Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hot news: Eastern flava in Devon

Credibility barrier broken

Grey-Yellow-Wag1 sw 1


Great news from Doc. Martin (Collinson)- P.S. he really does wear DM’s too! Its DNA says yes.  Preliminary DNA analysis on the apparent Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Colyford, Devon in Dec 2010 has shown that the bird present at Colyford Sewage Works on 4th-19th December was a male of the eastern tscutschensis/taivana/macronyx group, genetically most similar to tschutschensis


So we have good (grey and white) plumage, good call and now confirmatory DNA. Congrats to all involved!

Details on call and more here:

N.B. some of them can have lots more yellow and may be turning up from August onwards- lots to look for and learn about for keen pioneers!

Best Stejneger’s Scoter photos

Check these out!

Thanks to Chris Batty who sent these videograbs of a relatively distant bird- not bad going! No strain to pick out ALL the features on this adult male Stejeneger’s Scoter off Co. Kerry, Ireland (pronounced, I believe, Stay-neh-gers with a ‘hard g’). Chris took the video on Friday 11th and was showing me on the back of his camera on the morning of 12th in Oxford- grip factor!

Gull Days feedback

I think it worked…

Well it was an education for me. Having never done anything quite like it. How would the 2 Gull days go?

2 different locations. 20 people, over 2 days. Birding experience ranged from 4 months to over 35 years! From perhaps the smallest British List to the biggest! Laminated crib sheets and aids to drawing the birds (outlines by David Quinn) were provided. I brought some wings and a specimen to demonstrate key features of wing tip pattern, and thankfully the birds showed up!

I asked for feedback. Thankfully they said it was O.K : ). Couldn’t have done it without Dominic M., Steve L., and Ian L.

I couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction to ‘Advanced Gulls’ (not to mention Cormorants!) and I can’t wait to get back out again, armed with a bit more knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, the inspiration to continue discovering… (Rick W.)

Thanks for a wonderful day today. I’m so pleased with those two Caspian gulls. I learned quite a bit – but most of all I just gained confidence to have a go, thanks to you, Dominic and Ian. Please pass on my thanks to them. Building confidence in others is a great skill to have! (Ken T.)

Yesterdays Gull lessons were excellent. If you ever get the chance to bird with Martin @birdingfrontier do it! Amazing knowledge+nice bloke. (Steve J.)

Just a quick note to say thank you for Friday. We both really enjoyed the day, and learnt a lot (even if we were feeling a little saturated by the end!). (David and Janet F.)

Although only been looking at birds since October last year I benefited hugely from Saturday and I really appreciated the effort you put in. It has helped immensely, I now feel I have a better understanding on how to work with gulls and will next time I’m out birding be paying a lot more attention to those finer details we spoke of. (Lee B.)

Its good to get first hand experience of the gulls and it increased my knowledge. A very useful day and well worth the price. (Steve W.)

A great day out in convivial company.  I thought the day hit the right note to cater for birders with levels of different experience and certainly gave me lots of food for thought, as well as some useful materials to take away and study. (Ian L.)

Martin’s gull workshop was exceptionally good value for money, he imparted an immense volume of information on gull ageing, races, variation and identification, with excellent handouts and skins (including just wings!) to study. The wonderful aspect of the day was being able to see 1st winter Yellow-legged and Caspian Gull beside Herring Gulls so we could fully appreciate the full suite of differences.  The day was not just about specific gull identification but how we could learn more when we are out studying gulls or any other species on our own. (David Darrell-Lambert, director Bird Brain UK Limited).

Photos of some of the Gulls..

Above a 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull at Albert Village Lake. Bit of tricky one and found by one of our guests- so well done. I think some of them were quicker to call it than I was.

Above 2 first winter Yellow-legged Gulls, Rainham. The first bird wasn’t an easy individual to pick out but looks much better in flight! The second bird a little easier. Can you see the moult in the wing coverts present on both. 2 photos on the ground by David Darrell-Lambert, flight shot by Dominic Mitchell.

One of 3 ‘subadult’ Yellow-legged Gulls seen at Rainham.This one a 2nd winter (3rd cal yr) by David Darrell-Lambert.

One of 2 Caspians seen at Rainham, David Darrell-Lambert

and to finish… we also saw Glaucous Gull, Mediterranean Gulls (1st w and adults), 3 leucisitic Black-headed Gulls, Finnish argentatus, probable Russian Common Gull, Water and littoralis Rock Pipit, 2 Peregrine, Hen Harrier, and very tame Fox and some very nice food and drink!

Steve Arlow photographed 4 first winter Caspian Gulls on the same Saturday at Pitsea and sent his very cool photos. The ringed bird came from Poland and was sen by Dominic in early Feb. Thanks for the pics guys! Especial thanks to Steve Lister, John Hague, Dominic Mitchell and Ian Lewington for all sorts!

Canvasback Hybrids

What a headache!

Canvasbacks in the UK are a headache. Why? They are a species which breeds in the western half of N. America, so likely only to be a very rare vagrant in Britain. However they are commonly kept in captivity in the UK. And some of the captive ones look as if they are considerably less than pure (perhaps mixed with Pochard genes). Josh J. and Oliver M. recorded a bird in W Ireland last week which you might have thought would have been a wild Canvasback. However like some others records, it looked less than pure. Here’s Josh’s account with his (distant) photos. Also above and at the end a few pics of ‘Canvasbacks’ from Slimbridge WWT, taken on 18th February 2010. All the Canvasbacks at Slimbridge look dodgy- bit of blue at bill tip and even running up in the bill sides, rather dark upperparts, contrasting obviously with paler flanks and unstriking bill shape. Some of the females look almost Pochard -like. To me real Canvasbacks are so big, crazily long-billed and long-necked they look like they can EAT Pochard! See what you think…

Canvasback-type hybrid, Co. Galway, 6th March

After an overnight kip in the car at Angilham, on the southern shore of Lough Corrib, Co. Galway, Oliver Metcalf and I found ourselves looking at the large concentration of aythya that winter in the bay here in the early morning light. It was a bit misty, though viewing conditions were slowly improving as the light got better.

After just a few minutes, at around 07:45, I noticed a striking drake ‘Pochard-type’ amongst the main Pochard flock. At a distance of at least 500 metres and in misty conditions, three features immediately stood out – the bird’s larger size than surrounding Pochard, the paler shade of grey of the flanks and upperparts, and an apparent all-black bill. I said to Ollie “stay calm, but I think I may have a Canvasback”. He picked the bird up without much trouble at all, and confirmed my suspicions that the bird did look good for that species. I decided to text a few local birders, as well as put the news out to BirdGuides of a possible (or hybrid). Being wary of the recent hybrid that has been touring Britain in recent winters (having seen it in Yorkshire in November 2009), I knew better views would be needed as there were one or two features that were bugging me, even at such range.

Over the next hour, the bird swam frustratingly distant (up to 1km) although then came back to a similar distance as when first found. Further views of the bird revealed it displaying a gular bulge whilst calling/displaying to nearby Pochard. Whilst Ollie returned to the car to get his notebook to start sketching, I had better views which, for the first time, revealed apparent grey subterminal markings on the bill. My heart sank – it really did look very similar to the recent British bird!

Shortly after 09:00, Dermot Breen arrived just as the bird flew in to the closest flock of Pochard, only some 150 metres or so away. It was at this point our fears were confirmed – the bird was indeed an apparent hybrid.

Key Features:-

  • Slightly bigger than surrounding Pochard, with longer, snakier neck and more angled head shape, although not as angled as one would expect in classic drake Canvasback.
  • Bill longer than drake Pochard, appearing all dark at distance but on closer views revealed greyish subterminal markings – I also felt the bill was not the right shape for a classic drake Canvasback.
  • Flanks and upperparts a paler, more whitish grey than on drake Pochard. However, contrast between upperpart and flank colouration would be atypical for Canvasback, though fits the hybrid theory.
  • Forehead illustrated the darker reddish colouration typically seen here on Canvasback but not on Pochard.
  • In flight, looked larger than Pochard with greater contrast noted between upperpart colouration and upperwing.

Stejneger’s and White-winged Scoters

and one of them is off Kerry, Ireland!

Stunning find it would seem. Distant photos- hard to read but it does indeed looks like Josh Jones (with Oliver Metcalf) has videoed a first for Ireland, in Co. Kerry on 7th march 2011 (first seen in late 2010 by Davy Farrer). There are no British records.  I think both fit full species criteria. I did a couple of articles both in Birding World (who love pioneering articles!). Seen more closely the males are not too difficult to tell. The yellow is the best first feature to go for- yellow lick along bill edge on Stejenger’s, yellow directly below nostril on White-winged (deglandi) and the head shape is actually really different which is why they rather look like good species! Several other indicative features…

Ian Lewington’s super plate tells it much better than words. And if I had a punt? The head shape reminds me of Stejneger’s… let’s see.

Plate is from: Garner, M., Lewington, I. & Rosenberg. G. 2004 Stejneger’s Scoter in the Western Palearctic and North America.  Birding World Vol.17:8 (337-347). Updated text in “Frontiers in Birding”.