Monthly Archives: July 2011

Answer to the baby gull ID

That was a bit mean!

I have seen birds like this before. Back in the early 90’s in Bedfordshire. There were hardly any large gulls in the county during the breeding season. Rookery Pit held the ony breeders I saw, where I was surprised to find one normal pair of argenteus Herring Gulls plus a hybrid combination of Herring X Lesser Black-backed Gull. The latter produced 2 young.

For the second year running a family group has arrived at Slimbridge WWT in July 2011, consisting of a mummy, daddy and baby. One parent is a Lesser Black-backed Gull, the other is a Herring Gull. The youngster is still being fed by both. So it would appear to be a hybrid.

Not surprised there were a variety of answers! So no shame. Personally I would probably have gone for a juvenile Herring Gull if I didn’t have prior knowledge. Studying juvenile Herring and Lesser Back-backs was one of my key starting points for identifying the rarer gulls later. I soon found that many juveniles of both species didn’t fit easily into the field guides caricatures. There was a bit of a convergence of features. Some LBB’s with paler patterned greater coverts and slightly more patterned tertials, and certainly some young Herrings with plainer scapulars and tertials and even darker greater covert bars. Some could be real stinkers. However the seeming fail safe was the pattern of the inner primaries. Only slight variable and Herring always with obvious pale ‘window’. There is more detail involved in the exact pattern of inner primary feathers -not for now though. This bird seems to me to have tertials and greater coverts which are a bit too extreme (in terms of pale patterning) for LBB but the primary window finishes it off. It’s too Herring Gull-like. However structurally is rather slim and especially long winged and weak-billed. Bit more LBB like in this regard. So tricky but educational.

Hybrids are out there and cause problems. There is currently a bird in Shetland which is though to be the 2nd record of Yellow-legged Gull (michahellis) for the archipelago. I was asked to comment on it by a few uneasy obs. To me it’s subtle, but it reminds me of some tricky Herring X LBB hybrids. You can argue all the right ‘bits’ are there for a YL Gull but the sum of the bits looks wrong somehow. Some photos here if you want to have a look.

BTW- blame James Lees- he sent me the pics!

Birding Frontiers 50 Special Memory Sticks

Happy 1st Birthday!

The Birding Frontier blog is one year old in August. Just over 300 posts and nearly 1/4 million hits later! To celebrate I have put to together a special memory stick (USB Flashcard) and packed it with over 20 articles. This includes:

1) The Top 10 postings in most cases updated with new info and photos on hot birding topics like Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Marsh Hawks and autumn Collared Flycatchers

2) Pioneering ID articles not published on the blog on e.g. Taiga Flycatcher, American Sandwich Tern and female Pine Bunting.

3) Potential Vagrants like Short-tailed Shearwater and African Cormorants with updated files/ new photos

4) Some surprises!

It has the Birding Frontiers Marsh Hawk logo in colour on the outside and extra space which could be used to collect another c 40 of your favourite blog posts over the next few months! Price £10.00

I am having 50 made for the Rutland Bird Fair. If your interested you can reserve one just by putting your name down. Send me a message here or message me on Facebook or Twitter. First come first served.

Here’s the guts of the content:

  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail ID with updates inc. other plumages than ‘grey and white’
  • Marsh Hawk/ Northern Harrier.  Papers on ID inc. illustrations, photos, lots info on ID, aging and sexing
  • Collared Flycatcher 1st winter females DNA and everything!
  • Cabot’s (American Sandwich) Tern full ID paper
  • Steppe Shrike ssp. homeyeri. full overview of ID stuff
  • Rufous and Oriental Turtle Doves ID, tricky birds, tail patterns on worked examples
  • Redpolls : Mealy, Arctic, Giant Arctic!, Greenland and Icelandic Redpolls (latter 2 with photos of English records)
  • Taiga Flycatcher. Full account of finding Fetlar bird and all the ID issues
  • Canada Geese simple and accessible overviews of taxonomy and issues
  • Pine Bunting are we overlooking females?- ID etc
  • How to ID a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull
  • Northern Eider ID and occurrence
  • African Cormorants in NW Europe – new comments and photos
  • American Red-necked Grebe draft comments on ID and occurrence
  • Short-tailed Shearwater ID versus Sooty Shearwater and N. Atlantic occurrence
  • Northern Bullfinch full ID article
  • Female Green-winged Teal  ID inc. colour illustration

Each file is a pdf which has  been updated variously with new comment or information/ photos/ illustration (sometime 2  or 3 posts with key data combined to be more easily read).

P.S. if there is something from the blog or elsewhere you think should be included, let me know …very soon!

Osprey and Swee-Chaff

Rutland 26 July

How times have changes (as they say). Day out with Mrs G and Don Egan. We had a Red Kite being mobbed just north of Rutland and good views of 2 or 3 Osprey. Osprey and Red Kite in middle England. When I remember how far we had to travel to see both species on breeding grounds (W Wales and N Scotland)…. We saw 2 Osprey together overhead and later from one of the hides one, hovered, dived and came up with this rather long looking fish. It must be almost as long as the body length of the Osprey. A pike? or monster long Trout?

 Walking around I heard at least 3 ‘swee-oo’ calling Chiffchaffs. To my ear this adult seemed to just call a more monosyllabic ‘swee’ but its clearly disyllabic on the sonagram. For me at least recording sonagrams remains essential to accurate portrayal of what is being recorded. Same bird later gave normal Chiffchaff song.

I use RememBird because its so small light and does a good job! From these Chiffs to the alternating trills of the this Western Bonelli’s Warbler it serves me well.

swee-oo calling adult Chiffchaff. Rutland. 27th July 2011, Here’s a sonagram of the call:


Gyr Falcon hybrid

When ‘escape’ and  ‘hybrid’ can still look cool.

Bit of a ‘blast from the past’. 16th July 2008. Alan Amery radioed through to say Mick Sharpe had found a dark falcon on the cliff top near Sandy Beaches, Spurn. This was the baby we found. To me it straightaway looked big (almost Buzzard-height, even without comparisons). With its rings and radio ‘wire’ it was clearly a falconer’s escape. Nevertheless, I thought it might be a dark morph Gyr Falcon presumably of the darkest stock of Newfoundland/ Canada. I took some shots as it ranged up and down the peninsular scaring everything in sight. In fact it proved too dark even for the darkest Canadian Gyr photos I could find. At the moment my limited understanding is that this is known as a ‘Black Gyr Falcon’. A domestic form bred to emphasis the dark colour. I think it was also reported to be a Gyr/ Prairie Falcon hybrid or something? Not sure.

juvenile Gyr Falcon /hybrid. Spurn 16th July 2008. The pale blue cere (fleshy bit over the bill base) and pale blue fleshy eye ring age it as a juvenile together with its very fresh plumage.

some great photos of dark (wild) juvenile  Newfoundland Gyr Falcon here.  First photo below by Mick Sharpe , the rest MG’s.



Swee-oo calling Chiffchaffs

it’s all disyllabic

Was out on the Moorland fringe near Sheffield t’other day. Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and very fresh juvenile Curlew were good value. A Chiffchaff giving the much discussed ‘swee-oo call’ caught my ear. It appeared to be an adult and I never heard it give any other call type. It seemed to be collecting food and on getting near to what I guessed was a nest location  (and probably when I got too close) the frequency of calls increased to a level I would describe as ‘virtually continuous’. Interestingly, to the ear it often sounded like a monosyllabic ‘swee’, interspersed with di-syllabic ‘swee-oo’. However (and my hearing could be better!) the sonagrams shows that every note was disyllabic. Have a look and a listen for yourself:

Sonagram of ‘swee-oo’ calling Chiffchaff. Moorland fringe nr Sheffield. 22 July 2011

Recording >>here<< (P.S. it was raining too!)

‘Swee-oo’ calling adult Chiffchaff. 22 July 2011. It liked to stay buried in the willows.

What can happen in a couple of days?

A story still to be written…

Late September 2009

Day One:  Marsh Warbler (team found), Yellow-browed Warbler (team found) Greenland Redpoll, Common Rosefinch

Day two superb views of an Otter family, Barred Warbler (team found) and Taiga Flycatcher -3rd for Britain (team found)

One year later, early October 2010

Day One:  Yellow-browed Warbler (team found), Bluethroat, Red-Breasted Flycatcher, Buff-bellied Pipit, 2 Buff breasted Sandpiper

Day Two:  Hornemann’s Redpoll, 20 Greenland Redpoll, 2 Little Buntings (both team-found) Common Rosefinch, Glaucous Gull, 70 Brambling

Day Three:  White-billed Diver (team found), Blyth’s Reed Warbler (team found), 5 Siberian Chiffchaff

And that was just the start! read the full story here

One year later, late September 2011…

Day one:  … a story still to be written. Will you be there?

We are going to have some special memories in 2011. Would you like to join us?

Several places left for  Friday 23rd September to Friday 30th September 2011

Want to chat and get more info? Feel free to email or give me a ring. Don’t miss out. Become part of a team. Have the holiday of a lifetime: More here