Friday 30 December 2011

Brian Unwin loses long battle against cancer - he sadly passed away last night

Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, Brian Unwin was a keen writer for the Press Association and was always keen to get as many stories as possible in about birds and other wildlife. He would talk to me on a weekly basis looking for ideas and breaking news and had hundreds of stories and articles published during his career. He was also an extremely keen and capable birder and living in coastal Whitburn (on the notorious Shearwater Estate) was priveleged to have several rare species visit his garden, including Bluethroat, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Common Rosefinch and Pallas's Leaf Warbler. This sadly was the last time I saw Brian - whilst visiting the area to see the male Chestnut Bunting that Ian Mills had found in his garden.

Brian became ill in 2007 and fought a long battle with cancer. As a consequence, he was forced to retire from the work he loved and was restricted in his movements. Frustratingly, this incapacity kept him away from the Eastern Crowned Warbler, just three miles away from his house.

Brian was the founder of the Durham Bird Club and spent countless hours carrying out Atlas work. He also spent over 30 years working for the 'Northern Echo' writing mainly about nature.

My heartfelt condolescences are sent to his wife Jennifer and family

Lee Evans

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Rare Birds over the Festive Period

There has been very little change in recent weeks with many birds now firmly established win winter territories...........

We have two wintering male DESERT WHEATEARS in Britain - one in the vicinity of Beacon Point at Newbiggin-on-Sea (Northumberland) and another by the coastal footpath at Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve in East Yorkshire. A wintering DUSKY WARBLER is on Scilly - at Lower Moors - and HUME'S LEAF WARBLER in Dorset at Littlesea Holiday Camp at Wyke Regis.

Large numbers of BALEARIC SHEARWATERS have been seen off Porthgwarra (Cornwall) in recent days, whilst two different CATTLE EGRETS are wintering along the South Coast (in Hampshire and in Dorset) and no less than 15 wintering GREAT WHITE EGRETS (including up to 7 in Kent).

A GLOSSY IBIS arrived on Scilly yesterday and today was feeding voraciously at Shooter's Pond, Lower Moors, whilst further birds remain in the Stour Valley, Stodmarsh (Kent) (two birds) and at Leighton Moss RSPB (Lancashire) and Fingringhoe Wick EWT (Essex). The largest flock of EURASIAN SPOONBILLS wintering are the 9 in North Devon at Isley Marsh RSPB, Yelland.

Up to three different ROSS'S SNOW GEESE are in Norfolk, with two with Pink-footed Geese in the Yare Valley and Acle Strait and another with Barnacles and Pink-feet in the Cley and Letheringsett areas. The adult LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE of unknown origin has reappeared with TAIGA BEAN GEESE in the Yare Valley at Buckenham Carrs RSPB, the flock of the latter so far peaking at 86 birds. Meanwhile, at the only other regular wintering site for this species in Britain, 262 are in the Slammannan area of Forth District. There are still large numbers of TUNDRA BEAN GEESE around, including 46 on the River Humber (North Lincs) and 3-4 vagrant CANADA GEESE on Islay (Argyll) and a SMALL CANADA GOOSE of the form hutchinsii at Torr Reservoir in Somerset. The only vagrant-type RED-BREASTED GEESE include the adult at Tollesbury Wick Marshes (Essex) and the first-winter at Bowling Green Marsh RSPB in South Devon.

AMERICAN WIGEONS include drakes at Angler's Country Park (West Yorks) and Dawlish Warren (South Devon), a wintering female GARGANEY at Tophill Low (East Yorks), juvenile female BLUE-WINGED TEALS at Porthellick Pool, St Mary's (Scilly) and Longham Lakes (Dorset), LESSER SCAUPS at Cosmeston lakes (Glamorgan), Wimbleball Reservoir (Somerset), Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs) and Marden Quarry Pool, Whitley Bay (Northumberland), drake KING EIDER in Burghead Harbour (Moray & Nairn), SURF SCOTERS off Dawlish Warren NNR (South Devon) and in Penzance Bay (Cornwall) and a juvenile female BUFFLEHEAD on the Loe Pool at Helston (Cornwall).

It has been the best winter in over 30 years for HEN HARRIERS whilst over 12 ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARDS continue to overwinter, including 4 in North Norfolk.

Vagrant waders still lingering on include the first-winter WESTERN SANDPIPER at Cley NWT Reserve (North Norfolk), a TEMMINCK'S STINT at Swithland's Reservoir (Leics), a first-winter PECTORAL SANDPIPER at Barassie in Ayrshire, SPOTTED SANDPIPERS at Chew Valley Lake (Avon), Lyme Regis (Dorset) and on the River Plym in Plymouth (South Devon), the WILSON'S SNIPE at Lower Moors, St Mary's (Scilly) and a LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER in South Wales at Kidwelly Quay (Carmarthenshire).

In IRELAND, a long-staying BLUETHROAT remains in County Waterford at Clonea Strand.

SCottish Highlands & Island Tour 2012 - Bookings now being taken

I have four places available on this year's Scottish Highlands & islands tour from 17-21 May 2012. Target birds will include Ptarmigan, Red & Black Grouse, Capercaillie, Crested Tit, Scottish Parrot Crossbill, Dipper, Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Corncrake, Osprey, both White-tailed Sea & Golden Eagles, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Arctic Tern, Ring Ouzel, Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Common Redstart, Hooded Crow, Puffin, Rock Dove and much, much more. For more information and booking, email me at

Saturday 24 December 2011

Seasons Greetings 2011 from the British Birding Association and UK400 Club

Of the many Christmas E-cards that arrived on my machine these last few days, this one from Dave Jackson encapsulated one of the most recent exciting avian events - the arrival of several hundred SHORT-EARED OWLS into Britain after a successful Field Vole and Leming year in the far north.

Let me take this opportunity of wishing all of my birding friends and those of you that follow this and other of my birding blogs a very Happy and Fulfilling Christmas and a very prosperous and bird-filled New Year

Lee G R Evans

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Spaces on tours in 2012

I still have one vacancy on my Round Britain tour of 14-22 January 2012 as well as places on my February trip to Spain for Iberian Lynx, Wallcreepers, Great & Little Bustards and much much more...

March will see me in Israel and April in Georgia, Morocco and Cape Verde Islands (spaces available on all three trips) as well as in Estonia for Steller's Eiders

May will see another of my popular regular UK tours with that of the Scottish Highlands & Islands, whilst this year's Turkey trip will be in July.

There is possibly one place left on this year's visit to China for the Spoon-billed Sandpipers passing through

Email me at for further details and bookings

Monday 19 December 2011

Latest Rarity Shots to arrive

This was the fine male DESERT WHEATEAR at Bempton Cliffs RSPB (East Yorks), as captured on film by John Hague

The female LESSER SCAUP in Northumberland at Morden Quarry Lake (Mark Stirland)

Nottingham birder Mark Stirland obtained this superb batch comprising of the Cley WESTERN SANDPIPER and the GREATER YELLOWLEGS whilst it was still feeding in Northumberland

Keith Hoey obtained these outstanding shots of a juvenile moulting into first-winter PECTORAL SANDPIPER in Ayrshire at the weekend - the latest individual to have ever occurred in Britain.

Christmas Birding as we near the end of 2011

Well, I would just like to wish every one of you a very Happy and Healthy Christmas and hopefully another bird-filled and enriching, captivating New Year........

Although not quite over, 2011 has proven to be a record-breaking year in terms of species diversity in Britain and Ireland with an exceptional 451 species recorded - perhaps championed by the spectacular Siberian Rubythroat in Shetland in October and White-throated Robin in Hartlepool in May, as well as by the most unexpected and way off course vagrants such as the Stejneger's Scoter and the Slaty-backed Gull

As we enter this Christmas Week, the finest we have on offer at the moment are the following......

With last week's unsettled weather, involving heavy snowfall and localised flooding, one of our rarest birds has moved to pastures new......the juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER was finally flooded out of Blagdon Lake (Somerset) last Wednesday and has not been seen since

Meanwhile, Northumberland's GREATER YELLOWLEGS was blown nearly 200 miles NW to Skelbo (Sutherland), where it has graced a roadside field for five days just SE of Loch Fleet adjacent to the entrance to Coul Farm. In North Norfolk, the first-winter WESTERN SANDPIPER seems set on wintering at Cley NWT Reserve with the Dunlin and although highly mobile and somewhat elusive, is still visiting Pat's Pool and Simmond's Scrape daily, and the first-winter SPOTTED SANDPIPER can still be found at the north end of the River Plym near Marsh Mills Roundabout, Plymouth (South Devon). Exceptionally late is a confiding juvenile PECTORAL SANDPIPER in shallow pools just north of Barassie (Ayrshire) between Dundonald Camp and the smallholdings (at NS 331 344).

Although recent females in Shetland and Salop have now moved on, as well as a male in East Yorks, a first-winter male DESERT WHEATEAR still survives in Northumberland at Newbiggin-on-Sea, showing well on the beach midway between Beacon Point and Church Point.

In Hampshire, a CATTLE EGRET is by Church Lane, Warblington, favouring a field with cattle viewable from the gate by the church car park at SU 728 053 whilst GLOSSY IBISES include two at Stodmarsh NNR (Kent) and singles at Leighton Moss RSPB (Lancs) and Fingringhoe Wick (Essex)..

Many ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARDS remain on wintering territories in Britain with singles at Burpham (West Sussex), North Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Nickoll's Quarry, near Hythe (East Kent) and Elmley Marshes (North Kent), with up to 7 in Norfolk (including 3 in the East Hills, Wells, area) and 3 in Suffolk.

Norfolk has at least 3 ROSS'S SNOW GEESE wintering, with one with Pink-footed Geese in the Weybourne area and two returning birds along the Acle Straits and Berney Marshes area, whilst TUNDRA BEAN GEESE left over from the huge influx still number well over 100 birds and TAIGA BEAN GEESE in the Norfolk Yare Valley have only climbed thus far to 16 individuals. Islay (Argyll) has its normal scattering of up to 4 vagrant Canada Geese and the only likely wild RED-BREASTED GEESE are singles in Essex and in South Devon (at Topsham). The most reliable wintering drake AMERICAN WIGEONS include singles at Angler's Country Park on Wintersett Reservoir (West Yorks) and at Dawlish Warren NNR (South Devon) whilst Ranworth Broad in Broadland Norfolk has both the regular female RING-NECKED DUCK wintering and the drake Ferruginous Duck of unknown origin. A couple of SURF SCOTERS were discovered last week, including the regularly wintering female off Dawlish Warren (South Devon) and a young drake in with 50 Common Scoter offshore of Penzance Jubilee Pool (Cornwall) in Mount's Bay. Not far from the latter is the long-staying juvenile female BUFFLEHEAD on the Loe Pool at Helston (Cornwall). The only KING EIDER on offer is that restricted to Burghead Harbour in Moray & Nairn district.

The only wintering YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER is a bird present alongside both Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs in Clennon Valley, Paignton (South Devon)

In IRELAND in County Kerry, a young female KING EIDER is present by the Reen Pier at Ballinskelligs and showing well (with a LITTLE AUK also in the same general area)

Thursday 15 December 2011

RSPB silently supporting culling

Hi Lee and others,

This surely must be the most emotive and most discussed subject on any of the bird forums. One of the most disappointing parts of this discussion, here or on any other forum, is the total silence from the RSPB. Surely the RSPB should not only manage reserves and persecute egg collectors and others but also represent the views and wishes of its members. Recently they seem to have embodied the gun-ho attitude of FERA, not only with the Ruddy Duck but also Eagle Owls, Monk Parakeets etc. They have also been remarkably silent on the slaughter of 2000 Gannet chicks on Sula Sgeir each year. Isn't it time that the RSPB consults its members about these various slaughters, say through its magazine, and then supports whatever the majority of its members wish?

Information obtained from FERA, on March 7th 2011, under the freedom of information act, stated that the total overall cost of the "Ruddy Duck Eradication Programme" was £3.3M. The number of Ruddy Ducks culled was 7165 and they estimated the current population to be in the region of 100 birds. They also state that 35 non-target birds were killed, thse included Common Scoter, Black-necked Grebe, Mallard, Teal, Little Grebe, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Coot. Obviously this list is not complete as I know of a White-headed Duck and a Slavonian Grebe that disappeared during a cull.

Is there anyone out there, officially representing the RSPB, able to inform us and all its members of their latest position in regard to the culling of Ruddy Ducks, Monk Parakeets and any thing else that FERA considers to be unwanted. I also wish to know what they are doing to stop the slaughter of Gannet chicks. If they are no longer representing their members views but following the wishes of FERA and other government organisations then surely their charity status should be withdrawn and perhaps we should all consider whether our continued support is appropriate

Roger Morton

Wednesday 14 December 2011

The Swiss destroy RUDDY SHELDUCK population

If all of this Ruddy Duck discussion was not so depressing, Daniel Kratzer has informed me of 400 Ruddy Shelducks eradicated in Switzerland - see link here

It has always been believed that a mixture of both wild and non-naturalised Ruddy Shelducks make up this population that move between Germany and Switzerland - Lee Evans

Monday 12 December 2011

A victim of the Winter storm.........

This adult POMARINE SKUA at Strathclyde Loch, Clyde, fell victim to winds of up to 150 miles per hour this weekend an an unprecedented deep Atlantic low swept quickly through Scotland. The bird was rapidly taken into care and is now recuperating fine, thanks to a diet of Herring - Jimmy Maxwell obtaining a very informative set of images

RUDDY DUCK carnage continues here despite numbers increasing elsewhere

Defra are still carrying out random killings of Ruddy Ducks in Britain despite the slaying officially ceasing in March 2011. They have a birder mole within their ranks (I know his identity) and he is constantly tipping them off whenever he hears of or sees reference to any birds. Despite their best efforts, some 113 birds still survive and it is hoped that these will continue and prosper once austerity measures ensure the ill-conceived project is stopped for good........

Ridiculing such extreme measures is the fact that some 50 Ruddy Ducks were counted within a flock of 1,285 White-headed Ducks today - with not a hybrid in sight

The pressure for White-headed Duck survival and success will come from habitat destruction and not Ruddy Ducks and it worries me the effects that monetary problems and EU legislation will have on the populations in Iberia and Spain. In recent years, the Iberian population has stabilised at around 330-370 pairs, with an expansion in range to NW Morocco

It was also very interesting to see a photograph of two White-headed Ducks in The Netherlands in February 2010 - attracted to a sizeable flock of Ruddy Ducks (Lee Evans)

Saturday 10 December 2011

Illegal trapping of finches in Spain

Catalonia has allowed the trapping of 60,000 finches this winter, the quota including 48,800 Chaffinches, 6,500 Goldfinches, 3,500 Greenfinches and 3,600 Linnets. This is ostensibly for the local cage-bird trade.

Spain is a member country of the EU - wild birds such as this are protected by law - supposedly

Friday 9 December 2011

First winter storm

An exceptionally deep Atlantic depression hit the north of England and Scotland yesterday leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. At Aviemore, at the weather station on Cairn Gorm, winds hit an incredible 165 mph. In fact, even at lower altitudes, wind gusts of up to 135mph were recorded, and over 17 heavy goods vehicles were blown over. There is every chance a few avian vagrants may have arrived in its wake too..............

Wednesday 7 December 2011


A first-winter RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL was discovered today on San Clemente Island, a military site in California. See the finder's shots here -