Tim Melling – Lammergeier

Tim writes: Also known as the Bearded Vulture, the Lammergeier is the only animal on the planet known to feed almost exclusively on bones.  It has an extremely acidic stomach (with a pH of around 1) that can dissolve bones and the high fat content marrow inside.  Even the young nestlings are fed on small bones.  Larger bones too big to swallow are dropped from a height onto rocks so that they break and it was this habit that led to yet another name of Ossifrage (bone breaker).  The world population is low and declining, which has led to their IUCN classification as near-threatened.  They are also massive, with a wingspan up to 2.8 metres.  The main world distribution is in the Himalayas and Caucasus with small populations in the mountains of Europe.  But there is also an isolated population in Ethiopia, where I photographed this individual at close range.

Taken with a Nikon D500 and a 300mm f4 lens with a 1.4x converter.  1/8000 second f5.6 ISO 1250  (10 February 2017)


Sunday book review – Songs of Love & War by Dominic Couzens

It’s quite difficult to tell what this book is about from its title, its prologue or from its dust jacket.  You might be misled into thinking that it is mostly about bird song, but it isn’t.  It dips into various aspects of bird behaviour and mixes these accounts with the author’s personal observations of birds over several decades.

The various chapters touch on bird song, migration, dominance hierarchies, mate selection, roosting etc.  I particularly liked the chapter entitled ‘Recreating the Pastoral Symphony‘.

I learned some interesting things about Blackbirds feeding on lawns that I was thinking about yesterday when watching Blackbirds feeding on lawns.  This book will help you understand more about your everyday bird observations.

The dust jacket states that this book is more than an inside look (what does that mean?) into bird behaviour but it is also a personal journey by the author.  I couldn’t quite see that myself and was mightily relieved that it wasn’t! Spare us from personal journeys please.

No, this is a pleasant read about birds and it forms an interesting introduction to some aspects of bird behaviour and encourages the reader to get more fully informed through its bibliography.

The subtitle of ‘the dark heart of bird behaviour’ is rather naff.

Songs of Love & War: the dark heart of bird behaviour by Dominic Couzens is published by Bloomsbury.


Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson – for reviews see here.

Behind the Binoculars: interviews with acclaimed birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton is published by Pelagic – here’s a review and it’s now out in paperback.




Shot Buzzard in Yorkshire Dales National Park – hardly news!

Police are appealing for information as another dead raptor is found in the Yorkshire Dales National Park – this time a Buzzard just about a mile from the much-visited Malham Cove Peregrine site.  The bird’s body was found (no details of when are given16 May) by a local farmer and a post-mortem X-ray showed the bird had a shotgun pellet in its head.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the police on 101, select option two, and ask for Harry Carpenter. You can also contact them by email. Reference number 12170089221 should be quoted.

Information can also be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park – one of the country’s worst raptor persecution hot-spots. It’s worth repeating the words of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority chairman Peter Charlesworth last year after the Mossdale Estate pole-trapping offence,  ‘At a time when the Yorkshire Dales is receiving such widespread recognition as a wonderful place to visit, it’s incredibly disappointing that the criminal persecution of birds of prey continues to damage the reputation of the area.‘.

And still it goes on.

If you are out in our National Parks this weekend, keep an eye open for wildlife crime. Have a look at the Birders Against Wildlife Crime site for details of how to deal with anything you find – Recognise, Record, Report.



An Unreliable History of Birdwatching (9) by Paul Thomas


Guest blog – De-mythologising ‘country people’ and ‘Rural Sports’ by John Burton

John Burton is one of the most experienced and free-thinking of British conservationists. He was a founder and the first chief executive of the World Land Trust. John blogs here.


Robin Page has long been known for his outspoken opinions, and very often, he writes quite a lot of sense. Unfortunately, he also writes quite a lot that is ill informed, and occasionally worse. A good example of this contradictory mixture is here. In particular he claims to be a voice on behalf of  ‘country people’. I am not quite sure what he means by country people – a bit like indigenous people, it is something rarely defined and in fact probably impossible to define. The overwhelming number of inhabitants of rural England, like me, do not actually work on the land. In fact as a country dweller, living in rural Suffolk for over 40 years, I can make a few statements of basic facts.

  • Very few country people actually farm, or gain a direct living from the land.
  • The majority of people who shoot pheasants would not normally be defined as ‘country people
  • Pheasants are not ‘wildlife’, they are mostly captive bred for shooting.
  • Hunting with hounds is not universally supported by those living in the country.
  • Hunting with hounds can cause significant stress to livestock, pet dogs, etc., as the hounds are often difficult (impossible) to control.
  • There is a direct and demonstrable connection between illegal killing of protected birds (as well as a wide range of other wildlife), and the rearing and breeding of gamebirds.


And just because something is ‘traditional’ is not a justification for its continuance. Wife beating, incest and various other activities were ‘traditional’ in rural England but…..