Monthly Archives: March 2015

Mammal of the Month: Otter

Dan Brown

 

From historic villain to come-back king, the Otter is now widespread throughout the UK, though getting decent views of one is far from easy. Here’s a few top tips on tracking and seeing Otters close to you

An attractive and charismatic mammal, Otters can occasionally be very approachable, especially on Shetland (http://www.shetlandnature.net/otters/)

An attractive and charismatic mammal, Otters can occasionally be very approachable, especially on Shetland (http://www.shetlandnature.net/otters/)

The Otter (Lutra lutra) is one of Britain’s most charismatic and endearing mammals. It seamlessly manages to combine the cute and cuddly appeal, with the tenacity of an animal that has mastered all the Atlantic can throw at it, and if that wasn’t enough they have suffered mercilessly at the hands of humans.

Otter are however the come-back Kings! For as long as can be remembered they have been hunted, firstly for pelts then latterly in a war against aquatic predators raiding fish ponds, stocked lakes, and important fishing rivers. More recently pressure from agricultural changes including the use of organochlorines and the loss of suitable river-side habitat has further pressured the populations. Thankfully things are on the up. Otters are now fully protected and have re-colonised much of their lost ground. Recent population estimates suggest that the Scottish population is at carrying capacity whilst both the English and Welsh populations have seen dramatic rises. Their rural increase and the provisioning of artificial holts has helped them spread into urban areas such as Glasgow and Newcastle, as well as inner city Birmingham.

The cute and cuddly! This Kit has just finished drying itself (http://www.shetlandnature.net)

The cute and cuddly! This Kit has just finished drying itself (http://www.shetlandnature.net)

Otters are easily identified. Their aquatic nature is a good starting point although they do spend up to 50% of their time out of the water and, in preference, somewhere close to woodland. In general however it is close to water that we see them. Occasionally they can be mistaken for Seals along the coast but the presence of the tail at the surface plus the very obvious bum and tail as they up-end and dive makes them easily identifiable.

Head and tail are both visible at the surface. When they dive, the rump and tail get elevated with a final flick of the trail as its submerges. This was taken from the Quay in Portree Harbour

Head and tail are both visible at the surface. When they dive, the rump and tail get elevated with a final flick of the trail as its submerges. This was taken from the Quay in Portree Harbour

On land they have a low and long silhouette, with powerful hind quarters. They can be frequently heard before being seen producing a high pitched whistle, amongst other calls. In fact its even possible to whistle Otters in if you can reach the high notes!

Even on land Otters show a very low profile with powerful hind quarters and a long tail

Even on land Otters show a very low profile with powerful hind quarters and a long tail

One of the great things about Otters is how easy they are to track and detect. Riverbanks, lake and seashores can all produce signs of Otters from fresh tracks in mud, sand or snow to spraints (distinctive curls of dung in prominent places). The tracks are distinctive in often showing the webbing between toes, and if not visible, the toes are generally well spread and the pad elongate. The long tail is also frequently visible in the tracks as it trails along the ground. The tracks/movements are not just confined to the proximity to water as Otters can and will make considerable movements overland so encountering tracks, often miles from the nearest suitable habitat, is not impossible.

Otter tracks in the snow over the Scottish mountains. Note the wide spaced toes and the elongate pad

Otter tracks in the snow over the Scottish mountains. Note the wide spaced toes and the elongate pad

Spraints can are generally found on prominent features close to rivers, lakes or seashore. They can also be found around holts and couchs. In general they act as territory markers so can be particularly noticeable at the confluence of rivers. Fresh spraints are pungent and not pleasant but this in itself makes them very distinctive. As they decay they often leave the indigestible elements of the meal such as fish and amphibian scales and bones respectively. In general locating spraints is the first indication that Otters are in the area.

A fresh spraint on a hummock close to a hill stream

A fresh spraint on a hummock close to a hill stream

Older spraints showing many amphibian bones

Older spraints showing many amphibian bones

Otters tend to solitary, coming together to mate, although later in the year, once kits are large enough, family groups consisting of a mother and her offspring maybe seen. These can be playful and often very approachable given caution and a bit of fieldcraft. As you approach an otter remember to freeze every time it re-surfaces or turns to face you. Using this technique you should be able to edge closer and get great views of a stunning animal.

Though generally solitary Otters do come together to mate

Though generally solitary Otters do come together to mate

Otters can be particularly approachable when hunting and feeding but take care not to disturb them

Otters can be particularly approachable when hunting and feeding but take care not to disturb them

Thankfully Otters are now incredibly widespread across the UK, and seeing one is more a matter of perseverance than going to specific sites, however, there are a few very reliable sites where Otter can be encountered including:

Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk

Minsmere, Suffolk,

Leighton Moss, Lancashire,

Loch Fyne, Argyll,

Portree Harbour, Skye

and by far the best of all, Shetland. In fact Otters are so obliging and well-studied up there that Shetland Nature now offer tours specifically to enjoy these amazing animals, see here.

For more info on Otters see:

http://www.ukwildottertrust.co.uk/the-team.php

A stunning portrait of Shetland Otters. For experiences like this see: http://www.shetlandnature.net/otters/

A stunning portrait of Shetland Otters. For experiences like this see: http://www.shetlandnature.net/otters/

 

Ivory Gull in Varanger

I Never Dreamed…

Ooo… just missed turing up for the 2015 Gullfest. Still must a bit heart soul and body warming encounter for Simon Colenutt and Trevor Codlin in Vardo harbour  who found this adult Ivory Gull at the start of this week (22nd March 2015). Read  Biotope’s account of the Ivory Gull at Vardo,

Simon writes: ‘What a cracking bird! I never dreamed of finding Ivory Gull!”

Read more of Simon and Trevor’s visit at ‘The Deskboundbirder’

Check out that head shot!

Ivory oneb (1 of 1)Ivory one (1 of 1)Ivory onec (1 of 1)Ivory onea (1 of 1)

 

Yellowhammer with Pine Bunting bits

in the garden, but just passing through…

Martin Garner

Out at end of Flamborough head, light spring passage includes Chaffinches, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer in small numbers at the moments.

Yellowhammer PB5 (1 of 1)

Martin Garner

I have had a little passion for Yellowhammers for quite a while. Looked at lots. Know the drill. Males with rufous in roughly the moustache/malar region are very common. Nowt out of the ordinary. However last Friday a male appeared in the garden with a rufous band under the throat. Now that grabbed my attention. I have personally never seen that pattern on a male Yellowhammer. Indeed I knew it was interesting. Why? Probably indicates some level of Pine Bunting ‘influence’. Check out a picture of a male Pine Bunting. The two places you expect chestnut to show on yellow Yellowhammer with Pine Bunt bits? The chestnut on the throat, a and chestnut around eye.

This bird had both. So I grabbed  a couple of  distant shots. Took me another couple of hours of effort over next 2 days to get better pics. And the bird appears to have moved on.

think I’m making it up 😉 ?

BWP text

“Birds with chestnut spotted or full malar stripe occur frequently in various populations, without clear trend; birds with patches of rufous elsewhere on head, throat or upper chest occur mainly in East European Russia and Asia, probably due to introgression of characters of Pine Bunting E. leucocephalus.”

Anyone can add to the picture, we are keen to learn. It may be vestigial characters on this individual (I can find photos of odd trapped Yellowhammer with rufous around the eye in W Europe by scrolling t’internet) or may be evidence of recent (several generations?) introgression- thus this individual is already ‘from the east’. Both scenarios or entirely possible.

Yellowhammer PB3 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB2 (1 of 1) Yelllowhammer 4 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB10 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB9 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB11 (1 of 1)

 

Lancashire December 2003

Meanwhile I think this is also one with more rufous, photographed by Chris Batty at Bradshaw Lane Head, Pilling Moss, Lancashire on 30th December 2003. We featured it HERE

yellowhammer30122003b yellowhammer30122003c

 

and this one with even more rufous (see how the pattern increases) from Calle

Sweden February 2015

“Hi Martin!

Saw your picture of the possible hybrid bunting on Twitter! I photographed a bunting earlier this winter (February 8th) in my garden in Sweden that I consider to be a Yellowhammer X Pine Bunting. Here are some pictures of it!

Best wishes,

Calle Ljungberg”

Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 7 (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 8 (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 9 (1 of 1)

Calle hybird 14 (1 of 1)

March and April and good bunting migration/ movements months. I’ll keep looking.

Postscript

Thanks to Frédéric Jiguet check out this bird written up in Dutch Birding:

Jiguet F 2003, Dutch Birding 25-5, 323-326. Hybrid Yellowhammer x Pine Bunting in central France in May-June 2002.

“Hi Martin,
Attached are the three photos of the male, presumed hybrid, that I caught at a breeding site in western France. Caught and ringed 27 May 2002, recaptured on site 24 June 2002.
This male had a very pale yellow head with dark bold blackish stripes (being the most Pine-trends), but deeper yellow on face, a very large rufous band on the breast (Pine-pointing too), pale lower flanks and vent.

The possibility of an hybrid Cirl x Yellow was considered but rapidly excluded.

Cheers

Fred”

fred y1 (1 of 1)

pho2fred y3 (1 of 1)

 

and a normal male in the garden yesterday in low evening sun

male yammmer 2 (1 of 1)

 

Black Scoter in Poland

First winter male

Zbigniew Kajzer

Hi Martin,

What do you think about this Scoter? I found it yesterday (18th March 2015) at Dziwnów, west part of Polish Baltic coast. I think it is a  2cy male Black Scoter Melanitta americana. I’m very curious about your opinion.

Previously I found two males of Black Scoter (in 2009 and 2013) but both were adults. We have 5 accepted records in Poland so this immature male represents 6th record. Here is gallery of Polish records of Black Scoter. 

We have on west part of Polish Baltic coast to 6% of the wintering Baltic population of Common Scoter. The number of Common Scoter is highest in spring (March-April) to more than 25 thousands.

Best regards, Zbigniew Kajzer

 

YES!  It’s a corker isn’t it? (I think Zbigniew knows very well how well he has done- 3 records!). I am not sure but Black Scoter in ‘first winter’/ 2cy male plumage remains extremely rare in the Western Palearctic with perhaps only one/two other claims in the UK? Profile photos like these provide the best angle for ascertaining the position and extent of the yellow bill ‘lump’ which here is out-with any appearance of odd/variant Common Scoter and spot-on for Black. It’s a belter!

2cy Black Scoter poland

Juvenile/ 2cy Thayer’s Gull in Iceland

Helgavik Harbour, South West Iceland. 15th-16th March 2015

Following this 2nd winter trickier bird, Derek Charles and Edward Rickson picked up this more straightforward 2cy (juvenile/ first winter) Thayer’s from SW Iceland last Sunday and Monday (15-16th March).  It’ s a bit mealier below and paler in scapulars above than some but certainly  fits the Thayer’s ‘look’ overall. Derek also picked out a Brünnich’s Guillemot which proved popular with Icelandic birders. Nice!

One interesting point, Derek noted was that all first winter Iceland and Kumlien’s were extremely worn compared with this Thayer’s, furthermore making many Kumlien’s considerably more difficult to distinguish. All among the glorious swarm of March Icelandic Gull acton!

2cy Thayer’s Gull. Helgavik Harbour, March 2015. All photos Derek Charles:

tfive (1 of 1)

tfour (1 of 1) tone (1 of 1) tthree (1 of 1) ttwo (1 of 1)

World Digiscopers Meeting, part 3

posted by Justin Carr.

This posting is my final post on my amazing experience my friends and I had in Florida back in January. For those who didn’t see the last 2 posts let me briefly explain what the meeting was.

This get-together was for Digiscopers from all over the world. A lot of us sort of knew each other through social media so it was a great opportunity for us to meet face to face. And of course,  a spot of scoping along the way. 🙂 Here are the last of my favourite  shots from the trip.

Anhinga

Anhinga

Logger head shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Great blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

American Bittern

American Bitttern

Ring necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck.

phpeZAPdAPM

the butterfly above was digiscoped through a pair of Swarovski 8.5 x 42 els

Red shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

 Dunlin

Dunlin: subspecies hudsonia

Sunrise over Merrit Island

Sunrise over Merrit Island

The above shows Digiscoping doesn’t always have to be birds.

Wood ibis

Wood ibis

No I haven’t  messed up posting upside down this is a reflection as you have probably guessed.

Green Heron

Green Heron

I would like to give special thanks to Danny Porter (Danny’s Digiscoping) for being my partner in crime, and also Mr Robert Wilson for being the brainchild of this Amazing event.

I hope it will be the first of many world Digiscopers meetings!

 

 

The Pink and Blue Ones

littoralis glory

While we have a fine selection of more subtle Scandinavian Rock Pipits currently at Flamborough- one would like a proper pink and blue one. From deep down in Dorset at Ferrybridge, Brett Spencer has sent photos of the kinda of thing to make ya drool :). Such Water Pipit-esq coloured littoralis are gorgeous – maybe ours have colours still to come…

Brett S littoralis 2 Brett S littoralis 1

Scandinavian Rock Pipit, ‘littoralis’. Ferrybridge, Dorset, Brett Spencer.