Monthly Archives: February 2015

First for the UK!!!

Dan Brown

The UK mammal list goes up by one with the exceptional occurrence of a Bowhead Whale off Scilly

Adding mammals to the British list is pretty difficult unless it swims or flies, and with a limited pool of candidates in either department the occurrence of a juvenile Bowhead Whale last Friday off St Martin’s, Scilly, must surely go down as one of the most unexpected additions possible!

This Arctic, cold water-loving cetacean is not generally on the radar of the cetacean watcher south of Spitsbergen, but a lucky couple of folk managed to get a few shots of what appears to be a juvenile swimming close inshore at Par Beach. The full story and photos can be read here:

Bowheads are distinctive in lacking a dorsal fin, one of only a few rorquals to do so. North Atlantic Right Whales are superficially very similar, and poor views of Grey Whale (which has now turned up as a vagrant in Israel and Spain-same individual), and even juvenile Humpbacks, can occasionally lead to mis-IDs. Luckily in this case the observers clinched the characteristic pale lower jaw, as well as the distinctive jaw line and apparent ‘neck’ in the photos.

What this animal does next is anyones guess but i’d thoroughly recommend keeping a sharp eye open if you’re anywhere on the west coast. There’s every chance it could turn up in the shallow waters of the Bristol Channel, Cardigan Bay or even amongst the rorquals off south-west Ireland. Look out a V-shaped blow (which can appear as a single column in wind). The whale is reportedly approximately 25ft long. Please report any sightings of it immediately, as it has the potential to be the biggest mammal twitch in British history!

littoralis Rock Pipits

The Blues

Roger Wyatt

…took these beautiful images at Farmoor Reservoir Oxford on 19th and 20th March 2013. They showcase the subtle blue tones appearing on the heads of these inland littoralis Rock Pipits. Presumably they wintered further south in Britain or France and were photographed moving NW though Britain as part of their Scandinavian-bound journey. Perhaps they staged near Flamborough?

These kind of blue and pink plumage tones will start to be revealed again in Britain in the next few weeks…. and is the lowest bird a littoralis or a petrosus?? Yes I guess. 😉

Thanks Roger!

bRock Pipit litoralis-2 2 bRock Pipit litoralis-3 Rock Pipit litoralisRock Pipit_-2


Moulting Daurian Shrike ID in Autumn

Older Females

Martin Garner and Andrew Lassey

Texel, Netherlands and Kent, UK. October 2014

Autumn 2014 brought a fine collection of ‘red-tailed shrikes’. Several more obvious first winter Daurians (isabellinus) headlined. A trickier looking first winter Turkestan (phoenicuroides) in Cornwall gave rise to lively debate. The Dutch trapped a stunning looking first winter Turkestan Shrike at Castricum that seemed to tick all the boxes. And there were more…

including this bird….

female 'red-tailed shrike' (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

female ‘red-tailed shrike’ (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

In the Challenges Series chapter on Daurian and Isabelline Shrike we covered the expected first winters and adults. Fresh plumaged  (fully moulted) adult female Daurian Shrikes have been well recorded in e.g. the UK in recent years. We know them, don’t we?

Head scratching

This Texel bird stepped outside familiar boxes. It’s a worn and moutling female, probably in its 2nd calendar year (so a year and ++ half old). Which makes things a little trickier. Indeed the presenting appearance of cold greyish tones above, white looking below, apparently contrasting dark mask quickly gave rise to speculation that it could be  an example of the rarer Turkestan- keen Dutch birders woke-up!

Have another look at these excellent photos thanks to Maurits and Charles Martens



Rumination and discussion followed. While not definitive, the balance of opinion lies with the Texel (and Kent) bird being a worn and moulting female Daurian (isabellineus). With very grateful thanks to Nils van Duivendijk, Andrew Lassey, Grahame Walbridge, Arend Wassink.

Moult and Migration timing

As this bird is worn and moutling, it is helpful to look further at movement. Oscar Campbell updated understandings of Isabelline and Daurian Shrike movements in the U.A.E. as follows:

The status of Isabelline Shrike taxa in the United Arab Emirates by Oscar Campbell

“My data show that there is a clear distinction between phoenicuroides and isabellinus in terms of their occurrence in the UAE. The former [Turkestan- phoenicuroides] is almost exclusively a passage migrant, mainly between mid September and mid October, and again from early March until early May, with stragglers until mid May or even later.

Although not recorded by me, very small numbers of phoenicuroides are seen in the UAE in August, at least in some years, and mainly in the last week of the month (average of 3.6 bird-days each August, during 2007–11 in the country as a whole; T. Pedersen pers. comm.).

In contrast, [Daurian- ] isabellinus is generally present only from October to March, with very few records outside this period (and in August, only three bird-days in total in the five years 2007–11). It is often widespread in favoured habitats (fodder fields, desert edge and urban parks) throughout the winter, with many individuals departing by mid February and replaced by a strong wave of passage migrants that peaks in the first half of March.”

British Birds 105 • July 2012 • 417–42

In contrast to some literature (but not all), the considerable experience of A.W. and Nils van D. is that (on average, with overlap?) Daurian moult later than Turkestan. Thus:

Turkestan Shrike often complete moult before the autumn.

Daurian Shrike similarly complete or not complete before the autumn.

This maybe reflect the (much later) breeding season of Daurian and could also correspond with Oscar Campbell’s observation of movement and  through the U.A.E.


Andrew Lassey who has loads of experience with the Red-tailed Shrikes (and an understanding of ‘photo-artefacts’) brough as apposite comment on the images of the Texel bird:

“Hi Martin,

Thank you for letting me see the series of images.

Though many females and even more 1st winter ‘Red-tails’ can be a problem I eventually came to the opinion that this bird is not too bad. Initially I thought I was seeing mixed features but finally came to the view that everything points to Daurian. I believe the opinion is that the bird is a 2nd CY female and that seems reasonable. Looking at a few features I would comment as follows:

Tail – largely brown which is typical of most females, however the base of the tail and upper tail coverts are more cinnamon than red and this is consistent with most Daurian.

Supercilium – hardly present, Turkestan usually has a good whitish super, whereas Daurian is less well marked (buffish), this feature (or lack of) supports Daurian.

Crown – some images show a slight rufous or brownish tinge which might be seen as a Turkestan feature, it is however not unusual for Daurians to show this.

Mask – several images show it to be fairly prominent though it does look fairly slim and I believe the shape (lack of downturn and flairing at the rear) to be more typical of Daurian but not necessarily
ruling out Turkestan.

Upper parts – look pretty well fine for Daurian.

Underparts – Initially puzzled by the whitish appearance on most of the images which would be odd for Daurian and more typical of Turkestan. I wonder if the underparts in reality were less strikingly white and the crescent markings to be rufous/orange (or whatever) which supports Daurian as apposed to the colder brown of Turkestan.

I can see no signs of any Red-back features though most female hybrids are near impossible to tell from the genuine article. Intergrades between Daurian and Turkestan do occur but they are so rare as to hardly be an issue in extralimital birds.

Not the easiest individual but several features strongly suggest Daurian and I can’t find much to positively support Turkestan!

All the best, Andrew”

and then it went to Worth, Kent

A week late (16th October) Steve Ashton got some lovely close-ups. See Steve Ashton’s website– lots of smart photos! It’s the same bird.

It’s a sunny day- so beware! On plumage it starts to look warmer. The crescents aren’t so blackish, the forehead scales help ageing (more 2cy than adult) , the underparts are not really pure white and the white supercilium is un-white-  not striking as on easy Turkestan. There’s  a bit too much buffishness wash going on in cheeks and underparts… maybe (while heavily emphasising the great struggle of interpreting photos! Have a look:




and if you are following 🙂

Some of the others from autumn 2014

Turkestan Shrike –  apparent 1cy at Castricum, Netherlands in November

Turkestan Shrike-  apparent 1cy at Pendeen, Cornwall in November

Daurian Shrike- 1cy at Spurn, East Yorkshire in October

and this very interesting one found by John Edwards was on Mallorca on 30th October. It’s a an interesting looking one… More discoveries ahead!

lanius 1




Scandinavian Rock Pipits

The annual staging

Once again a gathering of Rock Pipits is feeding near North Landing at Flamborough on the cliff-top facing due northeast. Here they feed often in the teeth of the icy blasts. It feels like a specific pre-migratio  gathering. Sometime in the next few days/weeks back to Scandinavia, in some case all the way up tothe Arctic?

I have seen at least 2 birds. However some or all of 10-15 could be littoralis. They don’t all flush an identifiable spring plumage, but hopefully more fine moments to come.

Two Rock Pipits- both may be littoralis but the left hand bird is recognisably so.

Two Rock Pipits- both may be littoralis but the left hand bird is recognisably so.

littoralis Rock Pipit

littoralis Rock Pipit

Rock Pipits of both nominate petrosus and littoralis are supposed to normally have grey on outer tail father tips versus white in Water Pipit. However littoralis do seem to quite regularly show more obviously white here...

Rock Pipits of both nominate petrosus and littoralis are supposed to normally have grey on outer tail father tips versus white in Water Pipit. However littoralis do seem to quite regularly show more obviously white here…


and this is a littoralis in Varanger in mid- April, on its breeding grounds

and this is a littoralis in Varanger in mid- April, on its breeding grounds


Meanwhile the Big Birds bring daily highlights too…

Greenland w front 23 feb 2015

Peregrine mg

You’re Invited! Flamborough Bird Observatory

My Personal Invitation to You

(from Martin Garner)

Saturday, 7th March 2015.


Flamborough AGM 2014 poste

“I don’t normally do this, but feelin’ the need to say…”

We are Celebrating!

There’s a special buzz here right now. A bunch of ordinary people  with extra-ordinary vision for working together. On a personal note Sharon and I have found such a warm welcome and genuine open community here. Our family has hugely benefitted from those involved in the well-known organisations locally, like the YWT Living Seas Centre,  the staff at RSPB Bempton, the Yorkshire Coast Nature team, the Thornwick Vision with Green Future Buildings…. sheesh I am easily gonna forget someone.

I want to honour these people and celebrate some great progress this last 12 months. There are also some very juicy looking plans for the future.

So to help do this I am showcasing a whole bunch of new material of bird ID, vagrancy and what might turn up next all part of forthcoming ‘Challenge Series’ books.

So I invite you personally to come along and be part of the party…

Main evening gig start at 7:00pm prompt.

The Observatory AGM starts at 4:30 pm followed by a pre-booked Supper from 6:00pm. Come along to whatever you fancy! Just contact Chrys Mellor for more info (as per poster).



By Steve Blain

It just so happened that while Justin was in Florida for the World Digiscopers meeting I was also in Florida for a holiday.  A family holiday.  Definitely not a birding holiday.
But maybe a holiday with a little birding.  And by complete coincidence some of the places we ended up going for a walk were great birding spots too!  Although you can’t really fail to see great birds all around Florida – from flocks of White Ibis in your yard, Eastern Phoebes on your mailbox, and Palm Warblers hopping around your drive, to Sandhill Cranes along the central reservations of the freeways and Ring-billed Gulls trying to steal your sandwiches on the beach! The confiding nature of some of these birds gave me an opportunity to try out my new telephone…

Green Heron, Viera Wetlands

Painted Bunting, Merrit Island (shot using the HDR setting to retain some details in the over-exposed area of the feeder in the sunshine)

Great White Egret, Gatorland

Snowy Egret, Gatorland

Reddish Egret, Merrit Island

Aligator, Gatorland

White Ibis, Gatorland

All images in this post were taken with an iPhone 6, hand-held to a Swarovski ATS 80 HD, and 25-50x eyepiece.

Carrot-billed Eider off Newfoundland


Newfoundland’s Bruce Mcatavish emailed a rushed set of news and photos- check out this bad boy! See Bruce’s post HERE.


A remarkabley bright orange-billed drake Eider. Thoughts instantly turn to the possibility of it being Newfoundland’s second record of Pacific Eider v-nigrum. Is that what it is?


We don’t think this is a  v-nigrum. At first glance it’s inspired but appears to completely lack a bunch of key characters.

Specifically v-nigrum should have deep curvature to base f black cap- horizontal on this bird with forehead bump- very typical of borealis. There is not enough green under black cap (under there seems tad more than most of borealis around it). I don’t think the basal lobes feathering intruding into bill base are big and fat enough. The bare skin frontal process should be short-looking for v nigrum

So what is it?

Either an extreme coloured borealis (not impossible) or that all-in v-nigrum from a few years back got cheeky with the locals?


 Palmer’s words.

The Handbook of North American Birds:

Referring to the Davis Straights/W &SW Greenland and southerly East coast… between Greenland and Canada...both typical and atypical v-nigra have been taken (not breeding) including measurements in Schioler (1926). Schioler indicated they occur there every winter…

J.C .Phillips (1926) thought them merely individual variants (of borealis) and not true Pacific Eiders.

So… the answer is?