Monthly Archives: January 2015

1st for Oman- nominate Olive-backed Pipit?

Anthus hodgsoni hodgsoni or not?

It remains a beautiful and quintessentially ‘Siberian’ vagrant passerine. The Olive-backed Pipits we normally get in Western Europe are of the more northerly breeding, long distance migratory form yunnanensis– with typically weakly streaked upperparts.

The nominate form ‘hodgsoni’ is a shorter distance migrant of more southerly distribution and so understandably less likely to reach where I live :). Olive backed Pipit is on the ‘garden list’ of where I live now though before we got here- so maybe one day.

One record of a bird showing some characters of nominate hodgsoni was recorded by one of the Birding Frontiers team. Thats one’s still be looked into as it would be a European first…

Following that Oscar Campbell wrote up 3 birds showing characteristics if hodgsoni in the United Arab Emirates (Birding World Vol 26 no. 11). The most recent of these was in November 2013 in the U.A.E..

Oman, January 2015

Alex writes in:

“Hello, after a voyage to Oman / UAE between 1 and 11 January 2015, we wanted to inform Oscar Campbell about various interesting birds we observed. Among them are two Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni hodgsoni (nominate!) observed the 9th January 2015 in Balid Farms, Oman. According to his article on Birding World 26 and commentary, this involves moving the first observation in Oman and 4th for Western Palearctic….

Alex Ollé.

Features of  nominate hodgsoni

Key features of nominate hodgsoni are more heavily streaked upper parts, more evenly and  streaked crown (thicker streaks) and on some (with overlap) more heavily streaked flanks. The latter is not apparent on Alex’s bird but the first two features on this more worn individual are. Also note the fore supercilium is not quite so strikingly colourful as on many autumn Olive-backed Pipits we see in Europe.

Sooooo

Is this hodgsonsi or a worn/scruffy Tree Pipit? I maybe rushed it (bit of tendency these days). Maybe it is just a Tree Pipit….  Some good friends are asking. As ever- have look for yourself:

Anthus hodgsoni 1a Anthus hodgsoni 2 a

Above: Nominate Olive-backed Pipit ssp. hodgsoni or Tree Pipit, Balid Farms, Oman, 9th January 2015, Alex Ollé.

To compare, some yunnanensis

 

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit  sip, yunnanensis  Hestingott, South Mainland, Shetland, October 2012 Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit sip, yunnanensis Hestingott, South Mainland, Shetland, October 2012 Martin Garner

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Stef McElwee

Olive- backed Pipit yunannensis, Baltasound, Shetland, October 2011. Stef McElwee

 and Tree Pipit to compare

The upper parts streaking of Tree Pipits sis closer to the souther form of Olive-bacled Pipit- hodgsoni.

Tree Pipit, Unst, Shetland, October 2012. Martin Garner

Tree Pipit, Unst, Shetland, October 2012. Martin Garner

 

Them Woodcock are Back

At Flamborough

by Martin G. reblogged from 2013

A rare sight! In case your interested… at least 2 Woodcock can be seen again day roosting and sometimes feeding in South Landing ravine, Flamborough. Just view about half way down road to Lifeboat station and South Landing beach.

woodcock s landing a2 11.03.2013

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough, March 2013

Capturing a moment… and the details. I guess that’s ultimately why I love taking photos. I have lots of stories of mediocre photography and failed efforts! ‘Digiscoping’ is undoubtedly the realm of bird and wildlife photography I have struggled with the most.

Fundamentally the art is to take photos with an ordinary ‘family’ camera by placing the camera lens up to a high powered birding telescope so that the ‘scope effectively becomes a super lens for the camera. I did ‘OK’ about 10 years ago by hand holding a Nikon Coolpix up to my scope. However with new cameras, heralded as the route to new heights of photo quality- I only seemed to get worse despite careful coaching by friends.

Honestly, I was ready to give up. It seemed too complicated, the results often poor and seemingly interfering with ‘birding’. More recently however, spurred on by the quality of images and especially video which James Lees (Slimbridge WWT warden) was achieving and with regular encouragements from Paul Hackett and others, I opted to have one more go. Over the last couple of years I feel like I have broken through- a little. For a lot of photography I use DSLR camera – a Canon 7D with 400 f5,6 lens It does an amazing job.

However sometimes the birds are simply too far away. Then the digiscoping kicks in. Furthermore, with digiscoping, I love that you can do video!

woodcock-s-landing-a-11-03-2013

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough (above and top). A lovely looker with American Woodcock-like grey strips.

January 2014

Up to 2 birds are again roosting on the far side of the ravine. When they first appeared in 2013 it was a good test of my digiscoping abilities, being very windy, with variable light from grey cloud and snow showers to odd bursts of sunshine. And the birds were in open or under poorly light canopy. It was too far to get a really nice DSLR shot (see below). I used a Canon S95 Camera taking photos through a Swarovski ATX95 ‘scope. There camera is held securely in place by a gizmo called the DCB ll swing adaptor.

On Video: Woodcock and Worms

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woodcock s landing bird b 11.03.2013Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough. A more typical looking browner bird which kept to the deeper shaded zones.

Amazes me what can be achieved. No the bird above wasn’t a ‘half-bill’. In fact the bill tip is covered in mud.

Perspective

watching woodcock

Watching and digiscoping Woodcock Illustrating the view and distance The Woodcock were and again are mid-way up the far slope.

In Comparison:

To compare digiscoping with normal photography I include 2 shots of the first bird above, but this time taken with the Canon DSLR and 400mm lens. Acceptable, but heavily cropped due to the distance and I don’t think the results are as good. Also don’t think I cold get anything like the same quality of video!

woodcock 7d

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough.  Using ‘normal’ technique with Canon 7D and 400mm lens.

in association with Swarovski Optik

THANK YOU!

TIMES A LOT.

Martin G.

OK I am shouting in internet speak. Birding Frontiers began in August 2010 because I enjoy exploring subjects and sharing them. I kept having too many  curious things to publish in the popular magazines. And for very understandable reason there were subjects I wanted to explore which were quite pioneering and unexplored, yet there wasn’t enough data to say anything concrete, but still worthy of exploring.

Other joined in the Team and made the party bigger and even more fun.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 17.20.03

If you read Birding Frontier and learn from it- chances are I and other contributors learn more. The process of thinking through subjects and crystallizing thoughts is an excellent discipline. Sometime I have been too hasty, sometime posts could have been researched a little more. Still, no regrets.

Our readership has grown constantly. Viewing figures above with more details for last year- 2014.

December 2014 (last month) saw over 30,000 unique visitors in one month. Never bloomin’ well imaged that!

So thanks for tuning in. Here’s to a grand 2015.

 

One of the very memorable birds from 2014: Crag Martin at Flamborough.

Crag Martin 12.4. Thornwick6

 

 

Common Snipe

Low light digiscoping

Hey Martin,

Thought you might be interested in this short video clip. Why am I sending you a video of a Common Snipe? Well yes it is a stunning bird, but it is the circumstance of videoing the bird that is astonishing. It was around 4pm, very nearly dark, as it is, in the UK at this time of the year.

I was having a last look out of the Living Room window, before settling down for the evening, when I noticed this Snipe.

I quickly fitted my Canon 70D camera to my Swarovoski 95mm ATX Scope via a Swarovski TLS adapter, and raced outside, to try to capture some film. I am simply amazed at the “light gathering properties” of the Swarovoski Scope, I ‘maxed out the zoom, to 70x and captured the attached video. It would be an under statement to say I blown away by the video quality………How can a scope produce a brighter image than the ambient natural light?

Dave Tucker

That Redstart at Spurn

19th – 23rd November 2014

An unusually late Redstart attached attention on the Humber shoreline at Riverside, Kilnsea. See HERE.

red8

On hearing about the bird, I was intrigued to see if it might be an Ehrenburg’s Redstart ‘samamisicus or even the tricky ID challenge which is a female Eastern Black Redstart- phoenicuroides– not yet recorded in such plumage in Britain. On first views it did seem surprisingly  dark smoky-brown above – was this just my lack of recent experience of female Common Redstart recently, in particularly dull light? The underparts were intriguing, being rather dappled looking brownish with an orangey wash. There was a little too much orange below for a female-type Eastern Black, and the wing formula, checked on the back of the camera looked like Common Redstart. The apparent whitish fringes to the secondaries were in life, not white but buff fringes.

I couldn’t personally say it was anything better than a female Common Redstart. I found the underparts still interesting but not enough features to claim a samamisicus– a vagrant of which would be surprisingly late for a taxon which is usually an early migrant. The poo sample might reveal more information.

There is more to be said on samamisicus:  females I have seen in early spring can be quite distinctive and the tristis-like call would definitely stand out in Britain.

For now here’s more pics of the Spurn bird (it had a slightly deformed bill):

red13 red4 red 1

red10red11 red9

See Garry T’s video:

Water Pipits: 3 species rather than 1?

Splits ahoy – Three Water Pipits and the Two Buff-bellied Pipits too!

Martin Garner, Yoav Perlman, Yosef Kiat and Martin Collinson.

This paper just been published in British Birds magazine (January 2015):

Water Pipits: three species rather than one?

Based on a distinctive call, differences in plumage and a preliminary genetic analysis, the ‘Caucasian Water Pipit’ Anthus spinoletta coutellii may represent a separate species within the Rock/Water Pipit complex. The differences between the three taxa currently treated as three races of a single species, the Water Pipit, are described. by Martin Garner, Yoav Perlman, Yosef Kiat and Martin Collinson.

Follow your Birding Nose

It’s been a privilege to work on this little project over the last three years. Jonathan Merav and Dan Alon especially made much of it possible. Following me nose- I  (MG) was intrigued by the unfamiliar and rather distinct calls of the Water Pipits, first in Turkey several years back then especially in Israel. Brian Small also inspired me from his own field observations. When Martin Collinson reported back on the first results of DNA analysis- it was in wonderfully excited tones!

Twas a dream working with such experienced field workers as Yoav Perlman and Yosef Kiat to obtain photos, sound recordings and study trapped birds. And Martin Collinson is, of course, the sequencing King.  🙂 Thanks to all!

 

Caucasian Water Pipit 'coutellii', Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner. Genetic material from this individual contributed to some surprising results

Caucasian Water Pipit ‘coutellii’, Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner. Genetic material from this individual contributed to some surprising results

Caucasian Water Pipit 'coutellii' may better classified as a full species, March 2012, Eilat, Israel

Caucasian Water Pipit ‘coutellii’ may better classified as a full species, March 2012, Eilat, Israel

and have a listen to a coutellii calling:

 

Buff-bellied Pipits: American and Siberian

First revelation was the surprising genetic distance between the three Water Pipits. As part of the process Martin also looked at the two Buff-bellied Pipit taxa. His ‘tweet’ says it all:

“Water Pipit paper in January BB also shows big genetic split between Asian and American Buff-bellied Pipits.

Fond memories below:

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit - rubescens, Quendale, Shetland October 2011. Phil Woollen

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit – rubescens, Quendale, Shetland October 2011. Phil Woollen

Siberian (Buff-bellied) Pipit- japonicus, Israel, November 2013. The research also showed species level genetic differences between this and the American Buff-bellied Pipit- rubescens.

Siberian (Buff-bellied) Pipit- japonicus, Israel, November 2013. The research also showed species level genetic differences between this and the American Buff-bellied Pipit- rubescens.

and here’s a Siberian Pipit calling:

Japanese Cormorant genes in Europe?

‘norvegicus’

Eh what? A third taxon has been mooted, suggested, put forward for NW Europe. It is genetically separate from carbo and sinensis and appears more closely related to the Japanese or Temminck’s Cormorant Phalocrocorax capillatus. It’s not ‘news’ though it managed to stay off my radar. Good ol’ Brett R. stirred the pot as we sat seawatching at Flamborough. Richard Millington as ever has been very helpfully added more detail. The Sound Approach crew mention it in this book. ( I wonder what norvegicus might sound like?).

The seminal paper is:

Marion & Le Gentil (2006): Ecological segregation and population structuring of the Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo in Europe, in relation to the recent introgression of continental and marine subspecies.
Cormorant at Gullfest- Vardo, Varanger, April 2012. It seems probable that the majority of Cormorants here will be 'norvegicus' more closely related to Japanese Cormorants than the other European taxa- carbo and sinensis.

Cormorant at Gullfest- Vardo, Varanger, April 2012. It seems probable that the majority of Cormorants here will be ‘norvegicus’ more closely related to Japanese Cormorants than the other European taxa- carbo and sinensis.

In a rather fascinating nutshell, whilst exploring the genetic makeup of Cormorants, Marion and Le Gentil discovered that a proportion of the population, especially in Arctic Norway appeared more closely  related to the Japanese or Temminck’s Cormorant.

They have named these birds, subspecies nova: norvegicus, explaining:

“…usual P. c. carbo formed two coastal populations, the real P. c. carbo ‘‘C’’ mainly in the western part of the range (United Kingdom, coastal France), and also in Norway and Sardinia, and ‘‘N’’, branched to the Japanese Cormorant P. capillatus and probably isolated by glaciations, mainly present in the Nordic range (Norway, but also on the coasts from Sweden to Brittany), we named P. c. norvegicus.”

 “We show the existence of a third group, N, an unexpected new subspecies (we propose to name P. c. norvegicus), mainly present in Norway and Brittany but also in Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands, all regions near the sea (Fig.4). It is genetically separated from the Western population Cand appears more related to population S … and…to P. capillatus [Japanese Cormorant] ….”

Varanger is near the north-eastern end of the range of old ‘carbo’. It is by extrapolation from the Marion & Le Gentil paper likely to consist of 90% plus norvegicus. Is also represents the Cormorants nearest to the Northeast Passage and the Asian Pacific Rim where Japanese Cormorants could have colonised from.

I wondered if the genes of Japanese Cormorant in norvegicus translate to phenotypic characters. Japanese Cormorants have a carbo-shaped gular pouch angles and in a brief survey seem to have a higher proportion of white filoplumed birds than ‘western’ carbo in breeding dress  and more extensive white area behind the bare facial skin. The white filoplumes have a curious look in many Japanese Cormorants, tending to look longer and yet sparser in number, ‘wispy’.

So I dug out my few photos of cormorants in Varanger. Hmmm… interestingly they all had some white filoplumes and some seemed to have more white in the facial pattern than I expect for typical carbo.

It’s very preliminary, but rather fascinating 🙂

Varanger Cormorants (perhaps norvegicus) in March 2012 at Gullfest. 

Especially check out the amount of white in the head pattern. Not all had this much white. It would be interesting to see other photos of Cormorants from Varanger. Tormod Amundsen and Anders Mæland are already on the case.

cormy 5 vadso april 2012 cormy 4 vadso april 2012 cormy 3 vadso april 2012


and while exploring the subject, on my local patch:

Cormorants at Flamborough in early January 2015

image002image003

Above two photos. An interesting ‘carbo-jawed’ individual with some white filoplumes in early January. A norvegicus candidate?

image004

Above. A classic adult sinensis.

carbo boom leucistic cormorant s landing 5th jan 15Above: A rather stunning carbo-type Cormorant with either ‘leucism’ or ‘progressive greying’ (thanks Brett!)