Monthly Archives: July 2012

Strange black-and-white wheatear in the Netherlands

On famous Dutch rarity island-Texel,

Monday 21st of May 2012

by Nils

Frits and Trudy Stoekenbroek find and photographed an odd but very interesting looking male wheatear.

Back at home, five days after their find, Frits and Trudy tentatively identified their bird as a Finsch’s Wheatear and upload the photographs on a popular Dutch site for field-sightings. On that Saturday I was on Texel when the pager said: Pied Wheatear, Texel, there and gone, five days ago…, including a link to pics of the bird. I quickly looked at the available pictures on my mobile phone… “Wow, what is this!, I shouted (OK in Dutch and to be honest not exactly the same words in translation…). Some pics indeed showed a male Pied-like looking bird with a strange shaped mask but the fight-shot clearly showed a narrow white ‘back’; so Pied, no way! It does not felt right for any of the two black-eared’s either, but what else? At that moment resident Texel-birder Arend Wassink (‘Mr Kazakhstan’) (see his wonderful website on Kazakh birds http://birdsofkazakhstan.com/) phoned me to discuss the bird. He immediately came up with the option that the bird looks good for a hybrid Eastern Black-eared x Pied Wheatear, an option that indeed seem to explain the strange mix of features, but it had to sink down by me for a while…

To put you in our place on that moment, here the most relevant pics, what do you think (before reading further?)

You will probably have noticed the strange combination of ‘key-features’ of this bird which are summarized below, and maybe you have found even more.

•Long extension of black from the throat-patch towards -and seemingly connecting with- the mantle/shoulder.

•Almost completely black-and-white plumage (some peachy wash is just visible on the centre of the lower breast).

•Very little black above the eye and above the bill.

•Narrow white central upperparts sandwiched between completely black scapulars.

•Sharp-dressed, adult looking. However the clear moult contrast in the greater coverts (long uniform black inners against short, pale tipped and browner outers) in addition to the brownish primary coverts is indicative of a first summer plumage.

•Not extremely long primary projection.

•Tail-pattern typical of Pied, Cyprus, Eastern and Western Black-eared Wheatear.

This combination of characters does not seem to match a certain species, and indeed most are a mix of (Eastern) Black-eared and Pied features or something in-between… Of course hybrids do not necessarily show a perfect mix of both parents characters.

Hybridization seem to occur quite commonly in certain areas and there seem to be even a stable hybrid population! See the reference below taken form Wheatears of Palearctic – Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution of the Genus Oenanthe. Panov, E N 2005. Sofia-Moscow kindly send by Arend Wassink.

‘Hybridogenous populations have been studied in northern Iran, eastern and north-western Azerbaijan, in Dagestan, and at Mangghyslak peninsula and westernmost edge of the Ustyurt plateau in Kazakhstan. Hybridisation seems to continue in the first four areas, where individuals of both species penetrate into the hybrid zones. In Kazakhstan there is no geneflow from melanoleuca into the hybrid zone anymore’.

We had some discussion about the bird already and have send the pics to Andrea Corso and Magnuss Ullman for comments (see Magnus’s great paper on the separation of Western and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears in Dutch Birding 2003: 2), which were both very helpful. The option hybrid Eastern Black-eared x Pied Wheatear seemed indeed the best one but I am still amazed about the appearance of this bird!

Does anybody know records in W-Europe of this hybrid-type or birds looking similar to this one?

Swarovski ATX and Digiscoping

Red-footed Falcons, Rollers and Bee-eaters

‘Plains Birding’. Day 2 of our Hungary tour with Swarovski majored on the wonderfully bright and colourful. It was possible to stand in one spot and see all of the species featured below. The Red-footed Falcons were especially a treat. Lots of them hawking in skies above and perched out. This is where I dived back in, to the world of digiscoping.

New Digiscoping Gizmo + Possibilities

Already bowled over by the new modular ATX ‘scopes (especially the big 95mm momma), and considering myself, thus far, a ‘failed’ digiscoper (thankfully Paul Hackett never gives up on me!) I was most intrigued by this new gizmo:

The TLS APO

I like using a DSLR camera. I knew my 7D (Canon) had great video function, but I was never going to digiscope with it. Because I am chiefly a birder. It would have meant taking the eyepiece off my ‘scope. Not going to happen. With the new gizmo you leave the eyepiece on your scope (hooray!) and just replace your camera lens with this mini- digiscoping lens; chuck it over the scope and off you go.

DSLR camera now attached to ‘scope for pics and video. Easily removed to carry on using ‘scope.

The photos and video below all taken using the TLS APO and new ATX/STX ‘scopes. My first effort below:

Adult male Red-footed Falcon, Hungary, June 2012. by Martin Garner. Can you see the green bush cricket in the talons? Not bad but I still need some training…

Have a look at this video. Go to full screen mode– bit windy and definitely gory but incredible detail:

………female Red-footed Falcon video, Hungary, June 2012 by Jörg Kretzschmar

Gives an idea of how it looks: TLS APO digiscoping adaptor (with DSLR camera) being attached to 95mm ATX

Roller, Hungary, June 2012 by Dale Forbes

again go to full screen mode:

………..Roller video,  Hungary, June 2012 by Dale Forbes

Roller close-up. Hungary, June 2012. Digiscoped with the new stuff. Pretty remarkable detail. By Jörg Kretzschmar

Tim Appleton tries out the new set-up with the TLS APO while ‘Plains Birding’ in the land of colourful birds.

Bee-eaters, Hungary, June 2012 by Dale Forbes

Click on this to see and hear the sounds: in Full Screen mode can you see the little ant running around beneath the Bee-eater?

……….Bee-eater video, Hungary, June 2012 by Dale Forbes

All those wonderful exotic birds overhead and Dominic M goes and find some cute n fluffy’s. They are watching 2 baby Long-eared Owls.

…………….baby Long-eared Owl, Hungary, June 2012 by Jeff Gordon.

More reviews of new Swarovski stuff

Jeff’s Gordon’s on the ABA blog here

Gus Axelson on Cornell blog here

Corey Finger on 10,000 birds here

Birdwatch (Dominic Mitchell) here

and if you don’t understand a word I have said this video with Clay and Dale explains it with much greater clarity…

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Scary Plover

Ringed and Semipalmated Plover ID

by Dani

Varanger´s  Semipalmated Plover made me remember an interesting looking, Semi-P like in some ways, juvenile Common Ringed Plover we had in Lanzarote last September. I think it´s good to show some pics of this at first controversial bird here, and comment a few things on a couple of features. Nothing new, but might be of interest.

Semipalmated Plovers are one of the most commonly recorded american shorebirds in the Azores, but, at the same time, one of the rarest ones in the rest of Europe. It must be overlooked, and has to be more common than what the records suggest. Main problem are the similarities with Common Ringed Plover, especially if the birds are distant.

Over here in the NW coast of Spain we´ve had 3 records of SP at the same area, so they are occuring here. I´ve been looking hard for many years, but still no luck. Will keep looking (and listening), and hopefully someday…

Back to the Lanzarote bird

Juvenile Common Ringed Plover. Lanzarote, September 2011. Photo by Juan Sagardía.
Note the obvious white area above the gape line, a typical feature of Semipalmated Plover, but that can occur occasionally on CRP. Bill shape, being quite slender and fairly long, is typical of CRP, unlike the short and stubby bill of most SPs.

The white feathering above the bill gape is a feature first pointed out by Killian Mullarney (whose comments on the bird were, as usual, very helpful) as much  more typical of SP. In my opinion too, it´s one of the most striking and easily seen features, together with bill shape,  that should “ring the alarms”, even with distant birds.

But, remember,  although very helpful for finding a candidate, it´s not a confirming feature, as some CRPs can show it. When confronted with a candidate, other features, as well as call, need to be checked in order to confirm its identification.

On this certain bird, this character was quite obvious on both sides of the face. Together with the fact that, at the same time, there were several other american waders present nearby, it meant that this lone bird deserved  closer scrutiny.

Juvenile Common Ringed Plover. Lanzarote, September 2011. Photo by Juan Sagardia.
Note again the obvious white area above the gape line, as well as a hint of a yellowish eyering. However, the lack of semipalmations between the inner and middle toe confirms it´s a CRP.

Semipalmations are said to be, on several field guides, “diagnostic” of Semipalmated Plover. But that´s not right at all! Unfortunately some of the information regarding semipalmations published on some bird guides is misleading, inaccurate or wrong.

CRP do show semipalmations between the outer and the middle toe. And, in some birds, they can be quite extensive. Such as on the Lanzarote bird. It´s true that they´re more extensive on SP, but, still, they can be quite noticeable on certain CRPs. Check the following pic..

Juvenile Common Ringed Plover. Lanzarote, September 2011. Photo by Juan Sagardía
On this close up of the toes, note the obvious semipalmation between the outer and the middle toe. This is in fact normal for CRP.

So the key is the semipalmation between the inner and middle toe, which is absent on CRP, and present in SP (though not as extensive as the one between the outer and middle) . Tough to see, but if it´s present, then you have it.

Although the diagnostic calls (apart from Spotted Redshank like, to my ears quite similar too to American Golden Plover. Once, one fly-by AGP I had here lead me, at first, to think on SP before seeing it…) are probably far easier to detect for clinching the ID as SP, and also for finding one… (see how Dan Brown and Rob Martin / Punkbirders found their last autumn irish bird: here ),if you have a candidate, try to check those toes.

As you can see, both on the second pic and on this one, the Lanzarote bird lacked any toe webbing between the inner and the middle toes, as is the case with CRP.

Juvenile Common Ringed Plover. Lanzarote, September 2011. Photo by Juan Sagardía.
Note quite extensive webbing between outer and middle toe, but lack of any semipalmations between inner and middle ones.

Furthermore, other visible features are also typical of CRP, such as bill shape, shape of breast band and supercilium (although these 2 are highly variable, and of little use in my opinion), etc..

There´s little  doubt there will be some Semipalmated Plovers this autumn waiting to be found by the persevering observer. Who will be the lucky one to find one this year? Checking carefully and familiarizing well with variation on the widespread CRP can prove very helpful too.

Juvenile Semipalmated Plover. Azores, October. Photo by Javier Portillo
Some juvenile Semipalmated Plovers, if seen well, are quite distinct, and shouldn´t pose many identification problems. The roundish head, narrow and even width breast band, white area above the bill gape, striking yellowish eyering, and typically short, stubby bill, identify instantly this bird as a Semipalmated Plover.

Juvenile Caspian Gulls – coming soon to a site near you.

But just what do they really look like?

by Chris

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Juvenile Caspian Gulls (and indeed Yellow-legged Gulls) are already independent and on the move.  A key trait of both Caspian and Yellow-Legged Gulls is that juveniles disperse rapidly away from their natal colony and, in many cases, they roam widely.  So we can expect and should be on the lookout for them here in Britain, even now in mid July.

The problem is that juveniles are very different to the first winter birds we are used to seeing over the winter months.  Due to a combination of moult, wear and fading, first winter birds are generally rather striking creatures.  In July and August, juveniles are different, being crisp and fresh, with no (or extremely limited) moult and they generally look rather dark on the head and body – quite unlike the image we have of this species. I’ve just come back from Azerbaijan, where our objective was to learn more about Caspian Gulls (I was with Visa Rauste and Hannu Koskinen, friends and fellow gull enthusiasts from Finland).  Being on the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is ideal for such studies, as it is far from the hybrid zone that now exists in western Europe; we can therefore be sure that the Caspian Gulls in Azerbaijan do not have any Herring or Yellow-legged Gull genes, as many of the birds in Europe undoubtedly do.  So just what do these ‘real’ juvenile Casps look like?

This post is meant simply to illustrate what birders searching for juvenile  ‘Casps’ should be looking for at this time of year – it is not analytical, merely a photo record that I hope is a useful reference point (few images of juveniles from the Caspian heartland of the species’ range have ever been published).  The main thing that should be evident from the selection of images that I’ve chosen is that they are very variable, in terms of both structure and plumage, and many are rather dark.

Differences between the individuals featured below are evident both on the ground and in flight.  On the ground notice that some have classic Caspian jizz, but others do not –in fact resemble Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  On the ground also notice differences in the greater covert patterns between these individuals, and also the tertials. More especially, notice how dark and well streaked some are on the head and body.  Juvenile Casps are not white. In flight, notice differences in the pattern on the inner primaries – some darker birds are very like Yellow-legged Gulls while paler individuals have silvery inner webs to the inner 5 or so primaries, with pale patches, stippling and a darker feather tip. Most importantly of all, note that, contrary to more or less everything that is published, they can have well marked (and hence dark looking) underwings at this age.

So, if you encounter an odd looking juvenile gull in the coming weeks, don’t write off Caspian just because it is dark/well streaked and/or does not have the pure white underwings you were expecting – real Caspian Gulls from the Caspian can be dark.  Such features are not necessarily a sign that you have a hybrid. Expect the unexpected.

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This final bird shows classic structure and plumage; simply remember that not all are like this.

juvenile Common Cuckoo

Grey-brown Morph

by Martin

Cuckoos put on an above-average showing this spring at Spurn. So no surprise to see this fine juvenile at the top of Beacon Lane last Monday. Did you know juveniles occur in 2 colour morphs. Grey-brown and more obvious rufous morph. This one being a bit more grey-brown than rufous I think?!

Amazing Cuckoo Migration- BTO. In case you haven’t seen these guys did a marvellous job on satellite tracking a group of Common Cuckoos. Wonder where this young one will go? Check this out:

Tracking Cuckoos to Africa… and back again

Oriental Cuckoo. Made me realise I wouldn’t have much of a clue on identifying a vagrant juvenile Oriental Cuckoo. One to explore further me thinks…

juvenile Common Cuckoo- grey-brown morph– Beacon Lane, Spurn, 16th July 2012. Photos taken in rain.

Emerald Damselfly

and this one was new for me. Saw male and female on Clubley’s Scrape last week. Here’s the daddy:

Male Emerald Damselfly, Clubley’s Scrape, Spurn 17th July 2012

Fieldwork in Honduras

Out of the clouds…

by Sam

After speaking to Martin about Birding Frontiers several weeks ago I am delighted to be part of such company and have been meaning to write a first post for some time. Expedition fieldwork is however, by nature, often a remote affair and far from the reaches of the internet!

For the past 5 weeks I have been working on fieldwork in Honduras, Central America, in the montane forests of Cusuco National Park in the west of the country near the Guatemalan border. This was part of a biodiversity monitoring effort as part of a large scientific team. More specifically, my work was under the ornithology side of things.

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (Male)

Fascinating watching one of these hummingbirds washing on the wing (coming soon!).

Lots of other fantastic wildlife throughout..

Honduran Palm-viper (Bothriechis marchi)

More soon from this threatened but beautiful area..

Hortobágy Fish Ponds

Moustached Warbler!

by Martin

Day 2 in Hungary. Sad but true, but I only had one target bird. In the morning we visited the fabled Hortobágy Marshes. The places dripped with marshland avifauna. But I only really had eyes for the  Mustachioed Warbler (not that it has a moustache you understand). I had missed them twice before and it was late for singing. But we got one! A singing male at the back of the reed-bed. Worn, scruffy and to my eyes- just beautiful ; )- as it often is with new birds.

OK,  here’s where we went:

   Hortobágy (Hungarian pronunciation: ‘hortobaj’) is both the name of a village in Hajdú-Bihar county and an 800 km² national park in Eastern Hungary, rich with folklore and cultural history. The park, a part of the Alföld  (Great Plain), was designated as a national park in 1973 (the first in Hungary), and elected among the World Heritage Sites  in 1999.The Hortobágy is Hungary’s largest protected area, and the largest natural grassland in Europe (from the wikipedia article).

Shunting down the single line of a rickety small guage railway. Purple and Grey Herons, Great White and Little Egrets, Night Heron, Bittern, Spoonbill, and many Pygmy Cormorants were clocked, with glimpses of Penduline and Bearded Tits. Photo by Jeff Gordon.

Hortobágy Tower  by Jan Södersved

At the end of the line bespoke hides, tower and birds; everywhere. Song flighting White-spotted Bluethroat by the station. Overhead Ferruginous Duck, Whiskered, Black and White-winged Black Terns and more egrets and herons. Singing in the phragmites; Reed, Sedge, Great Reed, Savi’s and finally- the Moustached Warbler

Station at the end of the line. Photo: Jan Södersved

Watching the Moustached Warbler (all those other acro + Savi’s singing nearby too). Me in middle of pic with pale shirt. Photo by Jan Södersved

Caspian Gull colony

Short length of boardwalk from the Moustached Warbler, a Caspian Gull colony was in full swing. Several Yellow-legged Gulls were also present plus a superciliaris Black -headed Wagtail (we mostly saw BLue-headed).

Adult and juvenile Caspian Gulls

loafing subadult Caspian Gull

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ah, there it is- the hoped for adult Caspian Gull primary pattern

male Ferruginous Duck. Overhead was good.

Always a buzz to share a new birds with others. ABA president Jeff Gordon was much chuffed with this smart juvenile male Bearded Tit.

Plenty Pygmy Cormorants

and this dapper ‘catalogue man’ was to be found on one of the outer boardwalks striking a marvelous pose with the new Swarovski gear… (photo: Jörg Kretzschmar )