Monthly Archives: November 2011

Greater Yellowlegs

At Last!

It only took about 30 years. To see what I mean you will have to scroll down.

Yesterday (20th Nov 2011). As well as wonderful company, a very special island, Brent Geese, Eiders, 3 Short-eared Owls and that awesome Eastern Black Redstart, there was one more bird… Just down the coast a young Greater Yellowlegs was lost. A species hitherto unseen by me in the Britain and down as one of my all time biggest dips. This one was commuting between Hauxley and Cresswell Pond via Druridge Bay.

The sun shone, the bird paused, long enough at Cresswell Pond, and I was healed. I didn’t see it quiet as close as Andy and the Sheffield leads had managed the day before, but the views were more than sufficient. What a cool day! And for the big dip, read on…

juvenile-1st winter Greater Yellowlegs, Hauxley, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton. It doesn’t hurt anymore!

Dipping with Dipper. Yellowlegs, Kerry, April 1982

(pretty much as it appeared in Stuart Winter’s book).

Young free single and slightly loopy. It was 1983 and I was a full-on 19 year old twitcher. Keeping company with the likes of Tim Andrews, then likely to become the youngest British birder at 21 to reach 400 species on the British list meant that we were game for anything. So the bird: A Greater Yellowlegs. The location: Blennerville, Kerry. The date: April 1982. The plan: To drive from Hertfordshire, into London, pick up Keith Lyons (infamously known as ‘Dipper’… I should have known!) followed by a 5 hour drive to Fishguard, Pembroke. Take the Ferry across to Rosslare (3 1/2 hours), hire a car and drive another 5 + hours to Blennerville. I don’t remember much about the journey, taken as it was overnight except a noticeable slowing down in southern Ireland as we traversed the country, punctuated by the occasional standstill as ‘tractor driver natters to local farmer on country lane’. We finally arrived around 15 hours later. We now had a grand total of 3 hours to locate and observe our quarry. That was our lot. Make or break time. Surveying the tidal, marshy inlets we opted to divides duties with me heading west and Dipper and Tim east. 2 hours later there was no sign of the bird. Then in the last ten minutes of our time Keith and Tim had views of a yellowlegs in flight, going away. The bird! They were elated but I was gutted, our time window had maxed out, and we had to leave. The long journey home was uneventful only interrupted by the occasional delighted cooing of 2 happy birders and disinterested grumbles of one not so! The Surf Scoter also failed to show at Rosslare (no surprise to me, now in my own melodramatic soap.) The next day back in the UK, Tim rang to let me that a Lesser Yellowlegs had also been seen at Blennerville over the weekend, so no tick for them either, as they could not be sure what species of yellowlegs they had seen.

Foula, October 2007

Fast forward to 12th October 2007. I arrived on Foula to be greeted by ever exuberant Ken Shaw and compatriots, to be told they were looking for a yellowlegs sp. They had sent the previous day in a howling north-westerly. The photos later proved it was a Greater and of course, I never saw it. Given the identification challenge that some Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs have proven to be, even in very recent years, what species really was/ were present in winter 1982 at Blennerville? And by the way I still haven’t seen Great Yellowlegs in Britain or Ireland. Maybe one day my healing will come!

Eastern Black Redstart

1st winter male phoenicuroides

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee

Sad but true. I have a photo of the wing formula on my phone. It’s the bird species/ subspecies/ taxon/ stunning eastern vagrant that I have most anticipated turning up in Britain. I think most of my last half-dozen talks have ended with. “I am looking for one of these” accompanied by James McCallum’s evocative ‘it must have been one’ painting of an apparent Eastern Black Redstart from East Hills, Norfolk in Nov. 2003.  To return from Linosa (cram-jammed with Western Black Redstarts) last weekend, pretty shattered, and then to be greeted by the photos of an obvious 1st winter male phoenicuroides in the furthest corner of Kent was both great news and gutting. Too far, no time, busy week ahead. Thank goodness a second bird was found last Wednesday (16th Nov) on Sharon’s new favourite destination: Holy Island. So we opted to head north via friends in Leeds on Saturday morning and stayed overnight on the island. Early Sunday (y’day) saw me alone on the beach in front of St Cuthbert’s Island. Thankfully 2 genned up north easterners showed up (with accents that made Alan Tilmouth sound like he speaks in Queen’s English) and pointed further up the beach.  Phew! Still there, and every bit the orange and black jewel.  I came back following a walk with Mrs G, expecting a couple of birders. Some 30—40 birders were now present. Best moment was watching it perched up with regular wing flicks revealing brilliant orange underwing coverts.  That moment captured is on Youtube. You might just be able to hear my appreciative noises on Tristan’s video:

Some observations and questions:

1) It’s  a brilliant looking bird and its very rare and has undertaken the remarkable (to me seemingly miraculous) feat of flying here from somewhere in Central Asia. What’s not to like?!

2) This one is a first winter male. It’s also a ‘paradoxus’ type 1st winter male (as are most of the West European records on both counts). In western populations ‘paradoxus’ refers to the small (c10-12%) of young males that have obvious  male plumage characters. the other c90% of young males look just like females.

So either:

a) eastern populations have much higher percentage of ‘paradoxus males’

b) the percentage is the same and we are massively overlooking  ‘female type’ plumages of Eastern Black Redstart

c) the percentage is th same and the paradoxus males have higher hormone induces urges to travel widely (linked to their more macho plumage!)

d) a mix of the above or some other explanation…

3) The lower belly (legs back) looked cream/ whitish in the field. You can also see it in the photos. Bothered me a little as hybrids an have quiet extensive white (A male Common Redstart character). However on checking pics of skins and live birds, it seems normal for young male phoenicuroides to have pale/ white patch in the nether regions!

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee. This is a 1st winter ‘paradoxus’ male  (just as the Kent bird earlier in November) showing obvious male characters in underparts colouring. Why are these the pre-eminent plumage type so far found in Western Europe?

I have seen a couple of these before in the UAE in mid winter. I have seen ochruros in Turkey. On Linosa earlier this month there were probably triple figures of Black Redstart on the island everyday. The commonest passerine migrant. They were scrutinized every day. I saw no Easterns, no red-bellieds, all very standard-looking.

Hybrids and identification.

While the spectre of hybrids (Redstart X Black Redstart) dogged past records, so did the presence of red-bellied Black Redstarts. At least one former British record of Eastern Black Redstart looks like  a red-bellied (western) Black Redstart (photo in old British Birds mag). I was surprised to see zero red-bellied birds amoung literally thousands of western Black Redstarts on Linosa. Remember these smart lookers with full discussions: here and here.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton. Check out that orange underwing!

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton. Looks like 3 long primaries form the wing point. Just right.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid. The wing formula looks spot on for (Eastern) Black Redstart. Some hybrids Redstart X Black Redstart have wing formula closer to Common Redstart.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee.

Grateful thanks to Andy D (and the Sheffield lads), Stef and Tris and Alan T. for the updates

Postcard from Kent

I can bear to look at these now! Thanks to Mark Rayment who sent these shots of the Kent bird.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Margate, Kent, 16.11.2011 © Mark Rayment.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat

Bit more Northern

Just catching up on some blogging from a wonderful Autumn. I guess I will intersperse some Shetland, some Helgoland and some Linosa birds and birding. Towards the end of our first week on Shetland our group found this Lesser Whitethroat (29th Sept.2011). My photo is the first here and kind of gives a feel of my first impression. A ‘brown’ Lesser Whitethroat for sure. Thankfully others came to see it who are much better photographers than me. Hopefully you can see here overall how pale and brown it could look, especially this colour extending up the nape. The overall size and feel wasn’t massively different to a nominate bird, though to my eyes it looked a bit longer tailed/shorter winged and dinkier billed. You can make up your own mind! I didn’t hear it call, though someone reported a ‘tak’ call. You can see the pattern of white in the outer tail feathers (amazing what modern cameras can do). All the plumage information is visible-only wish it had called when I was present. Thanks very much indeed to these photographers and others for their interest. I think it’s definitely an ‘Eastern bird‘, one that is probably more Northern than Southern, if that’s not too cryptic!

definitely a brown Lesser Whitethroat – obvious on first views. Uyeasound 29.9.11. © Martin Garner

‘Eastern’ Lesser Whitethroat, Uyeasound 29.9.11. © Gavin Daniels

‘Eastern’ Lesser Whitethroat, Uyeasound 29.9.11. © Tony Davison (Simply Birds and Moths)

‘Eastern’ Lesser Whitethroat, Uyeasound 29.9.11. 3 photos above © Jonathan Lethbridge. (Wanstead Birder)

‘Eastern’ Lesser Whitethroat, Uyeasound 29.9.11. © Tony Davison (Simply Birds and Moths)

Too many good birds!

Monday morning.

And feeling a little overwhelmed- in a good way. Been very fortunate this autumn, to see so many good birds, visit amazing places and meet some pretty cool people. Loads to share here, I just need to figure out how and when! I got back from Linosa in early hours of Sunday morning so just catching up. Even the sparrows were interesting there. More to come:

Male ‘Maltese Sparrow’ (or some name like that?). Linosa, November 2011. © Michele Viganò


Linosa Day One

2 November 2011

Bit tricky to get here after plane from Palermo cancelled, next one in 5 days! So Lucio (v grateful for him) and I got a bus and then the overnight ferry to Linosa from Sicily- 2 first winter Med Gulls followed us in, then I was hit by an avalanche of Black Redstarts. Everywhere!. Best a ‘dodsoni’ Desert Grey Shrike in first winter plumage (look it up!), a Yellow-browed Warbler, Eleonora’s Falcon, a yakutensis-type Willow Warbler, 11 Hawfinch in one flock,  and lots more. For now these from today

Desert Grey Shrike by Ottavio Janni

Willow Warbler with Eastern features! by Michele Viganò