A post hospital period of blues was broke with a first watch around the headland at Flamborough mostly from the confines of a car last Sunday 12th January. I decided to finish with a short walk in Whelkie Wynds (also known as Millennium Wood) in the hope of some January patch birding ticks. Checking out a few ground feeding chaffinches a bird flew from behind, over my shoulder and began feeding low. I was surprised to see a Treecreeper, even more so because it immediately looked frosty. I was quickly on ‘Northern’ alert. The whole underparts appeared gleaming white. Only with careful looking could I make out a hint of vague light wash of something buffish and restricted towards the rear flanks. The supercilium too looked really white and very broad along most of the length, then flaring out and spreading over the nape/ mantle scapulars. The upperparts looked ‘snow covered’. Soon it was gone. Surely a Northern! I had no camera with me so rang local colleagues and determined to return. It has been present the last 3 days and a finally got some OK shots yesterday. I have also learnt bit more about some ID features which in combination I think make for a secure ID. **Details on where to see it at bottom
39 records in Shetland up to 2004 , where British birds assumed not to occur. 78 Lanceolated Warblers and 128 Subalpine Warblers in the same period in Shetland. Exceptionally, two were trapped at Spurn in autumn 2013 but otherwise 3 previous confirmed records of Northern Treecreeper. Fair Isle: read this account. In Norfolk there are 3 records indicted with one trapped bird with biometrics outside of the range for brittanica. See HERE. On the Farne Islands (Northumberland) one accepted record on 20th October 2004 out of 22 records of Treecreeper in total per David Steele.
Conclusion: It’s a rare bird. A lot rarer than e.g. Siberian Chiffchaff. Probably would numerically fit national rarity status, at least until awareness increases and more are documented by key character/ photographs and trapping.
I think there are a number of features which make for a pretty straightforward identification in separating rare Northern birds of the nominate subspecies ‘familiaris‘ from our British resident subspecies britannica and also the similar near continent form macrodactyla. Witherby’ s ‘The Handbook of British Birds’ (1943) contains excellent summary, so here’s my version incorporating the guts of that, mixed with personal obs etc:
*Broad and bright white superclium which importantly flares at rear and forms white stripes extending out onto upperparts.
*Most critically (as others a little subjective) the mantle and scapular feather are essentially greyish looking with white shaft streaks and are an extension of white patterning on crown and supercilium VERSUS on British birds etc, brownish mantle and scapular feathers with creamy/ pale yellowish shaft streak which are differentiated from white patterning on crown and supercilium. Hence ‘snow spotted’ effect over upperparts.
*pale marks in primaries and secondaries in Northern birds are paler creamy coloured, versus slightly deeper ochre/ yellow in Britishbirds etc.
* not seen it well enough, but rump reported as paler rufous on Northern
*Forward pointing claws wholly pale/ translucent compared with tad darker sides to claws on British birds (hypothesis/ original obs: Adam Hutt).
Tim Jones helpfully commented on the status at Spurn and added more ID thoughts:
“Another feature that I can remember looking at on the Spurn birds this autumn was the paler sandy brown shaft coloration to the tail feathers rather than dark brown in the British race, pretty sure that’s in Svensson, can just about make it out in this bird. Also 3 previous confirmed Spurn records in ’59, ’01 and ’11 before the 2 last autumn although more have been suspected but not confirmed. The majority of the 91 previous records at Spurn are British race birds, although the racial identity of a Treecreeper’s skull found in a certain Owls (begins with a Te) pellet will never be known! “
Buckton, East Yorkshire, 12th October 2013
‘Arctic Treecreeper’? This bird was caught by the enterprising Mark Thomas at Buckton, in Britain’s most recently built Helgoland Trap. It looks remarkable even by Northern Treecreeper standards. The crown feather are broadly white, the upperparts feathers are so white they don’t even pretend to be grey and colours in the flight feather markings scarcely approach a hint of creamy/ yellow. In quick comparison with other photographs of Northern Treecreepers in Britain and in Scandinavia, while the present bird in Millennium Wood is similar to these, this Buckton bird stand out from the crowd. BWP indicates that more northerly and easterly occurring birds are paler and less colour saturated, with cline into the Siberian form ‘daurica’ via sometimes recognized ‘rossica’ in eastern Russia/western Siberia. Buckton is now part of the greater recording area of Flamborough hopefully to appear as such in the next report. What a stonker! Nice one Mark. Check out the video with the bird calling:
http://youtu.be/TNSuTk5vnMQ ** To see Snowy. Park on grass verge by Millenium Wood at Flamborough (on right side of road just east of Flamborough Village). Walk along bottom track heading southish to corner of wood, next to the Rustic/ Little Bunting/ Serin field. Turn left by bench and walk up hill (east) through wood. Near the hill top start to look for small Chaffinch flock/ Blue and Great tits. Snowy is usually nearby. Carrying along path it passes through tall patch of gorse and is very muddy. Bird has been essentially either side of this gorse patch in the woodland. Good luck!
and thanks to Adam Hutt and Brett Richards for good natter on the Flamborough bird and the issues involved.