Monthly Archives: December 2011

Fakenham Great Grey Shrike update

Neither one nor the other

Yesterday I viewed with others a fuller set of photos of the Fakenham Great Grey Shrike. It was possible for the first time to see full details of the degree of white at the base of the inner secondaries and in the tail pattern. Ideally there should be no ‘step’ in the white pattern but continuous broad band of white running between secondaries and primaries. There is an obvious step on this bird. Furthermore the tail pattern does not have enough white for convincing homeyeri pattern. Frustrating, but a great chance to learn.

Other features, I think, still make it outstanding from excubitor, so it remains a fascinating bird, but not enough to bag a full homeyeri I think.

Is it ‘just’ a Grey Grey Shrike (nominate excubitor) then? No IMO (I kind of want to say, no way!) – For someone to say it just an excubitor would be to imply they had fully studied the limits of plumage characters of excubitor extensively and from across the range. The evidence I think is still compelling that there are nevertheless a number of pro-homeyeri characters on the bird. A Birding ID Frontier, with much to be discovered! Best label for the bird is perhaps an intergrade.

Still fascinating, still much to learn from it, still worth seeing.

Have a great New Year Year’s eve.

P.S. Result of the mystery bird call after New Years Day…

Birding Frontiers – Prize Giveaway

Mystery Bird Call

Happy New Year!

Just for Fun, over the New Year period, here is a bird which I recorded calling on Linosa in early November 2011.

Listen to Mystery Bird Call >>here<<

First person* to correctly identify it gets a choice of

a)     Free Birding Frontiers Memory Stick (packed with 25 ID articles)

b)      £10 off a Birding Frontiers event in 2012

*Linosa birders and Magnus Robb need not apply!

You’re invited…

To blast off into 2012!

Coming Soon. There are a few places left. All levels of experience catered for.

North Wales Day Tour

12th January (Thursday).  Join me and Alan and Ruth of The Biggest Twitch! North Wales Day Tour. 2 places left.  More here

Gull Masterclass Days

18th January (Wednesday) Gull Masterclass Day, Saltholme RSPB  £35 per person more here  a few places left

Sold Out 21st January (Saturday) Gull Masterclass Day, Saltholme RSPB  £35 per person more here a few places left

For a fuller list of 2012 events see here

some kind feedback:

The gull day was ace, I was sort of into gulls before and now I am fully into them! Really fascinating and getting to meet people such as Martin and Chris Gibbins who are really enthusiastic and keen to pass on their knowledge was the highlight of the day! Learnt a heck of a lot more in one day than I have in years of staring at gulls and will hopefully be going to another Masterclass in the New Year, thoroughly recommended!”

Tim Jones

I came away from the day with a much better understanding of feather tracts and moult in gulls.  Martin’s enthusiasm and focus on the significant features made it all seem much clearer.  What’s more, it was all good fun!

Chris Hind

It was an excellent day last week really enjoyed it. I thought we had double value with Chris Gibbins being there! The main benefit for many of us on the day was the opportunity to discuss ID within a group and then  ask for final advice/confirmation. I would definitely be interested in any future ones you do in other parts of the country please keep me informed. 

Rich Baines

homeyeri Great Grey Shrike


Some lively discussion via email last night and on phone today with top Norfolk birding buddies Andy Stoddart and Mark Golley. Marcus Nash had flagged up the Fakenham Great Grey Shrike and both Andy and Mark had independently gone to see the bird; both very impressed – “outside expected appearance of excubitor Great Grey Shrike”.  They returned today and others went including James McCallum.  I am delighted!  They say it appears to have homeyeri tail pattern and a remarkable amount of white across primaries and secondaries.  Sounds very much like the Sheffield bird (see here, here and here).  I am pleased as I really wanted others to see what the Sheffield bird looked like. Now they (you) can!  Been sent plenty of ‘interesting’ Great Grey Shrike images since the Sheffield bird most of which look to be just nominate birds with white in secondaries.  The Norfolk bird seems to have a set of characters that may well put it outside of the range of nominate excubitor.  Of course as with all these things don’t listen to the naysayers, go and have a look yourself.  Remember these things are not fully defined and we are still learning...

Here’s Andy’s  list of features shown by the Norfolk bird:

  • Overall pallid appearance
  • Upperparts a clean pale grey
  • Short to medium primary projection similar to excubitor
  • Large white blurry scapular patches
  • Paler greyish-white rump and uppertail coverts, paler than upperparts
  • Pale greyish lores with dark line along lower edge
  • Pale pinky hues in bill base
  • Subtle brown hue on forehead
  • Subtle underpart vermiculations
  • Very large rectangular white primary patch, approximately half the length of the exposed secondaries
  • On closed wing a ‘second wing patch’ formed by conjunction of narrow white tips to greater coverts and white bases to secondaries
  • In flight extensive white bases to all secondaries (ie reaching scapulars), forming a continuous broad band and showing little or no ‘step’ where secondaries meet primaries
  • Massive amounts of white in the tail sides equating to a completely white T6 and an apparently completely white T5 (though any black on the basal inner web of T5 would be hard to see on the views), restricting the dark tail centre to a diamond shape.

These features aren’t listed in order of significance and some are, of course, merely indicators of its age.

In terms of the bird’s overall appearance it is superficially reminiscent of pallidirostris (pallid appearance, bland face, large primary patch) but clearly not that form on wing structure. Overall, I would say it looked pretty much exactly like the Sheffield bird, only with an even bigger primary patch.

photos by Andy Stoddart.

Moussier’s Redstart

Plumage not in the books

I’ve not even had chance to talk about other stuff seen on Linosa, such as Moltoni’s Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Laughing Dove, Serin and Corn Bunting, Quail, Wryneck,  grey and rufous Skylarks, Firecrest, Scopoli’s Shearwater, Fan-tailed Warbler, Vagrant Emperor Dragonflies and the ubiquitous Maltese Wall Lizard. 

9th November was pretty much my last full day, and what a finish! This was just the kind of bird I came to Linosa for. Thankfully we were all birding in a similar area when Andrea called to say he thought he had a Moussier’s Redstart. Monster! Somewhere between 10-20 records in Europe, ever. Both very rare and fascinating learning.

Here it is:


Moussier’s Redstart (1st winter female), Linosa, 9th November 2011 © Martin Garner.

You won’t find this plumage type illustrated in your field guide! With grey brown (not orange) underparts, the overall plumage was not massively dissimilar to some female type Black Redstarts. On careful inspection tad paler and slightly different ‘brown tone’ with pale tips to underparts feather giving ‘flammulated’ effect (excellent word Ottavio!). Most important feature of underparts for me: the slightly paler throat patch with darker malar strips (like young Pied Flycatcher). Size hard to assess when alone, but when Black Redstart appeared nearby, it dwarfed the Moussier’s.

It was an aweful lot about jizz. A small rounded ball of fluff of a bird with stuck on tail, legs too long, and primaries too short. Only in the depths of BWP is this browner plumage covered:

BWP “Chest, breast, and flanks rather variable: either greyish-brown with some faint rufous-brown on feather-bases, or light orange-brown with grey wash on chin, throat, and chest, or rather deep rufous-cinnamon with faint grey feather-fringes (similar to but less intense than adult ♂)”

Thankfully Andrea knew the species very well.

Moussier’s Redstart (1st winter female), Linosa, 9th November 2011 © Martin Garner. A ball of fluff with legs too long and primaries too short.

Our little Linosa group scanning the temporary home of the Moussier’s Redstart.



Moussier’s Redstart (1st winter female), Linosa, 9th November 2011 © Michele Viganò. Flammulated brownish toned underparts and Pied Flycatcher malars.

Moussier’s Redstart (1st winter female), Linosa, 9th November 2011 © Michele Viganò

Moussier’s Redstart (1st winter female), Linosa, 9th November 2011 © Michele Viganò

View of the same area from the topside.

adult male Black Redstart, Linosa, 9th November 2011 © Martin Garner. About 10 of these were around the Moussier’s and I reckon up to 1000 Black Redstarts on the island each day.

Dotterel, Linosa, 9th November 2011 © Igor Maoriano. Having had our fill, we walked a few hundred yards to finish off an excellent day with 3 Dotterel, new in and viewed at point black range. A fine ending.

Linosa. A beautiful volcanic island. This is one of my favourite pieces of multicoloured ‘firestone’. It’s also one of the first sights seen as it overshadows the harbour.

That’s all on Linosa from now.  Hope I get back there again. Good night

High in the Sky

Linosa Diaries- Overhead

It’s a volcanic island with a lack of easy landing for some species and some birds are highly aerial anyway. Here’s a flavour of some very interesting birds seen essentially overhead during my 10 days on Linosa in November 2011.

All photos taken early November 2011 and © Michele Viganò (with very grateful thanks), apart from the big spider at the end, which is mine.

Eleonora’s Falcon. Available daily in juvenile and adult plumages, often in the same air space as other falcon species.

juvenile Arctic Peregrine ‘calidus’ . These were fascinating and an opportunity to see these huge Arctic birds.  They are super migrants, some heading from the Eurasian tundra zone apparently as far as South Africa. I chiefly just watched and listened to Andrea who knows all about these things (so I hope I have this right!). Sometimes a big calidus would get a attacked by one or two of the local resident  brookei Peregrines. WOW! The difference in size. It was like watching  Merlins chasing a Peregrine.

juvenile Arctic Peregrine ‘calidus’ . Very similar in appearance to the North American form ‘tundrius’.

Hawfinch. Think all the ones I saw were in flight, usually in flocks of up to 22 birds together!

Golden Plover. Any overhead wader gets immediate attention, as there are not many around and ‘common’ or rare species are seemingly equally likely.

Dotterel . Interesting to compare in flight from below with Golden Plover. We did get to see some on the ground and very close range too.

juvenile Pallid Swift. 

juvenile Pallid Swift. This juvenile (same bird in above 2 photos) was accompanied by the moulting adult (below).

moulting adult Pallid Swift

moulting adult Pallid Swift. Has replaced inner 3 primaries (nice one Ottavio who picked up on this). Also had very nice flight views of Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Martin.

juvenile Night Heron. I know this one is perched, but most views were of dusk flights over the town, often in small flocks

adult and juvenile Greater Flamingos. A fine sight over the sea, presumably heading north from Tunisia, North Africa

Ya big spider. Sort of aerial!

The Linosa Interview


It’s the lettering on the really beautiful T-shirts. M.I.S.C. Roughly transliterated: a Malady (sickness) for Isolated Islands at the Chronic stage. Love it! Embossed with a Red-flanked Bluetail  (2 found so far on Linosa) and Yellow-browed Warbler (c16 while we were there?) and an optimistic male Siberian Rubythroat on the right shoulder (maybe next year!). We sat around the (Italian) dinner tale and chatted about how it all began and the inspiring story of this little birders paradise called Linosa.

So make a nice hot drink and sit down for half an hour and have a listen. You’ll enjoy it I think. Click on this link:

The MISC Team LINOSA Interview

(kindly hosted by Tristan Reid/ Binocularface)

M.I.S.C. plus blow-in. left to right: M.G., Michele Viganò, Andrea Corso, Lucio Maniscalco, Ottavio Janni and Igor Maiorano. Flippin sharp Italian birders, great cooks and excellent company too!