Monthly Archives: October 2011

Evening Talks in December

I will be speaking at a couple of evening events coming up in December. One in Cheshire on 2nd December and on in Huddersfield on 13th December. If you are around- please come along! More details to follow. Also see this page

Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society   Friday Dec. 2nd 2011

Huddersfield Birdwatcher’s Club…  Tuesday, Dec. 13th 2011

Gull Masterclass Day… coming soon

Latest: Just 2 Places Left

Where: Saltholme RSPB, Teesside

When: Wednesday 30th November 2011

10 places available at £35 per head.  Join me and the RSPB’s Toby Collett for the day from 9am to 5 pm. See your confidence and skills in identifying gulls grow and have lots of fun along the way!

Full Details Here

Shetland, Wednesday 28th Sept 2011

A Rubbish Day!

Decided on  a bit of dirty twitching to the Mainland as the guys were keen to see the Lesser Grey Shrike if at all possible. I had taken a little risk and held off going. Hoping I had made the right decision we headed south. There was a funny moments when we arrived at Voe and met another group of birders obviously having a melancholic moment. When asked what they had seen the robust reply was “Nothing, we’ve seen nothing” It’s rubbish on these islands”. Well you decide:

By the end of the day as we sat around our lovely evening meal at the Baltasound Hotel we reviewed the remarkable ‘white Redpoll’ at Ronas Voe, the adult male Surf Scoter amoung the Eiders also at Ronas, the stunning pink stink of an adult Lesser Grey Shrike, finishing off with a 1st winter male Black-headed Bunting at Unst. Almost as usual we found a Yellow-browed Warbler too. Rubbish really!

Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, 28th September 2011 © Roger Wyatt

Adult male Surf Scoter, Ronas Voe, 28th September 2011

Adult male Lesser Grey Shrike, Laxo, September 2011 © Jim Nicholson

1st winter Black-headed Bunting (with House Sparrows), Belmont, Unst September 2011 © Roger Wyatt

Thanks very much indeed for the ace photos to Roger and Jim

Moroccan Wagtail – subpersonata

Identification and tricky lookalikes…

Just back from Helgoland. What a place- and also a great bunch of people (all 300+ keen German birders plus few visitors like me). Very grateful to Jochen D. and co. for the invite and lovely welcome. Need to do some catch up blogging but the most intriguing bird was this ‘alba wagtail‘ which we jammed in on finding and struggling to identify. It has a complex pattern of dark in the head which looks very similar to that found on ‘Moroccan Wagtail’  taxon: subpersonata.

I pinched Jochan’s photo from the Helgoland website. At the moment because of extensive black in rump centre and flanks that looked little too dark grey and extensive, (both Pied Wagtail, ‘yarrellii’ characters) I think it is some kind of  well-marked odd bird/ hybrid/ throw back thing. But hey, I don’t know subpersonata in all its variety either. Felix Jachmann and I got  sound recordings of the bird’s call and there will no doubt be more to come, both on this bird, the people and the fab Island of Helgoland.

Helgoland: Island

on my way here…

Just for the weekend, but looking forward to it very much. Helgoland: a ‘mecca’ of migration study. So Mark Thomas sent me on my way with photos of the latest Helgoland trap built in Britain (just finished ready for this autumn), at Buckton, East Yorkshire with a picture of one of its first study birds. Let you know how I get on!

Yellow-browed Warbler and Helgoland Trap, Buckton, East Yorkshire. Mark Thomas.

Identification update: Pallid Harrier

Hillwell, Shetland, Sept- Oct 2011

An earlier post about the juvenile Pallid Harrier, produce very interesting responses and questions. Roger Riddington has replied in detail to this question from JanJ, repeated here. Good learning!

“Hi all.

Interesting bird – the Fulmar-oiled Hillwell harrier!
Apart from the features mentioned and given the quality of the pic I find it rather difficult to identify it for certain – both as a Pallid or a Montagu´s, since the various pic provide different impressions of structure. One important reason for this is the obvious notched p7, which would be very odd for both Pallid and Montagu´s. It is however, the rule for Hen. Further on it shares the wing-formula – shorter p10 which is approx. as long as p5, with Hen, usually approx as long as p6 in Montagu´s. It might be reasonable to consider a hybrid Pallid x Hen.

Some interesting potential hybrids from this autumn.



Thanks for your comments, and the links to some really interesting (=scary) harriers on You’re quite right that a hybrid ought to be considered when trying to work out what the Hillwell harrier is, and my very hastily prepared summary for Martin really only covered my reasons for thinking that the bird is a Pallid rather than a Monty’s. The discussion on this thread (, together with your comments about wing structure, prompted me to take a closer look at the Hillwell bird’s wings. (An over-riding caveat is that the bird is badly oiled and therefore it’s not as easy as it might otherwise be.) You comment that there is a notch on P7 (the fourth finger from the edge of the wing), but I’m not sure I can see a notch on P7 in any of the pics posted on the site. In a few shots, P6 is ‘stuck’ to P7 (an effect of the fulmar oil), perhaps giving the impression of a notch (eg pics a & c, plus Ian Cowgill’s pic). Ian’s photo, which is the best I’ve seen so far, allows a closer assessment of some aspects of wing formula – see pic below. So, from the outside, P10 (outermost) is completely emarginated; the visible part of P9 (i.e. at least as far as the primary coverts) is completely emarginated; on P8 the emargination stretches over halfway between the tip of the primary and the primary covert tip; on P7 (tip broken off) the emargination stretches roughly halfway between the primary tip and the primary coverts; P6 is not emarginated (note that P5 is stuck to P6, creating the gap in the wing). P10 is clearly shorter than P6 and, as best as I can judge it, lies between P6 and P5 (eg photo a and Ian’s pic). So, what does all that tell us? The lack of emargination on P6 rules out a (pure) Hen Harrier. Not sure it rules out a Hen x Pallid, although Dick Forsman used the presence of an emarginated P6 as one factor to point to a hybrid origin for the bird discussed in the link above. According to the diagram of wing formula of the three European spp in Hollom (1960), everything is ok for Pallid in terms of emarginations, but in Monty’s the emargination of P9 normally stops short of the primary coverts (i.e. the ‘step’ is usually visible), whereas in the Hillwell bird the whole of the visible primary is emarginated. In terms of length of P10, there is more variation between the species, or rather it’s hard to be absolute when examining the feature on a spread wind in the field rather than measuring a specimen or a live bird in the hand – but I can’t see that the length and relative position of P10 is wrong for Pallid. I do think this is a really difficult bird by the way, so I’m not dogmatic about my conclusion that the most parsimonious explanation is a juv Pallid (and I hope we will not need dna to nail it!). But as far as I can tell, wing structure is better for Pallid than any other option – ?

Roger Riddington


Icelandic Redpoll ssp. islandica

a pale one!

Just an excellent day on Wed 28th Sept. We headed south to Mainland Shetland in the particular hope of seeing a Lesser Grey Shrike. We saw that and so much more. Ian Lewington rang to say the ‘Arctic Redpoll type’ was showing really well at Ronas Voe. A smart bird and well worth seeing. Only 20 minutes away and we were soon there, but it took some seeing. First views of it flying off the moors and disappearing into cover (when  it looked bigger). 2 hours later, 2nd views I picked it up, feeding in and returning to, a patch of grass (when it looked smaller). After half an hour and a no-show, I think the assembled 20+ folk thought I was imagining things. The group dispersed, I walked into the field and it flew up! Then sat out in the open for over 20 minutes. Great views! So what was it?

I was really keen to see this bird- and see it well. It had been reported mostly as a Coues’s Arctic Redpoll (‘exilipes’) since the 25th Sept. However it seemed really early for a Scandinavian Arctic, and was the forerunner for several ‘Northwest Redpolls’ in Shetland.

Bottom line? I think it’s a pale Icelandic Redpoll. A fascinating bird. Potentially a discrete taxon (separate from darker ‘rostrata’ from Iceland and Greenland), which is probably rarer than exilipes Arctic in Britain and certainly less well known. As those with  a Birding Frontiers Memory stick can see; one or more has reached Norfolk. Thanks to some great folk there is an excellent set of informative pics. Have a look for yourself:
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Couple hand-held digipics by me showing how white and fluffy it could look.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder). The rump could vary from looking huge and white (fluffed up), to (in reality) a rather narrow strip of white.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder). Rather long-bodied when sleeked down, I learnt (again) that it’s very difficult to estimate Redpoll size on a lone bird. The rear flank steaking is bit much for exilipes Arctic.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. David Bradnum (Bradders Birding Blog).
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Roger Wyatt. Undertail coverts could like as if all white. Close views revealed blackish arrow-head on central feather and thin dark acolyte streaks.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Roger Wyatt. Something that bothered me early on. Multiple line of streaks across the breast that almost met in the middle.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. David Bradnum (Bradders Birding Blog). As in life, it could often look white/ pale etc, then a turn of the head, or change of light and brownish tones appeared especially over the scapulars. The fringes of the flight feathers also looked a little too brownish washed for an exilipes Arctic.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Jonathan Lethbridge (Wanstead Birder). In this photo and the one above the flank streaking, across the breast but especially in the rearmost flanks, just a bit much for an exilipes Arctic.

and just for fun. An Arctic Redpoll (exilipes) on left with Mealy Redpoll from Varanger in May.
Icelandic Redpoll, Ronas Voe, Shetland, Sept. 2011. Martin Garner. It still looked pretty impressive doing a very fine ‘snowball impression’. This is  what I wrote for the memory stick:

Added August 2011

 “However you can add in that we seem to be getting birds from Iceland.

Icelandic Redpoll Carduelis flammea islandica.

Somewhat confusingly included in ‘islandica’ are dark streaky birds, slightly smaller versions of Greenland rostrata and pale streaky birds which appear quite different and can be confused with Arctic Redpolls. Pale islandica has occurred almost certainly in Shetland and in Norfolk (and maybe elsewhere!).”

Ian Lewington concurred with the bird being an Icelander. He also heard the single note call (perhaps one the BEST characters for identification) which, frustratingly I failed to hear or record despite attempts. This (per Stoddart’s law) is closer to birds heard in Iceland than the familiar calls of Mealy/ Arctic in Scandinavia.

Thanks very much for lively discussion, especially with Andy Soddart and Ian, Martin and the Wyatt gang and Jonathan, David, Roger and Gavin for the amazing pics.