Friday, 29 July 2005

Local patches

Over the years I've visited a number of "local patches" on a regular basis and whilst never finding anything particularly rare have enjoyed some good birding. Below are a few notes about some of these patches with more photos to follow in due course.

Grove Mill, Watford, Hertfordshire, England Map Annotated species list

This site is the first area of countryside you get to on the west of Watford and lies adjacent to the Grand Union canal. It is part of the Grove Estate and the main interest is various large ponds which are part of the newly landscaped golf course. I started visiting regularly in 2002, logging migrants for BTO's "Migration Watch" and watching the new ponds. Disturbance due to work on the estate limited numbers of birds but visiting waders included Green and Common Sandpipers and Ringed Plover. A single Little Grebe was resident and range of waterfowl bred around the pools (Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen) along with Grey Wagtail and Sedge Warbler. Other ducks included Shovelers and Gadwall, whilst Hobby and Kingfisher were also seen.

In May 2003 an interesting interaction was observed with an intruding pair of Mute Swans driving the resident pair (female depicted below) from the area and possibly killing all their young - more details in species list.

Also in spring 2003 Little Grebe numbers increased to two pairs and, with territorial birds, breeding was suspected for Tufted Duck, Kingfisher, Sedge Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch and Reed Bunting. By the end of August was able to confirm breeding of Little Grebe and Reed Bunting and 3 Kingfishers were seen together suggesting that they too had bred successfully somewhere locally.

From late August into September both Green and Common Sandpipers were again recorded regularly on the large pool.

At the year end the 6 Little Grebes were still present on the canal loop adjacent to the large pool with Common Snipe back on the island.

In spring 2004 a Great Crested Grebe arrived and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen.

The best "non-bird" creature I've seen at this site was a grass snake swimming across the canal.

A few of my bird pictures from the area are shown below - please click on thumbnails for larger versions (Little Grebe; Grey Heron; Cormorant & "Victoria" the Mute Swan; Shovelers & Mallard; Green and Common Sand; Grey Wag & juv female Reed Buntings)...


  

PS - a more detailed site guide for this area is now available on the Herts Bird Club webpages.

Whippendell Wood, Watford, Hertfordshire, England Map

I undertook a personal survey of this site in spring 2002 by means of dawn visits. I found the expected woodland species: Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, and plenty of Blackcap and Goldcrest. Owls included several Tawnys, with Barn Owls also at another (undisclosed) locality in the neighbourhood. More details are on this linked page.

Hilfield Reservoir, near Watford, Hertfordshire, England Map

I started visiting this HMWT reservoir in 2003 to count the gull roost which can be viewed from the footbridge over the M1. The above image shows less than 25% of the roost. During winter, the roost is dominated by Black-headed Gulls, with over 10000 present, typically accompanied by about 500 Common Gulls, up to 200 Lesser Blackbacks, and up to 75 Herring Gulls and occasional Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull and Great Blackback. The record books show that several thousand Herring Gulls were present in former times (e.g. 7250 on 11/1/69) but it seems that changes in waste disposal practices have forced them to move elsewhere (cf Crow's Nest observations below).

Into the first week of April 2003, numbers of Black-headed and Common Gulls had fallen to single figures, though about 120 large gulls were still present in the roost including at least 30 Herring Gull. It was fascinating to see how the latter species arrived much later in the roost, most coming in from the south, often well after dark!

On 17 January 2004 I took part in the full BTO roost census at the site and we counted nearly 17000 Black-headed Gulls, 2300 Common Gulls, 380 Lesser Blackbacks, and 90 Herring Gulls. I also observed a fine adult Mediterranean Gull on the water prior to the count. These totals suggest that all of my own counts last year had been significant underestimates, though I'd noticed higher numbers of Common Gulls this year.

I followed up these observations with a study of the roost flightpath of the Herring Gulls arriving at Hilfield from the south-east. This is described in full on the linked page here, and downloadable as a pdf here.

Aldenham reservoir

 

The reservoir lies immediately south of Hilfield within Aldenham Country Park. It is a popular location for family days out and rather less attractive for birds, but on my few trips there I've come across Mandarins lurking along the western shore of the lake. The following are pictures taken in October 2003:

 

Loch of Leys, Banchory, Kincardineshire, Scotland Map Annotated species list

Whilst in Banchory, my local patch was the Loch of Leys only a short cycle ride from our house in the north of the village. This is more a bog than an loch and it is now almost possible to walk to the old crannog in the middle. Open water is virtually eliminated by scrub.

The characteristic birds at this site are the Water Rails and Common Buzzards. The former can be heard throughout the summer but almost impossible to see whilst the latter are present year round and very visible. I once made a concerted efforts count the calling Water Rails (April 1990) and concluded that there were at least 15 individuals calling. Reed Buntings also breed in some numbers and I found 18 males together in a neighbouring field the same week. Willow Warblers are also common breeders along with Redpolls and Siskin. Long-tailed Tits and Jays are often seen along the south shore and Common Crossbills and Green Woodpecker occasionally in the wood to the north. Reedbed roosts of Swallow and Starling once numbered over 1000 birds each but I've not been able to count them recently. Gulls gather in nearby fields after visiting the local dump (next section) and can be seen moving to and from the Loch of Skene roost at the ends of the day. There was formerly a Black-headed Gull colony at the site. My best find here was a Fulmar on 5 June 1987 which was somewhat lost nearly 20 miles up the Dee valley from the sea at Aberdeen, and over 10 miles from the nearest coast at Stonehaven; what may well have been the same bird had been seen previously at Milltimber 10 miles east down the Dee valley on 30 May and was subsequently reported about 35 miles further west up the valley at the Linn of Dee, near the heart of the Cairngorms, on 20 June!

Crow's Nest amenity site, Banchory, Kincardineshire, Scotland Map Detailed information

I have watched the gulls at this site for the last 20 years or so since my first interest in birds as a teenager. When I first counted the Herring Gulls on 7/1/88 there were over 4000 present but these days around 1000 is more normal for mid-winter. Great Blackback numbers seem to have shown the opposite trend, with very few in the mid-80's but about 150 present in winter 98/99. Lesser Blackbacks are present in smaller numbers, rarely in mid-winter, and I observed a presumed hybrid LBBxHG on 26/12/98. Only once did I find a white-winged bird amongst them, this being a 2nd-win. Iceland in the nearby dayroost at Maryfield.

In December 2003 numbers had fallen to less than 1000 birds and the manager informed me that "bird scaring" (with falcons) is now used on a daily basis to satisfy demands of SEPA. These birds included only 7% 1st-winters, much lower than averages for the early 1990's of 26% and perhaps to do with the scaring? Also, less than 1% were argentatus-race birds, including the adult and 4th-win individuals shown below - quite a low number, cf the paper of study of Coulson et al. 135 Carrion Crows were accompanied by 5 Hooded-Carrion hybrids and 3 pure-bred Hoodies - high counts for NE Scotland.

A more detailed description of the trends in large gulls numbers in this area is now included in this linked document.

Monday, 11 July 2005

Trip report - California, 25-28 June, 4-7 July 2005



Introduction

This is a brief summary of birds recorded on our first visit to the West Coast of the United States. The purpose of the trip was primarily to visit my brother-in-law and family in San Jose, and birds were seen along the way, rather than vice versa! Unlike the Nigeria bird trip report on this site there is no need for general info on travelling to the area, or its birds, so only a few brief highlights are mentioned.

Flights and preparation

We flew from Edinburgh via LHR and Calgary on Air Canada. Three species were noted at Calgary airport - Red-tailed Hawk, Black-billed Magpie and a single hirundine.

Bird information

Useful info on birding in the Bay area is here: San Francisco Bay bird observatory. A relevant summer trip report is here.

Bird records

On 25 June we did some shopping taking us south to Gilroy. At least 10 Turkey Vultures were logged along the valley south (HW101), along with Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels.

On 26 June we visited San Francisco and did the Bay tour past Alcatraz to the Golden Gate bridge; highlights were up to 20 Brown Pelicans over and fishing near the bridge, Snowy Egret over Alcatraz island, abundant Western Gulls* both along the coast (roof-nesters), following the boat and a large feeding flock at the tide surge under the bridge, Brandt's, Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants, with large feeding flocks also under the bridge; several Common and Pigeon Guillemots were feeding on the sea. A single orange-billed tern distantly was presumably Caspian and this species was definitely seen over San Francisco Bay from HW101 near San Mateo, together with more numerous Forster's Terns. A group of 40 Cliff Swallows were seen feeding beside HW101, together with other hirundines and a few White-throated Swifts.

On 27 June we ventured out to Yosemite National Park, crossing the San Joaquin Valley and entering the Sierra Nevada. As co-driver I was able to make a few bird observations en route.

Most noticable were raptors, and of these Turkey Vulture and Rough-legged Hawk were most prominent, without about 20 individuals of each seen, in groups of up to 3. A male Northern Harrier quartering fields near the junction of HW59 and HW152E, at Red Top south of Merced, was dive-bombed by a probable Swainson's Hawk. Three or four further Swainson's Hawks were suspected, but ID not confirmed from the speeding car. A couple of American Kestrels were noted and a group of 3 Common Ravens just east of St Luis Reservoir at the HW5 crossing.

In the San Jouquin Valley proper we logged all of Snowy Egret, Great White Egret and Great Blue Heron in flight. Brief Killdeer and Wilson's Phalarope were also seen, with another of the former on the shore of St Luis Reservoir. A group of gulls on a small island at the north-east side of the reservoir were mainly scruffy immature Ring-billed Gulls, but also a presumed third-summer California Gull - with clean beak like an adult but a few dark marks still in tail band, a very pleasing lifer.

Passerines were tricky from the car, but a couple of Northern Mockingbirds were seen on Plainsburg Road in Merced, along with Black-billed Magpie, and an American Robin in Los Banos. Tree Swallows included a group of about 50 near Los Banos. Cliff Swallow was also seen and Violet-green Swallow tentatively identified (wooded valley off HW140 about 10 miles SW of Cathey's Valley). A probable White-headed Woodpecker flew over the road near Cathey's Valley.

In Yosemite Park itself Steller's Jays were prominent, chasing tourist scraps at the main visitor center and elsewhere, and White-headed Woodpeckers were at the campsite. Northern Flicker and Brown-headed Cowbird were also seen. Over 10 White-throated Swifts were seen at various places in the rocky gorges of the Sierra Nevada.

On the way back, 2 Loggerhead Shrikes were seen on the wires over waste ground at Evergreen Commons shopping complex off HW101 in San Jose.

On other days we observed various other species in San Jose, including Great White and Snowy Egrets overhead, Nuttall's Woodpecker (single on a roadside tree by traffic lights on Monterey Highway), Black-chinned* and Anna's Hummingbirds at Santa Palmia and finally a large owl sp. over HW85, near Los Gatos Creek Park, at 22:00hrs on 6/7, which was most likely a Great Horned Owl.

Linked page

* = image formerly on linked page.

Sunday, 10 July 2005

Systematic list - Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, 30 June-3 July 2005



This is the systematic list of species seen on our visits to Coon Rapids Regional Park, Minneapolis, spanning 4 days from the end of June 2005. The site straddles the Mississippi River at the Coon Rapids Dam in northern Minneapolis, Minnesota, see visitor center websites for more details: East Visitor Center and West Visitor Center.

  • Double-crested Cormorant - single upstream 2/7
  • Great Blue Heron - 10+ including juvs, (at least 3 nests)
  • Great White Egret * - 1 West Pond
  • Green Heron - 2 West Pond, 1 NE river branch
  • Canada Goose * - 38 (12 juv) NE river branch, 9 (4 juv) S swamp; one of the latter was distinctly more sturdy than the others in the group, with a very thick neck base, c.f. photos - possibly a maxima race bird, the others being moffitti?
  • Mallard - 8 NE river branch pond 30/6, fb5 West Pond 3/7
  • Wood Duck - single m, West Pond, 3/7
  • Hooded Merganser - pr daily upstream of main dam
  • Common Goldeneye - 1st sum m daily upstream of main dam
  • Osprey * - nest
  • Cooper's Hawk - singles 1,2/7
  • American Kestrel - up to 3, nest
  • Spotted Sandpiper - pr daily, possibly 2 prs
  • Ring-billed Gull - single trout lake, 1/7
  • Feral Pigeon - at least 10, nesting under main dam bridge
  • Mourning Dove - common
  • Chimney Swift - 3+ in evening, 30/6
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird - single, West Visitor Center, 30/6
  • Belted Kingfisher - single, West Pond, 30/6
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker - pr, junction of West River Rd and Russell Ave N, 2,3/7
  • Northern Flicker - pr west river bank, 3 West Pond (5 in total?) 30/6
  • Downy Woodpecker * - at least 2 on 30/6 and 3/7
  • Eastern Phoebe - 4 seen 30/6
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee * - single near W end of main dam, 2/7
  • Great Crested Flycatcher - single East Visitor Center pond, 30/6, single main island 3/7
  • Eastern Kingbird - hunting savannah area, 2,3/7
  • Red-eyed Vireo - single, southern swamp, 2/7
  • Warbling Vireo - single, southern Cotton Trail, 2/7
  • Blue Jay - pr west bank 30/6, 1 3/7
  • American Crow - common
  • Tree Swallow * - at least 8, mainly feeding over river banks
  • Purple Martin - at least 5 over N end of island 30/6
  • Bank Swallow - at least 105 feeding over river 30/6
  • Cliff Swallow * - several daily, nesting under main dam
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow - up to 5, nesting near East Visitor Center
  • Barn Swallow - pr nesting at Pavilion by trout pond
  • Black-capped Chickadee - common
  • White-breasted Nuthatch - singles 30/6, 3/7
  • House Wren * - at least 7 near West Pond; also on east bank
  • Eastern Bluebird - attending nest box behind East Visitor Center
  • Catharus thrush sp. - two singles, probably Veerys
  • American Robin - common
  • Grey Catbird * - common
  • Eurasian Starling - common
  • Cedar Waxwing - 4 on 30/6, 2 on 3/7
  • Yellow Warbler * - common
  • American Redstart - common
  • Song Sparrow * - common
  • Savannah Sparrow - at least one
  • Northern Cardinal - about 5 on the west bank
  • Red-winged Blackbird - numerous at West Pond (10+); also on east bank
  • Common Grackle * - plenty West Pond (5+)
  • Brewer's Blackbird * - present
  • Brown-headed Cowbird - juvs on the dam island; others on east bank
  • Baltimore Oriole - singles West Pond, 30/6 and Cotton Creek, 1/7
  • House Finch - family on dam island
  • American Goldfinch * - common
  • House Sparrow - common

* = image formerly on linked page.

Trip report - Minneapolis, 29 June - 3 July 2005



Introduction

This is a summary of birds recorded at Coon Rapids in Minnesota on our brief visit there in summer 2005. The purpose of the trip was primarily to attend my sister-in-law's wedding in Minneapolis, and birds were seen along the way, rather than vice versa! Unlike the Nigeria bird trip report on this site there is no need for general info on travelling to the area, or its birds, so only a few brief highlights are mentioned.

Flights and preparation

We flew from San Francisco on Delta, via Salt Lake City on the way out and Atlanta on the way back. At Salt Lake City we could see many swans spread out over local lakes as the aircraft came in; in Altanta we disappointingly saw not one bird from the airport terminal in over an hour of observation!

Bird information

Detailed information for the state is available here: The Minnesota Ornithologists' Union. We also got useful information at both the East and West visitor centers in the park, with monthly bird logs available and daily sightings updates, together with help and advice from knowledgeable local staff. Clearly, visiting in mid-summer, we had missed the main warbler passage and were rather early for returning shorebirds - nevertheless, the trip served its purpose as an introduction to the range of interesting and generally colourful passerine residents in the area.

Bird records

Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park (Visitor center info is here: East Visitor Center and West Visitor Center).

This Regional Park straddles the Mississippi River at the Coon Rapids Dam in northern Minneapolis, Minnesota. We visited on 4 dates (30/6-3/7) and spent at least 12 hours in the park on both sides of the river.

On first arriving at the East Visitor Center on 30/6, in very warm and humid conditions, we set off towards the dam and scanned the sandy islands in the downstream side of the NE river branch. Some small brown birds could be seen lurking at the water's edge which looked exciting - but once pinned down these turned out to be House Sparrows, familiar to us from our garden back home in the UK! Thereafter things only got better.

On the upstream pond there was a loafing 1st-sum male Common Goldeneye and a pair of Spotted Sandpiper, and upstream of the main dam there were a pair of Hooded Mergansers, the male apparently also a 1st-sum, i.e. in an eclipse plumage.

At the dam itself there was a large flock of hirundines feeding over the water; this eventually yielded all five expected species of hirundine, though the majority (over 100) were Bank Swallows ("Sand Martin" in the UK). At least 8 Tree Swallows were present, though these tended to feed over the edges of the river and along the river bank. There were a few Cliff Swallows and these were nesting under the dam itself; by the last date juvs were out on the wire fences on the river bank, see photos. Northern Rough-winged Swallow was also breeding, visiting a pipe in the wall under the viewing area nearest the East Visitor Center. A single Barn Swallow was seen in the evening, over the river bank, and a nest was later found under the pavilion by the Cenaiko Trout Lake on the east bank. Finally, a handful of Purple Martins turned up in the evening and fed over the western river branch round the main island, hanging low at the tip of the island itself at times. Chimney Swifts also showed up in the early evening.

On the west side of the river, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was glimpsed at the West Visitor Center. An Osprey was seen over the west river bank and the nest there later seen care of the "Osprey Man" (Paul Fusco) (see photo showing the two juvs).

Following the Cotton Trail on the west bank we caught up with a number of delightful species, including 2 Downy Woodpeckers*, 2 Northern Flickers, Eastern Phoebe, 2 Blue Jays, White-breasted Nuthatch, Grey Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, several Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, Northern Cardinal, and a number of American Goldfinch. A catharus thrush species was seen very briefly, probably a Veery, and an equally fleeting vireo species which was probably Warbling. None of these proved easy to photograph, the only success being a single Downy Woodpecker.

At the West Pond the most prominent species was the noisy Red-winged Blackbird, along with Common Grackles*. Two Green Herons showed themselves and a Belted Kingfisher was seen fishing at the far bank. A party of 3 Northern Flickers perched high in a dead tree on the east bank. Noisy wrens there were later confirmed to be the common House Wren. A stunning Baltimore Oriole was seen.

Back on the east bank, I explored the dam island, were 3 Cedar Waxwings were seen - seeming rather out-of-place in the humid heat to a Brit accustomed to seeing "waxwings" in the depths of winter. One small clearing near the top of the island provided a fine set of Grey Catbird*, American Robin, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart and Song Sparrow, the first-mentioned uttering its plaintive mewing call which gives rise to the species name.

Back at the north river branch dam a Great Crested Flycatcher was observed feeding over the pond and another Green Heron came down to the islands.

On the second trip we focused on the east bank trail. A Cooper's Hawk passed overhead at the mouth of the Coon Creek. At least 3 Great Blue Heron nests were observed at the end of the main island, one containing three well-grown juvs. American Kestrel was also nesting there, with a juv calling for food - I was later informed that they breed inside the metal pylons using holes cut by woodpeckers. Spotted Sandpipers were on the river along the island. A single Ring-billed Gull flew over the Cenaiko Trout Lake. Yellow Warbler*, American Redstart, Baltimore Oriole and American Goldfinch* were again delightful. Savannah Sparrow was logged and one of the numerous Song Sparrows* well photographed.

On the third visit I went down to the swamp area on the west bank, and visited the Cotton Trail and West Pond again. I discovered that the best place to see the latter is from the West River Rd outside the park.

Near the West Visitor Center I met Paul Fusco, the "Osprey man", and got great views of the Osprey* nest through his 80x magnification astronomical telescope. We also saw and heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee* perched briefly in the top of a nearby tree.

In the savannah area (Cotton Trail) an Eastern Kingbird was hunting from the nest boxes and a pair of Northern Cardinals were feeding. A Warbling Vireo was watched for some time but eluded being photographed.

The southern wood yielded Red-eyed Vireo, another Northern Cardinal, several American Robins and the Cooper's Hawk was seen again. A Doubled-crested Cormorant flew up the river. A group of Canada Geese* were on a small pond, one of which was distinctly more sturdy than the others in the group, with a very thick neck base, c.f. photos; I wondered if this might be a maxima race bird, the others being moffitti, c.f. Wilson and Sibley ID articles. Nearby, a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers were found at a nest hole at the junction of West River Rd and Russell Ave N.

At the West Pond blackbirds and grackles were again very evident and a Great White Egret* was seen feeding.

On the final visit I again concentrated on the west bank, seeing many of the same species, including the 3 heron species, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Blue Jay. The pond yielded a Wood Duck which flew off W, and there were at least 7 House Wrens there including 4+ singing birds and a family party with squeaking juvs.

Tipped-off on the location of the Pileated Woodpecker nest tree on the east bank I made a quick visit but found nothing there except a White-breasted Nuthatch. Perhaps the young had flown? A Great Crested Flycatcher was hunting off the riverside trees opposite as I departed.

Elsewhere in Minneapolis

Killdeer chicks at large at the side of the Liquour Mart at 1921 Coon Rapids Blvd (junc with Hanson Blvd NW) on 30/6, adult Broad-winged Hawk over HW694 at Fridley at 17:00hrs on 1/7, male Common Nighthawk hunting over Edinburgh USA golf course, Brooklyn, in the early hours of 3/7, Great White Egret by HW94 at Lowry Avenue on 3/7, repetitive cricket-like call in the hotel car park (at 155 Coon Rapids Blvd) tracked down to a singing Chipping Sparrow on 4/7.

Systematic list for Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park

  • Double-crested Cormorant - single upstream 2/7
  • Great Blue Heron - 10+ including juvs, (at least 3 nests)
  • Great White Egret* - 1 West Pond
  • Green Heron - 2 West Pond, 1 NE river branch
  • Canada Goose* - 38 (12 juv) NE river branch, 9 (4 juv) S swamp; one of the latter was distinctly more sturdy than the others in the group, with a very thick neck base, c.f. photos - possibly a maxima race bird, the others being moffitti?
  • Mallard - 8 NE river branch pond 30/6, fb5 West Pond 3/7
  • Wood Duck - single m, West Pond, 3/7
  • Hooded Merganser - pr daily upstream of main dam
  • Common Goldeneye - 1st sum m daily upstream of main dam
  • Osprey* - nest with 2 juvs
  • Cooper's Hawk - singles 1,2/7
  • American Kestrel - up to 3, nest
  • Spotted Sandpiper - pr daily, possibly 2 prs
  • Ring-billed Gull - single, Cenaiko Trout Lake, 1/7
  • Feral Pigeon - at least 10, nesting under main dam bridge
  • Mourning Dove - common
  • Chimney Swift - 3+ in evening, 30/6
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird - single, West Visitor Center, 30/6
  • Belted Kingfisher - single, West Pond, 30/6
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker - pr at nest-hole, junction of West River Rd and Russell Ave N, 2,3/7
  • Northern Flicker - pr west river bank, 3 West Pond (5 in total?) 30/6
  • Downy Woodpecker* - at least 2 on 30/6 and 3/7
  • Eastern Phoebe - 4 seen 30/6
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee* - single near W end of main dam, 2/7
  • Great Crested Flycatcher - single East Visitor Center pond, 30/6, single main island 3/7
  • Eastern Kingbird - hunting savannah area, 2,3/7
  • Red-eyed Vireo - single, southern swamp, 2/7
  • Warbling Vireo - single, southern Cotton Trail, 2/7
  • Blue Jay - pr west bank 30/6, 1 3/7
  • American Crow - common
  • Tree Swallow* - at least 8, mainly feeding over river banks
  • Purple Martin - at least 5 over N end of island 30/6
  • Bank Swallow - at least 105 feeding over river 30/6
  • Cliff Swallow* - several daily, nesting under main dam
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow - nesting near East Visitor Center
  • Barn Swallow - pr nesting at Pavilion by Cenaiko Trout Lake
  • Black-capped Chickadee - common
  • White-breasted Nuthatch - singles 30/6, 3/7
  • House Wren* - at least 7 near West Pond; also on east bank
  • Eastern Bluebird - attending nest box behind East Visitor Center
  • Catharus thrush sp. - two singles, probably Veerys
  • American Robin - common
  • Grey Catbird* - common
  • Eurasian Starling - common
  • Cedar Waxwing - 4 on 30/6, 2 on 3/7
  • Yellow Warbler* - common
  • American Redstart - common
  • Song Sparrow* - common
  • Savannah Sparrow - at least one
  • Northern Cardinal - about 5 on the west bank
  • Red-winged Blackbird - numerous at West Pond (10+); also on east bank
  • Common Grackle* - plenty West Pond (5+)
  • Brewer's Blackbird* - present
  • Brown-headed Cowbird - juvs on the dam island; others on east bank
  • Baltimore Oriole - singles West Pond, 30/6 and Cotton Creek, 1/7
  • House Finch - family on dam island
  • American Goldfinch* - common
  • House Sparrow - common

We missed Bald Eagle, Common Turkey (present daily with 7 juv in savannah area), 3 Black Tern (3/7) and Pileated Woodpecker.

Linked page

* = image formerly on linked page.

Annotated bird list for Santa Palmia, San Jose, California


This is a list of the species seen from a balcony in the Santa Palmia estate in San Jose, California, between 24 June and 7 July 2005. This is a modern apartment block complex with limited habitat for birds in the courtyard consisting mainly of shrubs and palm trees.

Species which were only seen overhead are marked with an asterisk *.

  1. Snowy Egret (Bubulcus ibis) * - two singles and a couple seen over
  2. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) - regularly hunting over, nest traced to a hole in a large palm nearby, at the base of the leafy section
  3. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) * - group of 10 N over in the evening
  4. Feral Pigeon (Columba livia) - common
  5. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) - common; a nest with two eggs was observed on a metal drainpipe cover nearby
  6. Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) - one or two regularly made rounds of the flowers in the yard; ID was confirmed on seeing the male, but at least two birds were regular, one of which is depicted below (not an adult male)
  7. Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorous) - the most obvious bird in the estate, with a least 5 permanently resident on the small line of palms at the front entrance
  8. Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) - loud squeaking of a juv betrayed the presence of this delightful bird one evening, the adult busily fetching food for it around the yard
  9. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) * - regular in small groups over, max 5
  10. American Robin (Turdus migratorius) - occasional, preferring the larger lawns outside the complex; once squabbling with the Brewer's Blackbirds
  11. Eurasian Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - present
  12. Brewer's Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) - common, in flocks as large as 25 including young juvs
  13. House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) - most permanent resident of the yard, some almost always in sight or hearing, 5+ including young being fed
  14. Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) - regularly heard over and a pair in the "yard" palms one the morning; observed roving the entire estate later one afternoon
  15. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) - regular in the "yard"

    Other species seen locally some of which are probably regularly visible from the complex included:

  16. Great White Egret (Ardea alba) - single S over SE side of town, c. HW82
  17. Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) - seen over dry hillsides to immediate E
  18. Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) - this species was tentatively seen and heard outside the courtyard, and based on call was suspected in the "yard" too
  19. Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii) - single on a roadside tree by traffic lights on Monterey Highway
  20. Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) - a couple on wires over waste ground by the Evergreen Commons shopping area off HW101

Friday, 27 May 2005

Persecution of European birds

Migrant birds have traditionally been killed in large numbers in a number of Mediterranean countries. However, what was once a traditional pastime carried out on a small scale has now escalated to become a major industry, with hunters employing an array of equipment and techniques (like mist nets, tapes lures and "liming" - covering twigs where migrants alight in a sticky glue) to harvest vast numbers of birds. Thus the number of birds caught is increasing year-on-year and is now estimated to be in the region of half a billion individuals in the Mediterranean region. This number represents a significant proportion of the total number of migrants.

One of the most extreme cases is in Malta where it is well known that the authorities make little attempt to enforce hunting laws. Millions of birds are killed on their annual migration through the country, many illegally (cf newspaper articles on Malta Tourist Action website). Whilst the populations of native breeders have been badly hit (last pair of Maltese Falcons shot dead in 1982) it is migrants which use the island which are of most concern. Migrant raptors (bird of prey) rely on thermals from warm ground and cannot easily cross large water bodies. Thus, thousands are channelled over the Maltese islands where they come under indiscriminate fire from shooters. So whilst Ospreys are being conserved and protected in places like Scotland (and recently at Rutland Water in England) they are subsequently shot on their migration to their wintering grounds in Africa.

The Maltese hunters are also renowned for cruelty to birds, with liming used to catch songbirds and birds used as lures often confined in tiny cages. For example, a consignment of 600 greenfinches was recently found dead at the airport, in 4 suitcases, see the Birdlife site.

This quote from the diary of a volunteer at an anti-poaching camp gives a feeling for what goes on there:

"Day three (pm): went to Catona, a suberb of Reggio di Calabria, renowned for its high density of poachers and Mafia activities. Four of us stood in a lay-by, watching the sun set behind Sicily and counting 22 Honey Buzzards flying low and slow towards us ... a hundred shots pierced the air all around us and I felt desolation and unspeakable anger amidst this deafening, relentless nightmare. After seven long minutes we counted just five surviving birds rising up the ridge behind Catona..."

Massacre of Honey Buzzards - purely for sporting purposes - has continued through the early years of the 21st century, despite the fact that Malta is about to enter the EU and has accepted preconditions to do with reducing illegal persecution. For example, on 10 May 2002 Malta witnessed the largest ever recorded migration of honey buzzard with several flocks of 300 seen and an estimated 2000 individuals in total. Maltese hunters opened fire on the migrants indiscriminately across the islands, gunning down hundreds. Dead and injured were found throughout the islands. The police unit charged with law enforcement (the bird is "officially protected") had a single car at its disposal and was clearly overwhelmed in the face of such a widespread problem.

Again in April 2004, large numbers of Honey Buzzards were killed, see this online article.

In May 2005, just after the inspection of the EU Commissioners, there is no change: "A heavy passage of honey buzzards were seen flying inland from the south against the strong northwest wind last Friday (9 May). Some 200 honey buzzards were seen in small parties at Xrobb l-Ghagin and practically all were shot." Overall, this remains an ongoing international disgrace and is totally unacceptable.

Cyprus is perhaps just as bad, and getting worse year on year. Melis Charalambides of the Cyprus Ornithological Society estimated that c. 20 million birds were trapped or shot on the island in 2000. Most of these (c. 12-15 million) are fully protected species. Furthermore, they were killed by-and-large using sophisticated and illegal methods by organised teams of criminals for the local and international delicacy market (estimated to be worth £20 million).

An example of the state-of-affairs there is highlighted by the events reported by two well-known birder-watchers from NE Scotland last year (cf December issue of Bird watching magazine, pp. 15-16 and Scottish Bird News No 61, March 2001). These men received rough treatment and were threatened by hunters while photographing the bird harvest. Thereafter they were questioned by police (who informed them that they liked to eat the trapped migrants!), not about the illegal trapping, but over allegations that they were 'spying' and their hotel room was searched. This followed another birder being beaten up and a bomb attack on a bird hide.

The fact of the matter is that many in authority are clearly in collusion with the powerful hunting lobby, with support/financial backing of the hunting industry. Species such as blackcaps can fetch up to £1.50 each for the pot, so bird harvesting is big business. From a legal point of view, experience has shown that hunting legislation is barely worth the paper it is written on. Even France has openly flouted the EU Birds Directive by extending the hunting season two months more than advised, ignoring a petition signed by more than 2 million people which was supported by 520+ conservation groups. In other EU countries, such as Italy, the hunting lobby are putting forward declarations via MEP's (e.g. the Ebner Declaration) in attempts to weaken the protection given to migratory birds.

Thus there are no simple answers to these issues. Some conservationists are campaigning on the basis that the entry of Cyprus and Malta to the EU should be blocked unless they introduce and enforce effective hunting laws, whilst others maintain the opposite reasoning that there will be a great improvement if they do join and become subject to the EU laws. Tourism boycotts are generally not supported by conservation bodies as most believe that the revenue earning potential from eco-tourists could be one of the most effective levers for change. Thus they encourage people to travel, making clear to locals why they have come. Perhaps the best long-term hope is education programmes for young people.

European campaigns are being mounted to apply pressure on the relevant authorities. To read more information and/or join these campaigns, see for instance the Proact website, Malta Tourist Action website, the Italian League for Bird Preservation and the RSPB Cyprus information page. In addition, the "Keep birds free" campaign against the illegal trade in wild birds in East Africa is now being run by Proact associates.

Nearer to home, rare and beautiful birds of prey are being poisoned in the Scottish mountains by keepers intent on boosting the game bag. I myself have seen poisoned eggs laid out and dead birds (normally crows) which have suffered the consequences, but securing proof of wrong-doing in such cases is extremely difficult. In rare cases where convictions are brought, penalties are generally insignificant (e.g. a fine of £300 for possession of 1000 clutches of eggs including golden eagle and osprey). The Scottish Ornithologists' Club, of which I am a member, is one organisation campaigning for the effective protection of our native birds of prey. The Scottish Bird News magazine reports poisoning incidents, including dozens of poisoned birds of prey annually, e.g. 4 red kites in both 1997 and 1998 and three golden eagles in 1999. The latest issue reports 5 kites poisoned on or next to sporting estates in the last 12 months (up to June 2001). One successful prosecution is also reported, that of Douglas Ross, a gamekeeper at Craigmill, Knockando estate who was videoed shooting a fledgling hen harrier near its nest. Ross was fined £2000 and allowed to keep his job. It is to be hoped that tougher penalties will be introduced.

Another major issue here is 'egg-collecting'. In 1999 there were 231 confirmed nest robberies, with most being egg robberies. These included four golden eagles, three common scoters, two ospreys, 57 little terns, 33 avocets, 14 peregrines, two Slavonian grebes, and one each of merlin, hen harrier, red kite, stone-curlew and chough. More information about these matters and other issuing regarding persceution of wild birds is given on the RSPB website.

Saturday, 30 April 2005

Waxwings in the Banchory area

Some observations for 1985-2005

Waxwings in NE Banchory, Kincardineshire, Scotland

I recently made an analysis of our Waxwing records in NE Banchory between 1985 and 2005 (birds also occured in earlier years but I made no systematic records). A total of about 550 birds-days were recorded distributed over 14 out of the 21 years.

Strong regional correlation is shown with over 10 birds logged in Banchory in every year when peak flock size exceeded 100 in the North-East Scotland Bird Report (NESBR) region whilst in every year with regional peak flock size size below 10 no birds were seen. In the other years (10-100 peak flock size regionally) normally 1-10 birds were seen in Banchory. The ratio of local to regional peak flock size is fairly consistent at around 15%.

Most birds have occurred in Banchory in December with a linear decrease through to April (latest date being 23 April 1985). No birds have been seen in October whilst birds arrived in November for the first time in 2004.

Birds have most often been found feeding on cotoneaster berries (frequency 65%), with gean, rowan, apples, hawthorn and rosehip visited in decreasing frequency. Rowan may actually be preferred but berries tend to be exhausted by the time the birds arrive, as are geans (cherries). Amongst the cotoneaster varieties, Cot. bullatus seems to be most favoured, followed by the taller Cot. simondsii and the hedge-forming Cot. horizontalis. The latter is the most common in the area, mainly on Raemoir Road, and has normally been the major food source exploited.

Colour-ringed birds were seen in 1987 and total of 8 amongst a flock of 36 birds in late January 2005 as shown here.

All were ringed locally by the Grampian Ringing Group, in Aberdeen (4), Aboyne (3) and Inverurie (1). All of the Aberdeen-ringed birds had also been seen subsequently in other places on Deeside, i.e. Aboyne (3) and Westhill (1). All but the Inverurie bird had been rung on or after 24 December 2004.

Study data is summarised in this linked spreadsheet.

Monday, 3 January 2005

Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) from central London in the Hilfield Park Reservoir gull roost, Hertfordshire


Summary

Observations of Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) arrival in the large gull roost at Hilfield Park Reservoir in Hertfordshire during 2004 suggested that a substantial proportion of the birds were arriving from a source well to the south-east. It was hypothesised that this was central London, near Westminster, and by means of observations from locations including Deacons Hill (Borehamwood), Featherstone Hill (Mill Hill), Woodfield Park (Brent Reservoir), Parliament Hill (Hampstead Heath), Hampstead Parish Church (Hampstead) and Primrose Hill (Camden) this roost flight-path, over Paddington, out through Maida Vale, over Brent Reservoir and up through Colindale, was confirmed. Due to the required longer travel distance (13 miles) and greater ascent (over 100m) these birds tended to arrive relatively late in the roost compared to most other gulls of presumed more local origin. Small numbers of other gull species, in particular Lesser Blackbacks (Larus fuscus) and Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus), were also found to follow the same flight-path out of north-west London, though their ultimate departure points remain uncertain.

Of interest is that fact that at the observation points most distant from the Hilfield roost, particularly Primrose Hill and Westminster but also Hampstead, most gulls, including Herring Gulls, were moving in a transverse direction to/from the major roosts in the Lea Valley at William Girling and King George V Reservoirs. These roosts are more accessible from central London, both in terms of distance and altitude, as are those on the Thames Estuary and the roost at Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir, Walton-on-Thames. It might therefore be deduced that the Herring Gulls coming to Hilfield could be deriving some extra benefit from attending this roost, perhaps in terms of increased security or information exchange with birds from other feeding areas, to justify the extra effort in travelling there. The former reason would also appear to be consistent with the observed steady increase in numbers roosting at Hilfield in recent years and seems most likely. Factors such as these could well apply more generally in motivating Herring Gull attendance at different, and less accessible, roosts, but further much more detailed studies would be required to systematically evaluate the reasons. Considering also the continuing status change since the in-depth research of Hertfordshire’s gulls by Sage in the 1950/60’s and Gladwin in the 1980’s the general need for more extensive new studies of large gull movements in the area is now apparent.

Link to full report (pdf download, 530kB)

Link to earlier roost study (pdf download, 40kB).