Monthly Archives: June 2013

Birding Frontiers + 1


With a flurry of excellent posts recently I am having trouble keeping up! In case you missed any here’s a quick recap, with links, of posts over the last few days: IMG_6572a

Female Collared Flycatcher on Fair Isle (and follows on from this very poorly marked female Semi-collared Flycatcher – by Dani L-V). Roger’s account of the find and team efforts to secure the ID with fab photos.

Grey-necked Bunting on Helgoland. IMG_9641bJochen gets a second chance with a very special bunting, including comment on the importance of the call  – while Brit’s await their first.


Book review: Shifting Sands by Andy Stoddart.Shifting_Sands_Cover_ a stoddart Spurn’s Andy R. reviews this thorough read on the relations of humans, birds and wildlife along the iconic sliver of land at Blakeney.



2013 Digiscoping Competiti01 place_2012_DOY_Tara Tanaka Digiscoping imageon. The annual Swarovski comp. 4 different categories, chance to have your own vote on Facebook, and some mouth-watering prizes



Jonny and the Pacific Swift.swiftweb s babbs Very Jonny account of one of the U.K.’s top spring finds.



New Team Member : Steve Blain. SteveBig hello to Steve who brings welcome new dimension to the team.

Lesser Short-toed Lark in the Arctic

Hornøya! 30th May 2013

Hornøya is one of the must see destinations during Gullfest in Varanger, Arctic Norway. It’s the last island… Tormod and I have mused on where to look for the big rarities in Varanger and Hornøya is right up there. Ace bird finder Anders Faugstad Mæland struck again on 30th May with this one following this adult Semipalmated Plover just up the coast one year ago in June 2012. Unfortunately this lark didn’t stick around, though Anders got some fine photos.

From where? (any thoughts/knowledge/experience from readers welcome here…)

A tricky question of course. This region of Arctic Norway has had some uber rare birds such as White-winged Lark (twice) and Asian Red-rumped Swallow. So in theory ‘anything is possible’. Must admit my thoughts were soon casting in a more easterly than southerly direction on hearing of this cool find even musing on the possibility of the little known Asian Short toed Lark cheleensis’ (which by all accounts can be very hard to tell from Lesser Short-toed).

LST lark anders

photoAbove 2: Lesser Short-toed Lark, Hornøya, 30th May 2013 by Anders Faugstad Mæland

and by way of  comparison:

Lesser Short-toed Lark Lanzarote June 2012

Lesser Short-toed Lark Lanzarote early June 2012Above 2: Lesser Short-toed Lark, ssp. polatzeki , Lanzarote, Canary Islands. early June 2012 by Martin Garner. Bit of a scruffy, worn and moulting bird, but at the same time of year.

Lesser Short-toed Lark b Sept 12 Lanzarote

Lesser Short-toed Lark Sept 12 LanzaroteAbove 2: Lesser Short-toed Lark, ssp. polatzeki , Lanzarote, Canary Islands. September 2012 by Martin Garner. Taken at exactly the same location as 2 photos in June- though now a nice fresh plumaged bird. Look how apparent size of bill differs!

Alonza’s video of twitching and dipping the Lesser Short-toed Lark…

This was the ‘tweet’ that went out as they headed to the boat…

Breaking news: short-toed lark or poss lesser short-t lark on Hornøya now. Heading out to confirm/docu #birding #Varanger


Hornøya lighthouse tormod AmundsenThe lighthouse and buildings on Hornøya, Varanger. THE ARCTIC. Woop! Lovely mix of summer and winter scene spliced together by Tormod Amundsen. Location of our Killer Whale watch in March 2013 and of spectacular Gyr Falcon hunted seabird cliffs. Within these grounds Anders struck gold with a super far north Lesser Short-toed Lark– from who-knows-where…

More interesting and rare birds are sure to be found here in years to come.

with Anders (on left) and whole bunch of lovely people ‘King Eidering’ at Båtsfjord in March 2013…: Plenty more on all that here

gullfest2013 Ateam of birding båtsfjord Amundsen Biotope

Mount Hermon’s Breeding Birds

+ surprise new species (not fully identified!)

by Yoav P.

During the last 6 weeks I have been coordinating an extensive Breeding Bird Atlas Project on Mt. Hermon. This is Israel’s highest peak, and our only alpine habitats are there. Therefore, 17 species breed only there in Israel. The structure of the bird community on Mt. Hermon closely resembles those of E Turkey and Iran.

The bird community of the mountain was not properly surveyed since the late 1980’s, and we desperately needed better data to protect the vulnerable habitats on the mountain. I worked with a fantastic team of very skilled birders, who climbed mountains, crawled through dense bush, under Syrian mortar fire, just for me – thanks Tuvia, Dotan, Nadav, Noam, Asaf and all the others. We reached some parts of the mountain very close to the Syrian and Lebanese borders, that were never visited by civilians before. That meant that in these sensitive areas we had military escort with us.

So let’s begin with the birds. In the lower elevations (1200 to 1700 m), nice open Mediterranean scrub on rocky mountains provides proper habitat for a good range of species.

Black-headed Buntings arrive rather late, but leave very early. High-speed breeders and real crackers:

Black-headed Bunting

Western Rock Nuthatch breeds in good density in these elevations. They enjoy the rough Karst rock formations. Tough little birds – check those powerful feet!

Western Rock Nuthatch

Sombre Tit is very dominant at these elevations:

Sombre Tit

Syrian Serins arrive very late too, which is quite puzzling. They leave their wintering grounds in S Israel by mid March, but don’t really arrive before early May. Where are they in between – just 250 km to migrate in such a long time. In early June we already had flying juveniles – speedy!

Syrian Serin

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear breeds in large numbers on Mt. Hermon, which is encouraging because they’re doing pretty bad in other parts of the country.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, 2cy male

Woodchat Shrike is the commonest of four shrike species that breed on the mountain – Red-backed, Masked and aucheri Southern Grey are the other three. Our breeding woodchats are of the Middle-Eastern ssp. niloticus.

Woodchat Shrike female ssp. niloticus

Female Red-backed Shrike:


Lower elevations

One of the most interesting discoveries of our work was a breeding population of ‘chiffchaffs’ in a well-vegetated valley at about 1300 m. First found by Noam Weiss and myself, we then discovered 20 breeding pairs in that one specific valley! At first we thought they could be Mountain Chiffchaffs, as they looked pretty brown and sounded funny, but further field investigations never produced a definitive answer to their identity. They might be something like brevirostris Chiffchaff that breeds in S Turkey. Tomorrow we’ll try to catch them and take some DNA samples – hope to get back with more news on them soon.

Anyway, Chiffchaffs: some of them look very brown (thanks Zohar)

Chiffchaff sp., Mt. Hermon, April 2013 (Z. Weiss).

While others look more standard Chiffchaff greenish (thanks Lior)

Chiffchaff sp. Mt. Hermon June 2013 (L. Kislev)

They were always difficult to watch and photograph, spending most of their time in canopies of tall trees. Here’s a recording of the brown one. Either way, chiffchaffs have never been recorded breeding in Israel before.

High-altitude birding is a different story. No plant cover but often strong winds that make birding difficult. 

Crimson-winged Finch is one of the most difficult Hermon species, but we did quite well with them and found many breeding pairs.

Asian Crimson-winged Finch

Horned Larks breed up there – ssp. bicornis:

Horned Lark ssp. penicillata

White-throated Robin is a beautiful and rare breeding bird. Normally very difficult to find, we scored well with 11 breeding pairs.

White-throated RobinHill Sparrow (AKA Pale Rockfinch) is a plain but neat bird. A small population breeds normally very high up (about 2000 m), while once in every few years we have a breeding invasion into the deserts of southern Israel – they are highly nomadic and opportunistic. This year we found them in one valley only but in exceptional density, about 50 pairs in one small valley. Their cicada-like song filled the air there.

Hill Sparrow

Northern Wheatear replaces black-eared in high altitude. Our local breeding ssp. is libanotica.

Northern Wheatear ssp. libanotica

High altitude

High altitude panorama

You can read more about the survey and my daily accounts in my blog.

Welcoming New Team Member

Pleased to be welcoming onto the Birding Frontiers team, Steve Blain. Steve heralds from Bedfordshire in the UK where I lived a long time ago). He is particularly skilled with cameras and at digiscoping and reset my Canon s95 settings with the speed of a rubix cube solver. He is a passionate local patcher with Broom GP’s apparently the hottest new place in the Western Palearctic. I am looking forward to learning from him , with hints and tips, interwoven in some good old stories of birding. – Martin Garner

Steve Blain Steve

I’ve been birding since I was a kid and digiscoping since the late nineties I began using a camcorder to record the birds I was seeing, but quickly graduated to a Nikon Coolpix. The rest, as they say, is history. I now use a Nikon V1, Swarovski ATS 80 HD, and either the 20-60x, 30x, or 20x eyepieces, and various adapters. I am certainly more a ‘birder who digiscopes’, rather than a ‘bird photographer’, so understand that not everyone spends hours waiting for the perfect shot. I have however, also been know to do that too!

I spend most of my time birding in Bedfordshire (where I am the County Recorder), with the occasional trip abroad to remind me what real birds are like. Great to be part of the Birding Frontiers team!

I say Pacific you say… SWIFT!

Jonny’s big bird day out

I say Pacific you say…






Ah, that’s better.

swiftweb s babbsPacific Swift photo thanks to Steve Babbs (blog)

Having co-found the Minsmere Savi’s last month I thought I’d best get out and find another goodie in June. Sadly Mal wasn’t with me today and I cannot get hold of him!

If anyone has seen / heard from a bespectacled gent, birding around East Anglia and answering to the name of Mal – please tell him to drop me a line!

With the galfiend working in Ippy all day I fancied a good peep or even a Shrike on the walk from Levington to Trimley Marshes and back.

Didn’t manage either of those ‘targets’ but I’ll settle for the Swift.


We (the hound & me) arrived at the first hide, the most northerly of the three adjacent to the Orwell embankment mid morning. I entered the and met volunteer warden David. Together we scanned over the scrape and enjoyed Avocet, Teal and belter views of a female Marsh Harrier.

Ever since a grainy shot of a ‘Swift sp’ went up on the BINS site last month I’ve been checking Swifts religiously. Over work, Livermere, the house – anywhere!

As I chatted with Dave I scanned through the Swifts unbelievably one had a white rump!

image jwPacific Swift photo thanks to Jason Ward

At this stage I went into fibrillations – surely it wasn’t – it must be a abberative common? But it looks so f’in good?

It looked just like the Pacifics I watched over Nameri a few years ago. I was sure enough to call Bird Information and blurt out the salient features to an unsuspecting Charlie Moores!

With the news out I eagerly waited out the age it took for people to finally arrive!

When they did I was massively relieved – the I.D. was correct and with the sound of cameras clicking away I left the birds to the crowds.

Walking back to the car I met my good friend Lee who was scoping the bird from the embankment. It was only when he told me it was a lifer and his 499th UK bird I realised the enormity of it!

Basically despite the 6 accepted records in Britain for those that missed the Cley bird 20 years ago it’s the first chance of a grip back!

image 2 jwPacific Swift photo thanks to Jason Ward

I am delighted that so many people have been able to connect. From Suffolk birders to big-listers and from Wakefield and beyond!

Happy birding one and all.

Cheers ta,


@Jonny09Jonny   .. Jonny’s Blog

Eds comment:

Met Jonny Ranking as he joined us for the March 2013 Gullfest.

Jonny 'rare magnet' Rankin (left) with Sir Robert  'of the Arctic' Yaxley celebrating after seeing their first Killer Whales in Arctic Norway!

Jonny ‘rare magnet’ Rankin (left) with Sir Robert ‘of the Arctic’ Yaxley celebrating after seeing their first Killer Whales in Arctic Norway!

Hugely likable chap with wicked sense of humour. Big smile came across many faces upon seeing it was Jonny who had found it. The most memorable endeavours on the ‘Foot-it challenge’ in January were those of Jonny. Now one of the most memorable finds of June 2013 will be this bird. Delighted for him. Birding really is about both the birds and the people.

Same as Spurn?

Sort of the first assumption. It must be the same bird as this one at Spurn. Maybe, maybe not. As Jonny mentioned there had already been a sighting of a credible candidate in Suffolk. Is there a colony shy group of 100’s (probably several 1000’s) of mostly 1st summer Common Swifts doing a circular feeding movement that covers most of the English East Coast – or are there 2 birds?

and one of Jonny celebrating this evening…

Jonny celebrates

The Fair Isle Collared Flycatcher

by Roger Riddington

Sunday 9th June 2013 was day 2 of the FIBOT AGM weekend, and in the morning I was helping out with the daily census, since warden David Parnaby had gallantly forgone census duties to do a Puffin walk for punters on a visiting cruise ship. I was in the southwest sector of the isle, and the other Obs staffers were covering southeast (Will Miles) and north (Richard Cope). It was a gloriously sunny day with a light easterly breeze; there was not much evidence of new arrivals in southwest but there is always hope on Fair Isle.

Just before 12.00 the Obs transit hove into view with David at the wheel and Will already on board. Richard had an interesting flycatcher at Lower Station (the communications tower near the top of Ward Hill), a female ficedula that was distinctly grey and had a big white primary patch. The implications were clear and it seemed like a good excuse for a detour.

Before we even saw the bird, Richard showed us his best image on the back of his camera. It was an arresting photo to say the least – a distinctly cold, grey-looking bird, with an obvious pale band across the rump, a diffuse but distinctly paler/greyer collar and – most significantly – a great big wedge of white at the base of the primaries, in the classic ‘club’ shape – i.e. wider towards the primary tips. The bird duly appeared and, after 15 minutes or so, everyone was agreed: the primary patch alone was totally different from anything we’d ever seen in a female Pied.


First views for Richard – bit distant but looks distinctly interesting…


and closer… oooeerrrr!! That’s a primary patch and a half…

From behind - an obvious whitish band across the rump, and a diffuse grey collar...

From behind – an obvious whitish band across the rump, and a diffuse grey collar…

Richard had two pictures where he’d captured the upperwing in flight, which showed the wingbar white and broad almost to the edge of the wing. It was these pictures perhaps more than anything that made me start to believe it must surely be a Collared. I focussed on looking at the wingbar in flight through bins and it was incredibly obvious.


There was a general consensus about what we had in front of us but none of us, least of all me, could remember whether there were any accepted records of female Collared that had not been trapped. [In fact, at the time of writing, there are four accepted British records of female/imm. Collared Flycatchers – Skerries May 76, Fair Isle October 86, North Ron May 99 and Bryher May 09 –  and the three in spring were not trapped.] Since the weather was remarkably fine, a decision to try and trap it was made. Will set off to get nets, while the rest of us stayed to observe and photograph.

An incredibly slick trapping operation followed, everyone with a job, mine being to ferry people up and down the hill road in the transit, so that people had a chance to see it in the field. As it was, it was caught quickly. It was taken back to the obs, where Dave Okill and Deryk Shaw joined us in the ringing room – a team effort of poring over the literature meant we didn’t miss anything critical. It was processed, shown to the assembled crowd, photographed, and on its way back to the trapping site for release in little more than half an hour – I was impressed.

The open wing. What a wingbar! A broad band of white on P4 with a clear spot on P3. Pied typically shows white to P6 to P7, 'sometimes P5, extremely rarely a white spot concealed at the base of P4' (Svensson). Note also the two ages of greater coverts - the replaced inner ones are presumably prebreeding, but are the older ones adult post- breeding or juvenile? Any ringers out there with lots of experience? Would be good to have any opinions.

The open wing. What a wingbar! A broad band of white on P4 with a clear spot on P3. Pied typically shows white to P6 to P7, ‘sometimes P5, extremely rarely a white spot concealed at the base of P4’ (Svensson). Note also the two ages of greater coverts – the replaced inner ones are presumably prebreeding, but are the older ones adult post- breeding or juvenile? Any ringers out there with lots of experience? Would be good to have any opinions.

The nape feathers - bit of a clincher. That white stripe across the middle helpfully eliminates both Pied and Semi-collared and could have been modelled on the drawing on p226 of the 'green Svensson'

The nape feathers – bit of a clincher. That white stripe across the middle helpfully eliminates both Pied and Semi-collared and could have been modelled on the drawing on p226 of the ‘green Svensson’

This is a great pic, with Collared on the left and a female Pied spliced in beside it - the latter was caught later the same afternoon. Check out the differences in primary patch,  tertial pattern (especially the thin white tips on Collared), the colder upperparts and great long wings of the Collared and that ghostly pale neck boa...

This is a great pic, with Collared on the left and a female Pied spliced in beside it – the latter was caught later the same afternoon. Check out the differences in primary patch, tertial pattern (especially the thin white tips on Collared), the colder upperparts and great long wings of the Collared, and that ghostly pale neck boa…

Back at the mast it quickly re-settled in the area, and showed well later that afternoon (after the AGM).

Showing well in the afternoon sunshine...

Showing well in the afternoon sunshine…

All in all, a great team effort (I’ve mentioned the word ‘team’ three times now, which qualifies me for a bonus ‘boom’ point from Captain Garner), though of course specially to Richard for finding it and getting everyone there. And it was the icing on the cake of a brilliant three days – the first Temminck’s for the isle since 1987, male western Subalpine Warbler present through in the Obs garden, a nice scatter of other migrants such as Red-backed Shrike and Wood Warbler, a lingering pod of 150 White-sided Dolphins and stupendous views of Orcas, when 15 animals circumnavigated the isle on the evening of the 8th. See some of the pics at the FIBO warden’s blog. If I’d been there a day earlier I’d have seen a River Warbler as well. Fair Isle, spring or autumn, it’s not always easy to decide…

[Pic credits of the images: Pics 1, 2 & 4 by Richard C, 3 & 8 by RR, 5 & 7 by Will M, no. 6 by David P]

Lightning sometimes strikes twice – Grey-necked Bunting on Helgoland

by Jochen D.

One of the worst birds I ever dipped on Helgoland was the 2009 Grey-necked Bunting – I left the island the day before (as many other birders). With only a handful of records in northwestern Europe the chances of seeing one on Helgoland again seemed rather low.

The morning of June 10th 2013 did not have much to offer birdwise. So I used our noon break at the bird observatory only for a short walk and then wanted to have a short nick. I was lying ca 2 seconds, when my mobile rang – as always. My assistant Klaus has just seen an Ortolan Bunting with an all grey head, but a tourist had flushed it and he could not find it back. Adrenalin was spreading fast – the Cretzschmar’s Bunting in the Netherlands was still in my mind, so I rushed to the football pitch. Still no sign of the bird, but after spreading out I flushed a reddish bunting calling unfamiliar “pit”. That was the bird and it did indeed sound neither like an Ortolan Bunting, nor like a Cretzschmar’s (although I had seen the latter only 20 years ago in Israel). Finally I saw the bird sitting and immediately identified it as a Grey-necked Bunting – the 2nd for Helgoland! Adrenalin had dropped little and now reached its peak …


There were only a handful of birders on the island and all managed to see the bird soon. Also the first two twitchers arrived by plane and managed to connect with the bird. Photographing the bird was rather difficult, as it was rather shy and flew off in ca 20 meters distance. And joggers, walkers, dogs etc made the bird staying at the same place only for a few minutes.


The 2nd day proved even more difficult – the bird was not seen in the morning, but found back around noon on the opposite site of the island. Twitching proved to be difficult as well: The first day only 3 birders arrived and were lucky to arrive in the moment the bird was refound. The last 2 days it was seen only for minutes during the day (usually best in the evening). So far only ca 15 birders came to see the bird, but if it remains until the weekend, more birders probably will arrive.

The habitat was open land with sparse (=steppe) vegetation or edges of tracks. It was usually feeding a bit hidden in the grass, hopping into the open and returning into the vegetation.


The ID of the bird was rather straightforward: Typical Ortolan Bunting head, long-billed, a moltoni-like underpart colouration. The best clue to refind the bird was it’s distinctive flight call. So far I did not manage to obtain a decent recording, but a Bunting calling “pit” should always raise the alarm bells.