WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 17 SEA TERNS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is sea terns

Terns are the fork-tailed, smaller, more delicate relatives of the gulls. Our terns fit into two broad categories: the sea terns and the marsh terns. The latter are three small species which are passage birds in the UK. The sea terns include five species which breed in this country, some commonly, and one as a very scarce breeder. All are pale grey with black caps. Common and Arctic terns can be tricky to tell apart, but Little and Sandwich Terns are pretty distinctive. The rare Roseate Tern is like an exaggeration of an Arctic Tern.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

The standard, familiar ‘sea swallow’, the Common Tern is a familiar sight not only at the coast but also at inland sites, such as gravel pits and lakes with relatively un-vegetated islands (and readily adapting to ‘tern rafts’). They are graceful, elegant birds with a distinctive flicky wing action. In many ways Common and Arctic Terns are very similar. Note the following features (all Common tern features): longer more orange-red bill with a black tip; at rest wings are about the same length as tail; flight feathers have darker grey smudges in a wedge shape; flight style languid and flicky, with wings seemingly set further back than on Arctic Tern; red legs are longer than Arctic’s.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

A very similar bird to the Common Tern, the Arctic tern is largely a coastal breeder, mainly of northern coasts (around Scotland, Ireland and northern Wales). They do pass through inland areas on passage, especially in spring (late April to early May), but don’t stay to breed like OCmmon terns. Form Comon Tern not the following Arctic features: shorter blood-red bill, without black tip; at rest, very long tail streamers extend beyond wing tips; flight feathers look very clean and translucent, never with darker wedges; flight style slightly stiffer than Common, with wings seemingly set further forward (partly because of very long tail); Legs are very short.

 

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

The Sandwich Tern is our largest breeding tern, considerably larger than Common and Arctic Terns, and with a different structure, looking front heavy, with a larger head and short tail. In breeding plumage, the back of the crown looks shaggy or spikey. The bill is black with a yellow tip. Sandwich Terns are coastal breeders, nesting on suitable beaches especially on the east and southern coasts of England (though at other places as well). They have distinctive coarse, creaking, hoarse ‘kirrick’ calls .

 

Little Tern

Little Tern

Little Tern

Little Terns are truly tiny terns a fraction of the size of their larger cousins. With relatively large heads and short tails, they are like mini versions of a Sandwich Tern, but a speeded up version! Unlike the larger terns, the bill is yellow with a black tip and the forehead white in breeding plumage. Little Terns have a similar coastal breeding distribution to Sandwich Terns, but there are fewer than 2,000 pairs in the country.

 

Roseate Tern

Roseate Tern

Roseate Tern

Our rarest breeding tern (with fewer than 100 UK pairs, mainly in Northern Ireland and Northumberland), the Roseate tern is like an extra pale plumaged mix of Common and Arctic terns. Its tail is even longer than Arctic’s, but its legs are quite long and the bill largely black with a red base.

 

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 16 SMALLER GULLS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is smaller gulls

Our group to look for this week are the smaller gulls. These include arguably our most familiar species, the Black-headed Gull, the Common Gull, Mediterranean Gull and the most sea-bond of all our gulls, the Kittiwake. Plus, we must include the beautiful Little Gull, a bird seen on passage in the UK.

Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult winter Black-headed Gull

Adult winter Black-headed Gull

Abundant and familiar, the Black-headed Gull is, of course, the gull with a brown head. Gulls always seem to get their names slightly wrong (and the scientific name of the Black-headed Gull means laughing gull, which is an altogether different bird… ). In winter., the brown hood becomes a spot behind the eye, which makes them look a little like they are wearing headphones. All BhGulls look pointy winged. There is a distinctive white wedge shape on the leading edge of the outer wing and a dark grey wedge on the underwing in the flight feathers (primaries). The bull is red (darker in summer) and the legs and feet are also red.

Mediterranean Gull

Adult summer Mediterranean Gull

Adult summer Mediterranean Gull

Adult winter Mediterranean Gull

Adult winter Mediterranean Gull

First-winter Mediterranean Gull

First-winter Mediterranean Gull

Scarce but increasing the Mediterranean Gull has a truly black hood, which is slightly more extensive than on the Black-headed Gull. It is also a little larger (roughly Common Gull sized) and altogether chunkier bird. In full adult plumage, the wings lack any dark tones beign pale grey with white flight feathers.  Birds a year before they are adults (second winters) have some black spots in the primaries. The thick bill is bright red and the legs are red.

 

Common Gull

Adult summer Common Gull

Adult summer Common Gull

Adult winter Common Gull

Adult winter Common Gull

Like a small Herring Gull, with a slightly darker grey back and a much smaller, yellow bill (lacking the the red bill spot of the large gull species), the Common Gull is a winter visitor to most of the UK, but a common breeder in the north of the country, especially Scotland. The wings are long and somewhat pointed, with distinctive large white ‘mirror’ at the tip. Legs and feet are grey-green.

 

Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

A little smaller than a Common Gull, the pretty Kittiwake is the most ‘pelagic’ of our gull species, spending much time out to sea and only coming to land to breed, mainly on steep sea cliffs in ‘seabird cities’.b Kittiwakes have subtly two-toned grey wings with black wing tips lacking white spots and looking like they have been dipped in black ink. Juveniles have a W of black lines and a black half collar. Legs and feet are black.

 

Little Gull

Adult summer Little Gull

Adult summer Little Gull

The tiny, cute, Little Gull is a passage bird in the UK (and to a lesser extent a winterer), seen passing through in spring and autumn. In some ways, they are more like Marsh terns than gulls, especially in behaviour, flying buoyantly and swooping down to pick insesct snad other food from the water’s surface. They are seen passing over the sea or at freshwater sites. Much smaller than even Black-headed Gulls, there are in some ways like minuscule Mediterranean Gulls, with clean upper wings, lacking black (in adults); but the underwing is distinctly dark. Juveniles are first-winters are like juvenile and first-winter Kittiwakes. Legs and feet are red.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 15 DABBLING DUCKS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is dabbling ducks

This week we look at the ducks in the genus Anas which feed on the surface by ‘dabbling’, just under by ‘up-ending’ or graze out of water. The point is they don’t dive (except in bathing and sometimes during courtship). The males are colourful and distinctive, the females camouflaged streaky brown (and best separated by structure). Most species have a colourful area of iridescent plumage on the trailing edge of the inner wing (the Secondary feathers) called the speculum, which can be important in ID. Unfortunately all drakes go into what is known as eclipse plumage in summer, where they moult to resemble females, so as not to be too prominent while moulting the wing feathers (which hampers their flight and makes them vulnerable to predation).

Mallard

Drake Mallard

Drake Mallard

Mallard duck with ducklings

Mallard duck with ducklings

The standard duck. This is the bird from which domestic ducks derive, hence why some duck pond ducks are rather odd looking in colour (and sometimes shape). Males are quite large and surprisingly handsome, with bottle green heads a white neck ring, dark red-brown chest and curly black ‘tail’ feathers. The body is mainly grey and the speculum purple-blue with white borders (also in female).

 

Shoveler

Drake Shoveler

Drake Shoveler

Duck and drake Shoveler

Duck and drake Shoveler

Shape alone is enough to identify the handsome, but essentially weird, short-necked Shoveler. Both ducks and drakes have huge bills used for filtering small food from the water’s surface. Males have Mallard-green heads and black bills, white breasts and rich chestnut flanks, otherwise beign black and white. The forewing is pale blue and the speculum green. Brown females have a greyforewing.

 

Gadwall

Drake Gadwall

Drake Gadwall

Drake Gadwall flapping, showing supercilium

Drake Gadwall flapping, showing supercilium

Slightly smaller than a Mallard, the drake Gadwall looks grey from any distance (with a black rear end and white speculum). Close up, his plumage is finely vermiculated. Females are best told from Mallard ducks b their white speculum (which can show even in the folded wing) and structure.

 

Wigeon

Grazing drake Wigeon

Grazing drake Wigeon

Duck and drake Wigeon in flight

Duck and drake Wigeon in flight

The handsome drake Wigeon has a pale grey body, black rear end and brick red head with a cream forehead and crown. The forewing is white and he speculum green. Of all the dabbling ducks, this is the one most often seen grazing out of water. Both males and females have short, ‘cute’ blue-grey bills with a black tip.

 

Pintail

Drake Pintail

Drake Pintail

Flying drake Pintail

Flying drake Pintail

The long-necked gracefuyl Pintail is an elegant bird, the drake having a chocolate brown head, white and grey body and a lvery ong ‘pin tail’. Females are best identified by being similar in structure to the drakes (though lacking the long tail).

 

Teal

Drake Teal

Drake Teal

Teals are tiny ducks, bt exquisitely handsome. The head is red-brown with a a gthick iridescent green stripe through the eye and cheek, lined with pencil thin yellow. The body is grey (vermiculated) with a white stripe parallel to the water line and a yellow and black rear end.

 

Garganey

Drake Garganey

Drake Garganey

Flying drake Garganey. Note pale grey forewing

Flying drake Garganey. Note pale grey forewing

Flying duck Garganey

Flying duck Garganey

A scarce summer visitor mainly toe the south-east of England, the ultra shy drake Garganey is not much bigger than a teal. It is brown and grey with a striking whitesupercilium. Females are similar to Duck Teals but have oddly striped faces.

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 14 SMALLER FINCHES

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is smaller finches

This week we are going to look at six types of smaller finch. A couple of them  (Goldfinch and Greenfinch) are very familiar garden birds, throughout the year. Linnet is a common bird of the countryside and Twite is its northern upland equivalent. And the little, tit-like Lesser Redpoll is a widespread winter visitor and breeding bird in selected woodlands, as is the siny Siskin. They are all at some stage or in some plumages a bit brown and streaky, so can require a little careful observation to separate.

 

Goldfinch

Adult Goldfinch

Adult Goldfinch

Juvenile Goldfinch

Juvenile Goldfinch

Pretty much unmistakable (if seen at all well), the Goldfinch can look too exotic to really be a wild British bird! It is has a distinctive crimson and black face, and massive, obvious golden wing flashes. There are more than 300,000 pairs nesting across the UK apart from the far north and north-west of Scotland and the Scottish islands. They are common birds of town and country, being expected birds in many of our gardens. Juveniles lack the face pattern, instead being drab brown of body and face, but with the same bright yellow wing flashes as the adults.

 

Greenfinch

Male Greenfinch

Male Greenfinch

Female (left) and male (right) Greenfinch

Female (left) and male (right) Greenfinch

The largest of this bunch of finches (a wee bit smaller than a sparrow), with an angry frown to match its relative size, and quite a robust bill for what is still a small bird. Male Greenfinches really are green finches. Females are duller and browner, but still have greenish tones and both sexes have yellow panels in the wing (much smaller than those of Goldfinch) and outer tail. Juveniles are even browner and streakier. Despite declines due to disease, Greenfinches are still very common birds of town and country, wherever there are trees and bushes.

 

Linnet

Male Linnet

Male Linnet

Female Linnet

Female Linnet

One of the most overlooked small birds, the Linnet is a much declined but still common bird (430,000 UK pairs).  It is slightly smaller than a Greenfinch, with a slighter bill, and a rustier tone to the call. Males are variable, but bright ones have grey heads and brown backs and bright flushes of pink on the breast and forehead. The rump is whitish and there are slight bu t noticeable white flashes in the wing in flight. Females lack the pink tnes and are duller, butcompletley lack green tones and always have a pale chin (see eg Greenfinch and Lesser Redpoll). These are birds of open country, such as farmland with trees and scrub.

 

Twite

Twite

Twite

The northern, upland equivalent of the Linnet, the Twite is also a winter visitor to localised coastal spots. Duller than the Linnet, with a peachy face and no pink on head or breast. Males can have pink rumps. Twites are named after their twangy, nasal calls.

 

Lesser Redpoll

Male Lesser Redpoll

Male Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

The little Lesser Redpoll is about as close to a tit as you get among British finches, dangling uside down to eat tiny seeds from birches and Alders. They are small streaked finches with a red forehead and black chin and an obvious transverse pale buff wing bar. Males can have a lovely rosy flush on the breast.

 

Siskin

Male Siskin

Male Siskin

Female Siskin

Female Siskin

Even smaller than the Lesser Redpoll, the tiny, short-tailed Siskin has a greater preference for conifers, but also feeds on birch and alders in winter. Males are greeny-yellow, black and white, with a black forehead and chin. Females are less yellow/green and are streakier, but still have yellow and green tones including the transverse wing bar, which are absent in Lesser Redpoll.

 

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 13 CALIDRIS SANDPIPERS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is Calidris sandpipers

Most of our smaller (and some medium-sized) waders, which aren’t plovers, are sandpipers. And this catch all term, can itself be roughly divided in two. The larger, long- (and sometimes colourful-) legged, straighter-billed elegant ones are mostly in the genus Tringa. But the ones we are dealing with today are the rounded, dumpy ones, usually with duller legs and a slightly down curved bill. These are the Calidris sandpipers. In real life, for most of the year, the Dunlin is the main player, the default small , dumpy wader, the bog-standard, basic calidrid. This is the most important one to learn. If you know your Dunlins inside and out, then when a rare North American ‘peep’ comes along, you have a chance of knowing. Also, how will you identify a Curlew Sandpiper unless you know what a Dunlin can look like? Otherwise, if in doubt, it is a Dunlin.

Dunlin

Adult breeding Dunlin

Adult breeding Dunlin

Juvenile Dunlin

Juvenile Dunlin

Winter Dunlin

Winter Dunlin

A small (but not tiny) wader, the dumpy Dunlin comes in three main flavours: breeding plumage, juvenileand winter plumage. To master the Dunlin, you need to know the difference and mastery of Dunlins is one of the best skills you can have as a birder. Breeding adults are pretty straightforward thanks to the black belly, which is only found on Dunlin among smaller waders. Juveniles (which appear from about July onwards) are neat and surprising, with nice, fresh, buff-fringed wing and back feathers. A key thing to look for is (slightly messy) black streaking on the flanks. No Curlew Sandpiper or American rare sandpiper will have this. Winter birds are pale grey and white, very like most other calidrids, so concentrate on the dumpy structure and long, down curved bill. The rump is dark (not white; compare this with Curlew Sandpiper and also Knot).

 

Curlew Sandpiper

Adult breeding Curlew Sandpiper

Adult breeding Curlew Sandpiper

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpieprs are passage birds in the UK, and moderately scarce. In breeding plumage, Curlew Sandpipers are deep brick red especially on the underparts, though they are usually a bit blotchy in the UK. In winter they are essentially similar in colour to Dunlins (apart the rump). Juveniles, which appear from late summer into autumn, are neat, peachy toned scally backed birds, always lacking the black flank streaking of Dunlin juveniles. In all plumages the rump is white. Check for structural differences with Dunlin.  Where the latter are dumpy and short necked, Curlew Sands are longer legged (so stand taller), longer necked and more elegant looking with a slightly loner curved bill (which gives them their ‘Curlew’ name).

 

Sanderling

Winter Sanderling

Winter Sanderling

Adult breeding Sanderling

Adult breeding Sanderling

These are the wind-up clockwork toy birds which dash along the edge of the tiny surf waves on sandy beaches. They are a bit like pale Dunlin in winter, but have shorter straighter bills and more contrastying black and white wings in flight. In spring they get a nice golden spangled look and completely lack the black belly or flank streaks of Dunlin. A passage and wintering bird, which may pass through inland sites in small numbers in spring and summer.

 

Knot

Adult breeding Knot

Adult breeding Knot

Winter Knot

Winter Knot

The big brother of the Dunlin, the Knot is a sizable calidrid, getting on for Redshank-sized. These are the waders that form those huge ‘murmuration’ swirling flocks over The Wash in winter, as featured in every TV wildlife documentary about or coasts and estuaries.  It is another wintering bird which also passes on passage in spring and autumn, the breeding plumage is a gorgeous brick red beneath and spangling above. Winter birds are grey. Note the size, the relatively small head and short straight bill. The rump is pale, bordering on white (a bit like a Grey Plover’s rump). The legs are greyish green, but are blacker in breeding plumage.

 

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Almost exclusively a ‘wintering’ bird, a perhaps surprisingly large number 13,000 Purple Sandpipers spend the winter around our rocky coasts, mainly around the Scottish and northern English east coast, as well as the coast of north Wales and north-west England and Northern Ireland, plus south-western England. They are about the size of a dumpy Redshank, looking a bit like a giant dark Dunlin with orange legs and an orange base to the bill. They like wave, splashed weedy rocky shores.

 

Little Stint

Juvenile Little Stint

Juvenile Little Stint

Little Stints are tiny little waders, which look like they could run through the legs of Dunlin! They are quite scarce passage birds (perhaps fewer than 500 birds in the country), mostly seen as fresh juveniles in late summer and autumn. Of regular Europeans birds, only the Temminck’s Stint is similar in size (there are some rare North American and very rare Asiatic calidrids of similar size). Unlike Temmick’s Stints, they are colourful, with rusty and golden tones,, black legs and a ‘split supercilium’ (the pale line above the eye appears to divide).

 

 

Temminck’s Stint

Spring Temminck's Stint

Spring Temminck's Stint

Even scarcer that the Little Stint, the little ‘Minx’ appears in small numbers in early May and again in the autumn. They are greyer stints, with a crouched, creeping gait, and pale grey-green legs. In some ways they resemble tiny Common Sandpipers. Temminck’s Stints are birds of freshwater habitats, such as lagoons and gravel pit edges.

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDSTO SEEK: WEEK 12 BUNTINGS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is buntings

This week we turn to a group of essentially sparrow-like birds, the buntings. Indeed, in North America, they call birds in this family ‘sparrows’, owing to their general resemblance to the remembered sparrows of the ‘home countries’. There are three common and widespread British species: Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer and the much declining Corn Bunting. A fourth species, the Cirl Bunting is restricted to a smallpopulationin Devon as well as an increasing reintroduced population in Cornwall (with a total UK population of fewer than 1,000 pairs).

 

Reed Bunting

Male Reed Bunting in reedmace and reed bed

Male Reed Bunting in reedmace and reed bed

Singing male Reed Bunting

Singing male Reed Bunting

Female Reed Bunting

Female Reed Bunting

Arguably the most sparrow-like bunting, the Reed Bunting is a bird of damp areas, wetlands, reedbeds and so on, but also some scrubby bushy areas and farmland. Males are Black-headed (and black billed)with a black bib, giving them an extra touch of sparrowness. They are white collared with a streaky brown upperparts and black streaked white underparts. The longish tail has white outer feathers and is often flicked to show this feature. Females are a bit like female House Sparrows (with similar brown and grey tones), but with more streaks on the underparts and around the face and the same white outer tail feathers.

 

Yellowhammer

Singing male Yellowhammer 'A little bit of bread and no cheeeeese'

Singing male Yellowhammer 'A little bit of bread and no cheeeeese'

Male Yellowhammer, showing yellow underparts

Male Yellowhammer, showing yellow underparts

Female Yellowhammer

Female Yellowhammer

Male Yellowhammers in the spring and summer are spectacular and surprisingly exotic birds, with a strikingly bright yellow head and often yellow underparts. The rest of the plumage is streaked black on reddish brown, with a particularly rufous rump. Like the Reed Bunting (but unlike the Corn Bunting,) the outer tail feathers are white. Females are duller, but retain the yellowish tones in spots. A bird of open country with hedges and bushes, and famed for its ‘little bit of breads and no cheeeese’ song.

 

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Singing Corn Bunting

Singing Corn Bunting

The Big Bertha of buntings, the Corn Bunting is a chunky bird, approaching a Starling in size and noticeably round in shape. If you see then alongside Yellowhammers (say, lined up on a wire), they are considerably larger (like the ‘next size up’). It is a pretty nondescript, streaked (giant) bird, with a big, thick (straw coloured) bill, big pinkish feet. It lacks any great distinguishing markings and the very lack of white outer tail feathers is useful. Also useful in ID is the habit of dangling its legs in flight. During Spring, Corn Bunting are most often seen singing, from an exposed perch, be it a wire or fence post or hay bale. The song is a distinctive rattling jangle, often compared to the shaking of a bunch of keys. It doesn’t ream=lly sound like this, but it can be a useful starting point!

 

Cirl Bunting

Singing male Cirl Bunting

Singing male Cirl Bunting

Male Cirl Bunting

Male Cirl Bunting

This rare close relative of the Yellowhammer is similar in many ways to that species. But the male, in particular, has a very distinctive, well-marked green and black face pattern and a all birds have greenish rather than reddish rumps. Females look female Yellowhammers, but with a stronger face pattern (like a ghost of the male's) and that greenish rump.

 

 

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 11 Gallinules and Water Rail

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is gallinules and Water Rail

This week it is the turn of two very common waterbirds and waterside birds, the Coot and Moorhen, plus a related bird which is infamous for skulking in reedbeds and is much more often heard than see, the Water Rail. Coots and Moorhens, which are known as gallinules (which means little chickens) are similar-looking dark-coloured birds which cause confusion with some total beginners, but are really quite easy to identify. Both are happy swimming in water, but both also come out on land to feed. Neither actually have webbed feet, but, rather, lobes on the long toes to aid swimming. These are particularly pronounced on the big grey feet of Coots, which, correspondingly, as a species spends more time on open water than the Moorhen, which is more a bird of the edges of vegetated water bodies and of the land nearby.

Coot

Coot swimming

Coot swimming

Coot taking off from water

Coot taking off from water

Lobed Coot foot

Lobed Coot foot

Easily identified medium-sized blackish (or dark grey) blob of a waterbird. Plumage unicoloured (apart from a thin white trailing edge to the wing, only visible in flight). Bill white as is frontal shield (think: ‘bald as a Coot’). Big grey lobed feet. A loud, argumentative bird, often spoiling for a fight (with other Coots), the usual calls are shouted ‘Kik! Kik!’ sounds.

 

Moorhen

Moorhen swimming

Moorhen swimming

Moorhens in battle

Moorhens in battle

Smaller than Coot and altogether a more ‘colourful’ bird. On first impression, this is a uniformly dark bird. The bill is bright red with a yellow tip, as if painted. The frontal shield is also red. A second, closer look reveals that the underparts and head are deep blue-grey but the back, wings and upper tail are dark brown. Dividing the two regions of dark ‘colour’ is an obvious white line. The undertail sides are white, and used to ‘flash’ in signal, when swimming or when on land, when it can be flicked and cocked. The legs and feet are pale green. Like Coots, Moorhens can be aggressive birds, engaging in on-water battles where they don't shirk from using their long toes as weapons. Fruity, chirruping calls are commonest.

 

Water Rail

A Water Rail ventures out onto ice

A Water Rail ventures out onto ice

Water Rail on a sunny, icy day

Water Rail on a sunny, icy day

This shy bird of reedbeds and similar habitats is a skulker, which usually only ventures out at dusk and dawn when it believes it is not being watched. In some conditions though, they can be quite tame (especially when forced out by a freeze). Water Rails are pretty tiny compared to the gallinules (looking about half the size of a Moorhen). They are pretty little birds, with a long bright red bill, blue-grey underparts with black and white vertical stripes on the flanks and a streaky brown back. Buff undertail. (tail is usually cocked) In some ways, the overall plumage is a little Dunnock like, apart from those striped flanks. Usually betrays its presence with loud squealing calls, sounding like a tortured piglet!

 

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 10 Avocet & Oystercatcher

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

 

This week, it is Avocet and Oystercatcher

This week we look at two waders which are about as close to unmistakable as you can get for shorebirds,  in a UK context. Both are large for waders and both are black and white. They are, of course, nothing like each other

 

Avocet

Avocet

Avocet

Avocet in flight

Avocet in flight

Winter flock of Avocets

Winter flock of Avocets

A largish wader (about the size of a godwit), the gleaming white and black Avocet is just about the epitome of elegance in a wading bird. The legs are long and pale blue-grey and the ultrafine upturned bill is unique among British wading birds. Avocets having been breeding in the UK since their return during WWII and there are now about 1,500 breeding pairs in the country with their stronghold in East Anglia and east and south-east England. Some 7,500 individuals also winter in the UK, especially in the south and south-west of England.

Just about the only possible confusion species, is the much larger Shelduck, but only if seen very distantly.

Avocets feed in lagoons and pools, with a sweeping motion of their famous bills. They wade to considerable depth on their long legs, but also readily swim (the feet are partially webbed).

Avocets return to the breeding sites in early spring, and can pass through suitable wetland sites.

 

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Oystercatcher

Displaying Oystercatcher pair

Displaying Oystercatcher pair

Big and chunky the black and white Oystercatcher with its large, bright orange ‘carrot’ of a bill is another unmistakable bird in the a UK context( there are similar oystercatcher species on other continents). They are generally spread around our coasts (with 110, 000 breeding pairs), but they also breed inland, returning to breeding sites in February and March. Oystercatchers are noisy waders, shouting out ‘Kebeep’ or ‘The beak!’ if you prefer.

The big orange bill is used as a tool for eating a variety of bivalves (not just oysters!) as well as other invertebrates.

Oystercatchers start returning to breeding sites in late winter into early spring.

 

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 9 Swans

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is swans

 

We have three wild species of swan in the UK (plus a few escaped Australian Black Swans on the loose). The very common, familiar swan you will see all year round at your local park, river, wherever, is the Mute Swan. The other two species are the Whooper Swan and Bewick’s Swan, both Arctic breeders which winter in the UK in smallish numbers (about 15,000 Whoopers and 7,000 Bewick’s. There are also about a dozen pairs of Whooper Swans breeding in Scotland, but the vast majority of these winter swans do just that, winter.

As such, the next few weeks are the time to catch them before they head back north to the breeding grounds – until next autumn that is, when they will return.

In general Whooper Swans winter across Scotland and Ireland and in smaller numbers in northern England, as well as around the Wash and East Anglia, the Severn and North Wales.

Bewick’s Swans also winter in Ireland but have a more southern distribution in the UK, with birds found ineastern England, around the Severn Estuary as well as the Lancashire coast.

 

Mute Swan

Adult Mute Swan

Adult Mute Swan

The classic, ubiquitous swan. Huge and white with a famous graceful S-shaped neck and wings which it rises almost like sails when angry or displaying. Tame and approachable, though with a penchant for producing scary hisses (though they probably can’t really break your arm… ). In flight the wings make a loud whistling. The calls are weird stifled grunts and squeals.

The easiest way to recognise a Mute Swans is to look for the S-shaped neck, and also, the black face in front of the eye, wholly pink-orange bill and black knob at the bill base.

 

Whooper Swan

Adult Whooper Swan

Adult Whooper Swan

Nearly as big as a Mute Swan, the neck of this species and the Bewick’s is much straighter and stiffer than the Mute’s. Shy, usually flying off strongly at a hint of approach. The wings are more or less silent in flight. Calls are barked honking sounds, a little like Canada Goose from a distance. The long bill is black with a lot of yellow at the base making a sharply pointed V shape pointing toward the bill tip.; the yellow extends all the way to the eyes giving an ‘open’ look to the face.

 

Bewick’s Swan

Adult Bewick's Swan

Adult Bewick's Swan

In many ways like a small version of the Whooper, being considerably smaller (and shorter necked) than its cousin as well as the Mute, being almost like a large goose in size. Shares the stiff, straight neck with the Whooper, as well as the quiet wings in flight. Shy. The shorter bill gives the Bewick’s a more rounded, ‘softer’ head shape. The yellow also extends to the eye, but is less extensive on the black bill, making just a small rounded yellow patch.

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 8 Gamebirds (pt one)

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is gamebirds (part one)

Our gamebirds can loosely be divided into grouse, and pheasants and partridges.. There are four British grouse species, one native partridge and one introduced, plus the Pheasant. Finally there is the anomalous Quail, which breaks the general rules of being a gamebird in that it is a summer migrant and is, to all intents and purposes, invisible!

Red Grouse

Male Red Grouse

Male Red Grouse

Female Red Grouse

Female Red Grouse

Easily our commonest grouse species, this is the bird that men in tweeds enjoy blasting with shotguns for pleasure, while turning a blind eye to the destruction of Hen Harriers, Mountain Hares and anything resembling a predator which ‘threatens’ the grouse population. It is not the grouse’s fault though, of course. Our native subspecies of the Willow Grouse is notable for being more red-brown all over and not turning white in winter. These are the grouse who appear as if by magic from heather to proclaim ‘go back go back go backakakakakakak!’.

 

Black Grouse

Male Black Grouse lekking

Male Black Grouse lekking

Female Black Grouse (Greyhen)

Female Black Grouse (Greyhen)

Much rarer and more localised that Red Grouse, the spectacular, exotic-looking Black Grouse is usually at lek sites, where in the very early morning, males gather to sing at each other with their tails puffed up, in order to attract the smaller, grey females. The song is a wonderful continuous bubbling, interspersed by wheezy sneeze sounds. Best seen by visiting one of the known lek sites. Black Grouse leks are very vulnerable to disturbance, so, should only be viewed very carefully from distance.

CapercailLie

Male Capercaillie

Male Capercaillie

Female Capercaillie

Female Capercaillie

The giant, turkey-sized Caper was made extinct in the UK in the late 18th Century. It is even possible that we had our distinct subspecies which is now, tragically, extinct. So, the Scottish population comes from ‘reintroduced’ Swedish birds. This population has also undergone a massive recent decline, and there may be fewer than 1,000 left in Scotland. They are famously tricky birds to encounter. One of the best ways is to visit the Loch Garten RSPB during one of its early morning Caper watch sessions, though even that is hit and miss and even if you see one it may be just a distant dot…

 

Ptarmigan

Male Ptarmigan in spring

Male Ptarmigan in spring

Female Ptarmigan in summer

Female Ptarmigan in summer

Male (left) and female (right) Ptarmigan

Male (left) and female (right) Ptarmigan

The Ptarmigan is the high altitude grouse. If you want to see one, you are going to have to visit the Scottish mountains. They scrape a living among the rocks of ranges such as the Cairngorms. Ptarmigans go white in winter (like some Stoats and Mountain Hares), and the rest of the time are brown and white to match the patchy snow or the lichen covered granite of their surroundings. They can be highly approachable.

Week-by-week birds to seek: Week 7 Accipiters

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

THIS WEEK, IT IS ACCIPITERS

There are two British species of hawk in the genus Accipiter. The Sparrowhawk is a common raptor (35,000 pairs) and the Goshawk is a rare breeder with fewer than 500 pairs across the country. Despite this disparity in abundance, the Goshawk is frequently ‘claimed’ by inexperienced birdwatchers. Indeed it is notorious for probably being the most ‘over-claimed’ bird. Of course, its very scarcity is one reason for its mistaken identity, as if you lack experience with a particular bird and seen a large or out of context Sparrowhawk it is natural to think it could be a different bird altogether.

If in doubt, it is a Sparrowhawk. If it looks like a big Sparrowhawk, it is a Sparrowhawk. If it is doing a sky dance with white fluffy undertail coverts spread, it could be either, but it is most likely a Sparrowhawk. If it dwarfs a Woodpigeon it is pursuing or is the same size as a Raven or Buzzard in the same airspace, it is a Goshawk.

Sparrowhawk

Male Sparrowhawk

Male Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks are small: about the same size as a Kestrel. As with many birds of prey, males can be considerably smaller than females. Both have quite short blunt tipped wings and a long, narrow, square ended tail. Males can be colourful birds, bluish on top and barred reddish or salmon beneath. Females are a dull grey-brown on the upperparts and barred brown and white on the underparts. They hunt birds, using low flights and surprise, twistingand swooping round trees or over hedges or garden fences. Contrary to popular belief, they can take prey as large as a Woodpigeon.

Male Sparrowhawk

Male Sparrowhawk

You can see Sparrowhawks flying with a distinctive level ‘flap-flap-glide’ flight, or soaring on thermals. They also do a sky-dancing display flight with their white undertail coverts spread, and with slow rowing wingbeats, which can give an illusion of larger size and fuels confusion with the much larger Goshawk.

 

Goshawk

Goshawk with Woodpigeon (note the massive size of the hawk)

Goshawk with Woodpigeon (note the massive size of the hawk)

Goshawk

Goshawk

Goshawks are big birds, with a female being Buzzard–sized and a male also being substantially larger than a Sparrowhawk.  Absolute size is not the only difference, though, and there are many structural differences which make Goshawks look not only massive but different from their smaller cousins. They have thicker based (so-called ‘broad hips’), more rounded tails, deep bellies and chests, and often appear to have bulging secondaries (rear edge of inner wing) with more ‘pointed’ wing tips. They also differ in plumage, with adults having darker cheeks and bolder supercilium and bluish (not grey-brown upperparts). Juveniles are easier to identify, being brown and having streaked, not barred, underparts.

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 6 SPARROWS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is Sparrows

There are two species of sparrow in the UK. When many of us were young, we used to think there were three, but the hedgesparrow is now more commonly called the Dunnock! So, we have the House Sparrow and the Tree Sparrow.

Female (left) and male (right) House Sparrow

Female (left) and male (right) House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow

 

They are not particularly difficult to identify. The most important thing to realise is that unlike House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow males and females look the same as each other. If you see a ‘female looking’ sparrow, it will be a House Sparrow.

Tree Sparrow (males and females are not distinguishable in the field)

Tree Sparrow (males and females are not distinguishable in the field)

 

Otherwise, plumage wise, Tree Sparrows have red-brown crows and white cheeks with a black spot and a white collar. House Sparrows have grey crowns, greyer cheeks with no black spot and no white collar.

As a rule Tree Sparrows are more rural, House Sparrows more tied to human settlements.

House Sparrows have a familiar range of fruity, chirrups and cheeps. Tree Sparrow calls are more clipped ‘chip’ sounds.

Week-by-week birds to seek: Week 5 Diving Ducks

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is DIVING DUCKS.

Ducks can broadly be divided into those that feed from the surface of the water (without submerging) or out of the water (grazing etc), and those which dive to get their food, be it fish, invertebrates or plant material. So, in short, dabbling ducks and diving ducks. This week we will look at diving ducks.

Diving ducks, themselves can be sub-divided further into Aythya ducks, scoters, eiders, sawbills and others (eg Goldeneye).

Aythya ducks

The genus Aythya contains the standard small to medium-sized diving ducks which you encounter everywhere from the local park to the sea. In a British context there are three main species: Tufted Duck, Pochard and Scaup.

 

Male Tufted Duck

Male Tufted Duck

Female Tufted Duck

Female Tufted Duck

The Tufted Duck is an abundant diving duck in most freshwater settings. Only adult males have the full drooping crest at the back of the head. Females and youngsters have a lesser crest or just a bit of an angle on the back of the head. Males are black with white flanks, females are dark brown with paler brown flanks. Note some female Tufties can have a white Scaup-like blaze on the face.

 

Male Pochard

Male Pochard

Female Pochard

Female Pochard

Pochards are the chunky grey-backed diving ducks with sky-lope foreheads. Females are brown and grey (concentrate on the head shape), while males have lovely red heads, black breasts and pale grey bodies. Pochards spend an inordinate amount of time asleep! They are much, much commoner in winter, and only s a scarce breeding bird.

 

Female Scaup

Female Scaup

Scaup are a bit like a mix between Tufties and Pochards: hefty in build with a grey body (male) and dark head and breast; females have white blazes and brown heads and bodies, with less constrast between the back and flank than on a Tufted Duck. Concetrate on two key poitns: head shape (steep forehead and rounded back, no tuft) and bill pattern (black more or less restricted to the tip aka the nail).

 

Scoters

Three are two main species in the UK; both are largely wintering birds. They are both good-sized black ducks which are at home at sea.

 

Male Common Scoter

Male Common Scoter

Common Scoter males are all black with a splash of orange on the bill. Females are dark brown with paler cheeks. They can form large flocks off shore.

 

Male Velvet Scoter

Male Velvet Scoter

Velvet Scoters are also all black (males), but with a white patch around the eye and a more obvious white panel in the secondaries of the wing (seen as a white patch on folded wing, or as a more obvious white sqaure on the trailing edge of the wing on flying birds. Females are like a dark brown version of the male, with a similar wing patch.

 

Eiders

Male Eider

Male Eider

In a UK context, Eider is the only eider which is at all common (King Eiders are regular but rare). They are large, chunky seaducks with wedge shaped bill and head combination. Males are white above, black below and have black flight feathers and tail and black and green on the head: unmistakable! Except, beware eclipse birds, when the head and neck are also dark, as is a large part of the back.

 

Sawbills

There are three sawbills (or mergansers), which are named for their narrow, saw-tooth–edged bill, which they use for grasping slippery fish.

 

Male Goosander

Male Goosander

Female Goosander

Female Goosander

Goosanders are large, long-bodied handsome ducks, the duck equivalent of a diver or cormorant. Generally found in freshwaters sites in winter. Males are easy to ID, females are like female Red-breasted Mergansers, but note the more robust, ‘hooked’ bill-tip and the abrupt contact between the orange head and grey and buff neck.

 

Male Red-breasted Merganser

Male Red-breasted Merganser

Male (moulting, left) and female Red-breasted Mergansers

Male (moulting, left) and female Red-breasted Mergansers

Red-breasted Mergansers (at least the males) are one of our most delightfully attractive ducks or indeed birds! They are largely found at the coast, preferring saltwater to fresh. Females are slighter than female Goosanders and have a blurred distinction between the upper and lower neck colour.

 

Female ('redhead') Smew

Female ('redhead') Smew

Smews are tiny very shy ducks. Males are unmistakable, females are a little bit like grey bodied Ruddy Ducks or even red-headed grebes. They are usually found on freshwater bodies in southern England, particularly after continental freezes.

 

Others

Male Goldeneye

Male Goldeneye

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks

Goldeneye is a common winter visitor. Note the distinctive head shape. Long-tailed Ducks are small diving ducks, mainly found on the sea. Males are spectacular, females less so, but still distinctive. Both have plain black wings.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 4 TITS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOU #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

 

This week, it is TITS

In the UK the tit family is a family of two extremes, including as it does a couple of our most widespread, familiar, garden birds and also a couple of our most localised birds. Most of us (except those of us on certain Scottish islands) will have no difficulty seeing Great Tits and Blue Tits, perhaps every day. And the tiny Coal Tit is also very widely distributed, though with a bit more of a preference for coniferous forests.

The trouble makers, which present something more of a challenge to anyone building a year list, are the very similar Marsh and Willow Tits and the Crested Tit.

All are resident birds, so time of year is not a vital consideration. However, out of the breeding season, all species will readily join up in roving foraging flocks. And, after all, without leaves on the trees, all woodland species are easier to see.

 

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit

Mainly a bird of England and Wales, the Marsh Tit is the commoner of the two very similar ‘brown’ tits, with just over 40K pairs in the UK. But they are on the decline. They are birds of broad-leafed woodland (not really marshes) and are best identified by their ‘pitchoo’ and ‘chickadee-dee-dee’ calls, which are usually the means by which they are detected in the firs place.

 

Willow Tit

Willow Tit

Willow Tit

Willow Tits also venture into south-west Scotland, but have a similar national distribution to Marsh Tits, though in practice, are much more localised, and have a total population of only 3,400 pairs. When you consider that they are a British subspecies (kleinschmidtii), that is a disturbingl;y low number of individuals. Willow Tits are generally found in more damp localities than Marsh Tits, including carrs. However, the habitat is nowhere near as reliable an ID feature as the call, a buzzing ‘chay chay chay’, slower and more nasal than Marsh Tit’s equivalent calls.

Willow Titis can still be found at site sin the north-east of England and in some counties, such as parts of Leicestershire, they are easier to find than Marsh Tits. In others, such as Cambridgeshire, where two decades ago there was a regular breeding population, they are ‘extinct’ as breeders.

 

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Tits are a pretty group of birds, but none of of our species comes close to the charm of the Crested Tit. This is partly because it is a scarce and localised bird, largely restricted to the Caledonian pine forests of the Scottish Highlands. But it is also because it is a very nicely marked bird, with a lovely crest. Crested tits produce a gentle trilled call, a little like shaking one of those squeaky, tweety boxes that used to entertainment children a generation or two back. They have an interesting way of tumbling down lichen covered pines, to search at lower levels for invertebrate material to eat.

 

All photos from Alamy

Week-by-week birds to seek: Week 3 Grebes

Every week in 2017 we will have new suggestions for a different group of birds to look for to help develop you #My200BirdYear list.

This week, it is GREBES.

There are five regularly occurring species of regular British grebes. Two (Great Crested and Little) are common and widespread. Of the other three, two (Black-necked and Slavonian) are regular, scarce breeding birds with a larger wintering coastal population, while the Red-necked Grebe is a scarce wintering bird (fewer than 100 individuals).

So, the long and short of it is that two will be easy to add to any year list, while the other three will need to a coastal site in winter, or to a known breeding site, or perhaps to catch up with an individual which has wandered inland. All five should be gettable, with a bit of effort, and now is as good a time as any to be ticking all five.

 

Great Crested Grebe

Displaying Great Crested Grebes

Displaying Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes are widely found in lakes, rivers, gravel pits, reservoirs, you name it; where there is a supply of small fish and a bit of waterside vegetation for cover (especially for the breeding season), there are GCGs. In the winter, they are also found, slightly anomalously and incongruously,  on the sea, near the coast. Winter birds are less cresty, but still easy to identify. Note that much of Scotland has no Great Crested Grebes (including the islands), especially outside the breeding season.

 

Little Grebe

Little Grebe (breeding plumage)

Little Grebe (breeding plumage)

Dabchicks (as they are also called) are found even more widely in the UK than Great Crested Grebes, in lowland lakes and slow rivers with bankside vegetation.. They are titchy and often shy, diving at the sight of a human and often resurfacing among vegetation at the side of the water body. These are the brownest of the smaller grebes, and the brown tones should be enough to distinguish them straightaway from the scarcer small black-and-white grebes (Slavonian and Black-necked).

 

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Black-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Only about 50 pairs of Black-necked Grebes breed in the country, in a line up the spine of England into Scotland. They are more southerly in their largely coastal winter distribution than the similar-looking Slavonian Grebe. Black-necked Grebes in winter are black-and-white, with a steep forehead, high crown, more dark on the cheek and a slimmer ‘upturned’ bill.

 

Slavonian Grebe

Slavonian Grebe (non-breeding)

Slavonian Grebe (non-breeding)

To see these beauties at their best, you will need to visit one of their Highland lochs, such as Loch Ruthven, where a few of the 30 UK pairs nest. Otherwise it is a scarce wintering bird around our coast (about 1,000 birds) , with concentrations in Scottish sites, such as the Moray Firth and the Sussex coast.

 

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Red-necked Grebe (non-breeding)

Like a smaller, darker, chunkier Great Crested Grebe in winter, with a dark cap down to the eye and a yellow-based bill (not pink as in GCG). These birds are best looked for on the east and south coast of England, though some come inland each year, for instance to ‘inland seas’ such as Rutland Water.

All photos from Alamy

Week-by-week birds to seek: Week 2 Dunnock, Starling and Wren

Every week in 2017 we will have new suggestions for a different group of birds to look for to help develop you #My200BirdYear list.

This week, it is DUNNOCK, STARLING & WREN.

This week we look at three birds which should already be on your year list, one week into January! All three are, despite reports of huge declines, particularly for Starlings, among our commonest bird species. And all are very widely distributed across the country.

They are all oddities among British birds, being the sole members of their respective families which breed here (or are regular British birds). Dunnocks belong to the accentor family (Prunellidae), the only family which is only found in the Palearctic biogeographical region (now go and impress your friends with this information!). The Starling is part of the old world starling and mynah family and the Wren is the only member of the wren family to have escaped the confines of the New World.

 

Dunnock

Dunnock

Dunnock

The perky little Dunnock, which has been called the Hedgesparrow or even more weirdly, the Hedge Accentor, is shaped a bit like a Robin or a large, robust warbler, complete with thin bill. But it is wrapped in sparrow’s clothing, being essentially brown and grey. Dunnocks are familiar garden birds, but also occur in parks, woodland edges, hedgerows and so on. They are not particularly shy birds, and can usually be seen hopping around on the ground feeding, or perched in a bush, singing or calling. They spend an inordinate amount of time chasing each other around flicking their wings and pecking at their cloacas…

Get them on your#my200birdyear list, early, then relax and enjoy their antics throughout the rest of the year.

 

Starling

Starling

Starling

Starling 'murmuration': a mass roosting manoeuvre

Starling 'murmuration': a mass roosting manoeuvre

Starlings used to have a reputation for being bird table bully boys. Now, after some well-publicised population declines, they are starting to be appreciated for what they are: beautiful and fascinating birds, which are masters of song, perhaps more so than any other British bird. It is still a common garden bird, and is also renowned for the winter pre-roosting manoeuvres, known as murmurations. #my200birdyear is not only about ticking off a list, it is about getting out to enjoy birds at their best. Why not find a murmuration site near you and enjoying one of the most amazing spectacles of the British winter.

 

Wren

An absurd proportion of the General Public believe that the UK’s smallest bird is the Wren. You, of course, know that the Goldcrest (and its scarce relative, the Firecrest) are half an inch shorter. Those same members of the public probably will tell you that sparrows are our commonest birds. But, curiously, as you may also know, the tiny Wren is our most abundant bird.

Once you know the loud song and the chattering call you can start to appreciate just how many Wrens are out and about in our country, filling woodland and garden alike with their explosive racket. But seeing them is another matter; most birdwatchers hear far more Wrens than they see. They are indeed tiny, but also a bit shy and sneak around within the undergrowth or within bushes, making a vocal fuss but not showing themselves much.

Still, you can put them on your list whenever, as there are lots of Wrens out there.

If you want one further snippet to impress your friends, it is that there in fact five subspecies of Wren which are endemic to the British Isles (ie found nowhere else). These include the British mainland version, but also distinctive forms on St Kilda, Shetland, Fair Isle and the Hebrides. If you want, you could always visit these islands and add the unique subspecies to your #my200birdyear list for a bit of one-upmanship.

All photos from Alamy

Week-by-week birds to seek: Week 1 Geese

Every week in 2017 we will have new suggestions for a different group of birds to look for to help develop you #My200BirdYear list.

This week, it is GEESE.

What better way to kick off a year list, than with wildfowl, the staple of the British winter! Wildfowl are a species-rich group of birds which can help to bolster any bird list, be it for day in the field or a whole year. They can be conveniently subdivided based mainly on size, to swans (the biggest ones), geese (mid-size) and ducks.

Here, we will look at our geese, of which there are eight or nine species which can be seen more or less every year, with a little effort. Mid-winter is arguably the best time to catch up with the most species. Most are breeders from the far north, which come here for our milder winters. Get out and see them before the spring comes around (but don’t worry if you don’t see them all, they will return for next winter!).

Greylag and Canada Geese

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Greylag Goose

Greylag Goose

There are two species of goose which can be seen over most of the country all year round. Both feel a little like cheating when you see them, as the bulk of the British population of the two species come from domestic stock and historical introductions. There is a ‘proper’ wild population of Greylag Geese in Scotland, and rare examples of North American Canadas cross the Atlantic and turn up now and then. But for most of us, naturalised Greylags and Canadas are a shoo-in tick for most days’ birdwatching. See them at a park near you. 

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose

Some 360,000 Pinkfeet winter in the UK, but they are somewhat localised, so may require a visit to one of their, largely coastal or near coastal areas of concentration. North Norfolk and the area around The Wash and the Lincolnshire coast are strongholds, as is the Lancashire coast and Solway Firth, Firth of Forth and Moray Firth as well as areas of Aberdeenshire.

Pinkfeet are smaller than Grelylags with dark brown necks and dark bills and grey backs. They are mainly found feeding on agricultural fields, or seen flying in great V-shaped skeins. In fact, the dawn and dusk flights of great masses of ‘oinking’ Pinkfeet is one of the great spectacles of the birding calendar. Add the species but also the spectacle to your #my200birdyear experience.

 

White-fronted Goose

European White-fronted Geese

European White-fronted Geese

There are about 15,000 wintering White-fronts in the UK, the great bulk of which are orange-billed, dark-necked Greenland birds which winter in western Scotland and the Inner Hebrides, such as Islay. Pink-billed European-bred birds (a few thousand) winter in smaller numbers around the east and south coast of England as well as the Severn Estuary. Much smaller than a Greylag, look for the black stripes on the adults’ bellies, as well as the white in the face.

 

Bean Goose

Tudra Bean Geese

Tudra Bean Geese

Both types of Bean Goose (tundra and taiga subspecies) are scarce wintering birds in the UK, with fewer than 750 in total most years. Look for them in East Anglia or south-west Scotland. They are a bit like robust, large-billed, Pink-footed Geese (with which they were once ‘lumped’), with orange, not pink, legs and feet and on the bill.

 

Brent Goose

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brent Geese

Brent Geese are our most coastally dependent goose, owing to their preference for eating a sea plant called Eel Grass. This keeps them more or less tied to saltmarshes and estuaries. Most birds of the dark-bellied subspecies winter around the south east of England (south of the Humber), including the south coast. Pale-bellied birds winter in Ireland, and a few are found in the north-east of England. Brent geese are very small for geese (only about Mallard sized), and basically dark at the front, white at the back.

 

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

The beautiful, distinctively pied little Barnacle Goose is essentially a northern wintering bird in the UK, with concentrations around the Solway firth as well as the north-west of Scotland. There are localised naturalised populations elsewhere in the country.

 

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

This oddity is an naturalised African species, with a UK population of fewer than 4,000 birds, mainly concentrated around the East Anglian region. The white, Shelduck-like wings are very distinctive in flight.

All photos from Alamy