Wednesday 29 August 2012

Product Review: CATCHING THE BUG by Mark Constantine and Nick Hopper

Mark and Nick at Birdfair 2012 - the authors of this fabulous new Sound Approach production

Catching The Bug - A Sound Approach Guide to the birds of Poole Harbour

Mark Constantine, Nick Hopper & The Sound Approach

Mark Constantine has been a friend of mine for at least 30 years and was one of the first to congratulate me on the publication of my Rare Birds in Britain tome in 1991. Over the years, we have had countless conversations and arguments over Rare Birds and it has always been very enjoyable to converse with him. He is one of the gentlemen of British birding and always strived to get himself on the birding publication trail. This he eventually achieved in the late noughties, with the first in a collection of titles under the 'Sound Approach' banner. These were high quality publications and in August 2012, the fourth and latest in the series was released - Catching the Bug.

Matt kindly weighed me down with this production at the Rutland Bird Fair on August 17th and it has taken me this long to finally get through reading the book, such is its infectiousness. It is an outstanding contribution and I cannot really do it justice in this short review.

In essence, it is generally a review of the birds and people of Poole Harbour as seen through the eyes of two keen birders - Mark and Nick. Mark first moved to Poole in 1973 after he and his partner Mo finally tired of London living and it was here that he soon found solace and solitude within the Dorset countryside. Being much of a social entrepreneur like myself, Mark was keen to ignite a keen birding framework and soon organised regular get-togethers in the local pub. Its membership soon increased - and this book is really a culmination of those early twitching days and the current day. Nick Hopper served his birding apprenticeship much later, at about the same time as that other Dorset genius James Lidster, and was soon cajoled by Mark into the glory of it all.

Catching the Bug runs to 27 chapters, basically logging Mark's Poole Harbour connections chronologically, from those regular Tuesday night pub singalongs to taping Common Cuckoos in May 2010. It is a pilgrimage of real despair and beauty and full of entertaining connotations and embroidery. The book runs to just under 300 pages and follows in exactly the same format as its three predecessors. Like those to, it concentrates somewhat on sound recordings, being accompanied by 2 CD's featuring 203 recordings of primarily British birds. I found it to be a rivetting read and very aesthetic and gentle on my ageing eye.

Although throughout the production it is full of intriguing and interesting anectodes, for me it has four stand-out features. Firstly, Killian Mullarney's input is traditionally first-rate, with some classic artwork and educational photographic material. In fact, some of the artwork is ground-breaking. And then three brilliant chapters - 4, 6 and 16. Poole Harbour is perhaps one of the strongholds of Dartford Warbler in England and clearly one of Mark and Nick's favourites and with dartfordiensis being quite different from undata, both ask whether the English Dartford should be a separate species. Killian's plate on page 46 is sumptuous and a true delight and for the first time, highlighting the differences in mantle colour between the two forms. I love artwork in this style and the very educational comments that accompany them. It surprised me too, the differences in vocalisations between the two forms, both exemplified on CD1.

Even better was Chapter 6 and its appraisal of Cormorant identification. This time Killian devotes two whole pages in explaining the differences between Atlantic Great (carbo) and Continental Great (sinensis) Cormorants and it is truly inspirational and rewarding. I wasted no time at all in getting Carmel to laminate copies of these two pages so that I could use them in the field - that man is more than genius. Again, I was intrigued by the differences in sound recordings of the two forms.

And then we reach 16 and its portrayal of Siberian Chiffchaff, based on the study of numerous wintering individuals in Poole Harbour and the culmination of field and sound recording work by Arnoud van den Berg and Sergey Gashkov in the dense boreal forests of the Tomsk region in Russia. The contact zone between tristis and abietinus was considered by Marova in 2009 to be no more than 40 miles wide and further studies have fortified that view. The accompanying CD2 reveal much about the vocalisations of tristis and I found this one chapter alone to be worth its weight in gold - a cracking shot from Arnoud too of a Dutch bird - reproduced in actual 'bird size'.

I could go on and on about this book as it is truly outstanding. I just loved it. The authors need to be congratulated for this exceptional contribution to the library.

At just £29.99 it is a steal - available directly from The Sound Approach website at www.//

Product Review - FAIR ISLE BIRD OBSERVATORY REPORT FOR 2009 and 2010


Fair Isle Bird Reports are always of a terrific standard and this one is no exception. In fact this one is a bumper edition, incorporating two years for the price of one. As I opened the envelope, I was taken aback by Rebecca Nason's truly outstanding cover photo of a Fair Isle Wren on a frosty late autumn morning in the Obs garden - simply enthralling.

With so much to cram in, this report runs to 200 pages and although far from classic years by Fair Isle standards, still lots to 'crow' about and plenty of 'rares' to keep the mouth watered. As expected, this 62nd report for the Observatory follows the trusted format of previous ones, with the initial pages incorporating the Chairman's Report, Warden's Report, Dave Wheeler's highly detailed meteorological data and the Monthly Summaries. With the building of a new Observatory campus, Deryk Shaw has rightly devoted five pages to this mammoth project and a photographic essay follows the construction with great detail.

Sadly, for Deryk and Hollie Shaw and the children and for the many Observatory visitors in recent years, these were to be Deryk's final two years as warden. However, as to be expected with this emerald birding isle, there were plenty of rarity highlights to keep him occupied, including White-tailed Sea Eagle, Stone Curlew, American Green-winged Teal, Pechora Pipit, 2 Great Reed Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Two-barred Crossbill, BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD and BLACKPOLL WARBLER in 2009 and King Eider, White-tailed Sea Eagle, 2 Rough-legged Buzzards, AMERICAN BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, White's Thrush, SWAINSON'S THRUSH, Black-throated Thrush, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler and a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW in 2010.

2009 saw 198 species recorded and 2010 an impressive 210. with new additions for the isle involving a Green-winged Teal at Da Water on 25th April 2009 (fully documented by Nick Riddiford on page 59) and a Brown-headed Cowbird at Upper Stoneybrek from 8th-10th May 2009 (recounted by Deryk Shaw on pages 72-74). There are also a number of other detailed accounts of selected vagrants for the period including a River Warbler at Vaila's Trees on 31st May 2009, the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in the Plantation on 21st June 2009, a Blyth's Reed Warbler at Lower Stoneybrek on 5th October 2009, a White's Thrush in Hjukni Geo on 10th October 2009. the Swainson's Thrush at Lower Stoneybrek on 15th September 2010, American Buff-bellied Pipit at the North Light from 20th-30th September 2009, a tan-striped White-throated Sparrow at the Observatory on 19th-20th May 2010 and a Blackpoll Warbler at Vaadel from 15th-17th October 2009 - all excellently written and full of interesting snippets.

The Systematic List on pages 79-139 forms the greater part of the report and as usual makes for some real fascinating reading. One forgets living down south the status of birds such as Mute Swan and Coal Tit on this far-flung outlet. The entries are straightforward, easy-on-the-eye and immediately factual and enhanced by Jack Ashton-Booth's superb pencil field sketches and the odd table. Entries that caught my eye included the first Mandarin Duck for the island, the scarcity of Garganey, Moorhen and Coot on Fair Isle, as well as Firecrest, the 13th Great Crested Grebe and a most unusual calling male Corncrake. As usual, a most sumptuous and highly gripping selection of colour photographs adorn the central pages, including a high proportion not previously published either in the popular birding press or on the internet, including of course that annual Fair Isle speciality - the more-than-confiding Two-barred Crossbill. Also decorating the pages were no less than two species I have never seen in Britain - Brown-headed Cowbird and Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll. Three Red-flanked Bluetails in autumn 2010 also further proves the continuing status of this once mega-rare visitor from east of the Urals.

Alan Bull's Ringing Report appears on pages 140-153, summarising a total of 4124 birds of 105 species ringed in 2009 and 4948 of 106 species ringed in 2010. Two additions were made to the list - a Blackpoll Warbler in 2009 and a Carrion Crow in 2010. Common Starling was once again the most abundantly ringed species - in both years. Some interesting facets gleaned from the report include a Northern Fulmar of 37 years of age, a Great Skua wintering in Spain, a 5-year Long-eared Owl hit by car in Highland Scotland, a 7-year old Garden Warbler recovered in Norway and a 14 year old Arctic Skua.

It is not just rare birds and scarce migrants that Fair Isle is famous for but also its breeding Seabirds and in traditional fashion, Deryk Shaw summarises these two year's findings on pages 154-159. It makes seriously depressing reading, although Gannets continue to buck the trend. Shags were massively down in number, Common Guillemots down by 30% since just 2005, Razorbills down 60% and Atlantic Puffins down over 46% since 2001. We must find out more about Sandeels and act urgently.

I was very pleased too to see the inclusion of the late Simon Aspinall and his brother Richard's truly outstanding and inspirational British Birds paper on the Fair Isle Wren and its distribution, population and territory occupancy during 1950-2010. Simon first travelled to Fair Isle in 1987 when he became Assistant Warden for that year. He developed a particular affinity for the isle and returned regularly as a visitor. Simon tragically died on 31st October 2011 after a long and courageous battle with motor neurone disease and this paper was one of his last pieces of written work.

Adam Seward also enhances the final chapters of the report with his very intriguing study of the impact of climate change on a long-distance migratory passerine - the Northern Wheatear (pages 172-183), with pages 184-191 devoted to the other forms of wildlife (cetaceans, butterflies, etc) that were also recorded on the island in 2009 and 2010.

An excellent report in every way and an essential addition to the birding library

Available direct from Fair Isle Observatory Trust, Fair Isle Bird Observatory, Fair Isle, Shetland, ZE2 9JU - priced £12 - or free when you become a valued Friend of Fair Isle and Observatory member

Rare Bird News

Just a reminder to say that constantly updated bird news is now transferred to my Online email group at

All existing UK400 Club members are eligible to receive this free of charge but otherwise the service costs £24 per year - details from

Wednesday 22 August 2012

More Birdfair Images

Mark and Matt of the Sound Approach, signing books for Duncan and Pieter of Wildsounds, with the main man himself MR DAVID LINDO, my hosts for the event the BIRDWATCHING team and of course my gorgeous wife Carmel

Monday 20 August 2012

Birdfair 2012

Had a very enjoyable few days at this year's Rutland Birdfair seeing friends such as David Lindo and Mark Constantine pictured above as well as so many others.

Thursday 16 August 2012

NORTH RON on fire

North Ronaldsay on Orkney really is the place to be at the moment with a daily dose of sumptuous rarities........

Today it attracted the first BOOTED WARBLER of the year (very early date guys, guess you've checked for SYKES'), with at least 4 Barred Warblers and the juvenile Red-backed Shrike still present - and a new Icterine Warbler and a Corncrake

Further south, not that much happening despite premium conditions, with a BARRED WARBLER at Sea Palling (Norfolk), a HOOPOE at East Weares, Portland (Dorset) and more Scandinavian HONEY BUZZARDS drifting in. CATTLE EGRETS were at Steart (Somerset) and Elmley Marshes (Kent) whilst what is probably the regular reappearing adult summer BONAPARTE'S GULL was at Whitburn Steel (County Durham)

It was a Red Letter day for IRELAND with a first-year FRANKLIN'S GULL at Gormanstown (County Meath) and an adult BAIRD'S SANDPIPER at Ballinrannig (County Kerry) - both species new to the year

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Rutland Bird Fair this coming weekend

This weekend sees the annual Rutland Water Bird Fair take place and for the first time in a few years I shall be visiting.I shall be flitting between the 'Birdwatching' stands 36-37 in Marquee 2 and elsewhere and look forward to seeing you all there.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Impressive falls on the Northern Isles

With strong Southeasterly winds, both Fair Isle and North Ronaldsay have been quids in. The former attracted 2 CITRINE WAGTAILS, a Common Rosefinch and 2 Barred Warblers today whilst the latter scored with an ARCTIC WARBLER, GREENISH WARBLER, CITRINE WAGTAIL, juvenile Red-backed Shrike and 3 Barred Warblers. A number of Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers were also seen at both localities, whilst the male BLACK-HEADED BUNTING was still present on North Ron yesterday. The Isle of May in Fife also had Wryneck and Barred Warbler, whilst further south, Barred Warblers reached Low Newton-by-the-Sea (Northumberland) and Spurn Point (East Yorks).

A fair scattering of Pied Flycatchers have been appearing at East and South Coast coastal localities, as well as a number of Wood Warblers, whilst Black and Arctic Terns have been passing through in sizeable numbers.

A MARSH SANDPIPER was identified on Rush Hills Scrape, Hickling Broad (Norfolk), being seen up until 1015 hours and then again late evening; 2 Sacred Ibises were also present on the scrape yesterday evening. A SPOTTED CRAKE was this evening at Stanwick GP (Northants) whilst a number of LONG-TAILED SKUA sightings included a lost juvenile at Winteresett Reservoir (South Yorks) briefly yesterday morning. A MELODIOUS WARBLER was a fresh arrival to the Pittisporum hedgerows of Penninis Head, St Mary's (Scilly).

The flock of 4 WHITE STORKS remain in Somerset at Wet Moor, with the near-adult BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON still on Lower Pennington Fishponds (Hants) and GLOSSY IBISES at Marloes Mere (Pembs), Minsmere Levels (Suffolk) and at Barnham Brooks (Sussex). A number of migrant HONEY BUZZARDS have also been appearing, whilst the adult LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER remains at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs) and an adult WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER at Beacon Lane Pools, Kilnsea (East Yorks).

There has been no further sign of Saturday's first-summer ELEONORA'S FALCON at St Levan/Porthgwarra (Cornwall), a SPOTTED CRAKE remaining at Marazion Marsh RSPB (Cornwall) and an AQUATIC WARBLER trapped there and at Portland Bill Bird Observatory (Dorset) on 12th.

An adult LEAST SANDPIPER was at Carrahane Strand (County Kerry) on 13th, with an adult BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER at Tacumshin (County Wexford) since 12th and a first-summer female PALLID HARRIER over Movasta (Co. Clare) on 12th. Two WILSON'S PETRELS were seen from a Loop Head pelagic trip on 12th.

Monday 13 August 2012

Latest arrival in the family

This is SMUDGIE - the latest addition to Carmel and I's ever-increasing tribe of cats. Fascinating to watch her with one of our male Red Foxes in the Chaffinch House garden this morning - she stood her ground forcing him to retire away from the peanuts. She is an EXOTIC cat of six years standing.


Frank Golding obtained this outstanding series of images of last week's moulting adult STILT SANDPIPER in Northumberland at the flooded field just north of Newton Pool

Apparent dark morph ELEONORA'S FALCON in WEST CORNWALL on Saturday

Falmouth birders Jono and his girlfriend Deborah Rogers came across and photographed this dark-morph apparent ELEONORA'S FALCON at Porthgwarra on Saturday, seemingly chasing after insects in the cove and around the cliff faces. There must be a very strong possibility that the bird remains in the area.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Product Review: Best Birdwatching Sites: North-East England

Well what an exciting day it turned out to be. Firstly I received an outstanding Osprey ageing and sexing article written by John Wright for the latest Birdwatching magazine and then the latest offering from Buckingham Press dropped on my desk - the late Brian Unwin's Best Birdwatching Sites: North-East England.

This Site Guide is the latest addition to the Best Birdwatching Sites series and is the largest yet produced, perhaps reflecting the wealth of knowledge author Brian Unwin had in all parts of Northumberland, County Durham and Cleveland (incidentally the geographic region covered by the book). Sadly Brian, a founder member of the Durham Bird Club, a long-time journalist and a friend of mine for over 30 years, died in December 2011 after a long battle with cancer, before completing the manuscript. It was left to Brian's good friend Ian Kerr and John Miles to stitch the work together for publication.

Brian used to frequently enthuse about his local birding sites when I was on the phone to him and he would often 'tip' me off about a little-known site, both for scarce passage migrants and localised butterflies. He had an excellent knowledge of the area and this soon comes through in the thoroughness this book entails. It has up-to-date information on no less than 17 sites in Cleveland, 37 in County Durham and 42 in Northumberland, with useful birding tips for each location, over 100 detailed and easy-to-read and understand maps and target birds to find and see at relevant times of the year.

Although in small format, it runs to an astonishing 308 pages and is well produced and aesthetically pleasing. It is crammed full of very useful information for the region, even going in to detail about public transport options to sites and those evaluated for wheelchair access. All of the key seawatching sites are highlighted and from pages 20 through to 26, one can plan your itinerary and diary with a detailed overview of what birds are to be found each month and the best sites in which to see them.

Undoubtedly one of the best regional site guides I have seen and testament to Brian's obsession for detail and accuracy. An essential purchase for anyone resident or frequently visiting, crammed full of exciting locations to explore and check out, particularly at migration times. In fact, I hope to test it out tomorrow when visiting the area to twitch the first-ever Stilt Sandpiper in the region.

The book is available from Buckingham Press Ltd at a cost of £17.95

Buckingham Press Ltd, 55 Thorpe Park Road, Peterborough, PE3 6LJ

Lee G R Evans
British Birding Association/UK400 Club

Monday 6 August 2012

August gearing up

A summer-plumaged STILT SANDPIPER graces the scrape between Low Newton-by-the-Sea and Newton Pool (Northumberland) for its second day, constituting the 393rd species recorded in Britain and Ireland this year. Meanwhile, the first juvenile BARRED WARBLER of the year has appeared on the Farne Islands, with the first MELODIOUS WARBLER of the autumn trapped and ringed on Bardsey Island (Gwynedd)..

On Orkney, a male BLACK-HEADED BUNTING remains for a second day on North Ronaldsay whilst in Shetland, a ROSE-COLOURED STARLING is by St Magnus Bay Hotel at Hillswick. A further ROSE-COLOURED STARLING appeared on the island of Lewis (Outer Hebrides), south of Stornoway at Marbhig gardens. Equally west, on Tiree (Argyll), an adult WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER appeared in Gott Bay, whilst the adult BLACK-WINGED PRATINCOLE continues for a fourth day in the Loch Stiapavat area at the NW end of Lewis.

An adult BONAPARTE'S GULL has been seen three days in a row on Crumbles Pond in Princes Park, Eastbourne (East Sussex) whilst the adult GULL-BILLED TERN was seen again north of Borth on the Dyfi Estuary at Ynyslas RSPB (Ceredigion).

The near-adult BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, present since May is still to be found on the fishing ponds in Lower Pennington Lane just 70 yards east of the corner of the lane close to the parking area whilst PURPLE HERONS include a near-adult south of the Osier beds east of the Old Bedford River 250 yards south of the bridge at Sutton Gault (Cambs) and a juvenile at Grove Ferry NNR, Stodmarsh (Kent).

An adult PECTORAL SANDPIPER is still to be found on the Ski Pool at Cliffe Marshes RSPB (Kent) whilst the adult LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER in full breeding plumage is still present with Black-tailed Godwits on the South Lake at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs).

In Somerset, the drake FERRUGINOUS DUCK continues at Blagdon Lake (Somerset), with the GLOSSY IBISES still in residence at Marloes Mere (Pembs) and Walton Hall Marsh, The Naze (Essex).


In County Wexford, two BLUE-WINGED TEALS are present on the duck pond at Wexford Slobs Wildfowl Reserve today, with both the GLOSSY IBIS and Montagu's Harrier nearby at Tacumshin. Further north in County Dublin, the annual gathering of post-breeding ROSEATE TERNS gathers pace with 48 logged at Sandymount Strand this morning.

STILT SANDPIPER in Northumberland

An adult STILT SANDPIPER remains for its second day at Low Newton-by-the -Sea (Northumberland) on the scrape between the village and Newton Pool where it can be viewed from the footpath at NU 241 243. Please park in the village car park rather than on the adjacent road. This represents the 393rd species recorded in Britain and Ireland in 2012.

Wednesday 1 August 2012


Unconfirmed reports suggest that survey workers searching and listening for calling Spotted Crakes this spring unearthed no less than a staggering 9 calling male BAILLON'S CRAKES during their work, mostly in East Anglia and at marshes in the South East. Over 30 calling males reached the close continent this spring so clearly an unprecedented influx.