Monday, 19 December 2011

Unexpected visitor

Spurred on by a recent piece in BBC Wildlife magazine by Mike Toms, Garden BirdWatcher Dennis Simpkin got in touch to share his unexpected garden visitor with us.

This is a  Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus), a species of Asian origin is often kept in captivity. This particular individual continued to visit Mr Simpkin's garden for a period of 18 months or so.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Looking a bit odd?

Every now and then you might spot an unusual bird in your garden. Sometimes this will simply be an unfamiliar species, perhaps something that has strayed off course on migration, but on other occasions it may turn out to be a familiar species with some form of plumage abnormality. Such abnormalities may involve problems with the pigments that give the bird's plumage its colour and we want to find out more about these.
You can help us by learning more about plumage abnormalities and by completing our simple online survey if you have seen a bird with unusual plumage. Perhaps it was a Blackbird with a few white feathers, or a House Sparrow with very washed out looking plumage.
Check out this House Sparrow, photographed by John Harding
Leucism in a House Sparrow, by John Harding

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Marsh Tit or Willow Tit?

If you have struggled to get to grips with separating Marsh and Willow Tits then you will be pleased to learn that you are not alone. The similarity between the two species isone reason why they were not recognised as being different species until relatively recently, the Willow Tit thus earning the distinction of being the last regularly breeding British songbird to be identified and named.

Help is at hand, however, in the form of a new identification video, one of a series to be produced by the BTO. BTO Training Officer Su Gough talks you through the key features that you need to look (and listen) out for.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Bird Table in the post

The latest issue of Bird Table (Issue 68) has just been published and features some fascinating articles on birds, their behaviour and, of course, your Garden BirdWatch records. If you have ever wondered how birds cope with the worst of the winter weather, then Graham Appleton's article should prove of interest. We've decided to make this article available as a PDF

The full list of articles is:  Keeping count: How we use your GBW count data; Ever wondered why birds don't hibernate?; Briefing: Colour ringing; Species focus: Chiffchaff; Taking the long view; Unusual Swallow feeding behaviour; Getting help with bird identification; Ambassador conference report; Wintering Thrushes update;
Regional value; Hornets and nest boxes; Avian Pox; Sparrows on the up?; Sparrowhawk drowning a Magpie; A garden Long-eared Owl.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Stars in Somerset

Some 200 people attended the Garden Wildlife Conference held in Taunton, Somerset in November. The conference, which was coordinated jointly by the BTO and Somerset Ornithological Society (SOS), had a diverse programme which was headed by two celebrity speakers. The morning session was brought to a close by Dominic Couzens, who talked about ‘birds behaving badly’. Dominic’s witty and insightful contribution was entertaining and stimulated lots of discussion as delegates headed for lunch. The final talk of the day was given by Stephen Moss, who read excerpts from his new book Wild Hares and Hummingbirds: the Natural History of an English Village and some from his older books too. The intimacy of Stephen’s talk, having no visual aids, provided an engaging and fitting way to close the conference.

There were plenty of BTO contributions, with Tim Harrison, of the Garden Ecology Team, sharing latest Garden BirdWatch results from Somerset gardens. BTO Regional Representatives, Eve Tigwell and Richard Bland, also gave engaging talks. Amongst other contributions, David Ballance discussed the Somerset Bird Atlas on behalf of SOS. Feedback about the conference from delegates has been excellent and we are extremely grateful to everyone who was able to attend. The BTO’s Garden Ecology Team hopes to run more conferences in 2012.

Find out more about things happening in Somerset and about our speakers

Somerset Ornithological Society
Dominic Couzens
Stephen Moss

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Great Tit bill ornament

We were very interested to see a recent blog post by The Barley Bird-er (Trevor Codlin) on a Great Tit that he encountered with a rather unusual addition to its bill. Find out more

Somerset conference good to go!

This Saturday sees the second GBW conference of the autumn – this time in Taunton, Somerset. Over 200 people will be attending, making the day an exciting prospect. The conference is being run collaboratively between the BTO and Somerset Ornithological Society (SOS). Other organisations will be represented with stands, including Somerset Wildlife Trust, Somerset Trust Badger Group and the RSPB.

Topping the programme are two celebrity speakers – Dominic Couzens and Stephen Moss. Dominic is a full-time writer and speaker on birds and other wildlife. His books include Garden Bird Confidential and The Secret Lives of Garden Wildlife. He also writes for magazines including BBC Countryfile and BBC Gardeners' World, and leads birdwatching field trips at home and abroad.

Stephen is a lifelong naturalist, author and TV producer, whose credits include SpringwatchBirding with Bill Oddie and Birds Britannia. He has written many books, including This Birding Life, and A Sky Full of Starlings. His most recent book is Wild Hares and Hummingbirds: the Natural History of an English Village, an account of the wildlife of his home parish. A Londoner by birth and upbringing, he now lives in the village of Mark on the Somerset Levels.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Wheatears on the move

Garden BirdWatch Ken Humphries dropped us an email to let us know about this unfortunate Wheatear that flew into a window in Ocle Pychard, Hereford.

The Wheatears passing through England during autumn migration are heading to wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. These birds are drawn from both the European breeding population and the one that includes birds from Canada and Greenland, identifiable on structural characteristics as being a different race, known as leucorhoa. Birds from Canada and Greenland do not begin their autumn migration until August and it is these birds that tend to dominate during the later weeks of the passage through England. Some idea of the migration patterns of Wheatears can be seen from BirdTrack records.

The migration routes of Wheatears have been revealed through bird ringing. This map is taken from Time to Fly, a BTO publication.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Red Kites in gardens

Melanie Orros, a student at the University of Reading, got in touch to ask our Garden BirdWatchers if they have Red Kites visiting their gardens. Specifically, Melanie wanted to hear from those participants who actually put out food for visiting Red Kites. We checked our database and found 483 GBW gardens for which we had online submissions of Red Kite. Quite a few of these records would be of birds passing over the garden, rather than taking food but it does highlight how well this species is now doing.

Red Kite, by Jill Pakenham

Melanie has produced a short web-based questionnaire. If you could spare five minutes to fill it in then that would be really helpful. Melanie has kindly offered to write a piece for Bird Table about her findings.

Red Kite is one of those species that falls into the grey area of whether to record or not within the rules of Garden BirdWatch. You could argue that a hunting/scavenging Red Kite is looking for opportunities in your garden, even if it does not land and this is why some participants record them. The important thing is for you to be consistent in your approach from one week to the next. It will be interesting to discover just how many folk are putting out food and getting them land in the garden.