Monthly Archives: July 2011

What is this Seabird?

Another potential target bird for Varanger?

Thought I would post this excellent photo by a birder with a wonderful website. He posted a comment in response to an old blog post. To find out the species, go here and scroll down to see his comments and more on photos and ID. A potential vagrant to W. Europe?

Make sure you visit his website!

Lotsa Swifts, Little Gulls and a baby Red Kite

Spurn 16th-17th July 2011

SW winds + July = Swifts. Having arrived on Friday night to the screeching and peeping of lots of adult and juvenile Sandwich Terns flying over the caravan, Saturday dawned with just me at the Warren and loads of Swifts moving! As a Pacific Swift had passed the same place the previous weekend I felt a little anxious. Thankfully both Roy Taylors junior and senior (last seen by my c30 years ago) soon joined me.

Juvenile Sandwich Tern. Beacon Ponds 17th July 2011. Easy to tell from juveniles of the North American Sandwich (Cabot’s Tern). Do you know how?

Rael Butcher holds a Common Swift trapped by flick-netting at the Warren. But what age is it, an adult or first summer? 17th July 2011

In the end we counted some 2,830 Swifts on Saturday morning mostly in the first 4 hours. Meanwhile Little Gulls were also putting on a  show with c 500 both offshore and flying over head. The next day c200 fed off our caravan with many also coming to rest on the sand at Beacon Ponds (largest count 170 birds). Wader passage (viewable from both the Warren and my Caravan) was also excellent with small number but great variety heading south. Species included Black-tailed (Icelandic of course!) and Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew, Golden Plover. Knot, Oystercatcher and Greenshank. Tern variety was also excellent with highlights being a  group of 20 Arctic Terns and harassed by this subadult Arctic Skua early morning:

Subadult Arctic Skua, Spurn 16th July 2011. Check out those chequered underwings which are all plain on adults. Meanwhile 500 Little Gull put on an excellent show:

Later on in the afternoon and excellent find (Roy T Junior) was this wandering juvenile Red Kite. At one stage it flew right over me head. No camera with me though. Thanks to Gareth Picton for the photos.

Sunday 17th brought more Swifts, passing waders and Little Gulls. Beacon Ponds was good value headlined by a summer plumaged Black Tern in the morning.

part of flock of c170 Little Gulls at Beacon Ponds. Interestingly I noted 1st summers, 2nd summers and adults all with black hoods. Up until this weekend the few Little Gulls I had seen were 1st summers without black hoods. Did the ‘hooded’ 1st summers have enough hormone impulse to get them breeding ground while the non-hooded first summers stayed further south?

Little Terns– doing well at Beacon Ponds.

Answer to What Next? This Duck.

The Question was:

What species, age and sex is this duck?

First summer female White-winged Scoter, Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada, May 2011. David Cooper

Yep that’s what it is. If you look closely it appears to have pale fringes to wing coverts which point towards a retained juvenile feathers. Only now its nearly a year old (so ‘first summer’). Had David also seen the belly (which he didn’t) I bet it would have been white or peppered white and not uniformly dark (latter = adult). The 3  scoter species with ‘white wings’ have bill shapes which are (rather poor) ghosts of the male bill shape. So I can just make out the 2 stepped profile , which is more obvious on a male. I can also see the feathering over the bill base is quite forward over the nostrils. On Stejneger’s Scoter the profile is a virtual straight line from bill tip to in line with the eye. Flat with no steps. And the feathers envelop the bill but recede considerably over the nostrils.

What do I mean? Have a look at Ian Lewington’s illustration of the 3 taxa. Like I said, not easy but with a bit of practice…

More on Continental Stonechats

Time to add it to the British List?

It’s not on. That is, the Continental Stonechat Saxicola torquata rubicola, is not on the official British List of bird species and subspecies. On the 2006 BOURC list of subspecies, ssp hibernans is listed as a ‘resident breeder’ and ‘migrant breeder’. No mention of ‘rubicola’. Some authorities have lumped hibernans and rubicola. I would dare to suggest that if hibernans is to be kept on the British list then rubicola should be investigated and, more than likely, added. Or the 2 taxa are synonymised and hibernans is taken off the British list and replaced by rubicola. The current situation is arguably untenable in the long-term. I suspect our redoubtable friends on the BOURC are already on the case…!

For those cognoscente with Stonechat plumages, rubicola is recorded routinely particularly at coastal watch stations and reported to have bred in some east and south coast locations. There is even a ringing recovery from the near continent (which is, I think, probably sufficient proof of occurrence for admittance of the taxon to the British List).

“A male with a Dutch ring was ringed as a pullus at Dwingelo, northeast Netherlands on 10 May 2004 and controlled at Orfordness on 20th March 2005 (Suffolk Bird Report 2005).” (per Brain Small)

David and John Coopers piece has galvanized some action! So here’s a follow-up with a few more photos and illuminating comment:

First 3 photos I took on Menorca in June 2003:

Male and Female Continental Stonechats. Menorca, June 2003

Male Continental Stonechat, Menorca, June 2003. Not entirely sure I can age it. But this one stood out as having obviously more extensive orange-red colouring on the underparts compared to other males I saw.

Grahame Walbridge (from Portland Bill) wrote:

“Hi Martin,

I read with much interest your piece on Continental Stonechats featuring the account of breeding in Sussex by the David and John Cooper. I have long been identifying birds to this form at Portland where, it seems to essentially be a scarce spring migrant, typically late Feb-mid Apr though, occasionally to May. To give you an idea of the numbers we are talking about here are some stats for the past five years. The majority are my own my own records though I have added a few records I gleaned from the PBO (Portland Bird Observatory) site. As far as I am aware I am the only observer locally who routinely assigns birds to rubicola. All the records relate to males though I have seen the odd female that I considered likely candidates.

2007 no records

2008 ten individuals (12 bird-days) on ten dates 24/2-18/3

2009 three:two on 2/3 & a single on 21/3 2010 four: three 12/3-24/3 & futher single on 8/5

2011 four 4/4-11/4

Spring passage of British Stonechats (S.t.hibernans) is typically mid Feb-late Mar so, quite short with up to 30 birds a day, usually peaking late Feb/early Mar. Autumn passage is typically much larger and, a more protracted affair, mid Sept-early Nov and day totals can reach 75. Despite scrutinising a large percentage of these birds I have never seen a potential rubicola and, too my knowledge, PBO have never trapped any at this time of year.

Common Stonechat is a regular breeder on the Isle in variable numbers, 2-12 pairs. To my knowledge rubicola has never bred, though a single male was on territory at Reap Lane through most of May some years ago (early 90`s ?). An individual I saw on 7/4/2011 was in full song for most of the day, in competition with two local male hibernans when I thought I could detect some subtle differences in song. Or could this have just been normal variation?

I only recently learnt, to my complete surprise, that rubicola was not on the British List, from Brian (Small) I recall. That, is a complete no-brainer!



Martin Cade, warden of Portland Bird Observatory sent photos of a 1st summer male rubicola trapped on 11th April this year. (they take amazing in-hand photo!). Check out their website if you haven’t seen it. Excellent stuff.

1st summer male Continental Stonechat, Portland Bill. 11th April 2011. Martin Cade

Martin Cade also sent a photo of 1st summer male from April 2010, showing the spread wing with tips of ageing (thanks Martin!):

 “Also attached a photo from last year of the spread upperwing of a different male showing the main ageing features of a second calendar year bird in early spring: contrast between the old, faded, browner flight-feathers/various coverts, and the newer adult-type blacker coverts/maybe the odd tertial etc; later in the spring/summer these differences can get a lot trickier to spot as the flight-feathers in particular of adults fade/bleach quite a bit browner but they’re pretty safe to do in March and April.



1st summer male Continental Stonechat, Portland Bill.  April 2010. Martin Cade

Andy Stoddart (visit his website)  sent some images with this comment:

“Just to follow-up on the rubicola Stonechat stuff you sent me the other day, here are some photos I took today of a locally breeding male rubicola. All images are of the same bird. Although I didn’t photograph the underwing coverts they were strikingly blackish with white fringing.”

Breeding Continental Stonechats, North Norfolk. Andy Stoddart.

David Walker, warden at Dungeness Bird Observatory and one of the first to flag up the occurrence and appearance of Continental Stonechats in Britain wrote in correspondence with Grahame Walbridge:

“Glad to see that someone else is interested in these. As you are no doubt
aware I pointed out that this form was not on the British list in Birding
World 2001 but neither BB or BOURC seemed interested in taking these on
board at the time. Not sure why but there seemed very little interest in
them. I think it also led to a review of spring Siberian Stonechats with the
result that all previous records were found to be acceptable – something I
found very surprising. Not sure how you can prove the axillary patterns on
birds in the field. Some of the birds here would have been good candidates
for Siberian but more or less assumed that they are in fact just “good”

Like you, I think there are only a couple of us here who look hard at
Stonechats and I am sure our records underestimate the numbers as I only
count really well-marked individuals and otherwise just put them down in my
head or mention them to others as probables.

All our “good” records are of spring birds but not sure how obvious or
diagnosable autumn birds would be. All bar two of the records are of males.

I made a note in our 2008 report that one of our breeding birds was a
rubicola. There was at least one breeding male on the Lydd Ranges last year
that certainly looked like a rubicola and I also noted a breeding male there
in 2006.

My other records are as follows – all from the DBO recording area:
2011 29th March and 8th April.
2010 20th May (2), 23rd May and 28th May.
2009 14th March and 26th June.
2008 12th March and 14th March + the breeding male.
2007 14th April, 21st April and 24th May.
2006 14th April and 25th May.
2005 18th March (2 males) out of 15 birds and 27th March.
2004 16th March (3 males) out of 12 birds, 18th March (2), 20th April, 22nd
April and 25th May (2)
2003 None
2002 None
2001 18th-19th March, (2, M and F – the birds shown in BW), 21st March (also
in BW) and one on 27th-28th March.
The lack of birds in 2002 and 2003 is probably genuine as I was by then on
the look out for them.

In addition I have also seen a male on the RSPB Reserve on 27th March 2006
and a male and female at Lade on 24th March 2001.”

And finally Adam Hutt passed on details of a couple of photos of trapped Continental Stonechats from Spurn (where I have also seen them) in that same, familiar early spring season. The 2nd one seems an obvious 1st summer male and the first photo might also be that age too:

Continental Stonechat, Spurn, 6th April 2010, Ian Smith and below

1st summer male Continental Stonechat, Spurn, 16th April 2009. Mike Pilsworth

What Next? This Duck

Over to you…

…on a Monday morning to identify this bird: Species, sex and age. It’s not too tricky but this species in this plumage has not yet been identified anywhere in Europe. Do you know what it is and importantly how to identity it if you thought you had one? Tricky but not impossible… Might even be one somewhere in Britain/ W. Europe right now.

More on Continental Black-tailed Godwits

Learning slowly!

OK. Deep breath! This is the kind of subject I seem to learn best slowly. One layer at a time. Not all at once! It’s too much to take in all the complex data which enables some (who have through trial and error developed expertise in the subject) to correctly identify many more individual than I can at present. But I am learning. So here’s a bit of my learning. It’s an optimum time of year to look as Continental ‘nominate limosa‘ will very soon (next couple of weeks?) be heading south while many of the Icelandic birds are just arriving, some to winter. So catch ’em while you can! With very grateful thanks to Richard Millington, Mark Golley and James Lees.

2 photos of the same juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa limosa. Slimbridge WWT 14 July 2011. James Lees.

See  how light and angle of view can make birds look darker/ paler. I am not doing all the work though! Compare with the juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa islandica below. Look at overall plumage tone, extent and tone of orange on underparts, and patterning on scapulars, coverts and tertials.

juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, Spurn, August 2010

The next 2 are fun. Both are 1st summer Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits. See, I said it was complicated! Both are in wing moult and both have retained juvenile outer primaries (just about visible)

1st summer Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. Titchwell, Norfolk. 10 July 2011. This has newish looking round tipped grey coverts. This one may well have summered in the area. Adults just returning from Iceland have obviously older, more worn coverts (and of course at lot more bright orange plumage). When tested by my tutors Millington and Golley, I got this roughly right,

1st summer Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. Titchwell, Norfolk. 10 July 2011. And I got this one completely wrong. Right subspecies but all over the place after that. This actually has (hard to see) very frayed retained juvenile coverts, newish looking grey coverts and bright orange and black feathering. This also may have summered in the area. First summers islandica’s are very variable! Some have more black/orange feathering than some adults!

Moulting adult female (left) and adult male (right) Continental Black-tailed Godwits. More advanced in their moult than adult Icelandic Black -tailed Godwits. They are preparing to head to sub-Saharan Africa very soon… Slimbridge WWT 15th July 2011. James Lees.

All 3. Juvenile (front), adult female (back left), adult male (back right) Continental Black-tailed Godwits. Slimbridge WWT 15th July 2011 James Lees. There are presently 4 Continental Black-tailed Godwit and c270 Iceland Black -tailed Godwit at Slimbridge WWT.

Bloomin’ leggy looking things. best thing to do? Icelandic Black-Tailed Godwits are in full migration mode passing through the country right now. First returning adults; then juveniles (just starting to appear). Learn them!

 adult male Continental Black-tailed Godwit

adult female Continental Back-tailed Godwit

Awesome photos of Glaucous-winged Gull

 Vardø Harbour today

I was here, with Tormod only 2 months ago, talking about what gulls might get found! Look what he found there today. Here’s his story:

“Hello Martin!

Just back from Vardø Harbour, with nice bird news: Me and my wife just re-found the Glaucous-winged Gull that was seen in Kiberg, 18 km from Vardo, on the 4th of July. We have been checking the gulls extra carefully lately. We have just had a few days of very heavy northerly winds and lots of gulls have gathered in Vardo harbour. So we had a good feeling about today’s search! We bought a bread in our local shop, and ten minutes later we are surrounded by 500 Herring Gull, 100 Great B-b Gull, 2 Glaucous Gull and Norways first Glaucous-winged Gull! Nice. It was first seen by a Danish birder, it was well documented but no other birders saw it. Second chance coming up now.

 Well, a very exiting day. I remember we talked about one of the eastern gulls showing up.

Best regards,


The map below shows why this place has so much potential for future big birds for the Western Palearctic: