Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Little Owl

The Little Owl – conservation, ecology and behaviour of Athene noctua.
Dries van Niewenhuyse, Jean-Claude Génot and David H. Johnson.
Cambridge University Press. 2008. 574 pages. Hardback. £40.00
ISBN 978-0-521-88678-9

While many owls are difficult to study due to their relative scarcity and nocturnal habits, the Little Owl has become one of the best models for biological and conservation research. It is fairly common across much of Europe, and it occupies nest-boxes very easily, allowing researchers the chance to observe its nesting activities. This is the first book that I have seen to specifically focus on the species.

The authors synthesise information from 1,900 different sources and they discuss the Little Owl’s wide-ranging ecology, genetics and subspecies and population status by country. A lot of information has been incorporated from breeding atlases across Europe, and many maps have been included – although some have lost their impact by being in black and white.

A fact that many of us forget is that here in the UK the Little Owl did not arrive naturally. It was introduced into Kent and Northamptonshire, breeding for the first time in 1879. It has spread across much of England and Wales but has never advanced into Scotland or made the journey to Ireland.

The authors outline a strategy and monitoring programme for future conservation of the Little Owl. Although the UK population seems to be stable, the picture is not so rosy in some parts of Europe. Clear declines have occurred in Turkey and Spain and while a minimum of 560,000 pairs are thought to exist across the range, nest sites are often at risk from development.

Chapters cover every aspect of the Little Owl’s life, including history and traditions, taxonomy and genetics, morphology and body characteristics, distribution, habitat, diet, breeding, behaviour, population regulation and conservation. Perhaps most impressive, although of value really for the specialist, is an outstanding bibliography of literature on the Little Owl, listing publications dated from 1769 to the present day.

Books of this standard are often short of photographic content, but a clear attempt has been made here to lighten the book by the inclusion of 32 pages of colour images and in addition there are many black and white photos and line drawings.

Keith Betton

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

David Lindo on Little Egrets on The One Show

One of Bird Watching columnist David's more or less regular appearances on BBC1's The One Show sees him in a running race (bizarrely), helping ring British-bred Little Egrets and briefing the nation on some top sites to visit.

Sat next to him is Clarissa Dickson Wright, whose comments about the RSPB and raptor-culling sent viewer Mike Weedon into a paroxysm of outrage. Read all all about it in Weedon's World in the November 2008 issue of Bird Watching Magazine – coming to the shops on October 30.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Testing tips

In our October issue, we test seven mini-scopes. As always, though, our survey is only intended as a guide, and we strongly recommend that you try as many models as possible before you buy. With that in mind, here are our tips when buying any optics...

  • If you can, ask other birdwatchers if you can try their scopes, and take note of any features you like or dislike.
  • Before you go to buy, make a shortlist of models that you’re interested in, and give your dealer a call to check that they’re available.
  • Make sure the shop you buy from has good viewing facilities, so you can test the scopes yourself. Some retailers hold field days at reserves and birdwatching fairs.
  • Compare all the models on your shortlist thoroughly before trying any suggested by the shopkeeper.
  • If the shopkeeper gets too technical for you, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. If he is particularly enthusiastic about a certain model, remember that profit margins vary, and that it might be one that earns him more money.
  • Try to compare only two models at a time, three at most.
  • Take your time about comparing. Don’t be hurried (good retailers will be happy to give you as long as you need), and make notes as you compare – these will be invaluable if you decide to come back later after thinking things over.
  • Take all factors into account – a superb image is all very well, but the scope also needs to be one that you’re comfortable using.
  • Always test the actual scope you’re buying before taking it home.
  • Check that the box carries an approved importers mark – buying a ‘grey’ import can cause problems if anything goes wrong.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Changes at Titchwell

Our October 2008 issue will feature a special news story by kevin Wilmot on the proposed changes at RSPB Titchwell, north Norfolk, the RSPB's most popular reserve.

Here, reserve Manager Rob Coleman outlines the 'planned retreat' proposed in order to manage the site for the next 50 years.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Kevin is leaving

Sadly, Bird Watching magazine will soon be saying farewell to its editor, Kevin Wilmot.

But before he leaves, check him out in his glory days, arguing with himself whether it is a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler.

Click the image above, sit back and be prepared to be scared...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Orca Blubberboys Birdfair triumph!

Dylan Walker's Orca Blubberboys (aka Whale Madrid) gloriously lifted the prized Forktail Trophy at this year's Rutland Birdfair 2008 football tournament.
Left to right: Jack Thorpe of Bird Watching), Emily Thorpe (unused sub), Jasmine Weedon (unused sub) Darren Rees, Eddie Weedon (unused sub), Mike Weedon (of Bird Watching), Dylan Walker (with trophy), Colin, Dave Gray, Ian Rowlands.

After a shaky start in the tournament, losing to the Wildlife Trusts, the BW-rich team (featuring Mike W in goal), the Blubberboys scored two 1-0 victories, including over MKA Dons. OB eventually succumbed in a close semi-final, 1-0 to tournament faves, the RSPB [we blamed a bizarre series of rule changes followed and implemented by the mighty charity-cum-quango].

The final was also close with MKA Dons victorious over the RSPB.

However, as we beat the official winners, we rightfully claim that the Orca Blubberboys had every right to lift the magnificent trophy!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August 2008

Now in a shop near you...

Our August 2008 issue is packed with great photos, news, advice and inspiration to help you get more from your birding this month:

FREE Birdfair '08 Showguide Pull-out guide to all you need to get the best from the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland.

WIN Steiner binoculars Enter our competition for a chance to win some £1,000 binoculars.

Ospreys Latest news from the successful reintroduction of the magnificent Fish Hawk.

England, Scotland and Whales The best sites to watch seabirds, whales and dolphins in the UK.

ID Insights Pic out a Hippo – how to find and identify a Melodious or Icterine Warbler.

Hope for Malta? Adrian Thomas spent a month challenging illegal hunting in Malta and saw a chink of hope at the end of the tunnel.

Go Birding Special: Dragonflies and Birds 10 walks with great dragonflies and brilliant birds.

Showcase Top photographers form the overall winner of our top photographic competition IWP2007..

Secret lives: Lapwing: our strangest, most attractive wader.

Plus Plus PLUSUKBS unique site-by-site guide to all the best birds of June 2008; page after page of ideas for August birding, and so much more!

Go buy it! Or subscribe here:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Birds on TV

Naughty bird blogger Andy McKay, aka the Leicester Llama has come up with a few TV programmes with a bird twist. Check his list at this link, but don't click it if you are offended by rude words...

We took a bit of inspiration in the BW office this press day, and came up with the following TV shows for starters:

Hatch of the Jay

Little Bittern

Never Mind the Woodcocks/Buzzards

Hobby City

Songs Ospreys

Desperate House Martins

Filthy Ostrich and Catflap

Steptoe and Sunbird

Ready Steady Rook

Eggs Factor

The Bill

Stork and Mindy

Wren and Stimpy

Opportunity Dunnocks


Cormorantation Street

Top of the Epops (featuring Yellowlegs and co)

John Raven’s Newsround

Have I got Smews for you

Doctor Hoopoe (Plus the spin-off Torchwoodpecker)

They think its all plover

Tonight with Jonathan Ross’s Gull

Mock the Beak

Top Gyr

Going for Goldfinch

Some Plovers do ‘ave em

Noel’s Grouse Party

Blue Tit Peter

Willow Tit the Wisp

Jack Snipe anory

Home and a jay

He Manx Shearwater and the Masters of the Universe

Robin’s Nest

Kitchen Nightjars

South Lark

I’m Alan Partridge

Golden Gulls

Rhubarb and Bustard

Hill Street Blue Tits

The Rail Family

Birds of a feather

Open All Owls

To the Mallard Born

Puffin the Mule


Quail of the Century

Home to Roost

The Goldeneye Shot

Call my Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Doves

The Starling buds of May


The Price is Kite (with Leslie Crowther)

Last of the Summer Wryneck

Inspector Moorhens

Dixon of Duck Green

Goose Women

Curlew've Been Framed

Birding with Bill Oddie

Monday, August 11, 2008

A new twist...

...on an old favourite!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Birds of Britain

We are making a DVD guide to birdwatching. In the meantime, enjoy this classic from YouTube...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July 2008

Now in a shop near you...

Our July 2008 issue is packed with great photos, news, advice and inspiration to help you get more from your birding this month:

In your garden How to attract mammals, watch mammals and enjoy mammals in your backyard.

Inside Binoculars We all use them, but what is really going on in your bins?

Win Scottish holidays worth £2,230 Enter our easy-to-enter comp. It is, in a nutshell, easy to enter!

Go Birding Special: Dragonflies and Birds 10 walks with great dragonflies and brilliant birds.

Building for Birds We share our homes with a wider range of birds than you may think – here's how to encourage them to nest at your place.

Secret lives: Wren: small bird, big character!

Plus Plus PLUSUKBS unique site-by-site guide to all the best birds of May 2008; page after page of ideas for July birding, and so much more!

Go buy it! Or subscribe here:

Monday, June 30, 2008

New for the Western Palearctic?

Note the rather Woodcock-/Jack Snipe-like profile, with steep forehead and 'short' bill.

Swinhoe's Snipe, Tohmajarvi, Niirala, Finland, 27.6.08 (digiscope).

Mike Weedon has just got back from Finland, where he caught up with this new European bird, the Swinhoe's Snipe. It was particularly distinctive (and brilliant) in flight, when its bubbly drumming and trilling combined with a bouncing flight on bowed V-shaped wings and plunges to earth with a 'basket' of vibrating tail-feathers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

June 2008

Now in a shop near you...

Our June 2008 issue is packed with advice and inspiration to help you get more from your birding this month:

In your garden An old favourite gets a complete overhaul. Packd with tips and advice for your garden including how to make a wildlife pond.

Reedbeds Everything you need to know (and more) about this brilliant wetland habitat.

Digiscoping v DSLR Mike Weedon puts the two photographic techniques to the test on real birds! Which wins? The results may startle...

Go Birding 10 new exciting bird walks for June.

Secret lives: Fascinating facts about the Goldfinch.

Identify: Young Common, Med and Black-headed Gulls.

It's all in the June 2008 issue of Bird Watching magazine. Don't miss it!

Plus Plus PLUSUKBS unique site-by-site guide to all the best birds of April 2008; page after page of ideas for June birding, and so much more!

Go buy it! Or subscribe here:

Friday, May 30, 2008

Steppe-ing out

Features editor Matt Merritt writes: Just back from a week in Aragon on a 'fam' trip - birding, eating too much, and drinking lots of splendid wine. I won't even attempt to call it work, because it really was a lot of fun with a great group of people.

One of the things that really struck me was just how huge and empty the landscape is - it's something that takes you completely by surprise in western Europe. Given that around half of Aragon's 1.2 million population lives in the capital, Zaragoza, that probably shouldn't be a shock, but it is. Standing out on the steppes (above left), you can imagine yourself in the middle of the American South West.

Birding highlights included seeing several glorious Lammergeiers, a Golden Eagle on the nest feeding young, more Griffon Vultures than I could even have imagined, a very showy Rock Thrush in the spectacular setting of Castillo Loarre, a displaying Little Bustard out on the steppes, the maddeningly elusive Dupont's Larks, and both Black and Black-eared Wheatears (one of the latter subjecting a male Cuckoo to the most fierce mobbing I've ever seen from a small bird). And then there were Bee-eaters and Hoopoes galore, Alpine Swifts chattering overhead, and a whole host of great warblers, including Subalpine, Dartford, Sardinian, the not-very-aptly named Melodious, and the lovely Bonelli's (basically the southern equivalent of our Wood Warbler).

I shouldn't forget the Nightingales. Other than on the steppes, they were everywhere we went, and when we stayed a couple of nights in the mountaintop village of Alquezar (pictured right), you could hear them singing throughout the night (luckily, we were far too shattered to be kept awake by it). In fact, the local name for them is Ruisenor, meaning 'noisy man', which hits the nail right on the head.

It's a part of Spain that has tended to be overshadowed by the likes of the Extremadura or the Ebro Delta, but it offers fantastic birding in a memorable landscape. You'll be hearing a lot more of it in the future, not least in a forthcoming issue of Bird Watching. For now, here's a picture of our tired but happy group to close with...

PS. As you'll see, the rain in Spain doesn't fall mainly on the plain at all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Peewit composite

Mike Weedon writes:

When I was a child, I thought the Woodcock was the Peewit – somehow the name suited the extraordinary appearance of this most charismatic of our waders. You could still sort of argue that that is what they squeak between croaks in the magnificent roding display flight.
I had a joyous evening at a site near here on Friday, watching multiple roding Woodcocks, including a pair chasing each other with short excited clipped notes. Grasshopper Warblers were everywhere, Nightingales trying to out-dominate them. Tawny Ows hooted and a Barn Owl screeched repeatedly, while an angry Chinese Water Deer barked out its evil warning.
But best of all was a duetting pair of Long-eared Owls, with one bird even indulging in a spot of wing-clap display.
Pure summer joy for the lover of the glorious, crepuscular gloaming.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tern tern tern

Kevin Wilmot writes:

A fruitless lunchtime trip for Mike, Matt and me to see a reported Wryneck (it was a Mistle Thrush!), ended with one of the most amazing sights I've ever witnessed on my local patch at Ferry Meadows near Peterborough.

As we splashed into the damp car park at Gunwade lake, we were greeted by what can best be described as a 'swarm' of terns, more than I'd ever seen at once. Incredibly, they were nearly all Arctic Terns, stopping off on their way to their breeding grounds in the high Arctic. A quick count revealed more than 150 of them – pale, graceful, red-billed beauties that Mike was quick to photograph with his DSLR (see photos above). The mirrored surface of the windless lake lent a surreal feel to an incredible half-hour.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lunchtime twitching

The BW team twitched this delicious Redstart on 16.4.08. This is a digiscoped shot by Mike Weedon.

Flying Mallard

Mike Weedon writes:
My daughter Jasmine (just turned nine) took this video of a drake Mallard taking off from the edge of our pond. She filmed it with my old digiscoping camera, the good old Nikon Coolpix 880.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Urban Birder – How not to make a nestbox!

David The Urban Birder Lindo shows off his best effort at building a nestbox on BBC's The One Show

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Matt, Kev and I (says Mike) all went twitching a local Ring Ouzel this lunchtime, found by Peterbrough recorder and champion local bird-finder Brian Stone. And very nice it was, too (for pics, see here).

We then took a wee drive around to find an ouzel of our own. We had no direct success, but saw one or two Buzzards (always nice) and bumped into a couple of surprisingly approachable Fieldfares – perhaps a pair. So approachable were they that I was able to wander back to the car, grab Matt's scope and come back and digiscope them before they scarpered.

Here are a couple of shots (one of each bird). Note how dark and well-marked one is (which we took to be a male).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Armchair birding

Matt Merritt writes:
One of my most regular moans is about having to sit around at home waiting for deliveries, meter readers – you know the sort of thing. Well, never again.

On Saturday, I was up early because a firm was coming round to do a safety check on my gas meter. As is always the way with such things, they said they’d be around “between 8 and 2”, and so I found myself sitting there in front of the TV, whiling away the hours, and itching to get outside to look for a few spring migrants.

I live in a large, industrial village, and much as I like it, the one big problem with my house is that it’s near impossible to watch birds from inside it. At the back (it’s a terraced house), outhouses and walls block the view of the garden, while at the front, there’s a window box and a tiny patch of gravel, and then across the road an old factory (converted into multiple work units) and an old people’s home.

Oh, and between those two, there’s a patch of weed-strewn dirt and gravel used as a car park for the work units. Occasionally it attracts a Jackdaw or a Blackbird or a Robin, or even a Woodpigeon, but not a lot else. On this occasion, I was watching a pair of Jackdaws (probably the ones who nest in my chimney pots) collecting nesting material from it, and noticed a small, dull, Robin-sized bird moving around beyond them. Trouble was, it was partially obscured by grass and weeds, and I’m ashamed to say that for quite some time I was far too lazy to go and get a pair of bins to get a decent look at it, or to go upstairs to get a more unobstructed view. Finally, though, a brief full-length glimpse showed it to be considerably slimmer than a Robin, and I began to get just a little bit excited.

As soon as I got the bins on it, it turned away from me, revealing a rufous tail, constantly flicking as it picked its way over the ground. The rest of it was a pretty uniformly mousy grey-brown. A female Black Redstart, and not 25 yards from my front door!

Trouble was, my scope was in the car outside, and going out to fetch it might have frightened the bird off, so I spent the next half-hour watching it from inside the house. It occasionally flew up onto a nearby fence, or to the roof of the old folks’ home, before resuming its dashing around after insects. At last, it retreated to the far corner of the car-park, so I dashed out and got the scope, and watched it for another half an hour from as close as I dared.

I’m afraid I’m not signed up to any bird news services, so couldn’t spread the word very easily, and anyway I was far too absorbed to take my eyes off the rare visitor. In the end, it disappeared into the nearby park, which meant me dashing round the corner to the main entrance and searching for it, fruitlessly, for about an hour. After that, it was home to jot down a few descriptive notes and email the sighting to LROS.

Predictably, I spent the rest of the weekend trudging round likely spots searching for migrants, and turning up nothing more than a few Wheatears and Willow Warblers, so the moral of the story for me is never to ignore the birds just outside the front door, and more importantly, never to complain again about being stuck in waiting for this or that caller.

Monday, March 31, 2008


In addition to the events listings in Bird Watching magazine, we will be listing birdwatching-related events on this blog. Scroll down the sidebar to just below Breaking News, click on the link, and you'll find April 2008's events.

If you have an event that you'd like added to the listings, email us at: and we'll post it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

May 2008

Now in a shop near you...

Our May 2008 issue is packed with advice and inspiration to help you get more from your birding this month:

Major binoculars survey. An in-depth look at four of the best 8x32 binoculars on the market.

Finders keepers. Seven unmissable pages to help you find that bird-of-a-lifetime.

How to photograph birds in flight. All you need to make your garden the place to photograph birds.

A holiday in bird-rich Scotland.

Go Birding. 10 exciting bird walks for the month of May.

Photography special. Portraits of London Grey Herons.

Secret lives: Fascinating facts about the Great Crested Grebe.

Identify: Kites and Marsh Harrier in flight.

It's all in the May 2008 issue of Bird Watching magazine. Don't miss it!

Plus Plus PLUS – Ten new Go Birding walks to try; unique site-by-site guide to all the best birds of March 2008; page after page of ideas for May birding, and so much more!

Go buy it! Or subscribe here:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker digiscoped in video by Mike Weedon at Woodwalton Fen NNR, Cambs, on 24.3.08.
Pump up the volume!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Out now!

Production Editor Matt Merritt writes:

I’m going to ask all of you out there to allow me to indulge in a spot of shameless self-promotion for a few moments.

When I’m not hard at work here at Bird Watching Towers (gazing out of the window trying to add to our year list), I dabble in the world of poetry, and my first full-length collection has just been released by Arrowhead Press. It’s called Troy Town, it’s in hardback, it’s 80 pages long, and the splendid cover pic was taken by Bird Watching photographer Tom Bailey. Not surprisingly, given my interests and line of work, there are plenty of birds in the poems, although there are plenty of other things too.

Should any of you wish to buy a copy (£8.99 including p&p), you can do so here, or directly from me, at my Troy Town blog, which contains further information, reviews, etc.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Flight photography

Assisitant editor Mike Weedon writes:

In our May issue, we will have a special practical feature by Elliott Neep on photographing birds in flight. Kevin Wilmot and I went to try out one or two techniques that Elliott recommends, at Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough. So, Kevin chucked the bread and I took the shots, while Trevor Ward photographed us in action.

Here is one of the results, a Black-headed Gull:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Our office swan

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:
This Mute Swan is one of a pair that were blown into the pond outside our office in the high winds. They are preoccupied with courtship dancing, but this one came to see me, spotting, perhaps that I was scoffing chips...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Want to guard godwits?

Black-tailed Godwit © Mike Weedon

The RSPB and Fylde Bird club are looking for volunteers to help man a 24-hour guard for breeding Black-tailed Godwits – to protect them from egg-thieves.

Each year one or two pairs of the endangered Black-tailed Godwit nest on marshland near Freckleton on the Ribble estuary, near Preston, Lancashire.

RSPB project officer Carol Coupe said: “We are asking for the support of people to get involved by giving just a few hours of their time to help watch over the nest site.

“Volunteers do not need to be knowledgeable about birds as training will be given and there is a huge amount of satisfaction in helping to safeguard the only nests in the North West of these rare and beautiful birds.”

For more information about volunteering should contact Carol Coupe
tel: 01995 642 251

Monday, March 10, 2008

Window list latest

The BW office window year list has taken another few steps forward (so we are still just pipping the RSPB webteam...).

Recent additions are:
Grey Heron (27.2.08)
Red Kite (3.3.08) and
Wigeon (10.3.08)

The total is now 41 species.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Garden Goldfinch

Here is the latest digiscoped effort from editor Kevin Wilmot's back garden. This time, though, it was his wife Nikki who came up with the shot of this Goldfinch, feeding on niger seeds. (Feel free to click on the shot for a larger version)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Kev's digiscoping

Griffon Vulture

Black and Griffon Vultures

White Stork, with squatting House and Spanish Sparrows

White Stork

Blue Rock Thrush in mid-leap

Griffon Vulture
Kevin Wilmot is certainly improving his digiscoping! He has recently returned from Extremadura, Spain with these excellent efforts (click each image for a larger version). All images were taken with a Nikon P5000 camera hand-held to a Swarovski ATS 65 HD scope with a 30x eyepiece.

Monday, March 3, 2008

At my wits' end

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:

I don't think I have seen such large flocks of Black-tailed Godwits as were rising up from the RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire yesterday. I estimated there may be 5,000 birds in the air. So, to try to present some evidence of this count, I photographed one of the flocks (even though they were miles away).

I have put coloured spots on each godwit (grouped in 50s), and reckon there are about 3,000 birds visible in this flock. Add together another couple of flocks, and I think you could comfortably reach 5,000...


Production editor Matt Merritt writes:

I was on holiday last week, so managed to get out and about and do a fair bit of birding. There was a definite feeling of spring in the air, and I had high hopes of finding a few waders on the move through my local patch, plus filling in some strangely elusive year ticks (where have all the local Little Grebes gone?). I had a loose schedule of local gravel pits, pools, etc planned.

One of the best things about birding, though, is that it springs its best moments on you just when you’re least expecting them. On Monday, I was strolling back to my house from the nearby leisure centre, and was moderately alert for raptors, having noticed the Jackdaws, Rooks and Woodpigeons getting a bit noisy and edgy. Nothing was in sight, though, so I strolled on and was about to turn the corner into my road (pictured above). Suddenly, above the trees in Whitwick churchyard, there were two soaring Sparrowhawks, one of them an impressively large female, and the other a much smaller male. As I watched, the female dropped like a stone into the trees, while the male swept in a shallower dive across the road towards me, scattering pigeons and Jackdaws as he came. Woodpigeons, of course, are hopelessly slow off the mark, and the hunter streaked towards one, gaining all the time. I braced myself for the collision a few yards ahead of me, expecting a sickening thump and a cloud of feathers, but at the last moment he slammed the brakes on and glided gently over the pigeon’s head, clearly having realised at the last moment that his quarry was just a bit bigger than he had thought.

Later that day, I was up at Charnwood Lodge, a Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust reserve a couple of miles away. On a blustery day, as it was, it can be a pretty bleak place, with the granite outcrops and bracken giving it far more of an upland feel than you might expect in the supposedly gently rolling East Midlands. In the woods around the little reservoir, tit and finch flocks were noisily moving around, and there was regular yaffling from a nearby Green Woodpecker. Best of all, though, was seeing two different pairs of Treecreepers. Presumably the breeding season was already getting into swing, because in both cases, two birds arrived on the same tree, then pursued each other up it in quick spirals like little clockwork toys.

As I made my way back towards the entrance, I made my usual stop to scan a particular bare tree on the edge of the reserve (pictured above). It often holds Great Spotted Woodpeckers (sure enough, one was there), as well as winter thrushes (again, my luck was in, with three Fieldfares and a couple of dozen Redwings). The field beyond, looking towards Mount St Bernard’s Abbey, is good for Red-legged Partridges and Yellowhammers. As I searched for them, my attention was caught by what looked like a large crow but quickly resolved itself into a Raven, increasingly familiar around Charnwood Forest. Quite apart from the sheer size, its cross shape in flight is distinctive, and it flew with power and grace, occasionally tumbling and rolling seemingly for the sheer pleasure of it. If I’d had any doubts as to its identity, they’d have been dispelled by the three loud ‘gronk’ calls it made as it headed towards the monastery (one friend has told me that they occasionally turn up there to look for scraps around the picnic tables). Where the cawing of crows and rooks immediately calls to mind gentle, typically British farmland, the croaking of Ravens says wild, untamed landscapes, and even something supernatural.

So, the waders remained elusive, save for four flyover Oystercatchers and a solitary Redshank at Cossington Meadows later in the week, but they can wait. Sometimes you just have to take what’s on offer.

Friday, February 29, 2008

March 2008

Also, coming soon to a shop near you...
(click the pic for a bigger version)
UK readers, why not try WHSmiths or Tesco:

Bird Watching, March 2008

This month, the UK's most popular monthly birding mag includes the following:

Peregrines – Matt Merritt takes an up-to-the-minute look at the spread of these exciting falcons into our cities.

Big Garden Birdwatch – The Bird Watching team report how they and their families got on with the RSPB's huge annual garden watch.

Six weeks to become a better birdwatcher – Jammed full of tips to help you be a better birder by spring.

Andy Rouse Showcase – A brilliant portfolio by one of the World's top wildlife photographers.

ID Insights: small green warblers – All you need to tell a Chiffchaff from a Willow Warbler and a Wood Warbler.

Secret Life of the Goldcrest – The mysteries and secrets of our smallest bird.

Plus Plus PLUS – Ten new Go Birding walks to try; unique site-by-site guide to all the best birds of January 2008; WIN one of four pairs of Vortex binoculars; page after page of ideas for March birding, and so much more!

Go buy it! Or subscribe here:

March Tidetables

In our March 2008 issue, we inadvertently published the UK tidetable for February instead of March. Here is the correct tidetable for March. (click the images to see them clearly)

Monday, February 25, 2008

A spot of local twitching

© Mike Weedon

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:

I was out and about early on Saturday morning (23.2.08), searching for a Firecrest which had been seen a little north of Peterborough, when I got a call. Peterborough recorder Brian Stone had seen an egret fly past his house (just west of Peterborough) and was "as certain as I can be" that it was a Cattle Egret. Now, there have been loads in the country recently (perhaps 85 in total), but this was still something special for around here.

Brian declared that he was committed to going off to relocate the bird, but, though I made as encouraging noises as I could muster, this was surely wild-goose-in-a-haystack stuff. I had little hope for the poor fellow.

An hour later, though, and Brian was calling again. The bird was in a sheep field near Fotheringhay, Northants (but still in the Peterborough recording area).

So, when I got home, I rudely bundled the entire Weedon family into the car, delivered my daughter to her singing lesson and took Jo and Eddie on a Cattle Egret hunt.

Half an hour later I was hobbling as fast as I could in the direction of a distant Brian Stone. The egret was wandering around the fields getting bullied by butting lambs, and I never really saw it feed (so, it seemed likely to move on, soon). But it was there and very pleasurable on the eye.

A mere handful of hardcore Peterborian birders saw the bird, and another fistful of the Northants brigade – the bird was a county tick for the UKBS stalwart Bob Bullock. By midday, though, the bird was apparently seen by no-one else and there are one or two local birders left in a deeply-frustrated state of dipping anguish.

At the current invasion rate, though, surely the next Cattle Egret won't be long coming...

Friday, February 22, 2008

He's at it again...

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:

Kevin Wilmot's digiscoping has taken another tentative stride forward – his shots are really getting quite good. One day soon, I'll persuade him to abandon the 'auto' setting, and we may see even better shots! Meantime, enjoy these Black-headed Gulls he took at his local country park (click the pics for larger versions).

BW office list update

Our office window year list has now risen to a respectable 38 species. Don't whisper it too loudly, but we are currently thrashing the webteam of the RSPB at Sandy, depite their fancydan Mealy Redpolls on the feeders. Not bad, really, considering we are on a modern industrial estate and they are in the middle of an RSPB reserve!

Here is the current office year list:
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Golden Plover
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Feral Pigeon
Stock Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker
Sky Lark
Pied Wagtail
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Carrion Crow

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Urban Birder on The One Show – BBC1

Here, for your viewing pleasure is Bird Watching columnist David Lindo starring on BBC1 as the One Show's regular bird expert – The Urban Birder, complete with binoculars in the studio!! Here, he invites us to watch Robins in his garden...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Digiscoping technique (A640)

Editor Kevin Wilmot adopts the handheld digiscoping pose for the Canon PowerShot A640.

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes...

Since I wrote about how much I like the Canon PowerShot A640 (in our January issue), I've had quite a few calls from readers asking how I go about digiscoping with it (I use it with a Kowa TSN-823 scope and 32xW eyepiece).

In the Digiscoping Made Easy DVD I used a PowerShot A95 with a sort of metal tube (a Lensmate) clipped onto a bayonet fitting on the camera. The tube slides neatly into the scope eyepiece, centring the camera and holding it just the right distance from the eyepiece – there was no vignetting at any magnification and it worked beautifully.
I upgraded to the A640 because it has twice the megapixels (10 rather than 5) and the macro is amazing (with an incredible close-focus distance of about 1cm).

The downside is that there isn't a convenient Lensmate-equivalent to connect for digiscoping.

Fear not, though, there is an easy solution – plastic tubing.

Below is the step-by-step guide to how I do my digiscoping. To align the camera with the scope eyepiece, I simply use a plastic ring cut from some plastic piping from a DIY store.

I use one of two rings. The deeper one lifts the camera slightly further away from the eypiece, to stop vignetting at the lowest camera magnifcation. The thinner one is for when the camera is slightly zoomed in. (I worked out the distance by measuring how far back I needed the camera until the vignetting disappeared).

If I am going to be digiscoping all I do is whip out the relevant ring, comme ça...

...then I pop the ring in the scope's eyepiece.

So, it looks like this.

Then all I need to do is insert my camera's lens in the tube.

So, you end up with a set-up looking like this...

...or, if you like, this...

Then you snap away. Here is Kevin Wilmot impersonating my digiscoping technique beautifully.

The system is very simple, and I think the results speak for themselves. Here, for instance is a shot I took of a Snow Bunting this weekend in Norfolk. Not bad, is it?