Sunday, 29 March 2020


Watching out for raptors from the sun terrace - David Lindo

BROADCASTER, writer and holiday guide  leader David Lindo - "The Urban Birder" - is self-isolating  in an apartment in Spain.

It is understood he has spent most of  this month in a three-storey block in the city of Merida where he has been on an assignment.

Because he is alone, the hours must be going slowly for Lindo who is only permitted to venture outside to shop for food and to empty his bins.

However,  at least he has a sun terrace where he can watch out for black redstarts and other birds on the nearby rooftops.

Also, this part of Spain is a good location for observing raptors, and his checklist includes the likes of black kite, griffon vulture and marsh harrier - species he would be unlikely to see at his home in London (though he did once glimpse a red kite over Notting Hill).

Also providing inspiration have been plentiful migrating hirundines, such as swallows, and swifts, some of them probably heading to countries in northern Europe.

And at least his prolonged 'detention' is providing him with plenty of  material and writing time for ongoing and future projects.

* Merida is in one of Spain's most notable birding areas - Extremadura in the western central part of the country. 


Letter from an edition of The Zoologist journal, 1848

Sir -

A short time ago, I sent a communication to The Zoologist to the effect that I had obtained a male little bustard which was shot at Kirton Lindsey.

Having since become better acquainted with the bustard family, I am convinced of my error and beg leave to correct it. 

The following is a description of a specimen in my possession. 

Length 23 inches; expanse of wing 3 feet 8 inches; weight 2lbs.

The bill is dark lead colour, compressed at the tip, depressed at the base; irides yellow.

The head and throat are rufous, mottled with black, with long loose feathers, of a slate colour, hanging over the breast.

The chin is white; back of the neck white, minutely mottled with brown;  sides of the neck are ornamented with a range of feathers two inches long, about two-thirds of the upper portion black, the lower part white.

The back and wing-coverts rufous, mottled with black, with zigzag bars of black across; quill-feathers black, extending to the end of the tail when closed; underparts white; legs lead colour. 

On inquiring of Mr. G. Hansley, from whom I received the
bird, if he could furnish any particulars respecting it, he sent me the following note.

" I shot the bird in a stubble field on Kirton Cliff. 

"I did not see it until it got up within twenty yards of me, and I cannot hear of its having been seen in the neighbourhood before.

"I feel quite sure that this bird has never been in captivity.

"Its wings and tail are in the greatest perfection, not a feather broken or dirty.

"Its craw was full of caterpillars, beetles and small snails." 

Alfred Roberts

January 25, 1848.

Editor's note: This bird has been purchased by Mr. T. E. Higgins, of York, and turns out to be the houbara, a well-known North-African species of the bustard family.

Saturday, 28 March 2020


Birding - a route to staying fit and mentally active

WITH coronavirus rampant, none  of us might be going away for a while, but that doesn't mean we can't plan for birding trips to come - or read about the adventures of others.

Accounts of such travels are invariably highly readable  - and none more so than the recently-published Grey-haired Global Birding - Exploring The World's Birds in Later Life.

Disregard the somewhat clunky title! This is an absorbing account by Robert Oates, who in his 60s, of  five memorable expeditions - to Ethiopia, California, Colombia, Malaysia and the Scottish Coast.

Similar-themed books sometimes  strike a triumphalist, 'showy-offy' note, but this one, though never less than lively and upbeat, is written in  a more modest tone.

Amid his 'fun and excitement' at seeing new and exotic birds, there is a kind of wistful undercurrent.

The  author is aware that, ultimately, time will run out not just on his own life but perhaps also on many of the planet's bird species as their habitats and food-supplies are relentlessly squeezed at an ever-quickening pace.

He writes: "My story is a race, one that we all face - the ageing process that will eventually takes all to the great bird reserve in the sky."

Because he is acutely aware of the impact of his carbon footprint, he has sought to compensate by devoting all the proceeds of this, his first book, to the Extinctions Prevention  Programme run by the charity, Birdlife International.

Another notable aspect to the narrative is that the author is by no means a wealthy man.

After a career spent in relatively low-paid charity work, he has not retired with the cushion of a huge pension, a bulging bank account and a steady stream of equity dividends.

He can't just hop on a jet plane destined for some far off paradise at a moment's whim.

He has both to save up - and, just as important - get the green light from his patient wife.

As he wryly notes: "There is always the moral question of when it is fair to leave my wife alone for weeks in order to go off birding around the globe - though, in reality, this more of a dilemma for me as she always encourages my travels!"

Having cleared the decks, as it were, the author gets on with superbly evocative descriptions of the locations and the fabulous species he has encountered  - bee-eaters, shrikes, flycatchers, plovers, eagles and many more.

Such is his literary skill that it is almost being out there with him in the field as his birding companion.

And that means, of course, that you have to take a bit of rough with the smooth - for instance,  episodes of merciless,  "brain-frying" heat, hotel showers with no water and sometimes unappetising food (with, in Ethiopia, a surfeit of spaghetti dishes and bananas).

As he reminds the reader: "Most birding destinations are not package holidays, sanitised culturally bare locations offering a hotter or colder version of home.

"They are places in the real world where we can better understand our fellow human beings and the forces that govern their lives on a planet that we all share."

It may seem odd for a British author to have included a chapter Scotland in a book with a global theme, but there is a good reason.

On this occasion, he was acting as a host and guide to a friend from Colombia who proved to be as mesmerised by some of our native species as he had been on his trip to his guest's homeland

The 425-page book  also contains plenty of practical travelling advice, not least a reminder to be vaccinated against rabies, and some part-enchanting, part-angry philosophical diversions as in this particular passage: 

" I followed the path back to my hut under the shine of a billion stars like diamonds thrown on to a black velvet coat -  a biodiversity that we humans are fast driving to extinction, leaving lonely remnants trapped inside parks as precious reminders of the Eden we have trashed. 

"I don't call that civilised - I call it a crime against non-humanity."

Importantly, the author also details how much the individual expeditions cost him.

Finally, amid all his wonderment at the sight of so many spectacular birds, the author cannot disguise his love of good coffee to which he regularly makes reference in an early chapter.

If the Ethiopian Coffee Marketing Board, needs a UK ambassador, Robert Oates is the man! 

* Grey-haired Global Birding is available from outlets such as Amazon.

Friday, 27 March 2020


From the Western Mail, February 22, 1954

A GOLDEN eagle, being mobbed by rooks, stalked Lady Sherborne, wife of Lord Sherborne, as she walked in the grounds of her Cotswold home on Saturday. 

The bird, one of Britain's rarest and practically unknown in southern England, hovered 30-40ft above her and her two dogs. 

She said yesterday, "As I was walking in the park, the biggest bird I have ever seen rose in front of me. 

"My impression was of an eagle head and enormous claws. 

"It began to circle very low over the dogs, and, as I did not like the look of it, I made for the wood.

"The eagle followed, wheeling and swooping behind us, but, when we reached the wood, it made off." 

Lady Sherborne said that a "squadron of rooks" accompanied the eagle. 

"It was coloured gold and brown and was, in fact, a 'horrible beauty'."

Sunday, 22 March 2020


Funds needed to research steep population decline of a familiar bird of field and garden 

THE UK's foremost bird research organisation has warned that numbers of one of Britain's most familiar birds - the chaffinch - are plummeting.

According to the BTO, numbers of the bird have fallen by 30 per cent since 2007.

It is still a common species, but, if the trend continues, it could be added to the amber or red lists of birds in danger.

Now the Thetford-based organisation has launched an appeal which it hopes will reach £100,000 to fund further research.

Says the BTO's Kate Risely: "People may be shocked to learn that our chaffinch population is collapsing.

"Our most familiar of finches is vanishing from our gardens and countryside.

"Its sudden and steep decline is sounding alarm bells that we should not take its abundance for granted."

One theory for the decline is that a disease called trichomonosis is spreading in the species.

This causes lesions in the throat that can prevent an infected bird from swallowing food, creating the risk of starvation.

This was the disease that caused a 67 per cent decline in greenfinch numbers between 2007 and 2017.

However, the dramatic chaffinch decline has only been since 2012, suggesting that factors other than disease might be at play.

Continues Kate: "Only when we know the causes can effective targeted actions begin.

"The answers may be hidden in the data we are already collecting, but, without sufficient resources for research, they will remain unknown."

More information about the appeal is at:

Saturday, 21 March 2020


OPERATIONS have mostly been suspended by the organisation at the forefront of the fight to halt  the killing of songbirds in Southern Europe and beyond. The Bonn-based  Committee Against Bird Slaughter has issued the following update:

As "travelling bird conservationists", we are particularly affected by the precautions taken to contain the coronavirus pandemic. 

Due to entry bans, flight cancellations, hotel closures and movement restrictions, we unfortunately have to suspend until further notice our regular volunteer-based bird protection camps.

In doing so, we are not only keeping an eye on the legal regulations - we also want to show the urgent need for solidarity by not travelling which enables the virus to spread  quickly, thereby bringing our health systems to breaking point. 

Despite the cancellation of the large bird protection camps, we will of course ensure a minimum presence in all areas of operation. 

Our local partners, members and affiliates remain active within the framework of the circumstances made possible by the authorities. 

Police units and game wardens specialising in poaching are also continuing to work independently in many countries to monitor compliance with nature conservation laws.

However, it is not only bird conservationists who have to adapt to restrictions - hunters and poachers cannot move freely either. 

We therefore do not expect uncontrolled bird hunting in the important areas for bird migration. The following actions are currently underway:

Malta: On the Mediterranean island only one team is deployed instead of three as planned. In the last few days 10 active trapping sites with clap nets for finches were found. One poacher was convicted. The environmental police is pre-occupied with coronavirus operations and can therefore hardly help. Therefore, we will document all cases thoroughly  and report them ourselves.

Italy: Our action to protect the endangered Bonelli's Eagle in Sicily is essentially running as normal - local bird conservationists, with police authorisation, are on duty to guard the nests and deter nest robbers. For the other areas (mainly Brescia, Ischia and Ponza) we are currently working on permits for smaller actions.

Lebanon: Our partners in Lebanon are deployed in the most important bottleneck areas and mainly focus on the roosting sites' white storks. With their presence they provide a significant calming effect in the areas being monitored.

Germany: Last week a CABS team in North Rhine-Westphalia searched for illegal traps and found numerous violations of the state hunting law.  If travel restrictions allow, there will be further actions in various states in the coming weeks.

Cyprus: In Cyprus, poaching with nets and limesticks will not start for two to three weeks. We still have some hope that we can then deploy more than just a local team. If foreigners are still not allowed to enter the country, an emergency plan has been agreed with the local colleagues.

For the stability of our society, but of course also for the sake of the migratory birds, we hope that the current crisis will calm down quickly and will not have any significant consequences.

Many greetings from Bonn and stay healthy!

The CABS Team

Thursday, 19 March 2020


The engraving of the bird  as featured  in Bree's book
LATEST data indicates that the black-throated thrush has been sighted more than 80 times in Britain - the two most recent having been in the grounds of  Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire and Grimsby Institute in Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire.

But which was the first record?

According to an a letter to a 1869 edition of The Field magazine, this was it: 

Sir - 

On Wednesday December 23, a fine example of the black-throated thrush was shot near Lewes. 

The bird, which proved, on dissection, to be a male, was in excellent condition, and, having been carefully handled,
was in fine order for preservation.

In  this respect, it  has received ample justice from the hands of Mr. Swaysland, of Brighton, where it may be seen. 

This rara avis is well described by Bree, in his  History of The Birds of Europe Not Observed in The British Isles, and, on comparison with the engraving on Page 187 of Volume 1, was easily distinguished. 

It is, I believe, the first specimen taken in Great Britain.

T. J. Monk
Mountfield House

December 29, 1869