Monthly Archives: July 2013

8th September 2009: Exhilarating!

Spurn Stories: A Taste of Visible Migration

8th September 2009

by Andy Roadhouse

Showcasing the wonders of Spurn in advance of the Migration Festival. Here’s a taster of what can happen. To book on the Migration festival all the info is HERE and HERE.

spurn-shot5The previous couple of days had produced a nice selection of common migrants and some good passage including 4200 Meadow Pipits on 6th and a 1050 Swallows on the 7th, but this didn’t give away what was going to happen this morning. The weather was warm with variable cloud cover and a force 2-3 SW wind. I walked down to the Narrows for day break (06.00) and it appeared quiet with just a few Swallows flying past as I approached the Narrows watch-point. This is my favourite place for vis-migging (watching visible migration in action!), it is one of the narrowest parts of the peninsula and has a lofted position 10-15 feet above the Humber shore on one side and the sea-shore on the other.

There were only 8 active birders present today and they were thinly spread between ringing, sea-watching and looking for grounded migrants. I had the Narrows all to myself, while Steve Exley and Rich Swales concentrated on looking at the sea as there was a reasonable passage of ducks moving south.

At about 06.45 hirundines suddenly picked up, before I knew it I was struggling counting as Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were coming at me in mixed flocks, with no help available I had to resort to counting the flocks in timed periods as there was a constant stream of birds moving through. I did 5 minute counts and this then gave me time to look at the ratio of each species flying past me. When it appeared they sped up or slowed down I would do another 5 minute count. I know I would have been underestimating by doing it this way but it was the only way possible when on my own and birds moving down either side of me. It was exhilarating and was generally counting 100-200 birds per minute with occasionally a flock of 400 per minute coming through. At about 09.30 it slowed down for a while, then for an hour between 10.15 and 11.15 it picked up again with about 80-100 moving through per minute. I hardly had time to drink my coffee or eat my prepared sandwiches, as amongst the hirundines were 6 Swifts, 652 Meadow Pipits, 28 flava Wagtails, 1 Grey Wagtails, 3 alba Wagtails, 2 Great Tits, 69 Tree Sparrows, 4 Greenfinches, 13 Goldfinches, 69 Linnets, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Corn Bunting. Not to mention the offshore passage of ducks, which I knew were being covered by the sea-watchers and included 1 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 27 Shelduck, 17 Wigeon, 1 Gadwall, 331 Teal, 5 Mallard, 4 Pintail, 15 Shoveler, and 24 Common Scoter.

By 11.15, 21,000 Swallows had been recorded after which there was a steady trickle for the rest of the day. The totals we put down in the log by the end of the day were 1100+ Sand Martins, 22,000+ Swallows and 7000+ House Martins.

Vis-migging is great fun and can be challenging and fortunately no rare birds were found to take away my enjoyment from one of the best vis-migging sessions I have ever witnessed. 🙂


Atlas Flycatcher photo

by Andrea Corso 

Following on from THIS POST  (below) on Atlas Flycatcher, a photo illustrating one of the core ID issues, the variation of white patterning in the greater coverts. Also see first post for helpful new questions and comments (at end).

Balia dell'Atlante De Rosa (7)

Male Atlas Flycatcher
In this photos, taken by Davide De Rosa in Morocco during breeding season, it is easy to detect 4 black GCs of which the 4th shows only a very narrow white fringe around the feather

Atlas Flycatcher – variations

Myth and Legends in Birding : one typical case – the Atlas Flycatcher wing pattern

by Andrea Corso

Birding, as any human fields of knowledge, is full of false myth and misleading legends. These are usually some believing and “findings” reported by ornithologists and birders, in field guides or papers, born from some mistakes (that are indeed absolutely human and nothing too strange as …errare humanun est, but …perseverare autem diabolicum J) and repeatedly reported without real double checking again and again in all following books and papers. One of my first learning lesson from by my illuminated father is that anything need to be seen with our own eyes and to be re-tested or re-studied personally, verified always directly before having an own idea and opinion to may discuss on and to support our believing. So that what I do always on birding too.

One of that typical example, is Atlas Flycatcher (Ficedula speculigera) ! That species has been already discussed in details in Birding Frontiers by Martin and Co. but here, in this very brief note, I wish to go through the main misleading legend on speculigeraTHE ALL WHITE GREATER COVERTS !!

Balia atlantica Tav I resized smaller

Atlas Flycatcher (Ficedula speculigera – variability in the wing pattern, rump, tail and half-collar. by Lorenzo Starnini.

Note that on closed wing there is an obvious and striking big white “patch” where no dark bases to the GC (greater coverts) are visible, and the outermost black GC are not well detectable, leading to the false common believing that all the GCs are white ! In the birds with open wings up to 3 outer GCs are instead visible. Note also the MC (median coverts=) with extensive white tips almost as much as in Semi-collared Flycatcher. Note that the 2nd cy male show white on retained outer tail feathers, a much restricted white on retained remiges, and patchy plumage (combination of fresh and abraded feathers). Illustrations by Lorenzo Starnini from skins and photos from Morocco and Tunisia made for the forthcoming paper in Birding World. 

To deal with this, (see above) a plate by the bird artist master Lorenzo Starnini and part of the extensive and detailed text that Ottavio Janni and myself are going to publish in a forthcoming paper in BIRDING WORLD that will deal with the variability of this marvelous Flycatcher. Here a very brief version of the chapter on Greater Coverts, but in BW relevant issue you will find a 20 pages paper.

The accompanying plate is also one of the fantastic plates Lorenzo is working on for the field guide him and me are preparing “ Advanced ID of difficult WP species” which will be out on the market hopefully in 3 or 4 years and that will deal with all the latest update in ID of the most difficult WP’s species of birds, illustrating all the key identification features and chiefly all their variability (something almost never reported and shown by field guides).

1)    GREATER COVERTS: the most common misconception – along with the tail pattern – concerns the pattern of the greater coverts. Mild (1993,1994) report that Atlas Flycatcher “usually have all white greater coverts”; and add that in Pied x Collared hybrids and pure Collareds “usually their outermost greater coverts are black, or all the greater coverts show at least dark bases.” The idea that Atlas Flycatchers should have entirely white greater coverts has been repeated in all subsequent publications. Etherington & Small (2003), for instance, reported that “a fundamental difference in speculigera and iberiae is that their greater coverts are normally wholly white”. They add that “rarely there is a small area of black at the base of the outer greater coverts” and finally that “some Collared may show more white on the greater coverts than Atlas, but they are never completely white”. These authors correctly pointed out that Atlas Flycatchers can have a black area at the base of the greater coverts, but in fact this area is often present and can be extensive (see below). The second edition of the leading European field guide( Svensson et al. 2009) depicts and describes Atlas Flycatcher as having “all-white greater covers”, as opposed to iberiae which shows “much white”.  We examined this feature carefully and found it to be highly variable but most importantly we found that birds showing a full set of all-white greater coverts proved very hard to find. Indeed, we failed to find a single bird with all GCs entirely white, while most birds shown 2 to 3 outermost GC all black, or 1-2 black and the 3rd showing a chequered pattern (black and white). The oft-repeated claim that Atlas Flycatchers have all-white GCs is therefore misleading or even proven to be false: it is only that the GCs that are visible on the closed wing appear all-white, and particularly bright and conspicuous, having no black base like in the other species. In fact, in Collared and Pied there is always a greater number of white GCs with visible dark bases, and the latter are more conspicuous. Among Iberian Pied, we found that the number of unmarked white coverts is closest to Atlas, though lower on average (60-85% of the GCs showing white);  though with the extremes quite alike. In the vast majority of Pied Flycatchers, most of the GCs with white on them also have an extensive dark base which is easily visible in the field, while Collared have on average more coverts with dark bases than Atlas (Etherington & Small, 2003), although we found a few birds with the dark area barely visible on the closed wing, thus approaching Atlas. Iberian Pied is extremely similar: often the white patch white patch itself is less conspicuous since on average more white feathers have black markings, but on the whole Iberian Flycatcher and Atlas are very much alike in this regard, making their identification more difficult than has been suggested (e.g. in Svensson et al., 2009).

NB: The exact pattern of the GCs is much easier to assess when the wing is fully open (Fig. 1). When it is closed, the unmarked, pure white median coverts overlap with the outermost GCs and conceal their pattern, leading to the impression of a full set (including G1-G2) of entirely white greater coverts (see below). Indeed, on perched birds in the field the impression of a large, conspicuous wide patch on the GCs, which has contributed to the misleading belief that all GCs are entirely white.

Early Autumn Magic at Spurn

6th to 8th September over the years

by Andy Roadhouse

Here is a brief summary of the last 10 years on the dates of the migration festival. This will give you a feel for what has happened on these dates and shows the diversity of bird activity at Spurn no matter what the weather conditions. As you can see, something good has turned up or there has been good visible migration or sea-watching on every weekend – what will happen in 2013?


you can read the full account at:

………………………. >>> Spurn Bird Observatory <<<


Monday 6th

A brisk NE wind and misty and drizzle in the morning, had the thoughts there was going to be a good arrival of drift migrants or at least some seabirds on the move. But it never really happened, over the sea highlights were 2 Scaup, 24 Fulmars, 30 Arctic Skuas and 12 Little Gulls. Grounded migrants were few and far between: a Redstart, 4 Whinchats, a Wheatear, 2 Willow Warblers, a Goldcrest and 7 Pied Flycatchers. There was a lot of disappointment that it never happened, but conditions were remaining good over the next few days, so there was some anticipation.

Tuesday 7th

It was a bright and sunny start with a fresh NE wind and sea-watching started off the day, with better numbers than yesterday, with 10 Wigeon, 38 Teal, 2 Shoveler, 10 Red-throated Divers, 107 Fulmars, 3 Sooty and 11 Manx Shearwaters, 188 Gannets, 32 Arctic Skuas, 13 Bonxies, 316 Little Gulls, and 47 Kittiwakes.

After an hour or so, it became apparent that birds were starting to appear in the bushes and everyone split up and started searching for migrants, it wasn’t long before a Wryneck was found amongst the chats, warblers and flycatchers, and soon after a Red-breasted Flycatcher. Birds continued to arrive and be found throughout the day and by the end of the day migrant totals were 3 Wryneck, 2 Rock Pipit, 17 Robin, 16 Redstart, 49 Whinchat, 27 Wheatear, a Redwing, 6 Reed Warblers, 8 Lesser Whitethroat, 16 Whitethroats, 9 Garden Warblers, a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff, 21 Willow Warblers, 5 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Red-breasted Flycatchers, 40 Pied Flycatchers. It was a satisfying day with plenty to show for all the effort put in.

Wednesday 8th

Another nice sunny day with a decreasing easterly wind. It was much the same as yesterday with many migrants moving on, but still a Wryneck and Red-breasted Flycatcher were still present as were good numbers of all the common drift migrants. New arrivals included a Short-eared Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Fieldfare.

While over the sea a Cory’s Shearwater flew south and 3 Sooty Shearwaters flew north. Other birds seen during the day included a Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and 4 Greenshank.


Tuesday 6th

A foggy start and a light SW to SE wind, very few new migrants had arrived but ones remaining from the previous few days included a Wryneck, Tree Pipit, 5 Whinchats, 9 Wheatears, 2 Garden Warblers, 7 Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatcher, 6 Pied Flycatchers and 5 Siskins.

In the evening tern roost a Mediterranean Gull, 134 Sandwich, 760 Common and 4 Roseate Terns flew south.

Wednesday 7th

A gusty SW wind, kept migrants low but still included a Rose-coloured Starling and 2 Wrynecks and similar numbers of common migrants as the previous day. However, southerly passage was excellent, the best of which was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper which flew over the Narrows, but also a good selection of ducks, 6 Sparrowhawk, 2 Ospreys, 12 Kestrels, 82 Sand Martins, 4016 Swallows, 451 House Martins, 16 flava Wagtails, 64 Tree Sparrows and 195 Siskins.

The tern roost produced 3 Mediterranean Gulls and 7 Roseate Terns and a Pectoral Sandpiper was found at Beacon Ponds in the evening.

Thursday 8th

A much quieter day but still a nice spreading of common migrants and light passage of birds moving south including the first Pink-footed Geese of the year (102).


Wednesday 6th

A moderate SW-W wind, produced a few common migrants and also induced an excellent passage which included 125 Teal, a Marsh Harrier, an Osprey, 6 Kestrels, 3 Curlew Sandpipers, 21 Snipe, 150 Sand Martins, 4720 Swallows, 2700 House Martins, Tree Pipit, 228 Meadow Pipit, 67 flava Wagtails, 2 Grey Wagtails, 41 Linnets and a Corn Bunting.

The sea produced a Sooty Shearwater, 38 Arctic Skuas, 3 Bonxies and in the evening tern roost there was a record 23 Roseate Terns, 10,000 Common Terns, 89 Arctic Terns and 17 Black Terns.

Waders present included a Little Stint, 24 Greenshank and a Wood Sandpiper.

Thursday 7th

Fresh northerlies meant more attention was spent sea-watching and produced 36 Red-throated Divers, 35 Fulmars, 30 Sooty Shearwaters, 18 Manx Shearwaters, a Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua, 78 Arctic Skuas, 16 Bonxies, 63 Little Gulls, 200 Kittiwakes, 5 Roseate Terns and a Black Tern.

Passage was reduced but did include a Hobby and waders present included 5 Curlew Sandpiper, a Ruff, 8 Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper.

Friday 8th

As the wind switched from northerly through to south-east during the day, it livened things up even more. The early morning northerlies meant it was sea-watching to start and although nothing out of the ordinary there were 1109 Fulmars, 37 Red-throated Divers, 50 Sooty Shearwaters, 36 Manx Shearwaters, 650 Gannets, 57 Arctic Skuas, 15 Bonxies and 16 Little Gulls.

However once the wind started to swing to the east, migrants started to appear, most notably a male Bluethroat at the Warren and a Common Rosefinch in Church Field, and an increase in common migrants – a Tree Pipit, a Redstart, 4 Whinchats, 22 Wheatears, a Garden Warbler, 2 Chiffchaffs, 15 Willow Warblers, Spotted Flycatcher, and 15 Pied Flycatchers.

Some light passage included a Common Buzzard and 400 Meadow Pipits.


Thursday 6th

A light NW wind veered NE in the evening. A day of light passage with very little out of the ordinary but a nice sprinkling of common migrants, a trickle of seabirds moving over the sea and a Little Stint on the Humber. Of moth interest was a Convolvulus Hawk-moth trapped in the moth traps.

Friday 7th

The wind veered back NW but still produced some reasonable passage including 8 Pink-footed Geese, a Hobby, 125 Swallows, 228 House Martins, 720 Meadow Pipits, 4 flava Wagtails,

Waders were in good numbers on the Humber with 40,000 Knot, 3 Curlew Sandpipers and 5 Greenshanks.

Saturday 8th

A light NW wind and veering NE by the afternoon. The day’s highlight was Spurn’s first SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER found by wader guru John Grist at Sammy’s Point! Grounded migrants were few and far between and passage included 149 Swallows and 600 Meadow Pipits.

Over the sea were 8 Fulmars, 42 Sooty Shearwaters, 4 Manx Shearwaters, 18 Arctic Skuas, 1 Pomarine Skua, 1 Bonxie, 132 Little Gulls and 4 Puffins.

to read lots more details of falls, rare birds, seabird highlights and large-scale movements of the likes of Swallows and Meadow Pipits read the rest of this account at:

………………………. >>> Spurn Bird Observatory <<<


Waders at Thornwick

New Every Morning

by Martin G.

The new little patch at ‘Thornwick Pool, Flamborough has  a daily turnover of waders and wildfowl. Not big numbers, just a few birds. But close and quality. Very enjoyable.

All photos taken from the hide over the last 2-3 days:

wood sand 3

wood sand 1juvenile Wood Sandpiper

both22 Green Sandpiper (left) and Wood Sandpiper (right) as they land

Green sand 2Green sand onejuvenile Green Sandpiper

dunlin 3dunlin 2adult shinzii Dunlin

LRP onejuvenile Little Ringed Plover (one of 2). Also 2 Common Sandpiper present at same time


Wood and Green Sandpipers

Video rules


Thornwick Pool, Flamborough is a conservation site, the result of collaboration between the caravan park owner and a  few keen local birders FBO, YCN and GFB. It’s a chance to create a special wee wetland. Still in infancy a trickle of migrating waders has begun to show up. With a few Dunlin on/off in last week or so, yesterday the game went up  a notch with a young Wood Sandpiper and 2 juvenile Green Sandpipers. Mostly in a corner giving fine ‘scope views but too far for a DSLR camera except when the 2 Green Sands came close up outside the new hide. So I thought I would see what digiscoping could capture and compare: the sandpipers were photographed yesterday evening in rather grey, sub-optimal light conditions

Green Sandpiper Thormwick Pool 21.7.13

Green Sandpiper  2Thormwick Pool 21.7.13(above). 2 juvenile Green Sandpipers, Thornwick Pool, Flamborough, 21 July 2013. The lower photo shows the bird calling, in seeming- ‘lets get migrating’ rally call. Shortly after both took off and flew south over the headland. Taken with DSLR kit: Canon &D and 400 f5.6 lens.

wood sandpiper 7dJuvenile Wood Sandpiper (above). Just visible in centre of  uncropped photo: Thornwick Pool, Flamborough, 21 July 2013. Canon 7D and 400 f5.6 lens

wood sand 2Juvenile Wood Sandpiper (above). Thornwick Pool, Flamborough, 21 July 2013. Digiscoped shot on poor light. canon S95 through Swarovski ATX 95. OK but still distant and poor light kept me from getting much more magnification as bird constantly moving hence slow speed and blurry photos.

This is why I love what can be done with video and digiscoping. Poor light but nevertheless a very acceptable burst of footage. Normal better on VIMEO it’s not workin’ so have put on Youtube.

Dunlin mid July 13

Adult Dunlin also from the hide a few days ago. rather long-billed suggesting nominate ssp. alpina, however the upperparts pattern (and timing) were perhaps more in accordance with shinzii. Perhaps wont’ push too hard with this one.

Background interest

odd ball Herring Gulls Flam head july 13Pair of Herring Gulls, which ‘live’ right near the seawatch point on outer head, Flamborough. Curiously one has dark left iris and normal paler right iris, and the other is couple shades darker (most obvious in overcast, flat light).

Common Scoter off head 22.7.13From seawatch spot. I have and will be experimenting with what images can be obtained of fly-by seabirds. Some Common Scoter from this morning.

British Storm Petrel

South Landing, Flamborough

Sometime humans go all nocturnal in order to see nature that only comes out at night. Night before last (20th-21st July) was a very well organised such event. The YWT’s Living Seas Centre -where a certain lovely (so says her dad) Abigail Garner works 🙂 – hosted the event in collaboration with the RSPB, the Yorkshire Naturalists Union and the Flamborough Bird Observatory.  Neil Glenn had joined me for a day around Flamborugh and we got treated to a feast of moths and the hoped for Storm Petrels appeared with one trapped at 12:30 am and a second bird around the nets.

Did You Know?

  • European Strom Petrel is (yes or no?) the smallest bird in world with webbed feet
  • 2 (cryptic) species in Europe (one a potential vagrant to Britain/ Ireland)
  • St. Peter and the Virgin Mary are invoked in vernacular names

Storm Petrel 1 South Landing 21.7.13

British Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus, South landing, Flamborough, 21 July 2013. Not that long ago considered to only occur in the North Sea as rare storm blown waif in the autumn, rather than the summer visitor in some numbers. The brownish coverts visible here may not be part of the plumage of Mediterranean Storm Petrel Hydrobates melitensis making this shorter billed bird with brownish wing coverts-a bird ‘showing characters’of British Storm Petrel.

Song and Calls

I had a couple of opportunities to hear and record the eerie songs and calls of British Storm Petrels on Mousa, Shetland, this spring.

Listen to singing male etc <HERE> 

(famously described as “the sound of a  fairy being sick”)

Ant and Living seas centre

Anthony Hurd, welcomes nocturnal creatures to YWT’s Living Seas Centre at South landing.

mothing at South Landing

Local keen lepidopterists lead by YNU show techniques and displayed an excellent selection of species

living seas centre

Living Seas Centre provided excellent base for viewing moths and giving presentations

andrew lassey explains petrelAndrew Lassey of Flamborough Bird Observatory gives excellent and fulsome info on European Storm Petrels, ID, aging and ringing history in the North Sea.

2 Species

British Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus

Mediterranean Storm Petrel Hydrobates melitensis

Wonderful wirte-up on Mediterranean Storm Petrel by Magnus Robb  in Petrels: Night and Day . Also more in   Flood and Fisher’s  Storm-petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel . Increasingly viewed as 2 separate, cryptic species. Mediterranean Storm Petrel has reached the Atlantic (Algarve, Portugal) and a bird ringed on Malta has reached the Netherlands, though not as a nestling it may have been a British bird which wintered in the Mediterranean (lots more in Magnus Robb’s write-up). At least those trapping birds in tape luring can bear in mind biometrics especially length and depth of the bill.

stormie 1

Bill length was carefully measured as the potential vagrant (species) the Mediterranean Storm Petrel has on average a slightly longer and deeper  bill. Anything over 12 mm could have raised the stakes. Our guy had a bill length of 11mm.

Last petrel ringing I attended 2 years ago when we saw this bird at Spurn

ant and stormie………………I think Anthony Hurd enjoys the variety that his work brings 😉

with grateful thanks to Sal Cooke, Ant Hurd, Andrew Lassey and all the other folk- involved. Also to Neil Glenn- fine day together birding the Great White Cape