Monthly Archives: March 2014

Spring migration… of the mammalian kind

Dan Brown

It’s Spring! And animals are on the move, but have you seen any migrant bats?
Greater Mouse-eared Bat was formally declared extinct in the UK in 1990 but may still cling on in southern England

Greater Mouse-eared Bat was formally declared extinct in the UK in 1990 but may still cling on in southern England

You’d imagine that on a relatively small island group like the UK we’d have a pretty good grasp of our mammal fauna, but you’d be surprised by just how much we don’t know.  Bats are the classic example and now is the time to start keeping your eyes peeled.

18 species, nearly 25%, of our mammals are bats and 17 of those are resident, yet as recently as 2010 Alcathoe Bat was added to the list of residents, and it was only in 1997 that Nathusius’ Pipistrelle was confirmed as being more than just a migrant. Our knowledge of bat distribution and abundance is continually expanding and more recently there has been more emphasis placed on the significance of bat migration.  Like so many Palearctic birds, some northern bats head south during the winter, and some will undoubtedly pass through the UK. The most likely migrant is Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, but Noctule may also make longer movements, and a number of vagrants bats have turned up such as Part-coloured Bat & Kuhl’s Pipistrelle.

Richard Moores has been gathering data on bat migration in the UK and if you have any sightings of bats at coastal migration points he’d be very keen to hear from you (

Bempton produces the goods!

Justin Carr

A trip to Bempton RSPB yesterday provided excellent digiscoping opportunities of a rarely seen plumage of an uncommon species

I called at RSPB Bempton yesterday, the highlight of which, was close-up views of 15 Lapland Bunting in cliff-top fields, four of which were singing males. Here are a few of my digiscoped shots…….

Lapland Bunting at Bempton RSPB © Justin Carr 2014

Lapland Bunting at Bempton RSPB © Justin Carr 2014


Lapland Bunting at Bempton RSPB © Justin Carr 2014

Lapland Bunting at Bempton RSPB © Justin Carr 2014


Lapland Bunting at Bempton RSPB © Justin Carr 2014

Lapland Bunting at Bempton RSPB © Justin Carr 2014

The above were taken with a PANASONIC GH3 with 20mm lens on a SWAROVSKI 80 with 30x wide lens.

Good digiscoping


Pacific Eider: news from Varanger

Still there today!

Tormod Amundsen and Martin Garner

v nigrum


Following its stunning surprise appearance reported HERE. Over a month later and the bird is still present. Seemingly eluding detection during the Gullfest it left its mark in the most bizarre- and for some frustrating way. The now famous King Eider/ Eider VORTEX was enjoyed again by Gullfest goers. Some took photos of Eiders in flight- of course. First Tormod, then Jonnie Fisk discovered amoung their photos (see above) that they had actually taken pictures of the Pacific Eider, Mr V-nigrum. Which kinda means their retina would have picked up the bird- as we used to say “can they tick it on assumed retinal capture?”

It was seen again in harsh conditions this morning -30th March 2014.

Meanwhile here’s some stuff on the occurrence of Pacific Eider off West Greenland and the range in NE Asia as far west as Yana river- presuming the Varanger bird is most likely to have come from the NE Asian population rather than the Alaska one.

Frontiers in Birding

p169: “While investigating the subject of origins and identification of Eiders it became apparent that there was real potential for Pacific Eiders to mix with Northern Eiders off the Canadian Arctic and occasionally abmigrate bringing them into the North Atlantic. Coincidentally, not long after the publication of ‘Norther Eiders in Scotland- are they being missed?’ (Garner and Farrelly 2005) , Bruce Mcatavish found Newfoundland’s first Pacific Eider, mixed in with flocks of wintering Norther Eiders. While it might surprise some, the potential for this stunningly beautiful duck to reach Western Europe is very real.

Pacific Eiders off West Greenland

Speaking about the Eiders occurring in the Davis Straight off w and sw Greenland, Palmer (Handbook of North American Birds Vol 3) writes:

Furthermore both typical and atypical v-nigra have been taken, not breeding: details, including meas., in Schiøler (1926). Perhaps a few v-nigra in the Canadian arctic join flocks of borealis (or even of King Eiders) which fly to molting and wintering localities to sw. Greenland. Schiøler stated that they occur there every winter. Presumably any such progeny would show some v-nigra characters. This assessment is contrast to that of J.C. Phillips (1926), who regarded the birds in question as “merely individual variants and not true Pacific Eiders.”


Boertmann (1994) Birds of Greenland on v-nigrum status there:

“SUBSPECIES: The breeding population in Greenland refers to ssp. borealis. ssp. v-nigrum from northwestern North America is a scarce winter and spring vagrant in West Greenland. Since Salamonsen 1967 it has been recorded on 15th May 1967 (Asvid 1974) and several times since 1972 (Salamonsen unpublished).”



Pacific Eider in NE Asia

from Birds of North America (online) : S. m. v-nigrum Gray, 1856: Pacific Eider. Breeds from Coronation Gulf, Nunavut (east to Jenny Lind I.) west along coasts of Beaufort Sea and Bering Sea, Alaska (Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Glacier Bay), Aleutian Is.; in Asia as far west as Yana River (about 137°E), New Siberian Is., locally around Chukchi Peninsula (west of Chaun Bay and Aion I.), Bering Strait near Diomede Is. and St. Lawrence I., Commander Is. and Kamchatka Peninsula, including disjunct population in ne. Sea of Okhotsk (Tauisk Gulf east to Penzhinskaya Gulf). Winters in ice-free regions around Bering Sea, with both Asian and North American populations probably concentrated in Aleutian-Alaskan Peninsula area (Palmer 1976). Has occurred east to Newfoundland and w. Greenland (Peters and Burleigh 1951,Boertmann 1994) and south to interior Canada (Manitoba: Lake Manitoba, Giroux, near Winnipeg, and Patricia Beach) and central Great Plains (near LeCompton, KS; Mlodinow 1999). Largest subspecies; male typically has black V on chin (sometimes absent, especially birds in Sea of Okhotsk), bill color vivid orange or yellow-orange; frontal lobes narrow and pointed as well as positioned higher, more toward midline of forehead than other races; skull large, resulting in greater distance of eye from bill; feathering in loral region notably rounded at anterior margin (not as wedge-shaped as other races); extensive green on head of male, extending from nape in fine line under eye; adult female plumage typically dark brown.


map from  Laputan Logic 

The  Vortex 

Graham White writes:

“Then out by boat into the Eider Vortex. Now I am not an ‘OMG’ person; it’s a bit cringe-worthy, but, OMG!  Around 25,000 Common and King Eiders flying past, over and behind you is one of THE wildlife spectacles to be found anywhere.  As it turned out, it was even more OMG than usual, as Tormod later spotted a Pacific Eider in his photographs that must have flown by us on the day. I’m still searching through mine!”

Graham White

The Grumpy Ecologist
King Eider Vortex Vardø Varanger Gullfest 2014 Amundsen Biotope

.king eider vortex 2

click on photos to really appreciate what’s going on…


Thanks to Marshall Iliff for extra info

The White-billed Divers off N.E. Scotland

Last years revelations has been followed by 10 being seen already this March, 2014, hence a reblog of last years discovery:

White-billed Divers off Portsoy, North-east Scotland: discovering a new birding spectacle

Paul Baxter, Chris Gibbins and Hywel Maggs

In April 2011 Peter Osborn contacted HM to say that he has seen what he thought could have been a White-billed Diver off the harbour at Portsoy, North East Scotland.  At this time White-billed Diver was a very rare bird in the region, with only a handful of records, so the sighting was well worth checking out.  After work on Monday 25 April CG and HM drove up to Portsoy and arrived to find a flat-calm sea and perfect viewing conditions.  Much to their amazement they counted 5 White-billed Divers in the bay, mostly in or approaching summer plumage.  Wow!  They were all rather distant, but unmistakable with their ivory ‘tusks’ shining out in the early evening sunshine.  The distance meant that photographs were impossible, so HM and CG made some field notes and sketches (Plate 1) and alerted local birders to the spectacle unfolding on their doorstep.


Plate 1. Field sketches of Portsoy White-billed Divers on 25 April 2011.  Chris Gibbins.

PAAB went up at the weekend, just four days later, but no birds were present. So, what was going on? Were the 5 birds a one-off event, or were White-billed Divers present off Portsoy each Spring? Or perhaps they were present all winter?  The Spring passage of White-billed Divers on the Western Isles is of course rather well known, so the three of us agreed to start going up to Portsoy regularly to try to establish what the true situation was.

For the remainder of Spring 2011 and over the following two winters we made regular trips to Portsoy.  We only had a single bird in the winter of 2011/12 (from 17th March until 17th April, a bird in active wing moult) and there was certainly no clear evidence of a Spring peak.  In the 2012/13 winter the first bird was not seen until 18 March, when three winter-plumaged individuals were present.

From the time of the first sightings in 2011 we discussed the possibility of chartering a boat, so after the three birds on 18 March 2013 PAAB made contact with Gemini Charters at Buckie (a harbour just West of Portsoy) and made plans for some off-shore forays.  Two trips were arranged initially (one on 14 April and another on 21 April), with a different group of birders on each one. All available places were taken on each trip, and each had an entirely different group of birders. The three of us were scheduled to be on the first trip but unfortunately this was cancelled due to bad weather.  The second trip (i.e. on 21st) therefore became the first, but as it was already full there was no room for us; there was nothing we could do but reschedule our trip and wait to see what the others saw on 21st.  They scored, with between 7 and 10 birds seen in the bay just off Portsoy harbour.  It was gripping stuff – up to 10 White-billed Divers in one spot in North-East Scotland!

Our trip was rescheduled to 28th so we waited nervously for news of the weather.  The weather for 28th was not looking good so the trip was changed to a narrow window in the early afternoon of 27th.  As it turned out, this window could not have been better – we had 13 birds over the course of the 3 ½ hour trip.  The majority were close to full summer plumage so it was a spectacular day, although the rolling sea made viewing and photography difficult. The photos were little better than record shots, but we managed complete a looped survey route and secure GPS coordinates for the birds

 wb2Plate 2.One of the closer birds seen on 27th April.  Most birds were in a similar plumage to this, close to but no quite in full summer dress. Chris Gibbins

 wb3Plate3.The same bird as plate2. Chris Gibbins

wb4Plate 4.  Watching a White-billed Diver from the MV Gemini Explorer, April 2013. Paul Baxter

wb5Plate 5.  Watching a White-billed Diver from the MV Gemini Explorer, April 2013. Paul Baxter.

On both boat trips the birds were concentrated into a remarkably small area; all 13 on the trip of 27th were in the area between Logie Head (just east of Cullen) and Portsoy.  We have checked the coastline a few miles either side of Portsoy on several occasions and not seen any birds, so it does seem that all the action is concentrated around Portsoy.  The relatively small number of birds seen on our mid-winter visits suggests that it is primarily a Spring passage phenomenon, but for the moment we do not know what is so attractive about Portsoy Bay to these birds, nor how long into the Spring and early Summer they remain.  Whether this is a new phenomenon or whether birds have been overlooked in the past also remains unclear.  Prior to our regular visits to look for divers the area of coast around Portsoy was very underwatched, at least relative to the areas further west (towards Spey Bay) and east (around Banff and Fraserburgh) so divers may always have been there in Spring.  Alternatively, their presence may be a recent phenomenon caused by changing environmental conditions elsewhere. We simply don’t know.  However, what we know for sure is that ‘discovering’ that White-billed Divers occur in such numbers off our coastline has been a great experience.

Paul Baxter, Chris Gibbins and Hywel Maggs, Aberdeenshire

Secret Seven Quiz: The ANSWERS


Davy Bosman

Chris Batty

Jon Holt

The latter two have become serially good quiz players :). All 3 entrants got all 7 of the quiz birds correct. Quite a few other entrants got almost all correct, falling at just one of the quiz birds. So very well done Davy, Chris and Jon. Each name was written on a piece of paper and holding breath, Sharon Garner drew the winner from the 3 who is ……..

Jon Holt

huge thanks to Princeton for the superb double prize




lesser spotted and vulpinus

BIRD ONE a Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina same bird flying below a Steppe Buzzard

pied wheatear 1BIRD TWO A first summer male Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleshanka.  Not an easy ID from Cyprus Pied Wheatear. There are a few characters. More often than not the ID is a gut reaction. Bigger, duller and uglier = Pied versus, more slender and more beautifully coloured = Cyprus Pied Wheatear (gut birding!).

Adult male Cyprus Pied Wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca
ruppells w 2cy fem d

BIRD THREE 1st summer female Ruppell’s Warbler Sylvia rueppelli
ruppells w 2cy fem b

BIRD THREE 1st summer female Ruppell’s Warbler Sylvia rueppelli . The Sylvia warblers are always a bit challenging, especially the non adult males. To compare:


Female Cyprus Warbler Sylvia melanothorax, Feb 2014 by Yosef Kiat

mystery 4

BIRD FOUR Female Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca 

spotted crake 1

BIRD FIVE Spotted Crake Porzana porzana

n wheatear

BIRD SIX Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

barabary 1

 BIRD SEVEN  young Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides

Thank YOU!

Martin Garner

Just to say a huge thank you for all the personal well wishes  and very encouraging messages following this post. I have failed abysmally to respond to all of them, but I have been repeatedly moved by so much kindness.

So a little news. About four days ago I pushed my walking distance (only few hundred metres) and found I could do more than I thought. The next day, 25th March I tried a walk around Millennium Wood, Flamborough not sure how far I would get. Soon located the Northern Treecreeper ssp familiaris and even showed a visiting couple of birders who hadn’t seen it before. That kind of stuff spurs you on.  Andy Hood followed our visit and got some lovely photos:

 Northern Treecreeper





Northern Treecreeper ssp familiaris, Millennium Wood, Flamborough, 25th March 2014, all photos by Andy Hood

Lapland Bunting

2 days ago on 26th March, early news from dear friend and RSPB warden Keith Clarkson had seen a male Lapland Bunting on the reserve (and possibly heard a Shore Lark). Spurred on to attempt more, Sharon and I headed off early. Staple Newk is a fair walk and the wind was blowing a hooley! Nevertheless we made it. Not especially optimistic we were stunned to find 3 Lapland Buntings including one of the males  ‘singing its head off’. Well I fair hopped skipped and jumped my way back to the reserve centre!

So THANK YOU- for spurring on encouragements and messages and we (Sharon and I )  have taking them to heart and working on them 🙂

PS all photos below by me- wobbling about like a weeble while Sharon holds on to me- quite a comic sight.

Lapland Bun bt Bempton 26.3.14


Lapland Bunt d Bempton 26.3.14

Male Lapland Bunting in full song at Bempton RSPB, Flamborough

Lapland Bunt f  Bempton 26.3.14


Lapland Buntg Bempton 26.3.14


Silver Blacky… still

silver blacky

silver blacky.jpg2

Silver Blacky- probably a colour aberration know as ‘BROWN’. Still an on/off visitor to our garden.