Monthly Archives: August 2010

Collared Flycatcher Part 1

Great ID Challenge!

Not sure that the British list has an acceptable 1st autumn Collared Flycatcher, Enter: todays bird at Spurn. Readers will hopefully  understand the enormity and potential complexity of such a claim.  With wing length only in range of Collared and too long for any Pied; a Collared type tail pattern and primary pattern it mostly seems to fit the bill. There are one or two characters which we are unsure of, so a little work and investigation needed. A certain learning experience for all!

For now a photo of the bird in the field. Full details to follow here. On behalf of Spurn Bird Observatory we would be very keen to hear from anyone who has first hand ringing experience of 1st autumn Collared Flycatchers and of in-hand photos of same.

Britain’s Best Barred Warbler Spot?

How they normally appear (or not) in the field

This is presumably Barred Warbler no. 3 (from yesterday), having moved from hedges just along the canal zone, into the sheltered vegetation at Kew (Spurn) this morning. A very early Firecrest called nearby and a fascinating (and slightly controversial) Harrier flew through (more on that later).

Here’s the Firecrest which had been trapped before I saw it. Photo: Ian (pin-sharp) Smith.

After last night in-hand Barred Warbler this one only appeared occasionally giving more ‘normal’ views.

Big warbler in  bush – beady eye, bit of a peaked crown maybe a suggestion of a supercilium.

Hey – pale fringes to wing coverts and tertials

Look at those undertail coverts!

At last, with patience, a decent view (though not always!)

Got this shot today from Ian Smith of the first bird at Canal Scrape– photo of same bird in flight here:

Vincent van der Spek sent me these to add to the Barred Warbler collection, trapped 31st August 2010 at Meijendel (near the Hague), the Netherlands:

Barred Warbler – in hand photo

Barred Warbler – a 3 bird day


see updates re Gull Masterclass days:

and Talks programme this winter:

Early evening saw my along the canal zone for a seemingly 3rd Barred Warbler sitting out, sporadically, in sunshine on hawthorn. It was a little distant and elusive so I headed to the Warren where bird 2 had been showing. I knew an attempt would be made to trap it. I briefly saw it flitting in ash. Then while chatting to Spurn warden Paul Collins the baby (well it is only couple months old!) suddenly flew into the mist net. Hooray!!

Barred Warblers – normally you only see ‘bits of them’ in a bush (at least I do). You need to know the right bits for quick confident identification. So here’s a whole one with everything on it:

On Taiga  Flycatcher day last September 2009 we found a Barred Warbler, at Funzie on Fetlar at the end of the day. It was a little overshadowed. With 3 at Spurn, today is was definitely BIRD of the DAY!

1st winter Barred Warbler, The Warren, Spurn 27th August 2010

Barred Warblers have a particularly long-tailed look in flight (due to their long tails!) which reminds me more of a ‘mini Shrike’ than a warbler. Garden Warbler looks like a large warbler in flight.

In comparison: Garden Warbler. Canal scrape, Spurn 27th August 2010


Bush Birds

After all these years, the classic ‘drift migrants’ still give me great delight. Plenty of them seen at Spurn today. I was not disappointed with my search of the ‘wire dump’ area this morning. The autumn Bush Birds were there. Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat and Guillemot. Later on Redstart and Garden Warbler completed the set. Saw possibly a second (new) Barred Warbler in flight a couple of times at the Warren.

OK. Guillemot was a surprise addition to the Bush Bird list today. I found a Pied Flycatcher bearing a metal ring. The possibility of this being a foreign ringed bird was enough to motivate Spurn’s ‘son’ Barry Spence to rough cut an old ringing ride through elder and buckthorn and set up a mist net. Leaving a tape of Pied Flycatcher running he returned shortly after to find a  Guillemot walking along the net ride. That’s the story of how a Guillemot became a Bush bird for a day!

This Whinchat kept company with the Pied Flycatcher below, 2 Whitethroat and a Guillemot.

This Pied Flycatcher was the start of the saga. Though with the appearance of  ‘Guilly’ he was never seen again. (It had very black wings and tail- so I think it was a ‘he’).

This is the only photo not taken today. A 1st winter male Redstart being a classic ‘jewel in a bush’ for migration watchers. Sept 2009, Spurn. Several around today.

The “I can be anything you want” warbler. I will trick you until you see me well. Barred Warbler or Booted Warbler. Whatever you need – I am never ‘just’ a Garden Warbler

1st winter Guillemot – barely full-grown wings. Found along a net ride, this morning which was set for the ringed Pied Flycatcher.

Andy Roadhouse has a quick fatherly chat with Guilly about not going in trees and bushes any more. Then pointing him to the sea, sets him free!

Spotted Redshank

They look a lot easier in the field guide!

Plenty of shorebirds/ waders around. Last few days the main feature of visible migration past the caravan are these pied stunners. Presumably these are heading south, from more northerly breeding grounds such as Scandinavia and Iceland. While their plumage and call is familiar enough. Close inspection reveals a stunningly beautiful species – not to be taken for granted.


I was momentarily thrown today by a tringa wader. Bunched up in a group of roosting waders, head tucked in, often largely obscured. Dang! They don’t look like that in the field guide!

In fact I think it’s quite fun and certainly educational to occasionally encounter those waders which you can only see bits of . You think it looks like something different. You might even suspect the identification – but you’re not sure. Can you see enough features to nail it?

Today’s species was the same as the pale bird on the right here (photographed same place, this time last year) – another whose identity had to be teased out:

Left Redshank, centre, Bar-tailed Godwit, right, ‘Nice bird’ – It’s the large pale grey  and white one on the right. It’s a moulting adult….thingy.

And here’s today’s bird: Looks so much easier now in nice photo in which its body is all visible! Can you see it?

and another juvenile  ‘tringa’ which flew in to join the throng- a juvenile Greenshank:

Probably much quicker than me you realised the pale grey wader (on the right) in the top picture was a moulting adult Spotted Redshank. And (in the next photo) the bird toward the left with the fine wavy barring along the flanks is a juvenile Spotted Redshank – from today.

So here’s one for you

This took me a little longer to nail it. It’s he pale grey bird in the middle (photo below). This is how it looked for a very long time – head never raised. Part of body and legs obscured. turns out when did see it with ‘field guide’ views- we had already come to the correct identification. I think it CAN be identified on these views alone. Have a go!

BTW it was taken on 3rd August 2009 from Chalk Bank Hide, Spurn, East Yorkshire.

Celebration of Birds

Spurn late August 2010

What the heck – no theme here just a celebration of waders, and wagtails, terns and warblers. Birds have such fantastic variety. They do so many different things. Even when the bushes aren’t rarity hopping and popping – how can you be bored?!

A few photos from yesterday and today at Spurn

Multi-coloured shorebirds. Left: adult summer male Bar-tailed Godwit. Centre:winter plumaged Knot. Right: adult summer Knot. The reddish undertail coverts of the Knot mean it won’t be from the American or east Siberian populations (which have white UTC). Ringing has shown that almost all the birds at Spurn will be of the High Canadian Arctic and Greenland form islandica.

There are still some bright adult Dunlin around. Almost all of these, will be of the nominate form alpina. Besides indicative plumage features many alpina arrive having already moulted some of their flight feathers, unlike nearer breeding schinzii – which moult on wintering grounds in Africa. No sign of any ‘adult buff coverts’ indicating centralis from Central Siberia- though they have been strongly suspected at this time of year.

Adult Whimbrel. This fella has been around with his damaged leg for most of August

‘Yellow’ or  flava  Wagtail. Quite a few have been moving through Spurn yesterday and today. Many just fly over, though some land, as this one on Canal Scrape. Birds in juvenile plumage are also about – some with no visible yellow in the plumage.

This Barred Warbler has reappeared by Canal Scrape this morning. Though more often seen in flight than out in the open -hence the photo!

Common Terns and Moon. Spurn birding in late August can be exhausting. With passerine searches beginning at 6:00 am and terns passing well after dark – it can be a non-stop experience. Last night some 16,000 Common terns flew south to roost off Lincolnshire. They were still going ‘after dark’.

Yellow-legged Gull

Identifying a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

24th August 2010 Spurn, East Yorkshire

OK , here’s how the juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was identified. Health warning-there are no long-winded explanations of every feather or caveats-everywhere kind of texts – its just rough and raw. Hope you can follow it!

First picked up by Sharon (Mrs G to you!) from the caravan window. Why? Because it was harassing a Common Gull for its food item, as tenaciously as any Arctic Skua. At distance- it looked like it was going to be a skua (naked eye). Binoculars out – saw it was a juvenile type ‘large gull’ and seeing all dark outer wing assumed Lesser-Black-back. Maybe I should have thought a moment. Mediterranean Yellow-legs are littoral feeders- aggressive scavengers. The Orgreave juvenile YLG last week

flew in and immediately began harassing and chasing smaller gulls. I have a feeling LBB’s are less aggressive.

Anyway, having dismissed it, it appeared shortly afterwards flying in front of the van. Now I could see (naked eye) it has quite contrasty with white looking head and body (ground colour) land with striking black/ white tail. It landed on the beach – bins out – the first thing that started the alarm bells ringing was the greater covert bar– viewable through binoculars (couldn’t make out other upperparts details). It looked paler/‘marbled’ lacking the expected (more extensively) darker pattern/bases to these feathers of LBB. This is when I began to think it was worth a ‘proper look’ and YLG began to be a possibility.

So scope out, and SLAM! A juvenile plumaged large gull in August with lots of 2nd generation scapulars. To be precise, the first generation scapulars in these birds are brown centred feathers with variable pale creamy fringes. The second generation feathers are, roughly speaking, paler centred with dark anchor shape. LBB and Herring don’t start moulting the juvenile scapulars until September. This bird has LOTS of moulted scaps.  That’s it. In my mind, it is now almost certainly a juvenile YLG- and I begin to check the other features just to ensure the identification is water tight.

So in order

1)      Aggressive behaviour of large juvenile gull (Herring/ LBB type) could be useful (note to self! )

2)      Dark outer wing (no window) = LBB or YLG)

3)      Paler marbled grater coverts when noticed on the deck – this could be one?

4)      2nd generation scapulars in August – pretty much slam dunk

Other features

  • Yes it is white headed, little dark mask and beefy bill with heavy tip – classic!
  • Though very blotchy below it has white ground colour to underparts
  • Loooonnnng primary extension at rest
  • Double check in flight- bright white rump and tail with neat black tail band
  • Inner wing looks all pale apart from secondaries. – no extra dark bar on greater coverts as in LBB
  • Underwing looks dark – but is actually ‘mealie’ and less solidly dark than LBB

All these features should be visible in the photos below -laid out to reflect the identification process as it unfolded. Remember it is a lot easier in a photo still than with a dynamically moving bird!

moulting juvenile – first winter Yellow-legged Gull Spurn 24th August 2010

Stop Press

Following this posting, fellow Sheffield birder, Pete Wragg sent his photo of a 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull taken at Spurn last weekenddn (21st August). Pete wrote:

“Think it’s a different bird to yours, but identified basically by the same features that you mention on your blog.”

It is clearly a different individual with even more advanced moult in scapulars and perhaps (though hard to be sure) even in some coverts:

First winter Yellow-legged Gull. Spurn. 21st August 2009. Pete Wragg

OK , OK couldn’t resist one more from tonight. It is a flock of Common Terns – literally thousands of these streamed past my caravan window this evening. What a sight!

There is one other species here. Can you see it and name it and age it? Bit closer (and easier in lower shot).