Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tickets NOW on sale!

Spurn Migration Festival:   5th – 7th September 2014

 Book your Tickets NOW!

Spurn wryneck-spurn-12-8-11-cMigration Festival tickets are now on sale! Book your place on this spectacular event by calling the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust head office on 01904 659570.

Spurn Migration Festival is fast approaching! This year event will take place on the 5th-7th September. So get this date in your diary and book your place on this fantastic, informative and enjoyable event. This year the ticket prices will be £14 Day Ticket, £21 Weekend Ticket and £8 Evening Lecture with Hog Roast.


With more planned for this year’s event it is sure to be another spectacular Spurn Migration Festival!


Further news will be posted on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Spurn Bird Observatory Trust and Birding Frontiers websites, so watch this space!

Spurn Migration Festival one


Just add light

Steve Blain

A family holiday with a bit of digiscoping on the side!

I’m just back from a family holiday in Cyprus.  Fortunately for me I have a very understanding partner and was allowed out for a couple of hours each day to go birding on this superb island.

 I stayed at the west end near Paphos, very near some wonderful migration hotspots which gave some excellent digiscoping opportunities.  The main locations I visited included Paphos headland, Mandria, Agia Vavara, and Aspro Dam.  Early mornings and evenings were best for the light – but what a difference the light makes!  Compared to the dreary insipid UK winter, the difference in quality of the images is vast. 

Below are some of the shots I managed.  I have to add these were all taken with a Sony RX100 on loan to me from Paul Hackett – many thanks, Paul.  This camera produced some fantastic results with the quality of the 20 megapixel sensor being excellent.  The only fault I found with it is the autofocus, which can be slow to lock on to your subject, or sometimes misses it completely.  Compared to my Nikon V1 the autofocus is still a world away.  However the quality of the images when you get it right, is a huge improvement.

Black-headed Wagtail

Isabelline Wheatear


Red-throated Pipit



Cretzschmar’s Bunting


Black-eared Wheatear

Crested Lark

Tawny Pipit


Black-headed Wagtail




Sardinian Warbler


Green Sandpiper


Collared Flycatcher

All taken with a Sony RX100, Swarovski ATS 80 HD, 20x or 25-50x eyepieces, and a DCA adapter.

Blue Fulmar Pelagic – April birding in Varanger

By Tormod Amundsen

Fulmar Blue type dark side view flight Vardø April 2014 crop sign Amundsen Biotope

At the Biotope office we have just bought a small boat, and yesterday was the first chance to take it to sea. A 13 foot boat is admittedly not a boat you would take out for a pelagic in the icy Barents Sea. The idea is to rebuild the boat into a floating photo hide. We have some very cool opportunities we would like to explore. However, yesterday we could see loads of Fulmars circling fishing vessels quite close to land just south of Vardø island. Of course I could not let this opportunity pass: I packed my camera gear and bins, put on layers and layers of clothes and headed out in the snowy and windy Barents Sea. Already less then 2 kilometers from land the curious Fulmars started circling my boat. In April in Varanger most Fulmars are of the arctic dark blueish type. Truly stunning birds!

Getting the photos was however not so easy. The smallish but still choppy waves made it difficult to photograph. A couple of hours of standing up in the boat, photographing while trying to keep my balance proved to be a major work out. But persistence pays off. The below photos show some of these beautiful Fulmars. It was also great to see the plumage variety. The darkest type birds are just amazing. While the paler birds with their stylish uniform plumage should perhaps be named Silver Fulmars?! Another great birding experience only minutes from the office. I figured these images is worth sharing here on Birding Frontiers. Yesterdays little pelagic reminded me of one of the first trips I led in Varanger, and it is where I first met Martin too. Check out Martins Blue Fulmar Pelagic story from the May 2011 Varanger trip, or read the full trip report which was the first post on the Biotope site.

Blue Fulmar pelagic in 13ft boat, south of Vardø island

Blue Fulmar pelagic in 13ft boat, south of Vardø island

´Blue Fulmar´ in snow

´Blue Fulmar´ in snow

Semi dark type Fulmar

Semi dark type Fulmar

Pale type Fulmar

Pale type Fulmar

Semi dark type Fulmar

Silver Fulmar!

semi dark Fulmar

Semi dark Fulmar

Darkest type Fulmar

Darkest type Fulmar

Fulmar in Norwegian is called ´havhest´, litterally meaning ´sea horse´. This is the dark horse.

Fulmar in Norwegian is called ´havhest´, literally meaning ´sea horse´. This is the dark horse. Stunning birds!

Best wishes from Arctic Norway

Tormod Amundsen /


The Sound Approach to Birding: Now an eBook on iPad.

 Reviewed by Tim JonesCover

I’ve spoke to a lot of birders recently who have at one point thought about sound recording or it’s on their list of things to do. If that’s you then read half a chapter in the Sound Approach to birding and you will be heading over to eBay to buy some sound recording equipment! The Sound Approach guys have a knack of sounding very clever and knowledgeable but at the same time making it sound easy. In the book complex and potentially confusing calls and songs such as the plastic song of Savi’s and Grasshopper Warblers are discussed in a way that makes it very easy to understand.

And if you need more convincing about getting some sound recording equipment…

‘’It’s frustrating to read long-winded disputes about the identity of a particular rarity on the internet with numerous photographs to look at, when a sound recording would have settled the matter in a moment’’

Take for example a large pipit that was recently in Easington. Views were brief and not conclusive so 5 mins work with some recording equipment, get back make a sonogram and job done it’s a Richard’s, okay so it wasn’t quite that easy but that’s because I didn’t have the Sound Approach to Birding on the iPad!

The book p69X.480x480-75covers Pacific/American Golden Plover, Chiffchaff/Iberian Chiffchaff, Richard’s/Blyth’s/Tawny, Siberian/Common Stonechat, Red-breasted/Taiga Flycatcher, long calls of gulls, woodpecker drums, Short/Long-billed Dowitcher, sexing Pectoral Sandpiper on call, Laughing Moorhen, ‘African’ Chaffinches, Booted/Sykes’s Warbler, the mine field that is Crossbill calls and Northern Bullfinch calls.

Whilst also giving you tips on simple song, ,modulation, call shapes, acoustic slum, variation in calls, cracking the code, ageing birds on call, plastic song, crystallised song, mimicry, mixed singers, playback,

And an all round general introduction to sound recording and information that will help improve your sound recording ability!

Having p127X.480x480-75previously read some of the sound approach books using the ‘traditional’ method using a book and CD player to work through the book, I found it somewhat annoying to have to continually press play and pause whilst reading the book in order to listen to the brilliant recordings that accompanied the books on separate CD’s. Now an iPad edition has been launched which allows the ‘reader’ to interact more easily with the book and the recordings.

The pages are the same as the book version but now instead of having to mess around with separate CD’s all you have to do is press on the sonogram and it opens as a video that shows the sonogram, plays the recording and has a little red bar that moves along, showing the stage that the recording is playing at.



Sound recording is a whole new aspect of birding that is really starting to open up, most people already have decent sound recording equipment already in their pockets, smartphones! It’s a subject that there is still a lot to learn about and getting the interactive version Sound Approach to Birding on your iPad is the perfect way to start!

For more info and to buy go >>> HERE<<<



Cape Gulls in NW Europe…

From what seemed like a super crazy record in a zoo in central Paris, France nearly 20 years ago Cape Gull Larus dominicanus vetula keeps growing in credibility as vagrant to NW Europe. Following a record in Portugal last June 2013, we published an ID paper by Chris Gibbins on identifying Cape Gull in its first year plumage. Now Vincent LeGrand has picked up what appears to be a Cape Gull in Spain on >>>this website<<< photographed his month. So in the interests of finding one, raising awareness and a bit of inspiration, here are 2 articles, one featuring Vincent’s apparent hybrid gulls and another featuring this intriguing and surely likely-to-occur plumage of Cape Gull. Good hunting!

and visit Vincent Legrand’s website >>> HERE<<<

Identification of first cycle Larus dominicanus vetula:

The Cape Gull of Good Hope?

 by Chris Gibbins


The two Cape Gulls Larus dominicanus vetula recently found in Portugal (Birding World, 26(6), July 2013), along with the previous bird in Paris (Jiguet et al., 2004), illustrate that this is a species we should be looking out for in Britain.

Gull watching in Europe is perhaps best in the Northern hemisphere winter, because this is the time that Northern breeders move away from their breeding areas and displaced birds may find themselves on our shores.  For the same reason, the chances of finding Southern hemisphere taxa here may therefore be best in the months following their breeding season; i.e. in the Austral winter, our Northern summer.

All three European Cape Gulls have been adult or near adult birds.  However, given that younger individuals are more likely to occur here as vagrants, anyone keen to find a Cape Gull is perhaps best advised to have a working knowledge of what first cycle birds look like during the Northern summer. The aim of this note is to showcase this age group at this time of year, and highlight one or two features that should make them stand out among our local gulls. The main argument put forward is that because of their absolute age and related absence of primary moult, along with the presence of a remarkably striking secondary skirt, in the Northern summer first cycle birds offer good prospects for out-of-range identification – they are the Cape Gulls of good hope.

Taxonomy and terminology

 Before discussing identification, a few words on taxonomy and the terminology used in this note may be useful. cape gull3 Cape Gull (vetula) is the African subspecies of the very widely distributed Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus.  So far it seems that all European records of Kelp Gull have been vetula (Jiguet et al., 2004), so at least for the moment this seems the most meaningful taxon to discuss.  All the photographs and observations upon which this note is based relate to birds observed in the SW Cape Province of South Africa between 26 June and 6 July 2013. Hence, all birds are assumed to be vetula.  Comparing age classes of Northern and Southern hemisphere gulls is made complicated by respective breeding seasons.  Terms such as ‘first winter’, ‘first summer’ are confusing when comparing Southern and Northern species, because the seasons are effectively reversed. Moreover, because breeding times differ by around 6 months, at certain times of the year the use of calendar years does not work. For example, the laying period of Kelp is November-December (Jiguet et al, 2001) so by April first calendar year (1cy) birds will be a few months old, and so could conceivably turn up in Europe; however, there is no such thing as a 1cy Northern hemisphere gull in April (as laying has not even commenced and birds reared in the previous season have ‘ticked over’ into their second calendar year) so meaningful comparison using calendar years is not possible at this time. The solution is therefore to talk about ‘cycles’ (as per Howell and Dunn, 2007).  A first cycle bird is defined here as a bird that has not completed its first primary moult. For Northern taxa this moult occurs in the summer of their second calendar year (e.g. in Scotland Herring Gulls start primary moult around 1 May), so first cycle birds in the Northern summer are around a year old.  In Cape Gull this primary moult commences in October-November, when birds are a little less than a year old.  The main advantage of using cycles when comparing immature Cape to our Northern gulls is that birds in the same cycle are the most likely cause of confusion, even though their absolute ages differ by several months. cape gull1

Moult: Why we should not throw the baby out with the bath-water

Moult is often cited as being useful for field identification of gulls. Due to reversed breeding times, Southern hemisphere gulls such as Cape have completely different moult periods to Northern ones; they are in moult when our birds are not, and vice versa. This should make them look strikingly different.  However, the opposing argument is that displaced birds may adopt (or ‘correct’ to) the moult cycle of the birds in their new location. Indeed, Malling Olsen and Larsson (2003) specifically make this point in relation to Kelp/Cape Gull:

‘Note, however, that Kelp Gulls in the Northern hemisphere may adopt moult cycles similar to Northern hemisphere gulls, as has been observed in US and Mexican adults’ (p144)

The Paris Cape Gull supports this argument, as it was moulting in accordance with our Northern hemisphere gulls (Jiguet et al., 2004).  So perhaps we should abandon any thought of moult being useful for picking out a Cape Gull? The Paris bird was an adult.  In theory it could therefore have been in the Northern hemisphere for several years; this is ample time both for it to need to adjust its moult to Northern seasons and be physiologically able to do this.  Younger birds, especially first cycle ones, by definition can’t have been here so long. A first cycle Cape reared in the austral summer will only be a few months old by the time the Northern summer comes around; unlike our birds whose primaries are a year old, a first cycle Cape should have much fresher feathers that do not need replacing, and in any case if it has only just arrived, it may not be physiologically capable of moulting feathers rapidly enough to catch up to our first cycle birds (i.e. our 2cy, ‘first-summer’ gulls; Table 1). So, while we should always be careful when using moult, in the Northern summer it seems likely to be more useful for first cycle Cape Gulls than adults.  In addition, as birds may be more prone to be displaced or wander in their first year of life, the Northern summer is likely to be a productive time for first cycle Cape Gulls in Europe.  At this time, because they will only be a few months old, their moult and extent of feather wear and bleaching should be markedly different to our birds. cape gull2 june 13

Picking out a Cape Gull

The starting point for picking out a Cape is to be familiar with first cycle Northern gulls during the summer when they are moulting primaries. A safe window for picking out a Cape would be May-August inclusive, as this covers the start and mid part of the moult period of Northern taxa, but is well before first cycle Cape Gulls might be expected to drop their first primary (Table 1).  Because of feather grey tones and the inner primary patterns (detailed later) first cycle Lesser Black-backed Gulls (LBBs) are most similar to Cape, but actually the key distinguishing features suggested here also apply to separation of Cape from Herring and Yellow-legged Gulls.  Plates 1-3 show what a typical first cycle graellsii or intermedius LBB looks like in mid summer, while Plate 4 shows a Yellow-legged Gull. The key points to note in these images are the extreme wear on remaining first generation primaries and wing coverts and the fact that birds are in primary moult.

The Full Article

This blog post is a taster to full article fully illustrated with Chris’s fab photos and available as a pdf. Just download the PDF below.

>>>> Identification of first cycle Cape Gull <<<<


Cape Gull hybrid?

 Khniffis Lagoon conundrum continues

On the  Atlantic coast of Morocco the conundrum of the large and dark backed gulls continues to play out. Both Cape Gulls and Great Black- backed Gulls have been seen, what seems uncertain is how many of each species have occurred at different times. Enter the other element of small pioneering gull colonies: the high incidence of hybridization. You can begin to imagine the problems! More:

and articles in Birding World magazine

Atlantic Yellow-legged Gulls also occur in the area. So the photos of the bird below (taken March 19th 2011) by Vincent Legrand are intriguing. They are stunning photos and at first glance my best guess would be something with a GBB type head and bill (watered down) that had a Yellow-legged Gull as its other parent. However as Vincent has pointed out, the white trailing edge to the primaries is particularly wide. A feature of Cape Gull. So hypothetically, an adult Yellow-legged Gull X Cape Gull hybrid?! And the inevitable scary question- what if the Great Black-backed and Cape Gulls hybridise?

Have a look:

Apparent hybrid gull, Khniffis Lagoon, Southern Morocco, 19th March 2011, Vincent Legrand.