Monthly Archives: June 2012

Yellow-billed Stork in Turkey

Anything is possible!

by Tristan

Turkish birder and photographer Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu recently contacted me with the exciting news that he had photographed a Yellow-billed Stork at Mogan Gölü, (Ankara Province). The bird was found by two Turkish photographers and constitutes the 4th record for Turkey (and the first for around 50 years).

Yellow-billed Stork with White Stork © Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu 2012

Yellow-billed Stork with White Stork © Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu 2012

Yellow-billed Stork is a predominantly sedentary resident throughout much of Africa, though the species will make partial migratory (nomadic) movements depending on food availability.

White Stork Migration

The wintering grounds for the White Stork overlap the range of the Yellow-billed Stork. So it is no great surprise how Yellow-billed Stork can make it into the Western Palearctic.

There are loads of predictions of migratory species that could (but haven’t so far) made it onto UK shores. The Willet is certain a favourite choice of many! However, I thought it would be interesting to look at the potential of species with local migratory/nomadic tendancies.

There are of course UK records of nomadic species such as the Black Lark and White-winged Lark. So there is a precedent! Are their species out there that we have not considered as potential vagrants due to limited migration behaviour?

White and Red-spotted Bluethroats


by Martin.
Just a quick note. I won’t normally do this for new team member posts! Already some great posts. Yet again this one epitomizes what we are about. It’s new material, not fully tested, invited you to share in the process of discovery. In the UK I don’t recall any attempt to assign Bluethroats to ‘form’ in the autumn. How fascinating that we might be able to do some. Perhaps the status of White- spotted and Red- spotted Bluethroats will actually prove to be quite different. Maybe some old photos will be reviewed. Enjoy the post.

New features for the autumn ID challenge

by Nils

Due to the occurrence of ‘orange-spotted’ individuals, even spring Bluethroats are sometimes not that straightforward to ID to form we would like them to be (see a note in Birding World 23.7 pag 301-304 and here and here), in autumn there is a really big challenge. All ages and forms of Bluethroats undergo a body moult in late summer and in a proportion of White-spotted’s the freshly moulted ‘spot-feathers’ are partial or almost completely broadly tipped orange, forming an orange spot. After the body moult, many Red-spotted’s lack a solid red spot (presumable especially first winters). Instead, these individuals normally have the spot-area pale orange/reddish.  Therefore in autumn White-spotted and Red-spotted are assumed not safely separable. e.g. in the Netherlands, where Red-spotted it is still a considered to be a national level rarity, Red-spotted has not been accepted in autumn before now (unless a caught bird has a wing-length outside the variation of cyanecula). Both forms moult the breast-feathers again in late winter to produce the more typical white- or red-spotted plumage (but see the above mentioned Birding World note etc. for presumed exceptions in White-spotted).

The issue keeps me busy for some time and during a visit in 2011 to the NHM, Tring, England, I had the opportunity to examine a series of autumn male White-spotted and Red-spotted Bluethroats. Comparing series of similar looking birds is often the best way to find subtle differences and although the sample of autumn ‘orange-spotted’ White-spotted’s and certain Red-spotted’s (on wing-length and location) was small there was a consistent difference in the pattern of the lower ‘spot’-feathers.

I do not normally like to use the name svecica for Red-spotted as there are more ‘red-spotted’ forms beside the northern nominate but these specimen below are most likely of that form.

Red-spotted Bluethroats Luscinia svecica svecica males, Natural History Museum, Tring, England.

In these autumn, presumed svecica, the red-orange is mostly or completely concentrated on the lower part of the ‘spot’, forming a reddish band which is bordered by a thin white line followed by the broader blue band.

White-spotted Bluethroats Luscinia svecica cyanecula males, Natural History Museum, Tring, England.

In these autumn cyanecula, the pale orange is more or less concentrated in the centre of the ‘spot’ and diffusely bordered with the (more extensive) white surrounding. None of the autumn White-spotted’s had a reddish band as shown above.

Red-spotted Bluethroat Luscinia svecica svecica male, Natural History Museum, Tring, England.

Detail of lifted lower ‘spot’-feathers of  presumed svecica. See how these feathers are well patterned with reddish base, white central band and blue tip.

White-spotted Bluethroat Luscinia svecica cyanecula male, Natural History Museum, Tring, England.

In detail the lower ‘spot’-feathers of  presumed cyanecula. These feathers are more or less plain, lacking the colour-bands of svecica. The first blue-tipped feathers had a completely white base which is visible at the upper end of the ‘spot’ in this picture.

This is typical ‘work in process’ but I think the orange band of a presumed Red-spotted male will be well visible in the field once a bird give itself away. I also hope to encouraged ringers to look at the (lower) ‘spot’-feathers  of autumn Bluethroats as they have the extra tool of the wing-length to separate at least a part of the birds with certainty, and maybe they have already done so!

Let’s see what happens this autumn!

X Factor Birding + Prize Quiz Q

I really liked this signage!

(left to right) Gerald Driessens (Belgium), Martin Garner, Corey Finger (U.S.A.) and Nils van Duivendijk (Netherlands). photo Dale Forbes.

I discovered on the Hungary trip that Swedish birders make a big X sign when they see a new bird. I love it! So here we are with a Big Victory X after seeing a certain bird species (a ‘life tick’). Well new for 3 of us. Gerald had some one before but over 20 years ago, so it was ‘like new’!

Birding is surely as much about the people as the birds. We all love being in a story.

Quiz question with a difference to win a Birding Frontiers Memory Stick– crammed with 25 ID articles. Answer both questions correctly. First correct wins.

1) What woodland species was the bird species deserving of our big X?

2) The ground next to us looked like it had been thoroughly rotovated, like finely tilled soil with only a scattering of  uprooted plants left. However we were in a woodland in Eastern Hungary with no farm machinery. It was all ‘natural’. Who or what had ‘churned up’ the soil?

Answers via email or facebook

Like finely tilled soil on the woodland floor. Who? What? How?

Orange-spotted Bluethroat in-the-hand

in Estonia, Part 2

Uku wrote previously here and this is a follow-up to that post.

This is the male White-spotted Bluethroat with an ‘orange spot’ (but still white at the feather bases and actually visible as such in the field).

“Hi Martin!
I had some fun ringing Little Crakes in Estonia (first ones ever ringed in Estonia). I managed to tease our weird Bluethroats in the process as well. Surprisingly we got two males (at least they didn’t have brood patch and would be very extreme-blue for females) from the same bush, which means they can have very small territories indeed. I think we don’t have any “normal” Whitespots left as one bird hasn’t got white spot at all (or actually very small white feather sometimes visible) and the other one is the “orange-spotted Whitespot” I mentioned in the previous post. The photos aren’t exactly the birdphotos of the year but we tried to keep the disturbance minimal and as we know, Bluethroats are very un-cooperative posers in hand. I cuddled them a little to make the feather bases visible.
Uku Paal”

This is a male White-spotted Bluethroat with limited white spot which can be invisible at times in the field.

Varanger – The “Harleking”

From the Northern Frontier

by Tormod

I was planning on writing a rather elaborate first Birding Frontiers post, about designing maps that are dedicated to birders. I will have to come back to that idea later. Living in a premium birding destination means things don’t always go according to plan. Instead I´ll make a short birding mega news-post…

from Varanger: the Harlequin Duck.


I was settled for another busy Sunday with a bird shelter that I needed to finish designing, and then packing my gear for a trip to the high tundra by helicopter for a bird registration project. With my family and my good birder friend Anders Mæland, I was just going for a short Sunday trip to Hamningberg, officially known as ´The end of Europe`.  This is a 40 km drive from my home and office in Vardø, basically through non-stop good birding areas. The outer Varanger Fjord always (except November & December) holds good numbers of birds. Today was the second day of summer – meaning the second day for a very long time with no wind and more than 10 degrees celcius, and the midsummer night is on! Everything looked very good. As we drove through Persfjorden we discussed from where we should stop and look at the birds on the fjord. We decided to stop at the same place where the 2011 Stejnegers White-winged Scoter was seen. Good choice. Persfjord is situated at the outer Varanger fjord, and is a favored place for sea ducks. Typically it holds good numbers of Velvet Scoters, Black (Common) Scoters, both Mergansers and Long-tailed ducks can easily be seen in thousands in May. In summer this is also a good place to find the few over-summering King Eiders in the Varanger fjord. After scanning the sea for 15 minutes we picked out two young male King Eiders. Nice. Happy with this, and with a 3.5 year old who wanted to keep going we where about to leave. Anders just had to look closer at this one very distant bird. It stayed close to the surf and would not show very well. The distance and the sun also meant heavy heat haze. Anders being a solid birder, did not want to let this one go without a safe id. When he got into a stuttering, exaggarated mode I understood he was onto something good. Yes – clearly in the distance there was a dark looking bird with unmistakable white markings. Harlequin Duck! The scenes that unfolded are familiar to any birder! If you where to define enthusiasm and euphoria then this would be the scene to use. What a stunning bird. An adult male in its most striking plumage. The coolest blue, and the deepest red with sharply defined white marks. I have seen the Harlequin in both Iceland and Hokkaido, Japan, and I have been hoping for this bird to visit Varanger. Without any warning it is surfing the waves in the Varanger fjord on a beautiful summer day. I got a few docu-style photos diciscoped with my iphone. I must admit that I kind of like those unsharp, dodgy rarity photos that you find in some ‘rare birds’ type publications. The photos I got are of the same kind. Unsharp, blurry, yet unique and I guess with a sense that no other bird could matter at the moment! Lets hope the bird will stay around longer than last years duck mega. Remember this Stejneger’s Scoter?


A very cool face to find in the distant surf, joined by a Long-Tailed Duck


Very happy birders: Elin, Anders and two lucky german birders that almost passed us as we found the bird. They must have seen something was going on by the waiving of arms and big smiles.


The landscape: the bird must have found the place in Varanger that looked the most like Iceland.


If you are in Varanger the above map shows you where to look. Vardø island to the right.



Common and highly uncommon..

Hope you enjoy these not so good photos of this fantastically good situation. I will be back with more articles from Varanger. An article on the less photographed plumages of Steller’s Eider is on the sketch board, along with an article on pro-birder map design. Thanks to Martin for inviting me to join the Birding Frontiers project! By the way, we continued on to Hamningberg, and noted five White-billed Divers and two King Eiders. And quite a few birders have now seen the Harlequin Duck.

Best wishes from Varanger – the Northern Frontier…

Tormod Amundsen

Little Swift – New Brighton

A Juvenile but from where?

by Martin and Nils

Swifts are amazing. Just their biology/ life history can be a jaw dropper. The Little Swift at New Brighton was yet another British record of the species which appears to be in fresh, full juvenile plumage. Little Swifts from deeper into Africa breed in our winter and the adults are fresh in our summer, so their juveniles tend to be more worn in our summer. This bird is  completely fresh without any moult-signs and looks too extensive pale fringed for a fresh adult. If our assessment that the New Brighton bird is a juvenile is correct, it begs the question as to the bird’s origins. Perhaps like some other mid summer rare birds it is coming, not from the south but from much further east (and a bit south)?

Fresh from the nest. Where’s it from?

juvenile Little Swift, New Brighton 22 June 2012, all photos by Jim Almond (website). A Common Swift with that much white fringing over the upperwing coverts, leading edge of the wing and head pattern would be instantly aged as a juvenile.

The idea that some of the British records of Little Swifts involved fresh juveniles is not new. Here’s the notes on Little Swift in the 2008 BBRC rarity report:

This particular Little Swift  (Yorkshire, Spurn – 26th June and Old Moor RSPB – 2nd July 2008)  fits in well with the established pattern of the majority of the less-than-annual records of this species, with 17 of the 23 having occurring in May and June.  Singles have appeared in late April, mid July and mid August, and there is a cluster of three records in November.
One intriguing aspect of British records, hitherto unaddressed, is that at least two of those in May (Isles of Wight on 5th-6th May 1997 and Nottinghamshire on 26th-29th May 2001) can be aged from photos as juveniles in fresh plumage.  This would necessitate the parent birds’ breeding season beginning no later than February of the same year.  That would seem to exclude northwest Africa as the origin, as the birds there begin laying only in mid April (BWP). The bird at Cromer, Norfolk, on 12th-13th November 2005 also appears to have been a juvenile, although this is perhaps less surprising.

House Swift versus Little Swift

This raises interesting questions over the geographical origins of Britain’s Little Swifts, which may be travelling farther than generally appreciated.  Furthermore, it seems an opportune moment to note that, while less likely to occur, the sister taxon, House Swift A. nipalensis, with its greater tendency to show a shallow tail fork, narrower white rump band and more uniformly dark vent and undertail coverts (fading to paler grey and contrasting more with the black belly in Little Swift) should not be written off as potential vagrant.

You can clearly see the vent is a paler grey than the blackish belly. One feature that can help separate the House Swift from Little Swift

showing lovely fresh white fringed uppertail coverts and broad white rump patch

white -tipped underwing coverts are also more typical of juvenile swifts and there is no sign of a tail fork (which you might expect in House Swift). We both enjoyed the company of Gerald Driessens (co-author of the ‘Swifts’ monograph) in Hungary recently. So we checked with Gerald on the New Brighton bird. He responded:

” Indeed looks like a fresh juvenile. I don’t think you’d find such sharply fringed greater coverts in adults… Just checked my Kenya sketches and in July, most of them (but still far from all) were halfway through primary moult by then. But in the tropics, there’s a lot of variation in moult timing of course.”

juvenile Little Swift, New Brighton 22 June 2012, all photos by Jim Almond (website). The shape of the outer tail-feather (t5) is a good ageing feature according to Cramp (BWP) and this bird have a quite obvious blunt and rounded tip fitting juvenile.

Horus Swift

P.S. It also seems from our correspondence from Gerald that a much debated white-rumped swift sp. in Ireland in December  a few years ago may well have been a Horus Swift. And on that bombshell….!

More on those pesky redpolls

The redpoll complex seems to have been a popular topic for a debut post…  Good feedback on orange-/yellow-/golden-polled redpolls suggests that they are uncommon – but not that unusual – and that was new to me at least. Hugh Insley even commented that among the redpolls he’s catching in northwest Scotland, 10–20% may have golden rather than red polls. Many thanks to Phil Woollen for this pic of a handful of Lessers on Hilbre in late March…

…and to Graham Catley ( for this cracking pic of Arctic Redpolls at Skalelv Varanger in mid June.

As for working out the differences between Lessers and Mealies, it was interesting to see a range of views of what the Shetland birds were and on what the most helpful features are. I guess I was encouraged to find that it isn’t just me scratching my head. Members of both the Irish and Welsh records committees got in touch to say ‘Welcome to our world’ – redpolls are one of the most difficult groups to assess, even with good photos (check out some of last month’s posts here); while obs wardens Steve Stansfield on Bardsey and Dave Walker at Dunge suggest that they are increasingly struggling to separate some birds – even in the hand!

Comments below the original post suggest that the biggest problem is the variability of Common Redpolls, and the occurrence of small, brown Mealies. Is there an expanding hybrid/intergrade issue out there somewhere? Or maybe it’s just that the current taxonomic arrangement doesn’t serve field birders all that well – ? Whatever it is, there is clearly a problem in spring, when at least some Lessers lose their warm, buffy tones. Maybe vocalisations are a better basis for ID? Maybe I’m going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to do sonograms…