Thursday, 29 November 2012

Great Northern Diver

When an unusual bird turns up in Bristol, it may have overshot its destination, or been blown over by strong winds. Sometimes, the bird is simply ill, or unable to find suitable food, especially if it turns up in the muddy Severn Estuary!

Recently, a very tame Great Northern Diver was found feeding close to people on a marine lake at Weston Super Mare - aside from providing some amazing opportunities for photos, the bird was also seen feeding on crabs. 

Sadly, after a week or so of being here, it was found dead today by ecologist Phil Quinn - I happened to bump into him outside the Bristol City Museum as I was on my way back to my office. He had the diver with him, and was about to take it into the museum. 

Removing the bird from a black, plastic bag on the path outside Browns restaurant (as you do!), I marvelled at this large, duck-sized bird which had flown down from Iceland or Canada. It was clearly a juvenile, with immaculate plumage, and silvery, shimmery edges to its back, and shoulder feathers. As with all divers, the legs were flattened; ideal for moving through the water with the least resistance. As we looked closer at its huge, thick bill, we noticed the nostril was divided in to two parts, perhaps an adaptation to help with diving. 

While it is sad the bird died, at least it can now contribute further to science - over time it will be mounted and used as part of the local, museum collection at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

For photos of the bird alive, see the avonbirding blog

Monday, 16 April 2012

A thrilling wildlife moment - redstart

I had one of those truly thrilling wildlife moments yesterday - it's very personal and relates to redstarts, a relative of the robin which have just arrived in the UK from West Africa. They are stunning birds and at Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve I had the chance to hold and ring a beautiful male. Some people may opt for a bird of prey or a colourful parrot as their ultimate bird to see up close, but for me, seeing this beauty in the hand was just so exciting!

After missing out on a deluge of migrants dropping in to the reserve on Saturday morning I was determined to be at the ringing site on Sunday morning after leading a dawn chorus cycle ride in Bristol's Avon Gorge. There were less migrants around but from our ringing site we were watching a female and the odd male redstart fly-catching in the nearby scrub. 

Towards the end of the ringing session, around lunchtime, I went to check some nets for the last time and suddenly spotted a male redstart on the grass. It flew away from me and flew straight into the pocket of one of our mist nets! Eureka! I ran over to the net, safely removed the bird and brought it back for ringing. 

And here it is!

I've been wanting to see one up close for years - I used to spot redstarts at Thursley Common in Surrey when I was a teenager and have since seen them in the Forest of Dean and different parts of Wales. 
However, their black mask, white forehead and rusty-red tail have fascinated me - a truly flashy bird. 

What's even more remarkable is that these birds have been wintering in the scrubby woodland in parts of West Africa - countries such as Guinea, Ghana and Ivory Coast. In recent weeks they have been flying across Africa, into Spain, France and in recent days have arrived en masse in the UK. And they've been everywhere, heading to mature oak woodlands, heathland and pasture, particularly in the west of Britain. 

Let's hope he makes it to his woodland territory and gets spotted by another ringer or birder!