26 October 2012

More vis mig

Fresh north-easterlies, low cloud and light but freezing rain at Staines Moor this morning. Birds moving overhead: 2 Golden Plover high north at 9 am, 9 Common Snipe N in a single flock, 1 Barn Swallow S, 7 Wigeon (4NW, 3W), 3 Grey Wagtail (1W, 2E), 8 alba wagtail (inc. 3 over Stanwell Moor), c100 Fieldfare (mainly S, also some feeding on hawthorn berries), c60 Redwing (inc. 25 at Stanwell Moor), 11 Skylark (3N, 8E), 5 redpoll sp. S, 5 Meadow Pipit (1E, 4N) and c50 Wood Pigeon S.

Birds on the ground included 5 Stonechat (3m, 2f), 2 Common Snipe, 1 Goldcrest, 40+ Linnet and small numbers of Skylark and Meadow Pipit. 7 Mute Swan on the Colne is a high site count. c150 Wood Pigeon and 1+ Sparrowhawk were also noted, as well as 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Chiffchaff (H) and 1f Pheasant at Stanwell Moor.

Female Stonechat. Stonechats are pretty scarce passage migrants and
occasional winter visitors at the moor.

Male Stonechat. Six birds were reported yesterday.

It's a real shame that the weedy field in the south-western corner of Stanwell Moor has been cut. This was bringing in a lot of birds and would have been a good food source for the winter. I can't see why this field has been cut at this particular time? If businesses considered wildlife more, for example, by delaying cutting until the end of winter, they could make a big difference at little, if any, expense to the company. Things like this are so frustrating.

25 October 2012

Brents!

A few hours vis migging from dawn at Staines Moor found a little movement in light easterlies, heavy cloud and intermittent drizzly rain. Birds overhead included 27 Dark-bellied Brent Geese led by a single Eurasian Wigeon E at 08:55 (they appeared to come off Wraysbury Reservoir), 2-3 Swallow (S), 31 Fieldfare N, 25+ Redwing (N & E), 13 redpoll (mainly S), 3 Siskin N, 6 Chaffinch N, 4 Linnet N, 1 Grey Wagtail E, 5 alba wagtails (mainly E), 1 Reed Bunting S, 8 Skylark (mainly S), 8 Meadow Pipit (inc. 3 on the deck), c100 Starling S and 1 Mistle Thrush N.

27 Brent Geese over Staines Moor led by a Eurasian Wigeon


An 'alba' wagtail (honest!). The flanks look clean white to me (click to enlarge).
White Wag? Who knows?

On the ground 5 more Reed Bunting were around the hawthorns, as well as 3 Song Thrush, 8 Blackbird, lots of Robins, c100 Wood Pigeon and 9 Goldfinch. The pair of Stonechat were still present around the new fence along with 1 Grey Wagtail still along the Colne, and a small flock of Blue and Great Tits along the old railway included 1 Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest.

1st winter male Reed Bunting

Seemingly every bush holds a Robin at the moment

Other bits seen include 1 Common Snipe, 1 Little Egret on the Colne, 1 Eurasian Sparrowhawk and 1f Kestrel. Also noted on adjacent Stanwell Moor were 8 Redwing, 1f Blackcap, 4 Teal, 7 Blackbird, 1 Chiffchaff (H) and 1 Redpoll over N.

19 October 2012

Rouzel at the moor

Light easterlies with heavy cloud and rain in the afternoon produced a few migrants at Staines Moor today. There seemed to be a small increase in the number of thrushes with 15 Blackbird (5 on Stanwell Moor), 5+ Mistle Thrush, 4 Song Thrush and c10 Redwing noted along with a 1st winter male Ring Ouzel gorging on hawthorn berries at the north end (along fence bordering Stanwell Moor west of river).

1st winter ♂ Ring Ouzel, Staines Moor, 19 October 2012

Same bird. Compare with first pic. to see how different the ground colour looks as
the light changes.

Notice how black the lores are (click to enlarge)

The pair of Stonechat were still present along the new fence beside the Colne, and a Grey Wagtail was feeding along the river bank. Overhead, 2 Brambling headed east, and c10 Redpoll S, 5 Meadow Pipit E, c80 Linnet S and 4 'alba' wagtails S and E (1 over Stanwell Moor) were logged, along with 4 Greenfinch and the odd Chaffinch and Goldfinch, all heading south.

Grey Wagtail, fly-catching from a bridge over the River Colne at Staines
Moor, 19 October 2012

A large tit flock consisted of mainly Long-tailed with a few Blue and Great Tits as well as 1-2 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Goldcrest and 1+ Chiffchaff. A large number of Wood Pigeon, 1f Blackcap, another Chiffchaff (H), 3 Reed Bunting, 1 Little Egret and 1 Kingfisher along the Colne and a Red Fox were also seen, and lots of Parasol Mushrooms Macrolepiota procera are popping up all over the moor, some of them huge!

The moor is covered with Parasol Mushrooms Macrolepiota procera at the moment.
These things are edible. I could save myself a small fortune in Waitrose!

18 October 2012

Hawkmoth diversity at REGUA

Of the 110 species of hawkmoths (Family: Sphingidae) found in the Serra dos Órgãos mountains in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, a remarkable 72 species have now been recorded at REGUA. Mothing at the reserve during a two week trip last month produced 21 species, from all six Sphingidae tribes. The diversity is truly incredible. This post might be hawkmoth overload, but just take a look at this little lot (click on photos to enlarge)!

Tribe: Ambulycini

Male Protambulyx astygonus, 20 September 2012

Male Protambulyx eurycles, 19 September 2012

Adhemarius daphne daphne, 20 September 2012

Adhemarius daphne daphne, 20 September 2012, ventral surface

Adhemarius gagarini, 22 September 2012

Adhemarius palmeri, 18 September 2012

Tribe: Sphingini

Manduca diffissa petuniae, 22 September 2012

Manduca hannibal hamilcar, 21 September 2012

Cocytius beelzebuth, 19 September 2012. Only the second record for REGUA.

Tribe: Acherontiini

Agrius cingulata, 13 September 2012

Tribe: Diloponotini

Male Enyo ocypete, 21 September 2012

Pachylioides resumens, 10 September 2012

Nyceryx coffaeae, 21 September 2012

Pseudosphinx tetrio, male (left) 12 September 2012 & female 21 September 2012

Male Erinnyis alope alope, 22 September 2012

Female Erinnyis alope alope, 22 September 2012

Male Erinnyis ello ello, 11 September 2012

Female Erinnyis ello ello, 21 September 2012

Tribe: Macroglossini

Xylophanes chiron nechus, 9 September 2012

Xylophanes anubus, 22 September 2012

Xylophanes loelia, 16 September 2012

Xylophanes porcus continentalis, 20 September 2012

Alan Martin, principal author of A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil, has just launched an excellent new website on hawkmoths to accompany the book and bring it up to date. Check it out at www.brazilhawkmoths.com.

16 October 2012

Odonata in south-east Brazil

153 species of odonata have now been identified at REGUA in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, and we should be updating the REGUA website very soon. I'm a complete notice when it comes to Neotropical species, but I've been trying to put a name to any that I see. Here's a few common species I photographed at REGUA in June and September this year (click to enlarge). Many thanks to Tom Kompier for help with identifying some of the smaller damselflies.

Micrathyria catenata, wetland, 15 September 2012

Carmine Skimmer Orthemis discolor, wetland, 10 September 2012

Claret Pondhawk Erythemis mithroides, wetland, 10 September 2012

Cardinal Redskimmer Rhodopygia cardinalis, wetland, 15 June 2012

Flame-tailed Pondhawk Erythemis peruviana, wetland, 16 June 2012

Pin-tailed Pondhawk Erythemis plebeja, wetland, 18 September 2012

Male Pallid Amberwing Perithemis mooma, wetland, 15 September 2012

Female Pallid Amberwing Perithemis mooma, lodge moth light, 10 September 2012

Male Heteragrion aurantiacum, Stream along Brown Trail, 17 September 2012

Hetaerina hebe, Stream along Brown Trail, 17 September 2012

Male Ischnura capreolus, wetland, 15 September 2012. These things are minute,
measuring just over 2 cm in length, and would often seemingly disappear when
they flew.

Female Ischnura capreolus, wetland, 15 September 2012.

14 October 2012

Review: Owls of the World, by Heimo Mikkola

Ever since I was given a copy of Eric Hosting's Owls (Hosking, E. and Flegg, J., 1982) when I was a child, owls have been one of my favourite avian orders. Eric Hosking's classic black and white photos, such as the Barn Owl captured mid-air bringing back a vole for it's chicks, and the Snowy Owls that bred on Fetlar in the 60s and 70s, helped cement my interest in birds. Now, wherever I go birding in the world, I always try to get out at night to find some owls.

Published in August, Heimo Mikkola's Owls of the World: a Photographic Guide is the first comprehensive photographic guide to the world's owls. I recently received a complementary copy and I thought I'd write a quick review.

On opening the book it's immediately obvious that this is much more than a photographic field guide. The first part contains detailed and insightful chapters on adaptations (vision, hearing, ear-tufts, silent flight etc.), biology (including calls, colour variation and ageing, moult, diet, habitat, behaviour and movements), evolution, biogeography, taxonomy, the relationship between owls and humans, conservation, and a short section on extinct owls. There's a lot of fascinating information here, illustrated with beautiful photography, however a lot of similar information can be also found in Owls of the World (König et al. 2008).

The bulk of the book is comprised of the species accounts, focusing on identification and including basic biometrics, descriptions of adult and juvenile plumages, flight and calls (including a useful section highlighting features to look for to separate similar species), along with information on diet, hunting methods, habitat, status, distribution (with good maps) and geographic variation.

The book includes chapters on adaptations, biology, evolution, biogeography,
taxonomy, the relationship between owls and humans, and conservation.
Owls, like many other taxa, are currently in a state of taxonomic flux. This guide is based on the taxonomy and nomenclature of Owls of the World, 2nd Edition (König et al. 2008), which is rather split-happy, treating many subspecies as full species, as far as I could determine, many without formal decisions backing them up. One advantage of this approach though is that more forms, regardless of whether they turn out to be legitimate species or not, get comprehensive treatment.

No further taxonomic decisions are made in this book, but three recently split species described elsewhere are included - Hume's Hawk Owl Ninox obscura split from Brown Hawk Owl N. scutulata, Grey-bellied Little Owl A. poikilis and Northern Little Owl A. plumipes split from Forest Owlet Athene blewitti. In addition, The undescribed Santa Marta Screech Owl Megascops sp. is also included.

Subspecies are also described and those that are considered possible future splits are covered in some detail, often illustrated with photos, an example being the six different races of Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis. Note that just a few weeks after the book was published, Philippine Hawk Owl was indeed formally split, based on differences in vocalisations, and two new species formally described - Cebu Hawk Owl Ninox rumseyi and Camiguin Hawk Owl Ninox leventisi. (see John Gale's superb plate here).

However, it's the photography that really sets this book apart. Over 850 photographs illustrate all but 14 of 249 species (including colour morphs), and include high quality images of little known and rarely photographed species, such as the island endemic Otus scops owls and Ninox hawk owls. Photos of skins from the Natural History Museum at Tring in England have been included for five of the 14 species that have seemingly never been photographed. The photography throughout is excellent and it's impossible to pick favourites

Five photos by yours truly made it into the book, including this one (right) of a
Galapagos Short-eared owl Asio flammeus galapagoensis that I took on the
island of Genovesa during a year travelling around South America in 2006.
Although photos can be a useful aid to identification, I find accurate painted plates much better than photos at showing the subtle differences between similar species. The addition of good painted plates would have gone a long way to making this the ultimate guide to the world's owls, especially considering the often poor illustrations in field guides (I've also never found Friedhelm Weick's illustrations in Owls of the World (König et al. 2008) particularly inspiring).

The distribution maps are large and clear, but the range for Black-banded Owl Strix huhula does not extended eastwards enough to include Rio de Janeiro state in Brazil, where I've seen the Atlantic Forest race S. h. albomarginata on numerous occasions. Other than that, the only other criticisms I can make are that there are a few rather unnecessary nomenclature changes, for example, Long-whiskered Owlet Xenoglaux loweryi is renamed Long-whiskered Owl, and the three photos that were taken at REGUA in south-east Brazil have been incorrectly labelled as north-east Brazil.

There's no doubt that this is a beautifully produced book with well researched text (did you know there has now been a Barn Owl recorded in Antarctica?) packed cover to cover with stunning photos (the sourcing of the photos alone must have been an enormous undertaking). Although a little limited as an identification guide, Mikkola has succeeded in writing a fascinating and useful photographic reference that is worth every penny. Highly recommended to anyone interested in owls.

Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide by Heimo Mikkola (Christopher Helm, London, 2012)
ISBN: 9781408130285

7 October 2012

Northern Gannet over Staines Moor

With the high pressure situated over the UK producing very light easterlies and calm misty conditions, I decided on a quick look at Staines Moor. A pair of Stonechat around the new fence beside the Colne was a good start, but what happened next was a harsh lesson in why I should never leave the DLSR at home. I was checking the bushes at the north end at 12:45 when I noticed an odd shape flapping lazily south low over the moor. A bleedin juvenile Gannet!!! S**t, no DSLR with me! Ahhhh!!! I did, however, have Rachel's Canon G9 on me and managed a couple of absolutely terrible record shots as the bird flew over. So frustrating, but what a sight!!

1st yr Northern Gannet, Staines Moor, 7 October 2012

Vis mig amounted to just 5 Barn Swallow N, 1 alba wagtail N and a Redpoll over before eventually the sun broke through. A couple of tit flocks, mainly Long-tailed Tits with smaller numbers of Blue and Great Tits, held a pair of Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest, and 9 Redwing (my first of the winter) flew N from the old railway line.

2 Grey Wagtail along the Colne (a good record here) also proved to be migrants as they took off high to the north west, as were the c15 Meadow Pipit out on the moor. A mixed flock of 50+ Goldfinch and a few Linnet feeding out on the moor, a few Skylark, 1 Reed Bunting and a male Sparrowhawk were also noted.

Heading back at 14:30, a Short-eared Owl appeared quartering the east side of the moor. A couple of falconers were flying some birds nearby and the owl could have been flushed. One of the falconer's birds persistently harassed the owl until it dived into the top of a tree. Shockingly, the falconers appeared to make no attempt to intervene by calling the bird back! With the vegetation on the moor still very high and overgrown, hopefully we'll get a wintering Short-eared Owl this year.