Saturday, 31 August 2013

Green Sandpiper, Honeypots Plantation, Rocklands

This afternoon, I headed off on the bike to Honeypots Plantation to set the bat detector for the final survey point as part of the Norfolk Bat Survey. Returning homewards over a meadow that had previously been excavated for gravel, I heard the distinctive flight call of a Green Sandpiper.

In the end, I could not locate the bird before it drifted out of earshot, but was nevertheless pleased to witness its passage. The sandpiper was probably stopping off at the shallow pools that have formed in the meadows. Last autumn, I flushed a female Garganey from the same area. Not bad for a couple of shallow, artificial pools!

Norfolk moths: Rockland St. Peter garden, 30 August 2013

A fine, windy, almost cloudless and relatively cool (close to 10°C here). The highlight was a single Heath Rustic, a local moth restricted to acid heath and moorland which is recognised as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species. The nearest habitat is probably some 10 km from here. Pale Eggar was a treat - it's always nice to get a Lasiocampid! The zesty Frosted Orange is a sure sign of summer's close.

A fresh Heath Rustic Xestia agathina, local, UK BAP species.

Pale Eggar Trichiura crataegi.

Frosted Orange Gortyna flavago, harbinger of autumn.

& Feathered Gothic Tholera decimalis.   

The morning catch (thanks to members of Norfolk Moth Survey who helped put a name to the stragglers) was as follows.

Macros (35 spp.):-

Trichiura crataegi Pale Eggar 1
Cosmorhoe ocellata Purple Bar 1
Chloroclysta truncata Common Marbled Carpet 1
Opisthograptis luteolata Brimstone Moth 15
Ennomos fuscantaria Dusky Thorn 1
Cabera exanthemata Common Wave 1
Campaea margaritata Light Emerald 1
Pheosia tremula Swallow Prominent 1
Agrotis segetum Turnip Moth 1
Agrotis puta Shuttle-shaped Dart 1
Ochropleura plecta Flame Shoulder 11
Noctua pronuba Large Yellow Underwing 6
Noctua comes Lesser Yellow Underwing 6
Noctua janthe Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing 10
Xestia c-nigrum Setaceous Hebrew Character 17
Xestia xanthographa Square-spot Rustic 15
Xestia agathina Heath Rustic 1
Mamestra brassicae Cabbage Moth 1
Tholera cespitis Hedge Rustic 1
Tholera decimalis Feathered Gothic 6
Mythimna albipuncta White-point 1
Mythimna pallens Common Wainscot 2
Atethmia centrago Centre-barred Sallow 4
Amphipyra pyramidea Copper Underwing 2
Luperina testacea Flounced Rustic 2
Hydraecia micacea Rosy Rustic 1
Gortyna flavago Frosted Orange 3
Celaena leucostigma Crescent 1
Hoplodrina ambigua Vine's Rustic 1
Paradrina clavipalpis Pale Mottled Willow 1
Diachrysia chrysitis Burnished Brass 1
Autographa gamma Silver Y 2
Abrostola tripartita Spectacle 2
Rivula sericealis Straw Dot 4
Hypena proboscidalis Snout 2

Identifiable Micros (there were others...):-

Evergestis forficalis Garden Pebble 4
Pleuroptya ruralis Mother of Pearl 4

Friday, 30 August 2013

Norfolk Bat Survey at Rocklands: Goose Common

The BTO kindly sent me the results of three further O.S. grid squares today. 

On the nights of 11, 15 and 21 August, the detector was set in and around Goose Common. This was habitat for Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, and Brown Long-eared Bat. In addition Natterer's and Serotine were recorded along a grassy ride between patches of oak-hawthorn wood. The garden of nearby clay-lump cottage produced a large number of recordings of Common Pipistrelle, suggesting a roost.  

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Re-finding the Recurve-billed Bushbird Clytoctantes alixii

Brooke Keeney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently asked for permission to use photos of Recurve-billed Bushbird Clytoctantes alixii for the Lab's Neotropical Birds portal. The images have just gone up on the Recurve-billed Bushbird page. I'm set to recalling my first encounter with the bird, which resulted in these first photographs in 2004. At the time this species was effectively 'unknown in life', with no photographs, no sound recordings and unseen by ornithologists for almost 40 years. Steve Hilty (author of Birds of Colombia and, later, Birds of Venezuela) had told me during a converstion in 1992 that it would be THE bird to find in Venezuela.

Recurve-billed Bushbird was first described in 1870 by one of the founders of New York's American Museum of Natural History, Daniel Giraud Elliot, on the basis of one adult and one immature male supposedly taken on the "Rio Napo" (in fact, 'Bogotá' trade specimens). As Elliot notes, 

This extraordinary form of Formicariidae is apparently an exaggeration of Mr. Sclater's genus Neoctantes, to which it seems to be nearest allied. In many respects resembling other members of the genus Thamnophilus, it yet differs greatly from them in the form of the bill, and shape and size of the feet and claws.

Plate from Elliot's original description.

With no accurate idea of its range, the bird remained elusive, though almost certainly known to local inhabitants. A number of specimens were taken between 1914 and 1951 in the lowlands and foothill forests of NE Colombia. There were no Venezuelan specimens until the closing days of 1950, when an expedition including Hno. Ginés based itself at Kunana, west of Machiques from where a male and four females were obtained on Cerros Ayapa, Panapicho and El Escondido. After 1951 there are no further records except for Willis's extraordinary observation of foraging behaviour at a Colombian site in 1965 - up until then, the only documented encounter with live birds. 

In this context, Jorge Pérez-Emán and I began systematically searching for the bird in 2001, but it was not until April 2004 that we got lucky. We had spent ten days in a fairly remote part of the Venezuelan side of the Sierra de Perijá - my third trip to the area.
Dawn over the Sierra de Perijá.
The region was - at the time at least - notorious for the presence of Colombian guerrilla, which scared off casual visitors and certainly most birders. Local, Maracaibo-based birder José Gustavo León and entomologist Angel Viloria were two of the very few
exploratory pioneers. When Miguel Lentino of the Colección Ornitológica Phelps invited Jorge and I to take part in a Rapid Assessment Programme (RAP), under the auspices of Conservation International and the Sociedad Audubon de Venezuela, we jumped at the chance. José Gustavo gave us the benefit of his store of local knowledge and suggested the best site for the RAP. 
Jorge Pérez-Eman negotiates one of several landslides on the steep mountain roads.

The RAP aimed to produce a quick overview of the entire avifauna of the area, but being in Bushbird territory, I found it impoossible to pass up the opportunity for searching for such an elusive bird. A tip from José Gustavo led us to search some overgrown agricultural plots where, one hot, sweaty, mosquito-filled morning while drowsing by the net, I heard a distinctive Thamnophilid song that was new to me and could only be our target. I was lying in the undergrowth some distance from my recording gear, that I had carefully hooked to a snag, and had to decide whether to make a noise and lose time in getting ready to record or whether to imitate the song. I chose the latter, made several whistled imitations and within a few minutes a pair of large antbirds - one black, one chestnut - were heading purposefully towards us, jumping from stem to stem. There was an outside chance that they could have been Immaculate Antbirds Myrmeciza immaculata, a common bird on the mountain - but a quick look through binculars at the bill confirmed that they weren't!

Chris Sharpe with a pair of Clytoctantes alixii, the first ornithologists had encountered in almost 40 pears. Photo: Jorge Pérez-Emán

Recurve-billed Bushbird.

Recurve-billed Bushbird.

Recurve-billed Bushbird showing the semi-concealed white dorsal patch common to many other Thamnophilids.

Recurve-billed Bushbird.

Recurve-billed Bushbird.
Recurve-billed Bushbird showing its scissors.

Recurve-billed Bushbird habitat in Perijá.


Elliot, D.G. (1870) Descriptions of some new Genera and Species of Birds belonging to the Families Formicariidae, Pachycephalidae and Sylviidae. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1870: 242–244.

Ginés, H., Aveledo, R.. Pons, A., Yepez Tamayo, G. & Muñoz Tebar, R. (1953) Lista y comentario de las aves colectadas en la región de Perijá. Memoria de la Sociedad de Ciencias Naturales La Salle 13:145202.

Willis, E.O. (1988) Behavioral notes, breeding records, and range extensions for Colombian birds. Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 16(63): 137–150.

Recommended citation:-

Sharpe, C.J. (2013) Re-finding the Recurve-billed Bushbird Clytoctantes alixii. The Curious Naturalist. Downloaded from on .

Jun 2015 update: A summary of what we now know about this species available on Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive:-

Zimmer, K., Isler, M.L. & Sharpe, C.J. (2015). Recurve-billed Bushbird (Clytoctantes alixii). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2015). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 30 June 2015).

Rockland St. Peter: Golden Plover on the move

At midday, out at the end of the garden, where the arable fields stretch away to the north, I fancied I could catch a distant piping or yodelling right at the edge of my hearing. I cupped my hands to concentrate the attenuated murmur and, after much straining, reluctantly concluded that I was just picking up a couple of very distant duelling Song Thrushes.

A full five minutes later, from high overhead came the instantly-recognisable mournful trisyllabic flight call of Golden Plover and, as I cocked my head, a good-sized flock of perhaps 150 birds flew SW over the house. Many of them retained the distinctive black underparts of their breeding plumage. Another sign of autumn, Golden Plover will soon be a common sight on the fields roundabout.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Hockering Wood & Hindolveston

I made a morning drive up to Hindolveston to pick up a new 125w Skinner trap from Anglia Lepidopterist Supplies. I was glad I did as it gave me time to meet and chat with propietor Jon Clifton.

Another reason for driving was to visit Hockering Wood, an 88 ha, privately-owned ancient limewood, en route. This is a curious wood with a lot of old Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata, some coppice stools of which are several metres across. 

Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata coppice stools on E boundary.

Paths are good broad, typical ex-WWII concrete roadways, of the type familiar in this part of the world, so access is easy. The site has been somewhat spoilt by hundreds of exotic trees - mostly conifers but also some broadleafs - and the best area for limes seems to be at the southern end, most distant from the entrance. Hopefully, the ongoing management aims to selectively remove the non-native trees.

Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata stand in SW corner.
I cannot recall having been in a limewood before and had certainly never seen treetrunks in Britain showing the regularly-drilled net of holes typical of those made in America by sapsuckers Sphyrapicus, presumably made by Great-spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major.

Rows of holes in Small-leaved Lime Tilia cordata trunk presumably made by
Great-spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major.

The weather is propitious and the trap has been on since dusk...

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Whistler

I've been puzzling over the identity of this enigmatic "whistler". The fictional (?) village of Deyirmenoluk is located at the foot of the Taurus Mountains on the Anatolian Plateau in Turkey.

There is a bird with long legs, finely shaped, a yellowish-grey like smoke, or rather almost green like trees seen through smoke, its neck so long that beak and body seem separate. It always stays near water. In Deyirmenoluk they call it the whistler, because of its call. It sings in a strange whistling manner, a long whistle which it then cuts short. It begins and stops, begins and stops. All the thrill of its singing lies in this sudden pause.

Memed My Hawk by Yaşar Kemal, trans. Edouard Roditi (1961)

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Book review: Britain's Hoverflies by Stuart Ball & Roger Morris

Britain's Hoverflies: An Introduction to the Hoverflies of Britain

Stuart Ball & Roger Morris
Princeton University Press WILDGuides | 2013
296 pp. | 15 x 21 cm | 569 colour photos. 161 colour distribution maps
Paperback | £24.95 / $35.00 | ISBN: 9780691156590

Only about 60% of the 280+ British species of hoverfly are readily identifiable by non-specialists (i.e. without recourse to a microscope and specimen), which goes some way to explaining why hoverflies have not been adopted by birders and nature enthusiasts with the same gusto as dragonflies, butterflies and macro moths. That may be about to change: this outstanding new field guide will almost certainly put hoverflies on the naturalist's radar.

Since 1983, Stubbs and Falk's British Hoverflies: An Illustrated Identification Guide has been the standard guide to British hoverflies. It is the definitive treatment, aimed at the specialist and very keen amateur and is now in its second edition. Size and cost have put it out of reach of the casual observer (like me), who instead relies on Gilbert's Hoverflies (in the Naturalists' Handbooks series) to tentatively name the commoner species.

WILDGuides' Britain's Hoverflies really fills a gap, giving the average naturalist a fighting chance of identifying the majority of species in the field. The book is the same size as previous WILDGuides publications, although more than twice as thick, so it is a true field guide. Its layout, with the plates facing the text, maps and figures makes it entirely fieldworthy – no need to flip back and forth in order to review all the information on a particular species. Following the format of previous WILDGuides, photographs are the main identification tool. A large proportion of the images were taken by Steven Falk – yes, the co-author of the standard work, illustrator of the old Gilbert handbook and administrator of an excellent hoverfly photograph website – and are perfectly engineered to show the field characters required to clinch identification. Often pointers and annotations are used to indicate key field characters. Since the authors are co-organisers of the Hoverfly Recording Scheme, we can be pretty confident of the identity of the subjects – something that cannot be said of some other books and Internet sources.

The facing-pages consist of snappy text which focusses on identification, similar species and observation tips (exactly what is required of a field guide, yet so often left out), together with a distribution map and indicator of flight season. The maps are excellent: large enough to allow the user to pinpoint a location and making use of colour to indicate abundance. The distributional data are derived from the Hoverfly Recording Scheme.

The combination of superb photographs, text and figures makes this one of the most effective identification guides I have used. On top of that, the introductory chapters are exemplary. Packed with fascinating information, even a cursory perusal is enough to make the reader want to get into the field and start using this guide.

In sum, this is one of the best field guides to any taxonomic group. I hope it will set the standard for photographic guides to come. How long before we have similar guides to grasshoppers and bush crickets, bees and wasps, ladybirds, pond life, or even mammals or fungi? All credit to the authors and to the WILDGuides team for giving us this vital new field guide.


Gilbert. F. (1993) Hoverflies (2nd edition). Naturalists' Handbooks # 5. Richmond Press: London. 72 pp.

Stubbs, A.E. & Falk, S.J. (2002) British hoverflies: an illustrated identification guide (2nd edition). British Entomological and Natural History Society: London. 469 pp.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Norfolk Bat Survey at Rocklands: 2nd O. S. grid square

The BTO are very quick and efficient in analysing the data generated through the Norfolk Bat Survey and I have just received the results of the second O. S. grid square that I covered.

On 2 August, the detector at my own house recorded just Common and Soprano Pipistrelles. At least this confirms the identity of the bats that roost in the shed at the bottom of the garden and hawk around the trees at dusk.

The following night, the same species, together with Brown Long-eared Bat were found at Walnut Tree Garden Nursery. Daubenton's bat may have been recorded as well.

The best night was 4 August, when the detector was set between two tall hedgerows close to a pond on the W side of Green Lane, at the end of Flymoor Lane. This was habitat for Natterer's, Noctule, Soprano and Common Pipistrelles. In addition, Daubentons, Leisler's, Serotine and Whiskered Bats were registered with low confidence. This just goes to show how a small amount of good habitat - simply tall hedgerows and a pond - can ensure that wildlife survives even in an otherwise barren agricultural wasteland.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Ted Parker: Voices of the Peruvian Rainforest

To mark the 20th anniversary of Ted Parker's death on Saturday 3 August, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have made just made available a free download of Parker's seminal Voices of the Peruvian Rainforest compilation, which first appeared on cassette in 1985. I still have a well-worn copy of this tape, which was one of the first commercially available recordings of South American bird songs.

Most of the recordings were made in Madre de Dios, and many along the río Tambopata, in SE Peru. I first came across the tape while working for several months as a biologist and guide at Explorer's Inn in 1988, when this was the only camp along the Tambopata. At that time, more bird species had been recorded at Explorer's Inn than at any other point on the planet - 515 species by 1981. A good proportion of the cuts were recorded on the property, so listening to the recordings now transports me right back into those wonderfully rich and diverse southwestern Amazonian forests.

One of my favourites is the recording of Pale-winged Trumpeter Psophia leucoptera song from Cocha Cashu in Manu National Park (the high-pitched disyllabic call is Ringed Antpipit Corythopis torquatus, a familiar sound throughout Amazonian lowland forests).

This extraordinary purring vocalisation will be familiar to anyone who stayed at Explorer's Inn at that time, since the lodge had a tame Trumpeter that often used to sing in the early mornings. This endearing bird would also immediately pounce on and attack any snake entering the lodge clearing; even the large Mussurana Clelia clelia that lived underneath our cabins was considered fair game.
Ted Parker had a phenomenal gift for remembering wildlife sounds. It is often said that he could identify more than 4,000 bird species by their songs alone. Made with an unwieldy parabola on a heavy, twin-reel Nagra recorder, his high-quality sound recordings capture more than 2,000 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Some 10,788 are archived at Cornell University's Library of Natural Sounds (now the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library).

Ted Parker died along with Al Gentry, a figure of similar legendary stature in the botanical world, and ecologist Eduardo Aspiazu, after their plane crashed while surveying forests northwest of Guayaquil, Ecuador. I clearly remember our shock and disbelief the following day on hearing the news from colleagues at BirdLife International. 

Ted Parker & Al Gentry (Photo: Tim Awbrey)