Demons Of The Swamp Vol.3

Fans of The Cramps will get the title and if you don’t like The Cramps a. What is wrong with you? b. Why are we friends? Maybe we’re not.

Anyway, a blog post. First in a year? Does anyone still read blogs? If so read on.

Yesterday I went on my first twitch in absolutely ages. What did I twitch? A Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio, some call it Western Swamphen, I still prefer Purple Gallinule. Will it ever be accepted onto the BOU British List? I doubt it but then Chinese Pond Heron made so maybe.

Anyway one arriving at RSPB Minsmere we were soon watching Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station. I mean the Swampmonster.


Sizewell B


Purple Swamphen


Purple Swamphen

After a while of watching the Swampdonkey walk round a pool a sort of purple haze descends on a man and it was time to head off to the visitor centre to buy some china tea cloths or something and a coffee and bacon butty.

Around the centre, as well as the stench of composting toilets, are lots of Buddleia bushes. These attracted a steady stream of insects and a steady stream of photographers.


Migrant Hawker


Migrant Hawker


Migrant Hawker


Peacock & Red Admiral

By now we needed to see more birds and better insects so yomped a whole 300m to look at the Stone Curlew, two adults and a chick. Can’t be too many places you can see Purple Gallinule and Stone Curlew in the same reserve.

Back towards the centre we dipped Pantaloon Bee but scored with the Beewolves and a bonus if somewhat shy Purple Hairstreak.






Purple Hairstreak

We finished our day watching a pair of Honey Buzzard put on a full flight display over Westwood Lodge at Walberswick. The three lifers in the day Brian Moore’s granddaughter Rosie certainly hit a purple patch!

All photos were either iPhonescoped (still or 4K video) or taken using the camera on the iPhone 6S. Stills from video were taken using the StillShot app.




Unravelling The Mystery Of The Omani Owl


Discovered in 2013 by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach and confirmed using sound analysis, Omani Owl has created a stir among both birders and biologists. That a bird around the size of a Barn Owl Tyto alba had evaded discovery was extraordinary. That it was described and named only using sound recordings and photographs was controversial. When a rival group of researchers re-examined museum specimens of the closely related Strix butleri, they suspected that its type specimen was in fact an Omani Owl. All the other specimens were different enough, especially when their genes were analysed, to be described as a new species, Strix hadorami. However, the study did not examine DNA of Omani Owl. In a new paper published online tomorrow, Magnus Robb and his colleagues returned to the mountains of Oman where they captured and released an Omani Owl.* Feathers and blood from the owl corroborated both teams’ findings that there are two different Strix species in the Middle East. DNA analysis shows that Omani Owl is the same as Strix butleri, and the other species is the recently named but much better known Desert Owl S hadorami (previously ‘Hume’s Owl’). So when Magnus heard unknown sounds of an owl in March 2013, he was in fact rediscovering a species previously known from just one tatty old specimen in The Natural History Museum (Tring, England) said to be from Pakistan, and collected 135 years earlier. The new paper also examines DNA from a mystery owl discovered in Mashhad, northeastern Iran in January 2015. Babak Musavi and Ali Khani took four feathers for DNA analysis, which the team showed was also of an Omani Owl, the first confirmation that it still exists outside the Arabian peninsula and 1300 km from the nearest record of this species.

*with the permission of the Omani Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, as part of a joint conservation project with the Environment Society of Oman and BirdLife International.

Otter Than Hell

Embarked on an ill-fated trip to Aberdeen and Northumberland this week with Colin and Steve. We should have known it was doomed when the M6 was closed causing us to divert up the A1 and A66.

Otter, Seaton Park, Aberdeen

Otter, Seaton Park, Aberdeen

Arriving at Aberdeen there was no sign of the Harlequin Duck despite a number of visiting and local birders scouring the area. Dipper is always nice to see but I don’t normally travel 450 miles to year tick one. This Otter though did provide some entertainment and did allow me to film it on the iPhone.



After finally admitting defeat we tried to salvage something from the trip by going for the Black Scoter at Cheswick in Northumberland. Again despite much searching we were again bitterly disappointed.



Britain’s Butterflies: A field guide to the butterflies of Britain and Ireland (Third Edition)

David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash and David Tomlinson

Wildguides/Princeton University Press 240pp. 600+ colour photos. 76 maps.


ISBN 9780691166438

Having first been published in 2002 and with a second edition in 2010 it is somewhat surprising that this book has passed me by. That maybe in some way to do with me preferring artist illustrated guides to photo guides. I feel I must now put my old prejudices aside as the Wildguides series are fantastic. Digital photography has improved immeasurably since I first started with a 4 megapixel camera and consequently staging images now is much more naturalistic and almost like being in the field.

Britain’s Butterflies starts with a discussion on how butterflies differ from moths before looking at butterfly biology, overwintering and migration. The next section the covers butterfly habitats illustrated with photographs and discussion on the types of butterflies to be found there. There is also a quick guide to butterflies and the habitats they favour and a key places for rare and localized butterflies chart with basic site details.

The main body of the book is made up of the species accounts with each species getting two pages with the text facing the identification plates. This also allows confusion species to be compared such as Small and Essex Skipper. The text covers adult identification, behaviour, breeding habitat, population and conservation. Egg, caterpillar and chrysalis and foodplant. A side bar features distribution maps, life cycle charts and where to look text boxes. All this information is well presented and easily read.

At the end of the resident species we also get a section on former breeding species and occasional migrants, this is very up-to-date and covers the mini invasion of Scarce Tortoiseshell from summer 2014 on the east coast. A short section on records of dubious origin follows this.

Towards the end of the book there is a very useful, illustrated, section on larval foodplants that I found extremely useful as my botanical knowledge is very poor. This section aslo includes a chart listing nectar and larval foodplants. Following is an illustrated guide to eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis. Again this is an area that I must admit to neglecting in the past as I had no handy reference.

The final chapters cover butterfly watching and photography, Butterfly Conservation, recording and legislation. A useful section on further reading concludes the book.

There are plenty of field guides on the market to help you identify Britain’s butterflies and each will have their own choice of what to take out into the field but I would recommend this gem of a book to anyone and I look forward to road testing it when the weather improves and the butterfly season gets underway.

The Warbler Guide App – A British Birder’s View

Every autumn I have a recurring daydream… the dream goes that I’m birding the ‘dead pines’ walk on The Garrison on Scilly. The tail end of a hurricane has battered the islands for two days but now the sun is out and the birds are busy feeding up. A Blackcap is tacking and a couple of territorial (European) Robins are tic-tic ticking but then I hear a high pitched sip. It’s unfamiliar but soon I glimpse a bright yellow throat on a bird as it moves through the pines feeding. Bright yellow super, two big white wing-bars and I’ve bagged myself Britain’s first twitchable Blackburnian Warbler. Mayhem ensues and I dine out on it, literally, all week in The Scillonian Club.

The Warbler Guide App

The Warbler Guide App

The reality is I’m more likely to find a dull greenish-grey bird that stumps me. Is it a Blackpoll Warbler, Bay-breasted or Pine? I’m not sure, I can’t realistically take out every field guide going along with my bins, scope, camera etc so all I have is my phone. Knowing I have to sort this out before I make a fool of myself, oh I learned the hard way on Shetland. Buoyed by finding a Swainson’s Thrush I got cocky. Yes that Grasshopper Warbler had pale tips but a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler that doesn’t always make.

So, I need to sort this. The Warbler Guide, see my review here, would be useful now. If only there was an app… with those calls. Well soon there will be.  Due for release in early 2015 The Warbler Guide App will be a major boost for the UK rarity hunter (I’m sure it will also be a major boost for birders at Magee Marsh or Point Pelee in Spring too or a lone UK birder in British Columbia (me)).

Calls are also something that we birders find very useful as I alluded to earlier. As I walk along with non-birders they are often surprised when I mention a bird without apparently looking… “how did you know that?” they ask and it’s often difficult to say by the call as they might not even have heard. Redwing at night is one that often gets non-birders and me as we walk back from the pub. The Warbler Guide did a great job at explaining sonograms and calls but now we are going to be able to put the song or call to the picture that can only increase our learning. The person who knows everything is usually the one who knows least. birding is all about learning.

I can’t wait to load the app and get using it and I will be posting a full review in due course. Meantimes you can keep following the blog tour by visiting Warbler Watch tomorrow for a Q&A with Tom and Scott.

Warbler Blog Tour

Immigration Forced Me To Miss 2011 Isabelline Wheatear

Thanks to Nigel Farage I can now reveal that immigration forced me to miss the Isabelline Wheatear at Wernffrwd in November 2011. A journey that should have taken four hours too me 28 hours as I didn’t set off on the Thursday morning because the M4 is a nightmare thanks to our open door immigration policy. A spokesman from the Highways Agency confirmed that our roads into Wales are clogged up by millions of East Europeans seeking a better life in Tiger Bay. He said the language barriers are no problem as no-one understands Welsh anyway.


The UKIP400 Club said that even Britain’s biggest listers are routinely missing rare vagrants due to our roads being choked with hoards of immigrants heading to the Norfolk coast but denied that any UKIP400 Club members had dipped on Pacific Swift at Cley-next-the-Sea.

Birders Flock To Colne Valley Regional Park To See Coot

Twitchers were in a flap yesterday after new leaked out via twitter that up to 1244 Coot were wintering in the Colne Valley Regional Park near London. Despite the best efforts of local birders not to get excited by over a thousand, basically, black birds the UK400/500ths broke the news embargo on their twitter feed.

A Coot Yesterday

A Coot Yesterday

IQ40 Club spokesman Barry Gagwell said he was racing to the scene and he hoped the Coots would stay around until the weekend… “it could be a very black Friday” he said. Park Ranger, Tower Hamlets said he hoped the park could cope and urged visiting birders to observe the Birdwatcher’s Code Of Conduct and put the welfare of the Coots first. Some of these birds will have come “from as far away as Tring Reservoirs” he ccommented

No-one from the UK400/500ths Club was available to talk but in a written statement received by The Drunkbirder Offices they said the President very much regretted the leak and that he was rather tired after spending days trying to get people interested in a genuine escaped American White Ibis in Kent and writing out certificates of achievement for basically driving 1000s of miles.

Izzy Wizzy Let’s Get Busy

Before you think I’ve gone all Sooty and Sweep here’s actually another blog about birds… I know, amazing! This time a celebration of all things Isabelline Wheatear from Seaton Snook near Hartlepool. Isabelline Wheatear is one of my bogey birds, a few years back I even dipped two in six days so this time I wasn’t going without news. Andrew Kinghorn kindly messaged me early morning with Colin Green, Steve James and Dave Gray also texting and The Rare Bird Network getting twitter messages out.

Bundling Minnie into the car I headed North. I arrived about 11.00 to smiling faces heading off the beach… on the beach however the news wasn’t so good. The bird had been pushed a lot and had flown off and not seen for 30 minutes. 30 minutes turned into an hour with no sign. I walked to the Snook and almost to The North Gare. No joy.

Seaton Sands

Seaton Sands

It looked like atmospheric landscapes and industry would be the only photos I took.

I decided to head back to the car, give Minnie some food and water and have a quick drink myself. On the way I bumped into Rob Lambert, newly arrived and looking chirpy. Rob’s demeanor changed as I told him the sorry tale. Undaunted he strode off purposefully to the beach.

Back at the car another birder was heading down the road and as I updated him he casually said there’s a Wheatear on that telegraph post (next to the bloody car). There weren’t any other Wheatears around, surely. I got my bins on it and asked him, why he hadn’t considered Izzy… this was it! As I set my scope up it flew the 100 or so yards back to the beach! Isabelline Wheatear! I rang Rob and left and answerphone message to then receive calls from Andrew Kinghorn and Rob to tell me what I already knew. It was back on the beach.

Once again there was a danger of birders chasing and harrying the bird so after we’d all had a good look and it had moved, I suggested to the crowd we all back off and allow it to return to it’s favoured tree stump where we could all get great views and photos. Despite one woman having to be coaxed off the log after stopping for a sit down the bird soon flew in.

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina)

Even Minnie managed to get in on the act and made it to Twitter!

Minnie & Me

Minnie & Me

Manchester United Retain Red Devil To Appease Satan

In a widely anticipated move Manchester United have decided to retain the Red Devil on their club crest after extending their sponsorship deal with the Devil for another two years. Manchester United famously angered their fans when they dropped the title Football Club when the first entered a deal with Old Nick. At the time a spokesman for the club said that Manchester United and Hell were looking for synergy and did not want to alienate those consigned to eternal damnation who had previously not followed the club.

Satan At Yesterday's Press Conference

Satan At Yesterday’s Press Conference

The new deal thought to be worth £3bn involves a tie with all the World’s major banks and was hailed as a strategic alliance between the club and Hades.  A spokesperson for the Manchester United Very Independent Supporters Association (VISA) Lucy Furr said the deal would safeguard the future of the club and would help them once again to battle the white knights of the Christian Cross, thought by many to be a reference to Real Madrid, on equal terms again in the Champions League.

Book Review

Britain’s Habitats: A Guide to the Wildlife Habitats of Britain and Ireland (Wildguides)

Sophie Lake, Durwyn Liley, Robert Still, Andy Swash

Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691158556


Britain's Habitats

Britain’s Habitats

This splendid new book from the Wildguides stable is something that has long been missing for many years, a book on the habitats of Britain and Ireland, what to find in them and when. The introduction discusses the ten main habitat types found in Britain and Ireland. It is interesting to note that across the whole of Britain and Ireland 30.8% of habitat is formed from ‘other habitats’ (arable, brownfield and orchard) and 40.5% grassland, of which 34% is improved. Look at the map on Page 8 and you will see instantly that this percentage is very different if we separate Britain from Ireland with a much greater percentage of grassland in Ireland. This may well account for the reduced diversity certainly in terms of birds, mammals, Lepidoptera and Odonata.

There follows a discussion on climate, topography and geology and their effect on habitat. Tellingly there is a discussion about man’s influence and also on climate change. Pages 16 & 17 feature a very informative and at times (where mankind has been involved) timeline of habitat development. Also discussed in detail is the natural process of succession, nothing to do with the Royal family but natural and man’s influences on changes to habitats over time. This informs the need to manage succession at times.

The bulk of the book is broken into the 10 major habitat types and these are further subdivided, as after all woodland can apply to 12 subcategories. Each subcategory is then looked at in detail. Each one starts with a brief description of the habitat types then goes on to discuss similar habitats, origins and development, conservation and what to look for. Separate text boxes look at distribution and extent of the habitats, how to recognise it and when to visit. Each section is beautifully illustraded with photographs of the key habitat features and crucially some of the wildlife to be found there.

At the end the habitat correspondence tables are of limited and interest and the list of species mentioned would have been better indexed but these are minor niggles. Overall this is a superb book and is for anyone who loves wildlife and discovering more about why they are seeing species where they do. It is truly a ‘field’ guide.