Viewing entries tagged
Mimicry

Bluebells, Froglets and more Mimics

Wifi has been down for a week so I’ve got lots go catch you up on. I’ll start with some beautiful woodland Frogs amongst the Bluebells which doesn’t seem significant but I look forward to finding them every year in this wood. Any excuse to use the macro lens and to include flora in my images. It looks like it’s going to be a good year for bluebells. I’ve even seeing them high on the moors, which seems unusual.. certainly not something I’ve ever noticed before. I just always associated them with woodland but I guess that’s because everything else is intensely farmed..

While I’m on the uplands, it was pretty special bumping into not 1 but 2 Ring Ouzel in an undisclosed location. We’re at the start of the breeding season for these birds now so it will be interesting to see whether they stick around or if they continue on their migration.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel

Other notable images from my weeks adventures were mostly bugs. Mating Green Tiger Beetles was a first but Hairy Shieldbug and a Common Crab Spider posed well. The shieldbug image is a 3 image stack, which enabled me to keep a soft background while using the 3 images to pull focus on various parts of the shield-bug in order to get it all in focus.

If you enjoy my mimicking recordings, this one might be a new one for you. It certainly was for me! Siskin have a complex song, but I've always found them pretty easy to identify, therefor didn’t really give them much attention. I don’t know whether it’s just this individual or whether they all do this, but this Siskin could mimic a Blackbird alarm call, a Magpie contact call and a Green Woodpecker call, all mixed into its own song.
It was a real windy day and recording thru numerous branches but you can still hear it if you listen carefully. I’ll revisit this bird on a clearer day to get some better quality recordings. What I love about mimicking birds is, it reminds me that all birds are total individuals, capable of making their own choices.

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

Research

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 Continues

Last week I introduced a Firecrest mimicking a Goldcrest song and this week I wanted to show you another example of a classic mimicking species, the Sedge Warbler! Now the recording isn’t very good with high winds and noisy planes that have been filtered out, that and the fact that the bird was only singing at quarter volume which is often called ‘sub-song’ but you can still make out the pitch perfect attempt at a Blue Tit song, eventually weaving back into it’s typical chattery mixture of notes. It also attempted to fit in a few phrases of Blackcap and Wren but the Blue Tit was by far the best I’ve heard for a while.

This Sedge Warbler was spotted at a new location along the Gwent Levels.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

I also spotted a Water Vole in a rhyne. Testament to the hard work of the Wildlife Trust at Magor Marsh and NRW. It’s great that they’ve spread this far across the levels. Unfortunately this spot is directly threatened by the proposed M4 ‘Black Route’ so all this hard work could be lost. If you haven’t already, check out ‘CALM’ https://savethelevels.org.uk/ to learn more about what you can do to help protect the Gwent Levels from development.

Water Vole

Water Vole

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.

WOS Annual Conference / Mimicking Birds

Last week I attended Welsh Ornithological Societies annual conference, at which I gave my first ever talk on mimicking birds. It was quite a nerve-racking thing for me but it was received well, despite having magor issues with the sound. I have since been asked to do the same talk at Gwent Ornithological Societies AGM in January so if you missed it, please come along. 

In my talk you'll learn more about how birds learn the sounds that they produce, why mimicking birds prefer certain sounds to others and also learn the different types of mimicry that help us work out why they use these techniques and how it influences their breeding success. Below is a slide from my presentation showing a birds unique filtering system. If you're interested, the GOS AGM is on the 21st of January. 

Filtering System

Llandegfedd, good and bad news

Looks like a Bee but is in-fact a fly, hence the name 'Beefly'. They are fairly common in early spring and frequent visitors to Gardens so well worth looking out for these as they perch themselves on warm plantation late in the evening to warm up. They like to hover and may even hover long enough for you to get a photograph in flight which I have managed in the past. This species is called a 'Dark-edged Beefly' which is easily identifiable by the dark edges on the outer wings. As you can see, they are great pollinators with this subject below covered in pollen. 

With temperatures rising this Spring we're starting to see lots of emerging insects, including several species of lepidoptera. Llandegfedd is a good spot for Butterflies in spring and summer due to its ancient mature meadows that provide a good variety of plant life to support them right up as far as October/November and as early as February/March. If you know anything about Butterflies though, some require very specific plants to survive and only emerge during the periods of which those plants exist. 1 species comes to mind which can be found in small numbers already at Llandegfedd and that is the Orange-tip Butterfly. Below is a picture of a Comma Butterfly which was posing rather well for me but below that is the food plant of the Orange-tip Butterfly, the plant is called 'Ladies Smock' but also known as the Cuckoo Flower. 

More of these plants are starting to flower so we should start to see clouds of Orang-tips for the next couple weeks before they start dying off. 

There is another plant that grows on the banks of Llandegfedd that is a very specialist plant and only grows in ancient diverse meadows and particularly likes sandy soil and that is the Adders-tongue Fern. Till today, I'd never actually managed to find these plants but now I've found one, I'm starting to see them everywhere at Llandegfedd. They are beautifully delicate looking and so easy to mistake for a random leaf in a field. Having these present shows that we have good healthy numbers of Spotted-Orchids in the northern meadows of Llandegfedd and in a few weeks, you'll see that for your own eyes. It's a shame however that Welsh Water and the people sat behind their desk jotting down numbers don't see the importance of these Wild Flower Meadows because they've recently signed up for a running and biking event which includes churning up these priceless meadows that won't recover once overly-disturbed. Signs of 'buffering' are already prevalent since the opening of the site in April 2015 which has seen many of the paths expanding into the meadows getting wider and wider as time goes on and thousands more people walk thru an un-marked, un-protected  Wild Flower Meadow. 

Some good news after that depressing last chapter.. This Reed Warbler has been coming back for as many years as I've been visiting Llandegfedd. How do I know this? well, despite it having a leg ring, I can actually tell by its song. Reed Warblers are known for their ability to Mimic and the way in which they use this mimicry is very individualistic, to the point where you can learn an individuals phrasing. Even with a song as complicated as a Reed Warbler (fast and trilly) you can pick out key features with a musically trained ear (which I'm lucky to have). The same can be said about my local Blackbird which I know has been present for many years because he has learned to mimic the sound of my next-door neighbours whistling and using this tune regularly in his song phrasing. 

This Reed Warbler however does have a Ring so it will be interesting to find out whether my theory is true. Confirmation of this will be to find out if this Bird was ringed at Llandegfedd. I'll keep you up to date if I find out any news on this. 

I'll leave you with something a little cuter but slightly sad in story. A mother Mallard abandoned her 7 chicks after being flushed in the car park while leading her chicks to the water. In doing so she then got pestered by 3 male Mallards that chased her far away from her chicks and rather than staying together they all split up into the woods. Theres no guaranty that any of them will survive but I did manage to catch 3 and bring them back to the waters edge where Mum will have a better chance of finding them. I know Mallards are common but I hope they did survive. They were very tempting to take home... but this is nature and sometimes it's better to just let things unfold, despite the bad outcome for the chicks.