Monthly Archives: November 2014

The most elusive of whales makes landfall on Angelsey & then Gwynedd

Dan Brown

It’s been a chock-a-block autumn for cetaceans but the recent stranding of a Pygmy Sperm Whale has drawn the most attention

First apologies for yet another blubber-loving post! I had intended on focusing on something furrier but unless you’ve had your head in the sand you cant help but have heard of the recent flurry of whale activity around the British coast, culminating in the stranding in of a Pygmy Sperm Whale on Anglesey, then Gwynedd, recently.

Pygmy Sperm Whale stranded on Newborough beach, Anglesey (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

Pygmy Sperm Whale stranded on Newborough beach, Anglesey (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

It’s been a remarkably varied autumn in many ways. For starters Humpbacks have been putting in an appearances, well, more like putting on shows for those in Norfolk, Skye, Caithness and Shetland, not to mention the regular Southern Irish animals. The former animal appears to be returning animal from last year, and whilst arriving a week later than in 2013, it seems to have departed on exactly the same day as it did in 2013, 17th November. Norfolk continued its great run of sightings with a Minke and then the welcome documented pod of Pilot whales, which pushed south down to Essex where they were successful herded back out to sea.

But back to Anglesey where the Pygmy Sperm Whale live stranded on Newborough beach. The animal was located and tended to very rapidly, and all credit to those involved, they managed to refloat the animal and off it swam. Sadly a few days later a second attempt at sunbathing for this animal proved rather too successful and it succumbed. Luckily the animal was discovered by Rhys Jones and Eddie Urbanski on Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd, and they were able to inform the relevant authorities.

Pygmy Sperm Whale, Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd. Nicely illustrates the unusual head shape (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Pygmy Sperm Whale, Dinas Dinlle, Gwynedd. Nicely illustrates the unusual head shape (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Whilst a sad event, it represents a great opportunity to find out a bit more about these amazingly rare and little understood animals. This is only the 11th stranding of this species in the UK in 25 years. A field necropsy conducted by Zoological Society of London and MEM found the animal to be a juvenile male and in moderate nutritional health. Whilst there was a large piece of plastic in the second stomach this was not thought to be the cause of the animals death and it is hoped that further tests will ascertain the exact cause.

The Kogia’s (Pygmy & Dwarf Sperm Whales) are quite remarkable animals. They are some of the most unobtrusive cetaceans and Dwarf, in particular, is widespread and in theory quite common. Most live sightings involve animals logging at the surface from which they sink without disturbing the water surface, to feed on cephalopods at great depths. There is evidence to suggest that they favour the slack areas of water to log in (these are often visible as silvery lines across the surface of the ocean). These slack lines occur when water masses of differing salinity meet. The resulting acoustic distortion allows the animals to rest in relative safety from sonar-dependent predators. Another string to their defence bow is the evolution of these species to resemble sharks with a pseudo-gill line, pointy snouts and prominent teeth.

Close-up of the head showing the pseudo-gill line (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

Close-up of the head showing the pseudo-gill line (photo Bem Murcott/Sea Watch Foundation)

Close up showing the remarkable teeth of the Pygmy Sperm Whale (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Close up showing the remarkable teeth of the Pygmy Sperm Whale (Photo: Rhys Jones)

Both these species should be on the radars of anyone exploring the deeper waters off the south-west approaches, western Ireland and south through Biscay and onward to Madeira and the Canary Islands.

If you’re interested in following more about British cetacean strandings in the UK then the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme – UK Strandings page on Facebook is well worth ‘Liking’.

Additionally Seawatch Foundation have an internship for which 2015 applicants may now apply. If you’re interested in learning more about cetaceans and marine mammal conservation then see the link below.

http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/internships/

 

Stejneger’s Stonechat

Not so tricky?

Martin Garner

Following confirmed occurrence in NW Europe (Britain, Netherlands and Finland) in the last 2 years the early murmurings were about how these were not really identifiable in the field.

As my Canadian past self might articulate “Is that right?”

I am gaining confidence that they really are identifiable. Illustrating their distinctiveness from  Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’, a greater challenge can be separating some Stejneger’s from the European Stonechat hibernates/rubicola. Lots more in this book of course 🙂

Have a look at these 3 shots which encapsulate key features of this 1st winter female on Fair Isle this autumn- with thanks to Fair Isle warden, David Parnaby. More on that bird HERE.

Stejneger's Stonechat 3 Stejneger's Stonechat2 Stejneger's Stonechat 1

 

As a reminder here’s the 1st winter male in October 2012 in Britain and Netherlands (DNA confirmed). More on that bird HERE.

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Here’s a 1st winter male from Orivesi, Pappilanniemi, Finland on 7th November 2013 (DNA confirmed). This last one features in a must-read paper in British Birds by Magnus Hellström and Gabriel Norevik. More HERE.

Beautiful and fuller set of photos by Jani Vastamäki are HERE.

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More thoughts on ‘grey and white’ Chiffchaffs

from Alan Dean

Hello Martin and thanks for the response.

Below is a composite image showing

(a) a photo of the St Agnes, Scilly, Chiffchaff from October 2011 (the bird I have long featured in discussions as a classic example of a ‘grey and white’ Chiffchaff and with which you will be correspondingly familiar);

(b) a copy of the image by Anthony McGeehan of his suggested abietinus on Inishbofin in October 2014 (I trust Anthony is happy for me to repeat it here).

I do not suggest that either image is colour perfect nor that their appearance in the field would not vary somewhat from their depictions here. I do suggest that there is a close similarity between the two individuals in these photos and that they are ‘the same kind of beast’. I have selected an image of the St Agnes bird which has a somewhat comparable posture to the Inishbofin bird.

There are further images (and plenty of discussion!) of the St Agnes bird on my website: http://deanar.org.uk/tristis/tristis.htm 

Regards, Alan

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Siberian Chiffchaff heads

Ottenby Bird Observatory, Sweden

Magnus Hellström

Here’s a photo with a slight nerd warning, primarily for those of you deeply into this subject…

During the autumn we caught 12 Chiffchaffs at Ottenby Bird Observatory, which we have recorded as Siberian Chiffchaffs ‘tristis’. Several were very typical but also some best described as ‘fulvescens’ (western tristis)- showing slight presence of yellow, and perhaps a trifle more olive above. The image is a rather amusing compilation, and gives a quick impression of the variation.

Click on to see closer/ larger size.


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Siberian and Scandinavian Chiffchaffs

Be careful. More Questions still.

It’s become something of an enigma. Routinely recorded in old bird reports as abietinus (Scandinavian Chiffchaff), or sometimes ‘Eastern Chiffchaff’ as a catch-all for those uncertain tristis/abietinus. Birders are increasingly more savy and better informed. Siberian Chiffchaffs (tristis) are identifiable most of the time. And they are probably better classified as a full species…

Common Chiffchaff with characters of North-eastern or Scandinavian 'abietinus'. Inishbofin, Ireland, late October 2014. Anthony McGeehan

Common Chiffchaff with characters of North-eastern or Scandinavian ‘abietinus’. Inishbofin, Ireland, late October 2014. Anthony McGeehan

Common Chiffchaff- taken in Jerusalem on 19th October 2012 has similar plumage tones and themes to the Inishbofin bird above.  Martin Garner. Many/most? of the Common Chiffchaffs migrating though Israel will be abietinus.

Common Chiffchaff- taken in Jerusalem on 19th October 2012 has similar plumage tones and themes to the Inishbofin bird above. Martin Garner. Many/most? of the Common Chiffchaffs migrating though Israel will be abietinus.

We do still get birds with characters of more obvious abietinus and usually in conditions bringing other Scandinavian migrants (two memorable birds in mid October at Flamborough this year). Yet early studies showed all birds trapped in late autumn/ winter in the Netherlands and Britain and thought to be abietinus or tristis.…were all tristis.

Blessed with frustratingly good skills in photography and prose, Anthony McGeehan took these highly instructive comparative images of a stick-on Siberian and seeming Scandinavian Chiffchaffs on his haven on Inishbofin on Ireland’s west coast, in late October.

Do notice the differences- especially in ear coverts pattern and distribution of plumage tones.

The read on Siberian Chiffs is excellent- more on Anthony’s Facebook page is well worth a visit.

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Topmost bird – a Common Chiffchaff with plumage tones typical of some (more obvious) Scandinavian ‘abietinus’. Many abietinus are indistinguishable form typical collybita (Magnus Hellström).

Lower 3 birds – All of the same Siberian Chiffchaff (tristis)

All photographs- Inishbofin, October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

Siberian Chiffchaff- tristis, Inishbofin, late October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

Siberian Chiffchaff- tristis, Inishbofin, late October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

 

 

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Desert Lesser Whitethroats

Two of ’em!

Spun Bird Observatory has had  monster autumn. Alongside some more sexy headlining birds were two halimodendri candidates. This remains a rare bird in Britian whereas the term ‘scarce’ probably fits Siberian Lesser Whitethroats (blythi).

The first was found at Easington Cemetery by Tony Disley on 14th-15th October. Here it is:

halimodenrdi e c late oct 14

The second was at the point near the VHS tower. Both called (which helps enormously in the ID) and recordings were obtained of each. Sonograms look the same and fit halimodendri nicely. Here’s the point bird. Have a listen:

Here’s the sonogram of that November point bird. Though some variation, notice the thicker introductory note followed by several thinner notes on the seconds series. It’s virtually identical to the recording featured via the QR code in the Challenge Series: AUTUMN.

lesser whitethroat spurn 13 nov 2014

 

Here’s that second bird (the one with the recording above)  at the point on 13th November 2014. Both photos by Dave Boyle. Can’t see all you would want to but the bill looks smallish, the primary projection looks tiny and ‘squished’ the second primary (P2) looks especially short and the outer tail  feather very white.

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Back to Bird One

Here’s the bird at Easington Cemetery on 14th-15th October. Photos by Tony Disley. The first photo shows  fat rounded heading and tiny bill. Lovely! Again the primary projection looks  like its particularly short.

All this info is in the Challenge Series. Great to see records like these where lots of data obtained helping towards a much more robust ID than the old generic ‘Eastern Lesser Whitethroat’ epithet.

halimodenrdi b e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi c e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi d e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi e e c late oct 14

 

Sandwich Tern with yellow…

on more of the bill than usual

This curious looking tern was photographed on the 5th of November at Faro Saltpans in the south of Portugal. Thijs Valkenburg  is the guy who picked it up and in discussion with Pim Wolf came to a considered ID. I agree- see what you think. It’s interesting too when you recall that yellow-billed tern at Cemlyn, N. Wales a few years back. What have I said! 😉

Hi Martin,

 I got your email from Pim Wolf after discussing the identification of this tern. (see pictures attached)
 
We got to a fairly good conclusion we think, sandvicensis with a weird bill deformation and colouration.
 
We would like to see what´s your opinion about it. It´s quite a nice case. Lucky it was not a fly by,
that would be quite a heart breaking bird I think!
 
Best regards and thanks in advance for an answer,
Thijs Valkenburg

 

 

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