Sunday 17 May 2015

Book Review - Undiscovered Owls

As an owner of three of the previous four Sound Approach guides, I knew just what to expect when I received the latest publication, Undiscovered Owls. As with the others in the series, this book is written in a friendly yet informative manner. It takes you on a journey with the authors and sound recorders explaining the different calls and songs, often relating them to a specific behaviour. As with previous guides, the recordings are contained on accompanying CDs.

The book is in the usual landscape format and and is adorned with a fantastic image of Omani Owl by Killian Mullarney, who also illustrated the four CDs of sound recordings, whilst the illustrations within the book are left in the capable hands of HÃ¥kan Delin.

The book covers all the Western Palearctic species of owl and allows you to listen in to their often secret world. The digital stereo sound recordings are of an excellent quality and by Track 4 of the first disc you're being whisked away to the Middle East in a fantastic soundscape listening to a Common Barn Owl accompanied by Arabian Wolf, Arabian Scops Owl and Arabian Eagle Owl.

The majority of recordings are accompanied by a sonogram graphically representing important sections of the sound recording and a brief description of what you're hearing and where and when it was recorded. 

As the recordings are designed to be listened to at certain points within the text, there can be a fair amount of stopping and starting of the CDs so it may be advisable to first transfer them to an MP3 player or phone for easier access.

One interesting aspect of the book is the proposal of a variety of new "splits" based largely on the sound recordings and morphological features. For example three new island-endemic Barn Owls are suggested, for the eastern Canary Islands; Madeira, The Desertas and Porto Santo; and Cape Verde.

The photographs are numerous and generally superb and the text contains a fantastic amount of information on the behaviour and sounds of species of owl that you may think that you already know quite well.

The book concludes with the exciting discovery by the Sound Approach team of a new species in northern Oman. The Omani Owl, which has now been recognised by Birdlife International and given the scientific name Strix omanensis. 

There really is very little not to like about Undiscovered Owls. The only slight quibble is the landscape format doesn't sit neatly on the bookshelf, but perhaps I just need to invest in a deeper bookcase specifically to fill with future Sound Approach guides.

The only dilemma for potential buyers is whether to buy the book or wait to see if an iBook will be released, as the Sound Approach guides really do lend themselves well to the iBook format. If an iPad version is to be released ideally I'd have liked to see a "bundle offer" so that both versions could be purchased at a reduced rate. Perhaps this is something that could be considered for future works.

Overall Undiscovered Owls gets an rbnUK rating of 9/10

Undiscovered Owls is available to purchase (currently at £39.95) from Sound Approach

Undiscovered Owls is published by The Sound Approach (ISBN-13: 978-90-810933-7-8).

Thursday 25 April 2013

Social Media and the risk of disturbance to Rare Breeding Birds

With social media becoming ever more popular as a means for sharing bird sightings, Rare Bird Network, after consultation with the Rare Breeding Birds Panel and the British Trust for Ornithology, has put together some basic guidelines that will hopefully make it easier for everyone to continue sharing their sightings without the risk of encouraging disturbance to sensitive breeding species.

Before tweeting your sightings during the breeding season, please pause and think before hitting send. You wouldn't want that information ending up in the wrong hands would you? Twitter has a search facility, so one careless tweet during the breeding season could direct an egg collector, a raptor persecutor or an irresponsible photographer/birder straight to a sensitive breeding species at an unprotected site.

The breeding season is considered to run from March – July and although there probably is a little flexibility in these dates if you adhere to the guidelines below you shouldn't go far wrong.

What steps can be taken to prevent unwanted disturbance?

Image by Alan Vernon [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Schedule 1 Species

Schedule 1 species are protected by law and it is a criminal offence to disturb these birds during their breeding season. A full list of Schedule 1 species can be found here: Protected Species

Below is a list of Schedule 1 species, and a few additional species that due to their rarity should be treated the same as Schedule 1 birds, so please spend a few minutes familiarising yourself with the list.

AvocetChoughGreen SandpiperMerlinSerin
Barn OwlCirl BuntingGreenshankMontagu's HarrierShore Lark
Bearded TitCommon CraneGreylag GooseOspreyShort-toed Treecreeper
Bee-eaterCommon CrossbillGyr FalconParrot CrossbillSlavonian Grebe
Bewick's SwanCommon RosefinchHen HarrierPenduline TitSnow Bunting
BitternCommon ScoterHobbyPeregrineSnowy Owl
Baillon's CrakeCorncrakeHoney-buzzardPurple HeronSpoonbill
Black GrouseCrested TitHoopoePurple SandpiperSpotted Crake
Black KiteDartford WarblerKentish PloverQuailStone-curlew
Black RedstartDotterelKingfisherRed KiteTemminck's Stint
Black TernEurasian Eagle-OwlLapland BuntingRed-backed ShrikeVelvet Scoter
Black-necked GrebeFieldfareLeach's PetrelRed-necked GrebeWhimbrel
Black-tailed GodwitFirecrestLittle BitternRed-necked PhalaropeWhite-tailed Eagle
Black-throated DiverGarganeyLittle GullRed-throated DiverWhooper Swan
Black-winged StiltGolden EagleLittle Ringed PloverRedwingWood Sandpiper
BluethroatGolden OrioleLittle TernRoseate TernWoodlark
BramblingGoshawkLong-tailed DuckRuffWryneck
Cattle EgretGreat BustardMarsh HarrierSavi's Warbler
CapercaillieGreat Northern DiverMarsh WarblerScaup
Cetti's WarblerGreat White EgretMediterranean GullScottish Crossbill

Please do not mention any sightings of Schedule 1 birds on social media unless the birds are on a wardened Nature Reserve, or at another well publicised site such as a watchpoint. The only exception to this would be a sighting of a Schedule 1 species that is clearly a passage (non-breeding) bird at a migration hot-spot. If in doubt don't tweet it!

For example if you go to Weeting Heath and see a Stone Curlew, or find one at Cley or Spurn, tweet away to your heart's content. But if you happen to chance upon a bird in a potential breeding area away from a wardened site, keep it off social media. Remember that caution is only needed during the breeding season at unprotected sites. Many rare breeders can easily be seen outside of the breeding season so there's really no need to disturb them while they're nesting.

Locally Rare Breeding Birds

As well as Schedule 1 birds there are other species that may suffer from disturbance if breeding away from their traditional strongholds, such as Redstart or Wood Warbler anywhere other than Wales, North West England and Western Scotland. When tweeting about sensitive bird species that aren't on Schedule 1 during the breeding season here's a few tips.
  • If there is a pair don't highlight that fact, just say 2 birds present, or don't give a number at all.
  • Don't continually tweet about a bird in song or performing a mating display, maybe just mention it once at the start of the season but then keep quiet about it as the season progresses.
  • Never mention breeding activity such as collection of nest material or if a bird is performing a distraction display.
  • Be a bit more vague about exactly where the bird has been seen, provide a general location and avoid detailed directions.
Below is a list of locally rare breeding birds that you should be cautious about when tweeting.

Arctic SkuaGolden PheasantLong-eared OwlRed-crested PochardTurtle Dove
Common GoldeneyeGoosanderNightingaleRedstartTwite
Common PochardHawfinchNightjarReed WarblerWater Rail
Corn BuntingLady Amherst's PheasantPied FlycatcherRing OuzelWillow Tit
Eurasian WigeonLesser Spotted WoodpeckerPintailShort-eared OwlWood Warbler
GadwallLittle EgretPtarmiganShovelerYellow-legged Gull

How to submit records of rare breeding birds

Sightings of rare and scarce breeding birds can be safely added to BirdTrack where methods are in place to prevent disclosure of records on lists and maps. By submitting your records the Rare Breeding Birds Panel will receive the information via the appointed County Bird Recorder. In this instance it’s important to provide accurate grid references to the County Bird Recorder. Bird records are often used to evaluate planning applications and without knowledge of rare breeding birds sites cannot be protected.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Good birding!

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Free Bird Alerts sent to your Phone (an Update)

In recent weeks Twitter has changed the way that third parties can use their information. This unfortunately means that (for the present time at least) IFTTT can no longer provide hashtag alerts. There are a few other methods of receiving alerts on your phone so here's a couple of options.

If you have an Android device you're in luck (for now)! Tweetdeck for Android currently supports hashtag alerts, although Twitter (who own Tweetdeck) has recently announced that Tweetdeck applications will stop working later on this year. Until that time, here's a video that shows you how to set everything up...

If you don't have an Android device there are less options. Firstly I'd recommend that you sign up to request  Hashtag Alerts to be supported by Hootsuite... click just here.

Hootsuite say that this is currently under review so the more people who cast their vote the more likely it is to be included. Even if you've got an Android device I'd still recommend that you add the request to Hootsuite as it will give you an alternative method that you may actually prefer.

Another option is to set up your phone to receive an alert or text message every time @rbnUK tweets, here's how...

This will mean that you won't miss a thing. Although using this method means that you can't select which hashtags you're most interested in and you also won't receive alerts when somebody else uses the hashtag.

At Rare Bird Network we're constantly on the look out for ways to improve the service for you and enable you to receive free bird sightings information. If you know of any other methods please do get in touch.

Friday 10 August 2012

Rare Bird Network is now on Facebook

Just a quick update to let everyone know that Rare Bird Network now has a Facebook Page!

The Facebook Page will provide rarity highlights as well as topical birding news. This means that we can post links and stimulate discussion about birding matters that we think you'll find interesting and focus our tweets a little bit more on sightings news.

Although there will be a certain degree of overlap between what's being tweeted and what appears on Facebook it's hoped that the two will work well together and also independently if you're only on one of the social networks.

So if you're on Facebook why not pop over and give us a "Like"?

Here's the link...

Saturday 14 July 2012

Creating the perfect tweet

With more people now adopting the Rare Bird Network hashtags it seems like a good idea to go through a brief "best practice" guide on how to tweet when you're using one of the hashtags.

A few common errors are highlighted in the tweet below. Firstly, starting a tweet with @rbnUK means that the only people who can see it are Rare Bird Network and those following Rare Bird Network and you. By adding @rbnUK later on in the tweet, the tweet will be seen by all your followers and Rare Bird Network. This means other people can pick up on your tweet and give it a retweet without our involvement, increasing the chances of the news spreading more quickly.

Remember, it's not essential to put @rbnUK on every tweet, just copy us in if you really think it'll be of interest to people outside your county.

Secondly, although it's a nice record of birds they're probably not of great interest to many other people. For this reason it's best to avoid tweeting very common bird species (unless, for example, it happens to be a really good count of species at a migration hot spot, or an interesting record for the county). There are no hard and fast rules but have a quick think before tweeting and tagging.

If you're a bit unsure on what birds not to tweet about there's a list of common species at the bottom of this blog post that should generally not be included in the tweet. Although you may decide that you want to include one or two of them whilst tweeting about a less common bird.

Tweeting common species

The tweet below is much better, it covers several species that would be of interest to the majority of birders and the @rbnUK is not at the start of the tweet. The problem with the tweet below is there's no gap before the hashtag #rbnLIN. If there's no space before and after the hashtag the hashtag won't work!

Also, try to make sure when using the hashtag that the county part is in capitals. In the example below  #rbnLIN has been as opposed to #rbnlin this makes it much easier to see which county/region is being referred to.

No gap!

The next tweet is perfect, there's plenty of information and it's concise and to the point. Although not essential, the main species has been highlighted using capital letters directing the reader of the tweet to the "star bird".

Nice tweet!

Below is a good example of how to use the hashtag #rbnMEGA It gives more detail of how to find the bird (which has again been highlighted using capitals) and all other species have been omitted. @rbnUK has again been added so we can make sure it gets a retweet to all Rare Bird Network followers.

In Summary
  • Don't start your tweet with @rbnUK
  • Don't add @rbnUK unless you think the bird is of great interest to other birders
  • Don't tweet about just common birds
  • Do leave a gap either side of the hashtag
  • Do end the hashtag with the three letter county code in capital letters
  • Do use capital letters to highlight the "star bird"
  • Do add plenty of information if you want people to find the bird
Thanks for taking part in Rare Bird Network!

List of Common Species typically omitted from tweets

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Tufted Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Buzzard
Common Kestrel
Red-legged Partridge
Golden Plover
Grey Plover
Ringed Plover
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Common Redshank
Common Sandpiper
Common Snipe
Common Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Feral Pigeon
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Tawny Owl
Common Swift
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker
House Martin
Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
European Stonechat
Northern Wheatear
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Willow Warbler
Garden Warbler
Common Whitethroat
Long-tailed Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Common Treecreeper
Reed Bunting
Lesser Redpoll
House Sparrow
Carrion Crow

Thursday 28 June 2012

Free Bird Alerts sent to your Phone

Over the last few weeks here at Rare Bird Network we've been busily trying to find a way of setting up a system so that when we send a tweet with a specific hashtag you can receive an alert on your phone. Now we've found out how!

I'd originally started looking at whether it was possible to be alerted by one of the big Twitter clients (Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Tweetbot). I looked into it and discovered that Tweetdeck originally offered this service but it had been removed (or at least it's been removed from the iPhone app). I've registered with them for it to be added to future upgrades so if anyone would like to see this too then get in touch and I can send you a link so that you can also register your interest.

Then just yesterday one of the rbnUK followers, Londonbirder69 tweeted that he'd found a site for Twitter alerts! The site is called and basically you create a search and when that search is found an alert is sent either by email or SMS. There are various other functions to be played around with but for us those are the most interesting.

Below is a screenshot of setting up an email alert to be sent to my phone when the hashtag #rbnMEGA is used.

Screenshot of setting things up

With this set up the next thing to do was give it a test, send a tweet and include the hashtag.

Sending the tweet

Once the tweet was sent it was just a matter of sitting back and waiting for the email to arrive.

The email alert

The email alerts seem to take up to a maximum of 30 minutes but are generally much quicker. I've no idea how long it takes for an alert to be sent out from one of the paid services, but this is a completely free bird alert service!

So if you want alerting the next time we tweet #rbnMEGA or one (or more) of your local area hashtag codes get over to and register for an account. It's pretty straightforward to set things up and should only take a few minutes.

Once registered, follow this link to receive an email alert whenever we tweet about a new mega turning up. If you want you can alter the "recipe" for example you can change how you receive your alerts, if you'd rather receive them by SMS or Pushover. It's also possible to alter the hashatg so that you'll receive an alert whenever we tweet about a bird in a county of your choice.

I understand that SMS messages are charged for at your providers basic rate, though I have not yet tried the SMS service myself so cannot confirm it.

At some point in the future the plan is to have an all singing and dancing Rare Bird Network app, but as everything is self funded at the moment this may take a while to reach fruition. So until that day this is a fantastic work around.

I'd really like to thank Londonbirder69 for getting me on to this, without their input it would undoubtedly have taken much longer for a decent alert service to be set-up. If anyone else has any other suggestions or comments on ways of receiving phone alerts please get in touch.

UPDATE: Unfortunately Twitter have recently changed the way that third parties can use their information. This means that (for the present time at least) IFTTT can no longer provide hashtag alerts. Please click on this link for alternative methods of getting alerts sent to your phone.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Book Review - Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic

Just last week my eagerly awaited copy of Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic by Marcel Haas fell through the letterbox and on to the doormat. The book was released back in February and I had already read a little about it over on BirdForum and more recently read the Birdwatch Review and intrigued by what I had read I decided to buy myself a copy.

It has a RRP of £25, although it is currently on offer (there's a link at the bottom of this review). The book is available only as a hardback and is roughly the same size as the average Poyser monograph (24 x 17 cm). My first impression, as I removed the bubble wrap was a good one, as I was welcomed by the fantastic image of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the front cover.

The book is 244 pages long and contains over 300 colour photographs, some of the images contained in this book are published for the very first time.

A slight bugbear of mine is when the title of the book is written "upside down" on the spine (I know...I'm picky). I'm not sure if this is a continental thing but to me it just doesn't look right, maybe I've just got a little bit of OCD.

But the most important thing about any book is of course the content.

The book describes the 155 species of birds that have occurred less than ten times in the Western Palearctic (Europe, North Africa and the Middle East) and have been accepted by the relevant rarities committees. The book covers the period from 1800 to 2008 although three species recorded since then (African Openbill, Asian Koel and Ashy Drongo) are added as an appendix.

 Each species account starts with a description of the bird's distribution and movements. I personally would have preferred to have seen this summarised in a map, as if your knowledge of geography isn't great you might struggle a bit picturing the normal range of the species being described.

The records are then briefly described (sometimes just a bit too briefly) including important records that have been rejected, when most records have occurred and other such details.

For each species there is also a table, listing alphabetically by region where and when each record occurred. This I feel would have been better presented chronologically, so that each species account started with the earliest record and ended with the most recent.

The images include many museum specimens either mounted or as skins. Some of the older records I must admit to often having a little doubt over. I guess my opinion has been clouded by the "Hastings Rarities" records and the Meinertzhagen Bird Collection. So it was both interesting and reassuring to read the comment that four spectacled eiders recorded by Meinertzhagen in Russia should be considered doubtful.

Although the museum specimens are of interest, I personally feel that they don't offer a great deal to the book. If no photograph of the actual wild bird was available I would have rather seen an image of a different bird. I want to see what the bird really looks like! So after seeing the rather sad looking Long-tailed Shrike (right) I was pleased to turn over the page and see this beautiful image (below) taken by Ole Krogh. It's a shame that there aren't more images like this throughout the book. I completely understand why the author has chosen to use the museum specimens but in my opinion the book would have been enhanced with more high quality images.

On several occasions there is a photographic record shot of the bird within a group of other birds and it's not automatically obvious which bird is the rarity. This could have been very easily remedied in the photo caption.

Conclusion: Due to the lack of any maps and not putting the records into chronological order it is often quite difficult to quickly retrieve the information on a given species.  This combined with the lack of  more "useful" photographic images means the book doesn't quite reach it's full potential.

But this is still a worthwhile book to have. The author has gone to a lot of trouble gathering all the information and photographs together and it's great having all that information readily at hand. It's not really a book to read cover to cover but it is nice to dip in and out of to help whet your appetite for what might be waiting for you out there.

Overall Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic gets an rbnUK rating of 7/10

Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic is available from both the Birdwatch Bookstore (currently on special offer until July 31st 2012) and NHBS

Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic is published by Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, (ISBN 978-84-96553-83-5).  To see more plate images and a full list of contents visit the Lynx Website.