Monthly Archives: February 2014

Digiscoping at feeding stations

Justin Carr

Feeding stations are an excellent place to hone your digiscoping skills…..

I recently visited Tophill Low Nature Reserve, primarily in an effort to digiscope the Otter family that has recently been showing well on the North Marsh. Within 15 minutes of sitting down in the hide, bingo! A mother and two pups appeared. Unfortunately, they quickly disappeared and did not return, so I was unable to photograph them.

As the light was excellent for photography, I decided to make the best use of it and went to digiscope birds visiting the nearby feeding station. Feeding stations are a great place to hone your digiscoping skills for a number of reasons. Firstly, birds tend to be more numerous than in the wilder environment. Secondly, they tend to be tamer than elsewhere. Thirdly, they provide a good variety of species. 

The advantage of digiscoping over SLR photography is that it produces a better focal length ie 1200+mm compared to an average of 400mm for an SLR. 

There are a number of things to bear in mind when digiscoping at feeding stations.

1. Keep at an adequate distance so as not to cause disturbance to the birds, if too      close you will probably destroy the advantages gained by using the station. I would suggest 5-6m.

2. Watch the station for ten minutes or so before going near your equipment. This will give you a good idea of which branches and other perches the birds are using as the approach and leave the station. 3. You can then focus your scope and camera on the most used perches. Although it is easier to digiscope birds on the feeders, the images gained are not as good as when they are approaching or even leaving the feeders.

3. Even if the feeders still show in the photograph of a bird on a nearby perch, you can in most cases crop them out afterwards.

4. Take as many shots as you can, the more, the better. I took about 200 shots at the Tophill Low but I have deleted the vast majority of these.

5. Never forget that practice makes perfect. Don’t get discouraged if your early shots aren’t as good as you would like. Keep at it!

6. Try getting close-up shots of parts of birds these can provide some stunning images.

7. And finally, try to capture the birds looking directly at you rather than side-on, this makes the images more intimate. Most photographs do not need to show every feature of a bird, there are far more interesting shots to      be obtained.

Here are some of my results from Tophill Low using these techniques…..

Goldfinch at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014

Goldfinch at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014


Coal Tit at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014

Coal Tit at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014


Coal Tit at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014

Coal Tit at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014


Blue Tit at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014

Blue Tit at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014

The above were taken with a Panasonic GH3 camera with a 20mm pancake lens and Swarovski 80 with a 30mm wide angle lens.

 And a close-up…..

Pheasant close-up at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014

Pheasant close-up at Tophill Low © Justin Carr 2014

Happy digiscoping, 






Bermuda Phylloscopus — ID help needed!

Bermuda is one of the planet’s best vagrant traps, a completely isolated North Atlantic island about 1045 kilometers ESE of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The island’s relatively small size (53 square kilometers) and the absence of other nearby islands surely adds to its power as a vagrant trap. A good system of roads and limited fresh water make the best spots fairly straightforward to check, and a year-round cadre of keen birders are consistently turning up new surprises. That said, few North Americans visit specifically to seek vagrants, largely because it is not included in the ABA Area, which for many in the U.S. and Canada is still the most important listing region. With 361+ species and counting, it certainly deserves more coverage…

The Phylloscopus in the below photos was found by Wendy Frith and David Wingate in the Port Royal/Pompano dump area of Bermuda on 18 February 2014. Andrew Dobson returned the following morning and got these photos. To our knowledge, the calls have not yet been heard or audio recorded. Opinions on the identification have been divided thus far, so we invite Frontiers readers to help nail this one down.

Bermuda Phyllosc-DSC_9675 Bermuda Phyllosc-DSC_9696 Bermuda Phyllosc-DSC_9697 Bermuda Phyllosc-DSC_9691 Bermuda Phyllosc-DSC_9707


Phylloscopus in North America

Within North America, Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis kennicotti) breeds in mainland Alaska, and is a common migrant on some Bering Sea islands, such as St. Lawrence Island. All other species are vagrants. Alaska has vagrant records (almost entirely in fall) of Pallas’s Warbler (1), Yellow-browed Warbler (8+), Willow Warbler (11+), ‘Siberian’ Chiffchaff (2-3 records), Wood Warbler (3), Dusky Warbler (20+)–almost all from the western Aleutians, St. Lawrence Island (Gambell), or St. Paul Island (one of the Pribilof Islands). and Arctic Warbler, which breeds. The status of Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler (Phyllscopus examinandus)–not yet split by the American Ornithologists’ Union but clearly deserving of a split since Alstrom et al. (2011)–is not well known but is summarized to the best of current understanding by Howell, Lewington, and Russell (2014). It is at least a rare to casual spring migrant and very rare fall vagrant on the western Aleutians.

Away from Alaska, California has 7 fall records of Arctic Warbler (although some or all of those may refer to Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler) and an impressive 13 Dusky Warbler records, all from fall. Mexico actually has more Phylloscopus species than California, with two records of Dusky Warbler, one of Arctic (or Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler), and one record of Yellow-browed Warbler, all from the Baja California Peninsula. Otherwise, there is but a single sight record of Yellow-browed Warbler from the mid-continent, in Wisconsin. Greenland, a waypoint between Iceland and North America, has one record of Willow Warbler, from Hold With Hope, Myggbukta, 18 Sep 1937 (Boertmann 1994).

Obviously, a record of any Phylloscopus from Bermuda is a highly significant record and a first record for the island. Although a variety of Palearctic shorebirds, herons, waterfowl, and even raptors have appeared here, Palearctic passerine records have been very few. One of the more remarkable was a Dark-sided Flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica) collected 28 September 1980
(Wingate 1983).

Please comment on the ID

With all that in mind, opinions on the identification of this Phylloscopus would be most welcome. Opinions thus far have been divided, so we could use some help from Palearctic birders who have a much better handle on this genus. The Frontiers audience is certainly better suited to comment than almost any other community in the world, so please give us your thoughts, along with supportive field marks that you see in these photos.


Migration Festival Planning for September 2014

Spurn Migration Festival: Saturday evening lecture

Today the Spurn Migration Festival core team met to quietly launch and put initial plans into place for the much anticipated next… 2014 Migration Festival. New plans, new people and and the same favourites from # one- you know the drill!

The Spurn Migration Festival for 2014: Friday, September 5th to Sunday, September 7th.

 Belgian Birders day

I was supposed to be in Belgium to speak at the Belgium Birders Day tomorrow (sat 22nd Feb). I had to let them down- so from me to the guys- especially some cool friends- apologies. Here’s some waffle for a late night down session of my evening talk at the FIRST Spurn Migration Festival.

Hope you have a fab day tomorrow, sorry I can’t be with you – Martin

thanks to the marvelous Dave Tucker (video)

What’s the Spurn Migration Festival? A collaboration of FOUR! More info and links………………………… >>>HERE<<<


Winter Birding in New Jersey, USA

By Tony Davison

The Sea Duck of Barnegat Jetty and Avalon, NJ, USA.

From the 7th to the 13th February, along with three birding friends, I visited New Jersey and specifically Barnegat Jetty, Avalon and the Cape May Peninsular. Our quest was to try and photograph the variety of Scoter and other Sea Duck that frequent the area. There is also a regular flock of Harlequin Duck off Barnegat and these offered even more excitement. It was also my first birding trip to the USA and so I knew I was in for a treat and a rack of new birds.

During the week we also visited Stone Harbor, Brigantine and various sites along Cape May for woodland birds and none Wildfowl. We were blessed with great weather until the 13th Feb, when all hell broke loose with an ice storm, strong wind & heavy snow, at least 10 inches fell in the New York area. Life still went on though and as normal and despite a three hour delay on our return flight, we managed to get out before the real bad weather hit the area.

The sea duck were simply incredible with thousands of Black Scoter off shore at Barnegat and Avalon, emitting their eerie “cooing call notes”, hundreds of Long-tailed Duck or Oldsquaw as they are affectionately know, also emitting a strange “Yodelling” sound that carries some distance and close quarter encounters with Harlequin and Surf Scoter. A few White-winged Scoter and plenty of Common Loon, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, American Herring Gull and a large flock of very friendly Purple Sandpiper, on the Jetty at Barnegat. All made for some tremendous photographic opportunities.

Barnegat Jetty, Long Island, NJ, USA - Tony Davison

Barnegat Jetty, Long Island, NJ, USA – Tony Davison

Barnegat jetty

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, NJ is located at the northern end of Long Beach Island and the Barnegat Jetty is a MUST-VISIT destination during the cold winter months. The Jetty is effectively a sea defence wall built of huge granite boulders and juts out into the sea for about a mile. Once out at the end it was like the arctic, with a freezing cold wind chill factor but some remarkable birding sights. The main attraction are the wintering Harlequin Ducks but there are also many other sea ducks that offer close quarter viewing. The Blue Mussels are the food attraction to the sea duck, and the rocks are covered in them. We visited Barnegat twice during our stay and on the second visit, we had some remarkable views of a flock of 35 Surf Scoter of varying ages.

The first birds to be encountered on the jetty are the American Herring Gulls, in a variety of age and plumage.

Adult winter American Herring Gull - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult winter American Herring Gull – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

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Adult Great Black-backed Gull - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult Great Black-backed Gull – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

Then came the variety of sea duck and in particular, the incredible “Harlies” of the feathered kind, rather than machine kind!! Stunningly beautiful birds, apart from the females!!

Adult female Harlequin Duck off Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult female Harlequin Duck off Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

Above five images - Adult Drake Harlequin - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Above images – Adult Drake Harlequin – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison


Adult drake Bufflehead - Barnegat Jetty - Tony Davison

Adult drake Bufflehead – Barnegat Jetty – Tony Davison

Above three images  American Black Scoter off Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison

Above three images American Black Scoter off Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison


LTDuck-05083800 LTDuck-13043828 LTDuck-13233829Above three images  Drake Long-tailed Duck Barnegat Jetty Tony Davison


Surf-Scoter-32073843 Surf-Scoter-32373844Above three images  Surf Scoter  Barnegat Jetty  Tony Davison

Red-B-Merg-04903799Drake Red-breasted Merganser  Barnegat Jetty  Tony Davison


RBMerg-054238021st winter drake Red-breasted Merganser  Barnegta Jetty  Tony Davison

Purple-Sand-06003805 Purple-Sand-05843804Above two images Purple Sandpiper  Barnegat Jetty Point  Tony Davison

Another site that we visited several times was Avalon, situated between The Wildwoods Township and Atlantic City. Avalon and Stone Harbor share a barrier island named Seven Mile Beach and Avalon comprises the north side of the island. The area is a huge sea bay that attracts thousands of Scoter and other sea duck. The Jetties offer the best spots for viewing but accessing them without disturbing the birds is very tricky. Extreme care needs to be taken when walking on the Jetty Stones. We viewed from the main Jetty over-looking Townsends Inlet and encountered thousands of Black Scoter, with smaller numbers of Surf and White-winged Scoter including one superb male. Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks were also mixed in. The calls of the birds could immediately be heard as we got out the car on arrival. A fantastic sound and site, once we started viewing.


A view of Avalon Bay  Tony Davison

Avalon-07633853Avalon Jetty  Tony Davison

WWScoter-drake-19913836Drake White-winged Scoter  Avalon  Tony Davison

Scoter-18663835Part of the Scoter flock off Avalon  spot the 2 WWS  Tony Davison

GNDiver-14373834Common Loon Tony Davison

Brant-33033848Brant  Tony Davison

A fantastic trip to a beautiful part of the world. Thank goodness the weather was on our side otherwise it would have been a completely different story.

Waterford Press. Pocket Guide, Birds of Britain (+ many more):

An Introduction to the Familiar Species of England, Scotland and Wales

Review by Anthony Hurd1583552383

On receiving the Pocket Naturalist ‘Birds of Britain: An Introduction to the Familiar Species of England, Scotland and Wales’ my initial thoughts were, this is a smaller and simpler version of an FSC guide with respect to the glossy card used. We use FSC guides here on the shore during Living Seas Centre events and education sessions so I know they do not withstand too many submerging’s into rock pools!! But despite its flimsy nature, this guide is certainly ‘pocket’ sized.

Inside, the guide covers 160+ species and divides them into ‘water birds’, ‘perching birds’, ‘birds of prey’ and ‘doves, woodpeckers etc.’ The illustrations are good enough but the guide is limited to showing mainly adult males in breeding plumage. Whilst the sizes of each species are stated (bill to tail tip) the illustrations are not to scale. So, in summary, this is definitely a beginner’s guide and will introduce people to the basics of our common bird species. But once people start noticing that female birds of certain species are quite different to their male counterparts this guide doesn’t offer any help. Also, disappointingly, the map on the back of ‘Birding Hotspots’ is blank between Cley and Lindisfarne!! Apparently we are devoid of ‘birding Hotspots’ here in Yorkshire! I’ll let you be the judge of that!!

Visit the Waterford Press site for:

Birds of Britain

Birds of Ireland


Anthony Hurd, Living Seas Centre Manager for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust


Pale first winter Kumlien’s Gull

Baile Chaisleáin Bhéarra

Castletownbere, Ireland, 16th Feb. 2014

In a remarkable winter for them- there seem to be plenty around. Kumlien’s Gulls that is. And confidence is seemingly on the up when it comes to declaring first winter birds. Some paler birds are still very likely to go overlooked. This one could easily have been…

This bird should have been posted a few days ago but things conspired against. So thanks to Harry Hussey, for patience who found this one, Of particular interest it’s not especially dark so very easy to overlook- and we only have flight shots. Nevertheless there is subtle but perceivable contrast between darker outer and paler inner primaries, a calling card feature of juvenile/ 1st winter Kumlien’s is clearly evident. Notice how one change of camera angle (as in viewing conditions) can make a lot of difference.

2cy Kumlien's Castletownbere 16th Feb 2014b2cy Kumlien's Castletownbere 16th Feb 20142cy Kumlien's Castletownbere 16th Feb 2014 cAll photos, Harry Hussey, 2cy Kumlien’s Gull, Castletownbere, Ireland, 16th Feb. 2014

1st winter American Herring Gull – again

Couple more pics from Argyll

Eddie Maquire – congrats again. This lovely looking first winter (2cy) American Herring Gull (smithsonianus) which Eddie saw and reported here was back again today. Gives us a chance to walk through some of the plumage features of more distinctive individuals.

Thanks again to Jim Dickson- regional reporter 🙂


AMH 20th Feb Harbour emDSC_2811 eddie m