Monthly Archives: January 2012

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat

Fenton Park, Stoke

Thanks to Nick and Martyn on Twitter (amazing thing this Social Networking), found my way to Fenton Park. Asked gardener Andrew Finch for directions. Turns out he knew his birds and took me to the spot and bingo, up popped the bird. After that is was pretty skulky. Not especially remarkable looking as Lesser Whitethroats go but before I had any recording stuff ready it gave a lovely blast of Sardinian Warbler like ‘churrrrr’. Flip! well worth going to see just to hear that call. It also gave more typical Lesser Whitethroat ‘tack’ calls. These sounded a little ‘thicker’ than usual to me but maybe just wishful thinking. See what the sonagram says. It even seemed to start with ‘tack’ which sped up and merged into a churrrrr. The chur call, from the little I know makes it an ‘eastern bird’, probably a little more North-Eastern than South-Eastern. Might  try for more sound recordings and info on tail pattern. Some nice photos on Staffordshire Bird News. Beware when looking at Lesser Whitethroat photos. The nuances of plumage tone can be massively affected /corrupted by different cameras/ light/ photo processing! A few not so good pics from me today (poor light, v. skulky bird and host of other lame excuses). 25th Jan 2012




Join the Party!

Arctic Norway –  April 2012

I am booked and ready to go…

What promises to be a highlight of the coming year! I will be leading a ‘Gullfest’ in Varanger in April 2012 in association with Tormod A. and Destination Varanger.

My flights are booked for 11th – 19th April. I am leading a group.  Places are limited.  options to come slightly later/ leave slightly earlier depending on your budget/ time constraints. I will be leading a Dog Sled trip into the Taiga on Thursday 12th, then on Friday 13th we’ll head up to Vadso for the Gull Fest   This should include chumming, ID workshops, Base Camp in a Sami tent, ringing of Glaucous Gulls and inspiring talks each evening.  After the Gull Fest I will be leading excursions to see Sea Duck, Arctic Redpolls, White-tailed Eagles and all the other Arctic fare, returning home Wednesday/Thursday.

Contact me to say you would like more info!


  • Mixture of dynamic field experience and warm cosy classroom input!
  • Unique experience of thousands of Glaucous Gulls.
  • Gull ringing special
  • Searching for Pacific Rim  and High Arctic Gull species
  • Seaduck extravaganza– King Eiders, Steller’s Eider, Scoters, Long-tailed Duck numbering in the 1000’s. Chance of ultra rare seaduck.
  • up to 100.000 Brunnich’s Guillemot!
  • Special dog-sled trip to a cabin in the Taiga forest, with Siberian Tits, Siberian Jay, Pine Grosbeak, and more.
  • Sort out those Mealy and Arctic Redpolls!
  • King crab dinners

more on 2nd winter Kumlien’s Gull

from North East Scotland

Thanks to the wonderful Chris Gibbins, who ‘texted’ on Saturday to say he was having Kumlien’s and Iceland Gull fun as we perseverd in Teesside. His blog here.

He found this 2nd winter Kumliens’ Gull



and more on 2nd winter Iceland Gull from N. Wales

…the one that got labelled as a Glaucous. Here it is coming in and then couple flight shots showing big white tips to inner primaries and plain white rump– unlike the Kumlien’s type (which also had barring on rump- see below). They are very similar  looking, especially from below) but not the same. One headed off west and the second was seen a few minutes later far off to he east. Dark iris and bit of tail band on the paler Iceland. Maybe it was pale kumlieni ; )  – ooooooh , don’t go there!


and below, another of the Kumlien’s type thing. More on that bird.

2nd winter Caspian Gull on Teesside?

Very Briefly

Sometimes you don’t quite get long enough! On the Gull Masterclass Day of 18th Jan, I picked up the bird featured in the video below. It looked interestingly Caspian-like. Bit heat hazy, so got group on to it as I was jiggling around with video and it flew off. Not enough time to see all I wanted to on it, but certainly looks good candidate.

Sorry- quality is awful but perhaps by hitting the pause button a couple of times you can get a feel for its appearance. Extensive whitish underwing as it takes off.


Orange and Pink bills on White-fronted Geese

Seaton Common, January 2012

n.b. the videos below are quiet acceptable on full screen mode, if you like that sort of thing (click little square brackets on bottom right corner when you ‘play’)

Gull Masterclass on 21st Jan- bit more challenging, chiefly due to winds and sometimes bright sunshine. Still excellent company from appreciative groups of guys. Early Iceland Gull, couple Mediterranean Gulls, a leucistic Herring (looking Glaucous-like at long range), lots northern argentatus Herring Gulls (inc. nice juveniles), 1st winter Lesser Black-backs (none on the last 2 events) and hopefully lots of learning.

Non-gulls were good value. Ad. male Ring-necked Duck at Cowpen,  and especially the White-fronted Goose flock at Seaton Common was close. The 1st winter Greenland White-front put on great show and we picked out a 1st winter European White-fronted Goose with what looked like a basal half of the bill orange– another one! Seems orangeness may be part of the ‘plasticity’ of bill colours of young White-fronted Geese generally.

Teesside is a great area for gulls. Thanks to Toby for organising the events. These ones nr Seaton Common.

Gull Masterclass January 2012– look forward to hearing how these guys progress and what some of them might find…

1st European White-front (back, head down), adult European White-front (middle) and  1st winter Greenland White-front (front). Seaton Common, 21.1.12. Shows differences in bill colour, bill shape and amount of black on nail of 1st winters (and what messy eaters they are!)

Video shows nice comparison in head/ bill shape and especially differences in tail pattern which were very obvious in the field.

1st winter Greenland White-front (facing forward) with European White-fronts. Only a bit of black on nail on this one.

1st winter Greenland White-front (facing forward) with European White-fronts. And this is what the underside of the bill looks like.

1st winter Greenland White-fronted Goose

Orangey-billed European White-front

Should it be Russian or European White-front for albifrons? Didn’t notice this one before. Another 1st winter European/ Russian with some of the bill orangey. Colour is most concentrated on base of the culmen so very obvious when bird is head on:

The video starts with this orangey- billed European White-front. The 1st winter Greenlander is just to the right and eventually comes into full view (both first winters side-by-side). The European bird has more advanced moult (2nd generation scapulars but juvenile coverts) whereas the Greenlander has mostly juvenile scaps and body feathers still. You can see differences in tail patterns again and other differences in plumage. Then I followed the European bird and orangey bill colour shows up better at end of clip.

and Mr Foxy crossed the road near Dorman’s Pool. I am sure he would like Greenland White-front for lunch.

“A brilliant and useful day [18th Jan]. For the price of a good book I learnt more than hundreds of pounds worth of books could teach me.”

Adam Firth

North Wales Discovery Day (cont’d)

A Great Selection of Birds

Guiding in North Wales (12th Jan) with Alan Davies was a blast.  Great to visit some favourite old haunts, especially in the fun company of Mark, Steve, Ian, Tony and Dave (see here). The Hawfinch and Lady Amherst’s Pheasant were long gone from Halkyn Churchyard, but the usual suspects showed well.  It’s a stretch of coastline that can get you 100 birds in a day all through the year.  We were only interrupted by that effort by our Kumlien’s type Gull.  Headline birds included 3 diver species, 3 auks (including Black Guillemots), Chough, Peregrine, Slavonian Grebe, Dippers, various Sea Duck, Iceland Gull and of course that high Arctic Gull species that looked scary.

Oh Yeah, and Alan really goes in for luxury guiding ; ) – just check out our mini-bus at the bottom!

2nd winter Iceland Gull (above 2 pics) on the same storm beach as the Kumlien’s type.

2nd winter Kumlien’s or Iceland Gull, yes it really is a different bird from the one in the photos above.  Of course field experience nearly always trumps a single photo.  See the dark tips to the primaries on the far wing.




Mediterranean (2-3) and Black-headed Gulls showing off at Beddmanarch car park. Both species coming to bread here.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese. Beddmanarch, Anglesey, 12th Jan 2012. These are part of the same population I’m very familiar with from Northern Ireland.  The High Arctic ones which sometimes contain Grey-bellied Brent.  The legendary Ken Croft had been reading the rings from the flock and we did indeed see at least 3 ringed birds.  Here’s the current stats with grateful thanks to Marc Hughes:

“Hi Martin,
Thought you might be interested in the Pale bellied Brents that are ringed at Beddmanarch Bay, a few of which we saw last week.
These are the rings read by Ken Croft before Christmas –
Right=Red K, L= Blue L ringed 05.08.07 on Axel Heiburg Island, N Canada.  It’s a returning bird resighted in Iceland, Foryd Bay and Beddmanarch
Right=Red K, L= Blue I ringed 05.08.07 as above
Right=Yell I, L=Yell T ringed at Wexford Slobs 13.02.08 resighted in Iceland, Dublin and N Ireland.
Right=White C, L=White 2 ringed in Dundrum Ireland 09.01.08 resighted in Iceland, Strangford Lough-N Ireland and new in from there to Holyhead.
Right=Red J, L=Blue C ringed 05.08.07 Axel Heiburg Island only resighted Strangford Lough and Beddmanarch
Right=White D, L=White P ringed 09.01.06 at Strangford, N Ireland resighted Iceland, and interestingly from Isle of Lewis April 2010.

Fascinating stuff!

Luxury Birding. The minibus we ordered wasn’t available so we got an upgrade for the ‘Magnificent 7’. Photo thanks to Angelsey legend: Ken Croft. There was a v. nice Black-throated Diver feeding in Holyhead harbour (in the background).

Dungeness area, Kent

Do you live in…

London, Kent or elsewhere in the South-east of England?  Would you like to join me and Marcus Lawson for a day of ‘frontier birding’?

Thursday 9th February 2012, mainly focusing around Dungeness and surrounding area.  Gulls, Geese and local Passerines.  Every guided event continues to create new stories.  Don’t miss out on being part of this one!

£30 per person.  Contact me here to book or for more information.

(places limited, booked on first come, first served basis)

Followed by evening talk

9th February (Thursday)  Kent Ornithological Society, Evening Talk.  7:15 for 7:45 start, Maidstone, Kent. More here

“Please note that this is a ticket only event with an admission price of £4, email to reserve your ticket for what will undoubtedly be a very special evening.”