Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Facebook Page

your invite to…                  

click the like button …….HERE

This goes to the  Birding Frontiers Facebook Page. The plan is to use it for quick photo posts and punchy comment. Each weekday there will be a ‘BOD’ = Bird of the Day; something topical, something related to book material being worked on or maybe something a little controversial! Mentioning Basalt Wheatear  on Facebook produced some great feedback and comment. It’s a place where lots of folk are used to talking.

e.g. … just put up a photo of (I think) a 1st summer male  Eastern Orphean Warbler as it’s ‘hot topic’. 

If you Like please go and hit the button:

click the like button …….HERE

thanks to this guy for stirring the pot:

1st summer Basalt Wheatear, S Israel, March 2012. Martin Garner. Looks good for full species status! (or does it?)

………………………………………Birding Frontiers Facebook Page

Marsh and Reed Warbler

Heads up

Its only 3 days ago! Had such a full on few days and just catching up. Last monday was the start of the 3 day guided event at Spurn which started bang on with singing Marsh Warbler in the canal hedge thanks to finder, Andy Roadhouse. If they are singing they are not too tricky. Non-singers being more problematic. In spring: besides being more olivey green above (yellowy-rumped) with bits of  yellow below than Reed Warbler (which are browner, rust rumped and no yellow below) the face often looks different. To me the white eye-ring on Reed Warbler nearly always jumps out is the most prominent feature of the face followed by the weak thin pale ‘squiggly’ stripe running from eye to bill. The bill is long.

On Marsh Warbler the face is more open (even ‘hippolais warbler-like) and any pale around the eye less obvious than on Reed with the pale area between bill and eye, being big, pale and open (not thin and squiggly as on Reed).

Here  is last Mondays Marsh Warbler compared with a Reed Warbler photographed in the nearby canal zone.

Marsh Warbler, Spurn, 28th May 2012. This was a particularly short-billed individual with measurement below that found in the ringer’s manual ‘Svensson’.

Reed Warbler, Spurn, May 2012

Marsh Warbler, Spurn, 28th May 2012

Reed Warbler, Canal Zone, Spurn, May 2012. A prominent white eyering is often the first thing noticed when head of a skulking Reed Warbler pops out!

Pratincoles Mystery. Now 3 Birds.

in Southern Israel

Bird One

Collared Pratincole with intriguing characters. K20, Eilat, April 2nd 2012

The fuller story, lots more photos and link to main ID article are here. In a nutshell the bird in the photo below was seen on my last day in Israel at the end of the Eilat Bird Festival this spring. It’s particularly dark-looking upperparts, amoung other things, suggest it might be an Oriental Pratincole. Views of the tail and hind wing in flight eliminated that possibility and it was left as a Collared Pratincole- albeit with some head scratching!

A subsequent review of my photos compared with 2 articles in Dutch Birding on Pratincole ID by Gerald Driessens and Lars Svensson, raised awareness that its contrasty head pattern (dark crown, paler cheeks), long lack ‘gape’ line, and those notably dark upperparts seemed to fit  the Afrotropical forms (3 subspecies) of Collared Pratincole better than the nominate Eurasian form.

Subsequent to this, Yoav Perlman had 2 birds, one of which was photographed at Yotvata (not far north of K20) in 1st May which had some similar confusing characters.

Ideally then let’s get Gerald Driessens, author of the paper on Afrotropical Collared Pratincoles to comment on the Eilat and also Yotvata birds.

Here’s his helpful response:

Intriguing record Martin!
 At first glance, I thought “hmm, this is going to be another Oriental”, immediately followed by other opinions when scrolling down to the flight picture.
As you mentioned in your mail, indeed, there’s quite a lot suggesting Afrotropical Collared. Not only the darker colour, but also the more capped effect, warmer colour, strong gape line, the lack of a white border inside the dark throat surround… The flight picture suggests the same.
 The problem is that lookalikes exist in the race pratincola, although this is a particularly well- marked individual.
One thing that puzzles me, is the jizz of this bird, I have never encountered in pictures or life, a bird giving this Oriental feeling with short, peaked head and (as far as the photo’s show) a rather upright stance.
 As well as Afrotropical being somewhat intermediate between pratincola and maldivarum, it is also at least possible that a somewhat different looking population exists somewhere in Asia…
I remember observations of a flock of breeding ‘Orientals’ showing quite long tail streamers…
In the Stockholm museum, there is also an Oriental showing tail streamers outside the range of Oriental (or at least, outside what we call ‘the range’ 🙂
 A pity that this is another record of birds in the migration season. Where do these birds fly to…?
With what we know now, your bird could be an Afrotropical. But what is an Afrotropical Collared doing in Israel in April…?
I will certainly keep this record for comparison with other birds. I am even rethinking ID opinions I gave on a claimed Oriental, which was only photographed in flight.
I think the other two records  in Yotvata on May 1st and K20 on May …describe the same type of pratincole. These are also females because of the greyish-brown lores and the narrow throat surround.
 Regards, Gerald

So there it is. Not fully resolved. Bird showing somewhat intermediate characters between Collared and Oriental Pratincole, ‘to be explored further’  – particularly in Israel. Hope I get another shot at them. Either:

1) Just normal variation within (nominate) Collared Pratincoles

2) They are Afrotropical Collared Pratincoles

3) the possibility of a hitherto undescribed population/ taxon breeding in Asia.

Have to admit the last one intrigues me the most!

Bird Two

Here’s Yoav’s bird again. Just a normal Collared Pratincole? What do you think? A 3rd bird has added to the intrigue. Scroll down…

Collared Pratincole with intriguing characters, Yotvata, Israel, 1st May 2012 . Yoav Perlman

Bird Three

Barak Granit take up the story:

On the 19th May, Eyal Shochat and myself observed and photographed an interesting Pratincole at K.20, Eilat. In short, the short tail made us suspect an Oriental Pratincole, but after we saw the white/whitish trailing edge we left it as “weirdly short-tailed” Collared Pratincole. Later on we uploaded the photos and some points for discussion in the israbirding forum. After better examination and thorough reading, I came to a ‘possible solution’  which is discussed in more detail.

Photos and more discussion can be viewed on the Israbirding Forum.

Photos of this bird all below taken by Eyal Shochat at K20, Eilat on 19th May 2012. Long legs, rather short tails (for Collared) and upright stance add to the ‘jizz’ of these interesting birds.





Bird 3: Collared Practincole with intriguing characters at K20, Eilat, 19th May 2012 by Eyal Shochat

1st summer male Black Redstart

Bit o’ learnin’

As well as being really smart birds anyway their plumages are frequently intriguing; thinking of some of the red-bellied males, and Eastern Black Redstarts I have seen in the last couple of years. This bird was at Spurn on Sunday and Monday earlier this week, was once again interesting. The wings were mostly very brown and quickly aged the bird as a 2nd calendar year– the brown feathers being retained from juvenile plumage. However its head, mantle and underparts were very adult male-like. One extreme to the other. Thats would seem to make it a paradoxus‘ male. One showing adult make body plumage in its first year. So I have a question. if paradoxus‘ males are supposed to be much scarcer (10% or less of young males) why do I see them so often?

Thanks to Pete Wood and the N Wales guys for good company and some photos below:

2nd cy male Black Redstart, Spurn, 20 May 2012. Pete Wood

If interested this is what the bird had (some of which can be seen in pics)

All juvenile flight feathers

Outer 5 greater coverts old brown juvenile, inner 5 greater coverts adult ‘blue’ feathers. Though nevertheless the adult greater coverts still quite worn presumably having been moulted last summer/ autumn

Tertials old apart from one new (smallest ) tertials replaced with ‘adult blue’ feathers on each side (hard to see and quite worn).

Median and lesser coverts new blue feathers

Central pair of tail feathers (T1) old juvenile, rest of tail feathers renewed new  feathers

Some whitish on fringes of old juvenile inner secondaries just visible sometimes in field but normally hidden under greater coverts. Presumably a very weak  feature of what will be replaced by vivid white fringes in new ‘adult’ feathers.

2nd cy male Black Redstart, Spurn, 20 May 2012. MG

2nd cy male Black Redstart, Spurn, 20 May 2012. Pete Wood

2nd cy male Black Redstart, Spurn, 20 May 2012. MG

and in the hand


Thanks to Adam Hutt for sharing his ringing talent!

Greater and Lesser Sand Plover

In summer plumages

These fine images of male and female  Lesser Sand Plovers  were taken earlier this month (part of group of c 200) by Simon Buckell in Mersing, east coast peninsular Malaysia. Unfortunately like a number of SE Asian wetlands, construction on new development which will destroy shorebird habitat also began this month.

Lesser Sand Plover ‘atrifrons group’

Adult male Lesser Sand Plover, Malaysia, 2nd May 2012. Simon Buckell.

Adult female Lesser Sand Plover, Malaysia, 2nd May 2012. Simon Buckell. Compare the much fresher upperparts (especially wing coverts) on the Lessers above with the much more worn feathers on Greaters below. Overall Lessers moult in and out of summer plumage a couple of months later than these West Asian Greater Sand Plovers.

Greater Sand Plover

Thought to compare I would add these, taken at the wonderful K20 salt pans, Eilat, S. Israel, on our my last day this year (end of the Eilat Bird Festival). The  adult male seems obvious enough but what age and sex are the other 2, differently plumage individuals?

Adult male Greater Sand Plover, Eilat, Israel, 2nd April 2012. The more extensive orange in underparts is typical of ssp. columbinus

Greater Sand Plover, Eilat, Israel, 2nd April 2012. With a fair bit of black patterning around the face, I wonder if this is a less advanced male?

 Greater Sand Plover, Eilat, Israel, 2nd April 2012. With no black around the face I wonder if this is a female. It seems first summer males, though may look similar. Don’t know enough about it.

Rewind: Blue Fulmar Pelagic

A New Western Palearctic Experience

This was just over a year ago. one of my favourite ‘experiments’ last year. Thought I would rewind and show it again. It showcased Varanger and some of it’s wonder. As I write a Pallid Harrier and Golden Oriole have been recorded there this last week (May 2012). Tormod A. and I reckon it is packed with vagrancy potential too. A story yet to be fully told…

After the Gyr Falcon we collected our gear and headed, via some ‘white-out conditions’ in land, for Batsfjord harbour.  A pioneering adventure had been dreamed up by our host Tormod Amundsen. A birding frontier! The plan was to take 70 km boat ride and chum the icy Barents Sea beyond land between Batsfjord and Syltefjord. The boat trip had been already put off the previous day due to windy conditions and rough seas. The wind had dropped- but not that much. All agreed however we were game for it!

This dapper little orange number is on over my coat and 4 other layers. I was told I would need it. (Tormod Amundsen)

The rest of the crew- time I introduced them properly (photo, Tormod Amundsen) :

Top Row, left to right:

James McCallum, André van Loon, Ruud van Beusekom, Jörg Kretschmar, Nigel Jones and Chris Lansdell.

Bottom Row, left to right:

Hans Ueli GrütterSteve Rogers, Colin McShane and moi

‘double dark’ Atlantic Blue Fulmar. With a sea swell of 10-15 feet, icy cold winds and birds swooping past feet away it rocked! Once we had left land behind we soon encountered a fishing trawler and began chumming with fish livers. Within minutes literally hundreds of Fulmars, more than 70% of them ‘blues’ were in our wake and circling our little boat.

Is this Barents Sea pelagic the best opportunity to see Blue Fulmars in the Western Palearctic? Icelandic and Jan Mayen breeders are still predominated by white-headed birds. The ‘True Blues’ are birds of the High Arctic (Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya etc). The Barents Sea however is a major feeding ground for the High Arctic populations (BWP). I must be the best place to look for Pacific Fulmar ssp. rodgersii to get the Western Palearctic first. I hope to go back and look again.

Blue Fulmar (Tormod Amundsen). Quickly dubbed the Blue Fulmar pelagic we also saw White-billed Divers, 4 auks species including  Brünnich’s Guillemot and Arctic Skuas. With perhaps c2,000 (majority Blue) Fulmars seen- they stole the show.

Unfortunately the considerable swell and need to keep moving (seasickness was present) photography was really tricky- sometimes it was better just to sit and watch with naked eye at the stunningly close views.

The next 2 photos give and idea of the height of the swell.

and the number of birds following and around us:

Ian Wallace’s term ‘Jumbo Blue’ sprang to mind a few times for some of the looking ugly brutes with extra black on the bill compared with white-headed (LL) type birds.

 Blue Fulmar (Jörg Kretschmar). Probably a D rather than DD (see below)

Ralph Palmers illustration I assume is based on James Fisher’s categorisation of Atlantic Fulmars.

Top left LL (Double Light).

Top right L (Light-we would call it a pale Blue Fulmar in U.K.)

Bottom left D (Dark or intermediate Blue Fulmar).

Bottom right DD (Double Dark)

I still find it a useful guide to roughly describing what a particular bird looks like- though the colour cline seems continuousness from double light to double dark.

Sated on Blue Fulmar we called by the seabird colony just north of Syltefjord. 1000’s of Kittiwakes, a Gannetry, auks and 4 White-tailed Eagle patrolled the cliffs.

A snow storm of Kittiwakes appeared for fresh fish livers

That would be an Atlantic (rather than Pacific) Kittiwake wing pattern.

…and finally arriving in calmer waters at Syltefjord where we were treated to hot dogs cooked over open fire in the middle of one of those wooden huts with fur-lined seats. And some Jamaican Rum to wash it down while we warmed up and dried off. Come on- you’ve got to join me next year  in Varanger just to experience this day!

All birding should be days like this!

P.S. They had to open the road for us.

The road leading out of Syltefjord had no yet been opened for the summer. Apparently they had been some reluctance and much persuasion needed to get the local council to open the road. Only as we drove down it did we realise why it was an issue. First photo in Syltefjord. Road clearance c 2-3 ft. depth of snow. A few miles down the road: road clearance perhaps 25 ft +. depth of snow. 2 diggers and sometimes dynamite is required to clear snow from the roads in Varanger.

Check out the 2nd photo. No wonder they were reluctant to clear the road for us!

Now who says we have problems with snow in the U.K?!!