Some Notes on Juncos

Wickersham's Conscience

Juncos are a very common bird, but they also represent one of the great ornithological puzzles. Depending on who you talk to, there are between three and twelve species. The number of species depends on whether you think the confusing color patterns represent color and song variations on one species or separate species. As Birds of North America puts it,

The phylogenetic relationships of all junco taxa clearly involve more complex questions than can be answered by presently available evidence.

That’s something of an understatement. A few photos may illustrate the challenges.

Dark-eyed Junco, "Slate-colored" variety, Fairbanks, Alaska Dark-eyed Junco, “Slate-colored” variety, Fairbanks, Alaska

If you live in Alaska, this is the Junco you see most often. The whole back and chest is dark gray, with a sharply defined white belly. Dark-eyed and pale, pinkish-billed, it shows white outer tail feathers in flight.

Dark-eyed Junco, "Oregon" variety, Boise, Idaho Dark-eyed Junco, “Oregon” variety, Boise, Idaho

But this is a Dark-eyed Junco, too…

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Curlew GPS tracking on the Humber Estuary

Waders of the tidal flats

One of our most iconic wader species has a near-threatened status with a 48% decline of breeding birds since 1995 in the United Kingdom (UK), there is also a decreasing trend of wintering birds in estuaries over the last 15 years  On the Humber Estuary the population is stable with a five-year average of 2,806 birds (Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS)) which makes the Humber Estuary one of the top seven sites for wintering Curlew in the UK.  Morecambe Bay, with 11,193 Curlew, is the largest wintering site in the UK (BTO WeBS online).

Extensive Curlew research work is led by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) across the country to understand the cause of the decline.  The research work, undertaken on both breeding and non-breeding grounds, combines a range of desk-based and fieldwork studies.  The species’ home range and habitat selection (using GPS tracking data) is one of…

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The BTO’s agenda for change

Stonechat42 wildlife

In November 2018, as a member of the BTO ( The British Trust for Ornithology),  I was lucky enough to be invited to the Houses of Parliament to attend a meeting where the BTO introduced their new agenda for change.  The event was hosted by Baroness Young of Old Scone, who works with charities such as the BTO and the woodland trust.

4217d64c-c0c3-4f65-a4d9-3db988182ab1What is the BTO?

The BTO is a charity which monitors bird populations to inform the public and government policy decisions to benefit wildlife as we face increasing challenges including climate change  and pollution. 60,000 volunteers help the charity with surveys, some of which you may of heard about such as the garden bird watch.  I first came in contact with the BTO about two years ago at the second annual bird camp in Thetford, the HQ of the BTO. This camp is where many young birders are…

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Life through the eyes of a tree: leaves

Wandering the woods

(This is the third and final part of ‘life through the eyes of a tree. The previous parts, the heart and roots can be reached by clicking on the respective links.)

IMG_0507 2

Imagine freedom, dancing in the wind, a life spent as pure breath, lived on the wings of song.

What do you see when you look at the sky? Is it what science tells you – a place where nothing happens, just some molecules spread out thinly, or is it a place of wonder? Even with human senses, you can perceive some of its miracles: just think of the wonders of sound. And your cell-phone may have convinced you of just how much information that ’empty’ sky can carry.

Now, imagine that you could be just that, that your life could be spent simply as an antenna listening to these songs, helping them get carried along, shouting out and adding…

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Life through the eyes of a tree: the heart

Wandering the woods

This is the first in a series of posts that tries to look at the world from the perspective of a tree.

To begin, I would like you to visualize the following. Go to a place in the forest that you feel closely connected to, and see yourself sitting there, with your back resting against a huge chestnut tree. It is autumn. Right in front of you, you notice one of its fruits, the prickly skin protecting the chestnuts from those that want to eat them before they are ripe.


And you begin to wonder about that. Why the protective measures? Why does the tree not simply give away its fruits, but does feel the need to protect them?

And so you ask the tree if it will help you understand. In response, you feel your perspective changing, and it feels as if your body is slowly being absorbed inside…

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