1. home
  2. #tags
  3. winter

Discover Latest #winter News, Articles and Videos with Contenting

The winter months are a time of cold temperatures, snow and ice, and all kinds of outdoor activities. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, winter is a time to bundle up and enjoy the beauty of the season. Whether you’re looking for ways to stay warm or just want to know what’s going on in the world of winter sports, here you’ll find the latest winter news, articles, and videos. From winter festivals to snow sports, there’s something here for everyone.

Red-crowned Cranes on Hokkaido - 10,000 Birds

The Red-crowned Crane is listed as Vulnerable, with an estimated 3000 individuals in 2009. Some populations – especially the Hokkaido one – seem to be doing quite well. On Hokkaido, the number rose from 33 in 1952 to about 1200 now, with the bird presumably benefiting from its symbolic importance for Japanese culture and its pull for tourists. Still, one source states that this is the second-rarest of all crane species.   What methods are effective to protect an endangered crane species? An interesting paper compares two different strategies, habitat management (as done in the US for the Whooping Crane) and artificial feeding in the leanest periods (as done in Japan for the Red-crowned Crane). Conclusion: the Japanese method seems to work better (of course, couched in the usual careful scientific phrases): “An initial review of these two case studies reveals indications that artificial feeding in periods of lean food availability resulted in much faster overall population recovery in Japan”.   An ex-girlfriend of mine once said, “Dancing is like sex. If it feels really good, it does not matter how it looks like”. I imagine that Red-crowned Cranes fully agree with this statement.   Here is a description of their dance from a website: “Red-crowned cranes use their courtship dance, which consists of bowing, head bobbing and leaping in order to communicate with each other. The dance is very beautiful and strengthens the bond between male and female pairs.”   Here we go again – “strengthening the pair bond”, the old explanation that does not really explain anything. And also: “very beautiful” – to me the dancing cranes look more like a bunch of punks at a UK Subs concert than classical ballet dancers.   Other individuals seem to have seen Saturday Night Fever a few times too often and now think they are John Travolta. And now for something completely different (Monty Python). It seems that the market for crane pornography is rather limited despite the lack of any legal obstacles to its distribution. The most likely reason is that it is just not that attractive to watch – clumsy rather than graceful, labored rather than sexy. One study makes one rather weird and disturbing observation – in China, the number of captive birds has risen faster than can be explained by the breeding of captive birds (more than 1500) alone. So, the likely reason is that wild birds were captured and added to the captive population, which is not quite what species protection should be about (particularly as other efforts for this species often go in the opposite direction, i.e., captively bred birds are released into the wild).   And yes, captive and wild cranes are not the same – they have different gut microbiota (source). Is this relevant? The authors of the study think it is (maybe they need more grants): “Comparing the differences in gut microbiota function and composition of captive and semi-free-range red-crowned cranes is critical for conservation management and policy-making”. As usual, they forgot world peace as a key argument.   Red-crowned Cranes have a misogynistic streak in them – they mainly feed on female rather than male crabs, even though the female crabs are smaller. The cranes defend this preference by pointing out that the female crabs offer a higher-energy reserve ratio, i.e., are more nutritious relative to their mass (source: HBW).   Life of a Red-crowned Crane can be difficult. On the one hand, in reserves such as the one at Yancheng, China there are disturbances from humans, particularly in the non-core areas of the reserve (source). This means there is more need for watching and thus less time for foraging. On the other hand, in the center of the reserve, where there is less disturbance from humans, there is a greater need for vigilance due to fights with other cranes. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It must be quite unpleasant to be a single crane, as the coupled individuals constantly shout out about their companionship. Would be much nicer to shut up – this just puts pressure on the single cranes.   In the longer run, China may not have to worry too much about its wild Red-crowned Cranes – one study by Chinese authors suggests that due to climate change, the breeding range of the continental population will shift northward over this century and will also change the country owning the largest portion of breeding range from China to Russia, ending with the statement that “Russia should take more responsibility to preserve this endangered species in the future.” The Red-crowned Cranes at the Hokkaido winter feeding spots have solved the problem by just ignoring humans completely, which sounds nice for photographers but actually makes life difficult if you only bring an 800 mm lens … (this is the rare occasion of my post giving some vaguely useful practical tips).   Interestingly – and slightly counterintuitive – Red-Crowned Cranes may benefit from reed cutting. One study found that the cranes prefer those areas where reed has been cut over those uncut ones.   Apparently, cranes (not specifically Red-crowned ones though) are mentioned twice in the Bible: once on account of its voice (Isaiah 38:14: “Like a swallow or a crane, so did I chatter”). To give you the other mention would require me to subscribe to www.biblestudytools.com, which – given that it would cost about 50 USD for an annual subscription and that my interest in studying the bible is rather limited – is not really an option for me.   In 2003, China’s State Forestry Administration submitted the opinion that “the Red-Crowned Crane is the national bird ” to the State Council, but this was rejected because the scientific name of the Red-Crowned Crane is “Japanese Crane”. There is a slightly paradoxical lesson here – if you want to become a national bird, do not align too closely with a nation. The importance of cranes in Chinese mythology is also reflected by the saying “Riding...

Life Goes On - Martin Edition - 10,000 Birds

As I have mentioned repeatedly over the past months, life this spring has gone topsy-turvy in central Mexico, as we experience what has certainly been one of our driest years in history. So it was with heart in hand that several of us drove one hour downhill to the town of Paso Ancho, to check up on one of Mexico’s rarest and least-understood birds. The Sinaloa Martin is a large swallow, which seems to breed only along a narrow band of the Sierra Madre Occidental, in the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Durango, Nayarit, and Jalisco. It sports the intense purple back and head of its close relative, the Purple Martin, which is found in much of North America (summer) and South America (winter). Unlike the Purple Martin, however, it has a bright white belly, with males showing a sharp and elegant division between the two colors. It is almost identical to the geographically distant Caribbean Martin. Since this latter martin appears to winter in northern South America, and no one knows where the the Sinaloa Martin winters, it has been suggested that the two species might winter together there. Nine years ago I sighted a handful of Sinaloa Martins in the small Michoacán town of Paso Ancho. I have now seen the species in eight different years. Since 2020, when I figured out that it only appears there in July, I have managed to see it every year. As other birders accompany me each year on this pilgrimage, and we each file individual reports, almost a quarter of all of eBird’s current total 165 listings for this species are from this one little town. I suspect that about half of all the photos on that platform are also from this site. As we have seen much larger numbers there than have been registered anywhere else, I suspect that Paso Ancho may be a spot where these martins gather, prior to migrating together. We made our 2024 pilgrimage on Monday, July 8th. This time I went with ornithologists Jonathan Vargas and his wife Fany, botanist Ignacio Torres, and one other amateur like myself. But would we find our martin friends, after such a difficult year? The usual spot for seeing large numbers of martins (up to 50, in 2022) yielded only three individuals. Two were immature, still begging for food from a single male: After observing these individuals for a while, and chasing these or another three to a nearby site, we noticed a larger concentration around a communications tower which I had never before noticed. It took us a while to access the tower, through an open gate and next to a nice house. We asked the elderly couple that live there for permission to pass, which they kindly gave. In fact, I suspect that our visit may have been the highlight of their week; they chatted for as long as we allowed, and invited us back anytime. This tower seems to be quite the social center for the martin season. Youngsters begged, adults fed them, males manifested their excess testosterone by fighting, and adult females observed their combat. We counted 12 martins at one time. In the end, we saw somewhere between 12 and 20 individuals for the day, depending on how many were repeats. Not great compared to, say, 2022, but not bad, considering 2024’s grim conditions. Of course, Paso Ancho is also a hotspot for many other beautiful species and endemics. We had good sightings of a pair of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, one of central Mexico’s few summer-only migrants. The Orange-breasted Bunting is one of Mexico’s most beautiful endemics. But the Black-chested Sparrow is also rather handsome, for a sparrow, and has an even smaller range. Motmots definitely make up one of the bird world’s glamour families. Western Mexico offers only one, the endemic Russet-crowned Motmot. The male Bronzed Cowbird shows what a single showy accessory, in this case a bright red eye, can do for an otherwise drab outfit: It wasn’t a bad day for raptors, including good sightings of two Short-tailed Hawks, and poor views of a much more difficult Hook-billed Kite. Although our sightings were too brief for photos, it’s always a treat to see a group highly endemic Banded Quails; and the presence of Mangrove Cuckoos so far from their namesake mangroves is rather fascinating. The cuckoo’s distinctive call followed us throughout the morning. A final treat for the day involved the opportunity to purchase a few bonete fruits, named for their supposed similarity to the shape of a bishop’s bonnet. I personally think they look more like aerial bombs. I had wondered about how this fruit tasted ever since I observed Yellow-winged Caciques and Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers eating them, and then heard that people eat them as well. Photo from 2020 Although bonetes are related to papayas, their flavor and consistency turns out to be more like that of a passion fruit. Not bad, as long as you have a high tolerance to spitting out seeds. As a final note, Mexico is gearing up for a very solid rainy season this summer. Never before have I wished for flooding as in this year.

Closing in on the Magic Double Century - 10,000 Birds

Six months of the year have now slipped by, so time to review the state of my bird lists – my UK list, and my European list. Three months ago the former was on 139, but it’s now grown to 180, while the European list was 173, but has now reached a much more satisfactory 303.   My target at the start of the year was 200 species in the UK and 300 in Europe, so I’ve achieved the latter, while the chances of reaching the former are pretty good. An everyday bird, the Woodpigeon. This one was photographed in my garden on a wet day in April. One tends to take woodies for granted Brown but not boring: a Meadow Pipit An everyday bird it might be, but the cock Blackbird’s song is one of the best. Blackbirds sing from February through to July My UK list is, in reality, an English list, as I haven’t wandered into the adjoining countries of Wales, Scotland and Ireland this year, and I have no plans to do so. Until last month it was an East Anglian list, as I hadn’t ventured far from home, but a trip to Northern England last month did add some northern specials, such as Dipper and Puffin. That trip was fun, as it reminded me of the delights of watching birds like Golden Plover and even Meadow Pipit on their breeding grounds. I see lots of Golden Plovers in the winter, but (like so many waders) they are birds transformed when in their breeding finery. Golden Plovers are so much more handsome when in full breeding plumage I’ve seen a mere 21 species of waders in the UK this year, compared with 35 in Europe, and it shouldn’t be difficult to add several of the birds I’ve seen in Europe to my UK list in the next few weeks, as autumn passage gains pace. I haven’t, for example, seen a Greenshank in the UK, nor a Spotted Redshank or Wood Sandpiper, all three of which are relatively easy to see on the Norfolk or Suffolk coasts in July and August. To be honest, this does highlight the slightly ridiculous practice of keeping two lists – why not just one? The answer is because BirdTrack (the bird- recording system I use most) reminds me whenever I log-in on the state of my British list, but I have to scroll down to Explore Data to check on how my overall World list (just Europe this year) is progressing.  Wood Sandpiper. This bird was in Cyprus in April; I have yet to see one this year in the UK There are, inevitably, a few birds that I really should have encountered by now but have failed to do so. I have seen only a single species of diver (loon) this year, Red-throated, but if I try hard enough it shouldn’t be too difficult to add Great Northern and Black-throated to the list by the end of the year. Nor have I see a skua (jaeger) of any species. Both Great and Arctic Skuas are not difficult to find in Norfolk in September, as they are attracted by the tern colonies as they migrate south. Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas are also possibilities, and the former occasionally winter in the North Sea, off the Suffolk/Norfolk coast.  Though I have seen Red-throated Diver this year, I have yet to find either a Black-throated or Great Northern anywhere There are a number of birds that I’ve encountered just the once, but they were memorable encounters. One of the best was the Long-eared Owl which floated past me one evening when I was out looking for Nightjars on my local heath. It was too dark for photography, but great to see. Equally memorable was the Corncrake, rasping away at dusk on the Welney Washes in late June. Two centuries ago Corncrakes were common birds in Britain, but we now only have a small remnant population that survives on the islands of the Hebrides. The Corncrake I heard was part of a reintroduction project. For some people this devalues the bird, but it doesn’t for me, while this was the first time that I’d ever heard a Corncrake singing in England, with all my recent encounters in Eastern Europe.  Crakes are among the most elusive of birds, and none are easy to see in the UK. In Cyprus in April I delighted in watching several Little Crakes plus a splendid Baillon’s Crake, all of which proved easy to see, if not photograph. Spring migration is the best time to see these secretive birds, as once on the breeding grounds they tend to stay in cover and rarely show themselves.  Crakes are difficult to see on their breeding grounds. This Little Crake was on migration in Cyprus Raptors are always exciting to encounter, and I was delighted earlier in the year to enjoy a couple of sightings of wandering White-tailed Eagles in Norfolk. I haven’t done well with Golden Eagles, with just a single bird, seen briefly, in Greece, in May. For the first time in many visits I failed to see Griffon Vultures on Cyprus, where they are seriously endangered, but I have seen many in Spain this year in Andalucia and both Cantabria and Castile y León. Northern Spain also produced my best views of Honey Buzzards (I did see one briefly in Greece in May). Two years ago three summered in Norfolk, and I saw them several times, but there have been no reports this year, so this is one bird that seems unlikely to be added to my 2024 UK list. A wandering White-tailed Eagle in Norfolk in April. This was an unexpected encounter Griffon Vulture: common in Spain, but seriously endangered in Cyprus Shrikes are one of my favourite families of birds. My first shrike of the year was a Great Grey in the Brecks in March, not too far from home, while Kerkini in Greece gave me the opportunity...

When the sun beats down with anger - 10,000 Birds

The outside temperature in the shade reads 47 degrees Celsius and I’m about to enter a hide to photograph birds. At times like these, I question my sanity. But I keep coming back for more. It was only two weeks ago that I was on a bleak moor on Shetland and now I wish that I had the cool temperatures, the cloud and the rain that I had moaned about then. This is central Spain instead, and I am well into the worst time of year for birds. For three months, often more, temperatures here are in the forties Celsius and there is no rain. The ground is parched, the plants are yellow and dry and many birds are clearing out. Many of the Black Kites now heading south are juveniles. The clean plumage and scaly pattern on the back are diagnostic Already in the Strait of Gibraltar, to the south, the Black Kites Milvus migrans, are leaving south for Africa. These are the Iberian populations. They were the first to arrive, in February and early March, so as to make the most of the mild temperatures and the food supply which becomes available with the rains. They time breeding so that the chicks are fledged before the height of the dry season. Now, they head for south of the Sahara to catch the rains in the Sahel. Black Kites, and many other Iberian birds, spend their lives tracking the rains on either side of the Sahara Desert. This makes the idea of spring-summer-autumn-winter redundant. Instead, much of central and southern Iberia experiences an intense hot and dry season, from June to September, and a wet season. The onset of the rains is highly variable. Where I live, in Gibraltar, it may start some time in September but some years it may be after Christmas. The pattern in the past few years has been for the rains to arrive late. Adult Black Kites have just finished breeding and their plumage is abraded Many Black Kites are in moult while on migration. Note the new tail feathers sprouting in this individual giving the effect of a “double tail” Time to go. Black Kites heading south for Africa What do birds do during the dry summer? Many, like the Black Kites, migrate. They simply leave the area altogether. Other species are tied down. Poor flyers, such as Red-legged Partridges Alectoris rufa, simply hold out as best they can. Many will die during this worst time of the year. Drying river beds and other ephemeral water bodies are the only sources of relief. That is why I’m in a hide, close to a small water body. It may be unbearably hot and uncomfortable but it gives me an opportunity to photograph birds in these difficult circumstances. Time to learn fast. Red-legged Partridge brings her newly-born young to water Slightly older juvenile Red-legged Partridges are quick to learn. Photograph courtesy Stewart Finlayson Juvenile Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis coming down to drink Many species need to drink. Here is a Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius enjoying a good soak Juvenile Crested Lark Galerida cristata panting to cool down. Photo courtesy Stewart Finlayson Magpie Pica pica trying to keep cool. Photo courtesy Geraldine Finlayson Juvenile Crested Lark spreading itself out to lose heat. Photo courtesy Stewart Finlayson I often read claims of trans-Saharan migrants overwintering in Iberia. Most are mistakes by those who try to understand Iberia in the classic spring-summer-autumn-winter manner. The Victorian naturalist Abel Chapman, describing Doñana, called it a little piece of Africa in Europe. That could equally apply to much of the south of the peninsula. It has a wet and a dry season and the birds move accordingly. The White Storks Ciconia Ciconia, which are now leaving with the kites, start returning in October – it is their “spring”. The Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica are back in January – they’re not wintering birds, they are back for their “spring”. Great Spotted Cuckoos Clamator glandarius start coming back from October, having left in July and August. The return of birds to Iberia varies, depending on their food requirements. For the Woodchat Shrikes Lanius senator it is not until March and for the Roller Coracias garrulus it is April. But they all have one thing in common, come July it is time to leave. Roller. Among the birds heading south now Juvenile Woodchat Shrike also heading for Africa during this and next month

Birding the Datang area, Yunnan - 10,000 Birds

The Datang area stretches North from Tengchong, with basically just one road (G219) having less and less traffic before it eventually peters out in a series of curves about 10 kilometers before reaching the border to Myanmar. Unfortunately, this makes it sound a bit more interesting for birding than it turned out for me – though admittedly, I spent less than a day there. And the area was recommended to me, so most likely my limited birding skills are to blame, rather than the birds themselves. That said, there were a few interesting birds, such as the Bar-throated Minla. Somewhat strangely, the HBW calls it a “small grey to yellow babbler” – while the species indeed has some grey parts, that is not the color that sticks to mind when seeing or remembering the bird. Apart from some limited description in the HBW, there is again rather limited information available on the species, perhaps because it does not usually live on university campuses and thus is not a preferred target for ornithologists. An Indian paper mocks the Beautiful Sibia when discussing the range-restricted species that can be seen at an Indian birding spot, the Eaglenest Sanctuary: “… the ubiquitous Beautiful Sibia Heterophasia pulchella, a drab ashy-grey bird titled beautiful!” That seems a bit unfair to me. I usually restrict my unfair jokes to humans. Plus the sibia apparently plays an important role in the pollination of one endangered rhododendron species (source). When searching for information on the Black-headed Sibia, I stumbled across a promising-sounding web page titled “Uncovering the Fascinating Behaviors of the Black-headed Sibia“. However, the article itself disappoints. The fascinating behavior mainly seems to be that the members of the species “search for insects and larvae in trees”. And the description of the unique appearance of the species is followed by what sounds like a disclaimer, namely that while “… the Black-headed Sibia has distinctive features, it can be confused with other bird species”. If that was not boring enough, somebody also analyzed the complete mitochondrial genome of the species. Seeing Blyth’s Shrike-babbler (or White-browed Shrike-babbler) allows me to mention one of my favorite bands, the UK-based Blyth Power (named after a locomotive, not named after the ornithologist Edward Blyth – somehow I suspect that the shrike-babbler is named after the latter though I kind of hope to be wrong). Blyth Power songs that can be accessed online and come with my own recommendation include “Animal Farm“, “Guns of Castle Cary” “Alnwick & Tyne” and “Better to bat“. Advice to bird species that want to get featured on this blog: Don’t choose names that are too similar to names of my favorite bands. For example, a hypothetical National Bulbul would have no chance to get any coverage here. This is in contrast to the Brown-chested Bulbul. This bird may at some point may have failed to pay its membership fees to eBird – at least judging from the rather hostile description of the species as a “large dull bulbul of scrubby forest edges, farmland, and parks”. Makes the species almost sound a bit apocalyptic. A paper on the species asks the important question “Does nest sanitation elicit egg rejection in an open-cup nesting cuckoo host rejecter?” To rephrase: if you put some trash into a nest of a bird along with a cuckoo egg, does that improve the chance that the cuckoo egg will be kicked out? How to find out? Here is what the paper says: “In the first group, we added a blue, non-mimetic egg to the nest of the host, while in the second group we added a blue, non-mimetic egg and a peanut half-shell.” So, either just a fake egg or a fake egg and trash (a peanut shell). And the result: all peanut shells were expelled, but the ejection rate of the fake eggs was the same in both groups and (I think) quite low at about 53%. So, potentially plenty of cuckoo chicks would have been raised by the bulbuls. Poor bulbuls, but then again, they are large dull birds anyway, according to eBird. Scientifically speaking, the result is this: “Our study indicated that nest sanitation behavior of Brown-breasted Bulbuls did not influence their egg recognition and that egg discrimination ability of Brown-breasted Bulbuls was not directly related to nest sanitation behavior.” My guess is that this is an Eastern Buzzard. But feel free to disagree. While there are many explanations for how new species might develop, I still find some of the suggested mechanisms a bit implausible. The Eastern Buzzard is an example of how this might happen in reality (source). Aparently, there are two subspecies, one on the Japanese islands and one on the Asian mainland. While they winter together on some of the Western islands of Japan, they then migrate along very different pathways, one on the mainland and one along the string of Japanese islands. As the Sea of Japan is in between these two pathways (and buzzards neither like to swim nor to fly long distances over water due to the lack of thermals), these pathways seem to be quite separate from each other, and indeed the two subspecies have been genetically separate for about 0.8 million years (which is a long time for example when watching a boring movie, but not a very long period by the generous standards of evolution). Green-backed Tits seem to have been studied fairly extensively by ornithologists, which makes me wonder whether the species prefers nesting on university campuses or near good yet affordable hotels. For example, one study found that male tit parents prefer to feed large and medium-sized chicks while female tits make no such distinction. Judging from my experience in the human world, a very predictable result. Another study had a similarly predictable result: Green-backed Tits are able to discriminate against eggs of the wrong color (for example, added by a cuckoo) unless it is too dark. (Under pressure, I might admit that the actual findings of...