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.
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.
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:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org with Hide and Beak in the subject line.
The film is produced in association with Zeiss and Cambridge TV.
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.
The RSPB has released the following about the results of its Big Garden Birdwatch:
Close to half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey counting more than eight million birds during the 38th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, witnessing some exciting and unusual visitors.
The event held over the last weekend in January revealed an explosion in the number of recorded sightings of waxwings. These attractive looking birds flock to UK gardens in winter once every 7-8 years when the berry crop fails in their native Scandinavia. Known as an ‘irruption’, results showed that waxwings were seen in around 11 times more gardens in 2017 compared to the last couple of years, with sightings as far west as Wales and Northern Ireland.
Weather conditions leading up to the Birdwatch meant that this year UK gardens were treated to a range of different visitors. Along with waxwings, there was also a large jump in the number of visits from other migrant birds, such as redwing, fieldfare and brambling, as the sub-zero temperatures on the continent forced them to go in search of milder conditions.
Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientists, said: “The sight of a robin or blackbird perched on the garden fence is often one of the first experiences we have with nature. So to have over half-a-million people taking part and counting a bumper eight million birds across one weekend is amazing. Using the information from the weekend we’ll be able to create a snapshot of how our garden birds are doing.
“In the lead up to the Birdwatch there was some speculation as to whether we could see a ‘waxwing winter’ and the results prove that to be the case. Flocks of these striking looking birds arrived in the UK along the North Sea coast and will have moved across the country in search of food, favouring gardens where they can feast on berries. With it only happening once every 7-8 years, it will have been a treat for the lucky people who managed to catch a glimpse of one.”
There was also good news for robins, with the average number seen visiting gardens at its highest level since 1986, helping it climb two places to number seven, its joint highest-ever position in the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings. Blackbird was another climber, moving to number three and becoming the UK’s most widespread garden bird after being spotted in more than 93% of UK gardens.
The survey also highlighted a downturn in the recorded sightings of blue tits (-11%), great tits (-10%) and coal tits (-14%) on last year’s figures. Dr Hayhow explained: “Numbers of small bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits are susceptible to changes in weather throughout the year, and scientists believe that the prolonged wet weather during the 2016 breeding season led to fewer younger birds surviving than usual, meaning there are fewer to be seen in gardens.”
This year’s results also pointed to the positive effects that wildlife friendly gardens are having on bird behaviours. Recorded sightings increased for sixteen of the top 20 Big Garden Birdwatch birds between 2016 and 2017 showing how gardens are becoming an invaluable resource for our most common British garden birds.
Claire Thomas, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said: “This year was another incredible year for the Big Garden Birdwatch, with our favourite garden birds like starlings, robins and goldfinches, joined in the gardens up and down the country by more unusual visitors. Our gardens can become an invaluable resource for birds – throughout the year birds need food, water and a safe place to shelter. If we all provide these things in our outdoor spaces it will be a huge help to our garden birds, perhaps even playing a role in reversing some declines.”
The nation’s school children noticed a similar pattern when taking part in the RSPB Big Schools Birdwatch. The UK-wide survey of birds in schools saw over 73,000 school children spend an hour in nature counting birds. Blackbird remained the most common playground visitor for the ninth year in succession with over 88% schools spotting at least one. The top three was rounded off by starling and woodpigeon.
Big Garden Birdwatch and Big Schools’ Birdwatch are a part of the RSPB Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the house crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens out outdoor spaces – whether it’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs or building a home for hedgehogs.
For more information about the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results – www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
If you're taking part in our #My200BirdYear challenge, or just want a taste of the incredible bird life of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, join our summer 25 Scottish Specials trip, run by wildlife holiday company Heatherlea from June 17-24.
Based at Heatherlea's own three-star hotel in Nethy Bridge, in Speyside, you'll be taken to look for all the species that make Scotland a unique birdwatching location in the UK, with the help of Bird Watching assistant editor Mike Weedon and Heatherlea's expert guides.
Top birds include Capercaillie, Crested Tit, Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Scottish Crossbill, Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel, Red- and Black-throated Divers in breeding plumage, and Slavonian Grebe in its own glorious breeding finery. Included is a day trip to Mull, allowing you to get great views of both eagle species, plus Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow and Hen Harrier, and throughout the trip there'll also be the chance to see the likes of Black and Red Grouse, Twite, and Corn Bunting, plus many other species, such as Ring Ouzel, Dipper and Merlin, giving a potential tally of more than 100 species during the week. Other wildlife could include Otters, Red Deer, and Mountain Hare.
In between birding, you can relax and enjoy excellent Scottish cuisine at Heatherlea's hotel. So, sign up today, and expand your birdwatching horizons with Bird Watching and Heatherlea.
COST: £1,295 per person, no single supplement, deposit of £200 to secure your place
For a full itinerary, click here
Only a few days remain for young birders to apply for a unique scholarship to the prestigious Young Birders’ Camp at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, from July 6th to 9th.
The Cameron Bespolka Trust (cameronbespolka.com) was set up in honour of young naturalist and passionate birdwatcher Cameron Bespolka (pictured above), who died in December 2013, in a tragic accident, and the scholarship will be awarded to one 16-18 year old birder from the UK.
This event is a great opportunity for any 16-18 year old who has a passion for birds and wants to find out more about careers that involve them. Participants will be able to birdwatch with skilled birders from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as well as meet with experienced Lab of Ornithology staff, including ornithological researchers, tour leaders, audio specialists and computer scientists.
Interested teenagers can fill out an application form and return it for review by March 17th.
The Young Birders’ Event will feature two days of field trips, presentations by Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff including professors, researchers and students, an eBird and field notes workshop, a sound and video recording workshop, a tour of Cornell Lab including the Macaulay Library and Museum of Vertebrates, and dinner with Cornell Lab directors and staff.
To apply, please email Corinne Cruickshank at email@example.com with the following information, and answers to the questions below (150-250 words per question):
Date of birth
GSCE qualifications if applicable
1 Why are you interested in attending this event?
2 Tell us about your interest in birds (include how you became interested in birds).
3 How often do you go birding? What surveys and schemes do you volunteer in? How do you keep your bird records i.e. enter sightings in BirdTrack, sketch the birds you see, supply your findings to local county bird club where you live?
4 What role do you expect birds to play in your life in the future?
5 Rank from 1-5 the topics that most interest you (1=the most): Sound Recording; Video Recording; Neotropical Birds; Nocturnal Flight Calls; Computer Science.
More information is available at cameronbespolka.com
Gull populations on a Scottish island have suffered as a result of a declining quantity of fish landed
Research published in the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) journal Bird Study, looked at the breeding populations of Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull on the Hebridean island of Canna, and the relationship between them and the fall in the quantity of fish landed in the nearby harbour of Mallaig.
Between 1985-2000, an annual average of 13,726 tonnes of fish was landed there, but between 2007-2014, this fell to 4,456 tonnes. The number of breeding pairs of Herring Gulls peaked at 1,525 in 1988, Great Black-backed Gulls reached 90 pairs around the same time and the highest number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls was 63 pairs.
But at the last count, breeding gulls on Canna were 95 pairs of Herring Gulls, 18 pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls and 13 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. This population decline has also been associated with low breeding success, with only a small number of chicks successfully fledging in more recent years.
Dr Viola Ross Smith, gull expert at the BTO, said: “Breeding gulls have a bad reputation, especially in urban areas, but it is worth remembering that all these species are classed as Birds of Conservation Concern, and the Herring Gull is on the Red List. It therefore seems important to identify the causes of population decline in rural colonies such as Canna, and find ways to conserve the birds at these sites, especially since gulls that fail to breed successfully are known to seek breeding opportunities elsewhere, including in towns and cities.”
Three WWT centres are offering migration education sessions to primary and secondary schools. The sessions, titled ‘How We Can Help Migratory Birds’ have been inspired by Sacha Dench’s Flight of the Swans expedition and funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery.
The sessions, held at Slimbridge, London and Martin Mere, aim to give pupils a greater understanding of migratory species, and provide them with the tools to help such species survive.
2016 has certainly been a year to remember. But among the stories of political upheaval and celebrity deaths, there have been victories for our wildlife.
At the RSPB, great things have been achieved for nature to ensure its future. Here are 10 conservation success stories from the past 12 months.
1. Cirl Bunting success
The stand-out success of 2016 for the RSPB and partners was the 2016 national Cirl Bunting survey, which showed an increase in these rare birds to more than 1,000 pairs – 10 times more than in the 1980s. This is thanks to a highly successful reintroduction to Cornwall and decades of partnership working with farmers in Devon, supported by Natural England and grants to recover nature-friendly farming.
2. Booming bitterns
The number of booming Bitterns on wetland reserves increased again to a record high of 161 at 76 sites, proving another success story for conservation.
3. Highest ever number of Bearded Tits
Numbers of these rare birds reached their highest level since records began. This year, the latest data from 2014 was processed, revealing 772 pairs in the UK thanks to extension and improvements to the reedbed habitat they depend on. It is thought that the population has continued to grow since then.
4. Scotland’s eagles soar
Often thought of as Scotland’s national bird, the Golden Eagle was granted ‘favourable conservation status’ in 2016. Results from the fourth national golden eagle survey showed that the population of these birds of prey has increased to 508 pairs in Scotland: a rise of 15% since the previous survey in 2003.
5. Heathland habitats
For the second year running, both Nightjar and Wood Lark were at their highest ever numbers on RSPB heathland reserves.
6. Smooth Snakes breed for the first time
Rare Smooth Snakes bred for the first time at RSPB Aylesbeare in 2016 – seven years after they were first re-released into the area.
7. The Great Crane Project bears fruit
A survey recording the number of Common Cranes in the UK revealed a population of about 160 birds – the highest number since these large birds returned to the UK in 1978 after an absence of more than 400 years. Cranes are now found in south west England, East Anglia, Yorkshire, East Scotland and south Wales. In August, commuters between Norwich and Ely were treated to the sight of three crane chicks, which hatched on RSPB Lakenheath Fen nature reserve.
8. Big win for smallest species
Despite usually just spending the winter on our shores, a pair of Little Gulls stayed at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg for the summer, bred and fledged two young. This is the first known successful nesting of little gulls in the UK.
9. Manx shearwaters on the up
St Agnes and Gugh in the Scilly Isles were officially declared rat free in 2016, and as a result the breeding population of Manx Shearwater has increased from 22 pairs in 2013 (pre rat eradication) to 73 pairs in 2016 (post rat eradication) with two new locations colonised. The rat eradication phase of the Shiants project in the Hebrides was completed in March and, if all continues to go well, these islands will be declared rat free in winter 2017.
10. Decade of the Albatross Task Force
2016 marked the 10th anniversary of the Albatross Task Force, which was established to reduce albatross deaths as a result of fishing hooks: the main threat to these impressive birds which can live well into their 60s. The number of albatrosses accidentally caught reduced by 80% in five out of 10 target fisheries, and the RSPB is on track to hit this figure in a further two.
The Moors for the Future Project’s Community Science team are inviting amateur photographers to enter their national photography competition.
This year’s theme is “Water in the Uplands”, with winners selected by a panel of judges including Kate McRae.
Entries will be judged in two categories, adults and 15 and under. Prizes include a bird box camera for adults, a waterproof digital camera for the winner of the 15 and under age group. But you’ll need to hurry; the competition closes on 31 December.
For full terms and conditions and to get an entry form, click here.
Meanwhile, entries are now open for the 1st Cannock Chase Wildlife Photography Awards. The competition is intended to highlight the wealth of the Chase’s natural History, while encouraging discovery and conservation.
Entries are invited in seven categories, including Animal Portraits, Plants and Fungi, and Landscapes. There will also be a prize for the Young Cannock Chase Wildlife Photographer of the Year. The competition closes in March 2017 with the award ceremony being held in May.
The organisers are also interested in hearing from wildlife and photography firms interested in sponsoring the event. For more details go here.
An endangered goose is the latest bird to benefit from funds raised by the People’s Postcode Lottery. No one is sure why, but numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese have dropped by 50% over the last 17 years.
The goose, discovered by WWT founder Sir Peter Scott, is generally a long-lived bird, which makes the sharp decline even more unusual and concerning.
Now PhD student Ed Burrell, who works at WWT Slimbridge’s Conservation science department, is working on a four-year project funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery that will hopefully help to stem the decline.
Ed has already visited Iceland, an important staging point on the species’ migration route, to recce the mission.
The next stage will involve catching and tagging the geese with neck collars and GPS tags so that data can be collected as the geese migrate from their nesting sites in Greenland via Iceland, and the Hebrides to their wintering grounds in Ireland and Scotland.
By tracking the geese and closely monitoring their movements, Ed hopes to determine whether the rapid decline of the species is due to habitat changes, competition from other species, or some other cause.
FACTS IN NUMBERS:
18,000 The estimated number of Greenland White-fronted Geese today, compared with 36,000 in 1999
3000km The distance Greenland White-fronted Geese fly on their migration, covering the distance in two legs of two days each, with a three to four week break in Iceland between legs
If you see a Stonechat, check out its legs. The Stonechat ringing project at Dersingham Bog is anxious to collate as many sightings of their ringed Stonechats as possible, so that they can ascertain both how far the species is spreading from its Norfolk breeding ground and how faithful the birds are to their territories.
The Dersingham birds are ringed with a grey plastic ring over a metal ring on one leg, and a two colour combination on the other leg.
Sightings of Dersingham fledged Stonechats have already been reported from Roydon Common, the Wash, and even as far away as Thetford Forest. If you do see any of these birds on your travels in Norfolk or further afield, you can report them at northwestnorfolkstonechats.wordpress.com
Stonechat number facts:
10: pairs of Stonechats produced 51 juveniles at Dersingham in 2015
13: pairs raised 95 juveniles in 2016. All the juveniles from both years were ringed
59,000: pairs of Stonechats breed in the UK, mainly in the west and south
The RSPB and Buglife have announced that they will be working alongside the Land Trust to expand the Canvey Wick Nature Reserve in Essex.
This follows the transfer of 150 hectares of land to the Reserve by Morrisons supermarket, and will enlarge the reserve to almost five times its current size.
The site, once home to an oil refinery, was the first brownfield site to be made a Site of Specials Scientific Interest (SSSI) specifically for its bug and insect life.
The reserve is said to have as much biodiversity per square metre as a rainforest, and the RSPB and Buglife aim to create areas of bare ground and flower rich meadows to encourage insect life and the birds that rely on them for food.
The existing Canvey Wick reserve will remain open while work takes place on the new addition, and it is hoped that the new area will be open to the public later in 2017.
Leica has announced the transformation of its flagship London store.
The optics manufacturer says the Mayfair-based store will not only display the company's products but also give photograpres the chance to discuss photography techniques and meet like-minded Leica photographers. An expanded Leica Café will take over the store’s previous location (also in Bruton Place) in the New Year, incorporating an 'intimate photographers' gallery'.
Jason Heward, managing director, Leica UK, added: “The transformation of Leica Mayfair is testimony to the incredible momentum in our brand. Leica has been around a long time, and, after more than a hundred years, we still resonate with photographers and nature observation enthusiasts in a special way. Our stores are creative places, somewhere to stay for hours, or make a quick visit. Leica is a community and this is the perfect place to be part of it.”
A ‘big wader watch weekend’ is taking place on Saturday and Sunday at Druridge Bay in Northumberland.
As part of ‘Our Wetland Wildlife Weekend’ Northumberland Wildlife Trust is encouraging individuals and families to visit its coastal reserves over the weekend to see what waders and waterfowl are calling its reserves home.
Winter is a fantastic time to see birds at the coast, with amazing species including curlew, lapwing and goldeneye enjoying the British seaside weather.
The trust said: “Grab your waterproofs, fill up a flask and come and see our resident birds and migrants.”
Any and all ‘Big Wader Watch’ wildlife records should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a self-led event and there will be no dedicated staff on site over the weekend.
Do you want to enjoy your best birdwatching year ever?
#My200BirdYear is Bird Watching’s challenge for birders of all ages and abilities, encouraging you to see 200 species in the course of 2017.
They can be anything from the birds you see on your back garden feeders, to seabirds passing offshore as you relax on the beach. There are no restrictions on where you do your birdwatching, and you won’t have to wait for your ticks to be approved by a committee – it’s all about enjoying new birds, and learning more about the wildlife all around us.
Here at Britain’s best-selling birdwatching magazine, we want to inspire you to get out and watching birds, whether it’s on a half-hour stroll during your lunch hour, or a week-long trip to an avian hotspot.
We’ll provide motivation, expert advice, and an online community to celebrate your milestones, your best days of birding, and your most memorable sightings, plus free content and goodies from our partners.
In the magazine, we’ll show you how dozens of species that have eluded you in the past are within easy reach, by mastering basic ID skills and fieldcraft, by being in the right place at the right time, and by taking the chance to watch birds whenever you can.
Sign up here now to get updates, exclusive content, competitions and discounts, plus the chance to go birdwatching with members of the Bird Watching team at key locations.
Get ready to enjoy a life-changing year – one bird at a time!
Bird Watching editor Matt Merritt explains #My200BirdYear
A cutting edge bird-tagging project has tracked a Green Sandpiper all the way from Hertfordshire to Norway and back.
The GPS tags, which weigh only a gram, have been fitted to the birds over the last four years to find out where the Green Sandpipers from Lemsford Springs near Welwyn Garden City go to breed.
This year, one of the tagged birds was tracked at intervals between April and July, and was found to have undertaken a non-stop 900km flight to Norway, before breeding, and returning to Lemsford Springs. This particular Green Sandpiper appears to have left the nature reserve on April 26th, and arrived at the south Norwegian island of Store Saesöy only two days later, having flown over the North Sea without a break. The bird then continued to travel to its breeding grounds near Trondheim, before returning to the UK in June.
Laura Baker, reserves officer at Lemsford, called the news of the tracked journey “exciting,” adding that the news showed “what can be achieved in conservation when tried and tested methods are teamed up with new science.”
It is this teaming up that has led to Lemsford Springs becoming one of the best places in the UK to see Green Sandpipers. The birds stay on the reserve for up to 10 months every year, due to the availability of open water and freshwater shrimps year round, achieved in part by the planting of cress beds. The team at the reserve are hoping to use their new knowledge of the Green Sandpiper’s movements to further improve the conservation of the species.
Nest boxes, games, and “chick check” walks are all doing their bit to help Storm Petrels in the Isles of Scilly. Storm Petrels are extremely rare in England, and last year was the first in living memory in which the species has bred on the islands of St Agnes and Gugh.
The successful breeding season followed the eradication of rats from the islands thanks to the help of an EU grant. To help increase numbers next year volunteers from the Scilly Sea Bird Recovery Project have been placing Storm Petrel nest boxes on the boulder beaches of St Agnes.
The project team held 'Storm Petrel games' at summer fetes to raise awareness and money, coming away with more than £300 to help the project and the team have also held a series of 'chick check' walks to record where various seabirds are fledging.
Six Turtle Doves are being satellite tracked from the UK to Africa to help scientists understand their dramatic decline. Last year the RSPB was able for the first time to reveal the complete migration route of a Turtle Dove named Titan.
Unfortunately, Titan’s signal was lost this year as the bird flew through Mali. Recognising that there was a limit to the amount of data that one bird could provide, this year six Turtle Doves have been fitted with satellite tags, and it is hoped that the birds will provide vital information about the threats the Turtle Dove faces on its five and a half thousand kilometre journey.