08 March, 2010

In search of the woodpeckers, part 4 / 4

Last Sunday was the last day of my winter vacation. Yet another perfect day for outdoor activities, like birding with snow shoes. Weather was excellent like it had been already for several days. This time my older son Petro joined me and we headed to Rauttunniemi nature reserve and it's surroundings.

The first bird worth to mention was the Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), which flew over the fields in Vedentaka village while we were still driving to Rauttunniemi. In and near the nature reserve we saw and heard quite a lot of birds, like 5 Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) - a new species for this year, about 10 European Siskins (Carduelis spinus), 1 Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), at least 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major), two unidentified medium size woodpeckers i.e. either Great Spotted Woodpeckers or White-backed Woodpeckers and much more (tits, greenfiches, crows etc.) White-backed Woodpecker is very rare and endangered species here, but still possible to meet, so you have to always consider that when you are trying identify woodpeckers here.

This area is one of my favorite areas around here and I will come birding here later in the spring again.

In photos: Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) above and Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) below.

The World's rarest birds through the lens

A new international photo competition covering the world's 623 most threatened birds has just been launched. This is a follow-up to the photo competitions that led to the production of the highly acclaimed Rare Birds Yearbooks 2008 and 2009.

The photos submitted for the new competition will feature in a landmark publication – The World's Rarest Birds – which will be produced by the not-for-profit publisher WILDGuides next year. The proceeds will be donated to BirdLife International's Preventing Extinctions Programme, as was the case with the Rare Birds Yearbooks.

The World's Rarest Birds will be a lavishly illustrated hardback book, covering the 362 species categorised as Endangered and 65 that are Data Deficient, as well as the 192 Critically Endangered species and the four species that are Extinct in the Wild and only now exist in captivity. It will be a comprehensive directory of the world's most threatened bird species and include specially written feature articles on the key bird conservation issues in each of the world’s regions.

Read the whole article from Birdlife International's site: The World's rarest birds through the lens

06 March, 2010

In search of the woodpeckers, parts 2 & 3

During last days the weather has been simpy excellent; -5° C, calm and almost no clouds in the sky. Wonderful winter weather full of promises of forthcoming spring. All the birds are singing, sunshine feels warm in your face. Spring equinox is getting closer every day and the days are getting longer and lighter.

Two days ago we saw another Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)- it flew over the road when we drove to Tampere. This was so far the third Black Woodpecker for me this year. Yesterday I was birding with my older son Petro. We went to Jutikkalanharju (ridge of Jutikkala), a very beautiful ridge in the southern part of Valkeakoski. I was expecting several woodpeckers from there but all we found was a female Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). No Grey-headed, Lesser Spotted nor Black Woodpecker, all species that breed in this area. Still we enjoyed the beautiful nature and all the other birds we saw there, like Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), Willow Tits (Poecile montanus) and Coal Tits (Periparus ater) who visited in the feeding place of local birder Jussi Kallio. Also couple of Common Ravens (Corvus corax) were passing by.

Today I was birding with my younger son Roni. Our target was Heikkilänmetsä nature reserve, nice old forest close to downtown Valkeakoski. Like yesterday and few days ago, the snowshoes were mandatory again - thick layer of snow covers everything. This third trip convinced me that the Great Spotted Woodpeckers are scarce at the moment - and the reason for that is the fact that there is no cones in spruces. When there is lot's of cones, you can easily find 5-10 or even more Great Spotted Woodpeckers from this forest. Today there was none. But still we were lucky - we found Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)! Very nice, as it's a very secretive species, silent and feeding often high in the spruces. In addition to Three-toed Woodpecker, there was also 5 Eurasian Jays (Garrrulus glandarius), 2 Crested Tits (Lophophanes cristatus), 2 Coal Tits (Periparus ater), 6 Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), 2 Eurasian Siskins (Carduelis spinus) and several more common birds.

Tomorrow is the last day of my winter vacation, time for the part 4 of this search which will also be the last part - at least for now. If the nights turn warm, I think I will concentrate on listening the owls...

03 March, 2010

In search of the woodpeckers, part 1

As it's winter holiday now, and most of the migrating birds are still somewhere far south, it's time concentrate on local birds that stay here year round. Like woodpeckers. I will try to find during this holiday week all woodpecker species that breed in this region  - tough quest, but I will try still.

But... when you jump out of the car and step out of the road, you will suddenly realise that it's not so easy. At the moment we have about 60 cm of snow and in some place where wind has blown there is much more, even 1,5 meters. So snowshoes or skis are mandatory equipment. Personally I prefer snowshoes because they fit well in my car and they are easy to use in forests, where long skis instead are very difficult.

So today I went to old forest of Mettivuori with my younger son Roni. As you can see from the photo on the left, there certainly are woodpeckers, at least during summer...

But today we did not hear any knocking of woodpeckers, just a distant call of Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius).A flock of Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) were feeding in treetops and some Coal Tits (Periparus ater) and Willow Tits (Poecile montanus) were passing by. One of the male Bullfinches started singing, clear sign of the forthcoming spring.

From Mettivuori forest we moved to downtown Valkeakoski, to see if there is any waterfowl in the dowstream of the power plant. There was saw a pair of Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) and also a pair of Mallards (Anas platyrhychos). Nice flock of 90 European Greenfiches (Carduelis chloris) were resting in nearby park.

Nothing special today, but a nice trip still. On the left is one more photo, an example of the nest box for Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). As you can see, the entrance to box is in the side - not in the front like in ordinary boxes.

01 March, 2010

Garden warblers with mysterious songs - a call for informations and recordings

I'll share this call for informations and recordings:

Very rarely garden warblers (Sylvia borin) sing so atypical songs that you need to see the bird in order to find out, which species you have heard. For years we have tried to collect informations and recordings of such mysteriously singing garden warblers. By now we have got recordings of 31 birds: 16 from Germany, 2 from Holland, 1 from Switzerland, 6 from Denmark, 5 from Sweden, and 3 from Finland. Examples of the songs of the 31 birds can be heard at the site: http://www.ginster-verlag.de/Raetselsaenger.html

Ten of the 31 birds (category b on the above mentioned site) sang the same type of song, which consisted of very short elements with a rate of 10-15 per second. The overall pattern of each song was a wawing up and down in frequency - a character also found in normal garden warbler songs. Some individuals were recorded in more years.

The mysterious garden warblers have been found in a rather narrow belt, reaching from Finland to southern Germany and Switzerland. Why do some garden warblers sing such peculiar songs - and never normal garden warbler song? Three hypotheses have been forwarded.

One suggests that the birds have been hatched late in the season, when adult garden warblers have stopped singing. If they have to learn their songs from adults in the first calendar year, they are then forced to develop their singing based on only an „innate" template. According to this hypothesis, the birds sing a crude model of garden warbler song. This might apply to the 10 birds in group b on the above mentioned site. The remaining birds sing a bit more elaborate songs, which may be because they have had some experience with garden warbler singing. If the hypothesis is true, we might expect the mysterious garden warblers to be found especially in colder climates with shorter breeding seasons. However, one problem with the hypothesis is that we do not know when garden warblers acquire their song models. 

Another hypothesis is based on the observation that one of the individuals did not respond to play back of garden warbler song. The observers concluded that the bird was deaf. The reason for the abnormal songs should thus be, that the birds cannot hear and acquire the necessary song models. However, a number of studies of singing in birds, which have been experimentally deafened at an early age, show, that the birds develop very diffuse song elements (probably due to the lack of auditory feedback). The abnormal garden warblers sing well-defined song elements. That elements appear fuzzy on some recordings is mostly due to the recording quality and/or the acoustic conditions during the recording.  

The third hypothesis relate to the geographical distribution of the recorded birds, which as mentioned are found in a rather narrow zone from Finland to Central Europe. It is suggested that two genetically different populations meet in this zone, and that the mysterious singers are „hybrids" between parents of each genotype. Why these „hybrids" should develop abnormal songs is unknown, but one suggestion is that they are deaf. However, at present no data are available on the suggested divide between genetically different garden warblers in the zone with abnormally singing garden warblers.

The conclusion must be, that we simply do not know the cause of the abnormal songs.

Therefore we ask for more observations and recordings.

1) Have you heard birds with this type of song? Please let us know, and if possible, send us available informations and recordings.

2) If you happen to meet birds with this type of song in the future, we should like to know all about when and where. Preferably, we should also ask you to record to singing of the bird(s) with whatever available equipment. The most import thing is to get rather close to the bird, so that echoes from the surroundings are reduced.

3) Is the bird deaf? You may help to solve this question by playing garden warbler alarm (mobbing) calls to the bird. Does it react to the calls? If you need a recording of garden warbler alarm calls, please, contact one of us.

4) Does the bird attract a mate and produce offspring? All observations on the behaviour of the bird in relation to conspecifics is interesting.

5) If possible, it would be optimal to ring the bird, so that it could be recognised, if it returns in future years.

Contact one of us, if you need any information on the project, and if you can help us with informations and recordings.

Thank you.

Goetz Rheinwald & Poul Hansen

Email: goetz.rheinwald @  t-online.de

Email: poulh @  nathist.dk