Monthly Archives: May 2012

Intriguing Yellow Wagtails…..

This post poses more questions than answers, but you’ve gotta love Yellow wagtails ūüôā

The first bird of interest was photographed recently by Nick Senior at Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire.

Intriguing flava wagtail © Nick Senior

This bird shows grey¬†upper-parts/nape/crown that perhaps could be explained away by individual variation or perhaps that old chestnut ‘within acceptable variation’ (birds similarly plumaged to this are observed most springs) However the wing-bars are possibly not what we would expect to see. They are both broad and distinctively white,¬†reminiscent¬†of those shown by Citrine Wagtail. Can flava Yellow Wagtails show wing-bars like this?

Perhaps as significant is the call. Nick transcribed the call (in his own words) as a¬†bzzslpp’ ¬†similar to typical flava though more complex and lower toned with an almost bunting (eg Reed) type quality. A recording of the call could perhaps prove very valuable in untangling the conundrum?

I recently observed another interesting Yellow Wagtail at one of the few regular breeding sites for this species in North Cumbria. This individual showed a grey colouration to the mantle that extended up onto the nape and crown. There also seemed to be contrast between the apparently brighter yellow tones on the face and the more washed out yellow on the breast. The median covert bar also seemed to be bright white and perhaps broader than I expected (though admittedly not particularly obvious in this image)!

interesting Yellow Wagtail © Tristan Reid

My assumption at the time was that this bird was just a variant flavissima, and this may well be correct. However, where does this apparent ‘citrine-esque’ ghosting come from? Is this just variation? Could there some other influences leaking into this species genetics or are these individuals originating from a distinct population?

Toby Collett has observed similar birds to this at the Saltholme RSPB reserve in Cleveland over the previous few years. He has also observed that the calls seem ‘buzzier’ than those of typical flavissima. The following youtube clip recorded by Toby shows a very similar bird to the Cumbrian bird, though perhaps more importantly, you can hear the bird calling.

The call is (to my ear at least) different enough to warrant further analyses; so some recordings of these ‘grey-types’ could be very interesting.

It seems that these grey-types may be a regular feature in the UK, particularly across the east coast of the UK. However it would be interesting to discover more about these birds! It may be that they are just a variant of flavissima, but there could still be lots to learn……

Red-backed Shrike


Further north (especially¬†Holy Island, Northumberland) is scoring heavily in these NE winds, but a female Red-backed Shrike found by ‘Little Tern Warden’, Lizzie was¬†timely¬†find¬†especially¬†for Saturday visitors. The Golden Oriole perfomed¬†regularly¬†through the day too.

Mammals at Spurn

Are always great background wildlife. Took these two (Fox and Roe Deer) not far from my caravan.

and this African lake species is a good tick for Spurn regulars:

Bee-eaters, Golden Oriole, Nightjar

and friends.

17th May. Spurn.

Early¬†morning¬†didn’t look too promising. Conditions rather still. However this is Spurn!¬†The Golden Oriole was still present just along¬†from¬†our caravan. I had flushed it in a magic moment the previous evening. Beautiful¬†low sun, heading off on beach walk, not expecting to see anything!¬†Watching¬†it again (in flight) mid morning Andrew from Westmere¬†Farm¬†radioed through to say a visitor had reported a Bee-eater. (He actually added – if anyone was interested!)¬†headed¬†straight¬†over. Not one, but 2 European Bee-eaters. Found by ‘Sarah’, who had looked out of her room window at Westmere¬†to see¬†these 2 bright coloured birds¬†perched on the nearby wires. Flip!¬†Makes¬†a good reason to stay at Westmere Farm! They hung around for about half an hour before heading off west. Magic! Other birds of the day included several (brief) views of the Golden Oriole, a male Nightjar down the peninsula and a variety of¬†other¬†migrants¬†around Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Firecrest, Whinchat etc. I¬†really¬†enjoyed watching the blackish-legged acredula type Willow Warbler along the¬†canal¬†banking. Counted 210 dark¬†and¬†2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese on the Humber.

2 Bee-eaters. Surely they can make anyone’s day in Britain. I love¬†that¬†they were found by a couple¬†staying¬†at Sue and Andrew’s¬†place¬†at¬†Westmere¬†Farm. Perched¬†on the wires from the bedroom window. Only Spurn!

Golden Oriole. Almost  a caravan tick (it is about 300 metres away from where I am typing this). It was singing this afternoon. Aging and sexing Golden Oriole on plumage is (apparently says Spurn warden P.C.) a bit of a nightmare.

male Nightjar near Wire Dump. Females don’t have white spots in the wings. Lack of obvious white corners on the tail made me wonder if this is a young male (2nd cal year).

enjoyed¬†watching¬†this brown and white Willow¬†Warbler¬†with blackish-looking legs. May is classic month for ‘acredula‘ types which breed¬†further¬†north and east.

Not rare but lovely views of migrant Sand Martins as they pause at the Warren


Big Bean Goose

Spurn, East Yorkshire, 12 May 2012

This one seems to have eluded me. Was¬†present¬†on/off last Saturday and hasn’t reappeared since. Those familiar with (Western) Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose were struck by its size and bill shape.¬†Looking¬†at the pics, it’s pretty massive Bean¬†Goose- kinda Greylag Goose sized. It is a 2nd calendar year bird (less than 1 year old) and ¬†‘lost’ (i.e. not¬†with¬†it’s family group). Aged by the mix of juvenile¬†and new scapulars and heavy moult¬†underneath includes little¬†juvenile¬†feathers. Eek!

One I very much would have liked to have seen. Following this bird (also here and here) in California in November 2010, I learnt a lot and seems some middendorffii types, or even a new taxon of Bean GooseР can kinda look like this. Indeed on first seeing the photos of this Spurn bird it immediately reminded me of the Californian individual. I also wonder if its seemingly late spring occurrence (east coast Britain in mid May) is out of sync for here but right for spring migration in far east?

Any experience?¬†Is it just a large (Western) Tundra Bean Goose?¬†I don’t think so.To me looks more Taiga-like but even then thicker-billed than¬†typical¬†Western Taiga Bean Goose. More photos and¬†some¬†discussion here. Thanks to Sheffield legend, Pete Wragg for photos below:





‘Big’ Bean Goose, Kilnsea Wetlands, Spurn 12th May 2012. Photos Pete Wragg

Pallid Harrier

2nd Cal Year in Yorkshire

Plenty going on at Spurn and nearby finally got this Pallid Harrier this morning after 3 attempts at nearby Patrington Haven. Tiny (male?!) looks very falcon- like¬†especially¬†flying away. At one stage did some kind of ‘skydancing’ thing– great way to start the day. Internet frustratingly poor.


Possibly Iberian Pied Flycatcher still?

The last word?


I have always been fascinated by¬†variety in birds, by¬†migration,¬†and the sheer wonder, even dare ¬†I say¬†mini-miracles that can be encapsulated in a ‘bird’. The¬†Flamborough¬†Flycatcher¬†is just such an example ¬†of¬†intriguing¬†variety, and a¬†potentially¬†interesting¬†displacement.¬†Is its¬†plumage¬†really¬†just normal nominate Pied Flycatcher¬†variation?¬†(That’s’ an open, non rhetorical¬†question!) Is it possible to¬†identity¬†example of¬†vagrants¬†from Iberia or¬†North¬†Africa? That they might occur as¬†vagrants¬†is a something to wonder about in itself,¬†as with all such¬†occurrences, tiny creatures weighing¬†just a few grams and undertaking phenomenal travel. It’s beyond¬†my comprehending when I stop to really think about it.

The last word on this flycatcher has not yet been said. Failing someone¬†demonstrating¬†this plumage can be fully¬†replicated¬†in a nominate Pied Flycatcher (which would be¬†interesting¬†in itself), the clues of the bird’s plumage and potential call note at least suggest¬†the¬†possibility¬†of it having been an Iberian Pied Flycatcher, iberiae. ¬†The DNA isn’t necessarily¬†unequivocal:

Qualifier to the DNA.

I have heard others who¬†understand¬†the issues involved in¬†applying¬†molecular biology to birds’ identification¬†that DNA analysis is no silver bullet. I guess this advice needs to be heeded in this case. Helpful as ever, ¬†Martin Collinson explains the care and caveats need with handling the research done so far (and¬†there¬†is some¬†more¬†to be done with this bird’s DNA).

“Well I do wonder if, in spite of its rogue genes, it could still be iberiae or with some iberiae parentage. ¬†¬†Given that we know it‚Äôs not Atlas, the clever money, given plumage and now call, would maybe have gone to iberiae. ¬†Now the genetic difference between iberiae and nominate hypoleuca appears consistent but pretty slight. ¬†For example, at the cytb gene, over 991 bases of sequence that I got in this round, the Flamborough bird is either identical to or 1 bp different from database sequences of nominate birds, 4 bp different from an iberiae, and 29-35 bp different from the other 3 species.¬† At the ND6 gene, over 554 bp it‚Äôs identical to or 1 bp different from nominate sequences, and 2-4 bp different from iberiae, 14-24 bp different from the other 3 species. ¬†On current knowledge, having mtDNA sequences that are identical to nominate birds eliminates iberiae, but frankly it comes down to 1 or 2 bp in bits of sequence. ¬†Maybe with more work these differences would melt away, or, maybe some nominate mtDNA has sneaked into iberiae populations. ¬†Upshot is, if your birding instincts are pointing you to Iberian, don‚Äôt give up on that just because of the first wave of genetics.”

Martin C. will be doing another round of analysis, when the sequence is complete. May or may not help us. I still feel a good¬†recording¬†of the call note (field¬†identification!) could have taken us a lot further…