Viewing entries tagged

Goldcrest Poll Results

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you may have spotted a little quiz where you got to decide which of the spectrograms below is a real Goldcrest.

Twitter Results

Twitter Results

Facebook Result

Facebook Result

Test ID Sepctogram.jpg

Well, the results were pretty unanimous on both Twitter and Facebook. The majority of people thought that B was the real Goldcrest. Well I’m quite happy with that result, as the answer was in fact A !!!

So far I’m yet to find a Firecrest that’s been able to produce the Goldcrest song with 4 notes per phrase. It’s the last note of each phrase that appears to be the most challenging for the Firecrest.

Firecrest Mimic

I’ll leave you with a picture of a lovely Froglet, one of many covering the woodland flower at the moment that’s plastered with Bluebells. It’s going to be a good season by the looks.

Common Frog Bluebells 28th April.jpg


Steve Williams took this photo.. I’ve clearly been eating too much chocolate this easter haha.

It was great to meet up with Liam Olds, Steve Williams and Mike Kilner over easter. I aimed to show them my Violet Oil Beetle location and we weren’t disappointed with over 40+ individuals found. I’ve since found them a few miles away also on a road side verge. Proof that this valley has to be one of the largest strongholds for this species. We recorded 10 Species of Bee thanks to Liam Olds’ vast knowledge, including a Chocolate Mining Bee which was a first for me. It really is great to be surrounded by such knowledgeable naturalists, there’s so much knowledge to obtain about the natural world, I wish I could soak it all up faster! Everything I know, I’ve learned from other people, or by myself through personal discovery and research. It goes to show that if you’re passionate about something, you learn much faster. This is why most people struggle with their current Jobs as you really need passion to drive you forward. I know I’m currently struggle with Jobs, being out of work since October, but I do believe I’m heading in the right direction, to obtain a Job that will give me a sense of purpose, which is after-all what we all want in life.

Here are a few pics from easter. I’ve spent more time out with the recording gear really so haven’t got too many images but I did have some good moments - My first Wood Warbler of the year, a showy Sedge Warbler and my favourites were actually the bugs, Black-spotted Longhorn Beetle and those cute glaring eyes of the Jumping Spider (evarcha falcata). I did go down to see Blair Jones’ Red-necked Phalarope at Goldcliff which has been proving to be a great birding spot this spring, with Black Kite, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover and all the usual supporting cast. While it does tick a few boxes for me, I’m not sure ticking boxes is really my thing. I’ve never made a year list, local list or life list of any kind, I just want to experience nature and take whatever opportunity nature decides to throw at me.

Firecrest Update

If you haven’t been following, I’m studying mimicking behaviour in Firecrest this year and so far, 3 out of 3 males on territory have been able to produce a goldcrest mimic to varying degrees.
The original bird discovered is still by far the best at mimicking goldcrest which is probably why it stood out to me so well to begin with, but the others have used mimicry in a more subtle way.

Not only was the original Firecrest better at the mimic, but it also used it way more often. This could be because there aren’t any other Firecrests in its territory, so why waste time singing Firecrest? Note in the spectagram that it’s producing 3 notes per peak and with the iconic ‘trill’ at the end. Over-all producing 29 notes including trill.

Firecrest No.1 Mimic

Firecrest No.2 only used the odd mimic within a single song and while it still produced 3 notes per beat, the end ‘trill’ is reduced to only 2 notes, notes of which are more typically expected at the end of the Firecrest song. On average the bird produced 16 notes including the trill at the end. It’s worth saying that the amount of beats doesn’t matter too much as even a real goldcrest song this can vary, however so far the birds who sing less notes and also singing a less perfect rendition of the goldcrest song which is why I’m documenting them.

Firecrest No.2

Firecrest No.3 is by far the most interesting bird, largely because of the circumstances in which it used the mimic, doing so directly after hearing a distant goldcrest singing inside its territory, this can be picked up on during the recording. It only lets out one burst of mimic, which is so simplified it hardly meets the requirements of mimicking but it does have the overall structure. Rather than 3 beats, it has just 2 and this bird neglected the trill at the end entirely. Again, this isn’t going to be a completely controlled study as even goldcrest vary, but it’s interesting to hear these mimics used naturally at a time of year where territories are being established and a birds song is never more imperative than in early spring.

Firecrest No.3

It’s worth noting also that the tempo for each bird also varies;

  1. 154bpm (Sang 12 or more times)

  2. 182bpm (Sang 2 times)

  3. 184bpm (Sang 1 time)

This could be nothing but the bird with the most accurate mimic does sing the phrase the slowest and the bird with the less accurate depiction sings the phrases the fastest. More recordings over the breeding season should reveal whether any of these observations are a coincidence or not but it’s all being documented included frequency of notes.

The reason I’m doing this is because I’d like to know just how accurate these mimics are and I’ll compare all my recordings this year side by side with real Goldcrest songs so that by the end of the study, we’ll hopefully be able to trust our ears again when listening out for Firecrest in the field.

So far I’m noticing that the Goldcrests sound is a little ‘thinner’ with less overall weight to it but that might not be enough to go by, on its own.

Mimicking Birds

By now you’ll realise that I’m quite interested in mimicking birds, having done talks to the Welsh Ornithological Society and studied them during my sound degree in University.  Mimicking species aren’t always easy to find however,  because sometimes they mimic so well, that you assume they are the species they are mimicking and don’t care to look twice. This was evident in my recent discovery, where a friend of mine found a new Firecrest territory, just a mile from one that I found last year. Upon visiting the territory myself, I noticed something a bit odd about the Male Firecrests song.. It didn’t sound like the long-drawn out-monotone notes that I expect to hear in their typical song.. and if that wasn’t enough to raise suspicion, it then let out 3-4 phrases of GOLDCREST song! :O

The bird didn’t appear to show signs of hybridisation, with all the standard Firecrest features intact, so I instantly contact around to see if anybody else had heard or read about mimicking Firecrest before. Nobody had heard of this behaviour and after some research on the web and thru books, I couldn’t find any documentation on this. That was until I contacted Chris Hatch, who said that he would look into it for me. Chris later rang me after finding some information in one of his volumes of the ‘birds of the western palearctic’ which did note that Firecrest was able to produce both Firecrest and Goldcrest vocalisations but this was only on rare occasions. I mean it makes sense, especially in Gwent where the population is so high for Goldcrest. Despite them being able to live alongside each-other, they do still compete for the same food so it is within the best interest of the Firecrest to keep Goldcrests out of its territory. This could be the reason why it’s mimicking, but being such a similar species, who knows. There is a documented case in 1974 where a Male Firecrest was seen tending to a Female Goldcrests nest, from which fledged at-least 5 chicks. Document Link.

There are a couple scenarios that I can think of that would result in this Identity Crisis, especially in species that are so similar, but more research is needed. Luckily I have good friends, and providing everything goes well on NRW’s end, I’ll be able to study this subject bird under license this season. Below is a video showing a distant pic of the subject bird and a recording of the longest bout of Goldcrest song it produced. Hearing the recording alone, I think most people would struggle to pic out any differences. Looking closely at the spectogram, there are some minor differences but I’ll study that in more detail once the license comes thru.

Below is my first recording of the subject mimicking bird, starting off half singing / calling and changing to the goldcrest song at 1:30 seconds.

If you’re unsure of the differences between a Firecrest and Goldcrest song, below is a recording I did 2 years ago of both species singing in the same tree. I’ve noted in the comments where the Firecrest phrases are.

I only managed a couple of distant pics of the subject bird but as you can see in the photo below, the features are pretty concrete. The white supercilium is strong, with a clear black line thru the eye and a bright vibrant green back that appears more vibrant in the sun. The only feature that I have a question mark on is the apparent short legs. I’m not sure if it’s a documented feature difference between the two species, but through my own observations, I’ve always found Firecrest to hold themselves a little higher from the perch, giving the appearance of longer legs. I didn’t see that in this subject, but that could be nothing.

Mimicking Firecrest | March 2019

Mimicking Firecrest | March 2019

Should everything go to plan with NRW, I’ll keep you informed throughout the breeding season.

Llandegfedd & Local News


Firstly some good news! After much hard work from local supporters and our local ecologist Steve Williams, Torfaen Council Refused the proposal for the development at Tirpentwys Quarry. I'm so happy about this decision and I hope that it doesn't get appealed in the future. I'm not sure on what basis the plans were refused yet, but I assume it was based around the proposed access route which would have required a corridor of between 25 and 30 metres of vegetation to be removed and resulted in a loss of approximately three hectares of ancient woodland. Personally, the sites biodiversity alone should have held its own. Read more about it


Local patches have really been producing the goods this week with the cold northernly winds holding migration up. We've had thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Swallows and Sand / House Martins feeding at Llandegfedd, along with 2 Wheatear,  2 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Firecrest and a lingering Egyptian Goose. Short trip to the Wetlands resulting in similar activities with Common Whitethroat & Lesser Whitethroat aplenty. Bearded Reedlings were whizzing around with Sedge & Reed Warbler filling the reeds with their scratchy songs.   


The first Hairy Dragonflies of the year are emerging, picked up on the board walk alongside the visitors centre in the tops of the hedgerows. Apologies for the terrible record shot. Green-veined and Orange-tip Butterflies were also feeding / hiding away from the cold along the tall hedgerows. I hope you like my Green Tiger Beetle shot, I was particularly happy with it but still wish I had a macro lens. 

What you really come here for ;) The Photos

A Rare Day

Today was meant to be my start day at my new Job at Llandegfedd but for unforeseen reasons it has been delayed. This did however give me the opportunity to catch up on a bit of birding on my local patch and it really did deliver today. Beautiful weather and some pretty rare birds. The day started with a Sparrowhawk hunting through peoples gardens on my street, followed by a displaying Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon and then stumbling onto a Firecrest that had been ringed! It's always nice finding a rare bird with a ring on its leg, hopefully I can find out where it came from. To top it off, I get two Garganey at Llandeg Reservoir and upon trying to relocate them with birding friend Craig Constance, he spots a stunning male summer plumage Black-necked Grebe! Other notables, two Female Oil Beetles, plenty of Green Tiger Beetles along with some more Spring migrants - Swallows, Sand Martins, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. If I get the time this week I'll try get some sound recordings also, just need more hands! Difficult to do it all at the same time.. 

Have you seen a Swallow yet? If not, keep looking out for them. For some reason, every one I've seen so far has been flying south.. It would appear that some have overshot their mark and are having to make their way back down the Uk to more southern tempratures. 


This year (2016) I've been lucky enough to be a part of a few Firecrest Surveys with Gwent Ornithological Society to establish how many breeding pairs are in Gwent. This location is pretty well protected but despite that, it still remains disclosed. As you can hear in the recording, it starts off with a Goldcrest which was the intended subject for the sound recording. The Goldcrest was then joined by a Firecrest which not only added a new location to the survey map, but actually gave me a great opportunity to directly compare the two-very similar species-side by side.

Firecrests are Schedule 1 birds, and should not be disturbed in any way shape or form, especially during the breeding season. This however was one of those special moments that I couldn't take back even if I wanted to.

Firecrests have a less rhythmic and melodic song, only very slightly change pitch from start to finish (monotone). They have no fancy flick at the end of their song either and can sometimes be hard to pick out simply because they fade in and out seamlessly from silence.

Goldcrests are bold, rhythmic, complex and quite often end with a fancy flick. This flick is not always present but when it is, it's a fast trill, easily missed, but a key feature none-the-less.


Smallest Bird in the UK

Many people believe that the smallest bird in the Uk is a Wren, but it's common knowledge in the birding community that the Goldcrest is the smallest bird. There is however another species of similar size in the Uk and that is the rarer Firecrest, which in some cases have been known to be even smaller than the Goldcrest. Truth is though, they are both pretty much the same size and any particular individual bird has the potential of being smaller or bigger than the other. You may not see these birds that often but that doesn't reflect on their distribution as they are very common in the Uk and can be found on a variety of habitats, including your Garden. You just have to keep a keen eye out for them as they are very small and often flitter around in thick coniferous trees. 

Schedule 1 Birds

  1. What is a Schedule 1 Bird? 

  2. Why should you care? 

  3. How can you help?

  4. What are the rules? 

Wildlife photography is becoming quite popular in this country and why not? We have amazing wildlife on our doorstep and technology is improving at a rapid rate so everyone can enjoy this hobby and get something rewarding out of it. 

Photography however is an added extra for me and though I very much so enjoy taking photographs and showing you all what is on your doorstep, the most important thing for me is to protect our wildlife. There are rules to follow and species that even I can't take pictures of given the right circumstances (breeding). 

1a. A Schedule 1 Bird is a Red Listed Species of bird that has decreased in population so badly in the last 25 years that it is automatically protected by law in order to give them the best chance they can to re-establish their population. 

2a. You should care because, if caught disturbing one of these birds during the breeding season, you could be prosecuted over £5000 and serve up to 6 months in prison. 

3a. You can help the cause by joining your local conservational groups like RSPB or Wildlife Trust that actively seek to improve sites and protect our greens spaces in order for these birds to re-establish themselves. There are lots of passionate people like myself who spend every day trying to ensure that scheduled 1 birds are protected and have the best chance they can get so that one day we can see more of them without the need of a schedule 1 licence. 

4a. This is where things get a little complicated but I have found a great document that explains it all really well in perfect detail and here is the link.  - The blurry part in all this is how you judge whether you are disturbing the bird(s) or not and what distance is a safe distance to observe.


  • The best way to understand disturbance, whether intentional or reckless (ie pursuing a course of action while consciously disregarding the fact that the action gives rise to a substantial and unjustifiable risk), is to think that it includes any action that causes a nesting Schedule 1 bird to behave differently to how it would behave if the photographer wasn’t there.

  • This includes getting too close and flushing, alarming, or causing a nesting bird listed on Schedule 1 to stop what it was doing; and/or using a recording/tape lure that causes a nesting bird listed on Schedule 1 to react in any way at all whether that behaviour is a ‘normal’ response to hearing the call or not.

  • It is not an excuse for a person to claim that they thought that no nesting activity was taking place.

In basic terms, when it comes to Schedule 1 birds, if a photographer does anything that causes a nesting adult or their young to change behaviour they are breaking the law.

Additionally irresponsible disturbance may put a bird at risk, cause a nest to fail, or allow eggs or dependent young to be predated or harmed.

If you are unsure what distance is best to keep away from these birds then you are better off staying well away until you seek advice from a professional. You only need change its behaviour to be breaking the Law and that really puts it in perspective. 


Don't be mistaken though, you can't always help seeing/being next to a schedule 1 bird and sometimes you stumble upon them or they stumble upon you but it is the course of action you take that determines whether you are disturbing those birds. The Firecrest at the start of last month is a perfect example of this, as a group of us literally opened the car door to a Firecrest and the photograph confirmed the sighting and we swiftly moved on. We were there for all of 2 minutes and as a result of the sighting, a survey will be conducted by myself and Tom Chinnick (County Recorder for GOS) to evaluate how many singing males are in that particular location (if any). 

Don't be afraid of reporting any sightings of Schedule 1 birds because sharing locations is important, but! Make sure it is privately and to correct people. Please email any of these sightings to Tom Chinnick if you live in Gwent, otherwise, please contact your location Ornithology Society privately.

Schedule 1 Bird List

Avocet, Bee-eater, Bittern, Little Bittern, Bluethroat, Brambling, Cirl Bunting,  Lapland Bunting,  Snow Bunting,  Honey Buzzard, Capercaillie (Scotland only) Chough, Corncrake, Spotted Crake, Crossbills (all species)  Divers (all species) Dotterel Duck, long-tailed Eagle, golden  Eagle, white-tailed  Falcon, gyr  Fieldfare  Firecrest  Garganey Godwit, black-tailed Goshawk  Grebe, black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Greenshank Gull, little Gull, Mediterranean Harriers (all species)  Heron, purple Hobby  Hoopoe Kingfisher Kite, red Merlin Oriole, golden Osprey Owl, barn Owl, snowy Peregrine Petrel, Leach's Phalarope, red-necked Plover, Kentish Plover, little ringed Quail, common Redstart, black Redwing Rosefinch, scarlet Ruff Sandpiper, green Sandpiper, purple Sandpiper, wood Scaup Scoter, common Scoter, velvet Serin Shorelark Shrike, red-backed Spoonbill Stilt, black-winged Stint, Temminck's Stone-curlew Swan, Bewick's Swan, whooper Tern, black Tern, little Tern, roseate Tit, bearded Tit, crested Treecreeper, short-toed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Dartford Warbler, marsh Warbler, Savi's Whimbrel, Woodlark, Wryneck

Rare Start

What a fantastic start to the month! If you're a birder, you'll probably notice the picture below of a Firecrest! This is my first time ever seeing a Firecrest and that is mainly down to them being so rare! They are so rare that they are a Scheduled 1 Breeding bird in the UK and highly protected at they're nesting sites so I quickly got an ID photo and swiftly moved on. The location is of course going to be kept private for the reasons mentioned above. In other news, Pied Flycatchers look to be having another good year but lets hope the bad weather ahead doesn't effect they're breeding too much. Pied Flycatchers only have 1 clutch in the time they are here so the weather really does play a massive part in the success of they're breeding season. Other birds showed well - Wood Warbler, Whinchat, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat.