Monthly Archives: April 2014

Northern Harrier flies past Portland Bill!

Another cheeky male.

Read the finders Peter Moore’s account. Witty, unusually candid and very well written.


This morning for the benefit of a solo observer Peter Moore, this apparent male Northern Harrier/ Marsh Hawk flew by at Barleycrates, Portland. Thanks (again) to the modern camera and quick reflexes, photos seem to show the relevant features. Well sussed Martin Cade. Though distant and a small images it’s still possible to make out the pro Marsh Hawk characters such as heavy brown marking over head and upper wing coverts, rufous spotting on underparts and critically less black in the outer primaries than even a 2 year old European Hen Harrier. This is especially exemplified by the ‘silver bullet’ of P6 (5th primary counting from outside) which only has a small amount of black at the feather tip (all black in male Hen Harrier). A better view of the tail would be be nice- but you can’t always have everything!

See photo directly below and don’t forget to visit the Portland Bird Observatory Website– a very cool place.Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier 2

Hen Harrier 3.

Iberian Chiffchaff to compare


This post is reblogged from 2010. It contains recordings of the typical song, some variant and conflict songs and muted/poor recording of the  call. I saw the bird’s finder this am. He only went and found another, same place last week! I was mindful of this bird detailed by Richard Ford of another intriguing and confusing Chiffchaff songster from a couple of weeks ago

Grimston, East Yorkshire, June 2010

To compare. Getting a head around variation in wacky singing Chiffchaffs, so-called mixed singers and real (and variable) Iberian Chiffchaffs has proved testing (again) this spring. Having been asked to comment on birds in Sussex and Cambridge and still being an early stage learner myself, I revisited this bird. Found by Tim Isherwood at Grimston, East Yorkshire in June 2012, it represents, I suppose, the ideal, or at least, easier vagrant Iberian Chiffchaff. Looks and sounds the part – both song and call- without too much head scratching; indeed hearing one burst of song seemed to nail it.

The last bit of the Cambridge bird’s song here reminded me of what I recorded as ‘conflict’ song for the Grimston bird- given in response to short burst of ‘pishing’ (see sonagram and recording 5 below). The Cambridge bird clearly has elements of Iberian song ( I have only listened to the video,) no news there but there is lively and increasing illuminating discussion on this channel. The sobering comments by sharp (and annoyingly young) Spanish birder, Dani V are well worth a read.

The Sussex bird seems even less appealing and an analysis of sonagrams by David Cooper points more to variant Common Chiffchaff on that one.

Another thing? The Grimston bird at one stage called repeatedly in response to pishing-  the downslurred note of  Iberian (‘song and call’ below). Worth a pish next time?


Iberian Chiffchaff normal song one – You can listen to the song <HERE>

(above) Iberian Chiffchaff normal song one

Iberian Chiffchaff normal song two – You can listen to the song <HERE>

(above) Iberian Chiffchaff ‘normal song’ two

Iberian Chiffchaff song and call – You can listen to the song and call <HERE>

(above) Iberian Chiffchaff  song and call (call is present as on sonagram but a little quiet)

Iberian Chiffchaff, song variation – You can listen to the song <HERE>

(above) Iberian Chiffchaff, song variation

Iberian Chiffchaff, presumed conflict song – You can listen to the song <HERE>

(above) Iberian Chiffchaff, presumed conflict song- given in response to ‘pishing’


Probable Taimyr Gulls in Okha, Gujarat

India –  and what are they?

Prasad Ganpule


Identification of large white-headed Gulls is very challenging. In India, there has not been much interest in Gull watching, though now there are many birdwatchers here who are interested in this and reports and photographs of large White-headed Gulls are fairly common on various birding websites.

Situation in Gujarat:

It is generally accepted in the latest reference books (Grimmett et al 2011, Rasmussen & Anderton 2012) that there are three types of large white-headed Gulls in Gujarat:

Heuglin’s Gull – L.f.heuglini: These are bulky Gulls with dark upperparts and relatively late moult. The dark on mantle ranges from almost a blackish-blue to quite dark grey. But the upperparts are always much darker than the paler Gulls seen with them and hence it is possible to differentiate quite easily. The lightest heuglini are still much darker than the Gulls with lighter upperparts.  These are also Gulls which are late moulting. Many are in moult in January. I have observed such Gulls with only p6 or p7 longest in first week of January, but these are rare. Most complete their moult by mid-Jan. Head streaking is variable but most show streaking on head with strong streaking on neck. Almost none are white headed in winter. These are presumed to be breeding to the north. These are very common in Gujarat.

Steppe  Gull – L.f.barabensis: These are Gulls with pale upperparts, much paler than heuglini. These are also early moulting birds, which complete their primary moult usually by mid to end November. These are white headed in the winter and almost always never show any head streaking. They are round headed and with delicate features, and are not bulky. These are thought to be barabensis. These are also fairly common in Gujarat and found in good numbers here.

Caspian Gull* – L.cachinnans: These are bulky Gulls with pale upperparts (even paler than barabensis)  and with earliest moult, mostly completing moult by early November. These show some streaking around the eyes and on the nape in the winter. But these are rare and more data is needed to know its status here.

(*Though Rasmussen and Anderton (2012) give L.cachinnans as ‘hypothetical’ for India, it is usually accepted that L.cachinnans occurs in Gujarat and in India)

Observations in January:

On 12 January 2014, I visited Okha, Gujarat. Okha is a fishing village located on the noth-westernmost point of Saurashtra, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It is a fishing village and since fish is processed here, there are large numbers of Gulls. There were a large number of Gulls present here on this day also. Majority of the Gulls were Heuglin’s Gulls. Many were Steppe Gulls. Caspian Gulls were not noted.

However I found a group of around 20 Gulls, which were quite different from the Heuglin’s and Steppe Gulls present in the area. These were very pale mantled, late moulting, bulky Gulls with either yellowish or pinkish legs. There were a few juveniles also in this group. I was unable to identify these Gulls, as they were much paler backed from the Heuglin’s Gulls in the area. I was able to take many images and these are given below:

Fig 1

Fig 1:  A group of these Gulls at a small puddle in the area. Note the pale mantle , late moult, head streaking .

Fig 2

Fig 2:  Adult. Note heavy head streaking, pale mantle, yellowish legs. Pale eye with reddish eye-ring.

Fig 3

Fig 3: Adult. Note streaking on head, pale mantle, yellowish-pink legs. Pale eye with reddish eye-ring

Fig 4

Fig 4: Adult. Late moult with only p7 grown. Pale mantle, deep yellowish legs. Pale eye with reddish eye ring.

Fig 5

Fig 5:  Adult. Slightly darker mantle than earlier birds- but still much paler than heuglini. Heavy head streaking with blotches on the nape. Pale eye with reddish eye-ring. Streaking similar to Vega Gull.

Fig 6

Fig 6: Adult. In flight

Fig 7

Fig 7: Adult. Pale mantle with yellowish legs. P9 longest. Very dark eye

Fig 8

Fig 8: First-winter

Fig 9

Fig 9: First-winter.

Fig 10

Fig 10: First-winter

Fig 11

Fig 11: First-winter in flight.


So what are these Gulls?  Majority of these Gulls were in active moult in second week of January. Hence these must be breeding to the north, in the arctic. These are certainly not Heuglin’s, Steppe or Caspian Gulls, since their structure, moult, mantle colour and other features do not match them. Buchheim (2006) also noted three individuals of such type of Gulls at Okha and speculated that these might be taimyrensis, birulai or vegae. A detailed paper on Taimyr Gulls by van Dijk et al (2011) showed that Taimyr Gulls are genetically distinct and they simply refer to them as L.taimyrensis. However all long distance ring recoveries from wintering Taimyr Gulls were from the pacific coast of Asia, mainly on the Sea of Okhotsk. They state that Gulls resembling Taimyr Gulls winter in low numbers in Iran and Bahrain, noting that the unidentified birds seen by Buchheim (2006) also could be these. Olsen and Larsson (2004) also speculate that birds matching taimyrensis could frequent W India. Thus the possibility that a small number of Taimyr Gulls could winter in India is not ruled out.


It is possible that these are either Taimyr Gulls or Vega Gulls of the birulai sub-species. However the probability that these are Taimyr Gulls looks more feasible as the structure, mantle colour and other characteristics fit Taimyr Gulls more, but the possibility of birulai cannot be ruled out.

Large scale ringing programmes or satellite tagging of an adequate number of Gulls on the Taimyr Peninsula and in other nearby areas would lead to a better understanding of whether these are Taimyr Gulls or something else. This also shows that it is still unclear which large white-headed Gulls winter in India.

Note on Photographs:

All photographs were taken at around 11am in harsh sunlight and I have not done any post-processing to show true colour in these Gulls. Images taken with Nikon D7100 DSLR Camera with Nikkor 300mm F4 lens + Nikon 1.7 TC


I thank Andreas Buchheim, Klaus Malling Olsen, Nial Moores and Norman Deans van Swelm for their help.


Buchheim, A. 2006. Adult large white-headed gulls at Okha. Birding Asia 5: 40-53.


Grimmett, R.,Inskipp, C., & Inskipp, T.2011. Birds of the Indian  Subcontinent. 2 nd ed.Pp.1-528. London: Christopher Helm & Oxford University Press.London.

Olsen, K M & Larsson, H .2004. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Second edition. London

Rasmussen, P.C  & Anderton, J.C.2012. Birds of South Asia: The    Ripley Guide. 2 vols. 2 nd ed. Pp.1-378; 1-684. Washington D.C and   Barcelona. Smithsonian  Institution and Lynx Edicions

van Dijk, Klaas., Kharitonov Sergei, Holmer Vonk & Bart Ebbinge.2011. Taimyr Gulls: evidence for Pacific winter range, with notes on morphology and breeding. Dutch Birding 33: 9-21


Prasad Ganpule. Opp. Nazarbaug, Morbi – 363642, Gujarat, India.








Bermuda phylloscopus Warbler: Another look

and listen!

Martin Garner and David Cooper

The phylloscopus warbler found wintering on Bermuda has already attracted enormous interest. With zero phylloscopus previously recorded on the east coast of North America- what was it and where was it from?

The slightly confusing mix of characters visible in photos including active wing moult leading to some head scratching. Only Willow Warbler and Arctic Warbler are normally in active pre-breeding moult and when the calls were finally captured it was sorted- an Arctic Warbler. I think the general assumption too was that it was a Eurasian bird- of the nominate form ‘borealis’, least that was in MG’s head.

See the Original Post asking for help with ID (before sound recorded)


More images were added HERE


Then after sound recording the ID conclusion was written up HERE Bermuda Arctic Warbler the Bermuda Arctic Warbler – but which taxon and from where?


The call never sounded right. That’s to say that one of the best places to see Arctic Warbler this side of the pond in autumn is Shetland. And they always or nearly so give a single dipper-like slightly raspy call ‘dzik’. A single note. The Bermuda Warbler often/ most frequently gave a double note. I checked with Roger Riddington and Paul Harvey who have seen lots of Arctic Warblers. Invariably only uttering single notes bar one late bird 2 autumns ago which occasionally gave a double note.     XC168678-Phylloscopus Warbler Bermuda (1).png double n single Sonagram of Bermuda Arctic Warbler giving both single and double notes XC168678-Phylloscopus Warbler Bermuda (1)Sonagram of Bermuda Arctic Warbler giving typical double notes


With David Cooper, we began to compare the Bermuda bird with other ‘Arctic Warbler’ taxa. We started with the 3 way split including borealis, examinandus and xanthodryas. See the paper explaining the split. It sounded closest to examinandus, but not quite right (better heard than looking at double note sonogram.). The Bermuda bird was then compared with calls of the Alaskan form kennicotti. Bingo/ snap. At least we think so.

Have a listen look at sonograms, consider the very late extra yellow visible on the Bermuda bird.

Listen to: Kamchatka Leaf Warbler examinandus, Arctic Warbler borealis and Japanese Leaf Warbler xanthodryas  >>> HERE <<< 

Listen to: Alaskan kennicotti >>> HERE <<<

Listen to: the Bermuda Arctic warbler >>> HERE <<<

Oh and if kennicotti can reach Bermuda– a shorter distance, great circle route could take kennicotti to… Shetland, or the Outer Hebrides or pretty much anywhere in Britain. #just saying.


Williamson (1962) states ‘P. borealis is a variable species, and the only forms which show any degree of constancy are kennicotti and xanthodryas, and these are valid on bill-structure as much as colouration.
P. borealis kennicotti
This race is similar to borealis, though perhaps yellower below. It has a weak bill more like that of Greenish. Vaurie gives the following measurements: wing 62-69, bill 12.5-14.5; first-winter birds are often smaller.
Maybe that’s why some plumped for Greenish Warbler?

Alaskan kennicotti and taxonomy?

One might further ask the question whether the taxonomy of Kennicott’s Warbler..kennicotti needs a re-appraisal…

Bermuda Phyllosc-DSC_9675 The Bermuda Arctic Warbler– best fit kennicotti...   XC140995-Arctic Warbler2013-6-9-3 kennicotti 2 kennicotti Arctic Warbler XC140993-Arctic Warbler2013-6-9-1 kennicotti 4 kennicotti Arctic Warbler. Sonagram and sound virtually identical to Bermuda phyllosc. XC140994-Arctic Warbler2013-6-9-2 kennni 94kennicotti Arctic Warbler- some recordings contain single notes too


Akihiro Sakuma from Japan kindly commented as follows::

Oh! It’s very difficult to identify what ‘ Arctic Warbler ‘.
But for me  it seems to be ‘kennicotti ‘.

‘borealis‘ upperparts  are more dark green colour and underparts dusky
without yellowish, and also some streaks on its breast.
But this ‘Arctic Warbler’ s underparts yellowish and without streaks on its

‘examinudus’ also has yellowish underparts but is not smart proportion like
this ‘Arctic Warbler’
And this ‘Arctic Warbler’ call is not like ‘examinandus’ ( Kamchatka Leaf

So I think this  Arctic Warbler ‘ is  ‘kennicotti ‘,  and  as  its
underparts and supercilium are yellowish, it seems to be 1st winter .

Bermuda Phyllosc-DSC_9691

Northern Bullfinch at Filey

Rare anyway. Rarer in Spring

We don’t get many ‘Northern’ nominate Bullfinches in Britain. Usually in the autumn during an invasion year. To get one in spring is even more special. This bird was only seen in flight yesterday, and heard giving the ‘trumpet call’. The call is exclusive to birds of northern/ eastern origin… isn’t it?

Mark Pearson describes the encounter at Filey , North Yorkshire on 17th April 2014:

“I heard it before I saw it, and to be honest thought “what the hell’s that?” before looking east and clocking it as a male Bullfinch gunning up the coast in a strong south-westerly. It called at least three times, the classic toy trumpet (apparently diagnostic) of Northern on each occasion. No luxuries of comparison of course, but it did indeed look suitably big, chunky and brutish.




Mike Dilger at 2014 Spurn Migration Festival

Mike Dilger will be attending 2014 Spurn Migration Festival

Mike Dilger, a familiar face to our screens making regular appearances as a wildlife reporter for the BBC One Show and Inside Out, along with presenting natural history programmes such as Urban Jungle, will be at the 2014 Spurn Migration Festival.

Spurn Migration Festival one

Mike has just recently accepted the position of Patron at the Spurn Bird Observatory and shall be welcoming festival ticket holders during his informative evening lecture at Westmere Farm on Saturday and accompanying several guided walks throughout the weekend.

Mike said: “I’m really excited about being able to join the Spurn Migration Festival this year. As a passionate naturalist I have birded in a huge range of countries but Spurn’s epic peninsula during the autumn bird migration is spectacular and certainly something every naturalist should witness for themselves.Mike dilger

Scarce species such as Balearic, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters along with Red-Backed Shrike, Wryneck and Common Rosefinch were all seen at last years festival so I’m looking forward to see what this year will have in store for us. But if none of those species ring any bells don’t worry, the festival caters for all abilities and provides the perfect place to learn.”

Tickets on Sale: from 28th April 

The Spurn Migration Festival runs from the 5th – 7th September 2014. Tickets will be going on sale on the 28th April and the prices are as follows: £14 for a day ticket, £21 for the weekend ticket and £8 for the evening lecture with delicious hog roast. Inquiries have already been coming in…

The event is hosted by Spurn Bird Observatory and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with Birding Frontiers and Westmere Farm.

road to spurn