Monthly Archives: January 2013

4 Mystery Photos

from ‘Pushing the Boundaries Tour’

by Martin

Some taster photos from my talk. Plenty of stuff coming up on the Pushing the Boundaries Tour: on amazing migration, wows and wonders from the year, new stuff on bird sounds, new ID stuff,  and the great fun of birding and learning from others. Never mind what Tormod’s up to! Hope you can get to one of the venues.

A Prize…

Can you identify them? First UK-based person to get all 4 correct (and I have last say on answers ; ) Sorry the main prize part has to be UK-based as it has to be collected in person, preferably on the tour. Down to lowest possible taxonomic unit…

Maybe a small prize for first fully correct overseas entry.

Can you name each of these, down to smallest taxonomic unit ; )  ???

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juvenile/1st winter Iceland and Kumlien’s Gull Identification

The Bridlington Bay Gull

Iceland Gull Brid. L 13.1.13

I have had a chance to review some work I did on these a few years ago *. This was based on literature search, examination of specimens from Greenland (Tring) and observation of Iceland and Kumlien’s Gulls in Britain, Ireland, Iceland and Newfoundland. Criteria were suggested for identifying out-of-range juvenile/1st winter Kumlien’s Gulls.

I have also received some illuminating correspondence following this post. The upshot is that the most  parsimonious explanation for the appearance of this 1st winter bird is that it is a Kumlien’s Gull. There are more obvious examples, so it’s reasonable to exercise caution.  Calling it   glaucoides/kumlieni thus indicating (in UK context) an interesting and unusual bird is reasonable. Calling it ‘just an Iceland Gull’, inferring that it is a standard/pure nominate glaucoides seems not to be defensible.

When I first saw the bird at Bridlington it was reasonably close. I could see straight away that it was an Iceland Gull. Lifting bins I was somewhat taken aback to see (what I would call) a Kumlien’s type pattern on the primaries. Despite having seeing annually 10’s of Iceland Gulls over 5 years in Ireland including small flocks of juv./1st winter birds,  I only saw this pattern maybe 2-3 times.

“So how do you identify a juvenile/ 1st winter Kumlien’s Gull?”

Criteria (with photos) written up in Birding World in 2000 * still, I think, hold up quite well. I am sure these will be rightly questioned and improved with current ongoing study but it’s reasonable starting point:

“an outer primary pattern that we believe constitutes an identifiable vagrant first-winter kumlieni (on current knowledge) is of a variable brown wash centred on the primary shaft, spreading onto both webs and extending almost to the feather tips. It is most commonly plain, not ‘mealy’ or spotted, although many show a small subapical mark. From February to April, the brown wash and subapical marks (if any present) fade or disappear on many individuals, leaving the outer primaries a rather plain creamy-brown or off-white thereby increasing the number of kumlieni that may be inseparable from glaucoides. Other tendencies- and the are only tendencies– of first winter Kumlien’s include a shorter primary projection, an earlier moult for some mantle and upper scapular feathers (sometimes from Oct/Nov) a darker bill in mid-winter, a more distinct [plain] tail band  and more contrast between the outer (darker) and inner (paler) primaries in flight on the more distinct individuals”

Peter Kristensen got in touch from Denmark. He helpfully asked the question the other way round.

“How do you identify a pure Iceland Gull (nominate glaucoides)?”

“Hello Martin 
Saw your post about an Iceland Gull. I just want to let you know, that we last winter made an article on the subject in Danish, but what we did was to find all material on birds we knew for sure was pure Iceland Gulls [nominate glaucoides]. This means lots of gulls seen in Northern Europe and Greenland but also the big collection from zoological museum in Copenhagen – this includes many hundreds and some date back to the middle of the 1800. What we wanted to find out is, how much variation is there in Iceland Gulls – especially 2nd and 3rd winter. I had the feeling, that places like Iceland and sometimes the Faroes are difficult places to be absolutely certain that a dark bird is really a pure Iceland, and I therefore disqualified such a bird in order to document how much variation there is in 2 and 3 winter Iceland Gulls. What we found out is, that there wasn’t any variation amoungst the many birds collected in Greenland – they were all perfect whitish looking Iceland gulls.
So we turned the way of documentation around, and said – how can you identify a pure Iceland Gull (as we think this is more interesting than the many hybrids/kumlieni). So, if your bird was a rare bird that needed acceptance from a rarity committee  I don’t think it would pass as a pure Iceland Gull – it is outside the variation we could find in our collections – not a lot but enough I think.
Best regards
Peter H. Kristensen”

Iceland Gull Brid. h 13.1.13

Iceland Gull Brid. k 13.1.13

Iceland Gull Brid. j 13.1.131st winter – not pure glaucoides Iceland Gull  ; ) -South Shore, Bridlington, 13th Jan 2012.

marchjuvenile/ 1st w Kumlien’s Gull, Connecticut, USA, March by Julian Hough. A pale bird with similar if slightly less well-marked/more faded primary pattern to the Bridlington bird. Of course knowing where every Iceland type Gull comes from in NE USA is uncertain. While there is the bewildering variation, all the birds in Julian’s area pass  as kumlieni. Julian comments “I would definitely be thinking of kumlieni for your bird since it would pass for that race over here in the US…I couldn’t get it passed as a dark glaucoides

Phone a friend

I asked some friends with plenty of experience and interest in the subject, for their impression of the Bridlington bird, based on my photos:

Chris Gibbins (studied bird’s in Newfoundland) “Wow…actually this is a great great bird.  More Kumlien’s like than I imagined! [from my verbal description]. Leave it with me to work on properly…”

Anthony McGeehan (studied birds in Newfoundland)

“Your bird could fit either ‘taxon’. I mean in structure: it could be a ‘Pretty Boy’ Kumlien’s. But what about plumage? There is a fairly heavy pigmentation on its chequered tracts – enough to push the limits for Iceland? But I don’t feel safe on that ground, given the variation within Iceland. For me, the crunch is the patterning on the primaries. On even a well-patterned Iceland (some have a soft pattern, just like Glaucous) the strength of the pattern seems to have an upper limit. That upper limit consists of (low contrast, of course) a pale rim on the primaries with a little ‘diamond’ of dark nestling at the apex of the subterminal rim (on its inner edge). I’m sure you know what I mean. You could describe it as an ‘anchor mark lite’. Anything more than that puts the bird into Kumlien’s territory. Obviously I could be wrong and there may be a tad more dark patterning that occurs in ‘extreme’ Iceland? I think the last sentence is speculation. So, on your bird, given the ‘excessive’ dark patterning that goes beyond my own limit, I’d be calling it Kumlien’s.”

Ian Lewington would have been very pleased to find it! Felt different to annual juv. Iceland Gulls in Oxford and almost all juvenile Iceland Gulls seen over several years in the west of Ireland, where most looked of a ‘type’ with all white wing tips. Verdict: most likely a Kumlien’s.

Iceland Gull, 1w, Barmston, E Yorks, 7 Jan 13 br1st winter probable Kumlien’s Gull, Bridlington Bay, 7th January 2013. Brett Richards

*Garner, M., Kolbeinsson, Y. & Mactavish, B. 2000. Identification of first-winter Kumlien’s Gull and the ‘Whitby Gull’. Birding World 13(3): 116-119

Stejneger’s Stonechat in Denmark?

October 2008

Following the revelations of a Stejneger’s Stonechat in Dorset, UK and Texel, Netherlands  Rolf Christensen got in touch via the facebook page about a bird he found at Skagen, the northern tip of  Denmark, in October 2008.  It seemed odd at the time for a ‘maurus’. Rolf writes:

“Hi Martin,

I found the bird, seen at Grenen and Nordstrand, Skagen. It was present on 15th-19th October. It was seen alongside a European Stonechat, and was first identified as a ‘Siberian’. Later on the first day, we paged out, that it was odd and perhaps a hybrid? Finally, it was submitted as an odd Siberian, and surely the rarities committee also found it odd, and accepted it with a note, that it might be a stejnegeri!

In the field it appeared too dark for maurus to me, unlike the other three maurus, I had seen in Denmark. Several birders even thought it was just a Common Stonechat (scarce here at Skagen).”

147856260.RcOceVck.IMG_9574Bynk1610IIputative Stejneger’s Stonechat, Skagen, Denmark, 16th October 2008 by Søren Kristoffersen. Another photo of rump here.

Eastern Subalpine Warbler on Lanzarote

January 2013

A surprising record. This bird was observed on 11 January 2013 (5 days ago) at Uga, Lanzarote Park on Lanzarote and photographed by Juan Sagardia. As ever, Dani López Velasco was on the ball with the ID potential. Juan also sent me the pics for comment. With its restricted deep vinaceous red on the throat and upper breast and rather thick white malar stripe it sure looks all albistriata – a long way west and probably wintering? Not heard to call. All photos by Juan Sagardia:

Picture1 alb 3

Picture1 alb 1

Picture1 alb 2

Siberian and Desert Lesser Whitethroats

New Paper, New Perspectives

Most recent autumn and winter seasons, the subject of  ‘Eastern Lesser Whitethroats’ rises up with the appearance of interesting looking (and sounding) individuals. A long-awaited paper has just been published here by a host of birding luminaries.

Of interest to West European observers, as expected, blythi (Siberian Lesser Whitethroat) sees a resurgence. The “data suggest that blythi is a valid taxon not closely related to curruca”. Meanwhile minula (Desert Lesser Whitethroat) was found to have a more restricted range than previously understood being limited to within China. It’s impressive research with interesting conclusions and much as yet unresolved.

Consequently, the extralimital Lesser Whitethroats to be on the look out for are halimodendri and blythi…


halimodendri Spurn sept 2012halimodendri (Desert) Lesser Whitethroat. This bird was trapped at Spurn on 23rd Sept. 2012 (more here). It was tentatively identified at the time as halimodendri based on plumage (esp. tail pattern) and biometrics (with thanks to Paul Leader). It was similar to other birds in W Europe which are usually claimed as minula. Subsequent DNA analysis from a feather sample matched halimodendri from the eastern part of the range. Martin Collinson (once again) doing a great job said:   That Spurn Lesser Whitethroat you sent us looks most likely to be halimodendri.  It’s genetically most similar to a bird in the database from Xinjiang, the grid coordinates putting it just the Chinese side of the Kazakhstan border, which should be halimodendri”.


While evidence so far suggest halimodendri types are likely to (continue) to prove rather rare, the harder to distinguish blythi types are probably annual. With breeding and wintering range at least in part similar to Siberian Chiffchaff, perhaps that species give an idea of the number of blythi that might be occurring in Western Europe?

As with good numbers of Siberian Chiffchaffs annually  Shetland is also known to host browner, ‘Eastern’ type Lesser Whitethroats annually. With thanks (and apologies for lingering) to group members from the 2012 Shetland Nature Tours, here is a bird we spent a fair bit of time with last autumn. With some plumage and wing formula characters visible in some photos (not these) I think this is probably a blythi (thanks again to Paul Leader). Proving it may be another thing…


Lesser Whitethroat Unst o 8.10.12

Lesser Whitethroat Unst g 8.10.12

Lesser Whitethroat Unst n 8.10.12probable Siberian Lesser Whitethroat

The story on these is not over yet.

Footit Challenge. Half way there

71 out of 75

Had a long walk of some 10 miles yesterday with our family dog, Ebony. Headed off nearly 2 hours before sunrise. Soon onto not one but 2 Tawny Owls at the start of the Loxley Valley. Mute Swan and Mandarin were in the right place, but no Tufted Duck! Treecreeper (lovely views) and Sparrowhawk(finally) fell, followed quickly by a flock of  Fieldfare. 69 species up. Where now? With an increasing volume of snow falling I decided for my first time (12 yrs in Sheffield) to explore Loxley and Wadsley Commons. Looked potential Yellowhammer habitat. Bingo! Up to 15 Yellowhammers and fly through flock of Lapwing in snowstorm takes me to 71 out of my optimistic 75 target. Thoroughly enjoyable!

Footit Factoids. Its all here

99 miles walked for one footit dude
Finds include Siberian Chiffchaff, White-tailed Eagle. Lanner ! Glaucous and Caspian Gulls and several Bitterns
Many found more species than expected in their areas. Great surprises and bonus birds
Nice photo of blisters!

My walk celebrated in a few pics. Now begins the 2nd half. Will I make it into the 100% club? see below.

Yhammer 1

Yellowhammer b 15.1.13yahammer 1

robin in snow 15.1.13My attempt at a Christmas Card shot

Lapwings 15.1.13Flock of Lapwing– cold weather movement and an unexpected footit tick…

woodiesWoodpigeons looking cold

male Chaffinch 15.1.13male Chaffinch: all birds look good in snow!

My target was 75 species going out from my house near Sheffield City Centre to radius of 3.5 miles. I have seen 71 species out of 75

These are the species I think I could get (with a bit o’ luck) but apart from the Peregrines I don’t know where to look for them. Any suggestions welcome.

Tree Sparrow?
(and I wonder about the possibility of  Cormorant, Tufted Duck and Little Owl). BOOM!

This sign was a weather info service too:




You are Invited!

Pushing the Boundaries Tour

21st January to 4th February 2013

We start next Monday night, 21st January and travel for 2 weeks around the country. You don’t have to be a member of the hosting bird club, just come along to the nearest venue. Hope you can make it!

“One of the most inspiring events I have ever seen” is how attendees, coming from all over Europe and North America, summed up the first Arctic Gullfest in April 2012. This evening brings together the hosts of that event. Martin and Sharon, from Sheffield, UK will talk about pushing the boundaries of birding over the last 12 months, some of which have been kept off the Birding Frontiers blog, especially for this tour. Birding architects Tormod and his wife Elin will talk about their family move to Varanger, in Arctic Norway. They combine pioneering architecture and conservation while engaging ordinary local people- pushing the boundaries in how people and nature work better together. It promises to be a highly entertaining and inspiring evening- not to be missed!

When and Where:

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Bangor  – Monday 21st January 2013 – more info coming here

Lincoln – Tuesday 22nd January 2013 – more info here

Sheffield – Wednesday 23rd January 2013 – more info here

Barnsley – Thursday 24th January 2013 – more info coming here

Leicester/Rutland – Friday 25th January 2013 – more info here

Cambridge – Monday 28th January 2013 – more info here

Bedford – Tuesday 29th January 2013 – more info here

Dorset – Wednesday 30th January 2013 – more info coming here

Kent – Thursday 31st January 2013 – more info coming here

Northumberland – Monday 4th February 2013 – more info here

Other upcoming Birding Frontiers Events

London Natural History Society – Wednesday 6th February 2013 – more info here and  here

6 Weds. 19.00 Ornithology (London Bird Club). The LookOut, Hyde Park. The Wonder Of Birds. Martin Garner. Author of Frontiers In Birding, Martin Garner invites you to join him in sharing a passion for birds and wildlife!  A member of the British Birds Rarities Committee and an ID consultant for Birding World, Martin will illustrate why we should never take our local patch for granted by highlighting some London rarities and also looking at some of the most exciting places for birding in the Western Palearctic. So come and be inspired, encouraged and entertained in an evening fully exploring the wonder of birds!

Wakefield RSPB Group – Thursday 28th February 2013 – more info here

“The wonders of Israel in Spring and Autumn”