Garden Gore

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
The troublesome tail end of Stella has meant a week of enforced inactivity for yours truly. The local ban on ringing due to Avian Flu is now lifted but the wind and rain of recent days has given no opportunity for ringing or birding. 

In my own garden and those of close neighbours there’s been a Chiffchaff, a singing Mistle Thrush, a calling Tawny Owl, a steady stream of Goldfinches, plus a number of Dunnocks chasing around. 


Tawny Owl

More showers this morning, and as I typed away, Sue reported a killing taking place on the back lawn. 

From the bedroom window I saw that an adult female Sparrowhawk had just collared a Collared Dove and was in the process of finishing off the job by sinking its talons into the dove's flesh. A Collared Dove is a large bird and at the top end of the list of prey sizes a female Sparrowhawk can handle. 

After a minute or so the Sparrowhawk flew with it now dead prey to the quieter end of the garden and where in the shelter of the trees for the next fifteen minutes it would take its meal. The bottom of the garden near the trees and the fence can be pretty gloomy in the rain and cloud so I switched to ISO1000. 




A Sparrowhawk plucks its prey before it can eat the meat. By the end of its meal the Sparrowhawk's crop was noticeably bulging from eating a whole Collared Dove. The hawk flew off carrying the carcass and  left a pile of feathers only as evidence.







Remains of a Sparrowhawk meal

The weather forecast is slightly better for Friday/Saturday. Let’s hope there’s some birding or ringing by then. If so read about it here. In the meantime, don’t forget to keep an eye out for garden birds.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Here And There

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
At last a half decent morning without that nagging breeze, a chance to go ringing at Oakenclough where at 0630 I met up with Andy and Dave. 

Our catching was steady and on the slow side. It was dominated by finches and signs of early returning birds with the recaptures of a Lesser Redpoll and a Siskin. The Siskin was first ringed 11th February 2016 and the Lesser Redpoll first ringed 25th March 2015. So they were both early springtime birds but neither of them recaptured in the intervening periods. 

Total birds processed 23 of just four species, including the two recaptures: 9 Goldfinch, 5 Siskin, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Chaffinch and 3 Dunnock. 





Lesser Redpolls can vary in colouration with some individuals showing greyish tones with whiter wing bars than a typically brown example. They are however not to be confused with Common Redpoll which is always bigger and longer winged. 

Top and bottom below are an adult female and an adult male respectively.  In the centre is a first winter male Lesser Redpoll that is greyer than the average, especially on the mantle and the underparts.  The adult male is the recapture from today, first ringed here on 25 March 2015. 

Lesser  Redpoll - adult female

Lesser Redpoll - first winter/spring male

Lesser Redpoll - adult male

Other birds seen during the course of our ringing: 3 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Pied Wagtail, 2 Bullfinch, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goosander, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Song Thrush. 

On the subject of Lesser Redpoll. A week or so ago and quite by accident I discovered that the Lesser Redpoll is also alive and well on the other side of the world - in New Zealand. This all began when a fellow ringer (bander) in New Zealand contacted me after reading about Lesser Redpolls on this blog. Being a curious sort I delved further and discovered that New Zealand hosts a large number of birds that were introduced from other countries, mostly by UK and other European settlers during the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. 

The reasons for introductions were the same as those in the transportation of non-native birds to North America and other continents like Australia - the settlers missed the sight and sound of birds from their homelands, mostly birds of the then rural landscape. 

The list of European species on the other side of the world may surprise you as it did me; as it includes species like Little Owl, Rook, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer, Cirl Bunting, Starling, House Sparrow and Dunnock. 


A hundred and fifty years later less than a third of the species introduced managed to survive and breed in the wild, but some that did are now among the most common birds in New Zealand, especially the Lesser Redpoll. 

Don't forget. Login to Another Bird Blog soon for more news from here, there and everywhere.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog and Eileen's Saturday.

First The Fish

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
Thursday morning – a fish day. So I called at Jamie’s shop at Knott End for supplies of brain food - haddock and salmon then spent a while birding around the shore and the jetty. 

Knott End and Fleetwood

Oystercatcher numbers are in decline as many move north and inland to breed, but still 220+ on the incoming tide with a single Curlew and a few Redshank for company. Nine Turnstone fed below the jetty with 32 Shelduck and 15/20 Black-headed Gull on the shore. The wintering Black Redstart was in the usual spot, darting around the area of the residential flats where it seems to find plenty of food and not too much competition from aggressive Robins. 

Black Redstart


At Fluke Hall the local Tree Sparrows are getting a little noisy and very active around the nest boxes in the trees. I clocked the Grey Wagtail that has wintered in the paddock amongst the horses and their churned up ground and where there’s always two or three Blackbirds; a least a couple of Goldfinch singing, plus 2 Song Thrushes also in good voice. 

Along the roadside was a single Stonechat and in the still flooded field, 24 Pied Wagtail, 8 Meadow Pipit, more Blackbirds, a couple of dozen Curlews and displaying Lapwing. 


Near the wood I disturbed a Buzzard from the trees where a Grey Heron played doggo until the Buzzard flew at it. The heron flew off complaining loudly and left me with half a picture. 

Grey Heron

The Linnet/Avian Flu saga continues with still no ringing allowed despite two ringers desperate to mark a few Linnets that will soon go elsewhere. I put out more seed in the hope of a ringing session soon and where with luck we may just catch one or two of the Skylarks that are sticking around. 


I stopped at Braides Farm where wader numbers are down but where 34 Teal, 2 Shoveler and a single Grey Heron linger. Skylarks were in good voice and very visible here with upwards of 10 around. It has been a very mild winter where the inconspicuous Skylark can pick a living and hopefully come back strong in the coming weeks. 

At Conder Green the incoming tide filled a good half of the creeks and where the wintering Spotted Redshank is always to be found in exactly the same spot. The “spothank” begins to acquire a little colour, mostly in its primary feathers. Soon it will be off north towards Northern Russia and Scandinavia where it will breed. 

Spotted Redshank

The Spotted Redshank was first described in 1764 by Peter Simon Pallas, a German zoologist and botanist who worked in Russia between about 1767 and 1810. A number of animals and birds were described by Pallas, and his surname is included in their common names e.g. Pallas' Glass Lizard, Pallas' Viper, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Pallas’ Reed Bunting, Pallas’ Leaf Warbler. 

The current high water level makes the pool hard going for birds and birders alike. But still to be found – 2 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret, 95 Teal, 24 Shelduck, 18 Oystercatcher, 22 Redshank, 18 Wigeon, 3 Snipe and 2 Little Grebe.

Linking today to Wild Bird Wednesday , Anni's birding and Eileen's Blog.

Rant And Ring

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
There’s still no ringing allowed near home. DEFRA are taking no chances on the possibility that Avian Flu might still spread, but there’s no information about when the saga might end. 

Avian Flu Zones

What a shame that DEFRA’s inspectors weren’t on the ball in the first place when they would have seen that in this part of Lancashire gamebird rearing operations are environmental disasters waiting to happen. 

It gets worse. Each autumn in the UK many millions of cage reared pheasant, partridge and duck are released into the wild for the purposes of then shooting them. Pre or post, there is little or no qualified assessment as to the impact of the releases upon wild bird populations or the environment.

So called “game shooting” is big business in providing jobs and revenue for those involved whereby there is zero likelihood of anyone tackling the subject in favour of the environment or the landscape at large. In that word “anyone” I include politicians or political parties of any and every persuasion, pressure groups, wildlife charities, wildlife trusts, clubs, organisations and the various hangers-on who claim concern for the countryside. There are some like the BTO who must remain impartial to promote their scientific heartbeat, but there are other individuals and organisations that show little desire to stir the murky pot and we all know the reason why. 

Game bird rearing pens

Rant over. What happened today? 

Luckily Andy and I have a standby site outside the avian flu 10kms zone in the hills at Oakenclough but where the grey, wet and windy weather of late has kept us from going; until today that is when clear skies and a rising sun met us at 0645. That entailed an alarm clock call at 0530. Being a bird ringer is neither for the faint-hearted nor for those who have difficulty getting out of bed on a cold March morning. 

We had a quietish few hours with just 17 birds and finches once again in top spot: 4 Siskin, 3 Goldfinch, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Lesser Redpoll and 1 Bullfinch. 

The first winter female Bullfinch was only the third Bullfinch we have caught here. We see or more likely hear the species quite regularly but they don’t often come near our net rides. Their short, stubby beak is specially adapted for feeding on buds and they are particularly enthusiastic eaters of the buds of certain fruit trees. Due to their bud-eating habits, many thousands used to be legally trapped and killed each year in English orchards.

Bullfinch - First winter female
Bullfinch- First winter female

Bullfinch - First winter female

In all we saw and heard 12+ Siskins but Lesser Redpolls were decidedly scarce by way of the single one caught. 

Lesser Redpoll



Below is an adult male Chaffinch coming into full and colourful spring plumage. 


Coal Tit

Other birds seen today: 50+ Curlew, 18 Oystercatcher, 3 Pied Wagtail, 2 Goldeneye, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Grey Heron.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Whuppity Scoorie

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
Just in case you folks didn’t know. Today March 1st is known in parts of Scotland as “Whuppity Scoorie”- supposedly it reflects changes when lighter spring evenings replaced the dark winter nights and a time to celebrate; perhaps with a wee dram? 

For me the marginally lighter mornings mean a chance to go birding 30 minutes sooner and to catch up with a glass of wine once the day is over. The Barn Owl just didn’t want to co-operate this morning. The roads are still pretty busy until even lighter mornings arrive and this owl is sensible enough to avoid the passing vehicles. So I made do with a distant photo and then went on my way. 

Barn Owl

I made it to Gulf Lane where the Linnets have made something of a comeback with 100+ in attendance and still preferring what’s left of the natural food rather than our millet/rapeseed mix. It looks like the Avian Flu restrictions are to apply for some time yet to further frustrate or efforts to catch birds here. As well as a couple of Stock Doves, I counted five or more Skylarks in the immediate area with a couple flying off from the net ride where we deposit the seed mix. A single Little Egret hunted the dyke with several tree Sparrows around the farm as well as a Kestrel hovering over the roadside. 

Little Egret


The morning was very changeable with constantly shifting light. There was sun one minute, and then dark clouds followed by a hard shower, after which came more sun and more showers. Below is a picture from Cockersands with the ancient abbey (pre-1184) in the background right. In the second picture in the foreground of the abbey are the many thousands of Golden Plover, Lapwing, Redshank and Dunlin that have fed intermittently on the flood for a number of weeks now. So wary is the mixed assembly that it is impossible to get close and very difficult to count as the birds constantly fly around at the slightest disturbance and then land in different places. 

Towards Cockersands



I counted 3 Brown Hares in the same fields, together with several Skylarks and a handful of Meadow Pipits. March is the traditional time to see Brown Hares “boxing”, but ours aren’t ready just yet. As the females come into season, male hares take more and more interest, following them closely until ready to mate. This is known as ‘mate guarding’ - the male making sure a rival doesn’t steal his girl away. But if he gets too close, fur will fly as she gives him a left hook until she’s ready. 

Meadow Pipit

Brown Hare

Five hundred yards away at the shore were 10 + Tree Sparrow, 6 Woodpigeon, 4 Collared Dove, 4 Greenfinch, 4 Goldfinch, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Linnet, 1 Little Egret. Some or maybe all of the Tree Sparrows here use buildings in which to nest as suitable trees and hedgerows are hard to come by. I watched a pair entering and leaving a gap between the roof and the walls where a Starling watched on. But I think the Starling was just a little too big to claim the site. 

Tree Sparrow


There’s nothing much doing at Conder Green but where the Avocets are due any day. Wader wise I did see 40+ Black-tailed Godwit circling behind the pool to then the land in some distant field. Also, 120 Teal, 15 Redshank, 15 Oystercatcher, 8 Curlew, 4 Goosander, 3 Little Grebe, 2 Little Egret and 1 Spotted Redshank. 

Stay tuned for more from Another Bird Blog. Meanwhile, keep in mind that other piece of March folklore - “As the days grow longer the storms grow stronger.”

Linking today to Anni's blog and Eileen's Saturday.

Review – Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
New field guides come thick and fast nowadays. No sooner have we invested in and digested a new one than yet another appears to tempt us. And rather like new cars that grow in size from the previous model and prove a tight fit in narrow lanes and car park spaces, so do the dimensions of field guides seem to outgrow their hoped for size. Fitting the latest ones into the average Barbour or multi-pocketed jacket requires a fair amount of ingenuity. Either that or the pristine volume lies forgotten in the glove compartment or sits at home waiting to be consulted upon our return home, thus defeating the object of a guide for use in the great outdoors. 

But now along comes a new field guide that promises not only 860 species and 2,200 photographs but undertakes to fit it all into a genuine pocket size of 190mm x 135mm and less than 30mm thick. For those of us brought up with feet and inches that equates to a handy and less than 8in x 6in x 1½in and weighs in to an acceptable 800 grams. 

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

The book under the spotlight today is “Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East” by Frédéric Jiguet and Aurélien Audevard, two distinguished French ornithologists. The latter may be better known by British birders from his occasional articles in Dutch Birding and Birdwatch. The book has been translated into English from the original French Edition aimed at an International audience rather than a British one. 

I was grateful for the brief eight pages that comprised the Contents and Introduction. Anyone who buys a serious guide that covers Europe, Africa and The Middle East will surely appreciate minimal information about how to identify birds and the part played by habitat, weather and the various seasons of the year.

The brevity of the early pages allows the remainder of the 435 pages to be devoted entirely to the birds. And those pages are very good with every species mentioned depicted by way of very good quality photographs to help identification and where distinctive features are signposted to the reader.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

The book is bang up to date with the inclusion of species such as Scopoli’s Shearwater, Cabot’s Tern and a good range of single-record phylloscopus warblers that have appeared in Europe in recent years. It is very comprehensive in its coverage of the huge range of gulls which appear rarely in European waters from as far afield as the Azores and Arctic Northern Finland e.g. Baltic Gull and Azores Yellow-legged Gull. 

One of the things I did like is the inclusion of escaped or introduced species such as the Parrotbills in Italy, the Leiothrix in France & Spain, Weavers, Bishops, Mynas and Munias from Iberia, or the Iago Sparrow found in Holland. From experience we know how such species often find a niche, multiply and soon go on to become naturalised to their adopted country. There are also birds I’d not seen in other guides e.g. "Thick Billed" Reed Bunting", Grey-necked Bunting and “Ambiguous" Reed Warbler”.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

In fact the whole book really emphasises how we in Britain and the near Continent are in the centre of a huge Birding Universe where birds from North, South, East and West can and do occur, including as the book does, many pages devoted to North American birds. 

Students of taxonomy and sub-species may find the book’s treatment of their subject inconsistent by way of inclusion of for instance, the slightly different races of Mediterranean Spotted Flycatcher while omitting the sometimes noticeably different seven sub-species of the Common Linnet found across Europe.

I found the explanation and pictures of the two races of Greater White-fronted Goose, flavirostris and albifrons to be less than ideal while just two photographs of Common Redpoll fail to describe adequately the Lesser Redpoll as both widespread and commonplace in Britain and parts of Europe. But then as mentioned earlier, this is a book aimed at a cosmopolitan audience rather than a wholly English speaking one, and neither do the authors claim the book to be a treatise on taxonomy. 

The textual descriptions are of necessity succinct, simply to allow the number and variety of species covered to fit into the easily portable book described above. Likewise the number of maps and photographs allowed for each species’ ages, plumages and postures is somewhat compromised by the available space, but not enough to deter a serious birder looking to buy.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Overall I really liked the quality, look and feel of this book. The size, layout and composition makes for a truly usable field guide rather than a coffee table book. By integrating the three huge areas of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East it covers a range of species not previously seen in an everyday field guide. 

The Birds of Europe, North Africa, and The Middle East is available now from the publisher Princeton University Press or the usual Internet outlets. The price is less than £20.00 or $30.  I reckon that's a good buy.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Catching Up

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
Apologies first for yesterday posting again a duplicate post from last week. This was a bungled attempt to update the blog and Google wasn't very forgiving of my blunder. Doh!

What with one thing and then another I’d not been out birding or ringing for a good few days. Finally today I attempted a few hours out in the less than ideal conditions of yet another cloudy, grey morning. 

A drive along Backsands Lane at Pilling revealed the grand total of three Pink-footed Geese and a far cry from the many thousands of recent weeks. There’s not been the same numbers of geese in fields close to home, towards the river at Stalmine or even flying to and from the direction of Pilling, their usual route overhead. I get the distinct feeling that the mild weather of late has sent many pinkies heading back to Iceland. 

And just this week I have noticed a gang of 30+ newly arrived, noisy Goldfinches coming to the garden, plus the usual garden birds in song. I suspect that at least one pair of Blackbirds, a pair of Greenfinch and a pair of Song Thrush nest building in the thick hedgerows and conifers of some neighbours’ gardens. Spring is almost here.


Today at Gulf Lane the Linnet flock was down to 35 only, a major drop from the 300+of late January and as late as 3rd February. 

The still flooded and ever distant flood at Braides Farm held 200+ Curlew, 120 Lapwing, 30 Wigeon, 15+Redshank and a couple of Shelduck. 


At Conder Green I watched a Great White Egret hunting the water’s edge and to then take a fish. Intent on watching the egret I hadn’t spotted a Grey Heron close by. But as the egret grabbed a fish from the water the heron launched an immediate ambush and flew at the egret in trying to snatch the fish or intimidate the egret into dropping its meal. 

I was somewhat pleased when the slightly smaller egret reacted very fast and managed to swallow the fish in one motion before the heron could win the contest. I don’t recall ever seeing the two species so close together before so it was quite instructive to see the size comparison, even at some distance. 

Great White Egret

Great White Egret, Grey Heron (and Blackbird)

Otherwise the pool and creeks were comparatively quiet by way of 25 Wigeon, 15 Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 60 Teal, 10 Curlew and 1 Little Egret. There now seems to be 4 pairs of Oystercatchers on territory with 15+ Oystercatcher  in total.

A swimming Redshank

Storm Doris is on her way across the Atlantic Ocean and due to hit us overnight. Tomorrow may be a day for reading in which case I’ll take a look at my review copy of a new field guide due out in March. 

The book’s is entitled “Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East”, an entirely photographic guide by Frédéric Jiguet & Aurélien Audevard at  

Birds of Europe, North African and the Middle East

Read about it soon on Another Bird Blog. Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday and Anni, who would rather be birding. 

Mist With Splits And Joins.

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
Friday. I met Andy up at Oakenclough for a ringing session.  The scene that greeted us was not quite as promised by the weather forecast and nothing like the clear morning I'd left at sea level fifteen miles away. In place of a starry sky was low cloud, fog and far from ideal conditions for catching birds. Our experience is that birds don’t move around much during foggy and misty conditions. 

Misty Start

Towards Bowland

The sun never broke through and as we expected, birds didn’t arrive in high numbers. Nevertheless we left quite happy that we’d managed to catch 16 birds. Unusually for here and for the first time ever, Blue Tit proved to be the most numerous bird of the catch with 7 Blue Tit, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Siskin, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tit and 1 Lesser Redpoll. 

Adult Male Siskin
Adult Female Siskin

Adult Female Siskin

Adult Male Siskin

First Winter Male Goldfinch

We caught our first Lesser Redpoll of the year, a fine first winter male. 

First Winter Male Lesser Redpoll

First Winter Male Lesser Redpoll

The Lesser Redpoll is included in The British Ornithologists' Union (BOU) decision to adopt the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) World Bird List taxonomy for its British list from 1 January 2018. The redpoll complex will be reduced from three species to two - Common and Arctic - meaning the loss of Lesser Redpoll as a species. So after being split into three species in the year 2000, ringers will be lumped back to where we were 17 years ago when the Common and the Lesser Redpoll were as one. Isn’t science wonderful? 

Other changes to the British List will mean that the total of species recorded in Britain will increase slightly by way of a number of 'splits' recognised by IOC but not currently by BOU. Isabelline and Red-tailed Shrikes will become two separate species, as will Bean Goose when there are both Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose to tick. Thayer's Gull will be recognised as a full species and not a subspecies of Iceland Gull. 

Two-barred Warbler will be elevated to full specific status rather than continue as a subspecies of Greenish Warbler. Two other Far Eastern vagrants - Eastern Yellow Wagtail and Stejneger's Stonechat will be given full specific status, as will North America's Least Tern. Each of these will therefore become species additions to the revised British list. 

One loss from the future British list is Hudsonian Whimbrel, which will remain a subspecies of Whimbrel and the two not split into separate species.

Meanwhile, back in the real world it’s now a good 12 months or more since the Oakenclough site was treated to an overdue makeover by way of uprooting the huge stands of rhododendron followed by a replanting scheme of native trees. It gets pretty cold up here on the edge of the Bowland Hills but the new trees do have the advantage of a good supply of rainwater where they are more likely to die from drowning than from drought. 

Replanting at Oakenclough

Other birds today: 1 Bullfinch, 10 Siskin, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 20 Lapwing, 4 Oystercatcher, 6 Curlew.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Birds.

Owls and Things

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
After a couple of pretty windy days there’s no ringing just yet but I made a couple of visit to our Linnet ringing site to put out a mix of millet and rape seed. The lifting of the exclusion zone and the ban on ringing within the area is due to be lifted on 28th February.

There are still 170 + Linnet around plus a watching Kestrel and 10/12 Stock Dove taking advantage of the seed on offer. The local Carrion Crows have found a source of food in last season’s maize field. 

Avian Flu


Carrion Crow


Looking at the forecast I’m hoping to get out birding on Wednesday and ringing in the hills on Friday when the wing drops off. 

Meanwhile here’s an interesting and recent item I found on the Internet. The story centres upon research being carried out near here at Lancaster University. The video features Barn Owls and research into the often incorrect and inconsiderate use of rodenticides and how such mistakes lead to the poisoning of Barn Owls and other birds of prey. 

Clicking on the “You Tube” icon will take you to a full screen viewing. 

A friend of mine who operates a pest control business told me years ago how careless some farmers are about how they both store and use rat poisons. He’s found containers of rodenticides lying around in barns and outbuildings, sometimes with the contents scattered nearby. This is the type of misuse that can cause secondary poisoning, where an animal is poisoned after consuming another animal that has eaten and digested poison. This can occur in birds of prey such as owls or hawks and mammals such as foxes and badgers. 

Secondary poisoning can also occur when poisoned rodent bodies are not disposed of quickly and efficiently so as to ensure that no bird or animal take the poisoned corpse. 

Read more about the work of the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme and how you can help by clicking this link 

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.

A Snowy Storm

Posted on - In Another Bird Blog
Here in the UK there are two separate and quite distinct species - birder and bird photographer. And they don’t always co-exist in perfect harmony. 

Birders often use the disparaging epithet of “togger” to describe someone who simply takes bird photographs but has no real interest in birds as animals and their place in the Tree of Life.  In return I am sure that photographers use a similarly unflattering word to describe the many birders who simply want to look at birds but who have no desire to photograph them. I must admit I don’t know what the latter word is, but perhaps after today I might find out?  However, and as far as I am aware the two points of view haven’t come to physical violence just yet, unlike in Canada. 

The National Post of Canada of 9th February 2017 -  “In Ontario shouting matches and crude language have invaded a world of bucolic harmony”.

“The bird world has rival human factions: purists who admire birds from a distance, and some photographers who put out bait - live mice from a pet store to get the dramatic shot of a bird of prey swooping in. The two sides don’t play nicely. And conflict has grown since digital cameras opened up nature photography to amateurs, while cell phones, Facebook and GPS help crowds converge on rare birds. 

“It almost comes to blows sometimes if birders are going to see an owl and there are photographers there,” said Mike Runtz, a naturalist who teaches biology at Carleton University. “There’s a real amount of verbal abuse that goes on between the two groups. They don’t like each other. Photographers don’t like being told what they can and cannot do and birders don’t like seeing birds harassed.” 

At the heart of the fractious dispute are owls, especially Arctic species like the Great Grey and the Snowy Owl that often arrive in the more populated parts of Canada in winter. There are Great Greys and Snowys around Ottawa in early 2017. 

Snowy Owl - courtesy USFWS

The Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club posts sightings of birds on its website, but has stopped telling where to see owls “due to increasing and widespread concerns of disturbance of wildlife and property.” The Ontario Field Ornithologists, a provincial organization of birders, also omits owl sightings. Snowy Owls are fairly tolerant of humans, especially the big, photogenic Arctic species, Runtz said. “And since these owls tend to stay in one area once they turn up that makes them very prone to being harassed by photographers.” 

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says it’s legal to use mice from a lab or pet store because they aren’t wildlife. But if you trap or catch a wild mouse to use as bait, you need a small game licence. As for the owl, the ministry says baiting is legal as long as the birds is not “killed, injured, captured or harassed as a result.” 

But Runtz argues it is wrong to train wild animals to approach humans for food. He said Facebook and Flickr sites “have become trophy rooms for photographs,” replacing the old trophy rooms full of animals with antlers and horns. And photographing owls is a big-money sport. A number of expert guides will take well-to-do amateur photographers on week-long “Snowy Owl workshops” in Ontario and Quebec for $3,000 or more. This raises the pressure to deliver the best shot. 

Snowy Owl - courtesy USFWS
Runtz once saw a group with lawn chairs in the snow, and they had put out sticks where an owl could perch about five metres away. “They would throw mice down, hoping the Hawk Owl would land on the perch. Runtz told them they should not do this “and they were very vocally rude to me about sticking my nose in other people’s business. “It really is remarkable.” 

Runtz also said there’s a place near Kingston where owls are known to gather in winter in the forest, and photographers will find a sleeping owl and throw things at the bird to get a shot with its eyes open.  An owl flushed out in daytime may be attacked by other birds. 

Local birder Bruce Di Labio said he sees some grey area in putting out bait, because he isn’t sure owls are being harmed. “The argument goes back and forth: We feed (other) birds, so what’s the difference? … I never found an owl that died of being overweight, and I have found numerous owls that starved to death.” But he was surprised by the behaviour of a Snowy Owl a few years ago. It watched him stop nearby and “the next thing I knew it was down on a fencepost, begging for a handout." He agrees friction is growing, including shouting matches. 

"When Great Greys came south in large numbers a few years back, people would show up with a cooler full of live mice and be constantly feeding them, and there would be a shouting match going on. Not grabbing each other but definitely a heated argument. Baiting has become more popular since the invention of the digital camera and everybody wants to get the greatest shot,” Di Labio said. “Before digital the old guys would spend a week in the woods to get one good shot. Now you just throw down a live mouse.” 

Great Grey Owl- Photo by jok2000 CC-BY-SA-3.0 Wiki Commons

Life is tricky for those caught in the middle. If one photographer puts out a mouse, are other photographers who do not use bait supposed to stop shooting? One local photographer who asked not to be identified because of the bad feelings blames “a vocal minority,” and tells this story: “Two springs ago, I was up on the ridge at Mud Lake minding my own business photographing a bird. Suddenly a birder walks up to me saying in a loud voice, ‘You should know, you should know,’ over and over again. “He had taken objection to another person playing a (recorded) call for another bird maybe 40 feet from me. I told the birder I have nothing to do with it and he said, ‘Well, you should tell him not to do it.’ These are the types that will yell at people. I think they would be that way no matter what hobby they took up.” 

Some photographers are quite open about the practice. Ethan Meleg, a professional nature photographer from Midland, Ontario describes which shots on his website are the results of baiting. 

The National Audubon Society, on the other hand, opposes it and bans photos that use baiting from its contests. It says owls can become too comfortable around people and may be drawn to cars that stop on roadsides, where traffic is a danger.” 

Maybe there’s a lesson or two to be learnt here in the UK from this story. While it is against the law in the UK to use live bait to capture or photograph birds or wild animals we do have a similar problem with the uncontrolled dissemination of information that places unnecessary attention onto sometimes vulnerable and often protected birds. And here too in Britain, owls are a particular attraction.

Litttle Owl

This was especially true a few years ago when a local influx of both Short-eared Owls and Barn Owls led to whole tribes of birders and toggers targeting one particular location on an almost 24/7 basis for weeks on end. This eventually led to a local farmer whose land the owls hunted becoming especially irate after being told to “F..k Off”. This followed his advice to one individual about hazardous parking on a single track road vital to the local farming community, a band of people normally very helpful to the cause of conservation.

Barn Owl

Let’s be honest. It is no longer unusual to read in the press of both birders and toggers invading private locations where they upset local residents by their careless parking on roadside verges and narrow lanes at often ungodly hours. Unfortunately such selfish behaviour tars all birders and photographers with the same brush, and everyone gets a bad name whether they deserve it or not. 

What's to do then?

Just stay calm folks. Brew a cup of tea, sit down and have a think. After all, it's just a bird.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday