Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Dark Side of Birding

Out and about before dawn today. I mentioned in a previous posting that listening to birds is as enjoyable as watching them. So this morning after getting up early, it being mild, I thought pop down to Sand Bay before dawn and see (or should that be hear) what was down there. And a bit of exercise of course before another day of excitement in the office.

If you feel comfortable being out on a mudflat in the dark, I'd recommend it as when the dawn begins, all one can hear is the wind, the waves and the plaintiff cries of invisible birds out there. It started though in the car park, blackbirds "chink" chink" in the shrubs. Down on the marsh Curlew were the loudest with their wonderfully bubbling call, Redshank as ever shouting out their alarm call, even the Dunlin were calling as they raced along the wave line. As the light advanced, dark shapes flew against the dark sky, only when calling could I confirm Carrion Crow. Another joy was seeing a Ringed Plover feeding. Actually I didn't really see what it was, just a silhouette run stop peck, run stop peck along a strand line.

All in all an enjoyable hour out there just listening to nature, alone on the marsh. Many older writers such as BB write poetically about wildfowling on the marshes. Their atmospheric descriptions of their experiences waiting for Geese to fly in are well worth reading. And if I'd not been out there, I'd not have seen a dark shape flying over me as I walked back to the car..... a Tawny Owl heading back to it's roost, bringing a tremendous end to being outdoors before anyone else and before dawn. Just myself and nature as one.


And so to the light Side of Birding :-)

A Couple of days ago, Theo Webb a recent Zoology graduate and budding wildlife cameraman sent me a note, which included snippets from Christmas and a line "seeing a very festive half amelanistic 'blackbird'. I was excitedly taking photos when an onlooker approached and told me he saw it everyday - there went my National Newspaper fame and glory hopes!!"

We had a bit of an e-mail discussion Leucistic Vs Amelanistic, as I'm not a good enough field biologist to identify this condition in the field. But following this he kindly sent me a photograph for me to post on the blog for all to see. Thanks Theo. A handsome bird.


  1. I love being out when noone is about, although I must admit I'm more a "nightbird" than an "earlybird" so I tend to see the foxes, owls and badgers coming out and the birds having their last "shout" before bed. I will try harder to get up early in the summer and hear the dawn chorus but at the moment my bed is just toooooo comfortable in the morning! Jane

  2. I used to live close to an estuary in Northumberland and often in the garden at night( having the last of the subsequently given up cigarettes) I would hear many waders calling as they fed in the night.

  3. Oh, what a fascinating-looking bird! I have no idea what those descriptive terms mean though (I'm so ignornant)! I guess they must mean something like, "Hey, I'm supposed to be black but I've got white bits", or "Hey, I'm supposed to be white but I've got black bits". Or not...

    Anyhoo, thanks for your lovely posts and for introducing me to Jane. You may well both feature on mine humble bloggie before long coz lots of cat-lovers love birds, and not for the cats to hunt, oh no!!! :) xxx

  4. Hi Jane, completely agree, being on my own out there is what I find thrilling. Just viewed your Jackdaw video, great stuff.

    Hi Rare visitor, even though I'm 2 miles as the Curlew flies from Sand Bay, in the spring, I can here them warbling in the garden here too. Often sit out watching the bats, hearing them and supping pint of something refreshing - bliss.

    Thanks Black Cat. Hopefully you'll keep dipping in and learning something (not from me ha ha).

    Conditions like Leucicm (which is a general term for all such defects) are where a single pigment in the animal is either reduced or missing. Often birds such as blackbirds will have a few white feathers. Amelanism is a reduction in the black pigment melanin only. In some animals, the reduction of black makes the animal yellow.

    It is a non serious genetic defect, partial white animals are often called "pie bald" but all white animals are often shunned by their normal colleagues.

    Not to be confused with Albino animals who are different as they lack all pigments so have the classic pink eyes etc and look strange.

    Albino animals often have a short lifespan as there are often other genetic defects associated with the animal. Leucistic animals have a normal life span usually... unless eaten by a cat :-)

    Hope that helps

  5. Hi Andrew, I've seen this condition on our blackies here in NZ too....often wondered what caused it.

    I love the bird song... although I was a little cross with a tui bird that started singing at 4.30 am this morning :) :)


  6. There's nothing better than being outside before day break. Sounds like you had a wonderful time of it. Lovely bird in the picture.

  7. Thanks Gilly.... I hope you are keeping Pav under control, he's becoming a big fellah now.

    Thanks Oldcrow, I bet your Dawn Chorus is pretty special in the woods.