Monthly Archives: January 2014

Silver-brown Scaly-backed Ground Thrush

in my garden

by Martin Garner

wacky b blacky 24.1.14

OK slightly over egged. But it is a bit of a looker don’t you think? Currently visiting my Flamborough Village garden is this bizarrely plumaged Blackbird. You get this silver ‘flash’ as it darts about over the grass. Turns out the same bird appeared nr the coastguard cottages last autumn (Phil Cunningham) and produced some head scratching. I can’t decide which plumage aberration it is having had a quick look through >>>THIS<<< paper.

In fact I am not totally sure what sex it is. First impression was that the bright orangey-yellow bill and obvious yellow orbital ring in combo made it a male. However seemingly some females can have such vivid bare parts. The undercurrent to the plumage has something more of a female feel to it. So any wisdom out there?

As to the name of the colour aberration, I suppose its a ‘brown’ or a ‘dilution’ (pastel or isabel). – you need to read the paper. Comments welcome!

brown blackbird flamb 23.1.14brown ef blackbird flamb 23.1.14wacky blacky 24.1.14

Presumed ‘brown’ or ‘diluted’ Blackbird, Flamborough, late January 2014. All photos taken through kitchen window! by MG

male c Blackbird Flamb 24.1.14male b Blackbird Flamb 24.1.14Normal male Blackbird to compare, through same window by same geezer.

female Blackyand a normal female Blackbird to complete the set – same window, same geezer.

 

Velvet, White-winged and Stejneger’s Scoters

in Birdwatch this month

by Martin Garner

Just a heads up. Timing could not have been better! Dominic Mitchell asked me to do a write up for Birdwatch magazine in their innovative photo captioned style.. The piece would be on the scoters wi’ de white wings. So it’s out in the shops today. Hope you find it helpful. With American White-winged back in June 2011 and candidate Stejneger’s last month, never mind the sheer beauty of a  close Velvet Scoter – it’s all to play for!

p045_BWFeb14

If its’ helpful here’s how my waffle starts in the Birdwatch article:

“Look at the shape on that.  It’s nothing like the same!”  I was talking with Anthony McGeehan and David Quinn and responding to views of a female American White-winged Scoter off Vancouver Island.  It was (perhaps to some) a boring brown duck surrounded by Pacific Rim wonders such as Ancient Murrelets, Harlequin Ducks, Rhinoceros Auklets and Pacific Divers. It was late November 1997 and I had spent some time carefully watching a female type Velvet Scoter in Belfast Lough only the week before. Noting all its characteristics and behaviours, I was watching it as if I was seeing the species for the very first time. I like the way small children learn their colours; one at a time. The first colour might be blue…”

p048_49_BWFeb14Yesterday I had my first fly by Velvet Scoter of the month at Flamborough. Will be scrutinizing every one from on.

Special mention goes to Ian Lewington and Killian Mullarney who stepped in to the breach when I got admitted to hospital before the photos captions were done. Very very grateful.

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Desert and Asian Grey Shrikes

Explorations

Martin Garner

Shrikes, aka butcher birds are always pleasing to see. Recent molecular studies have forced (yet another) rethink about what used to be called ‘Great Grey Shrikes’ and how they might be related to one another. A division between ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ forms is already well-known. Here’s a look at the Southern Grey Shrikes where there is much more to discovered about identification, genetics, vocalisations and interbreeding of forms. A birding frontier! Furthermore an ‘Asian Grey Shrike’ in Norfolk in 1982 considered to be an escape might be worth revisiting.

A paper published in 2010 (see end) suggested different possible (new) taxonomic treatments, with an option being to treat the southern birds as 3 separate species. This position has been adopted by e.g. Dutch Birding:

Desert Grey Shrike Lanius elegans with taxa: elegans, koenigi and algeriensis

Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis

Asian Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora with taxa: lahtora, pallidirostris and aucheri

What’s confusing is that birds with the most similar plumages and in some case breeding closest to one another, are not necessarily the most closely related. So takes some getting your head around! Expressed simply a broad sweep from the Canaries to India reveals most of the southern taxa are dark smoky-grey looking shrikes. From koenigi in the Canaries, algeriensis of coastal North Africa, aucheri of the Middle East through to lahtora in India all look broadly very similar. Into that mix the Iberian meridionalis is similarly dark, often with pinkish caste to underparts. The outstandingly paler form is elegans spanning right across inland North Africa through to the Middle East while the different looking pallidirostris sits perched in the NE corner (Central Asia) of this range.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging deep extensive grey tones below, contrasting with white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. Dutch have it as 'Desert Grey Shrike' and a subspecies of elegans (with algeriensis as another ssp.). The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species 'Iberian Grey Shrike' by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Desert Grey Shrike formkoenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging with deep extensive grey tones below with contrastingly white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species ‘Iberian Grey Shrike’ by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Desert Grey Shrike ‘koenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. A firts winter from nearby North Africa that seemed to fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal form,  algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans.

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. From nearby North Africa. Extensive white in the wing, with large white primarv patch and white outer webs in secondaries points to the paler elegans. Some aspects thought to indicate it fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans. Thankfully these are considered the same species in the new taxonomy! Bit more here

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans/ dodsoni, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

 

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike adult form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri in Israel (and algeriensis in N. Africa). Lots white in wing and tail, bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with very limited black over bill.

Adult Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012, Martin Garner. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri (Asian Grey Shrike) in Israel. Also with lots white in wing; large white primary patch and ‘linking’ white on secondary edges with bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with limited black on forehead/over top of bill base.

Southern Grey Shrike 2 aucheri Hula, Israel Nov 2012

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Billed as separate species from the paler elegans by the Dutch, aucheri is lumped with Asian Grey Shrike 'lahtora' and includes subspecies pallidirostris! This shrike is the commoner dark form in N Israel with darker grey upperparts, more black in mask and less white in wing than aucheri (e.g. see above).

2 photos above: First winter Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. You get 2 species to tick now in Israel!  the dark aucheri is lumped as Asian Grey Shrike with ‘lahtora’  from further east and includes central Asian subspecies pallidirostris, while elegans  is a Desert Grey Shrike. The more common form in N Israel is aucheri with darker grey upperparts, more extensive and darker grey in underparts,more black in mask and less white in wing than elegans (e.g. see above).

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. White in wing limited to primaries.

Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. White in wing essentially limited to primaries. Such a dark bird with limited white seems to fit more extreme end of aucheri, perhaps an example of taxon ‘theresae’ upheld by some authors

Southern Grey Shrike, , Beit She'an Valley,  Israel Nov 2013. In interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn't especially darker above and  with more white in wing than other easy 'aucheri'. This bird could be what is assumed to be an intergrade form between darker northern aucheri and paler southern elegans.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Beit She’an Valley, Israel Nov 2013, Martin Garner. An interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn’t especially darker above and with more white in wing than other easy ‘aucheri’…

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it's appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She'an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many 'Asian Grey Shrikes' were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980's? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not be reproduced in any form.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it’s appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She’an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many ‘Asian Grey Shrikes’ were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980’s? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not to be reproduced in any form.

 

Download the key paper which is bringing new taxonomic thinking:

 The Lanius excubitor conundrum

 

Grateful thanks to Roger Tidman, James McCallum, Chris Kehoe, Andy Stoddart, the MISC, Dani López-Velasco, Juan Sagardia and Yoav Perlman.

 

Champions of the Flyway – Back Birding Frontiers to Win!

illustration-v3

Champions of the Flyway IS:

  • A Big International Bird race

  • On April 1st 2014 in Eilat, Israel

  • To raise money to stop illegal bird killing

  • [and the Birding Frontiers team is going to win!]

 

You can read all the stuff on the >>>Champions of the Flyway<<<

“All our race teams are also competing to raise the most sponsorship in support of BirdLife‘s action against illegal killing of birds in Southern and Eastern Europe. You can donate to the team you wish to help the most here and cheer them on with a goodwill message.”

You can read about Birdlife’s Migratory Birds and Flyways Programme and the  very real threats facing populations of migratory birds.

Who is on the Birding Frontiers Team and who is supporting us?

……………….>>>Birding Frontiers Team<<<

and we would love you to support the Birding Frontiers Team efforts by giving directly to the conservation cause on our team page. Here:

……………………>>>Just Giving Page<<<

 

and check out this gorgeous set of moving images of the birds of Eilat. Have a cuppa, sit down to enjoy. LOADS of cool birds on it!

 

oddie_bwHere is a checklist of the 237 species seen during the Eilat Birding Festival in 2013.

Bill Oddie on Home Truths about Bird Racers (very funny)….

and this is the area we will be birding in for 24 hours, non-stop!

resized map

ooo and in case you missed it:

and we would love you to support the Birding Frontiers Team efforts by giving directly to the conservation cause on our team page. Here:

………………………….>>>Just Giving Page<<<

 

THANK YOU!

 

 

 

 

American Herring Gull – in the Netherlands?

Peter Adriaens

A subadult Herring Gull photographed in the Netherlands seemed very unassuming at first, but actually shows a key feature for American Herring Gull. This feature may not be what you regularly check in gulls, and is very easy to overlook…

When Leon Edelaar sent me the following pictures of a “herring gull sp.” that he had photographed at Ijmuiden, the Netherlands, on 2 February 2013, I was very hesitant to put a name to it. The pictures had been gathering dust on Leon’s hard drive, but they recently sparked his attention because he noticed a “grey mirror” on the underside of the ninth primary (see American Herring Gull: new ID feature), which made him wonder…

Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). Note oval-shaped, blackish patch on upper tertial.

Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). Note oval-shaped, blackish patch on upper tertial.

Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). Another view of the blackish ‘ink spots’ on tertials, from a different angle.

Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). Another view of the blackish ‘ink spots’ on tertials, from a different angle.

At first sight, the bird in the pictures did not strike me as very unusual. Surely, in shape and overall plumage aspect, it looked rather like any run-off-the-mill (subadult) European Herring Gull!? However, a closer look reveals a few interesting features. At rest, the bird shows quite impressive blackish and oval shaped ‘ink spots’ on the tertials, while the rest of the plumage looks basically adult. Many European Herring Gulls show dark marks on tertials, of course, but it is quite rare to see one that looks adult except for such large, oval shaped and well-defined, black(ish) spots. That is something much more commonly seen in American Herring Gulls. Then, in flight, the bird reveals an isolated grey spot in the black pattern on underside of primaries (at least in right wing). Again, this is more common in American Herring Gull. So far so good. An interesting bird, yes, but nothing impossible for a European Herring Gull. However, then we look closely at the secondaries, and they show the most alarming feature: two small but well-defined black ‘ink spots’. Such isolated black spots on adult secondaries are not seen in European birds, and have been considered a key feature of 3rd and 4th cycle American Herring Gull ever since the identification paper by Mullarney and Lonergan (2004).

Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). Black ‘ink spots’ on adult-like secondaries (here indicated by black arrows), and “grey mirror” on underside of P9 (white arrow).

Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). Black ‘ink spots’ on adult-like secondaries (here indicated by black arrows), and “grey mirror” on underside of P9 (white arrow).

Other characters are less helpful. The primary pattern includes a complete, black ‘W’ on P5, and black “bayonets” on P6-7 (see Adriaens & Mactavish 2004) – good for American Herring, but equally possible for European birds. The tail shows a few small, solid black spots – better perhaps for American birds, as blackish markings in the tail usually do not look very solid in subadult European Herring Gulls. The bill shape and length look ok to me for either species, as does the colour of the upperparts. I would have expected heavier brown blotching on the neck and breast for an immature American Herring Gull, but there is a lot of variation.

IMG_0378

IMG_0379

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Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). The above four pictures show the primary pattern and pattern on tail.

Herring Gull sp., subadult, Ijmuiden, The Netherlands, 2 Feb 2013 (Leon Edelaar). The above four pictures show the primary pattern and pattern on tail.

So what does it all mean? It seems that, on current knowledge and for the time being, this bird should be considered an American Herring Gull, even though it is certainly not an obvious example! Here is one from North America that is similar:

http://gull-research.org/smithsonianus/smith4cy/4cyfebr012.html

The identification of such birds relies heavily on the pattern of the secondaries. There are many people closely studying and ringing gulls in the Low Countries, and it seems that such a pattern has never been documented in the local Herring Gulls.

If anyone has ever photographed such a secondary pattern in argenteus or argentatus, both Leon and me would be very interested to hear from you…

First winter Kumlien’s Gulls

nr. Thurso, Caithness

Chris Griffin has been in touch. he’s up near Thurso in Caithness (northernmost Scotland) and has seemingly not one, but TWO 1st winter Kumlien’s Gulls. Clearly there are a few about this winter,so here are his photos, taken today. Plus a bullet point summary of key features helpful in identifying first winter Kumlien’s Gulls.

Bird One

apparent 2cy Kumlien's Gull, scrabster Harbour nr. Thurso, Caithness, 20th Janury 2014 by Chris Griffin. Check out the obvious moult on the upper scapulars and mantle feathers (plain and grey)

apparent 2cy Kumlien’s Gull, Scrabster Harbour nr. Thurso, Caithness, 20th January 2014 by Chris Griffin. Check out the obvious moult on the upper scapulars and mantle feathers (plain and grey) and the lovely plain brown wash over the primaries with pale fringe.

Bird Two

apparent 2cy Kumlien's Gull, scrabster Harbour nr. Thurso, Caithness, 20th Janury 2014 by Chris Griffin.

2cy Kumlien’s Gull, scrabster Harbour nr. Thurso, Caithness, 20th Janury 2014 by Chris Griffin. Looks pretty convincing in flight alone- especially the primary pattern on the far wing. The tail pattern is a relatively plain brown wash  subterminally on each feather forming a broad band..

 

apparent 2cy Kumlien's Gull, scrabster Harbour nr. Thurso, Caithness, 20th Janury 2014 by Chris Griffin.

2cy Kumlien’s Gull, Scrabster Harbour nr. Thurso, Caithness, 20th Janury 2014 by Chris Griffin. Same individual as in flight shot above.

 Key Features of juvenile/ 1st winter Kumlien’s Gulls

  • outer primary pattern of an identifiable vagrant first-winter kumlieni is of a variable brown wash centred on the primary shaft, spreading onto both webs and extending almost to the feather tips. It is most commonly plain, not ‘mealy’ or spotted, although many show a small subapical mark.

Other tendencies

  • an earlier moult for some mantle and upper scapular feathers (sometimes from Oct/Nov)
  • a darker bill in mid-winter,
  • a more distinct [plain] tail band
  • more contrast between the outer (darker) and inner (paler) primaries in flight on the more distinct individuals