Monthly Archives: November 2013

Eastern flavas in Norfolk and Donegal?

Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013

by Tim Allwood and Andy Kane

'Eastern' Yellow WagtailApparent Eastern flava wagtail, tschutschensis?  Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013. by Neil Bowman

 Hi Martin,
 I recall a few posts of yours on eastern and plexa wags and thought you might like a look at a bird we had in October in Norfolk.
 I was birding my local patch at Eccles, East Norfolk when I heard a strange call in high winds and rain. I initially thought it may have been Richard’s Pipit but the conditions were not conducive to hearing the call with any clarity and I also thought it had some wagtail-like quality. Despite tramping around for a while I couldn’t locate the bird, but Andy Kane found it next morning and on flushing thought it was going to be a Citrine due to its greyness, clear wingbars in flight and sharp, almost buzzy call. However, on the deck views showed it defo wasn’t Citrine (no clear ear covert surround, slight yellow wash on undertail etc). It’s clearly an interesting bird, the call was often sharp and pipit-like with a fizzy or buzzy quality (a sort of “tsseeep!”) and the appearance is highly unusual – we’ve never seen anything like it aside from Phil Heath who saw a similar bird on Shetland many Octobers ago. Despite attempts to record the call a few times on my phone I never got anything satisfactory as it was always windy and despite making recordings they were all too noisy. We were also going to attempt to trap the bird on the first available weekend but were again beaten by conditions and ultimately the departure of the bird!
 The appearance of the bird changed markedly with the prevailing light and cloud cover etc. At times a pale grey and at others a darker grey. Some could see a faint olive tinge on the lower mantle in optimum conditions. The undertail wash also varied in intensity in a similar fashion. I wondered if there may be some thunbergi influence (?) due to the yellowish wash on the undertail and rear flanks, but the head pattern and particularly supercilium, lores and dark supa-loral were very striking, much more so than expected for thunbergi… and the rest of the underparts were very pale off-white to white. Similar looking birds (with a yellow undertail wash can be found wintering in India
 Andy Kane heard the bird the same day and also thought the calls distinctive and thought them pipit or even lark-like. It could occasionally give softer versions of the call, but the loud and striking explosive “tsseeeep” surprised us and wasn’t something we’d heard from a wagtail.
 I have read as much as I can find on wagtail systematics and taxonomy recently, and frankly it’s a minefield as I guess you are well aware! Is there an area where tschutschensis is known to intergrade with thunbergi as suggested by the map in Alstrom et al, so birds could have yellowish wash on undertail but otherwise appear basically grey/white and have eastern-type calls? The bird was present Oct 13th to Oct 23rd and arrived during the weather that brought a Red-flanked bluetail only a mile to the north at Happisburgh and similar vagrants to the rest of the Norfolk coast. However, the area where the bird was is a series of sheep fields that were in use at the time (the sheep were attracting the wagtail in). Although we have negotiated access for a very few of us, the farmer was still not particularly happy with more than a couple of us being in the fields. This fact, combined with wide ditches and wet ground, and the fact that the bird could go missing for long periods made observation difficult.
 Tim Allwood (and Andy Kane)
P1030516 TA

Apparent Eastern flava wagtail, perhaps tschutschensis, Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013. Tim Allwood.

.P1620559 ta.
P1620571 ta

above 2 photos. Apparent Eastern flava wagtail, perhaps tschutschensis, Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013 by Andy Kane


More grey and white flavas

by Martin G

Tory Island, October 2013

The story is not over yet on this next bird. A similar bird to the Eccles, Norfolk individual was present on Tory Island, co. Donegal, also in October 2013. It has been discussed elsewhere and I agree with sentiments that it really looks the business for an eastern bird, similar to many tschutschensis Eastern Yellow Wagtails. Strikingly the upperpart grey tone looks saturated mostly cold almost blueish grey, the white supercilium while fading towards the bill base is off set by blackish lores (at certain angles). However the only calls which were heard and recorded seem to be ‘sweet’ sounding like western birds, and not raspy like Eastern birds. Some eastern types have been recorded giving both ‘sweet’ and rasping’ calls elsewhere in Europe, so….  The final aspect of this one’s ID may come from DNA if it can be sequenced from the poo samples sent off…



 Grey and white flava showing characters of eastern taxa, perhaps tschutschensis, Tory Island, Co Donegal, October 2013 by Aidan Kelly (thanks Aidan!)


by way of comparison

Here are 3 other grey and white looking flava wagtails. Western birds do throw out young grey and white looking birds. However all I have come across seem to usually have warm slight brownish wash to upperparts (not so cold and blueish looking) with less striking wing bars and lack blacker lores and subcoronal marks bordering the upperside of the supercilia- found to varying degrees on seeming eastern birds. The birds below just don’t look rare enough! And when they call, they inevitable give very typical  nice ‘sweet’ western calls.

flava type western Nafcha Negev 8 nov 2013
.flava type b western Nafcha Negev 8 nov 2013
grey and white flava– probably thunbergi, Nafcha, Negev, Israel, November 2013. This was heard to give lovely ‘sweet’ western calls’. Photos MG
thunbergi b dale of walls sept 13
thunbergi dale of walls sept 13
grey and white flava- probably thunbergi, Dale of Walls, Shetland, September 2013. This was also heard to give lovely ‘sweet’ western calls’. Photos MG
grey-white-flava-rr3grey and white flava- probably nominate flava, Sumburgh, Shetland, October 2011. This was recorded and gave ‘sweet’ western calls’. Upper photo by Mark Payne, lower by Roger Riddington.

Red-fronted Serin, Syrian Serin and Serin Serin

3 serinus in November ’13

by Martin G

“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.”
began Yoav P. in this post

hula 2013Jonathan Merav prepares the way for the ‘Perls of Wisdom’ to come from Yoav at this years festival.

One of the trips I previously missed out one as part of the Hula Bird Festival, was Mount Hermon. Israel’s only ‘alpine’ zone. Yoav’s inspired evening lecture spurred me on so very glad I went this time. 2 visits, one lead by Yoav and one with the ringing team got us some iconic birds. Not least the 2 serins:

Red-fronted or Fire-fronted Serin (more info from BirdLife hereand

Syrian or Tristram’s Serin (more info from BirdLife here). Syrian Serin is a particularly tricky species to see in its very limited range.


red fronted serin Hermon nov 13

red fronted serin b Hermon nov 13above. First winter Fire-fronted Serin, Serinus pusillus, Mount Hermon, 15th November 2013 by Martin Garner. One of the highlights of very early morning ringing and birding session. 3: 00 am departure! Black feathering is just beginning to break through the caramel coloured juvenile face, especially over lores and throat.

Red fronted serin amir ben dov 1

Red fronted serin amir ben dov 2above. First winter Fire-fronted Serin, Serinus pusillus, Mount Hermon, 15th November 2013. by Amir Ben Dov, Israel. This cheeky young bird appeared just after the nets had been taken down. It has mor caramel face than the trapped bird above. Amir had a patient wait to get these lovely shots as we packed up.


syrian ypSyrian Serin Serinus syriacus Mount Hermon, November 2012 by Yoav Perlman. This individual was photographed at last years Hermon trip as part of the Hula Valley Bird Festival.

syrian_adadult male Syrian Serin Serinus syriacus Mount Hermon, June 2010 by Yoav Perlman. Not always easy to age and sex. An article on Aging Syian Serin by Yael Lehnardt, Reuven Yusef and Gidon Perlman appeared in Dutch Birding only last year. You can read it here:

2012 Syrian Serin ageing

early on MOunt Hermon nov 13Setting up nets required very early start in clothing typical worn on British winters day. Yorkshire’s Mick Cunningham in the foreground had warm gloves on!

ringing on HermonA make shift ringing station was set at on the bob sleigh ride by the alpine resort. A seemingly incongruous establishment in what appeared to be montane/semi-desert habitat. The giant plastic snowman nearby seemed especially out-of-place. Yael is not normally so coy.

15th nov hermon riningersYael and the rest of the team were a great blessing to me and others in our questioning and learning!

So now I have seen all of the Western Palearctic serinus that spread over 2 pages of the Collins Bird Guide. With those 2 specialties I returned home to a much commoner and more widespread European Serin, within walking distance of my house at Flamborough. Found while I was away by the indefatigable Brett Richards, one of Flamborough’s most prolific  bird finders.

serin flam DA

Brett Richards flamb nov 2013above male European Serin Serinus serinus by Dave Aitken and Brett Richards, the bird’s finder in the viewing field at Millenium Wood, Flamborugh. I found another serinus species nearby- the Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus, several years ago at South Landing. Most likely NOT a wild bird though :).

Canaries 2 Lanzarote Sept 2012

Canaries Lanzarote Sept 2012And here the most well known serinus. The Atlantic/ Island Canary Serinus canaria. The wild ancestor of the familiar cage-bird. With the Lanzarote Pelagic crew we found a roost of over 30 birds in Sept. 2012 in the middle of Lanzarote (2 photos above by MG). Which is amazing when you consider they don’t even occur on the island according to 2nd ed. Collins Bird Guides. Don’t believe everything you read 😉


Mystery Stonechat

It’s a male.

by Martin G.

Which is not much of a clue. It’s not easy, but interesting I hope :).

I watched this bird with Sander Bot and Mick Cunningham in the Beit She’an Valley in Israel a couple of weeks ago. Israel hosts at least 3 stonechat taxa and probably up to 5. So it’s a great place to learn the stonechats.

Only one person was bold enough to put  a name to it (Portland’s Grahame Walbridge) when a photo was first put up here, so I have now added 3 more photos in the hope that it will at least pique some more curiosity. Whaddya think?

Which one is it?

stonechat israel nov 13 b

stonechat israel nov 13 c

stonechat israel nov 13 a


Lesser Kestrel X Kestrel Hybrid?

Armenia, 1st October, 2013

by Peter Adriaens

While surveying Lesser Kestrels in Armenia on Oct 1st 2013, I noticed this male kestrel.

In the field, I saw its short P10, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that it had to be a Common Kestrel.

I quickly took one photograph and thought no more of it. There were many Lesser Kestrels around, and these were my main focus at the time.

probHybridLesserxCommonKestrel_male_Armenia_P A

When I looked at the photo at home, however, it became clear that a number of things are at odds with Common Kestrel, even though the wing formula and the pattern of the remiges strongly suggest this species, and are very wrong for a male Lesser Kestrel in autumn. I guess it is mainly the lack of black spots on the underparts that is outside of the variation seen in male Common Kestrel, but added to this are some more subtle differences:

– grey cheek

– lack of blackish moustache

– unmarked white ‘boomerang’ around the wrists

– not much pattern on the underwing coverts, including axillaries

– a rather rounded, bulbous head

– rather fat body and broad tail base

– very big white tips to the tail feathers

Wouter Faveyts and Andrea Corso have been very helpful in discussing this bird (on the basis of the single photograph). From our e-mail correspondence, it is clear that the bird can be aged as an adult male: all remiges are of the same generation, and the tail pattern is obviously not that of a juvenile as it does not show even a hint of barring. Birds in the autumn of their 2nd calendar year either show different generations of flight feathers (usually 9 adult primaries and 1 juvenile, outermost, after arresting their moult) or a complete set of adult primaries (with the typical, unbarred pattern). In any case, the pattern of the remiges is wrong for any Lesser Kestrel, particularly males, as they show a broad dark trailing edge to the secondaries, which this bird lacks.

Eastern Lesser Kestrels may show a bit more strongly barred remiges than western birds, but they still have the broad dark trailing edge on the secondaries, and besides, an adult male would not show such extensive Common Kestrel-like barring (nor short P10). They also tend to have darker head and body, the latter with rounded black spots – which are absent in this Armenian bird.

In conclusion, the wing formula and pattern of remiges suggest Common Kestrel, while most other characters suggest Lesser Kestrel.

The most logical conclusion, hence, is that this bird is a hybrid.

The people from the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds, who ring chicks of Lesser Kestrels every year, have told me that they have seen a few suspected hybrids in the main colony over the years, but they have no photographs. There are only two colonies of Lesser Kestrel in Armenia, and Common Kestrels breed in at least one of them too. Though the two species are genetically distinct and have very different calls, I guess rare cases of hybridisation may occur. Hybridisation (in nature) is mentioned in Panov (1989). Hybridization is said to have occurred in Italy too, though there is no documentation of this.

Though it is unfortunate that there is only one photograph, this may be the first documentation of a hybrid kestrel.



Peter Adriaens

Patchwork Challenge 2014

Sign Up Now! Review of 2013

by Mark Lewis

It’s a given that the Patchwork Challenge competition we set up back in November 2013 has surpassed our expectations in almost every way! We had an idea back then (and it seems like such a long time ago…) to combine two scoring systems that were already in place in patch birding contests run among a few friends, and to see if we could expand the competition out to 30 or 40 ardent British Isles patch workers. We thought it might be of interest to one or two – so we were delighted (and a little daunted!) when the number of people who signed up reached one, and then eventually two hundred people! If you’d have told us back in November 2012 that in November 2013 we would have the very generous support of Birdguides, a Meopta and Forest Optics best find competition, ‘our own’ BTO cuckoo, a brilliant logo, a burgeoning facebook page and over 800 followers on twitter we’d probably have laughed at you. One of those nervous laughs….


However, it’s safe to say the whole thing has been a rather pleasant surprise. People’s willingness to contribute and take part has been much greater than we anticipated, and the feedback for the most part has been great, and always constructive. There’s one big area where our hopes have been hugely exceeded though. The quality of the birds.Gyr03-900

The first real biggy to make it’s way onto our PWC Bubo list was a Gyrfalcon that turned up on South Uist early in January. We were in the process of setting up our best find competition at the time and I remember commenting that this would be a really tough one to beat when we polled PWC contestants on the best bird. A well photographed white phase Gyr was always going to be a bit of a crowd pleaser! A couple of white-billed diver were also found that month, along with a rather wintery selection of gulls, which included a Bonaparte’s gull in Glamorgan. Not a bad start!

Wintery gulls continued into February, with that months highlight being an Iceland gull at Barmston that under scrutiny eventually emerged as a Kumlien’s gull. However, it was always going to be difficult for February to compete with January despite interesting records such as Temminck’s stint and Richard’s pipit. With spring around the corner though things would surely soon hot up.

And hot up it did. As well as being the month where our cumulative total hit 200 species, the first migrants began to be recorded, with some nice early spring fare like serin, white-spotted bluethroat and hoopoe adding a touch of spice. In terms of rarity, nothing came close to the Siberian stonechat at Kelling, but a cold spell clearly helped many patchers add to their lists as species such as jack snipe, woodcock and various wildfowl featured prominently among the highlights.

The run of quality almost skipped April, with a lesser scaup just squeezing into this months figures when it turned up at Pugneys on the 30th. Luckily for us it turned up not a day too soon, as a blistering May gave us plenty of highlights to ponder.

Favourable conditions in May made for multiple records of long-tailed skuas (mainly in the west), and classic May scarcities in good numbers in the east, with red-backed shrikes, common rosefinch, red-breasted flycatcher, short-toed lark and woodchat all reported more than once. Bluethroats were scarce though, making the one I almost certainly walked past on the morning of the 10th all the more galling! Luckily I got to spend some quality time in its company later in the day as it fed and sang just 100 yards or so from my office! BB rarities were well represented as well, with spotted sandpiper, black-winged stilt, thrush nightingale and another Bonaparte’s gull. May might be remembered as the month of the big dip though – with a Pacific diver in Shetland disappearing ten minutes too soon for one patcher…


In contrast, June was slow for many patchers. Many struggled to add significantly to their scores but the odd patch turned up trumps. Yet another Bonaparte’s gull turned up, this one on Tiree, and for a change this was a PWC find. Black kite and subalpine warbler were also notable finds, but unluckily for the two patchers on Bardsey, a visiting birder got to their paddyfield warbler before they could.

July was a surprise big hitter in terms of rarities. While I’m sure they enjoyed seeing the birds, our two Shetland patchers missed out on finds bonuses for two-barred crossbill and gull-billed tern. Slightly to the south and west Galley head ensured a stylish entry onto our cumulative list for Fea’s petrel, when three were picked up on one evening! That would be a birding combo that would be very difficult to top, but Mark Newell on the Isle of May arguably did so when he combined relocating the summers bridled tern with eating a barbequed sausage sandwich. I know which one would get my vote…

In terms of rarity, August will probably be remembered for the Neumann’s Flash stilt sandpiper, perhaps for the Winterton roller, or further along the Norfolk coast, the citrine wagtail at Kelling. For many though (myself included) it will be remembered for a fantastic east coast fall late in the month. A fine total of eight greenish warblers were reported from PWC patches, with supporting casts involving wrynecks, barred warblers, and red-backed shrikes. If I can be permitted a moments self-indulgence, August 2013 will always be the month I got Killer whale on my patch list – a moment that saw me involuntarily yell and airgrab at the same time, much to the bemusement (amusement?) of the passing dog walkers!

With Septembers arrival we were really getting to the business end of the PWC year, with a great variety of good birds making it onto PWC patches. All of these additions to our cumulative list saw us surpass the 300 mark (meaning at least three hundred pounds for the BTO’s out of Africa appeal courtesy of Meopta and Forest optic), and achieving it in some style, adding Western bonelli’s warbler, lesser yellowlegs, Blyth’s reed warbler, semipalmated sandpiper, Bairds sandpiper, white-winged black tern and Arctic warbler. As if that wasn’t enough, there were further records of Siberian stonechat and Fea’s petrel, as well as all of the usual east coast September goodness and the more predictable American waders. Would October be able to beat that?

In short, yes! Perhaps October didn’t deliver quite the variety or numbers that September could offer, but it more than made up for it in terms of rarity. A red-flanked bluetail was a great find at Kelling, and American waders entertained with white-rumped sandpiper at Virkie and Bairds and semi-P sands at Ballycotton. Virkie also hosted a Pechora pipit, but as far as multiple patch goodness goes, Sandy point stole the show. Red breasted goose and dusky warbler are all well and good, but play second fiddle to Andy Johnsons superb Semipalmated plover. Of course, this is a strong contender for bird of the year, and would have been a shoe in for bird of the month had a certain mourning dove not turned up in Sean Morris’s garden on Rhum….epic stuff!

As I write this in early November things have rather predictably quietened down a little, but going through the months has reminded me of the fantastic selection of birds that have been recorded during the PWC year so far. There’s not much left on the horizon in terms of additions to this year’s list (king eider, anyone?) but with our total at 311 species we can live with that!

The big question is this though – what mouth watering list of rarities will we be looking back on at this point next year? And this is where you come in – we’re taking contestants for PWC 2014, so if you’d like a piece of the action please come and join us by visiting our blog and following the sign up instructions. Maybe your big bird will be a long hoped for target like a semi-p plover, or a mind blowing surprise like a mourning dove. Or even a BBQ busting bridled tern…


 Postscript: Dave Suddaby has been seeing a female king eider off Blacksod recently – so it seems like we might be up to 312! That means I can predict that the next addition will be a Hume’s Warbler. Whose hard work is going to pay off this time?

For more info and to join in go to: Patchwork Challenge


Elegant Tern in New York/ Ontario

1st winter: Niagara River, USA and Canada

Have been in correspondence with Jim Pawlicki (Jim’s photos)  and Chris Wood (of eBird). Jim confirmed this Elegant Tern record with finder Vicki Rothman 5 days ago along the Niagara River in NE USA and on the Canadian border. Seems it did the decent thing and was recorded in Canada too (as an Ontario first).

10995229496_e270c03cae_b (1)1cy Elegant Tern, Niagara River, November 2013 by Jim  Pawlicki (see more of Jim’s photos)

These things fascinate and haunt us in W Europe. This bird sounds like it is (again) a remarkable record of vagrancy for Elegant Tern and, most unusually, a 1cy bird. The only possible other species from a W Palearctic point of view would be a Sandwich Tern hybrid or Lesser Crested. I am not even going to imagine it being an Elegant X European Sandwich Tern which has gone ‘back’. Unlike 1cy European Sandwich Tern, Lesser Crested has juvenile plumage quiet like the medium/large N American sterna terns. The bill length  and shape (perhaps not fully grown) lack of white eye crescents (which are typical of Lesser Crested) and whiter than grey rump, never mind range make it seem so unlikely. Overall feel of bird looks good for Elegant. Can’t really see it being anything else?

ELTE Jul - Nov 2013 cw


 Elegant Tern records from eBird database for July to November 2013. Those records in red are from the last 30 days. The record in blue on the east coast (New York State) was a first summer bird (2cy) in July (2013) and is featured in last months Birding World magazine.


10995302764_5242dcbbd2_b10995356753_daf503905d_b10995301584_bc6a0c8e46_b10995133435_6d4e89c62b_ball photos above of 1cy Elegant Tern, Niagara River, November 2013 by Jim  Pawlicki (see more of Jim’s photos)

Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe

by Lars-Henrik Olsen206580

Book Review: by Mark James Pearson

(Visit Mark’s writing pages and also his birding blog)

It’s worth mentioning from the off that, far from being an expert on the topics covered in this book, keen amateur is a fairer description of your reviewer; but with a developing interest in such things (as well as more opportunity to learn, having recently relocated to the provinces), approaching Lars-Henrik Olsen’s Tracks and Signs… from such an angle seems as valid as any.


Theoretically this is a book that is intended to be taken out into the field, and as such, it’s well designed; soft-back, wipe-clean, sturdy, hard-wearing and strongly bound, it feels like a good field guide should. It is, however, too large to comfortably carry on your person, and at best therefore competes for space, and weight, in a backpack – a reflection, perhaps, of the minor identity crisis the book suffers from (addressed further below). e483bf06-28ef-4b10-8247-1cf8b7c97cc0 n

The first part of the book is divided into sections, covering a range of subjects – from feeding signs on trees, to antlers, nests and dens and so on – all of which are well presented and engaging, embellished with high quality photos and illustrations. The tracks section (arguably one of the key features of the book) is clearly formatted and easy to reference, with illustrated prints alongside track sequences and measurements.


Somewhat predictably I’d like to have seen more space dedicated to birds – more information on e.g. woodpecker holes, more in-depth treatment of remains likely to be found in owl pellets and the like – and the book’s title perhaps implies better avian-related coverage than it delivers. Despite this, the related sections on e.g. feathers, nests and feeding signs on cones are informative introductions to the subjects.

The second part (and the lion’s share) of the book is dedicated to species accounts – dealing almost entirely with land mammals – each consisting of a varying amount of text, photographs, and a distribution map. The written accounts are instructive, concise, and are a font of fascinating information (which I’m still enjoying and learning from, and will be for some time yet). The distribution maps are necessarily quite small, generalising each species range across the continent and perhaps best serving their purpose as a rough guide for where to travel in pursuit of the animals described.

The photographs are excellent, almost without exception; a testament to the high standards of the author and publisher and the extensive pool of photographer’s archives and libraries they draw from. It’s not easy to choose favourites, although the Alpine Marmot and the tree-hugging Wolverine spring to mind; probably best not to linger too long on p194’s mouse scat on meat, however, particularly on a full stomach.206580_3

And this is where the book seemingly falls between two stools (as it were). As a genuine field guide (i.e., one to be used in the field), it could comfortably lose plenty of the content in the species accounts; a case in point is the space occupied by species photographs, particularly familiar ones – three photographs of House Mouse (one of which occupies half a page) seems unnecessary at best, for example – where more photos of e.g. the variation in scats would surely serve both the reader and the premise of the book better.206580_5

As more of a housebound reference book (which it arguably leans more towards), such themes could be developed further without the same concern for proportions; several photos of each animal involved, comparably differing scats, sets of tracks, signs, etc, with more in-depth information on e.g. behaviour or range would perhaps make for a more indispensable resource.

There are a few minor errors and oversights – the captioned Brown Hare on p55 is a Rabbit; the ‘duck’ in the clutches of the American Mink on p159 is a Little Grebe; Southern Water Vole is missing a distribution map; the illustration, description and photo of Short-eared Owl pellets are contradictory – but they are few and far between, and hardly impinge on the overall quality of the book.

Despite the aforementioned reservations, it’s a fascinating, high-quality, good value and very informative book that I’d happily recommend to anyone with an interest in the subject, and I’m looking forward to test-driving it in the North Yorkshire forests this winter.

Mark James Pearson (writing pages and birding blog)