Tag Archives: Ornithology

A change of direction

Followers of this blog are aware my passion for Natural History “knows no bounds”, many other blogs, several of which are listed on My Favourite Blogs section, also share this overwhelming desire. However, since the inception of both naturestimeline and UKbirdingtimeline, my professional career has also evolved, as has my quest for knowledge on the State of Nature. See what I did there? Anyway, below I outline some of the changes you will notice as I intend to develop these pages.

Naturestimeline and UKbirdingtimeline will broadly stick to its original principles. However, I aim to make the place more engaging, scientific, informative and above all else, entertaining. As anyone who follows my Facebook page will know, I like to be kept “in the loop”, the place acts like a kind of newsfeed. So much so, that when it comes to the Natural World, I care, because you care!

Let’s bring impassioned debate on conservation and environmental issues to the table. Please interact and share your thoughts on how you would like to see the blog develop, it’s mine as much as it’s yours, the readers. What do you care about? Do you work in conservation? What kind of future do you think the UK’s and the wider world’s wildlife faces?

*I have no shortage of ideas myself, more about these in time. There is no hiding place, so Bee kind and we can bee in this together.

No hiding place

No hiding place


naturestimeline – courtesy of Tony William Powell on Google+

A cross posting to my other blog!

Sorry people but for those interested, I have a new blog up and running called UKbirdingtimeline, which can be accessed from here or via the home page. This blog will run in conjunction with naturestimeline.

I would just like to bring to your attention, the latest posting from over there.

Heightened garden bird feeding activity due to the weather?

Best Wishes

Tony Powell

Baby birds galore

My regular readers will know that I painstakingly (too strong an emotive really) update my phenology calendar to reflect on the natural events taking place in the United Kingdom. So, now that the mixed spring has passed, what effect did it have on nature, more especially our familiar breeding garden birds?

When it comes to young birds, my garden attracts many different species and these are a few examples. Bear in mind, this list is not exhaustive and further additions may become apparent in time.

When I first witnessed a juvenile Dunnock and a juvenile Chaffinch on the 18th May, the weather was still grim with winds from the northeast as can be seen below. 

May 2012 Climatological Summary highlighting May 18th.

Juvenile Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Juvenile Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Juvenile Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Juvenile Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

However, when compared to the average, where were these two aforementioned sightings in the scheme of things? The average date for Dunnock, based on 7 records is 25th May and on a smaller sample, Chaffinch would have been around the 3rd June. It seems highly probable that both species took advantage of the warmer end to March and thereby emerged earlier. Moving on to my next two observations, these being juvenile Great and Blue Tits, a more intriguing pattern appears to show itself.

Young Great Tits were seen for the first time on 21st May and with a reasonably healthy sample of 9 years, these birds were well ahead of their average date. My statistics are however, not unusual for Great Tits and they remain a cause for much research into trophic mismatching. The first observation of young Blue Tits was on the 22nd May. Their emergence was only 5 days earlier than would normally be the case. A mere coincidence, these birds were fledging at the start of the heatwave, perhaps? Frankly, the Air temperature hovered at no higher than 10.9c (52f) on the 20th May but by the 22nd had maxed out at 26.3c (79f). Put simply, an amazing transformation of local climate within the space of just 48 hours.

Juvenile Great Tit (Parus major)

Juvenile Great Tit (Parus major)

Juvenile Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus or Parus caeruleus)
Juvenile Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus or Parus caeruleus)

As we were now fully into our heatwave period, the next events taking place were fledglings of Robin and Nuthatch. Both of these sightings occurred on the 29th May and were ahead of schedule, perhaps not surprisingly. The 4th June and 16th June being expected averages from datasets of 10 and 4 records respectively.

Juvenile Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Juvenile Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
Juvenile Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Moving into June, I have since recorded first fledgling sightings of House Sparrow and Goldfinch at our feeders on the 4th June. These emergences closely match their expected dates of 1st June and 7th June.

Juvenile House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Juvenile House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Juvenile Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
Juvenile Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Other phenology of note was a very late (12th May) first local Cuckoo for me, in fact my latest on record.  For further details on forthcoming phenology expected from my patch or even your own, please view my calendar link as mentioned at the start of this post.

*all the above bird images come courtesy of Birds of the Western Palearctic interactive DVD

Bird Surveys, ill health and horrendous weather

Why the hiatus, I hear you ask. Well, let me explain if I may.

My current job role as a Bird Surveyor/Researcher allows me to intimately follow our feathered friends and log their breeding success. To best illustrate the differing roles out there, I will direct you to a couple of blogs. For example, Lewis Yates, whose exploits this birding season come from Skomer in Wales? Another equally interesting blogging view of things is available from Annette Fayet’s blog from the same Island. Who knows, maybe I will start a blog covering my exploits one day in the future too. As well as my fortunate paid position, I have been putting my experience to good use for the following survey, which is tracking Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) as shown here. In fact, having previously referred to my volunteering exploits, I would say there is no better way for improving your self-esteem.

Due to the busy schedule, I may have suffered a bit of burn out in recent weeks, which resulted in a cold and finally horrible chest pains. Sparing you any further details on that particular subject, I must say the recent weather has not exactly helped my cause, either. Since my last phenology related post, I would say I have added another 25 or so events. Eighteen having Ornithology as a background theme, a further four, flora related, two strictly weather related and the final one having an insect theme.

Insect sightings from Mid April to the end of the first third of May

Only the one addition being a First Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) was in the form of a flying individual during the brighter spells of 30th April. Based on a useful sample of 17 records, the usual flying date is 26th April. 

Thunder days since the last update

At Newbury, Berkshire we bore witness to another 2 Thunder days, making these the fourth and fifth respectively. The dates concerned were 19th April and 22nd April. Considering the more usual period for these phenomena (fourth and fifth dates of Thunder) covers the period between 30th June and 11th July, it does seem exceptionally stormy this season so far.

Trees and similar things from Mid April to the end of first third of May

During Mid April, I truly believed trees were budding and leafing well ahead of schedule, has this since changed?

Pendunculate Oak (Quercus robur) was first observed leafing on 23rd April and subsequently Beech (Fagus  sylvatica) budburst was on the 9th May. So how do these events appear in the general scheme of things?  Their averages based albeit on small samples, cover 19th April and 14th April respectively. So there is a clear difference between the timing of the two events with it seems, the colder April weather having particularly affected the Beech. With regard to flowering trees and shrubs, Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) was flowering on 22nd April, which compares to its normal emergence date of 27th April. Hawthorn (Crataegus) being first observed flowering on 8th May, near to its average date of 5th May.
 
Bird sightings from Mid April to the end of the first third of May
 
Seven down, Eighteen to go. Okay, to save this post from being too long-winded, I will only inform you of local events. After all, the birds on our own patch are of most interest!
 
Back on the 18th April, I had my first sighting of a House Martin (Delichon urbicum), matching well with the more usual date of 17th April. The local Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) came next when heard singing on the 22nd April. With a healthy sample of 14 years of records, you can normally expect this event around the 28th April. Come the 27th April, I recorded a Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) and a Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) all for the first time on a local level. The respective mean dates work out at 23rd April (Whitethroat), 29th April (Garden Warbler) and 18th April (Redstart). The Redstart is a case in point for a lack of records, although as it is a rare bird in Berkshire, even on passage, I should not be disheartened. The 27th April saw the arrival of young Blackbirds (Turdus merula) in my neighbourhood for the first time this year. The mean expected date for these being the 21st April, so I would say it was feasible that some Blackbird have seen their first broods fail. The 29th April proved a rare day out for me, with a trip to the River Kennet. There, in the space of no more than five minutes, I came across firsts in the form of Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), Common Swift (Apus apus) and Hobby (Falco subbuteo). The Sedge Warbler proved to be a bit later than is usual with its average date being 20th April. The Hobby witnessed dashing ferociously at the Swifts does represent a smaller sample with an average arrival date of 28th April. Likewise, the Swift shows a similar expected arrival date of 30th April.
 
Finally, the 7th May brought about some more young bird activity to my garden in the form of Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). To this end, I can be extremely proud of myself having witnessed the first nest building of Starling on the 29th March. A whole 39 days later, it is just possible I witnessed the return of the same bird and its fledglings. Is this a careless assumption? Is there any significance to the quoted dates? Hell yes! The B.T.O’s Field Guide to Monitoring Nests suggests a period of 38-40 days from the end of actual nest building to free-flying young. You do the math! From my phenology record point of view, these young Starlings were observed 10 days earlier than in 2011 and are more normally seen for the first time around the 18th May.
 
 
My only other sightings relate to non-local events and are of limited interest at this time. I look forward to updating you further in the busy days and weeks ahead. Being back to full health, I will have no excuses and with this dull weather hopefully in the past, there will be many more tales to tell.
 
Best Wishes
 
Tony Powell
 

Early April offerings from nature

Here are my latest offerings from my Phenological sightings.

I first witnessed a Pendunculate Oak (Quercus robur) in budburst on the 3rd April. This matches quite closely to last year’s date of 7th April but is well ahead of 2010’s date of 24th April. The average date on which this bud bursting happens is 14th April, based on a sample of 11 records. Another similar observation being European Larch (Larix decidua) seen leafing. Being the 6th Aprilit matches 2011’s date and is four days behind 2010. The average date for European Larch leafing comes out at 1st April. As to the reliability of the aforementioned sighting, it is often difficult to separate leafing from budburst, when it comes to European Larch. *However, my keen eye also allowed me to witness Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in budburst on the 8th April.* This particular event was very early when compared with other years. 2011 being the 24th April and in 2010 it was later still at 6th May. If compared to the average, Ash budburst normally takes place around the 23rd April, albeit based on only seven personal records. A final tree related offering, arrived in the form of European Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) budburst, which I observed for the first time on 9th April. This event ties in nicely against the average observation date, also of 9th April. Now on to some insect related phenomenon.

The 6th April saw a further two annual butterfly sightings with Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) and Orange-tip(Anthocharis cardamines) being seen. The Speckled Wood sighting tied in nicely with last year with the 8th April. The average date of first emergence returns the 15th April. As for the first Orange-tip sighting, this year’s emergence is remarkably consistent with last year’s date, the 7th April. Once again, the average date of first emergence returns a date very similar to that of the Speckled Wood in that it is 16th April. Both samples are very healthy at 16 and 18 years of data respectively.  News on flowering plants and bird activity to follow. Interestingly, I have not to date, noted Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in flower which happens to be the food plant for the caterpillar of the Orange-tip butterfly.

Flowering Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) was to be in a very early state of emergence in the gloomy weather of yesterday (9th April). This particular event occurred on the 17th April last year and not until 9th May in 2010. I have noted the first emergence of flowering Wild Garlic on nine occasions and this year’s date is the earliest in that dataset. The more usual date for flowering Wild Garlic returns the 24th April. Now some birding activity at last.

Firstly, the birds are a-singing more and more each day now. Mind you, it is not just the singing, which is increasing, so too is the breeding activity. I am pleased to report that on the 5th April, I was fortunate enough to observe a Blackbird (Turdus merula) with food in its beak. The significance of this event of course being that it is most probably feeding young. If this is to be the case, this event is actually behind schedule with the 31st March being the more usual date, albeit based on a rather poor sample of garden records of 6 records. With Red Kites (Milvus milvus) appearing each day above our estate and a flyby Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) being recently added to the garden list, things ornithological wise are very good. Further news from a local woodland patch of mine were groups up 10 Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) seen feeding by other birders but personally, a new migrant arrival pleased me the most. The first returning Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) heard singing came about on the 8th April. This event closely matched last year with 6th April being the date and the average returns the 8th April too.

More next time.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell


EDIT: Apologies, the reference to Ash budburst was incorrect, this realated to an instance of Ash flowering. Subsequently there have been many more occurrences.

Predicting spring and summer weather, sun or soak? according to the birds…

Having previously mentioned here, my passion for tracking Europe’s returning African visitors, I recently attempted an analysis of the latest data from the Gibraltar region. To do this, I reviewed a spreadsheet, set up in previous years that use the First dates of migrant bird sightings, sourced from Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society. Having gone through my seven randomly chosen bird species’ arrival dates (on return from Africa), they were to reveal some intriguing trends.

Below you can see a link to a copy of the above-mentioned spreadsheet.

gibraltar migrants

What does this data tell you? To me it hints at a good pattern match to 2010, when looking at the First known sightings of the seven listed bird species. Later, I will refer to the actual climate of two years ago. Meanwhile, a question arises. When looking at these bird arrival statistics, is it possible to predict the future climate for the United Kingdom, i.e. what will spring and summer weather be like? Currently, the latest news from Gibraltar indicated a relaxation of the High Pressure areas that have largely plagued that part of Europe since last autumn. Furthermore, it is a fact that Low Pressure systems with their associated weather fronts can move the migrant birds on mass, which sometimes result in bird falls (exceptionally large numbers). What effect if any, will this have on the United Kingdom, being that it is still under the firm grip of High Pressure and has been for several weeks now?

Has the current atmospheric situation resulted in a lack of bird movement? Oh, no! With quite a few spring overshoots such as Night Herons (Nycticorax  nycticorax) and Hoopoes (Upupa epops) already in, you can add to the mix the more usual Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus), Willow Warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus), Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla)*. Is it possible we could be having an early migration season this year?

2010’s weather for the UK, based on my local data proved a dry and rather warm spring (March through May) and cool wet end to summer (June through August). The official data from the Met Office shown here – Spring 2010 and Summer 2010 roughly correlated to mine.

Newbury 2010 climate

Newbury 2010 climate

As you can see from the above, spring came early, as did autumn in 2010.  Watch this space for further news of any resemblance with that particular year.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell

*as ever, Thanks to Birdguides


Early Birds

As per recent years, some of our bird species are well into their nesting routines even before the spring equinox. The link shown below illustrates this situation well. The information source is from the British Trust for Ornithology and comes courtesy of Birdguides.

Early Birds

 

Best Wishes

Tony Powell

“All eyes to the South” once the snow clears

Today has been a mix of wet snowflakes and cold sleety rain. Temperatures, which had been falling earlier, are now on the rise, so I am somewhat glad to be indoors.

Now that the official winter climate statistics are in, it is time to have a look back at how the season fared. This is achievable courtesy of this link – here. My figures tie in nicely with the actual C.E.T. Temperatures, with my anomaly being approximately 0.6C above average. The rainfall figures continue to show their undeniably downward trend, with a deficit of 43mm or so. According to my figures, we have received only 73% of the average precipitation across the winter season with 82% officially reported for England as a whole. After the warmth and dryness of autumn, I do hope spring brings us much-needed rainfall. With plans locally for yet more urban development (many thousands of new houses), our natural ecosystems will face damage beyond recognition. 

On a lighter note, the spring equinox, is approaching fast and migrant birds are on the move. I like to track this phenomenon online and there are many ways to do so. A website that I would highly recommend is The Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society. The aforementioned website can be an excellent resource for tracking the incoming and outgoing African migrants due to its global position. In addition, from a UK perspective, I use reports from birdguides and it is from here, that I will quote a few recent highlights.

Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) have possibly overwintered in the UK once again, with more recent coming from Cork and East Sussex.

Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) are being quite widely reported in low numbers. Yorkshire, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Manchester and Pembrokeshire, has reported this species so far.

Reports of Stone-curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) received from Devon and West Sussex and a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) from Nottinghamshire are interesting. I am also aware of two reports of Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), one being in January from West Yorkshire and a February sighting from Gloucestershire.

I suspect there are other tales of interesting sightings and it shows the build up to migration changeover is gathering pace.

Best Wishes

Tony Powell

Volunteering – Do you participate?

Do you volunteer? 

If not, would you consider doing so?

I have been volunteering in many guises over the years, but more recently I have become a WeBS counter. This is a survey organised by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) which covers a broad spectrum of wetland bird species. The surveys cover a large area of UK wetland habitats, currently approximately 2,300 in number. The counts are carried out by volunteers, who visit the sites through November to March, although some of which are visited all year round.

Yesterday (20th November) was my 2nd visit this season, to a local gravel pit complex where I undertake my count. These counts provide an invaluable dataset for the BTO researchers and it’s yet another good example of citizen science in action. Being a data geek, I look forward to the WeBS reports when they are issued to me as a participant. Over many years, trends become apparent in the statuses of the birds, although I would say too early to find them in my own data. Nevertheless, these trips to the local patch open my eyes as to what is out there to be seen. Furthermore, these additional efforts look good on my CV, in turn allowing further progress towards my career in conservation.

Happy Birding

Tony Powell

Not what to expect, come Mid-November!

As if to confirm, a quote I saw on a fellow subscriber’s blog, I give you some news. The Nearly half way through November post and it’s reference to “the seasons’ constant cycle ignores the diary” seems somehow appropriate, in light of current ornithological sightings.

By no means unprecedented, but interesting nonetheless, I will present the following snippets, courtesy of Birdguides.

I hereby admit to cherry-picking some of the above information and apparently ignoring some twitchable species. I am NOT a twitcher, merely a citizen scientist. Actually, the listing above is a small sample of the information that can be accessed as a subscriber to Birdguides. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) will no doubt possess much more information on the current situation of November migrants in the United Kingdom. As the bird species aforementioned concern just those seen since November 1st, many will have since departed to warmer climes. All his however, takes me back to the original quote, in that nature does not always play by the rules.

Why are these migrant birds staying longer and arriving earlier?

Are these birds simply in an unfit physical state, deterring them from undertaking migration?

Are these birds simply developing a shorter migrational journey, year on year? Hence, staying longer and arriving earlier.

I don’t know the answers to the above questions. Science always requires answers but sometimes they are not always immediately obvious. In trying to resolve some of the mysteries surrounding Bird Migration. Can I refer you to a publication of the same title by Ian Newton, no.113 in the New Naturalist‘s series?

Good Reading.

Tony Powell