Monthly Archives: September 2014

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat. blythi update

DNA confirms they DO occur earlier (as suspected)

Sticking one’s neck out can be a bit risky. Claiming Siberian Lesser Whitethroats in the first week of September might sound a bit rash. Yet the characters seemed to be there. One bird at Spurn over the Migration Festival and one at Flamborough 7th-8th Sept.

Why so cool (BTW)?

It’s got SIBERIAN in the name and molecular data suggests blythi should be treated as different species from European nominate birds. And they are a great ID challenge.

Here’s the Flamborough bird again:

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat Flamborough 8th Sept 2014

More on the Flamborough bird is here

Lots more on identifying Siberian and Desert Lesser Whitethroat in THIS BOOK!

Peter de Knijff sent a most encouraging email with this remarkable news:

A Siberian Lesser Whitethroat was trapped and confirmed by DNA in the Netherlands on 26/27th August 2014.  Very cool!

A second bird also reported as DNA confirmed blythi in Europe in August. So we were on the money. As autumn progress more blythi will occur and less nominate curruca. Are you ready?

There have been a scattering of records of apparent candidates in the last week inc. in east Scotland (Darren Woodhead), Filey (Mark Pearson) and Norfolk (Richard Milllington. Where will yours be? 🙂

Some shots of the Spurn bird on 7th Sept by Sam Viles:



One at Portland Bird Observatory on 13th September this year proved interesting. Thanks to Joe Stockwell and Martin Cade for their input. This bird had less striking plumage than the Spurn and Flamborough birds (though think prob. OK for blythi) and short p2. Martin does a superb job at photographing birds in the hand.

bp_lwt_130914_whole_4bp_lwt_130914_open_wing bp_lwt_130914_tail bp_lwt_130914_closed_wing bp_lwt_130914_wing_point_1

He does a very useful thing with white balance settings in the last 3 shots. This illustrates that photos can be quite misleading. Appearance in the field is what counts- more tips on watching and fieldcraft with Lesser Whitethroats in the Challenge Series: AUTUMN

bp_lwt_130914_whole_3 bp_lwt_130914_whole_2 bp_lwt_130914_whole_1


Kamchatka Gull at St. John’s, Newfoundland


Alvan Buckley found this bird at St. John’s 4 days ago (September 16th 2014) and emailed the next day. Apologies for not getting it up earlier ( of living at Flamborough!). This bird looks right on the money  for the East Asian Kamchatka Gull. Here’s Alvan’s description: IMG_5566

Remarkably, it was standing right next to an adult Yellow-legged Gull (see last photo).
The mantle colour was very similar, if not the same as the YLGU.
Bill was notably thinner without any obvious markings or widening near the end (almost Mew Gull like).
Eye was dark!
Leg colour was definitely more yellow than the YLGU. In fact I would say that the YLGU legs were more orange in colour.
Legs were short and thin, could barely see above the tarsus.
Head streaking was slightly more dense on top of the head, but was present along the neck too and the streaking was generally smudgy in appearance.
Body was noticeably slimmer and smaller than the YLGU and HERGs.
From the in flight shots it appears that p9 and p10 are missing/growing in – so it is advanced in its primary molt for an adult at this time of year. New P8 is part grown.
and my response:
Hi Alvan
sorry for slow response- very busy as just moved house and lots migration going on outside!
This look remarkable and looks pretty much spot on for a Kamchatka Gull (as you hinted)- no problem with size- you get big ones. The dark iris was little disconcerting as they often have paler iris but think its ok.
I checked with top gull man Chris Gibbins and his reaction was exactly the same- look great for Kamchatka Gull.
Cheers Martin
More on Alvan’s Blog: Birding with Buckley

IMG_5572 IMG_5580IMG_5622 IMG_5620 IMG_5619IMG_5569

£5000 reward offered for missing Montagu’s Harrier

and 20,000 signatures to the Queen

by Lush

£5000 reward offered for any information on the missing bird leading to a convictionlush one

LUSH customers from around the country recently signed 20,000 postcards to the Queen asking for her help to stop the illegal shooting of the beautiful Hen Harrier on driven grouse moors, a species teetering on the edge with only 3 breeding pairs left in England when there should be over 350. Now, with the recent shocking news of a satellite tagged Montagu’s Harrier suddenly going missing in Norfolk, it seems it doesn’t matter if it’s Hen Harrier on its breeding grounds, a migrating Montagu’s Harrier or a hunting Peregrine, no bird of prey is safe from the guns.


In a strange twist of fate, the satellite tag on the missing Montagu’s Harrier was actually paid for by LUSH founder Mark Constantine and the bird was even named after his wife Mo. The husband and wife team have also offered a £5000 reward for any information on the missing bird leading to a conviction.


The killing or disturbing of any bird of prey in England is totally illegal.  With 20,000 voices from the high street saying enough is enough, will their calls finally be heard above the gunfire?


Paul Morton from LUSH said “I can’t believe that just as we were gathering the last of the postcards from our recent campaign to send to Her Majesty, we get the news that another rare bird of prey, a Montagu’s Harrier, has gone missing near Great Bircham in Norfolk…it never ends! Luckily the bird was satellite tagged as part of a larger research project so the RSPB know exactly where the bird was right up until the last few seconds. Birds of prey are some of the most beautiful of any bird in world, I can’t understand what thrill people get from shooting them”.


LUSH’s Ethics Director, Hilary Jones added “It seems it is not a moment too soon that our customers are asking the Queen to intervene in this madness.  It is time to preserve our wild heritage with the same respect we treat our other institutions. Our once abundant birds of prey are being Harry’d to extinction and we need to act now before it becomes too late”.


LUSH will be handing the 20,000 signatures over to Buckingham Palace in the coming weeks in the hope the Royal Family take note of these atrocities and help put a stop to this slaughter once and for all.




For further information on the Hen Harrier plight, please visit

For further press information and interview opportunities, 

please contact Stephanie in the LUSH Press Office on 020 7434 3948/07715 055 005 or email

Easterly Winds and an Awesome Time Digiscoping at Spurn

Justin Carr

With the winds coming from the east for well over a week, I decided to spend a couple of days at Britain’s Premier Migration Hotspot. Expectation was high!!

honey buzzard

HONEY BUZZARD Was the first exiting bird of the day the bird come south then u turned over the triangle.


wryneck WRYNECK  The long staying bird on the caravan site.


COMMON SNIPE possibly of the ssp faeroeensis. Showing aggression to a nearby Redshank.


Another shot of the same COMMON SNIPE.


WHINCHAT, One of many in the triangle.







Spurn at its best, other Birds recorded over the weekend, PALLID HARRIER, 4 Red breasted Flycatchers, Corncrake, Great Grey Shrike, Marsh Warbler, 3 Barred Warblers, 2 Yellow browed Warblers, and a Firecrest plus a good scattering of common migrants.

All images (apart from wood warbler) taken with a Panasonic GH3 on a SWAROVSKI 80.





Spurn Migration Festival – joint press release

The second Spurn Migration Festival a great success!

Birdwatchers from across the UK and beyond gathered at Spurn National Nature Reserve for this year’s Spurn Migration Festival.

Spurn Migration Festival one


Spurn is renowned by birdwatchers as one of the best places in the UK to witness the autumn bird migration spectacle. Across the 5th, 6th and 7th of September 2014 Spurn hosted over 300 people at the second Spurn Migration Festival.


Founded in 2012 by local birder Andy Roadhouse and Birding Frontiers’ Martin Garner, the festival kicked off with a hugely successful event in September 2013. This year and last, the event was hosted by Sue and Andrew Wells at Westmere Farm in Kilnsea with activities taking place on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Spurn National Nature Reserve and around the Kilnsea and Easington area.


124 species were recorded over the weekend by the Spurn Bird Observatory who enthralled everyone with their ringing demonstrations and informative migration walks.

One of the great spectacles was the large numbers of common migrants stopping off at Spurn on their way from Scandinavia to Africa. Good numbers of whinchats, wheatears, redstarts, warblers, spotted and pied flycatchers, enabling many festival goers to see these birds well for the first time. There were even a few rarities seen including a Pacific Golden Plover, a Caspian Gull, a Long-tailed Skua, several Barred Warblers and of course the very popular Wrynecks.


Paul Collins from Spurn Bird Observatory said: “We ringed 370 birds of 33 species across the weekend including sparrowhawk, great spotted woodpecker, whinchat, wheatear, barred warbler, pied flycatcher and lesser redpoll. Many of our younger festival goers were thrilled with having the chance to release the birds once ringed.”


Spurn Bird Observatory Trust’s Patron and natural history TV celebrity Mike Dilger graced the stage for Saturday’s evening lecture; calling on all the festivals attendees to inspire, educate and encourage younger generations to partake in watching wildlife and caring for the environment.


The festival’s focus was not only on the wonder of bird migration – plant, strandline, history and insect walks along with wildlife and landscape art also formed a big part of the festival. Artist Darren Woodhead gave a wonderful lecture on his work and a highlight for many was to see him in action as he competed with Martin Garner from Birding Frontiers and Mike Dilger in a ‘paint off’. Safari tours of the peninsula were run too, giving people the chance to explore the iconic nature reserve.


Martin said: “I am bowled over once again. The heady mix of Britain’s top bird migration spot, the superb team spirit of volunteers and some very special guests and exhibitors made for another roaring success.”


A wide range of birds and other wildlife were seen during the festival. A highlight for many were the small number of wrynecks that showed themselves off. An attractive bird with cryptic plumage and a quirky character. Belonging to the woodpecker family it undertakes long distance migrations and those spotted during the festival were likely migrating to tropical Africa.


Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Director of Development Jonathan Leadley said: “As I walked round the corner, a birder was filming something almost at his feet on the drive next to the Blue Bell Café. I carefully headed over to see if he was filming a butterfly or something and was amazed to see the reptilian form of a wryneck on the ground literally six feet away!”


The partners of the Spurn Migration Festival would like to thank all those who came to this year’s event along with the team of volunteers who worked tirelessly and helped make the event run so smoothly.


For those who missed the festival the autumn migration has only just started and with lots of smaller events being held at Spurn NNR across the season there are still many opportunities to get involved. A DVD of this year’s event will also be available to purchase. Visit and for more information.

Grey-headed Wagtail in first winter plumage

Overlooked thunbergi?

Had this fella in the field west of the lighthouse at Flamborough yesterday. Interesting ID process as I could have easily overlooked it (the photos make it look easier!). As it’s the only report in the U.K. this autumn– just wondering if others are being missed.

Here’s the features:

Reduced supercilium first thing noted- limited essentially to behind eye- and rather thin

Ear coverts looking ‘filled in’ and dark

Greyish bloom to head especially over nape and even onto mantle

Necklace of spots right across the breast

Aged by retained juvenile greater coverts with crisp white fringes contrasting with 2nd generation median coverts with broader yellowy-buff broader more diffuse fringes.

gave only ‘sweet’ western flava type calls (so not plexa)

Perhaps a young male?

Have a look through the photos:

grey headed wag 9

grey headed wag 2grey headed wag 5grey headed wag 8grey headed wag1000.

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat – blythi

Spurn and Flamborough on 6th September 2014

Not expected. I mean it seems awful early. The earliest confirmed Siberian (blythi) is 10th September, in Shetland. Perhaps some are earlier this year. Perhaps they have been overlooked in the past? It’s a bit manic since we have moved to Flamborough- birders all over my driveway today for an obliging Red-breasted Flycatcher in the sycamore across the road. Baltic Gull and Caspian Gull mania too. So apologies for lack of stuff-  I am going to have to learn to blog a bit quicker :). Hope its OK. (Red-breasted Fly is still visible in sycamore as I type- this is so cool!)

The first apparent/ candidate blythi was last Sunday 7th September at the Spurn Migration Festival. I think Pim Wolf had at least something to do with it. It was a ‘brown’ headed Lesser Whitethroat and photos of upperside of outermost tail feather appear to show it mostly gleaming white. It looked a good candidate to me. I then returned to Flamborough and found one on Monday 8th Sept. The same bird had actually be seen by Anthony Capuano on the Sunday. So 2 blythi candidates, Flamborough and Spurn-both turned up on the same day

Picking one out:

Chatting with Pim and comparing own notes. Sure there are caveats but the brush strokes seem to be that nominate curruca has whiter underparts- less contrast tween white throat and unders- often white bleeds from throat all way down central unders. Some blythi types more buff tones below with stronger contrast with marked white throat. Subtle but can catch the eye.

Head looks roughly brown headed on blythi type, blue headed on young curruca.That’s wildly overstating it but I find it a useful handle. You have to practice on curruca which can be quite pallid headed but the soft grey tone of head tends to be more uniform over head (apart from central nape versus overall browner head with more restricted ‘blue’ on blythi types. It’s a working hypothesis.

Once you see an interesting one- 3 things to look for. rattle call, wing formula and tail pattern. It’s all written up and beautifully illustrated in the Challenge series: AUTUMN.

Here was my first chance to test it this autumn. Here’s the Flamborough bird on Monday 8th September. call infrequent tack only. Tail feathers not well seen. But wing formula photographed to some useful degree.

P.S. taxonomically, blythi– Siberian Lesser Whitethroat may well be best treated as full species. So one worth looking for! Lots more info in THE BOOK!

So here’s a normal looking ‘nominate’ curruca on 4th September in me Flamborough garden. Powdery grey over head and rather white unders

4 sept european lesser whitethroat


and here’s the brown headed bird at Flamborough on 8th September. Looks like one to me!!

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat Flamborough 8th Sept 2014

check out the head and underparts:

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat b Flamborough 8th Sept 2014Siberian Lesser Whitethroat c Flamborough 8th Sept 2014

So the wing formula. P2 looks short- about p6/p7 or even = p7

LW 3 Flamb 8.9.14

here’s the wing of a nominate curruca at same angle, the next day (9th Sept) at Ottenby Bird Obs (thanks to the wonderful Magnus Hellstrom)

curruca Ottenbycompare