As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Birders flock to Surrey farmland for rare Asian bird

Birders from around the continent are taking flight to an obscure patch of South Surrey farmland to see a striking little bird that belongs in Asia — the Siberian Accentor. 

By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun

METRO VANCOUVER -- Birders from around the continent are taking flight to a patch of south Surrey farmland to see a striking little bird that belongs in Asia — the Siberian Accentor.

“This particular bird is in an easily accessible area,” George Clulow, president of B.C. Field Ornithologists, said in an interview Friday.

“People can easily fly in, which is what they’ve been doing from all over North America. I was standing next to people from Massachusetts, California, Florida, Minnesota.”

There are only six or seven recorded sightings of the wayward bird in B.C., Clulow noted. Normally it is found in Southeast Asia and breeds across Siberia.

Clulow first spotted the Siberian Accentor with fellow birder Mandy Lu on Jan. 3 during the annual Christmas Bird Count, an event that forces birders to look in unusual and less-visited areas to help pump up their counts.

They were in an agricultural area on 160th Street when he noticed small birds flying in a blueberry field. “I turned around and saw this bird for a split second perched in a blueberry shrub,” he recalled.
“It dropped down and we couldn’t find it. It was a bird I’d never seen before — sparrow-sized but with a striking head pattern (featuring dark and rust stripes).”

That evening at home he pulled out a reference book, Rare Birds of North America, and there on the cover was a photograph of the Siberian Accentor. “That’s it. That made it easier.”

He returned three days later and after four hours had a good sighting of the bird, snapped a few photos to confirm identification and posted it on the Internet. “It just went viral from there,” he said. “It’s a rare bird.”

The bird has remained at the site ever since, with continued sightings this week. It is often seen feeding on the ground with dark-eyed juncos.

To reach the site head east on No. 10 Highway toward Cloverdale, turn right (south) on 160th Street, cross the railway tracks and look for the birders.

Pakistan Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Hunting Rare Bird

JAN 22, 2016 09:17 AM ET // BY AFP

Pakistan’s Supreme Court Friday overturned its decision to ban the hunting of the houbara bustard, a rare desert bird whose meat is prized among Arab sheikhs as an aphrodisiac.

News that the monarch butterfly has nearly vanished from the planet means it may be be deemed an endangered species. What does that mean?

Wealthy hunting parties from the Gulf travel to Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province every winter to kill the houbara bustard using hunting falcons.

The issue has also cast a spotlight on traditionally close ties between Pakistan and its allies in the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia.

A provincial High Court in Balochistan in November 2014 cancelled all permits for hunting in the province, but the federal government headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — a close ally of Saudi Arabia — continued to issue licenses.

Last year the Supreme Court banned hunting of the bird entirely, in a decision welcomed by wildlife campaigners.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the bird on its “red list” of threatened species, estimating there are fewer than 97,000 left globally.

But the federal and provincial governments asked the court to review the decision, claiming that controlled hunting was a tool for preservation and should be allowed.

In a judgement issued Friday, the court said it had set aside its original decision to ban hunting of the bird and that petitions on the issue would be listed for fresh hearings.

23 bird and butterfly species recorded in airport

With their natural habitat shrinking, birds are attracted to open spaces like the Tiruchi airport, say activists.

The study recorded 23 species of birds including Asian Palm Swift, Black Kite, Black-Shouldered Kite, Oriental Skylark, Spotted owl.

An independent study by a city college faculty member on bird activity in the international airport and in its vicinity here has recorded 23 bird species besides butterfly species and few mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

The ongoing study by Q. Ashoka Chakkaravarthy, Assistant Professor of Environment Science, Department of Foundation Courses, St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchi, with cooperation from the airport officials is to eventually suggest scientific measures to minimize bird hits suffered by aircrafts.

Engaging a few students, the study, launched in December last week, at first sought to identify distribution of birds in the airport and its vicinity by carrying out field studies at different time intervals. In its preliminary report, it recorded 23 species of birds including Asian Palm Swift, Black Kite, Black-Shouldered Kite, Oriental Skylark, Spotted owl, rock pigeon, house crow, Indian robin, Common myna, Indian pond heron, Hoopoe and white throated kingfisher inside the airport. With respect to butterflies the species recorded include Blue Pansy, Small Grass yellow, crimson rose, common rose and Tawny coster.

Mammals such as mongoose and rabbit, amphibians such as frogs, reptiles like snakes and insects like dragonfly were recorded, said Ashoka Chakkaravarthy – also an ecologist.

Point count methodology was adopted to record distribution of bird species.

Now, the study would focus on areas of bird activities, reasons for their attraction towards the airport side and how they become a hazard to aircraft while landing and take off. It would soon be done by field observations, inspection of infield areas and survey of buffer zone soon by seeking cooperation from the Airports Authority of India and Corporation authorities. The study would deploy bird scaring reflective ribbons, a device, in vantage areas inside the airport to ascertain the extent to which the device would scare the birds from flying inside the airport area thereby averting bird hits.

The study would use organic pesticides to remove insects inside the airport so that birds do not venture inside for foraging. In addition, other environmental management actions and measures would be looked into during the study before coming out with a set of recommendations to minimize such bird hits and the save the birds.

Friday, 29 January 2016

RSPB PRESS RELEASE: Stay in the Warm with the Big Garden Birdwatch

Stay in the warm with the Big Garden Birdwatch

RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is set to bring families in Devon together as we uncover what is happening in the UK’s gardens in the world’s biggest wildlife survey

Families in Devon are being asked to spend just one hour watching the birds this weekend as Europe’s largest nature conservation charity takes its annual snapshot of the UK’s garden birds.

The RSPB wants to hear about the number and variety of birds visiting your Devon garden on Saturday and Sunday (30 and 31 January).

For almost forty years people have been taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, counting the birds in their garden to help the RSPB understand how our feathered friends are doing.

Last year over half a million people across the UK took part, making Big Garden Birdwatch the world’s biggest wildlife survey [note 2]. For the third year running, the RSPB is also asking about other wildlife seen in our gardens throughout the year, such as hedgehogs, foxes, stoats and squirrels, to help build an overall picture of how important gardens are for giving nature a home [note 3].
More than 8.5 million birds were spotted visiting our gardens with house sparrows topping the list, and some families reporting unusual species, such as skylarks, making an appearance outside their back doors.

Tom Waters in RSPB’s wildlife team said: “It really is as simple as spending an hour looking out of the window and enjoying seeing the wildlife that comes to you. You don’t need any special equipment, although if you take any photos we would love to see them. Then at the end of your hour send us your results to tell us what you saw.

“We have an online pack with everything you will need. There is even a handy guide to help you find out which bird is which, so you can tell a robin from a rook!”

If you would like to sign up, please visit You can also follow the action throughout the weekend by following @natures_voice on Twitter or using the #BigGardenBirdwatch

Tom added: “Every year we are amazed by how many people take part. It’s a really fun activity everyone can do and join in with. We love hearing how families come together to take part, as children and grandchildren discover the exciting natural world in their own back gardens.

“If you want to encourage more birds into your garden then why not put some food out –our website has some great advice on what birds love to eat. We have ideas on what you can make as well as a range of bird food and feeders you can buy online safe in the knowledge 100% of the profits will go to helping birds and wildlife.

The RSPB will share the non-bird results people spot in their gardens with Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC), People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and The Mammal Society to add to their species databases. Results will help all the organisations involved build their understanding about the threats facing garden wildlife.

To find out more about how to Give Nature a Home in your garden visit And the RSPB shop is an excellent place to find bird food and other bits and pieces to encourage wildlife to visit and all profits go to helping birds and wildlife.


For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Morwenna Alldis, Communications Officer, RSPB South West. Tel: 01392 453767

Follow @RSPBNews for the latest news

To download a selection of images relevant to this press release, please click on the hyperlink below and then enter the user name and password when prompted.

User Name:  garden          
Password:  birdwatch        
Broadcast-quality radio interviews:
To arrange an ISDN broadcast-quality radio interview please contact Katie Prewett at the RSPB press office.
Editor’s notes:
1.    The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
  1. 2015 Big Garden Birdwatch results:

House sparrow
Blue tit
Great tit
Collared dove
Long tailed tit
Feral pigeon
Carrion crow
Coal tit
Common gull

  1. In 2014, as a new part of the Big Garden Birdwatch, the RSPB asked participants to tell us about some of the other animals in their garden including badgers, squirrels and hedgehogs. Slow worms and grass snakes joined the list in 2015 with foxes and stoats added to this year’s list. Participants don’t have to see and count these other species during the hour of the Big Garden Birdwatch survey. They just fill in the form to tell the RSPB how frequently they saw them in their gardens over the past year.
  2. Together, we can create even more homes for nature. To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit:

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
The Lodge, Sandy, Beds SG19 2DL
Press office telephone: 01767 681577

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity.
In England and Wales, no: 207076.
In Scotland, no: SC037654.

Once rare Mexican bird becoming more at home in GV

By David Rookhuyzen

Jan 19, 2016
Randy Gage

This northern crested caracara was photographed this month on state trust land east of Sahuarita. While once rare, caracaras are becoming more common in this part of the state.

Southern Arizona is starting to attract more snowbirds of a different feather, but nobody's quite sure why.

During the past few years, sightings of the once-rare northern crested caracara, a vulture-looking member of the falcon family, have become more common around Green Valley and Sahuarita.

Along with the golden eagle, it is listed as Mexico's national bird and is sometimes called “the iron cross” for the white markings seen on its wings while flying.

The caracara's range spreads from the northern portion of South America, up through Mexico – where they are common – and into parts of Southern Arizona, Texas and the Southeastern United States.

Doug Moore, a bird-watching enthusiast and member of Friends of Madera Canyon, said caracaras would occasionally be seen west of Sahuarita and Green Valley on the Tohono O'odham Nation. People would catch a rare glance along State Route 86 or near the landfill in Sells.

“If you got lucky, you would see one or two,” he said.

Now, however, Moore is hearing about more sightings in Green Valley and Sahuarita and farther east. Last month, he caught sight of one flying over the Pima County Fairgrounds. To the north in the Santa Cruz Flats area, west of Picacho Peak, the population has increased to more than two dozen.

‘Advice only’ on Argyll and Bute bird nuisance

Argyll and Bute Council is to consider options for a 'bird control policy' to tackle the area's gull and pigeon nuisance.

Craig Borland
09:16Tuesday 19 January 2016

Proposals for an enhanced ‘bird control service’ to tackle the seagull nuisance in Rothesay and other Argyll and Bute towns look set to be rejected this week.

Instead members of Argyll and Bute Council will be asked to approve only an ‘advisory service’ in which property owners and the public will be told of measures they can take themselves to deal with the problem.

The issue is set to be considered at a meeting of the full council in Lochgilphead on Thursday.

A report prepared for that meeting by the council’s regulatory services manager, Alan Morrison, reveals that in the last nine years more than half of all bird nuisance complaints received by the authority have come from the Bute and Cowal area.

Mr Morrison’s report also points out that roosting feral birds have also contributed to the poor condition of buildings renovated as part of Rothesay’s Townscape Heritage Initiative.

Swift parrot: Strategic plan for endangered bird two years overdue

Updated 19 Jan 2016, 8:46am

A strategic plan for the endangered swift parrot has not been finalised, more than two years after it was due for completion.

The Federal Government allocated $300,000 for the Tasmanian Government to develop a strategic plan for the conservation of the swift parrot and its habitat in 2010.

The project was due to be completed in 2013 but there is still no final plan.

In a statement, Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment said Tasmania was operating within the draft plan.

"It is recognized that the draft requires updating to include latest information including on the threat posed to the species by the sugar glider," the statement said.

"The Tasmanian and Commonwealth governments are updating the plan."

The information that sugar gliders are a threat to the swift parrot has been public since 2012.

Greens senator Nick McKim accused the State Government of sitting on its hands.

Rare visitor gets birders flocking to the Highveld

Shaun Smillie | 27 January, 2016 00:42

A little bird lost is causing a huge flutter.

More than 600 people, some from as far as Cape Town, have come to Johannesburg to get a glimpse of a bird that is not quite the size of a chicken.

The bird is a spotted crake and it has pitched up at a pond at Waterfall Estate, Midrand.

Spotted crakes, said Trevor Hardaker, chairman of Bird Life SA's rarities committee, usually migrate only as far south as Zambia or Zimbabwe. But this one kept on going.

It is not the only one. It has been a strange summer for spotted crakes.

There have been sightings of at least a dozen crakes around the country.

The rarities committee tracks sightings of rare birds and was notified of the Midrand crake on Thursday.

"They are normally reclusive but this one is parading around in the open," said Hardaker.

The wayward spotted crake and its far-roaming fellows, such as the snowy egret that visited Cape Town last year, are helping to generate tourist dollars.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Slaughter of the song birds

Songbirds are a culinary delicacy in Cyprus — but catching and eating them is illegal. Even so, the practice is on the rise and could be threatening rare species.

26 January 2016

Mist nets are strung across flight paths to trap birds.

It wasn't until I saw the blade glinting in the sunlight that I realized how grave the situation was. Broad and belligerent in army fatigues, the man strode along the track, ranting in Greek. Behind his back, his hands flexed a knife blade in and out of its wooden handle. This man was a trapper, a poacher of birds — and he clearly didn't want company. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

My companions and I had come to this dry scrubland on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus to look for evidence of songbird trapping. The birds are caught illegally and eaten in a traditional dish called ambelopoulia — and I was joining a September trip to monitor the extent of trapping. With me was Roger Little, a British conservation volunteer, and Savvas, a field officer with the conservation group BirdLife Cyprus whose name has been changed to protect his identity. We didn't expect to encounter trappers at this spot in the southeastern region of Cape Pyla; they usually work at night, when the birds are active. But now it seemed that they had started patrolling the site during the day. “You are on my land,” the trapper said to us in Greek.

“If this is your property, then I apologize — we didn't know, we are going,” Savvas said. We acted casual as the man escorted us back to the battered four-by-four in which we had come. “I shouldn't really be letting you go,” he muttered. Moments later, we were driving away.

Bird trapping in Cyprus has grown into a controversy that encompasses crime, culture, politics and science. The practice was made illegal more than 40 years ago — but that simply forced it underground. Today, trappers routinely cut wide corridors through vegetation and string fine 'mist nets' from poles to catch the birds, which are sent to local restaurants and quietly served. A platter of a dozen birds sells for €40–80 (US$44–87), and the trade in songbirds is responsible for an estimated annual market of €15 million. The delicacy is so prized and lucrative that it is suspected to be linked to organized crime, and those trying to stop it have been subject to intimidation and violence.

Rare bird found in Höfn, East Iceland

"I had no idea what kind of bird we were looking at, it was so weird," says ornithologist Brynjúlfur Brynjúlfsson at the South East Iceland Bird Watching Centre. He is the first person to have spotted a Dark-Sided Flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica) in Western Europe. 

Muscicapa sibirica.jpgThe species, according to Wikipedia, breeds in South-East Siberia west to beyond Lake Baikai as well as in Mongolia, China, North Korea and Japan. 

Their wintering range includes India, Bangladesh, southern China, Taiwan, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the Philippines. Vagrant birds have been previously recorded as far as Alaska and Bermuda.

Vulture arrested in Lebanon on suspicion of spying

Bird that flew from Israeli nature reserve into Lebanon caught by locals suspicious of its transmitter

Tuesday 26 January 2016 18.31 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 26 January 201623.25 GMT

A vulture from an Israeli nature reserve has been captured in Lebanon on suspicion of espionage after flying across the border, Israel’s nature reserve authority has said.

Members of the Israeli public phoned the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to alert it to Facebook reports and pictures of a vulture with an Israeli identification ring and location transmitter captured by residents of the south Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, a spokeswoman, Tali Tenenbaum, said.

“Reports passed to us show the vulture tied with a rope by local people who write that they suspect Israeli espionage apparently because of the transmitter attached to him,” the authority said.

“In the 21st century, we expect people to understand that wild animals are not harmful,” it added. “We hope that the Lebanese will release him.”

Tenenbaum said the authority’s experts had been aware for some days that it had flown about 2.5 miles (four kilometres) into Lebanon. “But we did not know he’d been captured,” she said.

Reports later said the bird had been freed after it was deemed not to pose a threat.

Conspiracy theories are endemic in the Middle East. Last summer, Palestinian media reported claims by the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers that they had apprehended a dolphin off their Mediterranean coastline equipped with video cameras for an Israeli spying mission.

Diverse migration helps birds cope with environmental change

Date:January 26, 2016
Source:University of East AngliaSummary:

Migratory birds that are 'set in their ways' could be more vulnerable to environmental impacts -- according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Many species of migratory birds are in decline as a result of human impacts such as climate change and habitat loss.

New research published today reveals why some species are more vulnerable than others.

It shows that species that migrate to a more diverse range of winter locations during their non-breeding season -- such as White Storks, Marsh Harriers and Reed Warblers -- are less likely to suffer population decline.

However species that tend to 'funnel' into smaller areas during the winter -- such as Turtle Doves and Wood Warblers -- have been more vulnerable to declining numbers, caused by human impacts.

Lead researcher Dr James Gilroy from UEA's School of Environmental Sciences said: "Birds are well-known for their remarkable long-distance migrations, often involving extreme feats of navigation and endurance. Unfortunately, many migratory birds are in decline, and there is an urgent need to understand what determines their vulnerability to human impacts.

"We wanted to know whether 'migratory diversity' -- the variability of migratory behaviour within species -- plays a role in determining their population trends."

The research team studied the migration patterns of 340 bird species in relation to their status across Europe over the last two decades (1990-2012).

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Songbird's reference genome illuminate key role of epigenetics in evolution of memory and learning

Smart songbird's reference genome is milestone for ecological research

Date:January 25, 2016
Source:Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)

A well-known songbird, the great tit, has revealed its genetic code, offering researchers new insight into how species adapt to a changing planet. Their initial findings suggest that epigenetics -- what's on rather than what's in the gene -- may play a key role in the evolution of memory and learning. And that's not just true for birds. An international research team led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and Wageningen University will publish these findings in Nature Communications on Monday.

"People in our field have been waiting for this for decades," explain researchers Kees van Oers and Veronika Laine from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology. The reference genome of their favourite model species, the great tit, is "a powerful toolbox that all ecologists and evolutionary biologists should know about."

Coming from a single Dutch bird, the genetic code of the assembled reference genome will help to reveal the genetic basis of phenotypic evolution. This is essential for understanding how wild species adapt to our changing planet.

In addition to looking at the genome, the research team have also determined the so-called transcriptome and methylome. The latter belongs to the field of epigenetics: the study of what you can inherit not in but 'on' your genes. Specific DNA sequences in the genome can be 'methylated': methyl groups are added to them, modifying how the genes function.

The research team sequenced the complete genomes of a further 29 great tit individuals from different parts of Europe. This enabled them to identify regions in the great tit's genome that have been under selection during recent evolution of the bird. These regions appeared to be overrepresented for genes related to learning and cognition.

"The great tit has evolved to be smart," says Van Oers. "Very smart." It's not your average bird, as it belongs to the top 3% smartest birds when it comes to learning new behaviour. That makes it a perfect candidate for research into the evolution of learning, memory and cognitive processes.

The five bird species that Darwin couldn’t discover in Madeira and the Azores

Date:January 22, 2016
Source:Plataforma SINC

When Charles Darwin visited the Azores islands in the 19th Century, the birds he observed were familiar to him. However, if he had travelled there 500 years before, he would have found an ornithofauna as particular as that of the Galápagos. The recent discovery in these Portuguese islands and in Madeira of five extinct species of rail, which lost the ability to fly due to having evolved on islands, confirms how fragile they are in the face of changes to their habitat like the ones that must have occurred after the first visits by humans over 500 years ago.

In September 1826, the British naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Azores archipelago during the HMS Beagle's return voyage to the United Kingdom after more than four years travelling the world. In his diary he only mentions the existence of starlings, wagtails, finches and blackbirds; however, on the islands also lay the remains of other birds which populated the islands a few centuries before his visit. A new study, published in 'Zootaxa', now highlights the discovery of five extinct rail species, two in Madeira and three in the Azores.

"The species of birds very probably disappeared following the arrival of humans and the animals that came with them, like mice, rats and cats," told Josep Antoni Alcover

Paleontological exploration by Spanish, German and Portuguese researchers has made it possible to "discover new species of birds that very probably disappeared following the arrival of humans and the animals that came with them, like mice, rats and cats," according to Josep Antoni Alcover, a CSIC researcher working at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA-CSIC/UIB) and co-author of the paper.