Monday, October 27, 2014

The shag that was not a shag

Two days ago I was so pleased that I had discovered a shag and cormorant together. Today I have to revise that opinion. They were both cormorants - the one I thought was a shag was simply a young cormorant. As Alexander Pope put it "to err is human, to forgive divine." Forgive me, it was not a deliberate attempt to mislead. The photograph below clinches it. I sought further evidence afterwards and found it.

 Having got a closer view of the young cormorant I am now convinced that the two birds are the same type and this youngster is starting to get the white bib of an adult. Publishing before doing further research is almost as bad a mistake as my trusting Poroshenko to bring peace to Ukraine. Let me hope there are not too many more of these human peccadillos to come. But I have reached that age where I can blame every one of my human frailties on having reached that age.

It is a wonder there are any fish left in the lake. Just beyond the young cormorant was an old heron. It's reflection can be seen in this photo.

In mitigation for my identification mistake I have to say that the two small bird books I have are not very helpful. "The shag differs from the cormorant in its smaller size and the lack of a white chin and thighs" and "lacks white patches of Cormorant but has yellow gape." It was only when I came across this in-depth article that my suspicion from today's photos was confirmed.

As well as the heron and cormorant there was also this fellow, the great crested grebe, taking his fill.

The scavenging gulls will take some smaller fish as will the kingfishers. In the end though there's not much left for this fellow when the birds have raided the larder.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Shag in a tree

(This article contains multiple errors. This one contradicts them.)

Our seas are overfished. There was a time when the trawlers threw something back if it was not the main quarry. With modern fishing, which is much more scientific, they take the lot, and everything is separated on factory ships. Nothing goes to waste. It may not be the only reason but sea-birds like herring-gulls, black-backed gulls, black-headed gulls and even common terns have become residents of, or frequent visitors to, Birmingham lakes. Occasionally, when it is rough at sea, cormorants come too.

Cormorant on lake (Birmingham, John Goss 24/10/2014)

It is doubtful many people can tell the diference between a cormorant and a shag. These seabirds and able fishermen are almost look-alike members of the pelican family. In the bird kingdom both are monarchs with their regal dark-coloured cloaks. They are fliers and swimmers of similar shape and size. What is unusual about the next photograph is that it shows both a cormorant (on top) and a shag (underneath) in the same tree in Birmingham. Cormorants and shags are most usually found on craggy coastal rocks and normally do their fishing in the sea.

Cormorant (top) and shag (below) in same tree (Birmingham, John Goss 22/10/2014)

In spring it is much easier to tell the difference. The shag sports a crest and the cormorant has a patch of white on its thigh, which is lost following the mating season. After that the most evident distinguishing feature is a white area on the cormorant's face below the beak as can be seen in the first photograph. A shag does not have that patch of white. Here is a photograph of the Birmingham shag on the wing.

Shag in flight (Birmingham, John Goss 22/10/2014)

Another distinguishing feature can be found with the shag only having twelve tail feathers whereas the cormorant has fourteen. After fishing both birds dry their wings in the wind in a display which is eye-catching and heraldic, as one bird-book describes it. Here is the cormorant doing just that. You can clearly count the fourteen tail feathers.

Cormorant drying itself in the breeze (Birmingham, John Goss 23/10/2014)

In observing the cormorant it was noticeable that it sat low in the water and dived from that position with an arch of the back. It stayed under for about half a minute and made some fifteen dives (if I saw them all) before catching anything and flying back to its perch. The shag on the other hand was not as long away from its perch and flew beyond the range of my camera. It may be that the shag is a better fisherman. Here it is in the drying off display.

Shag drying itself in the breeze (Birmingham, John Goss 22/10/2014)

Cormorants are heavy birds which, as mentioned, sit low in the water. Getting airborne is quite an effort. For this cormorant it took three bounces on the water before lift-off and it looked like the bomb designed by Barnes Wallis in the Dambusters film.

 Cormorant 'bouncing back to happiness' (Birmingham, John Goss 23/10/2014) 

Learning about these two incredible and impressive dark angels of the sea has been an experience for this ancient mariner. The luck of having both birds to hand at the same time on a lake rather than the crags by a choppy sea has been a pleasure and I hope this short blog-piece has added something, however small, to the canon of knowledge. A bird in the hand is worth two in the tree, or something.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gossip: Birdwatching - grey wagtail or origami owl?

Gossip: Birdwatching - grey wagtail or origami owl?: My eyes are not as good as they used to be and this morning in wind that was not as strong as in some parts of the country, I spotted what a...

Birdwatching - grey wagtail or origami owl?

My eyes are not as good as they used to be and this morning in wind that was not as strong as in some parts of the country, I spotted what appeared to be a grey wagtail with its tail wagging on a rock. There are lots of these beautiful birds along the River Cole. The photograph below is enlarged through the camera lens from what I could actually see.

In fact one afternoon in summer I sat on the bank for half an hour snapping lots of photographs of them. For those unfamiliar with what a grey wagtail looks like here is one of the photographs I took that day.

Most birds are shy and you have to be very quiet and careful not to disturb them. So I crept quietly round to the other side of the rock where I took this photograph. Although the bird appeared to be moving I wondered why it never flew away because I was making too much noise. By the time I was close enough to see it was paper that was causing the illusion I was rather disappointed that I had been duped. Looking more closely I noticed that the paper caught on the rock had arranged itself into the shape of an owl and the wind had caused the illusion of movement. Can you see the origami owl?

Despite that disappointment I did go on to capture a few birds before it was time to take the dogs home. The dogs get bored when I take photographs. Anyway I captured a chaffinch, a goldfinch, a dunnock and blackbird.Birmingham is teeming with wildlife.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Breaking News! Moazzam Begg - charges dropped

Great news just in. Charges against Moazzam Begg have been dropped due to lack of evidence. Some of us have strongly suspected this was a fabrication from the start. It is why I have been carrying the ‪#‎ReleaseMoazzam‬ link and photo for the last eight months as my Facebook tag picture. Now all those who knew it was a put up job have been vindicated but that does not justify holding anybody prisoner under the unjust anti-terrorism laws enacted this century.

Moazzam (centre figure) at the disturbing Guantanamo Boy film showing earlier this year. Photo Robert Brenchley.

Asim Qureshi, Research Director of CAGE, said:

"This has been a testing time for Moazzam, his family and the Muslim community. The criminalisation of virtually any Muslim that has been to Syria has only increased in intensity, while CAGE has been attacked from every angle by a host of government agencies. We hope that Moazzam's release is a sign that the government are now willing to adopt a more measured strategy in relation to anti-terrorism policy and avoid the attempt to criminalise all dissent and crush any organisation like CAGE that stands up for the rule of law and justice."

"CAGE and Moazzam have been maligned , defamed and vilified by far too many and we hope that now our calls for the protection of basic rights and innovative approaches built on dialogue to dispute resolution will now be heeded. Violence and the destruction of freedoms and liberties inherent in the War on Terror doctrine can never be the solution."

"We thank everyone for their support of Moazzam, his family and the CAGE movement."