Monthly Archives: November 2013

2nd Cal (plus) Male Marsh Hawk in Cornwall

2nd of this male plumage type in Britain


All the fun of modern birding. Another web-based discovery. I returned from very fine couple hours of seawatching with Flamborian friends this morning. Highlights were 2 Little Auks, 1 Sooty and 2 Manx Shearwaters, 3 diver species with Black-throated Diver and 2 Great Northerns, 2 Bonxies and my favourite- a close very smart adult Pomarine Skua.

Back at home warming up with porridge, my twitter feed, featured discussion on a harrier in Cornwall. Clocked by David Campbell on this Cornish website (and in discuss with David D. L and ‘Prof W.’), he suspect it might be a North American ‘Marsh Hawk’ (Northern Harrier). I agreed- looks spot-on and I would like to see one such as this in the UK!

The bird’s finders were Bob Sharples and I. Webster. Bob (visit his website) has provided the following images:

_BSP0239 BS12nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved. Roughly half black and half white outer primaries (mostly black in Hen), only 5 (not 6) marked with obvious black, dark grey head with strong pattern around eye (see photos below), extensive rufous bars, spots and heart marks over underbody and underwings coverts nail it!

Bob comments on the sighting

Hi Martin,
 The bird in question did initially look like it was going to start hawking, but just flew around in a small circle looking below then carried on with its brief flyby! 
 I have put some images on my blog here
Cheers Bob

Location of Men an Tol, Cornwall where the bird was seen: HERE


_BSP0247 bs32nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved

_BSP0243 BS22nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved

_BSP0248 bs42nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved

For lots more beautiful photos visit Bob Sharples web pages.


The Birds of Ireland – A Field Guide

by Jim Wilson, photographs byThe_Birds_of_Ireland Mark Carmody

Book review by Jake Gearty

The Birds of Ireland is fantastic guide by Jim Wilson. It is a truly wonderful, well illustrated ‘pocket book’ to birding in Ireland.

To start with the layout of the guide is very nice it provides a brief introduction as to how the guide was produced, as well as a very useful in-depth section explaining the different parts of birds: a vital part of birding, particularly when up against tricky species.

When it comes to the actual birds, each and every species gets its own page, a great choice of layout. Other guides often have a number of species per page which can sometimes be confusing. As well as having a single bird species per page, the guide also provides a brilliant range of pictures per species, and an advantage over many popular bird guides. The variety I think is the most eye-catching part of the guide, pictures ranging from birds in silhouette and in flight as well as the usual various plumages, sexes and ages. Each image also has its own arrows, which basically points out the ‘key’ features of each species in the guide, highlighting the important parts of the bird to look out for when trying to identify them.


It’s also a very realistic book, if you’re expecting to find American wood warblers in this guide then you’ll be disappointed. It focuses on the species which you’re likely to see in Ireland with the exception of a few rarer & scarcer species such as Glossy Ibis, Snowy Owl, Long-billed Dowitcher and so on. However despite not mentioning many rare birds it does provide useful twitter accounts at the end of the book which are worth following to keep updated with rare birds news around Ireland.

Overall it’s clear that Jim Wilson wanted to create a simple to pick up guide which provides exquisite site illustrations and information and that goal has clearly been achieved. The pictures by Mark Carmody are excellent and this all-round the guide is a fantastic read which could easily be a vital part of any new birdwatcher or experienced birder in Ireland.

Jake Gearty


Caspian Stonechat in Scilly…

…and elsewhere

by Martin Garner

and there is a Mystery Quiz Bird at the end. And yes of course – it’s a mean, dirty, tricky one 😉

1cy male Caspian Stonechat ‘hemprichii’, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, 21st November 2013, by Ashley Fisher

A smart first winter male Caspian Stonechat found earlier this week on the Isles of Scilly raised unsurprising questions about the ID and taxonomy. Well done to finder Doug Page and to Ashley Fisher for clocking it as Caspian. Asked to comment on the bird and especially amount of white in tail, was timely for me at least, having just returned from birding in Israel, particularly in the North at the Agamon Park and Hula Valley area. Here it’s possible to see tens of Caspian Stonechats, many more European/ Continental Stonechats ‘rubicola‘ and a few Siberian Stonechats ‘maurus‘. I have also learnt much from stonechat king, Yoav Perlman and discussion with Brian Small and Lars Svensson.

Dave Boyle sent some lovely images which capture the key features:

Dave Boyle Scilly Nov 13
Dave Boyle b Scilly Nov 13
Dave Boyle c Scilly Nov 13

1cy male Caspian Stonechat ‘hemprichii’, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, November 2013, by Dave Boyle (all photos above)

Here’s the comment I sent in reply:
Great find – what a bird! 
 I have been through this ID process myself over the last 12 plus months. Just back from N Israel and watching loads of these. In a nutshell, lots of 1cy males look just like this on passage. For now I think this is fine for 1cy variegatus (though probably better referred to as hemprichii- Northern birds *). If the bird were trapped I think the amount of white would be 50% or more of the length of most of those tail feathers. Fine for hemprichii at that age and perhaps too much for 1cy armenicus (which we should now call variegatus- Southern birds).
 It seems might be a correlation between amount of advance moult (esp more obviously dark throat) and amount of white in tail with these. More white often goes with more advanced throat. Less white in tail (like this bird) less dark throat at this time of year.
 I think 1cy male armenicus (now variegatus) would have probably something looking like half that amount of white in tail. Adult males armenicus might just about have that much though I think it’s actually quite a lot  on this bird (50% plus in reality in the hand), maybe even too much for ad male armenicus (Southern)- and it’s not an adult male.
 There is still more to learn and a question for me is whether there is too much overlap between norther and southern Caspian Stonechats to warrant having them as 2 taxa- perhaps more of a cline in amount of white from N to S- but more to be done there.
 Often these have (versus young male maurus) a more obvious brick-red patch emerging (‘hiding’ under pale feather tips) on the breast, and contrasting with paler belly etc. You might notice that in the field.
 Hope that helps, Martin
*Svensson, Shirihai, Frahnert & Dickinson 2012. Taxonomy and nomenclature of the Stonechat complex Saxicola torquatus sensu lato in the Caspian region.Bull BOC 132(4): 260–269.

Images of stonechats from N. Israel:

Caspian Stonechat Hula Nov 12

hemp 1 2012 hula 1cy


and to compare a shot of the Scilly bird by Martin Goodey:


amen 3

photo 1

(above) 1cy male Caspian Stonechats ‘hemprichii’, Agamon Park, Hula Valley, November 2012

male hemprichii Hula 11 Nov 20131cy male hemprichii c Yoav's alfalfa 8th Nov 20131cy male hemprichii d Yoav's alfalfa 8th Nov 2013

(above) male Caspian Stonechats ‘hemprichii’, Israel, November 2013

Caspian Stonecha 1cy female 9.11.13 Israel

1cy female Caspian Stonechat ‘hemprichii’, Negev, Israel, November 2012 (tricky!)

1cy male European Stonechat b rubicola Negev, Israel 8 Nov 20131cy male European Stonechat ‘rubicola’, Negev, November 2012

female rubicola Hula Nov 2013female European Stonechat ‘rubicola’, Agamon Park, Hula Valley November 2012

1cy male maurus c Hula Nov 2013

1cy male Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’, Agamon Park, Hula Valley November 2012


Mystery Quiz Stonechat

Just for fun- what kinda stonechat is this? Photographed in Israel this month (November 2013 – where at least 3 stonechat taxa were seen.

male stonechat in Israel

 What do you think?








Wildlife of Australia by Iain Campbell and Sam Woods

Book Review: Wildlife of Australia 

by Iain Campbell and Sam Woodsk9972 (Princeton Pocket Guides)

Ian Campbell and Sam Woods have done a very good job of shoe-horning a large taste of Australia into a very compact 286 pages.

Having traveled extensively in Australia, in search of wildlife for over 2 years, I would say that the choice of species for inclusion has been well thought out. The general travelling naturalist is unlikely to encounter species which are not covered by this guide.

This is a very well produced guide which does exactly what it says on the cover. A handy pocket size, with very good quality photographs throughout. I would say, though, that having made the decision over which species of bird to include in the guide, the authors would have been well advised to show both male and female plumages for sexually dimorphic species.

The accompanying text is lengthy, informative and detailed, with good tips on species lifestyle and confusion species.

The habitat descriptions at the front of the book are a useful if not essential read, as many Australian species are closely linked to habitat type.

One mildly annoying point, not picked up on for the errata; there is no key for the pale blue region shaded on the map of Vegetation Associations of Australia on pages 4/5.

If space or weight are an issue on your travels, then this would be the one guide to take with you.

Jim Morgan



November 2011: Eastern Black Redstart

Holy Island, 2 years ago…

1st winter male phoenicuroides

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee

Sad but true. I have a photo of the wing formula on my phone. It’s the bird species/ subspecies/ taxon/ stunning eastern vagrant that I have most anticipated turning up in Britain. I think most of my last half-dozen talks have ended with. “I am looking for one of these” accompanied by James McCallum’s evocative ‘it must have been one’ painting of an apparent Eastern Black Redstart from East Hills, Norfolk in Nov. 2003.  To return from Linosa (cram-jammed with Western Black Redstarts) last weekend, pretty shattered, and then to be greeted by the photos of an obvious 1st winter male phoenicuroides in the furthest corner of Kent was both great news and gutting. Too far, no time, busy week ahead. Thank goodness a second bird was found last Wednesday (16th Nov) on Sharon’s new favourite destination: Holy Island. So we opted to head north via friends in Leeds on Saturday morning and stayed overnight on the island. Early Sunday (y’day) saw me alone on the beach in front of St Cuthbert’s Island. Thankfully 2 genned up north easterners showed up (with accents that made Alan Tilmouth sound like he speaks in Queen’s English) and pointed further up the beach.  Phew! Still there, and every bit the orange and black jewel.  I came back following a walk with Mrs G, expecting a couple of birders. Some 30—40 birders were now present. Best moment was watching it perched up with regular wing flicks revealing brilliant orange underwing coverts.  That moment captured is on Youtube. You might just be able to hear my appreciative noises on Tristan’s video:

Some observations and questions:

1) It’s  a brilliant looking bird and its very rare and has undertaken the remarkable (to me seemingly miraculous) feat of flying here from somewhere in Central Asia. What’s not to like?!

2) This one is a first winter male. It’s also a ‘paradoxus’ type 1st winter male (as are most of the West European records on both counts). In western populations ‘paradoxus’ refers to the small (c10-12%) of young males that have obvious  male plumage characters. the other c90% of young males look just like females.

So either:

a) eastern populations have much higher percentage of ‘paradoxus males’

b) the percentage is the same and we are massively overlooking  ‘female type’ plumages of Eastern Black Redstart

c) the percentage is th same and the paradoxus males have higher hormone induces urges to travel widely (linked to their more macho plumage!)

d) a mix of the above or some other explanation…

3) The lower belly (legs back) looked cream/ whitish in the field. You can also see it in the photos. Bothered me a little as hybrids an have quiet extensive white (A male Common Redstart character). However on checking pics of skins and live birds, it seems normal for young male phoenicuroides to have pale/ white patch in the nether regions!

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee. This is a 1st winter ‘paradoxus’ male  (just as the Kent bird earlier in November) showing obvious male characters in underparts colouring. Why are these the pre-eminent plumage type so far found in Western Europe?

I have seen a couple of these before in the UAE in mid winter. I have seen ochruros in Turkey. On Linosa earlier this month there were probably triple figures of Black Redstart on the island everyday. The commonest passerine migrant. They were scrutinized every day. I saw no Easterns, no red-bellieds, all very standard-looking.

Hybrids and identification.

While the spectre of hybrids (Redstart X Black Redstart) dogged past records, so did the presence of red-bellied Black Redstarts. At least one former British record of Eastern Black Redstart looks like  a red-bellied (western) Black Redstart (photo in old British Birds mag). I was surprised to see zero red-bellied birds amoung literally thousands of western Black Redstarts on Linosa. Remember these smart lookers with full discussions: here and here.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton. Check out that orange underwing!

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton. Looks like 3 long primaries form the wing point. Just right.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid. The wing formula looks spot on for (Eastern) Black Redstart. Some hybrids Redstart X Black Redstart have wing formula closer to Common Redstart.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee.

Grateful thanks to Andy D (and the Sheffield lads), Stef and Tris and Alan T. for the updates

Postcard from Kent

I can bear to look at these now! Thanks to Mark Rayment who sent these shots of the Kent bird.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Margate, Kent, 16.11.2011 © Mark Rayment.

Champions of the Flyway

Eilat, Spring, 2014. 

Just a little notice as I head off to Israel that I will also be chewing on getting ready for this. Will we/can we/ have we got a chance 🙂 of becoming the ‘Champions of the Flyway’?

3 reasons why a Birding Frontiers team will be involved:

1) It’s going to be a major international fundraising event, part of Birdlife International’s ‘Flyways’ programme. The focus will be on raising money for action against illegal hunting in SE Europe.

2) It’s a (mega) Bird Race! Teams of 3-4 people, birding  non stop for 24 hours based in/from Eilat at peak of spring migration.

3) Competition! with teams from around the world.

We’re in! There’s more to come with special  Birdlife International web space, dedicated to the event and coming soon. But for now, looking forward, one of my favourite birds of the Eilat spring:




The 3rd Hula Valley Bird Festival

10th – 17th November 2013

By Martin G

Tomorrow morning I head off to visit the  Israel with Sunday heralding the start of the 3rd Hula Valley Bird Festival. Here’s a reblog of  just one of the many highlights seen last November. What this year?

Asian Black-shouldered Kite

Elanus caeruleus vociferus

 ‘Evil Red Eyes’ typed into the Google search engine brings up these images. Just like the piercing ruby eyes of the Black-shouldered Kite. Those eyes, deep-set in black furrows, on the side of triangular Owl-like head, form part of the super charismatic appeal of these birds. Add an apparent Asian (not European origin) of vagrant turned breeder, arriving in the rescued Hula Valley (a whole David versus Goliath conservation story there) and you will meet this bird:

asian black shouldered kiteapparent Asian Black shouldered Kite- ssp. vociferus. Agamon Park, photographed during the 2nd Hula Bird Festival, November 2012. M Garner. This is the adult male from the first breeding pair in Israel (and the Western Palearctic?)

A dream start. The first Hula Bird Festival in Nov. 2011 ushered in another first. A pair of Black-shouldered Kites an otherwise extreme rarity here was found breeding in the Agamon Park. Thankfully the same pair were still present and breeding like proverbial rabbits. Already at 3 consecutive broods- apparently mating and nest building for round two while still feeding young from round one. In terms of the Western Palearctic region, the Black-shouldered Kite is represented by disjunct populations of the nominate form– caeruleus. Some of these breed as near to Israel as Egypt, so surely a likely source of colonisation? In fact the Israeli birds appear to be the Asian taxon vociferus, whose normal range runs from Pakistan east into Asia. Pakistan is about as far away from Israel to the east, as Spain is, to the west.

asian black shouldered kite 3Normally perched up, giving fine ‘scope views, the adult male gave one close fly-by.

asian black shouldered kite 6apparent Asian Black shouldered Kite- ssp. vociferus. One difference between nominate caeruleus and vociferus- well seen here, appears to be the dark shadow of grey over the secondaries. Not as black as the underside of the primaries, but the black appears to ‘bleed’ from inner primaries to adjacent secondaries and overall the grey secondaries contrast obviously with white underwing coverts. The secondaries are normally nearly white/just slightly grey in nominate birds, lacking the obvious contrast. Light plays a big role in assessing this properly. Suppose there might be other subtle differences, to be explored!

So not just a first for Israel but first for the Western Palearctic ( I think), the  breeding of vociferus- Asian Black-shouldered Kite.

asian black shouldered kite 5

asian black shouldered kite 4apparent Asian Black shouldered Kite- ssp. vociferus. Agamon Park, during the 2nd Hula Bird Festival, November 2012. M Garner.

Really benefited hanging out with learning about this stuff from the pioneers: Yoav Perlman, Nadav Israeli, Jonathan Merav and Dan Alon. More on the spread of the kites (since  2011- some 5 pairs have been found in Israel e.gsee Yoav’s blog and see conservation in the Hula ,where more should be written Dan’s herculean work to get this all started.

Video capturing some of the first breeding and taken during the 1st Hula Bird Festival in Nov.2012 by Mark Andrews.

526074_524421854235687_243778855_nSome of the folk on the 2nd Hula Bird Festival enjoying views of Black-shouldered Kite in the Agamon Park.