Monthly Archives: August 2015

Juvenile Garganey

The Subtle ID challenge

Why does it stand out- just. At the same time easy to overlook. Last Wednesday 26th we had our final Spurn Migration Festival meet. Mark Thomas had found a juvenile Little Stint on Buckton Pond so figured I would swing by en route home. No Little Stint. Maybe it’s at Thornwick Pool ?  Nope. But beautiful juvenile Whimbrel and Little Ringed Plover, and more wildfowl than usual. Mostly Mallard, a pair of moulting Gadwall, some Teal and a…

I know what that’s going to be!  Fired off this shot:

Garganey 18 first pic (1 of 1)


There is something about those orange brown tones and the shape of scapulars long, warm brown, with crisp white fringes. And why do the ones I see look orange on the breast on underparts (does it say that in ‘the book’). It’s fast asleep. No real view of the head pattern. But I just ‘know’ it’s going to be a Garganey- presumably a juvenile.

So I speed around to our magic photo pod. It’s still there, still asleep This is the first pic from the pod:

Garganey 19 next first pic (1 of 1)

OK little missy- time to wake up. please.


Garganey 14 (1 of 1)

LOVERLY! Kinda final confirmation A baby Garganey has arrived in a little influx of wildfowl to our special conservation site at Thornwick Pool. Only the 3rd Garganey record at Flamborough this year and a Patch tick for me 🙂

P.S. perhaps not conveyed in these pics, but the head pattern is not always so ‘obvious‘. Rather easy to pass over at times actually.

Garganey 9 (1 of 1)


She heads onto the water feed. Not so likely to up-end like the Teal, she prefers to just submerge head into water and keep most of body afloat.

Garganey 12 (1 of 1) Garganey 13 (1 of 1)


Let’s have some detail:

Garganey have narrower specula than Teal. Silvery whiteness going on in the outer wing. This one has pretty plain brown wing coverts. Guess that makes it a female, though notice how the width of white borders both above and below actually appears to vary and the overall width of the specula appears to vary from narrow to broader- curious!

Garganey smaller one (1 of 1) Garganey smaller two (1 of 1) Garganey 33 (1 of 1) Garganey 32 (1 of 1) Garganey 31 (1 of 1) Garganey 30 (1 of 1) Garganey 29 (1 of 1)


Tail Feathers

Juvenile wildfowl (most/all?) wear in such a way that a V wedge forms at the feather tip and the shaft pokes out down the centre. Adult tail feathers don’t do that.Garganey 28 (1 of 1)



The Whimbrel was very smart-looking

whimbrel 2 (1 of 1)

and the Mark’s Little Stint hung around for me to see it the next morning:

litle stint juv 27aug (1 of 1)



Digiscoping in the Golden Hour

Justin Carr

Last Sunday saw me arrive at Flamorough before the sunrise ( not the norm for me ). It was a clear starry morning soI headed for Thornwick Pool to wait for the sun to come up. The next 6 hours or so where spent in the great photography hide, part of the mutli-facted new vision of Flamborough Bird Observatory. Anyway back to business. As it got light I could see there was a juvenile Knot present. Ss it got lighter the bird came to within a few metres of the hide.

The shots below shows images taken from before the sunrise through to the harsh light of midday for me its interesting to see the effect the light has on how the bird looks.

just as the Sun is rising

just as the Sun is rising

Knot doing a Turnstone

Knot doing a Turnstone.

in the golden light

in the golden light

Knot 7 (1 of 1)

Harsh light of late morning

Harsh light of late morning

I hope Iv’e inspired all the budding Photographers to get up early just once in a while the results might just be worth the effort.

All images taken a Swarovski ATX 85.



GREENISH WARBLER: new for Beijing and the missing link?

The discovery of breeding GREENISH-type WARBLERS in Beijing could represent part of the missing link between the central Chinese form obscuratus and what is now known as TWO-BARRED (plumbeitarus) from NE China and Siberia  

All my life I have found nature fascinating, usually amazing and often surprising.  But every now and again something happens that just blows me away.

In July, when Paul Holt and I found a small population of Greenish-type Warblers (Phylloscopus trochiloides) at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, I had no idea that the discovery could represent a missing link in the distribution of what is thought be one of few examples of a “ring species”.

The Greenish Warblers are widespread leaf warblers whose breeding range extends from temperate northeastern Europe to subtropical continental Asia. They are strongly migratory and most winter from India east to Thailand.

According to a theory first put forward by Ticehurst in 1938, Greenish Warblers were once confined to the southern portion of their range and then expanded northward along two pathways, evolving differences as they pushed north. When the two expanding fronts met in central Siberia (W Europe’s viridanus and Siberia’s plumbeitarus), they were different enough not to interbreed.  Hence plumbeitarus is now considered a separate species – TWO-BARRED WARBLER.

This unusual situation has been termed a ‘circular overlap’ or ‘ring species’, of which there are very few known examples.

greenish warbler map

“Map of Asia showing the six subspecies of the greenish warbler described by Ticehurst in 1938. The crosshatched blue and red area in central Siberia shows the contact zone between viridanus and plumbeitarsus, which do not interbreed. Colours grade together where Ticehurst described gradual morphological change. The gap in northern China is most likely the result of habitat destruction.” (emphasis added)


As one might expect when looking at the map, in Beijing we are used to seeing TWO-BARRED WARBLERS (P. plumbeitarus) on migration as they make their way to and from their breeding grounds in NE China and Siberia.  However, until a few weeks ago, there were no records in the capital of any of the races of GREENISH (P. trochiloides).

Fast forward to 22 June 2015 and Paul Holt and I were in the middle of a 3-day trip to explore Beijing’s highest mountain – Lingshan.  We had already encountered the albocoeruleus form of RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL, until very recently thought to be confined to a handful of sites in Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, more than 1,000 km to the southwest.

 In a relatively small piece of woodland on a northeastern facing slope Paul suddenly heard the distant song of a Greenish-type warbler.

 Fortunately the path we were following led us towards the sound and, after walking a little further, we could soon hear, and later see, the songster.  It was clear that it wasn’t alone and, during the next couple of hours we encountered at least four singing birds.  Paul focused on recording the song (see below) as I tried to snatch a photo or two as it flitted almost non-stop amongst the thick foliage in the canopy of the birch trees.


GREENISH WARBLER, Lingshan, 22 June 2015.  The only decent photo I was able to capture!

Paul was confident that these birds were not TWO-BARRED WARBLERS and most likely belonged to the obscuratus form of GREENISH WARBLER.

At this point it’s worth outlining the key plumage differences between GREENISH and TWO-BARRED:

  • Two-barred is fractionally stronger billed than the viridanus Greenish we see in W. Europe but these figures probably don’t hold up too well when comparing it with the more poorly known obscuratus of Qinghai and Gansu.
  • A typical Two-barred should have a broader greater covert wing bar that extends on to more inner greater coverts than viridanus – a greater covert bar that doesn’t taper towards the inner wing as conspicuously as it does on viridanus.
  • Two-barred usually also has a second (median covert) wing-bar & this is often whitish or even white – this second bar is rare on viridanus (& when present is indistinct & typically not white).
  • A median covert wing-bar is commonly seen on obscuratus (Paul Holt, pers. obs).
  • Two-barred is also slightly darker above & whiter below than viridanus – but again that’s difficult/impossible to discern on a lone bird & in any case obscuratus has the darkest upperparts of any subspecies of Greenish Warbler (& is often contrastingly darker on the crown then inviting confusion with Large-billed Leaf Warbler P. magnirostris).
  • Two-barred often (‘but not always’ sic Svensson 1992) has a pale yellowish supercilium while obscuratus is ‘apparently on average’ whiter here.

A recording of the Lingshan Greenish Warbler is below.  Note that the interval between strophes has been shortened for convenience.


We thought that this newly discovered population was most likely the obscuratus form of GREENISH WARBLER rather than plumbeitarsus (TWO-BARRED WARBLER).  Or is it an intermediate form between obscuratus and plumbeitarus?

We are keen to hear the views of others with experience of these species.  If it is obscuratus, the find represents the first record for Beijing of GREENISH WARBLER.

Perhaps supporting the identification as obscuratus, it’s worth noting that there are two other species from Gansu/Qinghai that have recently been discovered breeding on mountains in or nearby Beijing  – “Gansu” Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanus albocoeruleus) at Haituoshan (a forested mountain in Hebei immediately to the north of Beijing) and Lingshan and Large-billed Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus magnirostris) at Wulingshan (a forested mountain in Hebei immediately to the northeast of the Chinese capital).  It seems likely that small pockets of forest on some of Beijing’s higher mountains are supporting small disjunct populations of these relatively high elevation species, helping to fill in the gap in the map above (attributed to habitat loss).

The finding begs the question: are there other species from the Gansu/Qinghai area that could yet be discovered in the capital?  Grey-headed Bullfinch, Chestnut Thrush and Chinese White-browed Rosefinch are possible candidates…  In any case the Lingshan Greenish-type Warblers provide yet more evidence that there is still so much to be discovered in Beijing, the most well-watched part of China, let alone the rest of this vast country.


I love the Spurn Migration Festival…

Neil Glenn

journalist –  Birdwatching Magazine columnist

I love the Spurn Migration Festival…

…because after the manic whirlwind that is The Rutland Birdfair, it gives me the chance to chill and actually get out and about to do some birding!
Right from Day 1 of the very first Spurn Migration Festival, it was obvious that this was going to a very friendly event. I love the way birders of every ability and age mix together to help each other find and identify birds. There is a tremendous atmosphere around the Spurn area over the weekend.
Even though this is only the third # MigFest, it has already become an established event in the birding calendar and I would hate to miss it.

I know all of my old and new friends I have met at the event feel the same.

See you there!

Neil messing about on the Birding For All stand at Birdfair 2015

Neil messing about on the Birding For All stand at Birdfair 2015



Omani Owl – Breaking News & Interview

Discovered in 2013 by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach and confirmed using sound analysis, Omani Owl has created a stir among both birders and biologists. That a bird around the size of a Barn Owl Tyto alba had evaded discovery was extraordinary. Now one has been captured- the ‘discovery-of-a-lifetime’ story continues…

 Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach

Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach

Discovered in 2013 by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach and confirmed using sound analysis, Omani Owl has created a stir among both birders and biologists. That a bird around the size of a Barn Owl Tyto alba had evaded discovery was extraordinary. That it was described and named only using sound recordings and photographs was controversial.

When a rival group of researchers re-examined museum specimens of the closely related Strix butleri, they suspected that its type specimen was in fact an Omani Owl. All the other specimens were different enough, especially when their genes were analysed, to be described as a new species, Strix hadorami. However, the study did not examine DNA of Omani Owl.

In a new paper published online Magnus Robb and his colleagues returned to the mountains of Oman where they captured and released an Omani Owl.* Feathers and blood from the owl corroborated both teams’ findings that there are two different Strix species in the Middle East. DNA analysis shows that Omani Owl is the same as Strix butleri, and the other species is the recently named but much better known Desert Owl S. hadorami (previously ‘Hume’s Owl’).

So when Magnus heard unknown sounds of an owl in March 2013, he was in fact rediscovering a species previously known from just one tatty old specimen in The Natural History Museum (Tring, England) said to be from Pakistan, and collected 135 years earlier.

The new paper also examines DNA from a mystery owl discovered in Mashhad, northeastern Iran in January 2015. Babak Musavi and Ali Khani took four feathers for DNA analysis, which the team showed was also of an Omani Owl, the first confirmation that it still exists outside the Arabian peninsula and 1300 km from the nearest record of this species.

* with the permission of the Omani Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, as part of a joint conservation project with the Environment Society of Oman and BirdLife International.

This new study once again underscores that much remains to be learned from owls. Magnus Robb’s recently published book ‘Undiscovered Owls’ describes his work on owls in detail.

Robb, MS, Sangster, G, Aliabadian, M, van den Berg, AB, Constantine, M, Irestedt, M, Khani, A, Musavi, SB, Nunes, JM, Sarrouf Willson, M & Walsh, AJ (2015). The rediscovery of Strix butleri (Hume, 1878) in Oman and Iran, with molecular resolution of the identity of Strix omanensis Robb, van den Berg and Constantine, 2013.

Robb et al – Strix butleri (20-8-2015) (1)


Forthcoming Interview

(from Martin G.)

Stand out highlight of Birdfair 2015 was chewing the cud with the Sound Approach guys- more nocturnal migration recording to come soon from Flamborough then! I also engaged Magnus in a full half hour recorded interview. A couple of years ago we met for a coffee and ‘Undiscovered Owls’ was just emerging as a ‘working title’ for a new book. Amazingly there was no hint of something called an Omani Owl. Be careful what you wish for!

This interview will be a MUST listen! Magnus does gorgeous impressions of owl calls from the Tawny’s to the Omani’s, plus a host in between like the Cyprus Scop’s Owl as he thoroughly and entertainingly informs and inspires. Watch this space.

One of my 2015 Birdfair highlights. Chilling. learning and wonderful scheming with Magnus Robb and Nick Hopper of the Sound Approach last weekend.

One of my 2015 Birdfair highlights. Chilling. learning and wonderful scheming with Magnus Robb and Nick Hopper of the Sound Approach last weekend.

August at Spurn: NOW!


Andy Roadhouse

The list of rare and scarce birds seen at Spurn in August this year is mouth-watering and there is still a week left – Black Stork, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Black Tern, White-rumped Sandpiper, 2 Red-footed Falcons, Greenish Warbler, Pectoral Sandpiper, Bee-eater, 2+ Caspian Gulls, Cory’s Shearwater, Corncrake, Honey-buzzard, and several each of Wryneck, Barred Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Wood Warbler, Spoonbill, Long-tailed Skua and Balearic Shearwaters.

Apart from rare and scarce birds there has already been some good migrant passage with good numbers of wading birds moving south off shore and some good Swallow passage, with a few days recording over 1000 birds moving south.

Over the last couple of weeks there have been a few small falls of drift migrants producing several of the scarce migrants listed above. However on 23rd and 24th an incredible fall occurred, probably the best ever in August, certainly for some species and record counts of Willow Warblers (345) and Pied Flycatchers (230) occurred, along with good numbers of regular drift migrants such as Tree Pipits, Redstarts, Whinchats, Wheatears, Garden Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers.

Even on quiet days the number of waders present either on the Humber or at Beacon Ponds and Kilnsea Wetlands has been impressive with over 50,000 birds present on some days, the fields are starting to attract gulls with several Caspian Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls recorded and up to 49 Mediterranean Gulls.

The tern roost movements have been fairly quiet but still up to 20 Black and 4000 Common Terns have been logged.

So do you want to see just a part of this – then come to the #MIGFEST.

The best place for migration in the UK!


Bird Race- New this year a bird race will run from dawn on Saturday to Sunday lunchtime with prizes for the winning team (2-4 members) of the new Birds of Spurn book, and the Challenge Series: Winter book. Full set of information (and tips on winning!)  will be given to all bird race entrants.

“Where migration is defined”  -Sat night lecture Yoav Pearlman will be speaking on migration through Israel. With massive resurgence and interest in the migration flyways of the Middle East – conservation is at the fore but there are also new discoveries about bird movements and new taxa being discovered. It’s one the best place to pioneer and get ‘wowed’. The sheer spectacle is one of the wonders of the world.

Where to buy tickets click  >>>HERE<<<

Day tickets might be the way forward for you. Come for the Saturday or Sunday, especially if it’s your first time. Taste and see!

The 2014 #migfest video. For a fuller flavour- just watch here:

……………………. >>>> Vist Dave’s Site <<<<



Spurn Migration fetival (1 of 1)




Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Patterns of white in the wing and origins.

Agh- the glorious annual autumn wader fest continues. yesterday was dominated by flocks of Knot flying south from High Arctic breeding grounds pasting over the head at Flambrough. Thornwick Pools continues as a hot spot of excellent variety and great views of with Wood and Green Sandpipers, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwits, Knot etc.

knot (1 of 1)

Knot flying south past Flamborough yesterday- probably originating in Greenland!


Dunlin Treat

My little treat was watching a  flock of fresh baby Dunlins as various stage of moult from their bright fringed juvenile feathers into duller plain greyer ones on the upperparts Most I suspect now with slghtly longer bills are nominate alpina. One piece of plumage information which is interesting to record is the pattern of white in the primaries.

Basically on the 3 Dunlin taxa regular in W Europe- schinzii, alpina and arctica, white marks are separated from the feathers shafts (which are also whitish ) by dark feathering.

However in (some)  eastern taxa including e.g centralis and pacifica and as well as the North America hudsonia, the white joins of the feather meets the shaft (‘rachis’ in old money) producing a bigger whiter looking, Sanderling- like wing – bar.

Summat else to look for, especially with what our cameras can do now.

Dunlin 3 (1 of 1)Dunlin s landing 16th (1 of 1)dunlin5 (1 of 1)dunlin10 (1 of 1)




A little wing stretch reveals the white pattern in the primaries


dunlin6 (1 of 1)dunlin7 (1 of 1)


And some other glorious shorebirds on me patch…


juv-Ruff-1-of-1 ad litle stint 4 (1 of 1) ad Little Stint (1 of 1) mix of waders b (1 of 1) ruff 3  1500 (1 of 1) wood sandpiper (1 of 1)