to overcast and a bitter north wind. Scarf and thermal hat go on and

We are here!


Small flocks of birds arrive. As the tide is ebbing, I wade out a bit (on no account try this on an incoming tide) and discover them to be Sanderling and Dunlin. A Cormorant flies along the coast to their roosting site at Fenham-le Moor.

The causeway gets cut off by the tide


Puffin! Great excitement, as Steely (David Steel, the head ranger of the Farne Islands) had said they arrived back on the islands yesterday. We wade out to get a better look, but our ‘Puffin’ turns out to be black plastic bottle with a white label.

then we retreat to the rescue box for more coffee and sandwiches. Not a lot of room for three in here! Rush outside to watch 10 pale-bellied Brent Geese head northwards. Lindisfarne Bay is the only wintering feeding ground for these birds, which spend their summers in Spitsbergen.


An immature Great Blackbacked Gull settles on the

water near us and a Common Gull passes overhead. Tufted Duck and Pochard are spotted in the distance. We track a Merlin as it crosses over from the island to the mainland. Eventually, the tide begins to turn and, with it, the weather suddenly improves to become a fine day again. Hat and scarf off! A Buzzard is seen soaring over the mainland and we spot five Red-breasted Mergansers in the bay.


A large flock of Starlings over the island, twisting and gyrating, and the first car appears at the end of the causeway waiting for the tide to fall enough for it to cross over. Time to leave. We pack up and go realising that next time we should plan for a whole day on here and on the island itself. No migrants either, unfortunately.

15:00 31

birding challenge

Planning your own trip Target birds for the holy island challenge Arterra Picture Library (Alamy)

Photoshot Holdings (Alamy)

If you’d like to recreate Steve’s Holy Island challenge (and hopefully see a real Puffin) there are a few important things to know. These are all geared towards to this specific location, but most apply to any birding trip that involves coastal sites and areas affected by changing tides. Once you’ve read up and chosen your site, let us know how you got on.

before you go

Puffin: in summer, you may see our cover star (and not just a plastic bottle)

bar-tailed godwit: it’s a good time of year to see this wader in breeding plumage

little Tern: They nest here, so you should be on the lookout for tiny terns

and superb views over the bay. Sites nearby: Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, Budle Bay and there is a hide at Fenham-Le-Moor. National Trust Farne Islands have boats going out from Seahouses. More information: Holy Island website (Inc tide tables) Nearby accomadation: Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club Holy Island Coastguard page

Eirik Gronningsaeter (Alamy)

Arterra Picture Library (Alamy)

32 Bird Watching 2013

Robin CHittenden (Alamy)

gannet: With the bass rock colony just up the coast, watch for these big beauties

holy iSland FacTFile How to get there: 45 miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne on The A1. The Island is signposted at Beal. Maps: Explorer 340: Holy Island and Bamburgh. LandRanger 75 Berwick-uponTweed Where to park: The small car park (space for about 30 cars) is on the landward side of the causeway. Parking is free. Facilities: Toilets and cafes/pubs are on the Island. On the landward side the Barn-at-Beal a mile inland from the car park has a cafe/restaurant, licensed bar

Sandwich Tern: look for the black legs, shaggy black cap and yellow-tipped bill Oliver Smart (Alamy)

■ It is imperative that you contact the Coastguard and tell them you’re doing this. They will tell you the height of the tide and what else to consider. If you do not tell them the date and times you are going out and they get an emergency call-out from the public they will have to remove you from the bridge when they get to you. You can contact the Holy Island Coastguard on 01262 672317 ■ The height of the tide is very important. First you need to think about what species you want to see and what time of year you will be going. Ideally you want a low tide that will not cover the bridge. That way you get a full 360° panorama and you can move about, with plenty of room for scopes etc. If not you will be in the rescue box with a very limited viewpoint and depending on how many of you there are you could very uncomfortable. ■ You may only be a quarter of a mile offshore but you must treat this trip as if you were going walking in the hills. The wind at sea can reduce your body temperature very quickly so you need warm clothing, hat and gloves. If you’re going in summer the wind and the sun can cause serious sunburn so do take cream as well as a hat. ■ On no account should you try to beat the tide. It comes in very quickly and all too often we read in the local paper about people who’ve been trapped and had to be rescued by the helicopter or lifeboat.

arctic Skua: like a long-winged, darkbacked gull with long central tail feathers



a day with the rutland Water ospreys

o celebrate the launch of their new book The Rutland Water Ospreys, the Rutland Osprey Project is giving us an exclusive money-can’t-buy Osprey experience! One lucky winner will take a tour of the nature reserve, led by author and senior reserve officer Tim Mackrill, and get an unprecedented insight into the successful conservation project and its history. There will be time to watch the birds plus speak to the site’s many volunteers and experts over lunch. Plus, you will join one of the Osprey Evening Cruises, where hopefully you will see fishing Ospreys, while enjoying all the other wildlife the reserve has to offer.


What you’ll win!

■ Tour of the nature reserve, and a visit to the nests, led by Tim Mackrill ■ Lunch with Tim Mackrill and other volunteers/staff in Rutland ■ Time to watch the Ospreys ■ Osprey Evening boat cruise ■ Signed copy of The Rutland Water Ospreys ■ Plus 10 runners-up will receive a copy of The Rutland Water Ospreys

How to enter Simply enter your details at The winner will be contacted to arrange a date in July/August 2013 on which to take up their prize. Full terms and conditions can be seen at The closing date for entries is 30 June 2013

A prize money cAn’t buy!

the rutland Water ospreys By Tim Mackrill, with Tim Appleton and Helen McIntyre Photos and illustrations by John Wright Bloomsbury, 2013, HB, £20 BW Bookshop price £17.99 (see page 82)

Bird Watching editor Matt Merritt says: “This book maps all the trials and tribulations faced by the project, not only getting to grips with the complex and sometimes controversial reasons for the translocation, but taking an in-depth look at the volunteers who have made it happen. “The real stars, of course, are the birds themselves, and it’s possible to trace the progress of individuals, closely. This is where the artwork comes into its own, because BW contributor John Wright does a great job of establishing the way different birds can be distinguished in the field. “It makes for a book that’s a pleasure to read, as well a wealth of information of practical value. If you have an interest in Ospreys, it’s a must.” ■ The Rutland Water Ospreys can also be purchased at Rutland Water Visitor Centres and at 33

Go BiRdinG


Walk 3 Northumberland


Low newton

Site Guide John Miles

Rarities not hotspot’s only attraction escribed as one of the most picturesque villages along the Northumberland coast, Low Newton also has everything the birder needs. A long history of good birds and some keen locals makes a visit always worthwhile. August 2012 was no exception, when a Stilt Sandpiper had the listers heading here for this first for the county, but the area provides not just rarities but a good mix of local birds including loafing terns (Sandwich, Little, Arctic and Common all possible, plus look for Roseate). Waders are never far away with Redshank, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover breeding, while Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone are present most of the year. Spring and autumn can be full of mixed birds from waders, like Pectoral, Curlew, Wood and Green Sandpiper, to Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit or even Jack Snipe. but wait till you get in the bushes for potential Yellow-browed, Barred, Pallas’s and Icterine Warbler. Wryneck, Redbreasted Flycatcher, Firecrest, Turtle Dove

Arterra Picture Library (Alamy)


Little Tern

and Siberian Chiffchaff have all been found. Buntings like Lapland,Snow and Little have turned up as well as Water and Richard’s Pipit, Pallid Swift and Red-rumped Swallow. Out to sea you may be lucky to spot rare seabirds like Sooty and Balearic Shearwater, Storm Petrel and Sabine’s Gull. n As we went to press, a Collared Flycatcher was the latest rarity to grace Low Newton. John Miles

Grid ref: NU 239 347. Postcode: NE66 3EL. How to get there: From the south there are a mixture of small roads once you come off the A1 at Alnwick. Both the B1340 and the B1339 take you towards Newton. When approaching Newton you turn right for Low Newton. From the north the B6347 turning off at South Charlton is a good run. Where to park: There is a pay and display car park before the village. Free parking is limited before this point. Expect crowds in full summer. Distance and time: You can make a circular walk by using the sands to get past the scrub. The maximum distance will be around 3km, taking two or three hours. Terrain: The paths are sandy with the dunes and beach soft. Best to use stout footwear. accessibility: Year-round walk. Facilities: Everything you need is in nearby Seahouses. Public transport: Buses from Newcastle (501) or Berwick to Beadnell. Trains stop at Berwick on Tweed www.fixmytransport. com/routes/north-east/501-bus Traveline 0870 608 2608. Sites nearby: Go Birdings: Long Nanny (November 2008), Beadnell (August 2000), Seahouses (February 2010). County recorder: Tim Dean, 2 Knocklaw Park, Rothbury, Northumberland NE65 7PW, 01669 621 460, email: t.r.dean@ Maps: OS Explorer 340, OS Landranger 75.

An OS map will show you the different habitats to explore, you supply the patience.

Ordnance Survey mapping © Crown Copyright Media 037/13

1 2 1 3

2 4 5

Alnwick 10m Þ

56 Bird Watching 2013

Park in the pay car park at the top of the village. There is no parking beyond here. Walk down the hill checking the rocks in the bay as you go. This is a great place for loafing terns and gulls, with a mixture of waders as well. Try a seawatch – you may well be surprised! A flash after the village has been ideal for catching migrant waders in the past. Look out for wagtails and pipits. Walk down the track past the National Trust’s Warden’s house to the hide overlooking the pool on the nature reserve. A wide variety of species have been found here, from phalaropes to gulls. Check the scrub for passage warblers and flycatchers. Here more waders, gulls and terns can be added.

3 4 5

Go BiRdinG


Walk 4 Co. antrim


Rathlin island

Site Guide Derek Polley

A spring or summer walk to Rue Point

Ordnance Survey mapping Š Crown Copyright Media 037/13

ost visitors to Rathlin go to the West Light and the RSPB reserve to see the large concentrations of seabirds. For a different island experience and a chance to see the other RSPB reserve on the island at Roonivoolin, avoid the rush for the Puffin bus and head east along the shore, past the Kelp House and swing up onto the road to Rue Point. You will very quickly be on your own and able to appreciate why visitors return again and again to Rathlin Island. At Ally Lough there is a waymarked path off the road which goes across farmland to the cliffs. This path loops back to the road close to Rue Point. It can be walked either way but it is probably easier to join it at the Rue Point end as it can be difficult to find the way out from the cliffs. Rue Point itself gives magnificent views towards Fair Head and the chance of passing seabirds. With luck you will see Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Puffins, as well as amazing coastal views. Derek Polley

Nigel Pye (Alamy)



Postcode: BT54 6BT. How to get there: Ferry from Ballycastle to Rathlin. Timetable available online at Where to park: Ballycastle Harbour has a large car-park. Distance and time: About three miles from the ferry to Rue Point. Allow at least three hours to allow for the Craigmacagan loop and return. Terrain: Road, then beaten path through fields and along the cliff. accessibility: Open at all times. Facilities: Toilets and refreshments around the harbour. Public transport: None. Sites nearby: Causeway Coast. Organisations: RSPB (NI), Northern Ireland Headquarters, The RSPB, Belvoir Park Forest, Belfast BT8 4QT, 028 9049 1547, Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association (NIBA), George Gordon, 2 Brooklyn Avenue, Bangor, Co. Down, Northern Ireland BT20 5RB, 028 9145 5763, gordon@ballyholme2. Blog with daily updates on rare birds at: Northern Ireland Ornithologists Club (NIOC), C Gillespie, 4 Demesne Gate, Saintfield, Co Down BT24 7BE, 028 97519371, Maps: OSNI Sheet 5 is 1:50000 but there is a better 1:25000 map available for the Causeway Coast, and Rathlin is covered as part of that.

An OS map will show you the different habitats to explore, you supply the patience.

1 2 3

2 1

3 6

4 5

Seawatch from the ferry for auks, gulls, shearwaters, Gannet and skuas. Check harbour for Ringed Plover, Eider and Black Guillemot. The stony beach is the best place to see seals and waders. Moorhen, Mallard, Coot and Little Grebe on Craigmacagan Lough. Linnet, Stonechat, Buzzard, Swallows and martins in the surrounding farmland. At Ushet Lough, check all black birds in case Choughs are feeding in the area. Check the fields at Rue Point for finches and buntings. Waders breed on the beaches and anything can fly past. Gannet and auks offshore, Chough, Peregrine, Buzzard and Raven over the cliffs. Linnet, Stonechat and Reed Bunting in the rough grazing areas.

4 5 6 57

s er il 3 ff nt 01 ed l o u t 2 ifi Al lid us ec va ug sp A ss 31 nle u

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, Brian Sullivan Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-15740-5, PB, £19.95 Bird Watching Bookshop price £16.95, if you quote BW-DT2 When it appeared a couple of years ago, the Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds caused a major stir in the birdwatching world. Rather than the traditional ID guide format of individual colour plates, facing a species account and ID notes, it placed numerous photos of each species within a two-page photographic diorama. The aim was to make identification easier by showing the birds in lifelike poses, the way you’re likely to see them in the field. It was the sort of approach that was always going to divide opinion, with birders seeming to either love it or hate it, and at first glance there’s no reason to expect that to change with this comprehensive survey of North America’s 34 diurnal birds of prey. Possibly because, this time, there’s no need to include quite as much in each two-page spread, it actually seems to work rather better this time (and I found a lot to admire in the original book). There’s still plenty of variety, with each species shown in a full range of plumages, and it really comes into its own where flight views are concerned. Again, that takes full account of how you’re actually likely to see raptors much of the time, and this is as good as any book I’ve ever seen for getting you used to wing and tail shapes and plumage patterns – above all, it reminds you that each species is capable of having more than one obvious silhouette, depending on the situation. That’s particularly effective when you’re looking at the migratory species, of which you might see dozens at a time, and it reminds you that, in vast, empty skies, size often isn’t the most valuable factor to consider when identifying a bird. There are excellent species accounts in the second half of the book, and notes on each photo, making it an invaluable



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Scilly Birding: Joining the Madding Crowd

Eagle Island

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BOOKS ID resource (despite that, it’s far from being a hefty volume). Of course, we’re talking North American birds here, so there’s not a huge amount of immediate crossover for purely European birdwatchers, although the Goshawk coverage is thoroughly illuminating – and very useful for anyone who thinks they might confuse one with a Sparrowhawk. But for those of us who have never experienced it, it’s a reminder that North American raptor migration is one of the great spectacles of the natural world, making it a good book to have on your shelves for inspiration and browsing for pleasure, as well as for practical use. The big question is whether this really is the future of field guides, and in particular whether any publisher is likely to do the same for European birds any time soon. Personally, I’d love to see it happen. Not that I’d discard my Collins Guide, just that as far as I can see, the more options you have to help you make those really tricky ID calls, the better. So, I can imagine using this type of book to complement a traditional field guide and the text-only approach taken by the initially forbidding but extremely useful Advanced Bird ID Guide – in the meantime, this is a highly enjoyable way of getting to know some of the world’s most memorable birds. Matt Merritt

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The best rare birds seen in Britain in April

uk bird sightings RARity Round-up by Lee evAns

Delayed spring brings surge of migrants

lthough winter continued well into April, summer did finally arrive in the third week and migration commenced, albeit three weeks late for the majority of species, even Chiffchaffs. There was a flurry of activity at this time, with a whole host of Iberian overshoots and bolstering the annual list by 49 species to a respectable 332 at the month end. Bird of the month was a female Rock Thrush at Kilnsea (East Yorkshire) on 25th-26th – the first truly twitchable since May 1995. Runner-up this month went to another rarity well overdue a twitch – a male Eastern Subalpine Warbler at Landguard NR (Suffolk) on 26th-27th, showing down to just a few feet over its two days. So now for a summary of April’s best bits. Paul Baxter chartered the Gemini Explorer to


census White-billed Divers wintering off of the Aberdeenshire, and his team located no fewer than 13 birds offshore of Portsoy Harbour mid-month. More were to come, with perhaps nine additional birds between Buckie and Sandend at the end of the month. Is this a hitherto unknown Scottish wintering population or a result of this year’s unusually late spring? The long-staying Orkney adult also remained all month on South Ronaldsay, with up to nine different individuals being noted on Lewis (Outer Hebrides) offshore of Skigersta and neighbouring bays. The male Pied-billed Grebe continued to call for a partner east of Ashcott Corner at Ham Walls RSPB (Somerset) until at least the end of the month. The first Night Heron of the spring put in

About Lee evAns Lee evans is the uK’s most well-known and fanatical ‘twitcher’, having recorded 574 species in britain and ireland, 857 in the wider Western palearctic and 386 in just one calendar year in the uK; he also set up the british birding Association and uK400 Club and has written more than 25 books including the acclaimed Rare birds in britain 1800-1990 and ultimate site Guide. For more details, go to

an appearance in south Devon from 22nd, while Cattle Egrets included a returning bird to Hillsborough (Co. Down) and an overshoot in Kent from 25th. The majority of Great White Egrets departed south or east to breeding haunts in Brittany or the Netherlands, with a nucleus of those remaining on the Somerset Levels. The first Purple Herons arrived from 23rd, with five occurring by the month’s end but with none twitchable. A number of White Storks appeared on cue, but most were considered to be of unknown origin Just one Glossy Ibis made it into April – that present for nearly two years at Marloes Mere in Pembrokeshire – although the Warningcamp (Sussex) bird on 14th-16th was almost certainly the Hampshire bird relocating. As with the previous month, rare wildfowl lingered well into the month, with Cackling Geese (all hutchinsii) in at least six localities, Snow Geese in three, and Red-breasted Geese at Farlington Marshes (Hampshire) until 5th (and consequently at Oare Marshes NR, Kent, next day) and in SW Scotland near Southerness Point (Dumfries-shire) to 12th. The drake American Black Duck 87

David Carr

lAte stArters

Female rock thrush, kilnsea, east Yorkshire, 26 April

ukbs RARiTy RoUnDUp survived on Achill Island on the Mullet Peninsular (Co. Mayo) until at least 19th with four long-staying drake American Wigeons being supplemented by three fresh arrivals (Cheshire, Herefordshire and Clyde) during the month. Blue-winged Teals remained at Threave (Dumfries & Galloway) and Ballylongford (Co. Kerry) early in the month while excitement surrounded a drake Baikal Teal of unknown origin that arrived with two Wigeon at Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire) on 15th. Typically, it was nowhere to be found the following day, and was likely

to be the bird seen in the Netherlands and Germany later in April and in early May. Probably a natural vagrant and likely to be that bird briefly at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford). Ferruginous Ducks appeared at Otmoor RSPB (Oxfordshire) until 7th and at Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk) from 27th, while there was no shortage of Lesser Scaups, with up to nine recorded in April. Ring-necked Ducks likewise were numerous, with drake King Eiders on Whalsay (Shetland) and on the Ythan Estuary (Aberdeenshire), Surf Scoters in double figures and the dapper drake Harlequin Duck on North Uist red-flanked bluetail, horsey, norfolk, April

Kevin Du Rose

eastern subalpine Warbler, landguard, suffolk, 27 April

Simon Knight

pHotoGRApHeRs Jim Almond Rich Andrews paul brewster david Carr Graham Catley Kevin du Rose Hugh Harrop simon Knight John Malloy susan sammons

88 Bird Watching 2013

Can’t find your patch? If you’d like to cover an area that isn’t currently covered, please email matthew.merritt@ or telephone Matt Merritt on 01733 468536 taken a great shot? If you’ve taken a photo of a rare or scarce bird in the last month, send it to mike.weedon@ – please include ‘UKBS’ in the subject line

territory until 25th. Norfolk’s juvenile White-tailed Eagle moved to Lincolnshire on 19th-20th March before drifting back to east Norfolk and the Suffolk coast from 1st-7th April, while three or four Black Kites were reported. A fabulous male Pallid Harrier was photographed in Surrey at Papercourt Water Meadows on 31st March to be followed by another (or the same) male at Forfar Loch (Angus) on 19th and a long-staying juvenile on Skomer Island (Pembrokeshire) – incidentally the first confirmed for Wales – from 23rd-31st, the latter being joined by a female Montagu’s Harrier from 25th. The first Honey Buzzards were reported from Landguard (Suffolk) on 29th, while a female Red-footed Falcon on St Martin’s (Scilly) from 25th was unexpected with the weather being so inclement. Very few Corn Crakes had arrived by the month’s end but one in East Sussex at Beachy Head on 22nd showed well to admirers, while late April revealed the presence of just one surviving cock Lady Amherst’s Pheasant in Bedfordshire. A Baillon’s Crake was found freshly dead along the Canoe Trail at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs) on 17th, while Co. Galway’s overwintering American Coot was last seen at Murloch on 8th. A male Great Bustard seen in Suffolk and Essex was thought to be one of five at large from the reintroduction scheme on Salisbury Plain (Wiltshire). A pair of Black-winged Stilts moved from Goldcliff Pools (Gwent) on 26th to Ham Wall RSPB (Somerset) next day, giving rise to repeat happenings of spring 2012. Meanwhile, Stone-curlews appeared at a number of sites and concern was made for their welfare after six or more birds were found dead after struggling to survive in the freezing temperatures and parched ground. Lightning struck twice for Gavin Thomas when, incredibly, he located a Killdeer in Lancashire at Alston Wetlands on 7th-8th April, presumably the same bird he had earlier found in Ireland at Killybegs Harbour (Co. Donegal) on Good Friday 29th March! Kentish Plovers remained at Ferrybridge (Dorset) and Rye Harbour NR (East Sussex) until 1st and 6th respectively, with further arrivals at Old Hall Marshes (Essex) on 7th and Pegwell Bay (Kent) on 8th. A firstsummer American Golden Plover was in SE Ireland at Kilcoole (Co. Wicklow) from 28th-31st with the overwintering Lesser Yellowlegs on the River Tamar at Ernesettle Creek, Plymouth (South Devon) until late in the month and Long-billed Dowitchers in Gwent and in north Lincolnshire until at least mid-April. A ‘new’ one arrived at the Butt of Lewis at for a brief stay on 29th. For the second spring running, Bonaparte’s Gulls have appeared in good numbers, including an adult in full breeding plumage at Theale Moatlands Pit (Berkshire) for a few

Devon on 16th being followed by five or six more by the month’s end, a few migrant Richard’s Pipits and a report or two of Citrine Wagtails, including a female at Kelling Water Meadows and Cley NWT (Norfolk) on 25th and a male briefly at Spurn Point (East Yorks) on 30th. With easterly winds prevailing from mid-March through mid-April, it was no surprise to see 13 or so White-spotted Bluethroats appear, but surprise was felt on 14th when a female Red-flanked Bluetail appeared at Horsey (Norfolk), showing well throughout the day. Norfolk now leads the league table for this once highly sought-after Sibe, and spring records are becoming increasingly regular. The singing male Pallas’s Leaf Warbler on the River Blackwater (Hampshire/Dorset border) remained until at least mid-April although spring-returning warblers in general were in short supply and up to three weeks later than usual in some species. This

John Malloy

little bunting, elba Park, durham, April

Kevin Du Rose

hours on 26th and others in Avon and in South Devon. Likewise, Ring-billed Gulls were unusually numerous, with a twitchable first-year in Leicestershire at Melton Country Park from 21st-31st. Co. Galway’s Forster’s Tern survived into another month, while an early Caspian Tern was reported north offshore of Spurn Point (East Yorks) on 25th. A Whiskered Tern or two also appeared towards the end of April visiting several sites in Somerset and Avon during 21st-26th. The immature male Snowy Owl continued to inhabit the Cairngorm Plateau in Badenoch and Strathspey at Ben Macdui and Sneachda all month, while the first of three or four Alpine Swifts appeared from 14th. A Pallid Swift was also identified, frequenting St Mary’s (Scilly) from at least 16th-31st with 15 Hoopoes noted, a very early Bee-eater at Condover Industrial Estate, near Shrewsbury (Salop), on 29th and five early Wrynecks. Red-rumped Swallows typically arrived as the wind went southerly, the first in South

First-summer ring-billed gull, Melton CP, leicestershire, April

Graham Catley

baikal teal, Flamborough head, east Yorkshire, 15 April

paul Brewster

Pied-billed grebe, ham Wall rsPb, somerset, 30 March

was somewhat offset by the arrival of Saharan winds mid-month, when a scattering of Western Subalpine Warblers arrived. A Western Bonelli’s Warbler at Church Norton, Pagham Harbour (West Sussex) on 19th-20th was particularly popular, as were singing male Iberian Chiffchaffs on Scilly and elsewhere. The Penduline Tit remained at Stodmarsh (Kent) until at least 8th April, with Woodchat Shrikes arriving at a number of localities and eventually totalling 13 individuals, predominantly in the south-west from 15th, while Rose-coloured Starlings remained at Exminster (Devon) until 14th and at Orford (Suffolk) from 25th-29th. A number of Golden Orioles made it to the south-west towards the end of the month, including a nice male at Pennington Marshes (Hampshire), with 15 or so Serins occurring briefly (mainly flyovers) and a popular Little Bunting at Houghton-le-Spring (Co. Durham) from 8th-21st. 89

leTTers Have your say and share your stories Cormorant reply

I enjoyed Ian Swannack’s letter (May 2013) from the fisherman’s perspective, which touched on the controversial Cormorant that many deem to be indestructible. However, the chief threat to the Cormorant comes from human persecution. Conflict – both real and perceived – with angling interests continues (some refer to it as ‘the Black Death’), and Cormorants can now be legally shot under license. Such laws are hard to monitor and it is likely that many more are killed illegally. Although traditionally associated with coasts and estuaries, as Ian implied, the adaptable Cormorant is actually becoming increasingly common on lakes and rivers many kilometres from the sea, especially in winter. One credible theory blames the depletion of local fish stocks and marine pollution. Since 2001, the UK Grey Heron population has been in a shallow decline, to which recent colder winters may have contributed, but I doubt that the Cormorant has had a hand in that too as Ian suggests. As is often the case, if you look back far enough, it is usually us who are to blame. Ed Hutchings, email

not so little owl

I thought I would send in these photos of an escaped Eagle Owl that I found in my back garden in Easington Lane, Tyne & Wear. A couple from Seaham Owl Sanctuary came over to see if they could catch her, but she was

too happy eating the chicken she had caught to go to the chick they were swinging around. All the commotion brought out many people from their houses – a great way for neighbours to meet. I also ended up with a house full of children, showing them my collection of owl pellets and getting them interested in wildlife. When I got my copy of Bird Watching last month I had to chuckle at the irony of the main cover line – How to find a Little Owl near you – well I found a really big one instead! Melissa Young, Tyne & Wear

less is more

I’m happy to say that my wife and I discovered birdwatching more than 30 years ago when an unfamiliar small bird visited our bird table. The next step was to purchase an ID book. The bird turned out to be a Siskin so this was the first real tick, following on from Blackbird, Starling, House Sparrow, Blue and Great Tits and Woodpigeon! Our new hobby was born, so off we went, exploring our local woods and parks adding ‘exotics’ such as Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Bullfinch. The next decades saw us visiting most of the British Isles and then on to over 25 countries worldwide. In all this time we have used various ID books for the countries concerned, of course a pair of binoculars, a telescope each and a notebook. Recently, we have indulged in a digital camera. Most of the time

Sending your letters, questions and pictures to Bird Watching has never been easier. Pick from these options: Bird Watching, Media House, Lynchwood, Peterborough PE2 6EA birdwatching@bauermedia. BirdWatchingMag

we carry bins and notebook, we find this is all we require for a good day’s birding. Now it seems that the birders’ uniform has increased from a wax jacket to an entire hiking kit, even for visiting reserves such as our local Minsmere! Increasingly, we have seen people with full hiking rucksacks (what do they carry when you are at most two miles from the car park?) the obligatory red socks with trousers tucked in, boots fit enough for the Himalayas, cameras, scope, bins and now ski poles! Our plea to these people is to relax a little. Because my wife and I don’t conform to this latest craze we are often ignored by the birding ‘elite’ even though we are just as experienced as them. Sometimes, less is more. On a week’s holiday in Menorca, we visited a beach where, shall we say, that the minimal amount of clothing was required. We shared our picnic with an Audouin’s Gull within about 15ft of where we were sitting and we didn’t even need bins, let alone clothes! Enjoy birds wherever you encounter them and leave some of the clutter behind! Tony and Babs Clarke, Suffolk

the next morning, I went outside, to be greeted by a metallic drumming sound – I looked to one of our chimney stacks to see a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on the cowl. I was then able to phone our plumber to cancel his visit and save a large bill! Hugh Wood, Brough, East Yorkshire

drummer drama

Last week, my wife and I were walking around Sprotborough Flash NR, our local reserve, and had seen quite a few birds on the water – Teal, Wigeon, Grey Heron and Cormorant, when my wife pointed out a Buzzard perched in a tree on the far side of the flash. Bordering the water are arable fields, with short early crops, and a couple of Pheasants were feeding.

We have had a lot of heating pipe clanking (or so we thought) these last few days, and despite doing the usual checks ourselves, in desperation, booked a visit from our local plumber. The noise, I joked with my wife, was consistent with a woodpecker’s drumming – she was not impressed! Fortunately, 106 Bird Watching 2013 BirdWatchingMag

Another drummer

On a trip to my local country park, as I parked my car I heard a woodpecker drumming. I scanned a dead tree, but without success. I walked along the path that runs parallel to the local highway and again I heard the drumming, then spotted something on the cover of the street lighting. Yes! There was a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming hard on it. I watched for some time, then walked further along the path, only to see it on the next lamppost and again drumming. Obviously it was marking out its territory and the lamp cover made a great sound box. JK Fisher, Ashford, Middlesex

slippery snack

Suddenly, the Buzzard swooped down into the field, made a lunge forward and flew back to the tree with its prize, a Grass Snake! We have seen Buzzards foraging in ploughed fields for worms and the like, but didn’t think they would take a snake. Haydn & Vivien Rigby, Doncaster

This birding life Jack robinson meets a birding veteran

redpoll result

After reading your article, Have you seen redpolls in your garden... just add niger seed (March 2013), I thought I would write to you to share my experience. I have had three niger seed feeders in my small garden for a few years. Goldfinches are feeding on them by the dozen all day but I had never seen any other birds on the niger seed until three days after reading the above article, when, to my amazement, there were some different birds feeding on the niger seed. I jumped up and grabbed my binoculars, took a good look at the birds and checked them out in my RSPB book. Lo and behold they were Lesser Redpolls, which I had never seen anywhere before, so it was a great time to see them. As I sit and type this, there are six on the feeders now and a couple of Goldfinches. There are at least 10 visiting every day since they found the feeders. A week after first spotting the Lesser Redpolls, I then saw three Siskins feeding on the niger seed too, which again was a first! Keep it up with the excellent magazine. Steve Parker, Nuneaton

birding in a warzone

I am currently serving my fifth operational tour of Afghanistan, but this is the first time I have managed to get the time to do a little birding. The country itself, despite the conflict, is very beautiful in parts and where I am, I have had the treat to see wild Alexandrine Parakeets among other birds which we do not find in the UK. I have a bird feeder up, although I think the birds here are unsure as to how to use it. I have seen a couple of Alpine Swifts flying around and Common Myna are as common, as their name suggests. Laughing Doves and Spotted Doves are also on my Afghanistan list. It’s just a shame I had to see them during war rather than peace. Will Haydon, Afghanistan

great garden bird

This Redstart paid a visit to our garden on 20 April. I managed to get several snaps, as it stayed around for about an hour or two, feeding up on insects before moving on. It’s the first time we’ve been able to view such a beautiful bird while on migration – and in the comfort of our own kitchen! It really kickstarted spring for us – and a trip out later that day was rewarded with a field of Wheatears, plus a brief but stunning view of a Yellow Wagtail – sadly not long enough to capture an image. There’s always next time! Eric Finch & David Edwards, Warrington

Wow moments

I am putting together my fifth birdwatching article for the Derby Telegraph, and I would be grateful if Bird Watching readers could give me some help. The subject is simple – I am looking for personal experiences with birdlife that can just be described as a ‘wow’ moment, that moment when something happened that made you think ‘wow’. It may be the moment on the Farne Islands when an Arctic Tern perched on your head, or the Robin that walked into your kitchen and start feeding from the dog’s bowl! The occasions should be confined to the UK, do not have to be lengthy, and you can send more than one. Please e-mail any contributions to and just put WOW in the subject box. Add your initials and town, and rest assured that any memories that get published will be kept confidential, credited with no more than say “PB of Bristol”. Thank you. I look foward to reading your memories. David Bennett, email

Long before Old Joe had reached his three score years and 10, birders were deferring to him as if he was some great Methuselah figure. Many thought the age-related sobriquet was something to do with his wrinkled, leathery face, eroded by a combination of rolling tobacco smoke and sunshine into a craggy, topographical map of some distant desert region, but life had not just been tough on Old Joe’s skin. All his hair had departed in his 20s and each and every tooth bade farewell before he was 40. Diabetes and circulatory problems had deprived wizened legs of ten gangrenous toes in later years so that he had become something of a reclusive figure trapped in a small cottage with his little Parson’s Jack Russell. Ill health, however, had not robbed Old Joe of his sage counsel or gimlet eye. I never had the privilege of birding with him but through his expert tutelage a legion of excellent field birders were cast. Sitting across a cluttered kitchen table and listening to the Gospel of Birdwatching according to Old Joe, preached by him from the frustrating discomfort of a wheelchair rather than out on a windswept migration point or under a woodland canopy, I realise how much I missed an opportunity to be educated in the finer points of birding from one of its greatest exponents. I have my dad and the ridiculous culture of political correctness to blame. You see Old Joe lived alone and, back in the early 80s, the notion of a 40-year-old confirmed bachelor taking teenagers on Sunday trips to local reservoirs or RSPB reserves was too much for a suspicious dinosaur like my Father. He only saw ulterior motives where Old Joe wanted to ensure his disciplines and skills were handed on to future generations. Dad forbade me from seeing Old Joe and, hence, I lost out on top class mentoring while my friends were given a birding master class that made them skilled practitioners in the

finer arts of wader, warbler and raptor identification and brilliant aural fieldsmen. Thirty years on, one of those young disciples, now an eminent zoologist with a string of letters after his name, suggested that I should contact Old Joe, not only to give him some company but also continue my birding education. “The door’s open. Come in and pour yourself a cuppa,” Old Joe shouted in a broad Norfolk burr. “Pour me one, too... I side-stepped a pile of books and then had to clamber over a box marked “trip reports” before I finally got to the kettle. Old Joe looked at me and chuckled. “Know what you’re thinking, boy: this cottage has not been tidied up since Wrynecks were nesting in the old orchard ‘cross the way. You’ be wrong, tho’. There ain’t a spot of dust in the place. You could eat off the floor.” I instinctively looked down. Amid the crates and boxes, the floor glistened like the plumage of a Kingfisher. “These ol’ boxes ain’t rubbish, mind. They’re my treasure. Go on, open one up...” Old Joe nodded to one marked “notebooks”. I looked inside and it was brimming with small, compact notebooks of a particular brand made famous by Ernest Hemingway. There must have been 200 at least. Instinctively, I opened one and flicked through the pages, impressed by the beautiful copperplate handwriting. Even more impressive were the lists of birds and field sketches. “Every sighting I ever made,” said Joe. “Tens of thousands, most probably hundreds of thousands of birds. Each one is a memory of wonderful days doin’ what I love best. An’ guess what? If yer ol’ man had let me take you out when you were a kid, you’d have a collection of notebooks like this, too. Then one day, when your legs ain’t too good and yer eyes are failing, you’ll be able to sit back with a cuppa and remember how it was. The most important thing I tell any birder is invest in memories.” 107

Bird Watching June 2013  

The June issue of Bird Watching magazine