Monthly Archives: August 2010

Paddyfield Warbler

Acro Agro or…

Shetland’s Paddyfield Colony?

see here for a seemingly different bird at the same site, earlier this month:

Found yesterday by intrepid Rory T (also of Burrafirth Syke’s fame), poor views and a less than striking example of the species, has caused considerable consternation. Mike Penno sent me a few pics last night which suggested to my eyes at least something better than Reed-maybe Blythe’s Reed.

A few seconds on an Angelica stem, in full view, today gave Robbie Brookes an opportunity to get the photos below. Here its looks more clearly like a 1st winter Paddyfield. But its easy for me to say!! Observers will simply not have had the kind of views we can enjoy in these photos.

This is good example whereby identification in the field is, in reality a lot harder than appreciated from the luxury of a laptop. Anyone can be  an  expert when it comes to ‘internet identification’!

In the photos, the bird does show clearly short wings (looks like 6 primary tips), warm toned uppers, rufous wash to rump and especially big (too big for any Reed) flaring super. The reason it looks a little less convincing – the greyish wash of super behind eye makes it less striking, dark lores and supraloral (dark line above supercilium) rather weak looking. The dark centred, contrasty tertials take the possibility of Blythe’s Reed out of the frame. Observers struggled with the tail not looking long enough in the field for typical Paddyfield. Greyish iris is some pics and fresh plumage (only slightly worn) plumage suggest first winter – though not always easy.

Despite reams that have been written about plain acros (acrocephalus warblers = sharp or pointy-headed warbler), especially the vagrants, can be very tricksy. Confirmation of the identification of this bird has proved awkward since it was found.

Big well done (and  little envy!) to the guys who stuck with the process.

Photos, by top photographer and Unst resident, Robbie Brookes at Halligarth.

23rd August 2010

Sedge Warbler

One tiny feather

Anyone cringe a little at the one-legged lump of protein and fat near the bottom of this post?

I don’t think I want to reproduce it. I certainly never really considered it identifiable. However hawk eyes (but not talons) Rael Butcher thought it might be. The only ‘readable’ feathers left were  1 or more tiny lesser coverts and an alula feather. 2 Days after the featured juvenile Sparrowhawk had been trapped, complete with prey, Rael rescued  a passerine from the jaws of a local cat. It appeared to have the same lesser coverts as the Sparrowhawk snack. The lump has been identified!

Just shows ya. Sometime it only takes one tiny feather

Here’s another one of the same species, same area, same time of year. It’s hiding – now we know why!

juvenile Sedge Warbler, Spurn, 8th August 2009 -possibly hiding from the ‘Warblerhawk’.

Advanced Birding ID Guide

Hey Nils – you are my current reading!

Very enjoyable day at Birdfair today. Nice to see Nils van Duivendijk again. we have worked together on some identification things, notably Steppe Buzzard. Very pleased his book is doing so well – it’s very different and I love it. In fact it’s similar to an idea I had for a book or series of little books many years ago. I used to carry around, in my little ol’ wax jacket pockets,  2 red ‘silvine’ notebook – one on passerines , one on non-passerines with small bullet point details on rarities – ready for the day! That was a very long time ago. It was the kind of publication I once dreamed of doing – Nils beat me to it and did a better job. It’s now vying for top-selling bird book spot on the Amazon list. Well done Nils.

This is the promotion leaflet on the British Birds stand. It contains part of  a forthcoming review I am doing on the book:

P.S. If you have any comments on this book – We could make this review a little interactive please  post comments below.

Also met some other great folk, good and special friends. Dare not try to mention all the names, though one unexpected treat: Got introduced to Hugo Romano. Hugo is one of the 2 partners of ‘Maderia Wind Birds’.  If I could come up with some kind of list of frontier birders of the last 12 months I think these would be in with a shout at the number one spot. Having found an area for observing the hitherto virtually never –seen- in- the – field,  Zino’s Petrel they have opened up a whole new seabird watching experience – and very very effectively too. Hats off to them! Nice to meet you Hugo –hope I make it on one of your trips sometime soon!

Even if you have seen these amazing videos before –  worth another look:

Record breaking wildfowl

Record breaking birds in Sheffield

OK. It’s a bit of a hyped-up title. But, there is some truth in it. Yesterday I popped out mid-afternoon. The juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was at Orgreave, but flew off south. Wondering if it might reappear at Rother Valley Country Park, I headed there. No sign on the nature reserve lake, so I headed for the ‘bread zone’ where members of the public feed semi-tame wildfowl. Sitting down to ponder the ferals with an over-expensive ice-cream,

I saw this:

Its one of the great record breakers of the ‘Bird World’. Read on to find out why. Here it is being a bit more identifiable:

OK now guard your reaction! I know. It’s a Bar-headed Goose, Anser indicus. Not a wild bird – in Sheffield. Not interesting. That’s was MY initial reaction. Until a noticed another bird nearby, which, with a bit of quick deduction I realised was a juvenile Bar-headed Goose. A plumage tick (I think?):

Neither bird was ringed. My best guess is that someone who can longer keep them has very recently dropped them off at the ‘bread zone’.

update: Sheffield’s pie man says Bar-headed Geese breed at Queens Park, Chesterfield (next city south of Sheffield).

So whats so great about the Bar-headed Goose. Respect please:

It’s the highest flying migrant bird in the World.

The Bar-headed Goose travels directly over the Himalayas en route between its nesting grounds in Tibet and winter quarters in India (and less frequently Pakistan and Burma). They have been seen flying well above the peak of Mt. Everest at 29,035 ft to maximum recorded of 33,382 feet. Their journey was a featured stories on the documentary: Planet Earth. The journey over the mountains is a difficult one and wind conditions can force the birds backwards where they will rest and try again the next day.

Bar-headed Geese have special adaptations that make them even better at high-flying than other birds. They have a special type of hemoglobin that absorbs oxygen very quickly at high altitudes, and their capillaries penetrate especially deep within their muscles to transfer oxygen to the muscle fibers.

So no tut-tutting or snide comments. This blog post is written in honour of one of the great ‘frontier birds’ and I got to enjoy the presence of a couple of them just down the road yesterday – quite unexpectedly.

Adult and juvenile Bar-headed Geese. RVCP, Sheffield, 19th August 2010

The upperpart feathers on the adult are broad and square ended, whereas those of the juvenile are thinner and with more round end, and neat pale fringe. The difference in these feathers is a  key method  of ageing the ‘grey geese’.

Birdfair 2010

Let’s meet up at Birdfair

I will be at Rutland – The Birdfair – this weekend of Saturday and Sunday (21st and 22nd August).  I will be wearing something with Shetland Nature on.

Be great to meet – please say hello if you see me. Happy to chat talk about talks I do or Discovery Days– guided birding days out.

Me on Lamba Ness, Unst. July 2010. A smoky ‘Blue Maalie’ flew past in a stream of Fulmars as we watched from here.

Yellow Wagtail

Confusing, rasping Yellow Wagtail calls

On ‘Citrine Wagtail day’ last Sunday, my field notes on the citreola read:

“very raspy call in flight, not really confusable with vague suggestion of raspy call sometimes heard in variant flight calls of flava

So I thought I had that sorted!

With an increase in southward moving flava wagtails it was not surprising that Tuesday’s  long walk to the point (below) produced about 20 birds. In the point dunes a grounded group of c12. One juvenile here gave me cause for concern. Every so often it gave what sounded to me a Citrine or Black-headed Wagtail-like raspy call. It also gave normal clear ‘Yellow’ Wagtail calls. I recalled a couple of things.

I wasn’t sure how to identify a juvenile Citrine Wagtail – but I did know they looked much more similar to juvenile Yellow Wagtails than first winter Citrine’s. Maybe  I could easily overlook one? Sundays bird had moulted most of its juvenile body plumage and was a first winter bird. Juvenile plumaged Citrine though has occurred, in August, in the UK.

Scroll down for photo of  juvenile Citrine:

I also knew that as well as Black-headed Wagtails (feldegg), ‘southern Yellow Watail’ taxa (Ashy-headed, Spanish etc) and have raspy calls too. AND that Grey-headed Wagtails have a reputation for giving buzzier call notes.

I got several reasonable looks at the bird – no photos due to ‘naked birding’ and it looked like – a moulting juvenile Yellow Wagtail. Nothing untoward and no Citrine signals like bigger, whiter wingbars and pale ear covert surround. I did manage to record the call but my trusty ‘Remembird’ (see here: has frozen up and I can’t download the recording – same week as my tripod leg broke too!

Back at home, and follow-up literature check I learnt something new. See below:

juvenile Yellow Wagtail (this one called ‘normally’) at Spurn Point stay frustratingly hard to see in cover of dune vegetation, 17th August 2010. Many in various plumage types from juvenile to first winter.

Yellow Wagtail alarm call

First book stop: Pipits and Wagtails … by Per Alstrom, Krister Mild, and Bill Zetterstrom. In the calls section I found mention of the ‘alarm call’.

“The alarm call is a single harsh tshrrep; schrep; or similar (similar to single song notes and especially to the ‘feldegg-type’ call)… When only slightly anxious, at least the north-western subspecies flava, flavissima, beema and western thunbergi often give both ordinary calls and alternative alarm calls which sound similar to the usual calls, e.g. tshrrep, psweoo, tshrrep, tshrep, tsweep etc.”

I know the song  of Yellow Wagtails – one of the shortest and least inspiring passerine songs. It’s very raspy and  recalls Citrine/ feldegg. Similar calls can even be uttered in flight when on territory. I have a recording from last summer which I will try to add here.

So is that it? I was hearing a variant harsh raspy alarm call, part of the normal repertoire of Yellow Wagtail – presumably flavissima, but possibly, given other recent Scandinavian migrants, thunbergi ?

Turkish Wagtails

Meanwhile this time last year I was in Turkey. So here’s a few pics of Black-headed Wagatils (feldegg). The first 2 of a first winter –  with a bit more of Citrine-like ear covert surround. Plus 2 adult males in fresh plumage. I call them ‘green-headed’ as the black is often largely obscured by olive-green feathers tips. In a flock most called the expected raspy feldegg call but every so often could be heard clearer notes as in West European birds. Whether these notes came from the Black-headed Wagtails, or the odd Blue-headed (flava), which may have been mixed in, I don’t know.

Lots to learn!

First winter Black-headed Wagtail. (2 photos above). SW Turkey. 17th August 2009

Adult male ‘Black-headed Wagtail’. An intergrade type (with lutea or flava/ beema) with yellow rear supercilium- usually referred to as ‘xanthophrys’ = yellow pigmented! SW Turkey. 21st August 2009

Adult male Black-headed Wagtail. Purists might want to comment on the white in the malar stripe and small white nick behind the eye. SW Turkey. 19th August 2009

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatchers, Wood Warbler and rasping flavas

Spurn – 17th August 2010

Early start again and Pied Flycatcher at 6:10 am at the Warren boded well. Walked the full length of the point and added another Pied Flycatcher, Garden Warbler, Whinchat, 12 Willow Warblers and – bonus ball- a stunning Wood Warbler at the point. The long winger is scarce at Spurn (3 records in autumn 2009) and always a treat to look at. A buzzy calling juvenile flava (Yellow Wagtail)  really distracted me for a spell. Then I hitched a lift back to the Warren 4 hours after starting out, just in time to find the earlier Pied Flycatcher had been trapped.

Pied Flycather is one of those ‘proper migrants’ and for me always a bonus to see and when giving close views, a chance to learn. With the identification challenge of potential vagrants Collared, Semi-collared and Atlas Flycatchers, I enjoy the opportunity for a black and white flycatcher refresher. I also learnt about (trying to) sex first winters  from Paul Collins and Adam Hutt.

Couple of photos of the bird, one labelled to point out some features, the other left clean to show how nice it looks.

1st winter (perhaps male) Pied Flycatcher, The Warren, Spurn 17th August 2010

And I dug this one out, below. An interesting bird also seen at the Warren, Spurn on 30th August 2008. The uppertail coverts look rather (broadly fringed) brownish, so perhaps is a female. The middle tertial ‘step’ = another first winter.

What’s intriguing about this one is the reduced white, at the primary bases but especially at the tertial bases. The white on the outer edge of the 3 tertials is a neat, narrow, even fringe. On many 1st winter Pied Flycatchers the white broadens towards the base on the 2 larger tertials and merges across the base of all 3 feathers (as above).

Question. Is this ‘separated white’ on the tertials indicative of some 1st winter females – i.e. is it ever shown by 1st winter males?

The pattern is also shown by female Semi-collared Flycatchers – but you need to see a bunch of other features to nail one of those!

First winter (perhaps female) Pied Flycatcher, The Warren, Spurn. 30th August 2008