Saturday, 4 September 2010

More Warblers

Few more warbler pictures taken in Kazakhstan in May. The photos are courtesy of Steve Wilson - a fellow director of Turnstone Ecology. Steve was 'in-country' to look at a large pipeline project and was collecting some baseline survey data for an ecological management plan.

Booted Warbler (Hippolais caligata caligata)

Paddyfield Warbler - I have seen these in Bulgaria - the ones in BG are probably the most westerly breeding population; at Shabla and Durankulak Lakes.

The thoughts on this one are Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) but any comments welcome.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Turnstone Ecology

After months of warbling on about the new company it has finally happened. Notices were handed in a month ago and we finally launched yesterday.

Things got very hectic during the notice period - it is surprising how much office stuff you amass in the old office over the last three years.

We are on Twitter - please follow us @Turnstonecology and we will be publishing a work related blog via the website ( The work related blog wont just be work work work but we are hoping to put up trip reports (we have already won a project in Bulgaria) and we will be putting on comments relating to ecology, new legislation etc. The website is having its final touches and will be going live very soon. I will post on twitter and a short blog here when its ready to go.

It is all very exciting and we are all raring to go. There are three of us that have made the leap in to running our own ecological consultancy. The aim is, over time, to become a dedicated ornithological consultancy as that is where all of our interests and experiences lie. Watch this space and hopefully we will be looking for sub-contractors to help out with fieldwork when (lets be optimistic) we get lots of work!!

Any comments on the new logos will be much appreciated.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Warbler ID - Competition

Little Competition - What am I?

No prizes!!

Lazy Pictures!

White Stork - a nest in every village - I just love that and I so really want to live in a village that has one of these breeding in them every year. Villages in BG that don't have storks in are jealous of those that do!! Don't do the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction in Suffolk - bring back the White Stork.

Not seen Squacco Heron for many a moon - last time was in the Camargue when I worked as a wildlife guide.

Another lifer for me - Sombre Tit

Black-headed Bunting (Feldeg)

Woodchat Shrike

Hawfinch - another bird really really common in BG (also had loads in Ukraine in 2009) but one that has suffered massive declines in the UK.

Another Feldeg! such a cracking wagtail although when pressed I do like a good Flavissima!!


Raptors were one of the main reasons for the survey as the SAKAR IBA is one of the best places in BG to see Imperial Eagle (which I was lucky enough to see on the April visit) and Saker Falcon - which I didn't see!!

Unfortunately no pics of the Imperial Eagle which we saw miles and miles away from site. All the books say - find European Ground Squirrel and you will find the Eagle. We only found one colony of Ground Squirrel and we only found one Imperial Eagle - its nice when nature actually reads the book!!

Both visits were very raptor-tastic with 11 raptors seen over the two visits. All were seen on both visits with the exception of Imperial Eagle (Visit 1 only) and Honey Buzzard (Visit 2 only).

Raptors seen included -
  • European Honey Buzzard
  • Black Kite
  • Hen Harrier (passage only - very rare breeding bird in BG)
  • Montagu's Harrier
  • Common Buzzard
  • Long-legged Buzzard
  • Lesser-spotted Eagle
  • Booted Eagle
  • Short-toed (Snake) Eagle
  • Red-footed Falcon
  • Eurasian Hobby
  • Common Kestrel (on way from Sofia to the site - number 12!!!)

Montagu's Harrier definitely breed locally - we had one male fly very close to the vehicle when away from the survey area. Adult male with carrying nesting material and he landed about 10 metres away from the 4x4. Amazing views which were followed by cries of 'Quick get the cameras out!!' Frantic scrabbling ensued however to no avail. Once we were all set up ready to go a Black Kite came through spotted Monsieur Monti's and mobbed him - this was brilliant! Male Monti's being attacked by Black Kite - both in the air having a go. Well no photos but got some great images in my head! Here's a Black Kite from Visit 2 -

Best BOP of the two trips (well apart from the adult Imperial Eagle) has to have been these -

Honey Buzzard - which embarrassingly was a lifer for me - always been in the wrong place at the wrong time in the UK for these. Have even been to know breeding locations in the UK - Norfolk but before spotting them someones pager has always gone off and we were away to go twitching! Best was for Blue Rock Thrush in Hemel Hempsted which of course turned out to be an escaped cage bird. From Norfolk to the M1 and then ending up at Staines Reservoir - what a day!

Locally breeding we think -pale phase Booted Eagle - seen on both visits.
That's it for raptor pictures however good raptor spotting - need another trip but this time in Autumn migration.

Bulgaria - May 2010 Visit Part One

Finally - am so bad at this (things will change and will have some very exciting news in the next week or so).
This will mostly just be a reel of the pictures that were promised probably 2 months ago!

Black-headed Bunting - one of the species that we thought should have been at the site but weren't on the April visit. A little later in migration that was expected.

An extemely interesting species and very pretty - quite unusual in its song which is not very 'bunting' but more Common Whitethroat - can be quite confusing first time you here it.

One of my favorites - Calandra Lark - huge in flight with such an obvious white trailing edge and song/display flight like a terradactyl - large and very slow in flight. I have seen alot of these on all visits to Bulgaria and having to do BBS surveys for this species has been interesting because where they occur they occur in huge numbers. Also there is no BTO BBS code for Calandra Lark so we had to make one up - XL - quite apt really!
Crested Lark - the ultimate 'hard' lark and never yield to a car until the very last minute - the number of times we had to slam on the brakes on agricultural tracks to avoid the little critters.

One of the best birds in BG - Corn Bunting - they are absolutely everywhere which is amazing when you think of how dramatic the decline in the British population has been over recent years. Agricultural reform has not quite hit BG yet and I really hope it doesn't.

= This needs no introduction!!

Another UK bird that has suffered huge declines but is very widespread and common in BG. They also sing most of the day but it has to be said that they are best first thing in the morning!!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Bulgaria - Again (Visit 2:2010)

This is a little backwards as I have been so rushed with work and family and disorganised and am writing the trip report for the second trip before posting the blog for the first! 

Hey ho - hopefully makes things a little more interesting.  Pictures are to follow as I am waiting for them to be sent to me on return to UK.  The pictures will be courtesey of Martin Sutherland who has joined me on this trip - which is for work!!

We are at the same site as the first trip in the SAKAR IBA in southern Bulgaria, we are working on a site that is principally secondry grassland but is surrounded by mixed scrub and downy oak woodland and is adjacent to a very mature river valley again with lots of woodland.


We arrived last night a the hotel at 0100 local time after leaving home in the Midlands (UK) at 0800.  Long day will be the same coming back.  Trip from the airport to the hotel was fairly uneventful - Common Kestrel was probably the highlight but then most of the journey was in the dark.  We had one deer - probably Roe and a single scuttling European Hedgehog.


Up early for site walkover and breeding bird survey.  Sun-up at 0600 and so were we to be greeted by low cloud and mist and not particularly warm.  Sun was trying to peek through promising a very nice hot sunny day.  Birds were plentiful with lots of Common Nightingale and European Golden Oriole (which were absent from the first survey in April).  On the first patch of scrub we had pairs of Red-backed Shrikes (again absent from the site in April).  Couple of Woodchat Shrikes were also knocking about the site.  Alot of commoner stuff too - Corn Buntings are everywhere - seems to be a very good site for this species with males singing from almost every available song perch.  So nice to see Corn Buntings in such good numbers - a species unfortunately in severe decline in the UK!

Mist got very thick for another hour during which time I got on to a new species for me singing from within a very dense Hawthorn - River Warbler - fantastic - unfortunately not seen but definitatly River Warbler - we got 2 days to get on to it and will try and get a picture; altough on return to the area after breakfast it was not there so may just have been on passage.  Life tick before breakfast is always a good way to start the day.

Post breakie - not alot doing on site walkover; until one of the wooded gullies - we had had a couple of 'Great-reed Warblers' singing in the scrub - so not a GRW site but definately Acro song and quite strong.  Finally on the third bird of the morning we saw it and got to see where it was in the scrub and waited and waited and waited some more.  Finally good views of the bird and was so not GRW.  Looked very Hippolais and def not Acro; but sounded very wrong - turned out to be Olive-tree Warbler - the book does say this species can sound like a 'sleepy GRW' - dont know about sleepy it certainly confused me!! I think there are a couple of pics to come of this bird!

Also had distant female Red-footed Faclcon and very embarrasing a life raptor tick of Honey Buzzard - must get to Norfolk this year and see them in the UK - was there once but the day was ruined by an escaped cage Blue Rock Thrush in Hemel Hempsted!! (Another story!)

Afternoon very hot - some migrating White Stork (10) and a few raptors - Buteo buteo and ruffinus and 2 Booted Eagle (pale) including one displaying!

Very good day - species list to follow at end of trip and this will probably also include the list from the last trip!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Mole Rat and Paper Wasp

As already mentioned in a previous post we were very lucky to come across a male mole rat that had been discovered by two German tourists. The tourists were 1) very surprised to see this chap running across the road in broad daylight and 2) be rumbled by 3 British ecologists and a local guide. It was the local guide that picked it up for some quick photographs.

The photo below shows the front teeth with the gums behind - this species digs with its teeth and having gums behind the teeth means it doesnt swallow any soil.

Spade shaped head for pushing through the soil.

What an amazing creature - and very lucky for us to find as they usually spend all of their time underground and if and when they do venture out it is normally at night.
There are a few mole rat species found around the world and the one native to Bulgaria is the Lesser Mole Rat (Spalax leucodon).

General shot of a species of paper wasp that we came across on one of the early morning breeding surveys on the steppes.

Bulgaria 2009 - Part 1

I was lukcy enough to have 3 trips to Bulgaria in 2009. These were work trips but nevertheless was able to get some birding, sight seeing and general wildlife watching done. Our work was to set up breeding bird surveys for a project on the Black Sea coast of NE Bulgaria. Our local guide, friend and fellow ecologist was very up for showing off the region and as we had been there alot we were also very familiar with where to go to see the best birds.

One of our transect walks was on the last bit of Steppe Grassland on the Black Sea coast. It was truely amazing and was packed with Calandra, Sky and Crested Larks - the noise of all of these birds was incredible! At one point we probably had 25-30 Calandra Larks over head displaying. Their flight is very bizzare especially when they stall in mid air - they are quite reminiscent of a teradatctyl!
The weather was generally very good for the duration of all of our trips - although am not sure the winter trip was that great - very cold with lots of snow but when you are looking
at over 100,000 geese of which up to 16,000 are Red-breasted I guess you take the rough with the smooth. I has to dip out of that trip as my 3rd child was born 4 days before the trip! I will try and get some winter pics off my colleague although from memory I don't think they are that great - the geese were very distant! He did have a result mind - Long-tailed Duck on the sea which caused a bit of a stir with the local ornithologists who were helping with the project.

Another snap of the steppe - very early in the morning!!!

Most of the breeding transects were along planted shelter belts in agricultural land so the day to
day birds were fairly common passerine species. Good numbers of Ortolan Buntings and lots of Golden Orioles in the shelter belts - we even found a nest!

Shrikes were everywhere - in the scubby areas and in the shelter belts - both Red-backed and Lesser Grey were very plentiful and we managed to pick up a single Woodchat which made a nice change! (the ones on the left are RB Shrike)

On one of the first trips in 2008 I managed to get to go ringing with our guide and had a adult male Red-backed Shrike in the hand - dont know where the pictures of that went but will try and dig them out. 2009 ringing in really good woodland one of the mornings after the survey the locals caught me a Hawfinch - shame it was a juvenile but at least you get an idea of the beak!!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Mobile Blogging

All new to me (how old I hear you cry!)

Anyway let's see if this works!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Good Morning!

Again another image from 2009 (catching up!) - also from the Steppes on the Black Sea coast.

Will be taking more pics and adding to this as the year goes on. Think will be very lucky to see one of these on trip next week but will wait and see.

Bulgaria 2009 - Tricky Nest

Probably the hardest nest I have ever been shown - can't take the credit for finding this!!

There are 4 chick in this nest with I think the best ever camouflage I have ever seen. This was taken on the Steppe grassland on the Black Sea coast.

Nest was of Calandra Lark.

Bulgaria 2009 - one of the best finds -very random. Driving back to hotel and spotted two folks by side of road. Drove past, started thinking - two people by side of road with what looked like snake stick - stopped and did U-turn. Stopped and out pilled 4 ecologists - 2 birders, local guide and bat specialist. Found 2 Germans not with a snake but a mole rat they saw running accross the road. Very nocuturnal, very enexpected and uterly brilliant.

The Beginning

First ever post!

Very busy with work at the moment - I am an ornithological consultant (well ecological but birds is my main specialism and if I could get away with it would be all I would do - am trying my best!)

Bit of background I guess would be of some use -

Am 33 and have been very lucky to have worked in the 'green' sector since graduated with degree in Ecology from Leeds Uni (the proper one!).

Went home after graduating and looked for a volunteer job at local nature reserve, had a chat with warden and got offered paid job! Very lucky but had worked hard for it I guess - RSPB volunteer in gap year followed by 6 months in France as a paid wildlife guide - 6 months in the Camargue for free showing folks flamingos, horses and bulls whilst I dashed around looking for decent things to look at - although Fan-tailed Warblers do get very boring after a while. Also did trips to the Cevennes and had great opportunity to see lots of very good birds.

Once donw with Uni had 10 years working in conservation (countyside warden) and some time at a bird observatory in Kent- very happy times - best bird ringed probably Long-eared Owl or maybe Icterine Warbler - surpased last year in Bulgaria with RB Shrike and Hawfinch!!

Consultant now - have been for a number of years and very very lucky to have a great job.

Bulgaria 4 times last year and Ukraine once and hopefully Bulgaria again next week - Imperial Eagle surveys.

Will post more soon