Where to See Australian Wildlife in the Wild

During a recent family holiday to Australia, a key goal of mine was to see some of Australia's most enigmatic wildlife in the wild. Yet with a tight itinerary and very little time spent away from major cities, I knew this might be a difficult task. I spent the weeks preceding the trip searching online for hotspots and places where I could try to get sightings during short stops along the routes we had already planned to travel. I found information to be disappointingly scarce. Google searches about seeing Australian wildlife became constantly diluted with articles about zoos and sanctuaries where the animals could be seen in captivity. We already had several trips to sanctuaries planned, and besides I'd seen Koalas, Echidnas and Wombats in zoos in the UK. In my mind, nothing would compare to spotting a Koala in the wild, in its natural habitat. I haven't written on this blog in a long time. But the complete lack of online information on where to find Australian animals in t

Artificial Identification

The relatively recent rise in popularity of birding "tools" such as the Merlin Bird Identification app  and Swarovski’s dG which identifies the wildlife it focuses on reflects a universal explosion in machine learning and artificial intelligence in general. Artificial intelligence or AI has taken over in most industries and is now used to complete incredibly complex tasks, ranging from automatically labelling CCTV footage to understanding and responding to human speech in Alexa and Siri. In some medical diagnosis tasks, machine learning has been found to perform better than doctors themselves. None of these are a far cry from bird identification. If ANPR can identify the letters on a speeding car’s numberplate it won’t be long before a camera is able to reliably identify passing birds, especially given Merlin’s demonstrable identification skills. Merlin relatively recently released the sound identification extension to its birding app which can identify (or at least give sug


Last summer, there was an attempt on Twitter to produce the official wader league table between the UK reserves, ranking them on how many species they had recorded over the entire lifetime of the reserve. The results shocked me! As a young birder, there were reserves at the top that I never would have predicted: Blacktoft Sands (52 species) above Frampton Marsh (47); Breydon (55) above Titchwell (53); Pagham Harbour (56) above Spurn (55). Ask any young birder to name a top 10 site for waders and they'd probably say Frampton Marsh. Yet just over a decade ago it was a collection of fields and consequently it finds itself a long way down the table at position 37! In this way, birding perspectives change with every generation. If you were looking to live in a mainland rarity hotspot, this year you might go house hunting in East Yorkshire! Yet, a while ago you'd probably be mad not to have picked Norfolk.  Perspectives can change dramatically in the short term too. Birds are unpredi

Midwinter Motivation - Least Sandpiper, August 2016

In the middle of winter, during those long, often birdless, walks around our patch with few more species on our list than there were at the end of New Years' Day, we could all do with a bit of motivation. A reminder that anything can happen in birding, even things that seem scarcely believable. I spend a lot of time in Devon and one of my favourite areas is the Axe Estuary. On the 4th of August 2016, I was down for a week on holiday and, being 20 minutes away, decided to go to Black Hole Marsh on the Axe Estuary to see the Least Sandpiper which had been found 2 days previously. The bird was performing outrageously well from the screens at the base of the hide walkway. Far too close for scopes and close enough that I could get this photo with a phone camera: I've seen plenty of Least Sandpipers in the USA but even there, I have never seen one so close. It gave a great opportunity to study the plumage details. Who knew I'd have to employ them so soon? After getting

Personal Birding

Twitter is a great thing for birding, in countless ways. In my previous writing, I have sung its praises, from allowing the real-time tracking of rarities to providing an unparalleled community of like-minded people.  However, it can be easy to find yourself constantly comparing your own birding to those on social media. And this can be quite a disheartening thing. Just as with any social media, people usually tend to post their "best self" or in the case of birding twitter, their birding highlights. With a limit of 280 characters, of course we'd mention the Jack Snipe we found on our patch, and probably not mention the 3 hours spent trudging through empty fields. Likewise, in a post of the year's highlights, we're not going to waste precious words lamenting the many dips and bird-less days along the way (unless making a point to that effect).  As a result, a Twitter session can often lead to the feeling that you're the only one to whom the birds don't com

When no news is bad news

I love birding in Norfolk - you can’t quite beat the feeling of walking down the Titchwell West Bank Path with waders calling all around you and the autumn wind heralding the start of migration. I used to come here every year with my grandparents; my grandad got me into birding from the beginning, and this reserve holds some of my most treasured birding memories.   The West Bank Path at Titchwell Marsh, overlooking the reedbed Birds or not, there's just something about being at Titchwell that means I love every visit. Yet I miss the excitement and unbridled optimism that I had here as a 10 year old on every single trip. I know that it’s still in there but has been beaten and aged by pragmatism and experience. The fact is that now when I visit Norfolk I know what’s around and I know what has been around for the last few weeks, if not months. There's no doubt that news services are one of the best things about modern birding - I recently wrote a post expressing this sentiment. H

Mother tongue

When did you start birding? For me, it was when I was very little. I used to sit with my grandad flicking through the bird book and while I was yet to be able to read the descriptions, I could identify most British birds by the age of 4. My birding education was chiefly visual - I couldn't read let alone understand the meaning of a scapular. For some of you, this will sound very familiar, for others maybe you got into birding later on. In this way, there's a huge range of birding backgrounds, which gives rise to an interesting phenomenon that I've only recently started to notice. As birders, when we look at a photo of a Western Sandpiper, lots of thoughts go through our head to try and establish why it is not a Little Stint or a Semipalmated Sandpiper. And when I'm with other birders, I've noticed a lot of the time these thoughts are very technical - half-webbed toes, the markings on the scapulars, the bill length etc. Whereas my response is sometimes "well it