Monthly Archives: June 2012

New Era for Birding Frontiers

The Team Approach

Exciting times!  I have recently been musing about moving the Birding Frontiers project to a more team-based approach. I am a big fan of teams = collaboration, different skill sets and experiences, plus the fun of working and learning together. So we are taking the plunge!

Let me introduce…

I asked these guys if they would consider being part of the Birding Frontiers team for the blog and I admit, I was bowled over by the enthusiastic responses, particularly from such a talented bunch. Nils v. D. hardly needs an introduction as the author of the very popular Advanced Bird ID books. Sam J. is engaged in some of the most exciting ornithological work on the planet. Tristan R. has modeled an inspiring ‘whatever it takes’ attitude to conservation by surrendering his (upper) body to become a living billboard for Turkey’s birdlife. Tormod A. is a guy who, together with his wife Elin, has a wonderfully holistic vision for the people and wildlife of Varanger in Arctic Norway. Chris G. has been pushing the boundaries of bird identification, particularly in regard to gulls and surpassed me some time ago. Roger R. one time warden of the famous ‘Fair Isle Bird Observatory’ is also one of Britain’s most prolific rare bird finders, and writes with great ‘pazazz’. Dani L-V. one of the most exciting young(er) birders I have come across (think Black-bellied Storm-petrel off Lanzarote, Sept. 2011).

I have great respect for each one. I think there are some fascinating topics and posts to come. I will let them introduce themselves in a little more detail with a reminder of who I am at the end ; )

Dani López-Velasco

It’s an honour to join  Martin Garner and the Birding Frontiers Team. My name is Dani López-Velasco, and I am a 25 year old, life-long and very enthusiastic  birder, from the northwest coast of Spain. I´ve been very interested in bird ID forever!  Seabirding, gulls and rarities have been an important part of my life, the latter mainly after discovering the 3rd Desert Wheatear for Spain when I was 10, and working on the Spanish Rarities Committee since I was 18. I’m also very keen on global birding; South America being my favourite destination. I have recently qualified as a Medical Doctor and also started working as a worldwide bird guide for Birdquest. My contributions will include little known southern European bird subjects, seabirds and my global travels.

I hope you enjoy all the team member´s contributions!

Roger Riddington

Roger Riddington has lived in Shetland for 20 years, following a birding apprenticeship in Lincolnshire. He became editor of British Birds in 2001 and that job is currently still keeping him occupied and at a computer for more hours of the day than is healthy. As a result of having a desk job, he is not an avid blog-reader in his spare time; this is his first foray into the world of blogging and he is very unsure whether he should be following this course rather than learning more about the Islay malts. He is married to Agnes, who brought two step-sons into his life, both of them joyful and precious darlings, and one of them is even into birds. Roger is a virtuoso mouth trumpet player and lives in hope of being asked to play live with the Malachy Tallack band. He promises to keep his blog posts more focused and less rambling than this biog…

Chris Gibbins

It is great to join Martin and other members of the team on Birding Frontiers.  For me, the great thing about birding is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. I have ambled through periods of twitching, patch birding and world listing, and enjoy the birds, the places and the birding scene. I guess like many birders, I have always maintained a core interest in identification.  Our knowledge of identification seems to be developing so rapidly that keeping pace can be tricky, but thanks to sites like Frontiers, up-to-date summaries and informed discussion of today’s birding hot potatoes are accessible to us all. Consequently I’m very pleased to be invited to join the team, and hope that I can contribute something useful from time to time.

Tormod Amundsen

I am a birder and architect living in Arctic Norway’s Varanger Fjord. I run the architectural practice Biotope – and I bird! I work full-time with pro-nature projects in Norway: designing bird hides, wind shelters, nature trails, outdoor amphitheatres, working with local schools and helping tour operators from abroad. I am passionate about making birds and birding accessible to more people. I love living in a place where I wear my binoculars as a tie and I can study Steller´s Eiders from my office window! Arctic Norway is a real frontier and the explorative and open-minded attitude of the Birding Frontiers blog quickly made this a favourite website to visit.

I am honoured to join the Birding Frontiers team, and I hope to inspire others, sharing stories of birding adventures and bird related development.

Tristan Reid

I am delighted to be joining the team at Birding Frontiers. I should start by telling you a bit about myself. My name is Tristan Reid I am a passionate birder, naturalist, conservationist and father. I run the website The ‘Inked Naturalist’ and co-run the conservation mouth piece ‘Talking-Naturally’. I look forward to the input from other team members and I do have a drive to learn and ask questions. My interests within bird identification are vast, but I like the challenge of tricky groups and I also have a great interest in sub species. I ask a lot of questions, there are not always answers, but this is how we open our mind to learn!

I hope you enjoy my contributions and I look forward very much to engaging with you!

Sam Jones

My name is Sam Jones. I am a young researcher at the start of my career in conservation biology. I have been an avid birder/ornithologist and naturalist for as long as I can remember. I have worked on expedition teams in a number of countries worldwide, including work on some of the least studied species in the world. I have had a long fascination in the frontiers of such work especially in ornithologically unexplored areas. I am also keenly interested in the ethno-zoological conflicts that often drive activities which degrade the environment. My vision is to continue to be involved in pioneering research that mixes the rigour of applied science, while making discoveries highly accessible through multimedia.

I am currently involved with the Heart of Borneo Project, based in the Murung Raya province of Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

Nils van Duivendijk

I am particularly honored and delighted that I will join this great team. I have very much enjoyed the Birding Frontiers blog from the start and it already contains so many interesting items. My contributions will mostly be in line with ID issues. Often it will be ‘work in progress’ and I hope readers will have an input where they can so that together we might come to a better understanding. My focus on bird-ID is of the widest form (but mainly within the Western Palearctic); be it the breeding-type tertial patterns of dabbling duck females or the calls of a Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler: it’s all exciting!

Since I come from the Netherlands I think I will sometimes include interesting or funny things from the birding community of this side of the North Sea.


Martin Garner

I have been married to Sharon for 22 years and we have 2 teenage daughters, Emily and Abigail, who are now in near-adult plumage. I’ve been watching wildlife avidly since about 11 years old (a long time ago!). I love wild places and new discoveries, whether on a far-flung island or in my own garden. I started ‘Birding Frontiers’  as  a place to share what I was learning and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

 Hope you like the blog!

British First: DNA of Siberian Chiffchaff

6th November 2011

Well done to the guys at Landguard Bird Observatory for adding to the ongoing data on vagrant Siberian Chiffchaffs.  Will Brame sent the photos and info on the bird below. It was trapped on 6th November 2011 at  the observatory in Suffolk. Nigel Odin then passed on some material for analysis to Dr Martin Collinson who was able to report back as follows:

“The cytochrome b sequence came back.  There isn’t a lot of comparative tristis cytb sequence in the database (actually only 1 sequence), but this bird is almost identical to that one (1010/1012 bases the same): a tristis collected at the Mirnoye Biological Station on the banks of the R. Yenisei, Siberia.  So your bird is definitely tristis and consistent with an origin in the core range of the taxon.  In comparison, albietinus, nominate collybita, and the southern stuff e.g. brevirostris, menzibieri, Mountain Chiffchaffs and Canary Island Chiffchaffs are all at least 10-40 bp different, so it confirms it’s none of them.  As far as we know, this is the first genetically confirmed tristis in Britain, though several have been done previously in Sweden (thanks to Magnus Hellström for information on that point).  At least it reaffirms that the criteria used to identify birds on call and plumage are OK. ”  [Thanks Martin!]

It was reported to give classic tristis ‘peep’ call, once upon release.

Its not necessarily exactly from here, but it’s DNA matches most closely with a Siberian Chiffchaff from here- precisely where the green arrow points– go on and zoom in…:

Siberian Chiffchaff, ‘tristis’. Landguard Bird Observatory, Suffolk, 6th Nov. 2011. All photos Will Brame. The first record from Britain to be confirmed by DNA analysis (AFAIK).

It looks the business (beware I am going to use the word buff/buffy several times ‘cos I can’t think of better colour description, though I am sure there must be one!)

Lovely brownish upperparts, dull olivey green only on wings in profile (scarcely on tail in pics). BIG buffy supercilium, reducing the appearance of the white eye crescents especially upperside one, lovely buffy wash over face, breast sides, flanks and vent. A real corker! Notice though that the bill isn’t all black– and that’s O.K!

The Hartlepool Western Orphean Warbler – now with sound!

Alarm/ Contact Call

Tom Francis managed to capture the call of the recent Western Orphean Warbler at Hartlepool Headland as it was being processed in the hand.

You can listen to it <HERE>

I have made cursory comparison of calls of Eastern and Western birds. However there are several call types and the data is very limited. Still good to have this and perhaps it may ‘resolve’ with more research on similarities and differences between calls of Eastern and Western Orpheans. We are always learning!

1st summer male Western Orphean Warbler, Hartlepool, May 2012, Martyn Sidewell.

Also don’t miss this account of an Eastern Orphean Warbler in Norway in August- Sept. 2006. Both species have reached  N/W Europe. Both can be expected in the future.

1st summer male Eastern Orphean Warbler, Halten, Norway Aug-Sept 2006, Frode Falkenberg

Thanks to Tom Francis, Toby Collett, Magnus Robb, Frode Falkenberg, Chris Kehoe and Tris Reid.

Redpolls from Hell

Shetland in spring

by Roger Riddington

Is it me? Or are spring redpolls especially hard work? Here in Shetland, we often have a fine old variety in autumn, with glistening hornemanni snowballs the most sought-after, as the gushing prose of some of Martin’s older posts shows…

In spring, it’s a different story. We get very few redpolls of any description, typically just a handful of birds that are often worn and bleached. Most often they go down as ‘common redpolls’ of an undetermined variety but this spring there have been a few birds that seem good candidates for Lesser Redpoll (which is rare up here). These birds make you realise just how difficult it can be to separate Lesser from Common Redpoll.

This one, at Sumburgh Head in April, was a tiny wee thing, a little smaller than the accompanying Siskins. It was rich and dark and brown above, surely a good candidate for Lesser. The rather plain and brownish head, and the obvious crescents above and below the eye looked good. (Probably a young male too, on the basis of those very pointed and worn central tail feathers and the pink flush in the cheeks.)

A distinctly brownish wash on the fore-flanks seemed like a further pointer in its favour.

The fly in the ointment was its chum, another redpoll which was more or less the same size or perhaps just slightly larger, seen here in the distance at the back of the group.

And then again here on its own. Now this didn’t fit my search image for a Lesser ‘poll! Two species? Or is that just the easy way out? They certainly seemed to be travelling together; they were just there for an evening, and gone the next morning, having no doubt had a premonition about the ringer that turned up at 6.00 am next day with a couple of mistnets.

Then check out this bird, seen just a few days ago in late May. This one really flummoxxed me in the field, not least for it’s complete lack of a red ‘poll’. I couldn’t work it out, could it be an exceptionally early-fledged juvvy? My neighbour, and top birding wag, Rob Fray, suggested it might be a Twite… It was a hard bird to get close to but the state of the wing and tail feathers proved it was no juvenile. The lack of red is either down to a thick dusting of dandelion pollen or, perhaps more likely, it is one of these rarely encountered yellow- (or orange-) polled birds (which I have to admit that I knew nothing about til I read the fine print in BWP and found a few online refs – google it.

It looked really plain brown and buff around the head, with distinctly brown upperparts, buffy-brown-tinged wingbars, though generally fairly clean underparts (apart from the fore-flanks), including the vent area. Size: impossible to judge.

So: do the rest of you struggle with Common vs Lesser in spring, or is it just me? Are these two birds Lesser Redpolls or small, brown Mealies? Do the latter exist? I suspect they do – and if they do, how to you tell ‘em from Lessers?

What’s more, is this a decent or a dodgy split? Are the Collins Bird Guide team right to maintain Lesser Redpoll as a race rather than a species? Answers on a postcard addressed to Martin Garner, please. Leave me out of it…

Orange-spotted Bluethroat

in Estonia

From Uku, this seems to fit the occasional White-spotted Bluethroat that shows an orange spot (white hidden at the base of the feathers- interestingly partially visible in photo on right below).

Lots more on this subject here. – go on and click through!

Hi Martin!

You might find this bird interesting:

Cyanecula (White-spotted Bluethroat) used to be fairly common breeder in Estonian flooded meadow systems a few decades ago, but disappeared quickly. Nowadays it’s considered a very rare breeder and we were delighted when we found two territories in our home area Tartumaa. This morning (Friday 15th June, 2012) I managed to get photos of one of the birds and was surprised when the bird showed a reddish spot. 

best regards, Uku Paal

More: Eastern Orphean Warbler

Identification clarity

Thanks to Peter Kennerley for these images of Eastern Orphean Warblers taken in Armenia on 31st May 2007.  Once again they helpfully showcase the plumage and especially the pattern of the tail feathers, when compared to Western Orphean Warblers.  Having learnt yet more from Lars S. and others the case for the Hartlepool bird is an identifiable Western, keep on being underlined. Photos of Western Orphean Warbler showing tail feathers very welcome!

Male One:

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Male 2

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Female