Monthly Archives: February 2012

Russian Common Gull ssp heinei

An adult on Texel

Thought I would flag this up before the forthcoming gull days One to be looking for.

One of the fun birds to find with the guys on Texel was this adult Russian Common Gull ssp. heinei. Info on identification on these is bit uncertain so this is a little peak at a work-in-progress. I have been looking at the subject for a while, more recently very encouraged to be working with Chris Gibbins and his fresh insights.

This bird, in a frozen harbour on Texel ticks ALL the boxes for ID as adult heinei. I think it is one!

It’s the bird middle at the back. Compare upperpart tone with adult argentatus Herring on near left. Some heinei are almost/ virtually the tone of graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls. (Kodak Grey Scaleheinei Common = 6-8, graellsii LBB = 8-10(11).)

I saw several darker Common Gulls on Texel (adult and 2nd winters), just not all as well as this bird. There are no ‘sight records’ for heinei in Netherlands, only trapped birds as far as I know. Same in U.K. Shame.

Closer view- check out the iris colour and interestingly the considerable protrusion of black-banded p5 beyond tertials. It looked long-winged on the deck with quite bright legs and bill.



Lots of good heinei info in the primaries- broad black michahellis band on p5, combined with almost wholly black p8 and little dark marks on p4. A bit technical but that seems to be a winning combination.


paler iris, very dark upperparts and 3 points in wing tip pattern…

This bird was trapped in the Netherlands, also in February 2012 by VRS Meijendel (the name of the ringing group). Vincent van der Spek got in touch and kindly sent images. It had a wing length of  394mm – a heinei on wing length (max wing in canus 390mm). Notice similar themes in primary pattern to bird above.

P.S. Don’t write if you find a Common Gull with black band on p5- some nominate canus have the feature although it’s often broken and not as broad. Let me know though if you see one with all these characters.

Mystery Warbler on Linosa

It IS an acrocephalus warbler!

Thank for all the responses to this bit of a quiz bird. It was another acro to learn from. Found early on in the stay late one evening by intrepid Andrea and others, we wondered if it might just be an African Reed Warbler (potentially a first for Europe). The beautiful coloured underparts and strikingly open face pattern (including what looked like little black mascara mark just above the eye) at least suggested it was worth considering. Trouble was the views were virtually all of its underside looking vertically straight up- neck strain! Even when it appeared, views were fleeting suggesting something that looked really good.

my rough impressions:

‘Huge-looking’ broad based and long looking all bright orangey bill (obviously lower mandible only seen), underparts colour seemed extensive uniform rich chamois/ rich ochre buff- subtle colour for the lovely orangey bill – richest colour seemed undertail and flank sides
 Never seemed to show demarcated white throat- colour just merged into throat
 First views of face looked  beautifully bland and hippolais-like with clean unmarked lores, seemed not to have a pale eyering.  Beady black eye
rich ochre-buff tones extended from lores over top of eye becoming slightly paler thus forming short pale creamy supercilium extended over and immediately before and after eye only
 also seemed to show dark (black) mark just above the little super and line behind eye

Eventually Igor clambered up the tree to try to get some shots- below:

After no less than 3 days and several hours, Andrea and I independently got brief views of the upperside. Long primary projection, oily rich brown and lots of contrast said ‘Reed Warbler’. Wing surely too long for African Reed and upperparts very Reed Warbler- like. Well that’s where we settled then. I have considered Marsh Warbler since, with the very open face and the bill looking shorter and broader-based in the pics, but I end up going back to ‘odd Reed’ and I think I still do now: a  young, but intriguing Reed Warbler? Have a look for yourself:

The mighty Carab tree in Linosa’s little ‘town centre’. With its strong scent, lots of flowers it pulled in plenty of warblers. The interesting acro shared space with 15 Chiffchaffs, Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest and Sardinian Warbler.

Igor stakes the bird out to try and resolve the ID with the lens. All the good photos below, copyright Igor Maiorano








oops too hasty– I labelled the above the wrong way round. p3 is clearly emarginated, p4 looks like it may be too. Brian Small had a look through the pics and noted the visibility of what looks like there may be 2 emarginations. This would rule out Marsh (only one emargination). Sometimes Reed can have 2- though most especially in African Reed (I’m just saying!).

Took 3 days too see this view. Upperside gives it away. Look Reed Warbler-like and can’t really be an ‘African’.

Perhaps, had we seen it low down in a bush it would have been relatively straightforward? Part of the fun and challenge of birding. It ain’t always that simple!

Peter Kennerley and David Pearson (together with Brian Small) of the excellent Reed and Bush Warblers book kindly commented:


On what I can see I think this is a Reed Warbler, the graduated tail, fairly long primary projection, emargination only on p3, long undertail-coverts and longish, fine bill seem to eliminate other possibilities.

With the proximity of Linosa to N Africa I guess you are thinking along the lines of the Acros recently discovered in Libya and NW Egypt – African Reed and the avicenniae race of European Reed. The overall colouration and pale lower mandible is not what would be expected of western European Reed and point towards African but the primary projection may be too long – I couldn’t say either way based on the photos.”


“Hi Martin,

I agree with Peter’s species ID. But the wing projection seems to indicate a European-type bird rather than a short-winged bird of one of the Libyan resident forms.

Interesting that it doesn’t look freshly moulted as one might expect in December. Maybe an unmoulted first year bird though the palish leg colour doesn’t quite fit that!  Perhaps a NW African bird that moulted in Aug-Sept???”


We are going on the TIP!

Cheshire Gull Day

 Saturday 17th March 2012

Thanks to some great organising by folk involved with Moore Nature Reserve and Friends of Wigg Island this day is looking really cool.   Start will be 8:30 am at Moore Nature Reserve. We will be kitted out with high vis vests and hardhats, then escorted onto the mighty rubbish tip with Moore N.R. warden, Paul. A full morning on the tip will be followed by relaxed lunch and use of facilities at Wigg Island, overlooking the Mersey. Here some classroom input from me with  real gull wings and all the input needed to learn and be inspired.

Then straight back out into the field to Richmond Bank which over the last weekend held 3rdw Kumliens Gull,  9 Iceland Gulls  and one 1stw Yellow-legged Gull (P. Kinsella). Day finishes  around 5:00/ 5:30

5 Places left:  £35 per person. See your confidence and skills in identifying gulls grow. Learn stuff not yet in any books and have lots of fun along the way!

How to Book or more info: email me at

“A short email to thank you for a superb day on your Gull Master Class at Stubbers Green on Saturday 18th February 2012. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I came away feeling ever more confident in my abilities to correctly identify some of the taxa of our common larger gulls.”  Tony Davison. Simply Birds and Moths
“I couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction to ‘Advanced Gulls’ and I can’t wait to get back out again, armed with a bit more knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, the inspiration to continue discovering…” R. Webb

American White-winged Scoter in Japan

Amoung the Stejneger’s

A great find yesterday by David Cooper. He emailed to say he had found an adult male American White-winged Scoter in a harbour in eastern Hokkaido, Japan. Seems to be the first for this part of the world, with the only other records of ‘deglandi’ from the Kommander Islands. Great scoop and likely to see a few Japanese twitchers along to see it today. More here

all photos Ad male American White-winged Scoter, Hokkaido, Japan, 26th February 2012, copyright David Cooper.

and David’s original target- a young male Stejneger’s Scoter, same day, same place

Vagrant White-headed Duck!

First winter in the Netherlands

Sad but true! One of the birds I most wanted to see was a White-headed Duck. So part of Monday 13th Feb saw Nils, me and Sander Bot heading to a wildfowl hotspot. What a place! Don’t know the name of the lake but it was covered in wildfowl. Thousands of Wigeon and Gadwall, 10’s of Smew and much more. Pretty soon Sander picked up an adult Goshawk– stood on the ICE! Wow, very cool as it picked at some poor duck corpse. In flight it caused havoc amoung the ducks. See photo below.

Fantastic numbers of wildfowl:


adult Goshawk. So cool to see and a more common Dutch experience than for me in the U.K. I saw a juvenile Goshawk at Katwijk the next day with Rene and Frank

Took us a while and long walk but we finally found the White-headed Duck with a couple of Ruddy Duck nearby (c6 Ruddy’s on the lake).

What a bill! 1st winter White-headed Duck, Netherlands, 13th Feb 2012. Nils tells me it’s a first winter- best told by spikier tail feathers and duller body plumage.  That face pattern with very narrow white strip below eye can’t be an adult female pattern me thinks. Does the head pattern have any information which suggests if it’s more likely to be a female of a male? I suppose if the head turns blacker it would be  black- headed male from central Asia!

The BIG Question – vagrant or escape?

Keith Vinicombe has written v helpfully about this subject in his chapter in ‘Frontiers of Birding’ – of course we could get birds from S Europe/ N. Africa. However there is another possibility. This Dutch bird turned up in November- the kind of time when birds from further e.g. Central Asia, travel west to winter. Why not vagrant White-headed Duck from such as Kazakhstan where there is a much larger population. Lots of our winter wildfowl in western Europe come from around Central Asia.

A Good Question to ask…

When you watch dabbling and diving duck on your local reservoirs etc- do you know which species may have come to winter there from e.g. Kazakhstan? It’s worth thinking about. You might be surprised! Anyone care to compile a list? I will kick it off with Pochard. Known for individual to winter in the Sea of Japan one winter and the same bird to winter in Britain the next week.

Nils and MG- very happy with good views of 1st winter White-headed Duck.

Nice bit of video with some behaviours including a flash of unringed leg. ‘ave it!

Unexpectedly a drake Smew swam past (background), suitable evidence of the Smewfest going on!



3 Velvet Scoter swam near the White-headed Duck, 2 first winter males and a first winter female.

2 Velvet Scoters in this video clip.


This adult Grey Heron was stunning but sadly a little too approachable- we saw a number dead, presumable due to starvation in the freezing conditions

Great White Egrets are everywhere, seemingly in the Netherlands these days. A roost of nearly 1000 birds were gathering at one location in the south of the country. Incredible!

Mystery Essex Gull

A comment

There was a great set of responses to Steve Arlow’s Essex gull here

When a first saw the images I said to Steve that it reminded me  of  some barabensis- particularly the Caspian Gull end (also called Steppe Gull- referring to  large gulls breeding especially over  central Asia and wintering roughly  in the middle east to India especially dominating in the Gulf region). The rather compact appearance bright bare parts, dark iris, weakish bill pointed me in the direction. However to claim a barabensis this far west , for sure you would want  darker saturated upperparts and black patterning in 7-8  primaries. So with that ‘feel’ to the bird, in the end I think I go for ID as small (female) Caspian Gull. Chris Gibbins is just back from an International Gull Conference in Zagreb, where they watched plenty of Caspian Gulls including some birds with bright bare parts in pre-breeding flush including bright yellow legs. He also thought the Essex bird best fit small Caspian, though seeing the full pattern on outer primaries would further help as others have said.

Had Steve been able to see the bird for more prolonged period, perhaps call and aspects of behaviour would have provided more clues.

So Caspian for me. Doesn’t mean I am right of course, but thanks for all those who wrestled with this bird and especially were bold enough to make a comment and have a go. Good learning!

Thanks again to Steve Arlow for some great images and a pioneering spirit

Polar Experience in the Netherlands

Gulls, Ducks and Cold

Perhaps it will prove to be one of my nature highlights of the year. Arriving to catch the boat on 12 Feb with the boys (Nils, Diederik and Jeroan) from Den Helder to Texel, we encountered an amazing sight: The North Sea frozen. Well this bit it is the Wadden sea, but you can actually see the edge of the North Sea as you take the journey. It was an amazing sight! Boats ploughed through various sections of more and less ice. Then on the island whole sections of the sea just off the coastline: FROZEN. See the pics and video:

Nils overlooks the sea.



A female Smew flies in while I am shooting this little bit of video. No kidding that is the sea with tiny unfrozen bit where duck are gathering.

The beach at the hallowed ground at the north end of Texel was being ‘worked’. Sand moved, water pumped, pipes laid and gull food distributed. A great spot. Very close views of several hundred birds, with Smew and Goosander zooming around over the sea as backdrop; not bad!  Here’s a selection of the best:

Beautiful 2nd winter Caspian Gull. The yellow ring PDPD indicating a Polish bird apparently.

1st winter Caspian Gull (at back) with 2 quite different example of first winter Herring Gulls in front of it.

Iceland Gull in 3rd winter type plumage with dark tips on outer 3 primaries. At distance clearly suggesting a Kumlien’s Gull, but on close inspection the brown markings are a little mealy and in flight no dark outer webs to outer primaries. Not really enough for certain Kumlien’s. We have much to learn…



Finished off our beach watching stint with this fine 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull.

This rather cool looking first winter was interesting with plainer grey new 2nd generation feathers in scapulars and ‘big look’. I guess one of these more striking looking 1st winter argentatus.

Nearby this juvenile Glaucous Gull was taking bread handouts at the local duck pond: