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Global Big Day — 9 May 2015

How many birds can be seen in a single day around the world? That’s the idea behind the Global Big Day effort being coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For more than 30 years, Cornell’s Team Sapsucker has been doing Big Days (Bird Races) to raise money for conservation (and support eBird). We’ve had some great times, from our awesome 294 species run in Texas to last year’s El Gigante that combined Arizona and California for 275 species. We had a great time at the Champions of the Flyway event last year in Israel. Other impressive totals we prefer to forget (Andrew Farnsworth is leading Marshall Iliff 2 to 1 for most flat tires [err, tyres] while driving on the Lab Big Days).


But what’s next? With the Cornell Lab’s centennial in 2015, we decided to make some big changes to the Big Day—most importantly to expand the team drastically. There are few things we enjoy more than going out and seeing how many birds we can see—and we want to share that fun with the world. For 2015 we invite everyone around to join us in an attempt to see as many species as possible on a single calendar day. Are 3000 species possible? 4000? More? Could we document half the species in the world? We have absolutely no idea—but that’s what makes it fun! For birds to count, all you need to do is enter them into eBird. Mark your calendars for 9 May 2015 for the first ever Global Big Day on International Migratory Bird Day and start spreading the word in your area.

This year is a little different from past Big Days because we are interested in the cumulative total from around the world. This means, if you are in Brazil there are 253 species that can’t be found anywhere else. India 57; Australia 347; Puerto Rico 16; Hawaii 33; California 2. Who wants to be responsible for Scottish Crossbill?

Golden-collared-Manakin_270Our hope is that miniature competitions will develop. Who will record more species, the United Kingdom or Portugal? New York or Massachusetts? Colombia or Ecuador? The main differences between this and other bird races, is that we are interested in the number of species we can see by working together—after all, that is the idea behind eBird.

We will be using the hashtag #GlobalBigDay and hope you will use it in discussing this on social media. We recognize that this is not the ideal date for birding all around the world, but we needed to start somewhere. Please let us know if you have any questions. We will be sending more information in the coming weeks.

To find out more head over to:

We realize that people may use other bird recording systems (e.g., Birdtrack), but our hope is that on this one day we can envision a world where all birders worldwide can bring their data together for a truly global snapshot. We continue to strategize with BTO and other groups around the world on how to fund and develop an integrated global system.

If you are new to eBird, take a look at our Quick Start Guide to get started.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Ahh, if only it were so simple! In eBird we have options to display common names in a variety of ways. If you like, you can go with the Yank version of Black-bellied Plover, but we expect many will prefer Grey Plover. eBird has eight English versions of Common Names including English (United Kingdom) (EN_UK) and English (IOC) (EN_IOC) which can be changed from eBird Preferences once you have an account. If you want more details on taxonomy and how this works, see this article.

And feel free to contact us if you have any questions.


Chris, Marshall, Brian, Tim, Jessie, Andrew, Ian and the entire eBird and Cornell Lab crew. Thanks also to Cornell student, Luke Seitz for the amazing Big Day art, which you can download here.

Ahh Spring at last…

Displaying Lapwing

Displaying Lapwing

Posted by Justin Carr.

Maybe it’s just me, but don’t you think spring has been dragging its heels this year. Well it is here at last. For me there is nothing more exciting than seeing the first Sand Martin skimming over my watery local patch. or the song of the first Chiffchaff.

Here are some of my shots from the last couple of weeks. All Digiscoped of course.

Mute Swans

Mute Swans

Sand Martin

Sand Martin



Hoverfly  sp.

Hoverfly sp.

Snakes Head Fratilery

Snakes Head Fratilery

And a few more from a trip to Flamborough. I popped into Thornwick Pools Nature reserve, Hats off to the local Birders for creating a great little reserve. I found the hide a super spot to get some nice close-ups of the locals.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

House Sparrows

House Sparrows

Make the most of the next six weeks of spring it will only get better!!

all pics Digiscoped on a Swarovski ATX 85.

Good Digiscoping. : )



An extreme Black Redstart

by Jochen Dierschke

On 11.4.2015, local birder Gotthard Krug, well-known for his finds of rare birds on Helgoland, came across a red-bellied Black Redstart. He phoned me and as I was only a hundred meters away, could soon confirm the oddity of this Black Redstart.


Record shot of the Black Redstart – look how distinctive it is!

Although I had previously seen Black Redstarts with some orange at the belly, this one was by far the most obvious I’ve ever seen. Ssp. phoenicuroides has no white wing flash, but I was not sure if other red-bellied subspecies do. So I decided to trap the bird and within half an hour it was in the bag. BR_total_1

BR_wing formula

Total view of the bird and wing formular; note the typical Black Redstart primary spacing.


Underpart colouration of the red-bellied bird (left) compared to a normal adult male (trapped today).

The bird, an adult male, was with 90 mm wing-length close to the upper limit of Black Redstarts and also the wing formula with the large step in the primaries was in line with this species. A quick check at home in the literature confirmed that no eastern subspecies shows this white wing flash and the primary spacing was against a hybrid (although this can not fully be excluded). Therefore the bird was a Black Redstart, though a rather unusual one.

 If this belly pattern can be shown also by the paradoxus-plumage-type, the ID would possibly be not that straightforward!

Digiscoping a Love story

Posted by Justin Carr

Gannets are as some may well know my favorite subject to shoot,  so i payed another visit to my local Seabird City that is Bempton RSPB. For me they are Stunning birds that just ooze character. And i just love watching them as they exhibit such interesting behavior, non more so than there courtship. I was fortunate to capture this intimate behavior.


And then…..

He’s off!!                                                                                                                                                             Job done

Good Digiscoping.

All images Digiscoped on a Swarovski ATX 85.

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 (

An attractive and charismatic mammal, Otters can occasionally be very approachable, especially on Shetland (

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 (

The cute and cuddly! This Kit has just finished drying itself (

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:

A stunning portrait of Shetland Otters. For experiences like this see:

A stunning portrait of Shetland Otters. For experiences like this see:


Isn’t Evolution Brilliant?

By Terry

 “One of the most exciting discoveries I have been involved with” – Professor Per Alström  

This was how Per described the results of his latest research, released last week.

Coming from the man who, among other things, discovered the breeding grounds of the enigmatic Blackthroat in China, not to mention several species of bird new to science, this was quite a statement.

And so, unusually for me, I read a scientific report from front to back. And it reminded me – as if I needed reminding – just how brilliant are nature and evolution.

Per’s report – based on DNA analysis – reveals that two little-known forest-dwelling birds are actually members of the pipits and wagtails family, evolving very different appearance and behavior after colonizing tropical-forested islands.

The Madanga Madanga ruficollis, occurring exclusively on the island of Buru, Indonesia, is actually a pipit (Anthus) and the São Tomé Shorttail Amaurocichla bocagi is a wagtail (Motacilla). The strikingly different appearance of these birds, compared with their closest relatives, has totally obscured their true relationships.

Madanga ruficollis © Rob Hutchinson

The Madanga, formerly considered an aberrant-looking white-eye (!) is actually a pipit, displaying plumage not resembling any of the world’s 40 species of Anthus. Photo by Rob Hutchinson/Birdtour Asia

Tree Pipit Israel April © Göran Ekström

A more ‘traditional’ pipit – a Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis). Photo by Göran Ekström.



The Sao Tome Shorttail (Amaurocichla bocagi) is actually a wagtail. Photo by Fabio Olmos (

2014-04-06 White Wagtail ssp baicalensis2, Ma Chang

A more ‘traditional’ wagtail – a White Wagtail (ssp baicalensis).

As well as plumage, the Madanga and São Tomé Shorttail have different habitat choice and feeding style from pipits and wagtails. Both inhabit primary forest, where the former feeds like a nuthatch on epiphyte-covered branches and tree-trunks, while the latter feeds both on the ground and on tree trunks and branches. In contrast, nearly all pipits and wagtails occur in open habitats, and all forage exclusively on the ground.

The suggestion is that the radically different appearances of these birds were triggered by the fundamental shifts in habitat and feeding behaviour following their colonisation of forest-covered tropical islands. This is estimated to have happened around 4 and 3.3 million years ago, respectively.

The presumption is that the birds’ ancestors were long distance migratory species that landed on the islands and became established, despite the alien habitat.

These islands were probably totally covered by forest when these birds’ ancestors first arrived, which is a very unfamiliar habitat to pipits and wagtails,” Professor Alström said.

Two of the closest relatives to the Madanga are the European Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) and the Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni), which, although breeding in forested areas, nest and feed on the ground.

“Although the Madanga’s plumage is very different, interestingly, the structure of the bird is quite similar to the Tree Pipit and we believe that the ancestor of the Madanga was pre-adapted to this new niche it became established within.” – Professor Per Alström 


Tree Pipits are very good at creeping through dense vegetation on the ground. When they are startled and flushed from the vegetation, they often fly up into a tree and they will sit there or they are able to walk quite effortlessly along bigger branches. But they never feed up in the trees, so the hypothesis here is that the ancestor of the Madanga would come to the island of Buru, which was completely covered in forest, and it might have fed on the ground between the trees but then would fly up into the canopy when it was scared by something. It would have then discovered that there was plenty of food on these epiphyte-covered branches and, as it was pre-adapted to walking along branches and in thick ground cover, it could probably have managed fairly well in that new habitat.”

Prof Alström said that this would have meant that there was no evolutionary pressure for it to evolve a new structure.

For example, if you look at the bill, it is very similar to a Tree Pipit’s, and so are the legs and claws. This means the actual shape of the bird has not changed very much.”



For the full report, see: Alström P, Jønsson KA, Fjeldså J, Ödeen A, Ericson PGP, Irestedt M. 2015 Dramatic niche shifts and morphological change in two insular bird species.R. Soc. open sci.2: 140364. See URL:

And Per Alström’s research page can be accessed here.

One Night Only – Friday 13th February 2015

The Arctic Comes to Flamborough 

You are very welcome to come along.

Please note the date 13th February 2015 at 7:30 pm

This is the night when the Observatory will be hosting a special extra event for the RSPB.

It’s a talk with Tormod Amundsen from Arctic Norway, Graham White from the RSPB and short talk from yours truly. My bit will be about Arctic birds in Yorkshire. What’s been and what might be.

WHERE:    Flamborough Head Golf Club

WHEN:      Friday 13th February 2015

WHAT TIME Doors open 7:00 pm, for 7:30 start.

HOW MUCH: Great news for Yorkshire folk- FREE entry! :)

See poster below  for all dates and locations and do feel free to pass it on/ post it elsewhere and tell your friends. Thanks!

RSPB & Biotope tour poster MG new date