How to Make Your Garden a Bird Sanctuary

The total number of wild birds in the world is somewhere between 100 and 400 billion according to an article published by Arbotopia. The fact that they are all around us in so many different shapes, colours and sizes is perhaps what makes them so fascinating. The migratory patterns of some birds or the peculiar habitats of others has spawned an interest in bird tourism. Going on a holiday in a bird hotspot, such as Northeast Spain, is decidedly attractive, but it’s also possible to create a home to many intriguing birds in your own garden.

Robins in your garden, photo by Andrew Alexander

Feed them

Birds have an eye for a tasty morsel and having flown thousands of miles in some cases will want to stop where it is safe and where they find food waiting for them. Furthermore, researchers believe feeding birds encourages flight patterns causing birds like the Blackcap to settle in the UK instead of going to Spain. With that said, you could try feeding them mealworms, as well as bits of fruit or peanuts to make the stay.

Give them a drink

Water is essential to birds. Not only to drink but also for the all important grooming of feathers and even for entertainment. They tend to be drawn to water in motion. If you want to attract a large variety of birds then you should consider a water feature. Keep it usable all year round by placing rocks in it to prevent the water freezing over and installing a solar powered version will make it conservation friendly. The Cuckoo and the Woodpeckers, although generally shy birds would both appreciate being offered a drink from the fountain.

Give them a shelter

The garden environment should also be considered as it is a shame to invite birds into the garden only to find that they are at risk from predators or the food on offer is being eaten by other animals. Consider where the food is being placed in order to attract a variety of birds. Even if you are not ready to completely redesign your garden you might be prepared to leave that old tree stump in place to accommodate a Woodpecker, or not cut back your bushes quite so neatly, and allow the Blackcap to roost there.

Birds are everywhere and there are many species worth exploring, particularly in Spain. But if you are concerned about your ‘ carbon footprint’ there is a lot you can do to attract birds to your garden and conserve the bird population.

Article by guest writer Sally Writes.

The Iceland Experience 1

Our Iceland Experience

A day out Whale-watching

Icelandic horses

Icelandic horses grazing near Akureyri, Iceland

I can’t confess to anyone how fast I drove our hire car along that almost deserted road running along the western shore of the fjord, hoping to get to the whale-watching harbour before the ship’s scheduled departure at 9.30 am.

“When they see us, or people like us, the locals must think that the tourists are crazy”, observed Florinda.

And in truth, driving like that did seem out of place, taking into account that in this part of Iceland all roads except the main ring Road 1 were virtually empty, and that we had not encountered anybody speeding over the last week while driving in the country. I was no expert in the Icelandic temperament, but the people didn’t seem to do stress the same way I could.

We sped past a few local ladies out for a walk on the edge of the harbour-side settlement which passes as a village in these parts. I imagined their surprised comments as we pulled up into the harbour and spotted the likely looking vessel comfortably moored by the sea wall. That’s funny, we couldn’t see the activity one would normally associate with a whale-watching cruise about to depart in a few minutes’ time.

We dithered between the moored vessel and a large warehouse which was obviously the commercial base. The only person we could see was a blond middle-aged man in an anorak, walking calmly towards us. He was smiling gently, and to me he looked like a skipper.

“Hello, is this where we get the tickets for the whale-watching?” I asked.
“Yes” he said, “You’re a bit early though, we don’t depart until 1.30 in the afternoon”.

About half an hour later we were back at the guesthouse. Slightly deflated. We approached the reception desk, our source of local information, including the whale-watching enterprises and their timetables.
“Um, the departure from Dalvik is in fact at 9am, not 9.30. And at Hauganes they only do an afternoon departure at 1.30 pm,” I pointed out to the attentive young lady who had previously provided us with some slightly inaccurate information.
“Oh really?”, she smiled, “Thank you for telling me”.

So what could we do for the next 3 hours? We retired to our room to consult leaflets and things over a quick cup of instant coffee. I thought hard while staring out of the window watching some of the numerous and noisy Redwings feeding in the clump of Rowan trees within metres of our room. There were Common Redpolls there too, I could hear them, but they moved so fast it was so hard to get a decent view of any of them.

Iceland fjord

Florinda, a Black sand admirer, Akureyri, Iceland

Our solution was to take a gentle walk along the shores of the fjord – unfortunately we were also just a little too late to go horse-riding. As a complete beginner I’m not sure whether I was relieved or not about that. Still, the walk was enjoyable, the waters were calm and we spent some good time watching Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders and Glaucous Gulls at close range, and in calm, gentle sunshine. I kept scanning for the Diver (Great Northern?) I had seen from the guesthouse the previous evening, but it seemed to have moved on. Turning inland and reaching the local road was not enough to call us towards the “forest”, which, by Icelandic standards was obviously quite an eye-catcher, but by my Anglo-Catalan standards was a rather lifeless rectangle of land planted with single-aged spruce trees, where the only birding appeal might be to get close to a slow or unwary Redpoll.

Some time later, we pulled into a parking space in the harbour well before 1 o’clock: we weren’t taking any chances! The possibility of seeing whales was one of the major highlights of this trip for Florinda, we knew there were no guarantees, but the pressure was on. We paid, each found a red jumpsuit which fit us and, feeling slightly awkward in this unfamiliar attire, filed out towards the vessel among a growing group of similarly-clad visitors. The captain was there again, with his enigmatic smile.
“What are the chances of Humpback Whales?” I asked, searchingly.
“That depends on them, but should be good”, came the not-quite reassuring reply.

As our ship set off we could feel a breeze working up and see grey clouds gathering – the lovely calm conditions of the morning were changing and the forecast was for overnight snow. Hopefully we still had a few good hours before things got rough, time enough for us to see a Humpback Whale or two, and to get back to dry land without Florinda having cause for getting seasick!

We had just turned into the open fjord when the first mate shouted to the skipper, who immediately announced that there were Humpback Whales, 3 or so, and gave full throttle across the fjord towards the whales. Could that really be true? He wasn’t having us on, was he? Some of us held on the rails and peered out past the stern, following our line of travel to try and spot a Humpback Whale, and yes! There was a huge watery spout being blown high into the air! Then a tail fin breaking the surface and disappearing below! There really were whales out there!

Humpback Whale tail fluke

Whale-watching: Humpback Whale tail fluke

The next couple of hours were better than we had even dared to dream: we came into close contact with at least a dozen Humpback Whales of different ages, one time so close that one surfacing whale blew its watery spout into my gaping mouth. It was light and salty. We saw the barnacles growing on their bodies, the nicked fins of some, and could tell when they were just swimming or going for a dive. Another vessel had sped up from Akureyri to join us, and after many close contacts with the Humpacks the skipper could see we were all well-satisfied and offered coffee, biscuits and buns to all.

Humpback Whale submerging. Whale-watching north of Akureyri, Iceland

Someone’s just caught a fish!

Great Northern Diver, or Common Loon, Iceland

Turning back to the western shore we hadn’t finished yet. There were good numbers of gulls in flight over the water, including Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls – I’d never imagined I’d see so many in one place- , and a single Great Skua. Common Eiders seemed to be more common closer to the shore, and didn’t seem too put off when we dropped anchor to do a spot of line fishing.

Result: the Chinese tourist was exultant as he caught a fish – and took a selfie; I too caught my first-ever fish; and what about Florinda, would she catch a fish too? Maybe next time – she had already seen so many Humpback Whales, better than a dream come true, so how much more can you ask for?!

7 Marvellous Days in May

New 7 Marvellous Days in May Tour

How do you get from Storm Petrels to Lammergeiers in 3 easy steps?

See the pdf here to find out!

 

Marvellous May (1)

Or should it be 7 Days in Marvellous May?

Poble Style Birding 1

Making a pool for birds

“Making a small drinking pool to attract birds to your garden is such an easy thing to do! Just make a hole in the ground, line it with plastic, and fill it with water.”

“Then you can enjoy watching the birds coming down to drink or bathe at your own conveniece – Just imagine: Cirl Buntings, Hawfinches, Nightingales, Rock Sparrows, Blackbirds, Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches, Robins, Dunnocks, and so much more…”

Nightingale

Rock Sparrow

Wait a minute – Cut! Cut! Before we continue with this script from “Brave New World” or whatever, there are some hard realities to take into account when you’re hands-on with a drinking pool. For example:

  • Stabilize the banks – you’ve dug out all that earth, on a slope, and you’ve just realized that at the first drop of rain it will become a mudslide collapsing into your beautifully crafted pond.
  • Plant plants around the edge, and try to keep them alive despite drought, frost, herbivores, trampling, etc.
  • Deal with a leak without giving up. Undo your craftmanship and start all over again.
  • Keep the pool topped up, in the heat of the summer when water seems to evaporate almost faster than you can pour it in, and when you go on holiday for a couple of weeks to get away from it all
  • Deal with the overflow from the sheep farm at the top of the slope seeping into your pool and turning it all into a foul-smelling sludge.
  • Remove leaves and debris from the cold water and between the stones you laid out to make it look nice.
  • Combat the mosquitoes that see your little pool as their promised land.
  • Keep out unwanted mammals – boars, rats, hunters.
  • Aerate the water
  • Patiently replenish the water after every visit by a wintering flock of some 2,000 starlings, which have descended on it for a bath, a drink and their social event of the week.

Are you sure you’ve got a good site?

Then and only then might you get Hawfinches, Sparrows, Chaffinches, Black Redstarts, Chiffchaffs, Robins, Blackbirds, and even Starlings. Enjoy! 

Getting started

Almost finished (again). Stones, aerator, water feeder.

Iceland Autumn Tour 2018 – with contact info!

Iceland Autumn Tour 2018

Sorry to be repetitive but we have an excuse! Here is a link to download all the information about our 2018 autumn Iceland tour, this time with contact information, which we forgot to publish last time. We apologize for any inconvenience and take the opportunity to show a few more photos of this marvellous experience!

Autumn Iceland 2018 contact

horses-andrew-maranta

Icelandic horses near Akureyri (photo by Andrew Maranta)

iceland-bird-sign

Birds! Shades of Hitchcock?

iceland-godafoss

Godafoss waterfall. Godly.

iceland-hellnar

Headland near Hellnar

iceland-whale-2

A Humpback Whale has just spouted into my open mouth!

iceland-snaefellness

The Snaefellness Peninsula glacier

Autumn Iceland Tour 2018

Iceland in autumn!

Balenaloblog

Humpback Whales

Geiserblog

Geysers

gyrfalconblog

Gyr Falcon

 

Here is the pdf with all the information you need to get you warmed up for our autumn Iceland Tour 2018. There’ll be great birds, amazing scenery, whales and seals, maybe even the northern lights too. Oh, and some wonderful photo opportunities, so you really must bring a camera, even if it’s only on your mobile phone!

Autumn Iceland 2018

pascal-mauerhofer-sealblog

Common Seal

Short-eared_owl_blog

Short-eared Owl

vincent-guthblog

Northern Lights

Photo credits: Florinda Vidal – Whales and Geysers; Ólafur Larsen – Gyr Falcon; Pascal Mauerhofer – Common Seal; Dan Dzurisin – Short-eared Owl; Vincent Guth – Northern Lights.

Are you sure the best thing to do is to ignore this? Think about it…Iceland….Iceland….

Autumn Iceland Tour Video

 

iceland-video-screen-blog

In September and October 2018 we will be visiting Iceland! Land of the naked elements, water, fire, air and land. And birds of course, plenty of interesting birds. Whales, seals and horses too. In fact, can you think of a reason not to come?

Click on the link to see the video, and then if you want more information we can send you a pdf with all the details.

https://vimeo.com/245338922

A brief Collins Bird Guide (for Android) App review, or – Who needs a microwave?

Collins Bird Guide App, a review of sorts.

Collins Bird Guide App for Android is here

Years ago, when we got married, my wife’s work colleagues at the time made us a gift of a new microwave oven. This was back in the early 1990s, when not everyone had a microwave, and well before the era of mobile phones. True to my luddite streak, in private, I rather ungratefully declared “Who needs a microwave”? Because if I wanted to boil milk I used a saucepan, I had the kettle for boiling water, cooking was done in the oven, and defrosting food was planned the night before.

I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years, at least that’s what my wife tells me now and then; even so, I must admit I was tempted to say, “Who needs the Collins Bird Guide as an app?”. Now I’ve always said that the Collins Bird Guide – in its traditional paper and ink form – would remain unsurpassed by any similar field guide for decades to come, and I feel that that particular statement has the ring of truth, unless we get pedantic and count second and third editions etc.

Collins Bird Guide Little Bustard

Collins Bird Guide Little Bustard

 

Collins Bird Guide App search feature

Collins Bird Guide App search                       feature

So I have the Collins Bird Guide if I want to see an illustration of the species itself, see the bird in its natural habitat, glance at a distribution map with colours for winter, summer etc, read a useful descriptive text, or even have a description of the bird’s song and calls. What more could I need? And, furthermore, how could an app replace the feeling of leafing through a bird book?

Well, what I didn’t realize is that it doesn’t need to replace anything, rather this app has made a niche for itself and is ideal for anybody who is out and about birding in Europe, and even more so if you happen to be a professional of the birding world. The book is still there for you on the shelf, perhaps in the car or at best in the backpack, although if you have the app on your mobile phone then you might as well save yourself the inconvenience of the latter.

This app does everything the book does, as you’d expect, and without getting dog-eared, but what else can it do? Well, the list is quite substantial:

(i) Instant alphabetical search function – just type in the name of the bird species and the options appear as you write. Of course this is a commonsense feature, but just think of any beginner birders you may know and the difficulties they have finding their way through the standard guide, “Why aren’t the birds in alphabetical order?” is a question I have often been asked.

(ii) Comparison feature allowing the user to compare similar species or any species they want, up to 6 in all – even if you think Crested Larks and Hoopoes both have a crest and so need to be compared the app will not put up any obstacles or raise any objections.

Collins Bird Guide App Compare FeatureCollins Bird Guide App bird families

 

(iii) Recordings of most species’ songs and calls – making redundant the very variable interpretations of the phonetics of descriptions such as “voy voy…vüüü(cha)… vüüü(cha) swe-swe-swe-swe-swe sisisi … svee, sveeh” (can you tell me which species that refers to off the top of your head?). Just play the call (looped) and there is no need for any words to get in the way – however, they’re still in the text if you’re a fan.

(iv) The “My list” feature offers you a simple note-taking capacity. Admittedly, I personally still prefer the written notebook, but that may change.

(v) Add-to (and pay-for) features already available or nearly so include Bird Atlas 2007-11 maps if you have a special interest in Britain and Ireland, and species videos, many of which are brand new and have been filmed especially for this app.

In summary, in the field this all this translates to:
What does the bird look like? That.
What does it sound like? That.
What’s its range in Europe? That.
How is it different from a Hoopoe? There.

OK, so having established that this app is the best thing to happen to European birding since the Collins Bird Guide was published, is there anything the app doesn’t do, and perhaps could? Well, I miss a bit of “fun”, for example a quiz option where you can challenge your buddies or students to identify the species from the song (fingers on the buzzer or not) or the distribution map, or even “bits” of the bird in question. Furthermore, some of the recordings are of below average quality, although I have been informed that this is a shortfall which is likely to be rectified in later editions. Another thing is that, as with any app, it’s not as easy to lend as a book is. Come to think of it, that’s got to be an advantage.

The Collins Bird Guide app or, “Who needs a microwave?”. I do!

A Few Simple Ways to Bird-Proof Your Home

A Few Simple Ways to Bird-Proof  Your Home

 

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

 

Attracting birds to your home is one of the easiest ways to birdwatch, requiring nothing more than a gentle touch to ensure you don’t spook them.

However, your home can be a potentially dangerous location for birds. In a world where we already have to balance environmental interests with bird safety, there are some steps you can take to make your own little impact and hopefully attract some birds to your home.

Windows

Birds flying at high velocities perceive “the gap”, which is in reality a window, to be nothing but air. Needless to say, it can easily injure the bird, or in the worst case scenario, kill it. The first option to rectify this, if you’re committed and have time and money, is to change the glass. You can make your windows bird friendly by switching from purely transparent to etched or angled glass. These particular methods alter the way the bird looks at the ‘gap’ to prevent it thinking it can just fly through.

If you’re a bit more strapped for cash and time, consider creating distractions; wind chimes, external shutters and strips of tape, for example, to either deter the bird from being in the vicinity or, again, change their perception of what they’re flying into.

http://www.penn-jersey.com/ensuring-your-windows-are-bird-safe

Protecting the Birds

Aside from windows and wind turbines, one of the biggest international killers of birds are cats. To cite an example from the USA, cats kill 3.7 billion birds every year. Cats are a big issue in Spain, with whole colonies living in the towns and cities; so in your backyard, birds will be unlikely to visit without a bit of protection.

To make your property a less inviting proposition for cats, consider spraying citrus around the garden, which is a known cat ‘repellant’. You can also employ the use of chimes to alert birds and try and discourage skittish felines.

We’re currently living in somewhat difficult times for birds, with several bodies harming bird populations. If we all come together, however, and make small changes in our own lives, we can together create a much more bird-positive environment, and enjoy the benefits ourselves.

By Sally Perkins

Northern Spain: Mammals, birds and butterflies of Asturias and Cantabria

A trip report by Kathie Claydon. To read just click on this link:

Northern Spain: A trip report by Kathie Claydon

We were very happy to draw up an itinerary and guide Kathie and Mick Claydon around Asturias and Cantabria in early September this year. We saw plenty of birds, 40 species of butterflies and at least 7 Brown Bears! We had great weather and all shared enthusiasm for the fauna and flora we managed to encounter. The company was enjoyable too, so that it just did not feel like work – what else could we ask for (apart from wolves)?

Watching Brown Bears in Asturias

Watching Brown Bears in Asturias

Kath admiring the scenery in Asturias

Kath admiring the scenery in Asturias

Wolves in Cantabria

Searching for wolves in Cantabria