Monthly Archives: August 2012

Sounds like one!

Martin has asked me to post this on his behalf; he has limited internet access over the next few days but will follow up on any comments etc when he is able to!

Sounds like a Two-barred Crossbill….

A crossbill sp. I recorded this morning (Rod Moor) seems too similar to Two-barred Crossbill to ignore.

You can listen to a recording of the call <HERE>

Crossbill sp (Two-barred Crossbill – like) Rod Moor 30th August 2012

Crossbill sp (Two-barred Crossbill – like) Rod Moor 30th August 2012

Analysed by Magnus Robb. The calls and sonogram are unlike any other European Crossbill. It would be good to get recordings of Two-barred from this year in Scandinavia. ……….meanwhile…….a possible Two-barred Crossbill (or bird calling like a Two-barred Crossbill ) in Rod Moor area (NW Sheffield) this am etc. Always learning!

On your belly!

by Yoav

Well how does that work as a pick-up line?  That was more or less the first sentence I said to MG when we first met in Israel in March. He joined a night tour I led to the Dead Sea region. When we saw our first Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar at a distance of five meters, he stood up, shaking like crazy, and started taking lousy images. As a result of too many years in the military, I yelled at him and the other clients: “On your bellies!”. In two seconds MG and all the others were lying on their bellies in the desert sand like babies, taking super images.

This is perhaps the most important lesson when learning how to photograph birds. Get yourself in the same level as the bird. If the bird is on the ground – go down to ground-level yourself. If you do so, the background behind the bird becomes more distant, making it blurred and gives the bird more attention in the frame.

Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar, Neot Hakikar, Israel, October 2011

When I started birding as a kid, I birded mostly on foot. Nowadays when I’m old(er), I bird mostly out of the car. Cars are excellent mobile hides for photography, but are very problematic hides when trying to photograph birds sat on the ground. Then the background behind the bird becomes much closer, has more detail and steals much of the attention the bird should get. Same bird, bad photo:

Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar, Neot Hakikar, Israel, March 2008

Desert sand is fun, but when dealing with shorebirds this becomes a dirty business. Lying in the mud is really not much fun. Especially if you need to spend several hours, motionless, under a camo net. Add to that hungry mosquitoes and rich aroma – this is the real thing. But again, the 50 cm height difference between kneeling and lying gives the image an added value.

Common Sandpiper, Nizzana, Israel, August 2012

And when you do it the wrong way, photographing out of the car window from the top of an elevated bank, it looks much worse:

Broad-billed Sandpiper, Eilat, Israel, March 2011

Sometimes cars work well though. If the bird is perched on something at the correct height, about 1 meter above ground, you score gold shooting off the window. The background looks like in a studio, and the bird gets all the focus of the image:

Finsch’s Wheatear, Negev, Israel, December 2009

Fea´s Petrel off NW Spain

The first Fea´s/Zino´s identified to species level in Iberian waters

by Dani López-Velasco

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Pablo Gutierrez

The number of Fea´s / Zino´s Petrels recorded off NW Spain has increased dramatically over the last couple of years. Numbers peaked last year (2011), when local observers Ricardo Hevia, Antonio Sandoval, Dave MacAdams and myself observed no less than 16 individuals from Estaca de Bares, Galicia.

Estaca is, nowadays, undoubtedly the best place to see these Gadfly Petrels in Europe, outside Madeira. But more on that on another post.

However, none of the birds seen from land, even though some have passed very close to the headland, and some record shots have been obtained,  could be identified with confidence to species level. At least 1 of the birds we saw last year looked very good for Zino´s (a species that recent geolocator studies have shown that frequently uses Galician waters to feed), and several close birds were highly likely Fea´s. But, due to poor photo documentation, none of these birds have been properly identified.

We´ve been running pelagic trips off various harbours of Galicia for more than a decade. The waters around Galicia are very rich in seabirds, and  very good numbers of Sabine´s Gulls (flocks of up to 400 birds), Great Shearwaters, Long-tailed, Pomarine, Arctic and Great Skuas, Wilson´s Petrels (up to 100 birds coming to the chum), etc.. are regularly encountered on our trips.

One of the main objectives of recent trips was to try see and photograph a Pterodroma close enough to the boat to get a conclusive identification. A couple of birds were seen a few years ago, but unfortunately the views were very brief, and the photos too distant, so the birds remained unidentified.

Finally, persistence paid off last saturday!

While I was leading a pelagic off  Malpica (Coruña, Galicia), together with Juan Sagardía and Pablo Gutierrez, a stunning Fea´s Petrel came to investigate the oil slick for a few minutes, gave a couple of close passes, flew away, and came back again for the last 2 minute show, until it was lost out of sight. WOW! Adrenaline racing, everyone shouting, hundreds of photos taken, and, afterwards, plenty of happy paces. What a bird!

So, finally, after so many pelagics, and on a very calm day, when we weren´t really expecting anything too exciting to show up, we got it!  The task of identifying one of these evocative birds off Galicia had already became something kind of personal. Almost an obsession! I knew I couldn´t give up, even though we kept struggling over and over. We had to keep trying and getting out to the sea, as the birds were there, somewhere. So after all the efforts, it was a great, happy and exciting moment.

Already from the first views with the bins, the heavy-chested, bull-necked and quite big-sized appearance, almost uniformly dark underwing coverts, as well as a notoriously big, broad and relatively compact bill, were immediately noticed. The identification as a Fea´s was relatively straightforward then, and it was soon confirmed once we zoomed in the photos and bill shape/size, structure, underwing, etc.. were properly studied.

On current knowledge, separating Cape Verde from Desertas Petrel at sea is not possible, so the identification as Fea´s Petrel (Cape Verde/Desertas) is the correct way of dealing with these birds. Hopefully, Bob Flood´s long awaited Pterodroma guide will help shed more light on that issue.

For more information regarding the ID of Zino´s and Fea´s, check the following article, with many previously unpublished photos of both species.

And last, a few more shots of the Galician bird.

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Juan Sagardia

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Pablo Gutierrez
Note the bull-necked and heavy-chested appearance of the bird, typical of Fea´s. Together with bill shape and size, and size/structure judged in the field, confirm the ID as feae.

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Daniel López-Velasco

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Juan Sagardia
The pale grey, at a distance whitish, tail and uppertail coverts of both Fea´s and Zino´s is, in my experience, usually a very striking feature when distant birds are seen from land. Mainly on sunny days, when the color of the sea can be similar, it can actually be difficult to see the tail, and the birds can look surprisingly tail-less

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Juan Sagardía

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Pablo Gutierrez.

Fea´s (Cape Verde / Desertas) Petrel (Pterodroma feae). 17 miles off Malpica, Galicia, NW Spain. 26-8-2012. Photo: Pablo Gutierrez

Resplendent Quetzals…

The jewel in the cloud-forests of central America..

By Sam

I never tired of waking up to the peculiar sound of comfortably one of the most striking and beautiful creatures I have ever seen. Many times in the pre-dawn gloom in the forests of Cusuco National ParkI was brought back to memories as a child, staring at pictures in my ‘Rand Mcnally Atlas of World Wildlife’. It was certainly the completion of a boyhood dream finally connecting with this fabled creature.

Resplendent Quetzal Cusuco National park, Honduras
These birds represent the nominate ssp mocinno which are slightly larger than costaricensis of Costa Rica and western Panama

Resplendent Quetzals are firmly and deservedly at the top of the worlds must-see birds list and special for so many reasons. Culturally revered throughout the Mesoamericas, the ‘god of the air’ was reputedly never killed, only trapped so that the ‘tail’ streamers could be plucked to be worn by nobility and royalty within Mesoamerican society, a use that was protected by law and penalty of death if this etherial bird was harmed.

In several Mesoamerican languages the word quetzal is synonymous in meaning for sacred or precious. It also shares an association of divinity with the Mesoamerican god Quetzacoatl which in ancient Nahuatl means plumed serpent. It is of course, not the the tail at all that grows to such extraordinary lengths, but the uppertail-coverts, the greater coverts also growing to extended lengths creating a ‘shawl’ effect across the upper wing.

Skutch (1944) describes in descriptive prose (of the male);

‘…a word picture that I wrote in my journal on April 28, 1938, when I had the living birds daily before me: “The male is a supremely lovely bird; the most beautiful, all things considered, that I have ever seen. He owes his beauty to the intensity and arresting contrast of his coloration, the resplendent sheen and glitter of his plumage, the elegance of his ornamentation, the symmetry of his form, and the noble dignity of his carriage.’

Quetzalcoatl– the ‘plumed serpent’ on part of the Codex Telleriano held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris

Quetzals are still deeply engrained in the ethnography of Central America and no more so than in Guatemala where it is the national emblem and even has the currency named after it, an example of the national value it holds, at least culturally. In bitter irony, the Quetzal in Guatemala has not fared well in recent times due to widespread degradation of its habitat primarily for coffee plantations.

Skutch (1944) again writes;

‘Later, when I came to travel in Guatemala, I found its image very much in evidence, in the medallion displayed on the walls of most of the public edifices and in the center of the blue and white banner. I even carried quetzales in my pocket and disbursed them at sundry hotels and shops; for Guatemala has named her monetary unit for her national bird, as many of the neighboring republics have named theirs for famous men. The second city of the land bears the name of this bird-Quezaltenango, the place of Quetzals- but today one searches in vain for these trogons on the wind-swept plains and through the low oak woods in the vicinity of this metropolis of the West.’
‘In selecting the Quetzal as their national emblem, the Guatemalans made a more than usually felicitous choice, a creature at once native of the land itself, ornate as a design, and refreshingly different from the belligerent birds, beasts, and mythological fire-breathers that adorn the coats of arms of so many other nations. And the Quetzal, no less than the soaring eagle and the rampant lion, has its appropriate legend, to illustrate its nobility of spirit and reflect that of the people it represents.’

They are renowned for being highly stressed in captivity, suffering high mortality. Folklore dictates that the Quetzal will die of a broken heart if deprived of its freedom, a trait that gave its status as a symbol of liberty.

Resplendent Quetzal with short tail-streamers, likely a product of the heavy damage often sustained during breeding/incubating or routine post-breeding moult (Bowes and Allen, 1969; Skutch, 1944) Cusuco National park, Honduras

Quetzals are classified as ‘Near-threatened’ under the IUCN redlist (BirdLife International, 2012). Predictably, its primary threat lies in habitat destruction from illegal logging and clearing for agriculture. Cusuco National park is no exception to this rule and the land use change and habitat degradation has been evident over the last few years despite its protected status.In core areas, however, Quetzals remain not uncommon, although heard more than seen, and live in good numbers in secondary growth.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel, however, with the hard work of a dedicated team of individuals that have been involved in long term research in the park recently instigating and forcing greater action from the government to protect against illegal logging, hunting and clearing. A continued dialogue with local communities is, as ever, crucial to long-term success.

As anyone who has scoured the worlds tropical forests for Trogons will know, they are easily overlooked, perching for long periods of time before sallying to feed or moving silently through the mid and upper-storey layers of the forest. Quetzals particularly can sometimes be seen perched for long periods, ‘surveying’ the scene, turning their head slowly seemingly in curiosity or forethought. Bowes and Allen (1969) also describe the birds as sometimes orientating themselves so that the red on its underbelly would not be seen by intruders.

A Resplendent Quetzal slowly surveys its surroundings. Cusuco National park, Honduras

Perhaps this silent dignitary, a symbol of liberty and freedom surveying its habitat thoughtfully, carefully planning its next move, provides us with an example of how we as humans should conduct our habits in relation to our environment.

The Quetzal still looks on- a bastion of Central American natural and cultural heritage, in a changing and threatened land.


References and further reading;

BirdLife International (2012) Pharomachrus mocinno. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. <>. Downloaded on 27 August 2012.
Bowes, A.L. and Allen, D.G.  (1969)  Biology and conservation of the quetzal.  Biological Conservation 1(4): 297-306.
Collar, N.J., Long, A..J., Gil, P.B. and Rojo, J. (2007) Birds and People; Bonds in a timeless journey., CEMEX-Agrupacion Sierra Madre-BirdLife International, Mexico City, Mexico
Powell, G. V. N and Bjork, R. D. (1994) Implications of altitudinal migration for conservation strategies to protect tropical biodiversity: a case study of the Resplendent Quetzal Pharomacrus mocinno at Monteverde, Costa Rica. Bird Conservation International. 4:161-174
Skutch, A. F. (1944) Life history of the quetzal.  Condor. 46: 213-235

Best Birdwatching Sites: North- East England

Book Review

by John Hague

Best Birdwatching Sites – North East England

Brian Unwin

Buckingham Press

ISBN 0956987621


   Another in the excellent series by Buckingham Press covers 48 sites (seven in Cleveland, 20 in Co Durham and 21 in Northumberland). The book was originally conceived and written by North East birding legend Brian Unwin who sadly died before completing the book, though he did work on it until his death. Thankfully Brian’s family and his good friend Ian Kerr, author of numerous birding guides to Holy Island. The book contains glowing tributes to Brian from both Ian and publisher David Cromack.

The introductory chapters contain the usual discussion about the practicalities of birding in the region as well as information on other wildlife that may be encountered – particularly around the key birding areas. There is also some discussion on selecting the ‘counties’ for inclusion. As a dyed-in-the-wool Yorkshireman I could be offended by the inclusion of sites south of the River Tees and thus in Yorkshire but in terms of bird watching and bird recording this would be churlish of me and I fully support the current treatment. Birds at South Gare are still on my Yorkshire list!

Coverage of birding sites is comprehensive and is broken down into key point; species likely to be seen, this gives a percentage chance of connecting with a target species (remember these are only a guide); access; a site map or series of maps and a section on background, habitat and birding tips.

The site reports are bang-up-to-date, Hartlepool Headland’s write up only misses this summer’s Orphean Warbler (as did I) as the book was in print.

I must admit to have not spent enough time in the region even though I follow Blyth Spartans (and took in a game after twitching the Greater Yellowlegs and how useful would the guide have been that day) and have seen some real Mega’s up there. I do know Hartlepool Headland well and could not find any inaccuracies. It only lacks a closing time for Verrill’s chippy!

This book will be like taking a local birder into the field, such is its completeness, when I do finally book that week on Holy Island.

One of the best things about the Best Bird Watching Series is the consistency across the series, not only in terms of the excellent research but of the overall design. You can open any book and easily find what you need. This book enlivened by some wonderful artwork by Richard Allen stands as a fitting tribute to Brian that raises the bar even higher in this indispensible series.

Also visit John Hague’s Blog

Influx of Greenish Warblers?

by Jochen

It has been an excellent spring for Greenish Warblers in Germany with several breeding records and stragglers far away from the more regular sites. Late August is the best time in autumn for this species on Helgoland, as you can see in the histogram below. Shown are all records on Helgoland (n = 99) from 1840-2009, taken from the book “Die Vogelwelt der Insel Helgoland”, published in 2011 (see


So I was not very surprised when a few days ago I heard a Greenish Warbler calling just in front of my window. It was constantly calling very loud, but I was phoning with my chief, so I could not concentrate too much on the bird. When the phone call was finished, it stopped calling and I saw it flying over the roof, never to be seen or heard that day again. Next day it was again calling at the same site, but I could not find the day. Finally, on 24.8. I heard the bird again (once it was even singing) and saw it for a few seconds. The fresh plumage indicated a first-year.

Also on 24.8., I was mist-netting on another part of the island, but catching was rather slow, so I went around with my bins and saw another Greenish Warbler. It was an obvious first-year bird with a strong contrast between a greyish green back and bright greenish primary edges. Another birder took some pictures, then I had to check the mistnets again.


Picture taken by Jan-Peter Daniels

When I went back to the site 2 hours later, I played the Greenish Warbler call and immediately a bird popped up. I thought the bird is back, however, this bird had a different upperpart colouration and therefore was a 3rd bird, also a first-year. It showed well for a few minutes and I was able to take some pictures:


So 3 first-year birds on a single day – this has never been experienced so far on Helgoland on autumn migration (although several times in spring). Is there an influx going on?

First Lapland Bunting

In U.K. this autumn

by Martin

Not like it’s really rare or anything, but I enjoyed it! Having been inspired (yet again) by a long conversation with Magnus R. at the Birdfair I gave myself a week to improve my sound recording (= do more).  Opened my nocturnal effort with Tree Pipit over my (almost) city centre home in early hours of 20th August. Onwards then!

4:30 am on 23rd August and rain at Rod Moor. So breaking dawn I headed to Strines where I could hear distant Crossbills (most likely ‘Glip’) amoung dawn chorus. This site got me an adult male Two-barred Crossbill over 10 years ago at this time of year. Mustn’t forget to look again.

Rain stopped, back to Rod Moor. Soon the odd Tree Pipit could be heard. Then c 7:00 am I thought I heard a Lapland Bunting. Normally I would have just dismissed it, too brief, very early. A ‘maybe’ but not secured. However I was recording and knew I could check once back home. Feeling somewhat incredulous it did sound just like a Lapland Bunting in my headphones and the sonagram was bang-on. Double checked with friends who all agreed.

Listen here for yourself: Lapland Bunting

and see sonagram of what you are listening to:

Sonagram showing Lapland Bunting ‘tew’ call and trill. Rod Moor, 23 August 2012. First of the Autumn in the U.K.

I also scored at least 6 Tree Pipits flying over.

Here’s what I am up to (queue cheesy video):

More examples of recording action.

Normal migrating Tree Pipit. Listen here:

Sonagram of what you are listening to:

Here’s a recording of Meadow Pipits and a sneaky Tree Pipit which just calls once

Listen here:

Sonagram of what you are listening to. Can you ‘see’ the Tree Pipit call? :

Closer up:

Close-up: The calls  visible  are of a House Martin, followed by weak Tree Pipit and in bolder  black , 3 Meadow Pipit calls.

And a presumed local bird A Robin singing normally nearly all the time but on one occasion broke into a ‘Willow Warbler imitation’.

have a listen: here

sonagram of what you are listening to:

Singing European Robin, with ‘Willow Warbler imitation’, followed by normal song.