OSME summer meeting date

The summer meeting of the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia (OSME) will be held on Saturday 29 June at BTO Headquarters, Thetford, Norfolk. Doors open 10am for coffee, tea and biscuits. Non-members welcome. No attendance charge. Sandwiches and drinks available to purchase.

Talks range from ‘Birding in Kazakhstan’ to ‘Migrations: a field study of migration and adversity.’ Join us for dinner again at the Mulberry in Thetford after the meeting, which will finish at 5.15pm - please let organisers know if you wish to attend. Contact Sajidah Ahmad at secretary@osme.org for further details.

Appeal to save newly discovered hummingbird

Pic: Farancisco Sornoza

Pic: Farancisco Sornoza

The newly-discovered Blue-throated Hillstar, a hummingbird species found on remote mountaintops in southern Ecuador, is in critical danger of extinction after mining corporations were given the rights to mine its home range.

Now the World Land Trust (WLT) has launched an urgent appeal to raise £30,000 and save the bird’s habitat from destruction by metal mining using large open pits.

The WLT wants to enable its partner – Naturaleza y Cultura Ecuador (NCE) – to extend a Water Protection Area to include the Blue-throated Hillstar’s 70,000 acre range. This would give it government-level protection and eliminate the threat of mining.

“This is a unique opportunity to save a critically endangered species from extinction,” said Richard Cuthbert, Director of Conservation at WLT. “If we do not act now, mining corporations can move in on the habitat and create a mine which would most likely wipe out the bird’s population.

“This is the perfect example of why habitat conservation is so important. For every habitat we lose, we eliminate a stronghold for numerous plant and animal species. For species such as the Blue-throated Hillstar, with such a small range, this can mean extinction. The fact that we are continuing to discover new species in habitats facing threats like mining shows that we may not even be aware of the ecological damage these activities are causing.”

The land is owned by local communities, who rely on the clean freshwater collected in the mountain ecosystem. With funds from the appeal, NCE will extend the proposed Water Protection Area so the total area protected will be almost 200,000 acres, providing water for at least 470,000 Ecuadorian people.

Bruno Paladines Puertas, Head of Community Development at NCE, said: “We are lucky that this area is in an early stage of the process before any construction has begun, so there is still time to act. The support of the communities and the Water National Secretariat (SENAGUA) mean that, if we act quickly, we can place this habitat under the highest level of government protection in Ecuador.”

As well as the Blue-throated Hillstar, the unique paramo habitat is home to a species of frog, the Tik Tik Rain Frog, discovered only last August, plus Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir and Andean Condor. It’s thought that other species may also be discovered there.

You can find more information and donate online to save the Blue-throated Hillstar at worldlandtrust.org/hillstar or call the WLT office at 01986 874422.

Shear brilliance for Pembrokeshire’s islands

Pic: Dave Boyle

Pic: Dave Boyle

Three small islands off the coast of Pembrokeshire are flying high this month, as the latest seabird census results indicate that they are now home to more than 50 per cent of the world’s entire Manx shearwater population.

It’s estimated that nearly a million breeding Manx shearwater adults reside on Skomer, Skokholm and Middleholm; based on the monitoring work by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW), the National Trust and the University of Oxford and University of Gloucestershire.

The survey was part of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s Seabirds Count census, and took place in June 2018. It required a careful approach as Manx shearwaters nest in burrows, meaning the team had to watch their footing to ensure minimum disturbance to the fragile nests.

The monitoring work involved playing the seabird’s social call, which had been pre-recorded on an audio device, into a sample of burrows across the three islands. If a bird responded to the call then the burrow was recorded as active as part of the survey.

“It was a privilege to be part of the team who, by using a survey method which encouraged a higher proportion of nesting birds to make themselves known than ever before, helped to produce our best estimate yet of how many pairs of this remarkable seabird breed on these islands,” enthused Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, wardens on WTSWW’s Skokholm Island.

Results suggest that there are nearly half-a-million breeding pairs in total across the internationally-important islands, with 89,000 on WTSWW’s Skokholm Island, 350,000 on WTSWW’s Skomer Island and 16,000 on Middleholm.

Speaking about the overall findings, the University of Gloucestershire’s Matt Wood, who helped coordinate the census, said: “Seabirds are in such trouble globally so this is great news internationally, not just in Wales – nearly a million breeding adults on these three small islands, and if you include the teenagers hanging around nearby and the chicks in their burrows in August you can almost double that number.

“That’s well over half the entire world’s population of Manx shearwaters, and it looks like they’re increasing steadily here.”

For the National Trust, the data is especially exciting for Middleholm as area ranger James Roden explained: “The 2018 census on Middleholm was the first time in 20 years that Manx shearwaters have been recorded on the tiny island, and it’s great to see that the population is much larger than we first thought.

“We hope to carry on working closely with the Wildlife Trust on more monitoring projects in the future, as well as towards the continued conservation work on Middleholm.”

Wildlife gets stamp of approval


The Isle of Man Post Office is issuing a collection of 10 stamps next week to illustrate the area’s wide variety of wildlife.

Manx photographer Brian Liggins, who was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man, became interested in wildlife as a youngster when he spent a lot of time on his grandparents farm. Self-taught, he first took up photography about 11 years ago and has since gained a lot of knowledge and experience.

Brain said: “I enjoy the challenge of taking pictures of wildlife as it is always on the move so you have to be ready and focused to capture the moment. I spend hours waiting and trying to get the right shot. I travel all over the Island to picture different species. The light plays a big part in capturing the perfect image.”

Isle of Man Wildlife is available as Set and Sheet Set, Presentation Pack and First Day Cover.

More information here.

Big Garden Birdwatch

By Matt Merritt

This weekend, many of you (most of you, we hope…no, all of you!) will be settling down with your binoculars and a cup of tea to do the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch (BGBW).

The idea is a simple one. You spend an hour watching the birds in your garden, and recording what you see – not the total numbers, but the highest number of each species that is present at any one time.

If you don’t have your own garden, you can use any suitable local patch – the park, the school playground, or whatever.

What you might not realise is that this has been going on for 40 years now, and in the process has produced invaluable information about the health or otherwise of Britain’s bird populations.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Global Conservation Director, says that the people who dreamt up the idea in the late 1970s would have been amazed to find more than 500,000 people taking part every year.

“There is a tradition in the birdwatching world of people contributing information, so the main thinking must have been to get more people involved in recording birds. At the time the RSPB would have had 200,000 members or so.”

The growth of the RSPB’s membership since is testament to the success of BGBW and other intitiatives in engaging people who have an interest in nature.

“It is a wonderful entry into birdwatching and conservation. We want to encourage people to look at birds differently.”

Martin says that BGBW plays a part in reinforcing messages and trends, and is a way of putting a spotlight on certain issues.

“When the information comes through you can spot changes in range and abundance, and then that is reinforced by more systematic surveys. For example, the dramatic decline in House Sparrow and Starling populations has been apparent, and the bounce-back of species such as Goldfinch.”

The timing of the event is down to a number of factors, not least that the end of January is when garden bird feeders are likely to be at their busiest.

“January is a good time because we have a captive market, as it were,” says Martin. “We have tried similar surveys at other times of year – the Big Splat in summer, for example, but they haven’t taken off so well.”

But the RSPB are always looking for new ways to enthuse people about the natural world, and Martin said that they’d love to hear from anyone with ideas for similar mass-participation surveys and events.

So what have Martin and his children recorded in their Cambridge garden during past Big Garden Birdwatches?

“Our most unusual record has probably been Redwings on the branches of a Silver Birch, but we get 13 or so regular species. We had Blackcap the other day so that would be a nice one.”

Blackcap is an occasional winter visitor to my own garden, so I’ll be looking out for the sweet-singing warblers too over the weekend. If you’re not doing so already, why don’t you give it a go?

Click here to take part

Tern for the better

New research has shown that the growth of the Roseate Tern population on Coquet Island in Northumberland, the species’ only regular and reliable nesting site in the UK, has been supported for more than 20 years by birds moving from Rockabill in Ireland.


The summer of 2018 saw record numbers of nesting Roseate Terns on Coquet Island, with more than half of the birds nesting there now home-grown. It’s now hoped the growing colony, and another thriving population at Lady’s Island Lake, Ireland, will also start to ‘export’ birds to found new colonies.

The authors of a paper just published in the Journal of Animal Ecology found that Ireland’s Rockabill colony, where 1,633 pairs of Roseate Terns nested this year, is the only site in the UK and Ireland currently ‘exporting’ terns to other colonies.

‘Cryptic sink’

The research, co-funded by the EU LIFE Programme, RSPB and Natural England, shows that for more than 20 years the growth of the Roseate Tern colony on Coquet Island was sustained by birds from the Rockabill colony. This meant Coquet was, between 1992 and 2016, a ‘cryptic sink’, attracting more young birds to nest there than have fledged from it and survived to breed at the species’ other colonies.

Co-author Dr Mark Bolton, from the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science, said: “Our research highlights the complex decisions conservationists face when deciding how to improve the fortunes of seabirds like Roseate Terns.

“Despite the reliance of the Coquet Island colony on immigration from Rockabill, this nature reserve has played an important role in maintaining the species in the UK, thanks to management by the RSPB, including building nest boxes and protecting the colony.

“Having an additional nesting colony, the UK and Irish population as a whole is better protected against catastrophes like severe weather events, disturbance or disease, that might hit any one colony.”

It’s hoped that the successful colony on Coquet will eventually contribute to Roseate Terns settling at new sites, or re-colonising some of their old haunts. Since the research was carried out, it appears that the Coquet Island Roseate Terns are now beginning to sustain their own numbers. In 2016, 50% of terns nesting on the island had been hatched there, but this year, the number had climbed to 60%. This summer, 118 pairs nested there, in the most successful UK breeding season in 40 years.

The RSPB’s Daniel Piec, who manages the EU Roseate Tern LIFE project, says: “With birds moving between colonies across borders, international co-operation is vital to their conservation. We’re working across Britain, Ireland and France with BirdWatch Ireland, National Parks and Wildlife Service, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Bretagne Vivante and other partners which means we are learning a great deal about what the terns need, and the areas they use.”

This shared knowledge will mean conservationists are better able to identify suitable sites to attract them to nest.

Co-author Dr Richard Caldow from Natural England says: “We now know that where coastal colonies of other tern species, such as Common Terns, are doing well and feeding predominantly in the marine environment, there is probably enough food and safe nesting areas for Roseate Terns to thrive there, too.

“The next step is to look for such potential nesting sites and consider ‘Coquet-style’ management to give Roseate Terns a helping hand to colonise them.”

Rutland Water Osprey tagging


Two Rutland Water Ospreys have been fitted with satellite transmitters so bird experts can track their amazing global journeys.

They’re now waiting to see whether the young males can fly to West Africa more quickly than a female bird, which previously did it in 11 days!

The male high flyers were fitted with mini gps trackers to help the internationally important Rutland Osprey Project track their movements throughout the year. Already in 9 days one bird has flown as far as the Western Sahara. The data is providing valuable information on their movements locally too. 

Lloyd Park from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust said: “The transmitters provide highly accurate data that allows us to plot the birds’ exact movements both day and night. This is giving us an incredible insight into a range of different behaviours, including where and when they are fishing.”

The two male birds were tagged under the guidance of world-renowned osprey expert, Roy Dennis, and colleague Dr Tim Mackrill, from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. They’re working with Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust’s Osprey Project, to shed new light on the annual marathon migration flights the birds make; flying to the west coast of Africa to over winter, and returning to Rutland each spring to nest and raise chicks.

The epic 3000-mile journey sees young birds, which fly independently from their parents, battle strong winds that can carry them off track; only 30% or so survive that first migration flight. They usually fly 200-300 miles a day.

The GPS units weigh only 30g; they work on solar power and allow location, altitude and speed to be recorded. The units are fitted to the birds like a small rucksack, allowing them to continue their normal activities.

Tim Mackrill said: “We’re very excited that we’ll be able to follow the birds to their wintering grounds. As adult Ospreys they will already have established wintering sites, so it will be fascinating to find out exactly where they go. Some European Ospreys winter in Spain or Portugal, but most fly 3,000 miles to the west coast of Africa, into countries such as Senegal and the Gambia. A third Rutland Osprey, known as 30(05), has been tracked since 2013 and migrates to the coast of Senegal each winter. In the past she has completed the 3,000 mile journey in as little as 11 days, so it will be interesting to see how the two young males compare.”

Members of the Rutland Osprey Project will be joining the Osprey Leadership Foundation in January (2019) for a trip to Senegal and the Gambia in hope of finding not just the tagged birds, but also other Rutland ospreys overwintering there. 

Anya Wicikowski Osprey Project Officer said, “Aside from the scientific and conservation value of the tagging, the data provides an incredible educational resource and helps us to link young people along the osprey migration flyway. These latest tagged birds will form a key part of that work.” 

Follow the Osprey’s migration on the Rutland Osprey Project tracking page and map; the two male ospreys are 'S1' (yellow route) and '4K' (pink route). Female '30' (previously tagged, green route).

Corncrake boost!


Plans for a project aimed at saving one of Scotland’s rarest birds have taken a positive step forward thanks to an award of £30,300 from The National Lottery. In recent years corncrake numbers in Scotland have fallen to worryingly low levels; the funding will allow RSPB Scotland to develop the project further over the next year ahead of applying for a full Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £370,000. This would fund a four year project beginning in January 2020.

Corncrakes are summer migrants to Scotland and spend the winter months in Africa. They are shy chestnut coloured land dwelling birds and related to moorhens and coots. In Great Britain they are only found on a number of Scottish islands and a few isolated areas on the North West coast mostly found on farmed land and in crofting areas. Last year’s population survey, measured by the number of calling males, revealed that only 866 had been recorded, a drop of 33 per cent since 2014 and the lowest number since 2003.

Pic:  Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Pic: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

The birds were once widespread across the UK but increased agricultural mechanisation from the mid-19th century onwards led to a vast reduction in their range and numbers. By the late 1980s they were confined to a few places in Scotland with the likelihood that within the next 20 years they would be lost as a British breeding species if action wasn’t taken. An incredibly successful joint effort between conservationists, scientists, government, farmers, crofters and land managers and with the backing of EU funding led to a steady overall increase from 480 in 1993 to a high of 1,289 in 2014 before the recent concerning declines.

The project in development called SCALE – Saving Corncrakes through Advocacy, Land management and Education will focus on these three key areas to help ensure the long term future of corncrakes here through a number of activities if the full grant funding is successful.  These include working with farmers and crofters across Orkney, Durness, Skye, Outer Hebrides, Argyll and Inner Hebrides to deliver corncrake friendly practices. There will be practical and financial support for measures such as delayed mowing dates to help chick survival and the creation of dense vegetation areas to give corncrakes the cover they need.

Given their secretive nature corncrakes can be rather elusive and difficult to see. RSPB Scotland would work with local communities in these places, providing dusk time safaris to hear their distinctive call, and developing an education programme for schools to inspire children about the birds.

RSPB Scotland would also make the case that long term funding is needed at a national level to secure corncrakes’ Scottish future. This will include developing new appropriate agri-environment schemes for corncrakes in any post-Brexit agricultural policy design.

Kenna Chisholm, Regional Conservation Manager, RSPB Scotland said: “We’re delighted that SCALE has been awarded this crucial Stage 1 funding from HLF and very grateful that we can now progress our plans further in the hope that we’ll gain full funding next year. It’s no overestimation to say that the long term survival of corncrakes in Scotland is resting with this project. Even at the population high four years ago corncrakes remained an incredibly vulnerable species here in Scotland, as demonstrated by the fall in numbers since then. We’re now facing a similar situation to that of the early 1990s where if action is not taken soon the rasping crex crex call of the corncrake may become a thing of the past here.”

Mr A MacLean, a crofter from North Uist said: “I am delighted that RSPB Scotland have secured the funding to develop this application. It shows a commitment to corncrakes and crofting during a time of uncertainty for both.” 

Sally Thomas, SNH Director of People and Nature, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to help increase the corncrakepopulation in Scotland, and we’re looking forward to helping support the project. These distinctive birds look for habitats with taller plant life of at least 20cm, cutting grass and plants before it reaches that height can destroy their habitat; it’s great to see RSPB Scotland will be prioritising working with local communities to raise awareness of corncrake-friendly land management practices.”

Dealer the swan comes home...

Great news come in from the WWT!

What a pair! Missing mate of oldest living Gloucestershire swan dynasty arrives from Russian Arctic – six weeks late!

The power couple were reunited when Dealer, 25, joined her 26-year-old partner Croupier on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s (WWT) iconic Swan Lake on Monday (Jan 22).

Croupier, Slimbridge’s very own ‘cobfather’, is the leader of ‘The Gambling Dynasty’, one of the biggest Bewick’s swan families ever studied at the reserve. They were christened by researchers who group major family lines by themed names to make them easier to remember.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 3.00.38 PM.png

It looked like Croupier’s ‘chips were down’ when he arrived without his mate last month.

But Dealer, his partner of 19 years and mum to 29 cygnets that they have brought back together over the years, completed her journey against the odds.

WWT’s senior ecosystem health officer Julia Newth said: “We are so happy to see this faithful pair reunite! Bewick’s swans risk starvation, illegal shooting, lead poisoning, wind turbines and power lines to survive the gruelling 4500km migration and sadly not all of them make it. So when Croupier arrived alone, we feared it was end of an era for this famous couple.

“Few families have demonstrated these birds’ characteristic loyalty to each other and the sites they visit as well as The Gamblers. We hope to see them continue to winter at Slimbridge for many years to come.”

Families tend to be the dominant groups on Swan Lake and Croupier is from one of the oldest dynasties, which have ruled Slimbridge since the sixties.

Croupier’s grandfather Nijinsky began wintering at Slimbridge in 1969. His mum Casino, at 27, was one of WWT’s longest living wild swans, safely escorting 34 cygnets from Russia to Slimbridge during her lifetime.

As Croupier demonstrates, swans live a long life but they don’t produce many young. Bewick’s swans lay up to six eggs each year on the Arctic breeding grounds but usually only one or two cygnets make it to their wintering sites in Western Europe. The stakes are high with Bewick’s swans in decline in Europe and our recent research  has shown that their survival rates have reduced.

WWT has expanded its swan research over the decades and linked up with researchers throughout the migratory swans’ range in northern Europe and Russia. Together they have managed to gain international protection for a chain of wetlands along the way that are vital for the swans to feed and rest.

Birds’ system of navigation revealed

Scientists from Bangor University believe they have revealed how some migrating birds navigate on their journeys.

One aspect of the system used by some birds has been revealed for the first time and involves detecting the declination or variation that occurs because the geographic ‘true’ north pole and magnetic north are not in the same place.

In Europe, this difference between the true and magnetic north, increases as you move from east to west.

Writing in Current Biology (August 2017), an international team of biologists, including Richard Holland and Dmitri Kishkiniev of Bangor University in the UK, explain how they identified for the first time, that mature Reed Warblers are able to detect the declination from magnetic north, and use the scale of the declination or change from true north to geo-locate themselves to a longitude, from which they orient themselves towards their autumnal migration from Russia to Africa.

Dr Richard Holland of Bangor University said: “It seems that a bird as unassuming as the Reed Warbler, may have a geographic map or memory that enables it to identify its longitudinal position on the globe, only by detecting the magnetic north pole and its variance from true north. This, combined with other external cues, which may include the strength of the magnetic field, star positions or smells enables it to locate its current position and orient itself during a long migration.”

Their work also suggested that the birds learn from experience, with immature birds struggling to navigate.

Scientist awarded posthumously for 'outstanding contribution' to conservation

The RSPB has posthumously awarded its medal to eminent scientist Dick Potts, who died at the end of March. He made a huge contribution to conservation science from the 1970s onwards, particularly through ground-breaking studies into the effects of chemicals on farmland birds, especially Grey Partridges.

His farmland bird research and conservation work was done at the Game Conservancy Trust (now the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), where he was director general until 2002. The RSPB medal is the most prestigious award the wildlife charity gives out, and recognises outstanding contribution to nature conservation.

Your photos wanted for the next Hide and Beak film…

Would you like one of your photos to be featured on a Hide & Beak film? The next one, which will help promote Bird Watching magazine’s #My200BirdYear challenge, will focus on bird song. If you have any images of:
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Stock Dove
Willow Warbler
Reed Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Great-spotted Woodpecker
Great Tit
Great Bustard
Sky Lark

that you would like to see included, send them in.

  • We can accept digital files, or scans of prints, but can’t promise to use every image we receive.
  • Images should be medium to full-size, high quality Jpegs, with no obvious filters or effects applied. The files should not be smaller than 1929x1080 pixels – and ideally much bigger!
  • Along with your submission, please include your name and contact details. If you'd like to, feel free to send us a quick note about where the picture was taken and what it took to get it.

Please send your images to: birdwatching@bauermedia.co.uk with Hide and Beak in the subject line.

The film is produced in association with Zeiss and Cambridge TV.


Calling all birders and birdlovers!

Fair Acre Press is running an Arts Council England-funded project called DIVERSIFLY – it's all about people's everyday encounters with the birds that we can easily see and hear in Britain's towns and cities.

It will be creating podcasts involving some of Britain's best known poets, along with the 'Urban Birder', David Lindo.

It will also produce a full colour poetry and art book – involving well-known poets and artists, chosen to reflect the diversity of Britain's human urban populations; plus the book will also include less known, even never-before-published poets and artists from all over Britain, and from all backgrounds and walks of life.

But first, you, Britain's resident bird experts and enthusiasts, are being asked for your help to inspire the poets and artists, with YOUR descriptions of and photographs of your own everyday encounters with British urban birds.

Fair Acre's editor, Nadia Kingsley, will include these in blogs which will remain on the Fair Acre Press website during and after the project is completed.

For more details, or to send writing or photos, click here.