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Bird Watching
August ISSUE

In the latest issue of Bird Watching:

  • The miraculous migration of Red-necked Phalaropes

  • How Little Egret went from rarity to regular

  • Why new habitats are helping wetland species bounce back

  • Dominic Couzens on the complicated love life of the elusive Wood Warbler

  • Test your ID skills on the birds that visit your garden feeders

  • All the bird sightings in your area and much, much more!

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Obituary – Bob McCurley

Bob McCurley

Bob McCurley

It is with great sadness that we record the passing on 2nd June of Bob McCurley, founding member and past Chairman of Angus and Dundee Bird Club, and longtime UK Bird Sightings correspondent for Tayside.

Bob was born on 10th January 1934 in Consett, Co Durham, into a mining family of nine. Leaving school at 15, he followed his father down the mines, but hated it. When his sister married a Scot and settled in Dundee, he visited for Hogmanay and loved it. As soon as he could, he moved to Dundee and started a long and successful career in retail. Here he met and married Margaret and they had two sons, Fergus and Robin.

Billiards and snooker were Bob’s first leisure passions and he became NE Scotland Amateur Snooker Champion in 1979. Golf followed and he worked down to a low handicap and was Club Champion at Caird Park seven times.

Finding golf too competitive, he resumed a childhood interest in birdwatching, but soon found that could be equally competitive. Twitching trips all over Britain and holidays to Devon, Fair Isle, Norfolk, Wales, Lesvos, Spain and Colorado followed. Bob also contributed a huge amount to the local birding scene, serving on the RSPB and SOC local group committees. He was a founder member of Fife Bird Club and in 1997 helped set up Angus and Dundee Bird Club, initially as Treasurer and from 1998 as Chairman, remaining on the committee until his 80th year in 2014.

Among Bob’s many achievements for the Club were the obtaining of our charitable status which in turn allowed the funding of the Lunan Bay Hide and organising a most enjoyable trip to Lesvos. He also gave valuable service to the conservation committees at Barry Buddon and Condor RM. His enthusiasm, warmth and willingness to share his extensive knowledge of birds and other wildlife have inspired many and will provide a lasting legacy that his family can be proud of. I am sure all of our members will wish to join us in offering our sincere condolences to Fergus, Robin, his grand and great grandchildren and wider family.
Jon Cook, A&DBC

Photo: Dorothy Fyffe



What to look for, NOW!

Here, we highlight what to look for when you're out birding.

This week it is: Black-tailed Godwit

We are entering July and the first signs of autumn are already with us. This is the time when the first ‘failed breeders’ of the wader world start to leave the breeding ground and head south towards the wintering quarters. Among the early movers are Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which have already started to appear at pits across the country, usually in smallish flocks (perhaps a dozen to 30 birds being normal). These are large, brick-red beauties with striking white wing-bars, square white rumps and, of course, black tails. Catch them in the next few weeks.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits  (Mike Weedon)

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits (Mike Weedon)

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits  (Mike Weedon)

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits (Mike Weedon)

Last time it was: Temminck’s Stint

So far, the tips have been for relatively easy birds at least for keen birders. This week it is a tougher proposition: this tiny wader is not only very tiny indeed, but it creeps about unobtrusively and is decidedly scarce! If seen well, it is not particularly hard to identify, though, which is something in its favour. Like the Little Stint, the Temminck’s Stint is minute, looking about the size of a pipit, and so if any common small waders are about (eg Dunlin or Little Ringed Plover), they seem to tower over it. Unlike Little Stint, they are slower, more crouched feeders, with a long ‘tail end’, making them look like tiny, sluggish, Common Sandpipers (rather than tiny Sanderlings). The plumage also has something of the common Sandpiper about it, being rather plain, grey-brown above and with a dark breast and white underparts. The back and wings usually have a few dark spots in spring, but there is little else fancy about the feathering. Also unlike Little Stints, the legs are dull greenish-yellow (not black), though this can be hard to see. Temminck’s Stints are found around the shores of freshwater pools, shallow lakes, gravel pits and the like, often with a bit of short vegetation (behind which they can easily disappear!). Look for them in May, as they pass through in small numbers in spring.

Temminck’s Stint

Temminck’s Stint

A few week’s ago it was: Black tern

We make no apologies for talking about another tern this week, and another really beautiful, scarce inland passage tern at that. That is partly because this is THE time of year to find one passing through a water body near you. Black Terns are marsh terns and they do not breed in the UK, but they pass through particularly during May (and again in the autumn). And now is the time to see them at their finest: Black head and very dark grey underparts (apart from pale undertail coverts) and grey back wings, rump and tail. They are small, buoyant-flying birds, sweeping and dipping to pick insects from the surface of water. As mainly diurnal migrants, they can drop in at any time during the day, particularly in showers or drizzle on muggy days with a bit of a an easterly or south-easterly air flow. Catch them while you can, these are really great birds!

Adult summer Black Tern

Adult summer Black Tern

Adult summer Black Tern. Note plain grey underwings (the rarer White-winged Black Tern has black underwing coverts contrasting with the paler flight feathers)

Adult summer Black Tern. Note plain grey underwings (the rarer White-winged Black Tern has black underwing coverts contrasting with the paler flight feathers)

Previously it was: Arctic tern

The magnificent Arctic Tern is one of the great travellers of the natural world, with each bird migrating up to 20,000 miles in a single year. They are altogether more elegant, extreme and beautiful than the very similar Common Terns (don’t tell them that, though). In old fieldguides we were taught to look for the bill pattern and leg length to separate the two similar birds. However, it is far more reliable to look at wing pattern and the birds overall structure to identify them with confidence. Arctic Terns have longer tails, shorter necks and shorter (blood red) bills than Commons. So, the wings look like they are set further forward on the flying bird. Most importantly, the flight feathers of those wings are very neat looking and ‘translucent’ lacking any smudgy wedge-shaped marks seen in commOn tern wings. Also the underside shows a very neat , thin black trailign edge on the primary feathers. During the last couple of week so of April into May, Arctic Terns can appear in flocks on inland water bodies, feeding mainly on insects picked from the water surface, before heading to the coastal (northern) breeding grounds.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Earlier it was: Little Gull

In the last week or so, there has been a considerable ‘movement’ of Little Gulls through the UK. These tiny and frankly cute gulls don’t breed in the country (except extremely rarely) but regularly pass through in quite small numbers each spring and autumn. They may be seen passing at the coast, but they also drop in to feed over inland freshwater bodies, such as lakes, reservoirs and gravel pits. They are very small, with notably blunt wings and a buoyant dipping flight, to pick insects from the water surface. Adults in summer plumage are very clean looking with jet black head and bill, pale upperwings and dark grey underwings (plus bright red legs and feet). First-summers have a black W on the wing and second-summers resemble adults but have a few black spots near the wing tips.

Two adult Little Gulls in breeding plumage

Two adult Little Gulls in breeding plumage

Adult breeding Little Gull

Adult breeding Little Gull

Feeding first-summer Little Gull

Feeding first-summer Little Gull

Images above by Alamy


message from the editor...

Welcome to Bird Watching, the UK’s best-selling bird magazine. Every issue is packed with ideas, tips, advice, news and reviews, including binoculars and scopes, for anyone with an interest in wild birds, whether they simply enjoy watching their garden birds, or prefer to travel the country and world in search of more unusual species. Our mission is to inspire you to enjoy the world of wildlife that starts right outside your back door. Find out more and sign up to our annual birding challenge #My200BirdYear here.
Matt Merritt