Monthly Archives: December 2014

Little Bustard in East Yorkshire

Little Bustard twoMartin Garner

Pretty cool end to the year. Blooming’ marvellous find by Kev Barnard, followed up by relocate by Tony Dixon. Tony’s phone calls (via the wonderful Dave Aitken) mobilised a team from Flamborough to search for the bird. The kale/brassica field looked most likely and before long Phil Cunningham was blurting forth “its right here- right in front of us” and so it was!

Don’t know ‘owt about sexing birds in winter etc but seemed to have dark base colour to nape feathers and rather shaggy dark throat feathering at times when feeding. Wondering if that makes it a (first winter?) male?

Here it is:

and couple more grabs

and a Happy New Year!

Little Bustard one Little Bustard three


Happy Christmas and a wonder-filled New Year

to all our friends and followers

Thank you for following, reading, contributing, challenging and being part of all that is Birding Frontiers.

reindeer two

From Rudolph 🙂 A Reindeer in Varanger.

Small notice too. Our little shop will not be dealing with orders from lunchtime today (23rd December) until 6th January 2015. You can still place orders but they won’t be dealt with until 6th. Thanks.


Hands-up who’s looking forward to 2015!

Who would like to find  one of these snowy-rumped beauties…

arctic redpoll nr Vadso April 2012

female Arctic Redpoll Vadso April 2012 c

What was that Gull?

21st-23rd August 2014

Flamborough Head.

2cy Caspian b

In that remarkable summer of 2014 with Caspian Gulls galore (c20) at Flamborough, several Yellow-legged Gulls, three candidate juvenile Baltic Gulls, one excellent looking 2cy Baltic Gull AND this chap (or perhaps more likely lady) caused a little local stir and national response.

Found it in the Old Fall fields on the flashes so popular with many of the large gulls, I struggled with the ID. Aged as a 1st summer (2cy- just over a year old) – I chewed on it for a while and my best assessment was I thought it was a Yellow-legged Gull though I remained uneasy. First summers can be hard! The head pattern (a strong white C shape around the back of the ear coverts) inner primaries and trial pattern lead me to the YLGull conclusion. Rather unusually one of the national bird info agencies ‘re-identifed it, based on I think photos on twitter and Flamborough Bird Obs as a 1st summer Lesser Black-backed Gull. A little odd as I was privy to a lot more info, having actually seen it. No sweat, I never thought it was a LBB but I realised it was also never a straightforward identification. One local friend has been keen for me to resolve the to ID more fully, given the questions raised, so with Chris Gibbins visiting over the weekend we had a fresh look at the images. I think we came to an identification I am more confident in.

His enormous experience especially in recent years of thousands of Caspian Gulls in many locations quickly lead him to the assessment that the most likely ID was a 1st summer female Caspian Gull. Revisiting the images with fresh eyes I have to agree, this seems the bets fit. Indeed it looks blooming’ obvious in some images! It’s a darker bird but as Chris pointed out head the head structure is very good and there are no real minus points for that species.

If you look through the videos and images- check out the plumage of the head and especially the head and bill structure, the paler inner primaries (wrong for LBB) and the tail pattern.


The images below are taken from video hence some reduced quality

2cy Caspian a2cy Caspian e2cy Caspian c 2cy Caspian d

The shot below was taken 2 days after the first series looks… perhaps bit more convincing for those still unsure.

What do you think?

2cy Caspian f

Leona, Lydia & Mako – the tale of a turtle and two sharks

Dan Brown

We tend to think our British and Irish seas are fairly unremarkable but a beached Mako Shark, a glancing blow by a Great White, and a Loggerhead Turtle certainly prove this isn’t the case! 
The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Griffin

The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Griffin

The marine news has been coming thick and fast this autumn. Hot on the heals of the Pygmy Sperm Whale in Gwynedd a stunning female Mako shark sadly washed ashore on Barmouth beach, also Gwynedd. Mako’s are uncommon visitors to our waters and have sadly declined by around 50% as a result of fishing practices. For more info on them see here

These sharks are closely related to Great White Sharks are simply phenomenal predators. Interestingly another was caught off the Pembrokeshire coast last year which could indicate a slight warming of our oceanic waters.

The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Giffin

The female Mako on Barmouth beach. Image credit Llew Giffin

This animal was autopsied by Marine Enviromental Monitoring and found to contain a Harbour Porpoise.

The Harbour Porpoise found during the autopsy of the Mako. Image courtesy of Marine Environmental Monitoring

The Harbour Porpoise found during the autopsy of the Mako. Image courtesy of Marine Environmental Monitoring

On a happier note, its great to be able to report that Lydia, the Great White Shark, that teased with Irish waters earlier this year, is still fighting fit and looking to start a return journey back our way. She’s currently hanging out on the Grand Banks and in theory she should start heading east again soon. How close will she come this time around??

Lydia was the first documented Great White Shark to cross the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. From her tagging off Florida she has cruised north and east before returning to her original tagging location and starting the entire circular migration again. There is every chance that she, or other Great Whites could make into Irish Oceanic waters such as the Porcupine Bight off Co Kerry. We can only keep our fingers crossed as I for one would do anything to see a Great White in British or Irish waters! For more info and some pretty great images have a look here:

Not a job for the faint hearted! Lydia sporting her brand new tags off the Florida coast

Not a job for the faint hearted! Lydia sporting her brand new tags off the Florida coast

They always do things bigger in the US!

They always do things bigger in the US!

You can literally follow her on Twitter @RockStarLydia as well as White Shark research in general @A_Whiteshark, and @OCEARCH

And lastly Leona, the Loggerhead Turtle. She was found back in November 2013 on the beach at Seafield, Quilty, Co Clare in poor health. She was taken to Galway Atlantiquarium where she was treated and slowly gained strength and mass. Fast forward a year and with a lot of effort and support all round, including an Aer Lingus flight, Leona has found herself back in the waters off the Canary Islands complete with a satellite tag. After a superstar wave off she has been making good progress and is currently heading south off Tenerife. It will be fascinating to see where the next year of her life takes her. You can read a full story of her recovery on the IWDG page here.

Leona the Loggerhead Turtle at her weakest in November 2013

Leona the Loggerhead Turtle at her weakest in November 2013

Leona's track since being released on 4th December on Gran Canaria

Leona’s track since being released on 4th December on Gran Canaria

For up to date movements and more information on the tracking of Leona check out the webpage here. Or to follow her movements on twitter find her @Leonaslog

BIRDS of the Homeplace. Anthony McGeehan with Julian Wyllie

Want a feast this Christmas? Birds_of_the_Homeplace

A review by Martin Garner

Want a feast this Christmas? Look no further than Anthony McGeehan’s latest offering. Following ‘Bird’s Through Irish Eyes’, reviewed HERE, this new publication seeks to inform and inspire the nature and bird enthusiasts of Ireland- it easily serves a much wider audience.



 Don’t be fooled. However long or short a time you have been birding. However much or little time you spend in the field, however big or small your garden, I cannot see how you will fail to be both informed and inspired beyond expectation.

Indeed I must apologise as I had hoped to say something here sooner but have been a little stymied by several factors, not least the volume of fascinating material which I wanted to try to digest before tap tapping on the keyboard. There’s too much good stuff here and I’m not going to make it so…Jackdaw

…the book is set aside on me wee coffee table as the Christmas season read in preparation for January 1st 2015. Why? I am a compulsive January 1st birdwatcher. I have been for 40 years. When the local church bells toll midnight and a new year begins, so I look on a fresh clean canvas. It’s all-new. Anticipated excitement already grips me as there is so much to see, so much I hope to learn. Most of the birds I see  in 2015 will of course be species I have seen before, yet I know I can come to each one with fresh eyes and an open heart to discover.

This book is the ideal primer.

Anthony’s familiar engaging writing style, is once again coal titbeautifully illustrated by well-chosen photographs sometimes in clever collage form to aid the communication of ideas. The pages are dripping with new insights and observations. I know I will be watching the Starlings and Reed Bunting, Coals Tits and Song Thrushes with renewed wonder.

In roughly two halves, the 231 pages are divided between a 25-chapter section giving insights into the lives of common birds. This is followed by a closer look at 70 common species. In the course of his writing I was privy to some of Antony’s discoveries begun with his own field observations. It was tantamount to hearing from an investigative reporter who had unearthed startling new information on a familiar human narrative. So juicy were some of his observations I seriously contemplated poaching and publishing 🙂 . In the end I could only allude, in talks I was giving at the time, about ‘discoveries on birds are still being made from he kitchen window’. In summarizing this inadequate review then:

This book is a Christmas feast for all ornithologists whether professional and ‘established’ or just awakening that passion as in my 7-year-old niece Charlie. Indeed a need is arising in me now to leave the laptop and engage with the wonders, even mini- miracles of the wild birds on my doorstep.

 A Delicious Read!

Birds of the Homeplace
The Lives of Ireland’s Familiar Birds
By Anthony McGeehan with Julian Wyllie

Some fascinating bird facts found in BIRDS of the Homeplace:


  • The brains of some titmice (such as Coal Tit) brains expand in volume by 30 per cent during the autumn burst of food storing so that the bird can remember where it left its winter stores of food.
  • Birds have eyes with two focussing spots and because the optic nerve is controlled by two separate parts of the brain, what is seen by the left eye isn’t remembered by the right.
  • Birds can see in ultraviolet as well polarising light and use it as a means to navigate – as did the Vikings who are believed to have used a crystal, coined a ‘sunstone’, as a polarising filter that glinted blue when pointed to the invisible sun during cloudy weather.
  • Songbirds can lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight at night.
  • Longevity records aren’t always accurate as the metal rings used to tag birds corrode in water, meaning individuals could be older.
  • When a Peregrine attacks from above, it reaches such velocity (70–90 m per second/252–324 km/h) that the G-forces encountered would make a human pilot black out.
  • A Swallow, whose arrival signals the end of winter, weighs about the same as a slice of buttered toast.
  • Dunnocks sometimes indulge in a ménage-à-trois with a female using two males to make sure her two chicks are well fed.
  • It’s well known that Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests but did you know that Cuckoo chicks jettison their step-siblings from the nest, despite weighing a mere 3 grams?
  • Male sex organs regrow just before the mating season. And during the mating season the males display and the females choose!
  • Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus, who founded a framework for naming nature called binomial nomenclature, used phonetics to name birds e.g. Crex crex for Corncrake and Pica pica for Magpie.
  • Birds identify each other through song and often adopt the trills of neighbours – an outsider doesn’t stand a chance of sneaking in.
  • A bird’s respiratory system extracts oxygen from air using air sacs as well as lungs. Sacs are located throughout the body, such as within abdominal cavities and between the skin and body walls. Ironically, the lungs themselves hold almost no used air. Each intake of breath travels a continuous path around various parts of the anatomy where sacs extract oxygen from the passing stream of air.
  • Inside eggs, chicks call to each other. Chicks can also pick out their parents’ call from a crowd.
  • Blackbirds stalking worms employ a rugby scrum ‘crouch, touch, engage’ action.
  • A Jackdaw was trained to open eight boxes to find five pieces of food, some of which were stored in pairs to challenge the bird’s counting skills. He found them all and counted by nodding his head once for the first piece, twice for the second and so on.
  • Sparrowhawks are harbingers of havoc – in Anglo-Saxon Old English, ‘hafoc’ meant hawk.



A Curious Large Gull

On Ainsdale Beach, Southport


Thanks to John Dempsey for this.

Big Gulls. Some of them are head scratchers. They don’t instantly resolve into an obvious taxon or even a familiar hybrid. This large white-headed gull on Ainsdale Beach, Southport, Merseyside 3 days ago fits that category. I found it intriguing and I admit it has a whiff of some pacific rim taxa about it in the photos. Kind of Vega Gull-ish but lots of reasons why doesn’t  fit that taxon. I’m sure there is a simple explanation, I just don’t have it yet.

Thought you might like a look. A photo of the open wing would reveal more interesting data. At the very least it gets me reviewing how ready I am for the rarer stuff, should the opportunity arise…

Chris Batty is more confident that it is a LBB X Herring hybrid- which seems the most likely explanation, though I admit I have not seen one looking quite like this.

See John’s website for couple more photos etc:






Griffon and Rüppell’s Vultures

More on ID of tricky ones

Guillermo Rodriguez Lazaro

Hi Yoav and Martin,

I saw your post about the Israeli vulture in the Birding Frontiers blog and thought that perhaps I could provide some light about this bird.

Vulture sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 4 August 2014. Photo by Shachar Alterman. Now thought to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

Vulture sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 4 August 2014. Photo by Shachar Alterman. Now thought to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

The second photo (underparts) shows an indisputable Griffon (repeated above), definitely ruling out Rüppell’s The complete absence of white edges in wing coverts (not only GCs but also in MCs) is diagnostic. Other features which don’t indicate Rüppell’s are the shape and color of the axillary feathers, absence of white edges in UTCs, strong contrast between black GCs and much lighter MCs, etc… I attach a photo of a classic erlangeri adult from below from northern Ethiopia for comparison.

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Guillermo Rodriguez Lazaro

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Guillermo Rodriguez Lazaro

So, as pointed in your post, only the upper parts resemble Rüppell’s, I think that mainly due to the presence of two-rows of dark wing coverts, a feature typical of Rüppell’s (which usually has present 2-3 rows). Additionally the bird’s overall colour is perhaps unusually greyish for Griffon, but this species presents a high variation in this trait and I feel it isn’t a strong feature to discard Griffon. In my opinion, your bird doesn’t fit well one of the striking “pale morphs” Rüppell’s which from time to time are observed in NE Africa (it’s too patterned and browner above), so we should compare with the more classic erlangeri adults.

In both Griffon and Rüppell’s all wing coverts present a dark feather center with a pale edge. In Griffon, only the greater coverts present an extension of black large enough to be visible, whereas in the median coverts the dark part is very limited (due to the broad pale edge) and it’s usually not visible. In Rüppell’s, the pale edge is much finer and thus the dark centre of the feather is exposed and very obvious in the upperwing. However, I’ve found that a few Griffons (Spanish breeders at least; I’m not sure if it is an individual characteristic or just the result of a certain state of moult, though the first option is more likely since these birds seem to present also more patterned scapulars) can show two rows.

Vulture Sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 15 July 2014. Photo by Eitan Kaufman. Now considered to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

Vulture Sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 15 July 2014. Photo by Eitan Kaufman. Now considered to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

In my opinion, your bird is one of these odd Griffons. Detailed analysis of the upperparts pattern shows that the feather edge of the second row (median coverts) is too broad, and concolorous (cream coloured) with the rest of the wing, whilst it is usually whiter and thinner in Rüppell’s. The wing looks very uniform and with the characteristic griffon-colour of the species, instead of the more browner/greyer appereance of erlangeri Rüppell’s. I also attach one photo of an adult erlangeri (again from N Ethiopia), in which these features are evident.

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Pablo Garcia

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Pablo Garcia

Taking into account these points, I don’t find consistent reasons for considering a Rüppell’s here but just a slightly unusual Griffon. Other characters also support this id, eg the bird silhouette and the blue skin around the auriculars which provides the characteristic Griffon head pattern.

The option of a hybrid is, in my opinion, even more complex: as far as I know there aren’t proved records, though there is at least one suspected individual from Spain which certainly ticks all the boxes:

Apparent hybrid click HERE
Hope these comments are interesting for you and help to clinch the id.

Best regards