Monthly Archives: March 2011

What predictions will come true?

Having ‘bigged-up’ the likely occurrence of Slaty-backed Gull and Stejneger’s Scoter at previous talks this winter, I think I will be making notes on myself! Come along if you are free…

Lincolnshire Bird Club AGM:…….2…………..9229th March 2011


Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club:……. 31st March 2011

“There are only 150 tickets available and will be sold on a first come-first served basis.”

more (scroll down)

Wigg Island CP, North Cheshire/ CAWOS……..5th April 2011

Places free but numbers limited– call Bill Morton- 01928 563 803

“Talks given by Martin are much more than a clear, enjoyable and interesting presentation on a (bird ID) subject. As I witnessed on the Dutch Birding Day in 2008, he has the gift to entertain his audience from the first second in a way that will help you remember the message for years. To everyone who has the opportunity to attend a presentation by Martin I would say: GO!”

Nils van Duivendijk, author: Advanced Bird ID Guide

Real Red-bellied boy and other bits:

Having ‘blogged’ about red-bellieds… no way!

Look what was in Spain 3 days ago:

Eastern Black Redstart in Spain. A stunning record from 3 days ago. We need one for Britain but I was thinking October/November not March!

Crossbills in North America/ Europe and call variation– comment added here:

Ross’s Goose- maybe the escape isn’t even pure? Have a look at this photos from Norfolk of presumed escape Ross’s Goose presently with Barnacle Geese. Johnny Mac rang to say he noticed the outer secondaries have blackish markings (on inner webs it seems).  Normally adult Ross’s Geese have all white secondaries?… See Andy Thompson’s’ in flight shot…off=293461&v=0

This apparent Ross’s Goose/ Barnacle Goose hybrid is obvious. Perhaps other ‘escaped’ Ross’ Geese actually show a mixed gene pool on closer inspection. Cleethorpes, Lincs., February 2007

David Sibley on taxa/ subspecies which are identifiable in the field:

Greenland Redpoll in Cambridge

and if you haven’t seen it, Steve Blain brought attention to this fab record of a far-inland Greenland Redpoll. How many are we missing?

Controversial Rufous Turtle Dove

Not always easy…

This one is for the Turtle Dove connoisseurs.

I have said it before- I think it would be relatively easy to overlook some examples of  Rufous Turtle Dove ssp. ‘meena. The wintering Oriental Turtle Dove ssp. orientalis in Oxford has refocused attention on the identification of these birds. So this one found on Linosa Island in the Mediteranean in early November 2010 is educational. I think it looks like a ‘meena’ Rufous Turtle Dove as do the finders, Andrea Corso and Michele Viganò, and co-observers Ottavio Janni and Igor Maiorano. Not all are convinced however. One of the observers, Ottavio, emailed me for comments and subsequent discussion included Andrea as well. I don’t know the taxon but I would be pretty excited if I found this baby!

Size in the field appeared “quite a bit bigger and bulkier than the 2-3 European Turtle Doves that roosted in the same area”. I can see in the photos it has thin/ weak pale tips to primary coverts, barely visible bare skin around the eye (usually obvious and extensive in European Turtle Dove),  overall plumage looks OK to me with quite extensive white in underparts. The tail pattern looks indistinguishable from European Turtle Dove (but see below). I would personally identify it as a juvenile Rufous Turtle Dove. But I have much to learn. See what you think…

Thanks to the birds’ finders and photographers for this fascinating piece.

size comparison with Collared Dove

Underwing and tail pattern

Size comparison with European Turtle Dove (on right)

Above: 5 photos by Ottavio Janni

Below: 5 photos by Michele Viganò

All of (apparent) juvenile Rufous Turtle Dove (ssp. meena), Linosa, early November 2010.

thin pale tips to primary coverts visible and limited bare skin in front of eye

Size comparison again: Rufous Turtle Dove on left, European Turtle Dove on right

More on Tail Patterns

It seems tail patterns may be more variable and not always as ‘diagnostic’ as currently thought. Paul Leader sent his photo of an Oriental Turtle Dove (orientalis) with a very white patterned tail tip (except on central tail feathers), more like ssp. meena.

An orientalis tail taken in Hong Kong with quite whitish outer tail feathers and a very reduced smudge (such that would be difficult to see in the field). Paul Leader

and below examples of ssp. meena in juvenile plumage showing extensive dark smudge on outer web of T6 (outermost tail feather) and extensive white over underparts.

Both are juvenile meena collected in September in Kashmir. USNM, photos: Ottavio Janni

Red-bellied Black Redstarts

They are out there

Great day at Spurn on Saturday 19th March began at dawn with a Black Redstart flying past (underneath!) our caravan- it then perched up near the rubbish area and sang briefly. Looking female -like I assumed it was a first summer male. Male Black Redstarts have 2 plumage types in their first year plumage:

cairei = (about 90% of 1st yr males in dull female-like plumage)

paradoxus = (c10% of 1st yr males in brighter male-like plumage)

The day just got better and better. A pair of Velvet Scoter flew past the ‘van mid morning  and 9 Whooper Swans, 6 Pink-feet and a bunch of Brent Geese as well as Buzzard and Merlin all buzzed the airspace viewable from the caravan as the day headed towards afternoon. Last orders produced a 2nd w Yellow-legged Gull on the Humber shore- a rare bird here in March. The next morning peaked with the 1st summer male White-spotted Bluethroat. Paul Collins then radioed out a new (smart-looking) male Black Redstart at the Point (by cafe). For me, this bird was another piece in an old jigsaw I have been trying to piece together for years. Why? because it had red on the belly. Here it is:

Above 3 photos. A male Black Redstart with ‘red’ belly feathering. Can you see the contrast in the  2 types of coverts feathers? Shorter buff-tipped outer and longer white-tipped inner coverts ages as first winter (think that ages it?!). The black ‘face’ marks also look as you find them on 1st w paradoxus males). The central belly looked white when front-on but in the lower belly there is clearly orangey feathering.

re aging:  Magnus Hellström, who knows a lot more about aging passerines then I do wrote:

“Actually, I believe this is an adult (3CY+) male. The brown edges to the outer GC is a sign of relative freshness (not shown by all
individuals). There is no moult contrast visible in the bird, and the
age is further supported by the cold grey and fresh pc and primary
tips. Note also the cold dark grey (nearly blackish) centra of the GC,
which proves them as post-juv (or older). 2CY bird generally only
moults a few inner GC, and if this would be a 2CY the post-juv moult
would have included all GC which is very rare in this species (at
least in Scandinavia). Most individuals moults only 2-3 GC.

Cheers  Magnus”

The red belly? It’s subtle, but it’s there. Have a look in your Collins Field Guide. Red-bellied = eastern bird. However a bird I saw wintering on Lincoln Cathedral in Feb. 2010 convinced me that some western Black Redstarts can have red on the belly. Here it is:

1st winter male Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis of the ‘paradoxus-type’  Lincoln Cathedral 12 February 2010. This bird had obviously brownish old juvenile wings and even more extensive reddish belly feathering than the Spurn bird. One eminent commentator was sure it was ssp. ochruros. I have seen ochruros in Turkey and phoenicuroides/semirufus further east. They don’t have white in the wing like this (or the Spurn bird.)

Some more (amazing) images of red-bellied (western) Black Redstarts in Florence Italy by Daniele Occhiato:

Black Redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros is a widespead species, which can be roughly divided into 2 groupings according to BWP: (1) gibraltariensis group with gibraltariensis and aterrimus, occurring Europe and North Africa east to Crimea and (probably) western Turkey; (aterrimus being limited to central and southern Iberia) and (2) phoenicuroides group with phoenicuroides, rufiventris, semirufus and xerophilus, in central Asia, west to Turkmeniya, north-east Iran, and Levant. The eastern phoenicuroides group differs chiefly from the western gibraltariensis group in having extensive red over the belly in adult males. However the nominate form P. o. ochruros inhabiting Turkey, Caucasus and Iran, combines characters of both main groups, including variable amounts of red feathering on the belly. Situated geographically between the western and eastern groups, as well as being highly variable, it is postulated that its plumage characters are the result of secondary intergradation.

On “The evolutionary history of Eurasian Redstart”: (thanks to Alex Lees)

Birding People

It’s part of the story

Bit corny, but true- my experiences of birding are not just about the birds, they are also about the people on the journey. Recently I have enjoyed the company on Gull Masterclass Days, at my regular haunt at Spurn, with fellow Sheffield birders, with British Birds Rarity Committee members and especially meeting new people on evening talks. So a couple pics- to help me remember…

BBRC members taking a break from the AGM at our Saturday night social, Oxford 12th March 2011. with Doc Martin (BOURC) and a couple of Oxford birders at the front (the one on the right a rather well known bird illustrator whose work vastly improves this blog : ). Thanks to the Oxford birders for warm welcome. Some of us look a little red-eyed!

Me and Keith Allsopp. (photo: Dave Gray). Met Keith after speaking to the Leicester and Rutland O.S. A legend! Keith’s self found list includes:

American Redstart  1967 Cornwall Porthgwarra, first-winter male, 21st October, 1967
Rufous Bush Robin   1972 Yorkshire, East Flamborough Head, 5th to 6th October, 1972

He described finding the American Redstart at Porthgwarra– the first for Britain, the next day they trapped an Orphean Warbler! Though I particularly enjoyed his accountof the Rufous Bush Robin- on his first ever visit to Flamborough Head. He said he didn’t know where to go, so heading for some nearby steps he noticed a  small bird perched on the edge of the steps… Flip!

The first of next weeks meets- Hope to see you there. More here:

White-spotted Bluethroat

Making a reedy ditch look amazing!

Early morning (20th March 2011) saw me check the saltmarsh off the Warren at Spurn in the hope of Rock Pipits. 2 had flown past me the previous day and I wondered about a nice Scandinavian ‘littoralis’. Yesterdays 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull (rare bird in March) was still ‘blogging’ about and as I watched it, the radio crackled. Ian Whitehouse had  just had brief views of a “big super and red in the tail dive into a nearby ditch; looks like a Bluethroat!” Soon there with awareness dawning, this will be a White-spot, a bird I have never seen in Britain (lots of Red-spots especially back in the mid 1980’s). After a few brief views- bingo! A first summer bird bejeweled the ditch. Aged by moult contrast (half the greater coverts with pale buff tips), the dark rectangles intruding into the sides of the cobalt blue seemed too large and unbecoming for an adult. The white spot was not always visible but with perseverance it ‘appeared’. Cracker!

My early morning ‘jewel in the ditch’ shots:

Spurn regulars up early watching the first summer Bluethroat. 20th march 2011. What an easy bird to walk past! Previous Spurn records:

6th April 1958

10th -13th April 1966

Ian Smith came back later in better light and nailed some great shots: