Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy Christmas and take off in the New Year!

Just a little note to say…

Happy Christmas to all who visit, contribute to and support ‘Birding Frontiers’.

I am personally very grateful for so much and to so many. I tried to find a nice photo of an eagle so I could say, “I hope this Christmas season and into the 2014 New Year you take off and soar like an eagle in all of life’s adventure“. Instead I found the photo below, so:

May you have the same appetite for life in all its fullness, as this Armenian Gull ūüôā

Ad Armenian Gull Nov 2013 MM Israel

and if you would like an eagle as well:

juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle. Agamon Park, Hula Valley, Israel. November 2013. The more common of the 2 spotted aquila eagles in the spring in Israel, it is decidely rare in the autumn

juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle. Agamon Park, Hula Valley, Israel. November 2013. The more common of the 2 spotted aquila eagles in the spring in Israel, it is decidely rare in the autumn

Barn Swallow

Magical Moments 2013 #8

mgcliffswallow-ian-lew 4

What:¬†Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. OK was a bit cheeky¬†putting¬†up Ian Lewington’s beautiful illustration of an American¬†Cliff Swallow pic :), though the species has (amazingly) occurred at this place that’s my featured #8 MM. Actually the ‘what’ should be: Barn Swallow AND Spurn

Who:¬†Andy Roadhouse, Rob, Sue and Andrew, Adam, Jono, The whole Migration Festival Team, all involved in the Observatory, The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust guys; crikey too many to name. So many wonderful folk mucking in; taking part. So many came and had grand time. Birds AND people…

Where: Spurn, East Yorkshire

When: 6th-8th September 2013

Why:¬†It was a little dream and it came true. The Swallow is THE species when I think about migration and this is the best place to witness it in Britain. We began 2013 with what to some folk though a crazy idea. Thanks to so many, together we pulled off Britain’s first migration festival. Seems like we started a ball rolling that’s already gathering momentum for more. Could not have been more pleased with how it all went, and especially how encouraged and inspired folk seemed. Read one of the ¬†reviews¬†and another lovely review >>> HERE <<<

and we will be going for again in 2014   >>> Spurn Migration Festival<<<


migfest logo 800


Barn Swallow Nitzana, Israel 11th Nov 2013and I am still learning about swallows, some 40 plus years since my first jaw dropping encounter. This juvenile in Nitzana, Israel in Nov. 2013 was dazzling white below. At least one other character was wrong for the reddish resident transitiva and the migrant rustica. It may be an Asian taxa…not yet on the list. Yoav Perlman was my mentor…


Baikal Teal

Magical Moments 2013 #7

by Martin G.

Baikal Teal 7

What: Baikal Teal Anas formosa

Who: Brett Richards, Rich Baines, Phil Cunningham and others

Where: Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire

When: 15th April 2013

Why:¬†A funny series of events. I had decided this was THE morning was not going to be tempted out into the field in our new location. I had work to get on with in the office. Then Brett rang…

He rang from the¬†seawatch¬†spot having seen a funny duck with 2 Wigeon fly in towards Selwick‚Äôs Bay. Not fully¬†resolved on the ID, not¬†sure¬†what had been seen on such brief view but he did mention female and ¬†Baikal Teal or Garganey…. The ducks most likely landing spot would be Northcliffe Marsh, the obvious drop-in for a dabbling duck. My normal course of action would have been to go and look. Can be there in 20 minutes from my house. It wold take Brett 40 minutes to walk there. I chose to stay put. Regrets…

40 minutes later the phone rang:¬†Male¬†Baikal¬†Teal on Northcliffe!!!¬†Panic! with¬†insufficient¬†oxygen¬†reaching¬†leg muscles I ran (OK stumbled) to the hide via Rich Baine’s lift. Just as we¬†arrived¬†to join Brett, 2 Pinkfeet Geese came in and spooked the dabblers- off they flew to Old Fall. Unbelievable/ more panic. Would this be the untickable disappearing views of Asian wildfowl mega star? ¬†Looks like they might have landed on Old fall flash. Another run and ride. For a few seconds we couldn’t make it out. Then suddenly this gorgeous complex multicolored head pattern resolved in my ‘scope. Same view as in photo above. Happy Days! Next time… just go!

Baikal Teal, male, Flamborough, 15 April 13 BR1more on this bird HERE and HERE


Buff-bellied Pipit on the Wirral

But which one?

by Phil Woolen and MG

Buff-bellied Pipit PW 2 211213 PW

Thankfully I am ill at home. Only way I can keep up with young guns with their tweets, sharp questioning observations and media savvy ways. I had clocked the wonderful find of Eddie Williams earlier today. An (American) Buff-bellied Pipit back in my old home county of Cheshire :). Steve Williams put out some early photos which were a little disconcerting so I rang Phil Woolen…

Eddie found the bird yesterday (20th Dec.) and full credit for exploring and pursuing the ID. Lively Wirral pub chatter yesterday evening between birding colleagues produced a good turn out this morning; Eddie and others confirmed the identification to their satisfaction: It was indeed a Buff-bellied Pipit.

Back to those initial photos. Itan be a nightmare to get photos at Denhall Lane because you are looking straight into the low sun. Steve did well to get any images and some of the issues are due to back-lighting. Quietly waiting for Phil to send his pics- Next Gen birders woke up before I was ready… and began ‘twittering’ all the right question ūüėČ , the same ones I had.

Phil got some very cool photos. These seem to revolve it, even though it’s not always easy- to separate the two taxa, while many are distinctive, there is some convergence of characters. Have a look:

Buff-bellied Pipit PW 1 211213Buff-bellied Pipit PW 3 211213Buff-bellied PipitPW110 211213_1

Buff-bellied Pipit PW8 211213

Overall I see this bird has legs too dark for most japonicus, even though they flash paler in back-lit sunshine. I want nice pale things. The median covert bar is paler but not really dazzling white. The underpart streaking is definitely on the browner side and fine from side on (not really blackish looking). But then the head on shot is scary- does look like the spotting is blackish and spotty. However to claim a first for Britain (which a japonicus would be) from those photos I would want a blacker/thicker malar line, whiter looking supercilium, colder darker looking upperparts with just tad more streaking  and some more contrast below being colder and whiter looking.

American Buff- bellied¬†Pipit¬†¬†‘rubescens’ is what I think it is on¬†balance, perhaps a first winter bird that is now a little worn and faded. Always¬†noting the dangers of¬†commenting on¬†photos¬†of birds you have not seen and how easy it is to be misdirected. Ideally I should see it in the field, but I am not allowed out ūüôĀ . My limited experience of calls is that rubescens more often has raspy Grey¬†Wagtail-like¬†element whereas that japonicus in Israel sounded indistinguishable from Meadow Pipit. So have a look at the pics. Better still go see it – and make you’re own mind up. Well done Eddie! Thanks to Phil W. and Steve Williams (who sent his images while watching the Liverpool match. What mad world we live in!).¬†Oh and the Next Geners – with all the right Q’s.

Buff-bellied Pipit PW10 211213 PW


Blyth’s Reed Warbler

Magical Moments 2013 #6

by Martin G.

BRW f Sumburgh 11th Oct 2013 MG

BRW d Sumburgh 11th Oct 2013 MG

What: Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum

Who: Richard Petley, my Shetland Nature group and Chris Heard

Where: Sumburgh Head, Shetland

When: 11th October 2013

Why: Just one of those birds. Simply impossible to identify apart from in-the-hand when I began birding with near mythical in status in Britain. During 2 weeks in Shetland this autumn I saw 3 Blyth’s Reed Warblers, one Marsh Warbler and only one Eurasian Reed Warbler. This bird bombing around a mini- building site with no other cover. I identified it in the last hour on the last day of a week-long¬†birding¬†holiday which I was leading. Can’ think of a¬†better¬†finish , even if the¬†images aren’t great! Chris Heard who we had met nearby at the Toab¬†Pechora¬†Pipit was able to¬†‘twitch’ it before dark.

BRW k Sumburgh 11th Oct 2013 MGManaged to just capture the ‘plumage jizz’ of BRW. Bit greyish/olive and cold above, rather white and cold below, little short wings with flashing nice bronzy wing patch.

BRW h Sumburgh 11th Oct 2013 MGModern cameras are amazing. With dusk approaching and skulky warbler, it was still possible to capture photos showing the emarginations on the outer primaries. Normally just one on Reed and Marsh Warblers but 2-3 on Blyth’s Reed.



Adult Thayer’s Gull

from Arctic Canada to Northwest Spain to County Donegal

eds. Thayer’s Gulls are often viewed in terms of both identification and taxonomy as the Gordian Knot of gulls. It ¬†need not be so! Delighted to hear from Derek C. of his find at Killybegs. Co Donegal some 6 days ago. On circulating his photos, all agreed it was a bulls-eye ID. Dani L-V quickly picked up its similarity to a bird that has been visiting NW Spain on/off ¬†since 2008. It was surely the same bird! It easily becomes the most well documented Thayer’s Gull in the Western Palearctic with photographs from juvenile plumage onwards. And we are¬†already¬†learning¬†stuff¬†from this¬†one:


* all  plumages from juvenile to adult documented Western Palearctic vagrant.
* iris can go from dark to light to darker again. That’s new!
* the subtle changes in adult wing tip pattern after one moult
* learn bit more about movement of Nearctic  gulls in WP
* the Spanish get first accepted Thayer’s Gull record (come on Britain!)


by Derek Charles (with Dani López-Velasco)

The Donegal Bird


killybegs gull (1)

killybegs gull eye  head 2

killybegs gull wingtipIMG_0591 (1)

killybegs gull jettyadult Thayer’s Gull (5 years old), Killybegs, Donegal 15th December 2013, all photos above: Derek Charles. Bottom photos it is the right hand bird with argenteus Herring and a Great Black-backed Gull.

Hi everyone

I found this gull yesterday (15th Dec.) at Killybegs. The underwing was pale giving thoughts of Kumlien’s but the blackish primaries put that thought on the back burner and combined with the heavy shawl and dark eye had me thinking immediately of Thayer’s. Despite the dreadful conditions I managed some reasonable photos,

The primary pattern appears good. The small black band on p10 with tiny white tip, p9 a complete black leading edge with the mirror not spanning both webs and the small black band on p5 all are good for¬† Thayer’s.¬†

Additional pro Thayer’s features, raspberry pink legs (in flight and when dip feeding the pink feet were especially noticeable) hint of pink eye ring (not noticeable in field), dark mantle

I think it’s a pretty good candidate and feedback from local guys is positive for Thayer’s

All comments appreciated!


Hi guys!
 As I told Derek, I think both birds look very similar, and I am quite sure they are most likely the same individual. How exciting!!
 A few remarks:
  • First, the Spanish bird has just been accepted as the first for Spain. After several years of study, we¬īve finally decided to go a step further and accept it, and it will appear published on the Spanish annual rarity report in a few days.
  • Wing pattern: I’ve compared both carefully, and just they look spot on; can‚Äôt find anything that suggests they¬īre not the same one. Check, on the right wing, the shape of the black subterminal band of p10-identical – ¬†shape of the black W on p5-identical – shape of the black along the outer web of p10 when it meets the white mirror – identical… and so on
  • Bill: I‚Äôve checked bill shape of both, and it just looks identical, especially the exact shape of the tip, as well as the nostril.
  • Eye: one of the things that seemed a bit ad odds with acceptance as a pure bird, when it showed up as a 3rd winter, was the paleness of the iris.¬†OK, some can in theory¬†show it, but still it was a bit extreme. But the interesting thing is that each year, as the bird has got older, the iris had clearly darkened. This past winter, in March, the eye looked quite dark at a distance, and when seen close up you can see that it has a lot of dark speckling. Thus, it’s quite possible that this winter the eye might have got slightly darker. The eye of the Irish bird is quite dark, but I think it could well fit with the Spanish bird, especially considering what I’ve just explained
  • The blotchy streaking around the neck seems denser and more profuse on the Irish bird, but of course its December, and we always see it in march, after having probably wintered somewhere quite sunny (e.g. Portugal or Morocco), so wear, together with partial body moult, can explain why the streaking of the Spanish bird is not as dense (although note that on some of the pictures I attach, it‚Äôs quite, quite similar indeed!)
¬†The Spanish bird, apart from having been seen once in December (see the attached file with all the sightings), always shows up in early March, and leaves by the end of March or early April. The area is checked quite frequently, and we are sure the bird doesn’t winter there (at least over the last 3 winters). We assumed the bird was wintering further south, and then on the way north, stopped at Lago-San Ciprian for a couple of weeks, before moving on. We were all hoping that the bird would get found in the UK sooner or later, but I was expecting that to happen in the spring..
What do you guys think??
Cheers Dani

Josh Jones has done a really good piece with more of Derek’s story and excellent photo analysis on the Birdguides webzine.

The Spanish Bird


cipri12 (1)ciprithis head shot by Pablo Gutierrez with thanks

cipri12 (2)

cipri5adult Thayer’s Gull, Galicia, March 2013 all photos above apart from head shot by:¬†Antonio Mart√≠nez Pernas, with thanks

cipriana………Occurrences of the Thayer’s Gull in NW Spain from Feb. 2008 to March 2015.

Immature Plumages

Here it is in:

 >>> 1st  winter, 2nd winter and 3rd winter plumages <<<


Tiny changes in wing tip pattern

Though in essentially full adult plumage both last spring in Spain and this December in Co..Donegal, it has undergone a complete moult including all of its flight feathers. Martin Elliot working with birds in the Bristol area years ago clocked that even in adult plumage the wing pattern was not fixed. Broadly speaking with age, and sexual maturity, the amount of black decreased and amount of white increased. Dermot Breen has done a great job at going ‘forensic’ on the wings. The most parsimonious explanation is that it is the same bird. Nevertheless with close inspection there are subtle changes. There is a tad more dark in p5, and notably the outermost 2 primaries, p9 and p10 do have tad more pale/white and less dark. See Dermot’s excellent analysis below:


NEW LOOK to Birding Frontiers

All this marvelous Thayer’s Gull stuff seems a good opportunity announce the¬†new, fresh look to ‘Birding Frontiers’. Coming very soon it will include pioneering information on Thayer’s, Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls.You won’t have seen this stuff before. Promise! And there will be lots more.

To be cont’d…

Siberian Chiffchaff

on the Wirral – laa

eds. Phil and Mark sent these fine photos in. Our conversations and these photos illustrate the struggle folk still have with identifying Siberian Chiffchaff ‘tristis’. This IS the kinda thing we are looking for.

Phil Woolen and Mark Payne

Siberian Chiffchaff3 141213 PW

This bird was feeding with several other nominate collybita Chiffchaff on piles of dead vegetation washed up by the recent tidal surge off the salt marsh and onto the footpath between Denhall Lane and Denhall Old Quay at Burton, Cheshire. The bird Mark photographed (below) was also present. We‚Äôd done some research and checked the photos on your blog and the Worcestershire birding blog about Siberian Chiffchaffs and realised the latest research has shown abietinus to be rather rarer than tristis. The first bird showed the classic green ‚ÄėBonelli‚Äôs‚Äô type wing panels referred to but could morph into something infinitely duller when it wasn‚Äôt in the full sunshine. The birds were mostly silent but the ‚ÄėSibe‚Äô I photographed was heard to give a single ‚Äėpeep‚Äô call.


Siberian Chiffchaff 141213 PWabove 3 – Siberian Chiffchaff by Phil Woolen.

Chiffchaff3above- Siberian Chiffchaff (bird number 2) by Mark Payne