Saturday, 17 February 2018

Spring is Coming

What a lovely couple of days, with a break in the wintery conditions and the first pulse of spring action. Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral were on the wing this morning and yesterday night there was the first influx of moths at the obs moth trap. Buzzards were circling today and the gulls were also showing signs of migratory restlessness. The Cherry Plums are in bud and at the farm entrance crocus are out ,Speedwells are flowering by the hide and Lesser Celandine is out along the main road. 

 Juvenile male Peregrine doing a close fly by this morning 
 Female Kestrel 
 The juvenile/first winter Iceland Gull is still around
 as is the leucistic Herring Gull 
 Moths at the trap over last couple of days include Oak Beauty,  March Moth, Satellites, Small Brindled Beauty, Mompha jurasicella, Agonopterix heracliana, Agonopterix alstromeriana and Totricodes alternella
 March Moth 
 Totricodes alternella 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Juniper Top and Bramblehall Wood- The Epicentre of the UK Hawfinch invasion

A truely epic morning. At least 260 Hawfinches- the sight and sounds were incredible. Steve Gale found the birds several weeks ago but the numbers keep going up and there are also many birds in the surrounding valleys. Steve estimates up to 400 birds in the Mickleham-Juniper-Bramblehall complex. See Steve's account from today HERE.  Another account today from Kojak HERE

 Nearly 100 in this flock alone and there were birds all over the valley behind us 

 View from Juniper top. The woodland is mainly Beech, Yew and Ash with areas of Larch. The birds are mainly feeding on Yew and Larch. 
 Spurge Laurel- a lifer! Flowering already- an early source of nectar. 
The Parking Space is Whitehill Car Park and the Black Line A-B is the area where most of the birds were- either side of the line on both sides of the valley 

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Bird Coin

Everyone is talking about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies and was just thinking how block chain and cryptocurrencies might change birding and popular natural history. The Block Chain itself is a way of maintaining records/ledger in a community rather than entrusting it with a centralised bank/authority so has the potential of by-passing traditional authority structures and creating trust worthy pop up community structures. So potentially the block chain can have other uses rather than just banking. Could we see national lists being maintained on block chains, taxonomies on block chains- could it lead to popular movements or further collaborative scientific efforts. Cryptocurrencies provide a medium for micro-currencies- could we see the micro-monetisation of birding. There are already websites out there that pay a nano-fee (with cryptocurrency) to individuals who populate a user generated information platform- could we see bird information services go that way. 

For background on Bitcoin, cryptocurrency and Block Chains there is a good documentary on Netflix (Banking on Bitcoin) and also a recent Panaroma available on I-player - Who wants to be a Bitcoin Millionaire? There's also endless material on the internet but most of it is hyping material. 

Obviously all of this is probably 95% hype (a sad confirmation of the desperation of humanity) at the moment but after the bubble bursts Block Chain technology and Cryptocurrency is here to stay and will change everything including Natural History. Could we see Bird Coin appear?

Viridor/Pennon share price collapsing

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Ferruginous Duck and hybrids

Did a family day at the London Wetland Centre today and thought I'd have a look at the Ferruginous Ducks considering the recent hybrid at the farmlands HERE

Adult female Ferruginous Duck showing the black tipped bill with blue sub-terminal band that cuts down the side of the bill almost at a right angle 
Adult female Ferruginous Duck showing very dark upperparts (with no scalloping), dark border to the undertail coverts (the femoral area/coverts), lack of contrast between breast and flanks and overall much more rich reddish colour tones than the presumed Ferruginous x Pochard at the farmlands below
 The Beddington Bird. Compared to the adult female Ferruginous above this bird has a head profile more similar to Pochard, the blue bill band is obliquely angled, the dark on the bill tip is more extensive, the bird is overall more brownish, has grey scalloping on the upperparts, has contrast between flanks and breast and also lacks the dark border on the femoral coverts. It would have been useful to have found a first-winter Ferruginous Duck at the Wetland Centre to compare as this would have been even closer to the Beddington bird- presumably browner, with less well defined bill pattern but overall would resemble an adult female. More photos of the Beddington bird HERE
 Adult female and male Ferruginous Duck. 
 Also a few other interesting things in the LWC collection- displaying Hooded Mergansers
 Comparison of sleeping adult male Lesser Scaup (above) and Greater Scaup (below) 

 Continuing this year's Manky Mallards theme HERE, these Indian Runners were entertaining
 What is this? (it's Butterbur- cheers Steve!) 
Had to show Jacob the famous Asian Short-clawed Otters- a good excuse to drag the family out while doing a bit of covert id research 

Hybrid duck links:

Beddington Farmlands Conservation Update 2018

Extract from the 2018 Beddington Farmlands Bird and Wildlife Report 2018

The first Conservation Science Group meeting of the year in January revealed some promising intentions with a 2018 Plan of Works draft presented by Viridor including time specific objectives that related to habitat creation, habitat maintenance and public engagement. However experience has proven that plans at Beddington are rarely implemented or only partially implemented and there are often more disingenuous objectives behind such plans such as appeasing local authority planning enforcement teams with cheap gestures rather than genuine works on the ground. 

The petition calling on the Head of Council to enforce conditions on Viridor was near 5000 supporters at the beginning of the year. How much an impact public pressure could make on such a situation was also questionable. Fundamentally if a multi-billion pound company like Viridor/Pennon wanted to default on planning obligations and manipulate planning system fluidity into states of decline what could anyone do about it? The cuts in funding and staff of local authority made such bodies vulnerable in any legal challenge- the costs of taking Viridor to court to enforce conditions could fundamentally threaten the local authority’s existence.

Policy changes surrounding Brexit also created uncertainty. Would the new policies empower exploitative companies like Viridor/Pennon further or would regulatory bodies and public pressure instruments gain more power. Under a national Conservative government it seemed very likely that Big Money would become even more of a destructive force not only locally but across the country. It very much looked like that Beddington would become a victim of this whole mess, symbolic of national and global issues that threatened biodiversity, a deadly cocktail of an unaccountability of corporate business, eroding of regulatory body power and the dis-empowerment of local community and individuals.

The local Liberal Democratic government had sided with Big Money by having never publicly challenged Viridor/Pennon- a further indication of the hopeless situation that even formerly progressive parties such as the Liberal Democratics  has been crushed into co-operating with exploitative systems. 

How could any of the wildlife survive at Beddington in this situation of systemic and fundamental abuse driven by multi-millionaires and a multi-billion pound corporation within a global capital city where pressure on land was immense? It seems hopeless to be facing this global problem at the local level- how could local people make any difference at all?  It seemed that it was yet to dawn on the people at large that liberal democracy had been slowly taken over by a dictactorship- a dictatorship that could only spell disaster for people and wildlife and for the economy. Radical action was needed there but was there any appetite for it? The past had proven that there was little enthusiasm for widespread activism locally..So where was this radical action going to come from? 

With Viridor/Pennon Group shares in free fall there seemed to be  a ray of light in the overall bleak situation. On one hand Viridor/Pennon disappointing shareholder performance could mean even less chance of their investment control board releasing funds to fulflll legal obligations to wildlife and people at Beddington whereas on the other could a genuine commitment to wildlife and people by creating a flagship reserve at Beddington be a good public relations triumph and would it attract a new type of investor- just as interested in natural capital and social capital gain rather than short term destructive disaster capital gain. Could Viridor/Pennon attract the intelligent investor or would the board of directors just pillage the company, pay themselves massive bonuses and drive the country, their own company and our local area and it's wildlife to ruin for short term personal gain? With the CEO of Viridor/Pennon in his 70's- there isn't much in it for him- he'll be dead soon and most of these Cronies running such companies are quite happy with a one way ticket to Hell - i.e. leaving a legacy of ruin that will not shape the future; the binge lifestyles would have been ample reward already for many of them. 

With a Corproate dictatorship replacing Democracy in the pendulum swing of systemic organisation  this is not necessarily a bad thing if Corporations can re-invigorate democracy on their terms, limiting the abusive element of socio-environmentalism parasitizing (e.g. benefit fraud and other abusive behaviour of well intended socio-environmental policy) and by appealing to shareholders who are interested in investing in triple bottom line indices- social, natural and economic capital- surely these Corporations would eventually dominate the market and traditional exploitative dinosaur Corporations would be on the road to ruin- taking a lot of wildlife and people’s quality of lives with them- but also eventually themselves, their investors and their own people too. Surely in the long term such abusive practises would lead to everyone becoming victims including the Viridor/Pennon perpetrators? 

Surely it makes sense for Viridor/Pennon to invest in developing a flagship reserve at Beddington- they would lead the way in their sector, taking Conservation from the inefficient and outdated model of Non-government organisations led nature conservation to Corporate led Nature Conservation- a potentially world changing shift.

Would intelligence or stupidity prevail?- it really can go either way.


Pennon Group Shares February 2017 to February 2018 (Source Hardgreaves Lansdown)

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Grey day

 A new Caspian-type. Yellow ringed bird X683. Could be a hybrid Caspian Gull as there is extensive dark in lesser and median covert and structurally the bird wasn't quite compact. 
 The usual first-winter Caspian Gull 
 The hybrid Ferruginous-like Duck (above and below). Probably wouldn't dismiss this bird as a hybrid if I saw it like this within it's usual range 

Friday, 9 February 2018

Gull haul

Met up with Josh Jones today to have a look at the Beddington Gulls. A pretty good haul; the pale morph juvenile/first-winter Glaucous Gull, the first-winter Iceland Gull, a first winter Caspian Gull, an adult Mediterranean Gull and a presumed adult Yellow-legged Gull.

 The striking juvenile/first-winter Glaucous Gull. The bird is easily the size of a Great Black-backed Gull and the barring on the undertail coverts and pink based bill with a black dipped in ink tip exclude the possibility of a leucistic GBB. Pale morphs like this are more typically in Nearctic populations of Glaucous Gull- could quite conceivably be a bird from Greenland considering that's the minimum distance that Iceland Gulls are coming from. 
 The first-winter Iceland Gull 
 First-winter Caspian Gull 
 First-winter Caspian Gull in flight 
The Glaucous in flight- what a beast! 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Northern Gull

Had an interesting gull at the farmlands in the week coinciding with the blast of northerly air. It stood out as a lot of the upperparts were still juvenile, there was a uniform wash over the underparts and mantle and there were clear white tips to the primaries. On the spread wing the primary window extended to the outer primaries, there was a prominent secondary bar and the underwing was overall very pale with dark confined to the tips of the outer primaries. The undertail coverts were barred and the uppertail coverts were heavily barred. 

 A smoky wash over the underparts and mantle contrasting with a paler head
 The pale inner webs extending to the outer primaries and heavily barred uppertail coverts are shown here 
 The pale underwing with dark confined to tips to of the primaries is visible on this shot. The underwing coverts are also smoky. 
 Another shot of the heavily barred uppertail coverts and smoky wash to the mantle
The pale primary tips are just visible in this shot

These smoky northern gulls with extensive pale in the primaries pop up from time to time at Beddington (and widely elsewhere) and there are various possibilities of what they can be:
 1) Pale argentatus Herring Gull- generally paler birds are considered to be high latitude birds of the northern nominate form of Herring Gull,
 2) Hybrid Glaucous x Herring Gull (Viking Gull)
 3) Variable birds from the Faroes and Iceland (where there is historical introgression of argenteus (argentues being  the race present on the North Atlantic islands)  with perhaps American Herring Gull (in Iceland most probably) plus wide spread hybridisation with Glaucous Gull
4) Hybrid Glaucous x American Herring Gull - Nelson's Gull (the short bill and sparsely barred undertail coverts on this bird don't point towards that) 
5) They also superficially resemble Thayer's Gull but on this bird among other features the overall tones and structure are not right and the pale inner webs do not extend to the outermost primaries 

 I asked round for a few opinions and a northern Herring Gull is the favourite (Faroes and Iceland suggested which would mean a northern argenteus) with Viking Gull the next favourite. Here's a bit more on these birds HERE

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Fudge Factor

 David Campbell picked out this interesting Aythya yesterday. Superficially looks like a female/immature Ferruginous Duck. The reddish-brown colouration, contrasting white undertail coverts, the high peaked crown and black-tipped bill with a bluish sub-terminal band are suggestive of Ferruginous Duck. However hybrid female/immature Ferruginous Ducks are notorious look-alike traps and there seems to be several features that indicate it is a hybrid. In this image a subtle grey scalloping is visible on the mantle features, there appears to be a darker breast that contrasts with the flanks and the white undertail coverts don't appear to have a dark border. In a pure bird we would expect to see a more uniform colouration between the breast and flanks and a lack of scalloping on the upperparts with a black bordered white undertail covert patch.
 Similar features are shown on the other side of the bird. Also to my eye the overall colouration is more brown-red rather than red-brown. 
 Even though the bill has a superficially Fudge Duck pattern on close inspection the bluish sub-terminal band is obliquely angled and the black tip is extensive. A black tip confined to the nail of the bird is a feature of male Ferruginous Duck but in females this feature can be more variable with an extensive dark tip. However the dark tip is very extensive on this individual and the blue band should be less obliquely angled pointing towards a hybrid. 
 Compared to a female Pochard the crown is visibly higher peaked with a more steeper forehead and less concaved profile from crown peak to bill tip. The profile is quite Ferruginous duck like.
 The underwing is overall white which is a feature shared by Tufted Duck, Pochard and Ferruginous Duck but the trailing edge on the underwing is quite diffuse- more Pochard like. 
 The spread upperwing is also quite Ferruginous Duck like with dark tips to the secondaries and primaries forming a broad band on the trailing edge of the wing. On Pochard there are no dark tips to the secondaries (but there are on Tufted Duck). The band pinches in on the inner primaries which is an unusual pattern and the broad wing bar is greyish rather than white. Again a mix of features. Overall an interesting bird presumably with either Ferruginous Duck ancestry or a remarkable lookalike from a Pochard x Tufted Duck pairing.  
 We were actually doing the gulls before we got distracted by the duck. This first-winter Caspian Gull was one of three different Caspian Gulls. 
 Second-winter Caspian Gull (bird #1). It doesn't show too well in this shot but the mantle and scaps  were finely streaked. The distinctive mirror on p10 is obvious in this photo. 
 Second-winter #2. The mantle and scapulars of this individual are much more uniform than the bird above. 
 A bad photo of a Caspian-type that didn't quite cut the mustard
and to conclude proceedings on an overall rather interesting session with Kojak and Dave at the farmlands- the first-winter Glaucous Gull (a pale morph) made a fly by.

Hybrid duck links:
Ferruginous Duck x Pochard
Pochard x Tufted Duck
Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck