Monthly Archives: April 2011

Another Red-rumped Swallow and Green Hairstreak

Spurn, April 23rd, 2011

SE Winds variable, slight fog/ sea mist remained though clearer than has been. Sunshine

Highlight was the 3rd Red-rumped Swallow  in 10 days at Spurn, again past the Warren and fortunately I was in the right place. Other highlights for me: first male Whinchat of the year, another 53 Arctic Terns, loads (c10) of Marsh Harriers passing overhead, gorgeous Green Hairstreak Butterfly,  4 Shorelark which dropped in at Chalk Bank and interesting Wheatear trapped. Of course there was much more as well! I have also included a Continental Stonechat from 21st in the previous evening.

Green Hairstreak at the Warren. Not common here.

My first male Whinchat of the year, after a female the previous day.

This female Wheatear had short tail and a wing of only 92mm. It is presumably a nominate race bird amoung the many ‘NW Wheatears’ bound for Iceland and Greenland. Compare the number of visible primary tips compared with the female below with a wing of 101mm (almost 1cm longer) which is presumably a north-western (Icelandic/ Greenland Wheatear).

Marsh Harriers ‘everywhere’ including this young male:

One of 4 Shorelark on way north maybe from Lincs or Norfolk (bit distant in heat haze)

female ‘Continental Stonechat’. These pale spring birds have sometime been understandably misidentified as Siberian Stonechats in the past. My quick check is always the flanks (as e.g. exact rump pattern can be harder to see). The flanks on Western European Stonechats are lightly streaked verus unstreaked in Siberian Stonechats. Helps witha quick ID!

1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail

Is this one?

Spurn has had its fair share of fine ‘obvious’ male Blue-headed Wagtails in the latter half of April 2011, with at least 4 males seen plus a male ‘Channel Wagtail’. This bird found in the evening on 23rd April was a little trickier to identify- unsurprising with flava wagtails. Clocked by warden Paul Collins at ‘Wire Dump’ as a somewhat ‘blue-headed’ looking in the field, the bird was coaxed into the Heligoland trap. Aging flava wagtails in spring is clearly tricky. We think this is a first summer male. The 3 outermost greater coverts were older with worn thin whitish fringes and perhaps more importantly the wings appeared rather more brownish than fresher blackish of adult males. Most interesting the crown was obviously peppered with  blueish feathers most concentrated on the forehead. The underparts also had rich yellow emerging right throughout though was more obvious in the belly. Some young male flavissima in spring, can look more female-like, but you can see that vivid yellow is coming through in the breast and throat. This bird seems to be a slow developing 1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail. 

Photos below taken in low evening light and blue on crown and yellow in underparts could be  visible/ less visible depending on light /angle. See the ‘Dover Wagtail’ at the bottom!

Dover Wagtail

This bird appeared the next day in Clubley’s field with c 40 Yellow Wagtails. It’s basically a  male Yellow Wagtail ssp. flavissima, but with the supercilium changing from yellow to white at the end (on both sides) and an area of pale blueish-grey on the rear crown, upper nape. Perhaps a 2nd generation ‘Channel Wagtail’ X Yellow? (hence tongue-in- cheek ‘Dover Wagtail’).

Thanks to Nathan Pickering for searching through the flava flocks and Martin Standley for the middle pic below.

Collared Pratincole

and friends

Cold northerly winds and overnight rain cleared the mist of the last few days but didn’t seem to promise much. However this is Spurn and bird were still moving this morning. Indeed my first couple of hours this morning, watching for visible migration from the Warren was not disappointing. Early Kittiwake and Red-breasted Merganser flew out. 5 Barnacle Geese flew NE and 2-3 Tree Pipits flew over (one of which was later trapped). After several ‘flava’ Wgatails flew south I zoned in to one bird dropping in front of the Warren and could pick out a ‘darker head’- a Blue-headed?- YES! Yet another stunning male. A few moments later 7 Velvet Scoter circled about offshore and 2 Ring Ouzel picked out in flight calling- were joined by a third. With Little Egret and summer plumaged Spotted Redshank on the shoreline- not a bad mornings work. Then just afer lunch Adam Hutt picked up a Pratincole heading towards the Warren”Landing in the same area as the Blue-headed Wagtail. It was too pale above for Black-winged and then in flight showed obvious rusty-orange underwings, a thin but obvious white trailing wing-edge and rather long tail streamers. Remaining on view for a few minutes it  then headed off north and wasn’t seen again.  What a place!

Flight shots plus  Nathan Pickering’s  digiscoped photo on the ground below. Thanks Adam! and P.S? My family heard the name of the bird called out on the radio and couldn’t decide if the bird was a “Profiterole or Prank Call. Made me laugh!

Grasshopper Warbler – Spring record

Down the Lane

Amazing spring for Grasshopper Warblers. I can hear 2 at night from my caravan (just about). 4 maybe 5 have been on Beacon Lane. Up to 20 singing males in the greater Spurn area. I watched one male singing at the point only for a second male to come in singing wings fluttering away and then giving the aggressive  ‘grrrrrrrr’ call (well something like that).

2 featured here. Mainly a bird at the end of Beacon Lane with browner uppers, yellowy unders (especially throat) and obvious pale tips to the tail, even looking whitish in the field. Photos both in field and in hand. The last 2 pics of a different bird in the hand yesterday at the Warren. Locustellas are great!

Grasshopper Warbler above, end Beacon Lane, Spurn April 2011. Same bird in hand below. Last 2 photos of different bird trapped at the Warren.

Iberian Chiffchaff

Spring aging and the Titchwell bird

Stephen Menzie

In the last few years, Iberian Chiffchaff has become an almost expected spring overshoot.  In spring 2010, a singing bird was found at Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk.  In spring 2011, an Iberian Chiffchaff was again present at Titchwell RSPB, reportedly singing from the same willows as the 2010 bird.  Despite the recent increase in records, the species remains rare enough that the occurrence of a singing bird at the same site for two consecutive springs raised suspicions that it might be a returning bird.

Adult Iberian Chiffchaffs undergo a complete moult following breeding.  By the following spring, their flight feathers are still in relatively good condition, fresh and black.

Adult Iberian Chiffchaff, Spain, April 2010 – Stephen Menzie (

Juveniles undergo a partial post-juvenile moult, which is more extensive than that of Common Chiffchaff and often includes some outer primaries.  By the following spring, unmoulted juvenile primaries are worn and bleached; any moulted outer primaries are fresher and blacker, like adult primaries.  The contrast between the two feather generations can be rather obvious.

‘First-summer’ Iberian Chiffchaff, Portugal, February 2011 – Peter Fearon (  This bird has moulted the outer four primaries during its post-juvenile moult.

So, how does this help us with the Titchwell bird?  Well, it’s a sad fact of life that no one stays young forever, and that goes for Iberian Chiffchaffs as well.  This fantastic photo by Andy Thompson taken on 13th April 2011 answers the question of if the 2011 Titchwell bird was the same individual as was present in 2010.  It shows a clear moult limit in the primaries, ageing it as a 2cy (‘1st summer’).

‘First-summer’ Iberian Chiffchaff, Titchwell RSPB, April 2011 – Andy Thompson (

The bird has moulted the outer five primaries (arrowed).  Notice how much blacker they are and less worn at the tips then the inner primaries, which are retained juvenile feathers.  If this were the 2010 bird returning, it would be in adult plumage showing uniform adult-type primaries without any moult limit.  So, we can say for sure that, as a 2cy, the 2011 bird is not the same individual as was present in 2010.  Food for thought next time another rare vagrant ‘returns’!