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Spy Hopping: Marine mammals from the air!

Dan Brown

New aerial survey techniques for monitoring marine birds are proving to be valuable tools in monitoring other marine wildlife

It’s amazing what you can find on GoogleMaps. With an impending visit to Norway I thought I’d have a look for potentially suitable Beluga areas in the north of the country. Belugas love shallow bays so using the satellite imagery to identify suitable sites is a great starting point before actually getting out in the field and finding the real thing. Ninety seconds of searching later and this is what appeared on the screen…

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@69.7898558,30.8214049,304m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

It looks very much like a pod of Beluga at the mouth of a shallow sandy estuary! Belugas typically form tight pods and spend much of their time close to the surface. I’ll tell you in a couple of weeks whether they were still there!

But there’s a more mileage in these aerial images than you may think. If you follow anything marine-based or environmental on twitter you may have seen some superb aerial images of marine wildlife from our UK waters recently. These images were shot by the HiDef (http://www.hidefsurveying.co.uk) team as part of a European Shag survey of waters around the Isles of Scilly for Natural England. You can follow them @HiDefSurvey

 

Risso's Dolphin: 16km WNW of Bryher, Isles of Scilly 12/06/2014. 3m long; grey and white mottled body; prominent ‘melon’ and indistinct beak; tall falcate dorsal fin

Risso’s Dolphin: 16km WNW of Bryher, Isles of Scilly 12/06/2014. 3m long; grey and white mottled body; prominent ‘melon’ and indistinct beak; tall falcate dorsal fin

Harbour Porpoise: Dogger Bank June 2012. Mother (1.8m) and calf – small size, indistinct beak, fairly uniform colouration, dark pectoral fins

Harbour Porpoise: Dogger Bank June 2012. Mother (1.8m) and calf – small size, indistinct beak, fairly uniform colouration, dark pectoral fins

Aerial surveying of marine wildlife has become increasingly common and provides a superb way of documenting and monitoring a range of marine species.  All surveys follow pre-determined transect routes using a small aircraft flying at close to 2000 feet carrying four super high definition cameras. These cameras take digital video footage at several frames per second providing a snap shot of seabirds and other marine wildlife on or close to the surface of the sea.

Northern Right Whale: mother and calf  east of Virginia, USA. Mother (identified from images as ‘Blackheart’) 14.0m, calf 6.5m, identified by barnacles on lips and narrow upper jaw

Northern Right Whale: mother and calf east of Virginia, USA. Mother (identified from images as ‘Blackheart’) 14.0m, calf 6.5m, identified by barnacles on lips and narrow upper jaw

Whilst you may expect that monitoring seabirds and marine mammals (as well as turtles & sharks) would be impossible using aircraft so high above the sea, it is surprising how frequently they are encountered when analysing the images, and how easy they are to identify.

Fin Whale: east of Virginia, USA 15/02/2013. 16.5m Long slim body, small dorsal fin far back on body, white lip on right side.

Fin Whale: east of Virginia, USA 15/02/2013. 16.5m Long slim body, small dorsal fin far back on body, white lip on right side.

Common Dolphin (10): Outer Bristol Channel on 25/05/2009. Average 2.2m long, typical ‘hourglass’ pattern on side, pale pectoral fins, large splash from recent breaching

Common Dolphin (10): Outer Bristol Channel on 25/05/2009. Average 2.2m long, typical ‘hourglass’ pattern on side, pale pectoral fins, large splash from recent breaching

These recent surveys have identified three species of cetaceans around the SW English coast as well as Blue Shark, Sunfish and Leatherback Turtles, even though they are not the target of the surveys, showing how valuable this new technique is and how important our coastal waters are for marine wildlife. We can no doubt look forward to more fascinating marine revelations and a better understanding of the distribution and abundance of many species.

Leatherback Turtle: 20km west of Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 2m long (= adult) with prominent ridges down back

Leatherback Turtle: 20km west of Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 2m long (= adult) with prominent ridges down back

Blue Shark: 16km south of Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 1.8m (=immature) slim snout, blue-grey colour, long pectoral fins

Blue Shark: 16km south of Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 1.8m (=immature) slim snout, blue-grey colour, long pectoral fins

 

Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus

One of the BIG three

Well done to all who had a go. Last weekends wacky weekend warbler was the giant Clamorous Reed Warbler, which along with Great Reed Warbler and Thick-billed Warbler form the big three (at least in the old fieldguides and old taxonomy ;).

And the butt-ugly mammla- Yees and Egyptian Mongoose. Both photographed at Ma’agan Michael in November 2013.

Here’s the Clamorous along with some pond side friends: same place, same day.

Clamorous Reed Warbler 1 Clamorous Reed Warbler 2 Clamorous Reed Warbler 3

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Smyrna Kingfisher- one of three showy kingfisher species on site

Smyrna Kingfisher- one of three showy kingfisher species on site

first winter Night Heron with bits of moult going on

first winter Night Heron with bits of moult going on

smart looking Little Egret

smart looking Little Egret

and ending with my next planned find at Flamborough before the summer is out please... A Great White Egret

and ending with my next planned find at Flamborough before the summer is out please… A Great White Egret

 

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Migration Festival: Chairman and MG answer questions

Who, What, Where, When, Why.

With grateful thanks to Dave Tucker who asked Rob Adams (#Migfest Chairman) and I a few question about the forthcoming Migration Festival at Spurn on 5th-7th September 2014.

Have you booked in yet?  More info click on how to book your ticket

Be great to see you there!

 

wryneck-spurn-12-8-11-c

Spurn Migration Festival one

 

 

A WEEK OF DIGISCOPING CHALLENGES!!

Common Swift

Common Swift  about to enter its nest.

Recently I made a trip to Hornsea to hopefully see some of the reported Little gulls on the mere, a few distant birds where present and after scoping them i thought i would head for the seafront for a spot of seawatching which was quiet to say the least. so my attentions turned to the local Swifts and wondered if i could manage to Digiscope them thease are my best efforts.

Common Swift

Common Swift

A few days later i paid a visit to my local reserve Hatfield  Moors NNR birds of interest were in short supply, but there were lots of Damselflys hawking around just in front of the Boston park hide. my next challenge.

Common Blue damselfly

Common Blue damselfly coming in to Land!!

Common blue Damselfly's

Common blue Damselfly’s

GOOD DIGISCOPING!!

 

 

First for China: STREAK-THROATED SWALLOW in Beijing!

By Terry

Streak-throated Swallow occurs from Oman in the west, through Pakistan and India to Nepal and Bangladesh in the east, occurring as a vagrant in Sri Lanka, the Arabian Gulf and Egypt. Just a month before the Beijing record, one was seen in Kuwait.            

With so few birders in Beijing, we know we are only scratching the surface in terms of understanding the birds of the capital, let alone China as a whole..  We always expect the unexpected.  But on 4 May something extraordinary happened – a South Asian species appeared in China for the first time.. not in Yunnan Province, the far south-west as one might expect, but in Beijing!  This almost unbelievable sighting was superbly documented by Beijing-based Colm Moore, just reward for his dedication to working his local patch at Shahe Reservoir.  You can read his full story on the Birding Beijing blog.  Wow!

STREAK-THROATED SWALLOW, Shahe Reservoir, Beijing, 4 May 2014 (Colm Moore)

STREAK-THROATED SWALLOW, Shahe Reservoir, Beijing, 4 May 2014 (Colm Moore).  The first record for China.