Monthly Archives: February 2013

New Owl Species and other breaking news

Rinjani Scops Owl (Otus jolandae) and other species new to science

by José Luis Copete

In the short period between 2012 and 2013, several new  species of owl have been described. A group of these, are splits of the Philippine Hawk Owl (Ninox philippensis), a species consisting of formerly several subspecies, some of which inhabited isolated in islands of that archipelago, now elevated to specific rank in a paper published in 2012 by Pamela Rasmussen and co-authors in Forktail (Rasmussen et al 2012, Vocal divergence and new species in the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis complex. Forktail 28: 1-20). Two of the cases presented were ‘hidden’ taxa, not well-known. One is the Cebu Hawk Owl (Ninox rumseyi), from Cebu, which was rediscovered in 1998 after a long period of 110 years without known records. The other is the Camiguin Hawk Owl (Ninox leventisi), present in Camiguin South, a small island near north Mindanao. That new species has been named honouring Tasso Leventis, one of the members of BirdLife International Council, a photographer of birds and mammals from many parts of the world, but especially from Nigeria, where he has sponsored the creation of a bird research station, where many birds are ringed every year, especially by Swedish ringers.

Lombok Scops Owl_R Hutchinson_Gunung Rinjani_June 2011 (5) LOW RES…………..Rinjani Scops Owl (Otus jolandae) by Rob Hutchinson/BirdTour Asia.

But besides these, already in 2013  two new species have just been described  One, a Scops Owl that lives in the Indonesian island of Lombok (located between Bali and Sumbabwa), known from a few years ago, but which was still formally undescribed. Its formal description has just been published (Sangster et al 2013), as Rinjani Scops Owl (Otus jolandae). The original paper can be downloaded here:

A New Owl Species of the Genus Otus

So, with the new Scops Owl from Lombok, there are already several owls discovered during the last decade: Pernambuco Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium mooreorum) in 2002 (da Silva et al 2002 Ararajuba 10(2): 123-130), a species for which there are not yet photographs in the field (Luiz Cardoso da Silva pers com), which has been recorded in only two localities, being on the brink of extinction; Little Sumba Hawk Owl (Ninox sumbaensis) in 2002 (Olsen et al 2002 Emu 102: 223-231), present in Sumba, in the Lesser Sundas, known from the 80’s but confirmed by DNA time latter; Serendib Scops Owl (Otus thilohoffmanni) in 2004 (Warakagoda & Rasmussen 2004 Bull BOC 124(2): 85-105) from SW Sri Lanka; and finally Togian Hawk Owl (Ninox burhani) in 2004 (Indrawan and Somadikarta 2004 Bull BOC 124(3): 160-171), present in the Togian Islands, off Sulawesi.

Lombok Scops Owl_R Hutchinson_Gunung Rinjani_June 2011 LOW RES…………..Rinjani Scops Owl (Otus jolandae) by Rob Hutchinson/BirdTour Asia.

Lately, other new species have also been described for other groups of birds, including confirmation as  new species of Pincoya Storm-petrel (Oceanites pincoyae), as have just been named the Storm-petrels colloquially known as ‘Puerto Montt Storm-petrels’ which were discussed already for a few years ago, after observations and photos obtained in pelagics near Puerto Montt (Chile). The formal description was published in the first issue of 2013 in Auk, advanced some time ago in the online version at JSTOR (Harrison et al 2013) available at

A New Storm-Petrel Species from Chile

All these cases will be included in a review of the new species discovered during last years for the forthcoming volume of HBW, the last of the series. It will also include unpublished formal descriptions of some new species from the Neotropics, so the list of exciting novelties to be described –and then, of major interest for global listers- will increase significantly in a matter of months.

Lombok Scops Owl_R Hutchinson_Gunung Rinjani_June 2011 (4) LOW RES…………..Rinjani Scops Owl (Otus jolandae) by Rob Hutchinson/BirdTour Asia.

With grateful thanks to Rob Hutchinson/BirdTour Asia.

Bearded Tits. Hyde Park, London

Cute, Close n Confidin’

Bearded Tit 11

Arriving via train from the north on 6th Feb 2013, I disembarked at Hyde Park Corner and entered Hyde Park. Knowing there had been some remarkable confiding Bearded Tits in the centre of London I rang the fount of all… Mr Tom McKinney. Instruction received it didn’t take long to connect. Not necessarily the closest but quite the longest uninterrupted viewing I have had of this species. 2 females ringed in 2012  at Rye Meads, Hertfordshire, which couldn’t fail to delight all comers. See for yourself (even if it was a bit windy):

Bearded Tit 7

Bearded Tit 5

Bearded Tit 8

Bearded Tit 2Bearded Tit 6

hyde park beardiesHere’s the view for those who haven’t been or seen and movie sowing how windy it was:

Thanks again to guide Ralph and Kat and all the folk who turned out for the London Bird Club gig. Really enjoyable afternoon in the park and evening spent with excellent group.

Possible Slaty-backed Gull in Connecticut?

The 1st Winter Challenge

Julian Hough has been in touch and is welcoming informed comment on this first winter (2cy) gull. It’s an interesting realm, given only adult Slaty-backs have been identified in Europe. While expected, the trickier first winters are more likely to get overlooked. This bird is a good example of the challenge and the process.

Story and photos on Julian’s website

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Dark-breasted Barn Owl I.D.

and the East Sussex bird

Darkish Barn Owl east sussex feb 13 dStunning ‘darkish’ Barn Owl. Southease, East Sussex, Feb.2013. All photos, same bird by Michael Southcott.

The reported Dark-breasted Barn Owl  at Southease, East Sussex this month drew Michael Southcott to visit and take some beautiful photos. Sharp-looking bird! He got in contact via our Facebook Page to explore the identification further. He asked really good questions on his blog.

To see a full set of photos go to Michael’s blog

darkish Barn Owl c 2013 02 16 East Sussex Feb 2013

So we asked Mr Paul (Harry P. to his friends) French who wrote the seminal ID paper in British Birds. He has responded in excellent detail:

Hi Martin

Regards the owl, it’s clearly not acceptable as guttata for the following reasons:

  • The pale undertail coverts and pale legs are the giveaway – they should be buff in guttata
  • pale underwing coverts – should be buff in guttata
  • white facial disc – should have extensive dark marks around the eye in guttata
  • pale grey primary tips – should be much darker grey in guttata
  • rather thin barring across primaries – should be broader in guttata and go across the whole feather
  • underpart spotting – this bird is rather lightly spotted, but may be OK for male guttata

So there really is nothing going for it as a guttata apart from a slightly more extensive buff breast than normal, and to be honest, I’m surprised that some information services are still listing it as such. Some female alba can show buff breasts like this, and there may well be a tendency for birds in the east of Britain (East Anglia mostly, but of course we don’t know where this bird was hatched) to exhibit more extensive buff breasts as a result of influence from the near Continent and the intergrade zone in the Low Countries and France. In short, this is either a British alba or possibly an intergrade from the near Continent, but I suspect it was hatched in Britain.

Best wishes, and see you soon.


darkish Barn Owl 2013 02 16 East Sussex Feb 2013

darkish Barn Owl b 2013 02 16 East Sussex Feb 2013Stunning ‘darkish’ Barn Owl. Southease, East Sussex, Feb.2013. All photos, same bird by Michael Southcott. Not a ‘full shilling’ guttata and perhaps just a well-marked female alba or possibly an intergrade.

The Hebridean Hedge Sparrow

Irish, Scottish and British Dunnocks

by Martin

Love those English bird names in ‘The Handbook’. Credit to  Meinertzhagen also whose deeds of  infamy are usually more familiar. He catalogued the different Dunnocks of the Outer Hebrides and the Handbook records ‘Birds obtained in Antrim. Nov. 1934. appeared to be migrants of this form’. In fact they were the resident birds of Ireland also. BWP gives a more up-to-date picture of the various forms of Dunnock (or Hedge Sparrow when I started) which occur in Ireland and Britain:

 P. m. hebridium (Meinertzhagen, 1934), Ireland and Outer and Inner Hebrides; occidentalis (Hartert, 1910), eastern Scotland, England, and Wales, grading into hebridium in western Scotland and into nominate modularis in western France; nominate modularis (Linnaeus, 1758), central and northern Europe, from central France, Netherlands, and Norway east to Ural mountains, south to Alps, central Yugoslavia, and central Rumania

Dunnock n Ireland jan 2013 dGaelic Hedge Sparrow? ssp hebrideum Since it occurs across Ireland as well, can’t really call it a Hebridean Dunnock, so how about  a Gaelic one (or even Meinertzhagen’s Dunnock??!) ? Whichever, I photographed this one in Antrim (where they were first recorded !) in January 2013. Rich almost rusty brown tones give then darker upperparts than the British birds, the colour also very apparent on the breast sides.

BWP again describes them thus:

Irish and Hebridean race, hebridium. Upperparts much darker than nominate modularis, with rich rufous tone to brown plumage and streaks blacker; head and underparts darker grey, with almost purple tone on head; belly less white. (3) British race, occidentalis. Intermediate in appearance between hebridium and nominate modularis…

British race: occidentalis

Dunnock 2 Conway RSPB Jan 2013

dunnock 4Dunnock 5British Dunnock, ssp occidentalis, Conway RSPB reserve, January 2013

Dunnock n Ireland jan 2013 eGaelic Hedge Sparrow? ssp hebrideum. Co. Antrim, N. Ireland, January 2013