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Unravelling The Mystery Of The Omani Owl

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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.

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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.

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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.

IQ40 Club Sack UKIP Member In “Sluts” Slur

The IQ40 club have sacked UKIP identification panel member Brigadier-General Sir Henry Frightfully-Stupid after he called female Red-necked Phalaropes ‘sluts’ a twitch at High Shincliffe in Durham. The comments were recorded as a birder, who wished to remain anonymous, was videodigiscoping the Yellow-rumped Warbler. The unnamed birder immediately sent them to The Daily Fail,

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Brigadier-General Sir Henry Frightfully-Stupid at a Grouse Shoot Last Summer

Sir Henry was heard to make the remarks during a discussion about Phalarope breeding behaviour. He shouted out that the females were ‘gaudy  sluts’ and described them as sexually aggressive predators. Sir Henry, unaware his remarks were being recorded also blasted them for not returning to clean their nests but carrying on seducing men by whirling round on the water coquettishly picking midges from the surface.

An IQ40 spokesman said that Sir Henry’s comments did not represent the ‘liberal attitudes that the IQ40 Club wished to engender.’

Sir Henry refused to comment when approached and went off to Lebanon on an illegal hunting trip.

The FA – Kicking anti-racism out of football

Please feel free to hate the FA!

Supporters Not Customers

“Let’s kick racism out of football”

This is the name of the much publicised FA campaign aiming to rid football of the curse of racism, but do they really mean it?

It is a sad fact that while racism has been eradicated from many areas of British life, it remains very much a factor in British football. Not at the same levels which saw widespread monkey chants, supporters hurling bananas at their own players and even fans who did not count goals scored by black players, but it is there, hidden away in the underbelly.

The National Front may no longer recruit inside and outside football grounds, but look in any number of away ends across England, and more often than not you’ll find a St. George’s Cross with the name of the team across the middle and ‘EDL’ crudely written in marker pen in one of the corners.

Incidents…

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Winter Thrushes – The Crossley ID Guide Blog Tour

The Drunkbirder™

Welcome to The Drunkbirder (if you want to know how the name came about check out the about me button). It’s a privilege to be involved in this blog tour to promote The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland. For the full tour schedule see here.

Like a lot of birders autumn (or fall as our North American friends would say) is probably my favourite time of year. Not for me birds in all their breeding finery, I perversely prefer the challenge of identifying first-winter and adult migrants in all their autumn drabness.

Living in landlocked Leicestershire we have to make a special effort and travel quite a few miles to the coast to try and find ourselves some rare and scarce migrants… or do we? Well generally, yes we do, but we can witness some very special migration events. Recently a few of us have joined the growing…

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The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland

Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens
Crossley Books/Princeton University Press
ISBN: 978-0-691-15194-6
£16.95

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I guess it’s fair to say that in the past I’ve not been a fan of photoguides. Mostly they are a poor collection of thumbnail images taken in different lighting conditions and seemingly randomly arranged. The big breakthrough came with Dick Forsman’s Raptors book, certainly on this side of the Atlantic. Over on the other side of the pond another ex-pat Yorkshireman, Richard Crossley was quietly planning to revolutionise fieldguides. I’ll be honest his North American guides had passed me by as on my two trips to B.C. there was no Crossley Guide to Western Birds… oh how I now wished there had been a Western Guide.
The guide is very much aimed at beginnerand improving birdwatchers. Richard has, for now, sensibly gone for a limited range for his first European guide. The book looks closely at over 300 species that regularly occur in Britain & Ireland.
The introductory chapters are a must read part of the book as the layout of the plates is very different from just about anything that has gone before; the exception being the Hilary Burn RSPB guide. Gone are the blank or vague backgrounds of the past to be replaced by stunning photographs of birds placed right into there key habitat. Your attention is drawn to the fact that birds can turn up just about anywhere. I’ve personally seen plenty of Reed Warblers in coastal bushes.
Also within the introductory chapters is a great piece on how to be a better birder and there are many ‘birders’ I know that could benefit from having the chapters laminated for them to read over and over as they jump on planes to far flung islands to chase down a rarity. Richard asks us as birders to start seeing birds as opposed to just looking at them. This leads on to the basics of note taking. This needn’t be a lost art as now many of us carry a smartphone that we can dictate notes into, we can even attach the phone to out binoculars or telescope and dictate fieldnotes as we video a bird. Surely this has to be a great tool for beginners or improvers to really start to learn. Whatever level of birder you think you are you might just learn something, in fact I’ll set you the same challenge that the authors set you… if you think you know your birds do a description from memory of a Goldfinch and see how close you get.
With the book coming from the same publisher as the equally revolutionary Warblers guide one, the only real, let down are the bird topography pages. The thin, pale blue line that are used as pointers easily get lost in the feathering in all but the best lights. A similar approach to the warbler guide where the main feather tracts were boldly colour coded and easily understood by beginners.
On to the plates themselves, these are excellent but at first look they can be quite a shock to those of us more used to a traditional fieldguide. Birds are arranged as we would mostly expect to see them in their usual habitats. You also get the birds photographed under similar lighting conditions so there is no loss of fidelity. As we all know light can affect a photograph but as far as I can see the plates are all comparative to a standard field guide such as the Collins Guide. Common species each get a full page with scarcer birds two thirds or half of a page and ‘rarities’ a third of a page. In the foreground you get a couple of close-ups that link in with the text and then a series of vignettes that show birds as we really see them and often at distance. This really helps you get your eye in and prepares you to see birds under field conditions. If we take Pink-footed Goose for example if you add in the background photograph you’re taken straight back to a crisp winter day at Holkham scanning back towards Wells-next-the-Sea. I think that in some cases a bit of a softer blend on the photographs might have been advisable as the Reed Warbler in the reeds does look a bit stuck on.
The text by Dominic Couzens is at it’s best, concise and punchy and very easy to relate to what you are seeing in the plates. The book uses the BTO five and two letter short codes. I must admit theses are not as familiar to me as the should be as I’m terrible at actually completing surveys except for my WeBS count… yes I know, I must become a better birder and get more involved. These codes do need a bit of cross-referencing even for me but I’m starting to get there though I doubt I’d use them in the field. We birders have already got our workable short codes. One of my fellow birders on Scilly this autumn did spot a real error and in fairness the only one we could find. All birds are given the length in cm except for Common Sandpiper which comes in at a massive 60″. I’m not sure how this slipped through but I hope the production copies have this corrected.
Overall I think this book is superb and it should be on every birders Christmas list or even a treat for yourself as you buy presents this year. For the target audience this really is the book they’ve been waiting for and it is one every birder should recommend to a friend who is starting to get interested in birds. For the experienced birder, yes I know you know what a Yellow-browed Warbler looks like but there is plenty of fun to be had identifying the location of the background shot – that goes for just about every plate in the book. My personal favourite is the Mistle Thrush, with the bird shown realistically on a playing field below Bamburgh Castle, but the plate comes alive with a game going on featuring Bamburgh Castle FC… birds and football, I’m a happy man.

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Sunday Reviews

Tracks and Signs

Tracks and Signs

Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe

Lars-Henrik Olsen

PrincetonUniversity Press

ISBN: 9780691157535

£17.95

I have to admit that my first impressions of this book were not good. That is not to say this is in anyway a bad book but that I feel there is more that has been left out than was left in. For a start there is no introduction and no user guide as to how to get the best from the book and for beginners (I was one of those kids making plaster casts of pad marks… mostly dogs) no clue as the where and how to start looking for animal taracks and signs.

In the preface, the author suggests that birds are easily seen and that we can pretty easily observe them. Yet as a pretty confident birder I would be lost in parts of Northern and Eastern Europe if I were faced with a tree that had been used by a Woodpecker. A lot more could have been written on Woodpecker marks and comparing them to Mammal signs. I’m confident that using this guide I would be able to sort out if a Water Vole had been working a tree, so why not a White-backed Woodpecker say?

There are some lovely photographs in the book, mostly of the animals themselves and I think I would have preferred more illustrations of the tracks and signs to be honest. Admittedly there is a section at the front looking at feet/pad marks as well as sections looking a common signs on trees for example and I wonder if the book could have been laid out differently, say focussing on damage to trees or alternatively just dealing with each bird or animal separately. The current design means a lot of cross-referencing and that means I’m less likely to bother.

The text is actually very good and is much more informative but I guess looking at animal tracks and signs is visual and that should feature prominently.

In summary, after a few reads I like this book more than I did but I have a real feeling that this is an opportunity missed.

Wildlife of Australia

Ian Campbell and Sam Woods

PrincetonUniversity Press

ISBN: 9780691153537

£13.95

Wildlife of Australia

Wildlife of Australia

Firstly, let’s get this right out of the way; this is not a complete guide to the wildlife of Australia. As the introduction tells us this is a guide to what a nature-loving traveller might see in the main tourist areas and National Parks.

The book starts with a quick look at the habitats and vegetation found across Australia using a colour coded map of the continent and a series of captioned photographs. The book follows the standard of captions on the left-hand pages and the photographs on the right that most of us will be familiar with. I was left somewhat puzzled as there are large areas of map shaded in light blue but I could not find that in the key. I thnk it might have been useful to have colour coded the captions and/or habitat photographs to relate to the map as well. As there is already an erratum I suspect a more thorough proof-reading would have eliminated such an error.

Each species featured get a short caption, usually with a larger one to introduce the species family, which includes the range that the species might be found in and one photograph. A small thumbnail map would have been better for me, as a casual reeder, as I am not too familiar with some of the abbreviations used. I also feel that while for the Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians one photograph might suffice; for the birds one photograph is never enough. Less experienced birders might be confused as to take one page at random, in the Waders section Turnstone, Knot and Great Knot are all featured in breeding, or near breeding, plumage. This puts the photographs at odds with the text which has them down as primarily visiting in the Northern winter period when they would be in first-winter or non-breeding plumage. This I feel is bound to lead to some confusion and misidentification.

This book would be a fairly useful and relatively inexpensive guide if weight is a problem but for the keen birder or naturalist I’m not sure it would help you get the best from the continent.

Both books are available in eBook format.