Monthly Archives: February 2014

Norfolk Parrots

Steve Blain
A rare opportunity to go birding in some sunshine this winter meant looking for Parrot Crossbills, but such fantastic views got in the way of doing some digiscoping!

Check out that bird top-left – a bill like a macaw!

It was my first chance to get out in some sunshine for weeks so I headed up to Norfolk.  The flock of Parrot Crossbills at Holt Country Park were the main object of my desires so we headed there first.  We heard them as soon as we got out the car – but they headed off over our heads and away.  That was the last we saw of them!  After a couple of hours we decided to move on.

The divers off Stiffkey were distant, but were in good company with a handful of Long-tailed Ducks, a Slav Grebe, a Black Brant type, and a spanking Med Gull.  Unfortunately none of this stuff was very digiscopable!  As it was now lunchtime we headed back to Holt to try and find the Parrots again.

As we pulled up in the car park we glanced over to the clearfell and could see a group of birders stood in the middle.  A quick look at the bare pine above them and there were crossbills!  Hastily getting the scopes out and zooming in a little revealed their gloriously humongous bills!  We hurried over to the group of birders.

The group of 15 Parrot Crossbills were all teed up on the dead pine and would occasionally drop down to a small puddle to take a sip of water.  Of course I missed them coming down to drink every time as I was too busy actually looking at how huge the bills were.  Some of these birds were approaching ‘Macaw Crossbills’, not merely Parrots!  Sometimes you have to forsake getting images for the pure pleasure watching a bird up-close brings.

Part of the flock of 15 Parrot Crossbills, Holt Country Park, Norfolk, 22nd February 2014. All taken with a Nikon V1, Swarovski ATS 80 HD, and 25-50x zoom eyepiece.

It’s time to think BIG!

Dan Brown

An encounter with any large whale is one not to be forgotten. It might seem unlikely around our coasts, but now’s as good a time as any to find your own Humpback Whale, and the good news is they’re on the increase! 

The prospect of seawatching at this time of year may not be appealing, yet it could well be worthwhile. Winter has long been known as a time for insanely rare seabirds to turn up, but what about our more blubbery visitors?

Whilst detecting cetaceans in winter can be incredible difficult in generally rough conditions, Roquals, the largest cetaceans produce a very obvious blow when surfacing, and now is a great time to pick up Humpback Whales in particular as they pass back north heading for Arctic waters in which to breed.

Over the last decade we’ve seen a notable increase in sightings around the UK and Ireland with a regular wintering population off southern Ireland. These animals are well documented by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group ( Even the British coast has been getting in on the action with last autumns East Anglian individual and more recently a trio off Arbroath ten days ago.

Humpbacks are particularly at home in shallow water and easily ID’d by their dense bushy blow, arching back with more of a stub than a dorsal fin, and often the spectacular sight of the tail flukes as it dives.

So keep your eyes peeled for any blows and with luck you could find yourself watching a Humpback Whale!

The classic Humpback dive with tail flukes arched high

The classic Humpback dive with tail flukes arched high


Typical view of the roll just before the tail flukes appear. The dorsal ‘fin’ is more of a stub! (Bonus points if you can ID the foreground fly-by)

Wild Artists – are you one?

Wild Artist of the Month – WHY?

One of  our dreams is to inspire folk. That’s why we are delighted that some of our top bird and wildlife artists are willing to showcase their work. THEY want to inspire others! They hope to do that by telling some of their story. Invite you and me into their world. Talk about the ups and downs, being misunderstood, not feeling their work was good enough, finding breakthrough, believing enough (ignore what others think)… enough to have a go.

 We want to help folk drawing out their amazing creative potential. It ain’t just about drawing…

So before our new artist appears at the weekend- click on the pink names and have read (again)


James McCallum – Wild Artist of the Month   February


Sketching with his daughter, Nola, in Blakeney Harbour. July 2014

Sketching with his daughter, Nola, in Blakeney Harbour. July 2014


Ian Lewington – Wild Artist of the Month   January

Ian Lewington driving a team of huskies in the Taiga Forest, Arctic Norway, March 2013

Ian Lewington driving a team of huskies in the Taiga Forest, Arctic Norway, March 2013


Siberian Lesser Whitethroat in Sheffield

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat (blythi) 

551684_229118147197285_1266715587_nHooray for garden Birdwatchers!

Another January rare bid was found credit to a Sheffield couple caring for and enjoying their wintering garden birds.

First noted on 14th Jan visiting feeders in a private garden in suburban Sheffield. The owners were intrigued.

LesserWhitethroat blythi sheffield

Suspected of being one of the ‘eastern’ races, permission was received from BTO to attempt to ring the bird, and its liking for mealworms meant the first attempt by Sorby Breck ringers on 2nd Feb was successful. A couple of body feathers dislodged during processing, and these were collected and sent to Dr Martin Collinson for dna analysis.

The results have recently become available, and confirm the bird to be of the blythi subspecies, aka ‘Siberian Lesser Whitethroat’, details as follows:

  “Genetically it falls into the blythi clade, only 3 bp (base pairs) different from sequences of birds assigned to blythi from Kazakhstan, and 3-11 bp different from other blythi from across SE Russia.“

The Siberian Lesser Whitethroat also features on the >>> SBSG Facebook page <<< together with their other big news:

New bird, new BOOK

The new bird for the Sheffield area co-coincides with a new book in the same month! Fantastic team of dedicated birders, this is patch watching extreme!

Breeding Birds of The Sheffield Area, including the north-east Peak District – published January 2014

Atlas cover smaller

Available here. Review on Birding Frontiers coming soon.

Summer Pond Heron Plumages

and interesting wing tips

by Martin G

The Chinese Pond Heron in Kent continues to elude birders and yet fascinate on both aspects of identification and vagrancy. What plumage is it moulting into? Have we found a new little feature of winter identification of ardeola herons?

Which plumage is the Kent Bird moulting into?

The broad brush strokes usually go like this: There are several species of Pond Herons ‘ardeola’. In winter plumage they look very similar/ are impossible to identify. In summer plumage they turn into ornately coloured pond fairies  🙂 . The Kent bird is moulting into one of them.

CLICK on photo sets above for better views. Thanks to Dave Gandy for help. More on his blog too. >>>Visit Now<<<

Indian Pond Heron in April (left) and Chinese Pond Heron in March (right)

Indian Pond Heron in April (left) and Chinese Pond Heron in March (right)

Squacco Heron in March (left) and Javan Pond Heron of subspecies continentalis in April (right)

Squacco Heron in March (left) and Javan Pond Heron of (ssp. continentalis) in April (right)

Escape of Vagrant?

OK. Which plumage/species is the Kent bird moulting into? There are other species of Pond Heron but these are the main candidates. Based on origins, known movements and presence in European zoos the (very broad) view is roughly:

Javan Pond Heron. speciosa Not expected as natural vagrant. More common in zoos

Chinese Pond Heron. bacchus Longer distance migrant (though Britain is a LONG way). Rare/ not present in zoos. The hoped for card.

Indian Pond Heron. grayii Less likely as vagrant to Britain naturally reaching south-eastern parts of Western Palearctic region. i.e. East Mediterranean and Middle East. Handful in Zoos?


Primary tips

Thanks to our local chap a few more pics of the bird from the weekend. Helpful shots of  the wing tips appear here. Notice how much dark is present in the primaries. Depending to some degree on angle of light, the outer 2 primaries are rather extensively  dark, along the outer web right up to the primary coverts. The is quite a lot of dark pigment on all the primary tips. In conversation with Ian Lewington and as continuation of conversation of several years! See some of our  >>> OLD STUFF <<< We think (still looking into) that this is too much dark on the wing tips in winter for ANY plumage of Squacco Heron. Hypothesis: This much dark in primary tips in winter = Asian taxa of  Pond Heron? Discovering.

Dark shaft streaks in primary coverts and primary shafts are at least interesting though have not seen good enough photos of the lesser coverts – yet. To be cont’d…

22 feb oneCPH17 bn

Kent Chinese Pond Heron (looks like that way me!) above 2 photos late February 2014

Squacco Herons below in Israel March 2012. Compare wing tips.

Squacco Heron, Eilat, Israel March 2012. Martin Garner.

Squacco Heron, Eilat, Israel March 2012. Martin Garner.

Squacco Heron, Eilat, Israel March 2012. Martin Garner. (different to trapped bird above)
Squacco Heron, Eilat, Israel March 2012. Martin Garner. (different to trapped bird above):



Photo added showing dark at wing tips of Kent bird, tad different angle. See discussion below:

CPH14 b


Bermuda Phylloscopus — additional images

Andrew Dobson provided this more extensive set of images from his original observation of the Bermuda Phyllscopus. He reports that no one has yet heard it vocalize, but they will keep trying. Hopefully the bird will be around for a while longer and complete its molt!

In the meantime, here are more photos to discuss:

DSC_9705 DSC_9681 DSC_9704 DSC_9695 DSC_9690 DSC_9682 DSC_9680 DSC_9678

That PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲) at Lingshan!

Just so beautiful – this is Terry’ story I am just poaching

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014.

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014.

So with no apologies from (MG)- another pic of what is a new bird name for me. I posted my first Chinese characters too 🙂 – and who doesn’t like REDSTARTS– especially Eastern ones?

Go directly to Terry Townshend’s site for MORE new photos!

……………………>>>> Beijing Birding <<<<