Monthly Archives: September 2013

Icterine Warbler

in Autumn

Flamborough 24 Sept. 2013

Just celebrating great birds. I have looked and listened and looked for that first Yellow-browed Warbler of my autumn. None yet, Just Chiffchaffs, fly over Lapland Bunting, odd Willow Warblers, in-off Snipes and rare looking gulls. At lunchtime today Brett sent a text: The ‘2 Johns’ had fund an Icterine Warbler in the Bay Willows. With a bit of patience, a lovely showy bird:

icterine warbler b bay Brrambles 24.9.13

icterine warbler k bay Brrambles 24.9.13

icterine warbler l bay Brrambles 24.9.13icterine warbler m bay Brrambles 24.9.13

icterine warbler d bay Brrambles 24.9.13The legs of a ‘Daddy Long-legs’ disappear down its gullet.

icterine warbler e bay Brrambles 24.9.13icterine warbler c bay Brrambles 24.9.13

icterine warbler n bay Brrambles 24.9.13

Fog this evening… maybe tomorrow the Yellow-browed will appear ūüôā

Mega Yellow-browed Warbler Year?


by Ben Sheldon

Yellow-browed Linosa MikiYellow-browed Warbler on Linosa in Nov 2011 by Miki Vigiano

Ben Sheldon got in touch furnishing more details following ‘rumours on Yellow-broweds’. This next month could be fascinating, featuring one of my all-time favourite birds!

Hi Martin

Don’t know if you’re aware, but something extraordinary is happening with Yellow-browed Warbler this autumn in Scandinavia.

Finland has had a lot – I think 350 already, probably already their best ever year, but the really amazing stuff has been the build up over the last three days in NW Norway. Hus√ły has built up to 50 today, R√łst up to 80 and V√¶r√ły up to 160 today. They are not huge places – the first two only 1-2 km sq, the last a bit bigger (R√łst and V√¶r√ły are pretty close to each other). Previous day record in Norway was 35 – further south on Utsira back in 2005.

Nearly 300 on 3 islands on one day…. seems like this species has really stepped up a gear to being a common autumn migrant to Europe. Not sure how long this flood will take to hit Shetland!



Prof. Ben Sheldon
Luc Hoffmann Professor of Field Ornithology
Edward Grey Institute
Dept of Zoology
University of Oxford

Roger Riddington and Brydon Thomason, ‘live’ from Shetland have added:

Hi Martin
¬†Yes, interesting. Very good numbers here but, unlike Finland, I don’t think the numbers in Shetland are (yet) exceptional compared with some recent years. They are exceptional compared with 20 years ago though, and something is surely ‘happening’ with Yellow-broweds. Plenty of time for this year to get exceptional of course…
Morning Mr G.
¬† Cheers for this, it’s very interesting indeedy! We were actually just talking about this very subject a couple of days ago here on Unst saying that even already with good numbers getting through so early that perhaps it could be a big year. It certainly sounds like something¬† very special is underway!
And we haven’t even really had wind from the east, asides from the nice calm cyclonic spells. Interestingly I also had a fairly early ‘Sibe’ Chiff last week, same time as my first Yellow-browed.

Shetland Nature.indd

Siberian and Desert Lesser Whitethroats


by Martin G.

23rd September 2012 – a year ago yesterday a ‘Desert’ Lesser Whitethroat was trapped at Spurn. Subsequent DNA analysis matched it to birds from a VERY long way away (as suspected based on its plumage and biometrics).

As I head to Shetland, Lesser Whitethroats will again be a subject of close study. Hence this post reblogged from January 2013.

Klappergrasmuecke_oestlich_20101106_kri_Helgoland_05bDesert Lesser Whitethroat on Helgoland by Jochen Dierschke

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 was 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‚Äôs 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.

juvenile Baltic Gull

and the identification challenge

by Martin G.

Baltic Gull 1st CY right AE4F0386 Ashdod 7.10.111cy Baltic Gull, Ashdod, Israel, 7th October 2011 by Amir Ben Dov. Check out that underwing!

(with grateful thanks to Chris Gibbins, Ian Lewington, Mark Golley, Yoav Perlmand, Amir Ben Dov, Brett Richards +Brian Small for insightful discussions)

Flambrough: 4 Caspian Gulls in 11 days, at least one 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull, an adult and maybe 1-2 first winter ‘Northern’¬†argentatus, and 100’s of argenteus Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. These have made interesting watching over the last week or so. Plus the Lesser Black-backs. There are only a few of these, maybe up to 20 juveniles and just 1-2 older birds. However at least one and maybe a couple have got me thinking. Several of the juvenile LBB’s have been frosty but one or two in particular are striking. One individual picked out last Friday and Saturday had instant appeal as at least a look-alike on plumage and structure to some known juvenile Baltic Gulls. Knowing a bit about about them I wanted to see one feature:

The Underwing

I have known for ¬†a while that this is an intriguing feature with potential. Some young Baltic and Heuglin’s Gulls (‘Eastern Lesser Black-backeds if you like?) can have extensive white in the underwing. This stands out as different from my old studies on Western Lesser Black-backs. In the latter the underwing covers and auxilliaries are usually rather plain and dark brown. Simple. So when frosty weak-billed fuscus thingy at Flamborough flew and showed a very extensive area of white in the underwing, that was a wow! Whats does it mean? I don’t know. It could be a fuscus (or I suppose even a heuglini). ¬†In Israel many of the fuscus/heuglni types show at least a white strip along the under median coverts.

However we seem to lack data on the range of appearance of say northern intermedius, to know if such things can be eliminated. Anyone have evidence of extensive white in underwing of graellsii/ intermedius Lesser Black-backs. Any other thoughts?

Some photos all taken in Finland in late August/early September to illustrate (thanks esp. to Chris Gibbins for his superb shots):



Above: Juvenile Baltic Gulls in Finland by Chris Gibbins. The standing bird show demure weak bill, long-winged structure of some with frosty plumage and cold white ground colour below. The lower one showing extensive white in underwing found in some young Baltic (and Heuglin’s) Gulls.

Chris writes: “I think it is fair to say that the pale panel on the underwing, and generally rather white ground colour overlain with darker bars, ¬†are a feature of many Baltic Gulls; ¬†but the stumbling block ¬†is establishing if and how frequently this occurs in intermedius type birds.”

juv Baltic Gull c type Flam 21.9.13 b

Juvenile Gull showing characters of some Baltic Gulls, Flamborugh, 21st Sept. 2013

Watch video below– especially towards ends when flies and underwing is clearly visible (pause a¬†couple¬†of times to you¬†catch¬†a good view off the underwing ūüôā. the varying light sometimes steals from the birds striking field appearance (most obvious in opening sequence).

Video of Juvenile Gull showing characters of some Baltic Gulls, Flamborugh, 21st Sept. 2013. Check out that underwing!




FS7E3961Above: Juvenile Baltic Gulls, showing paler underwing patterns. In Finland by Chris Gibbins.

14th sept 2013 flam

lbb type flam 14 sept 2013above 2 shots, same juvenile Lesser black backed type Gull at Flamborough on 14th Sept. 2013, showing striking white median coverts line in underwing- similar to that shown on fuscus/heuglini in Middle East. This bird (like the Flamborough bird above with more extensive white in underwing) also had striking white underparts and tail pattern in combination recalling pattern of juvenile Yellow-legged Gull.

See details of  this bird found by Brett Richards in November 2011 considered to be candidate juvenile Baltic Gull. Check out the underwing:

Bempton-gull-6acandidate juvenile Baltic Gull, Flamborough, November 2011 by Brett Richards.

Much to Learn:

It all just highlights gaps in my knowledge and need for research on the underwing patterns and ID of the Lesser Black-backed Gull group.

2014 dates: Spurn Migration Festival

5th-7th September 2014image001

On behalf of Birding Frontiers, Spurn Bird Observatory Trust, Westmere Farm and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust we would first like to thank all those who took part in the first Spurn Migration Festival. You helped make it a very special occasion. You were  pioneers with us.

Number Two

For planning ahead, diaries and booking accommodation we are very pleased to announce that Spurn Migration Festival Number Two is planned for  Friday 5thSunday 7th September 2014. Tickets are likely to go on sale around Tuesday 1st April 2014.

The first Migration Festival received reviews and accolades well beyond our expectations. We are also grateful for excellent and constructive feedback as we look ahead to planning and organising the Spurn Migration Festival, 2014, to make it even better.

To be continued..!

The Spurn Migration Festival Team


3 Caspian Gulls: 4 Days

cachfest at Flannelboro

Flamborough has, I think, prior to 2013, 3  records, but 5 so far this year and 4 of them since 11th September (last 11 days): one 2nd winter and 4 juvenile/fist winters. WOW!

Found this new juv./first winter this morning. A large, lanky, rather striking individual. Unfortunately it stood rear-end on in obtuse bright sunlight, so images less than hoped for. It then flew by showing rather ‘mealy’ underwing unlike the striking white underwing of this bird from earlier in the week.


1cy Caspian d Flamboro 22.9.13

1cy Caspian b Flamboro 22.9.13

1cy Caspian c Flamboro 22.9.13

1cy Caspian Flamboro 22.9.13


Relict Gull

in juvenile plumage

Following my curiosity having watched this seeming Med Gull X Common Gull hybrid (or maybe extreme variant Common Gull), friends and followers sent some fab links and photos of juvenile/ first winter Relict Gulls. Relict Gulls are a 20th century phenomenon. Discovered in the first half and thought to be something ¬†like an ‘Eastern Mediterranean Gull’; given full species status in the 2nd half (1970) as the Relict Gull.

They don’t always have wholly white underwings as first years, see >>> here <<<

and this is a stunning series see >>>here<<<

Now I can see what they really look like ūüôā . Cheers guys- especially to Mark Thomas, Peter Kennerley, Killian Mullarney and those who responded at the end of the first post.

relict gull juv close up MT

relict gulls juvs 2 MT

relict gull juv upperwing detail MTabove: juvenile/first winter Relict Gulls, Mongolian July 2004 by Mark Thomas


Relict Gull 7 DSC_0200

Relict Gull  4 DSC_0218

Relict Gull 1 DSC_0222

Relict Gull 2DSC_0220

Relict Gull 3 DSC_0219

Relict Gull 6 DSC_0217above: juvenile/first winter Relict Gull, Beidaihe, 21 sept 2004 by Peter Kennerley