Monday, 15 September 2014

Another Scandinavian gull ...

Second-summer (third-calendar-year) Great Black-backed Gull with a Norwegian ring, in Suffolk.
... this time a colour-ringed Great Black-back, which I found while gulling at Walberswick, Suffolk, last month. JY097 was ringed as a chick on a small island off the northern tip of Denmark on 28 June 2012, and as a first-winter was sighted four times in the Boulogne area, northern France, in February and March 2013. Since then there had been no further reports until I spotted it lounging on the concrete jetties at Walberswick on 3 August. My guess is that it has probably remained well south of its natal area since it first left, and might not return there until three or four years old, by which time it will effectively be a young adult and approaching breeding condition. Another fascinating example of what colour-ringing can teach us about bird movements.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Close, but no cigar

Second-calendar-year presumed intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull from Norway at my London study site.
During the course of many visits to my local gulling site on the Thames in east London, one of the assorted stragglers I've often hoped to find is so-called Baltic Gull, the nominate form of Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus. Identifying this dinky and declining north-east European larid is generally far from straightforward unless (a) you happen to be on its breeding grounds in far north-east Fennoscandia, or (b) you discover a colour-ringed bird which can be traced back to this core range.

Last Friday, 5th September, I got a little closer to fuscus, in spirit at least. J078K was ringed as a chick last year in Finnmark, north Norway, an area traditionally associated with Baltic Gull, but within which the other two forms of this species, intermedius and graellsii, now occur (read more about recent changes in the distribution of Lesser Black-backed subspecies here). On plumage and moult it is probably an intermedius (surely more likely than graellsii to be breeding in northernmost Norway anyway), and interestingly this bird is currently in London after spending the early winter in Portugal and then Spain.

According to the study linked above (for details of which thanks to Mars Muusse), juveniles of fuscus as well as intermedius may occur in western Europe on migration, unlike the more easterly-migrating adults. Returning youngsters in their first spring are now known to be identifiable through primary moult, so in the absence of a colour ring birds of this age are the best bet when searching for candidates. My own search goes on, but in the meantime here's the low-down on J078K. (Thanks also to Peter Rock, Ronald Klein, Frode Falkenberg and Detlef Gruber for contributing useful comments and information on this).

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Birding in the Azores, 20 years on

This time next month I'll be heading out to the Azores to lead this year's Birdwatch reader holiday. It'll be the 14th occasion on which I've been lucky enough to visit these fantastic islands on the European side of the Atlantic, and in fact this autumn marks the 20th anniversary of my first trip there. This archipelago never disappoints, and it is one of my all-time favourite birding destinations - take a look at this selection of birding highlights from my visits over the years and you'll appreciate why.

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Birdwatch - latest editorial

September 2014 | Issue 267

Last summer I took my 13-year-old daughter on her first demonstration – not because I thought it was time she learned how to wave placards and hold up traffic, but because she wanted to protest. Like me, she could not believe that – against both common sense and scientific advice – the government was authorising large-scale culling of Badgers. Nor could the thousands of others on that march, nor those who have continued to oppose the policy through legal channels since then, and who have recently won a minor victory against DEFRA in the High Court.

Protesting doesn’t always lead to change; sometimes it scarcely makes a difference. But it’s important to make our voices heard. If we who care don’t stand up for wildlife, who will? Earlier this year this magazine was criticised for ‘political activism’ in publishing Bill Oddie’s attack on the government’s claim to be the ‘greenest’ administration yet, but we are far from alone in advocating better policies for wildlife, at home and abroad.

Does any birder really oppose the new on-the-ground initiatives this spring that helped put the illegal slaughter of millions of migrant birds in Malta firmly back on the agenda? Of course they don’t – we are all activists, in spirit if not in deed.

More recently, there has been the dynamic attempt to tackle the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers in Britain, initiated by concerned and motivated individuals who are actually beginning to make something happen. There’s a long way to go before this issue is resolved, but it’s been a great start. Maybe something will change this time: certainly, in the 22-year lifetime of this magazine, I cannot recall a cause that so rapidly drew support from the birding public or achieved such a huge reach.

As a magazine we’re proud to be at the centre of support for the Hen Harrier campaign, and to use our voice to highlight all such issues of conservation concern.

Reproduced from the September issue of Birdwatch, on sale today


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