Monthly Archives: September 2015

Stejneger’s Stonechat already in the Western Palearctic..?

Shetland’s next birds..?

Blogging from a train bound for Shetland with Mrs G. and Mr Perlman. Rory and Will have re-found the Pechora out on the west side (THIS bird). And the PG Tips are Quendale was duff (Duff is a new word for Yoav – he didn’t get that one :). He did though notice Jari’s blog post.

Oof! Has a young female Stejneger’s Stonechat already made it to Finland by late September? Looks that way! And they have at least one if not two Blyth’s PIpit’s – only the second record for Finland in September. Wow. Read more on Jani Vastamäki’s BLOG here.

Maybe this is some of the flavour for Shetland in the next few days…

To me the plumage tones above and about the head pattern (there is some weird black staining above the eye and on crown) and especially the rump colour and very pro-Stejneger’s Stonechat and seems well away from typical maurus. I suspect it is a Stejneger’s as Yoav does and I bet Jani does.



and really early Blyth’s Pipit(s) to go with it…  Something interesting is going on for birders in Shetland me thinks. OO…that’s where we are going to be tonight! Sat in Riddington Towers supping single malt, ready for the assault tomorrow.

And can’t resist that the species are showcased in books in the Challenge Series. The Stejneger’s Stonechat in AUTUMN and the tricky Blyth’s Pipit in WINTER. Let’s hope they get further testing!



Blyth’s Pipit by Jani- very early and maybe some Shetland bound.

MORE  more on Jani Vastamäki’s BLOG here.


Variation in first summer Great Skuas

Off Flamborough and the Azores

Moult matters!

It’s almost October. The best month… potentially… to get a South Polar Skua.

Learning to read moult scores may well secure Britain’s or NW Europe’s next SPS. From now on (peaking October?)  the loop migration of South Polar will take individuals closer to Europe than at other times.

With a summering Great Skua at Flamborough (previously featured) and photos of 2 birds off the Azores last April, I found it a useful exercise to be a bit more genned up. Dick Newell who has spear-headed much though on large Skua ID and moult kindly chipped in.

In June – July 2015 one notable Great Skua summered off Flamborough. The bird occasionally came close enough to capture some images. I posted HERE to open discussion. In the final analysis I change my gut reaction view and now I think the bird is in fact a first summer (2cy) individual (‘cos I am slow and some folk helped me!)

Reading Moult Score. Only new feathers score points

Let’s keep it simple for now.

The birds (skuas in this case) have OLD primaries, NEW primaries and primaries in various stages of REGROWTH, once the old feather has actually fallen out. Each of these stages can be scored.

P.S. you know I am only doing for myself, as I can never remember and need quick reference spot 🙂

OLD: If the feather is still present and OLD – NO POINTS- NOTHING!

NEW: If the feather is fully grown and NEW – full 5 POINTS

REGROWING: and here’s the slightly more tricky bit…

If the feather is NEW and regrowing but incomplete:

new feather NOT visible (in pin) 1 POINT

new feather visible and c 1/3 grown 2 POINTS

new feathers visible and c 2/3 grown 3 POINTS etc

That’s very roughly it! So only NEW feathers get POINTS whether fully grown or part grown or the gap where there are growing (in pin). Easy!

Flamborough, late June

A first summer Great Skua- moult score 32. Three old outer primaries (no points). Five new fully grown inner primaries. 5 x 5 = 25 points. then Dick has found 7 more points. Hmm need to check where he’s got them from…  Have I got that right?

Great Skua 28th June M Garner d (1 of 1)Great Skua 28th June M Garner a (1 of 1)Great Skua 28th June M Garner e (1 of 1)Great Skua 28th June M Garner g (1 of 1)





Dick Newell:

“Moult score of about 32 on 28th June puts it in the zone of 1st cycle Bonxie or very early moulting older South Polar – which is not a contender for SPS on plumage.”

Flamborough- same bird – now mid July

Bonxie boy (1 of 1)

Flamborough – different bird? – 15th August

Thanks to Craig Thomas for these pics. Watched this one fly close and it was not too tricky to age as a first summer Bonxie (Great Skua). This bird is just completing its primary moult. This is a ‘classic’  first summer/2cy in which the streaking etc is more limited to the mantle and scapulars/central body strip in flight but the upperwing is relativly plain and unstreaked (adults heavily streaked). Lots more in first Challenge Series: AUTUMN.

15-08-17 Bonxie image 2 15-08-17 15-08-17 Bonxie Flamboro


Azores – April

Peter Howlett sent these photos to the Birding Frontiers team for comment. Not an easy subject and with different climatic conditions, some birds in this region, even though they are also first summer Great Skuas, can be far paler, more bleached and frankly carry of a nice South Polar Skua search image in their appearance.

They often provide a South polar pitfall!

“I’d like to have your (and the team’s) opinion on these skuas I photographed just south of Sao Miguel, Azores on 13 April this year.

Reply from Dick Newell:

Hi Martin (and Peter),

How nice to hear from you and thank you for sending this.
The bird with a primary moult score of ~25 on April 13th is overwhelmngly likely to be a 1st cycle Bonxie. It would be a rare event for a South Polar to have this score on this date. Apart from which, it looks like a Bonxie and doesn’t have the compact profile of a South Polar – but that’s subjective stuff.

The second bird looks pretty similar to the first bird, so, on those grounds it is probably also a Bonxie. The primary moult score of ~2-4 makes it marginal. An older than first cycle South Polar could have this moult score (just), but more likely a late-ish 1st cycle Bonxie.

It would be unusual for a South Polar to look as mottled as these birds. The dark hood is also a point against, though can happen on a South Polar.



Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel



Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel

There’s a wee warm-up on skuas, ageing and moult scores. While passerines may dominate my desk for the next couple of weeks… we are also entering a South Polar window.


VERY IMPORTANT – Please pass it on

Spurn Migration Festival 2015


To our quiet surprise 2015 has been widely saluted as the best one yet. The Spurn Migration Festival this year gathered nearly 300 people. The event is quickly becoming a key event in the birding calendar. However having a vision is one thing. Turning that vision into a reality requires real people and hard work! The reputation of the migfest has been established by local people serving visitors in a very special way. Then from outside individuals and organisation have come and engaged with the migfest, partnering with its aims and ambitions.

So here’s a tiny THANK YOU to all of those who mucked in and made this years Spurn Migration Festival, that bit extra special.

It’s 15 Minutes long. Lots of folk get mentioned. Some get a bit humour chucked at them 🙂

Can YOU please pass this on to those who need to hear it. THANK YOU!



Spurn Migration fetival (1 of 1)

Digiscoping Bearded Tit’s and more.

Posted by Justin Carr.

I recently took a trip to Alkborough, Lincolnshire with my good mate and long term birding partner Chris Robinson. Alkborough is a Nature reserve on the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Trent. Anyway after a short walk from the car park towards the first hide it was obvious there was plenty of Bearded Tit activity in the reedbeds next to the path. Birds where calling from all around us but seeing them wasn’t easy as it was a very breezy day. Eventually though I managed a few record shots of a single male as it clung on to the tops of the swaying phrag. Not really happy with the shots I got, I knew another trip there was on the cards and the weekends weather forecast was ideal for Bearded Tits, high pressure = no wind. Fast forward the weekend!!

Bearded tit

Bearded Tit

Also showing well was  Common Snipe which showed well in front of on of the hides.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe

And last off I experimented with maximum magnification 65x on the Scope.

Little E\gret

Little Egret

For me maximum magnification is not ideal it creates a far too soft image, I would rather use the lowest magnification then crop afterwards, but that’s just my opinion. Try experimenting for yourself!!

All images Digiscoped on a Swarovski ATX85.

Juvenile Red-necked Stint

with the White French Manicure

well it’s one way of remembering 🙂

These rather stunning images of a juvenile Red-necked Stint were taken in eastern Mongolia by John (‘Johnny Mac’) Mcloughlin in Mongolia this month (Sept. 2015). I think they superbly capture what a more straightforward young Red-necked Stint would look like- if one should deem to reach Western Europe again.

This next week Sharon and I get to stay with one of our favourite couples. Agnes and Roger Riddington. Roger found the ONLY juvenile Red-necekd Stint known in W Europe. Unfortunately it was deceased, on Fair Ilse

Time for a live one, and it helps me to remember that the white tips to the scapulars (and little mantle feathers) are vivid in thickness and pattern and sort of remind me of a White French Manicure

What will you remember?

Red necked Stint JM1 (1 of 1) Red necked Stint JM3 (1 of 1)

Compare with the recent grey Little Stint, which still looked scary among its congeners, but not really quite like this bird.





(Stunning!) juvenile Baltic Gull type

Check this one out!

by Hans Schekkerman

“When I found this juvenile gull standing between a ‘normal’ juvenile LBB and a Common Gull it was about half way between them in size, but structurally closer to the Common Gull! Unfortunately it didn’t wear a ring, but in my opinion everything points at Baltic Gull –it even seems to be on the ‘extreme side’ of Baltic plumage variation in several characters, e.g whiteness and lack of marking on head and underbody, and total lack of notching and barring on (particularly) greater coverts. I haven’t found a Baltic Gull photo yet with such plain greater coverts, but it seems even more unlikely that a graellsii or intermedius could show this.

Any thoughts or opinions would be appreciated,


Hans Schekkerman”


Field Appearance

Very conspicuous among the other gulls on the beach – including a few 100 ‘normal’ juvenile Lesser Black-backs, by small and delicate build as well as contrasting plumage. Differences with ‘ordinary’ juv LBBG:
(1) Strikingly smaller and more slender; size between LBB and Common Gull, but shape closer to Common.
(2) Very long wings creating elongated body. Primary projection 2.4 times tertial length beyond greater coverts. Depending on posture, 5 or 6 primary tips visible, with P10 3-5 mm > P9.
(3) Head smaller, more ‘friendly’ with rounded crown.
(4) Less heavy bill, rather straight with flat gonys.
(5) Shorter legs (also looking somewhat thinner), contributing to elongated impression.
(6) Head almost white with fine grey-brown streaking mostly confined to shadow patch before/below eye, crown, hindneck and rear ear coverts, and white cheeks neatly demarcated from grey-brown barring on neck sides.
(7) Underparts strikingly pale with less grey-brown patterning on white ground-colour; upper breast, belly and vent almost unpatterned white.
(8) Upperparts with almost pure white feather edges contrasting with cold grey-brown centres; no warm brown or buff hues present.
(9) Edges of wing coverts (particularly greaters) and tertials with hardly any notching, creating a completely unbarred (but rather striped) lower closed wing. (Such plain greaters must be rare even in Baltics?).
(10) Narrower black tail-band than typical contrasting with weakly patterned rest of tail, uppertail coverts and rump.
(11) Underwing basically white or very pale grey with restricted brown streaking on coverts.
(12) Hardly any pale tips visible on primaries (small pale tips in majority of LBBG).
Some aspects of the bird reminded of a young Caspian Gull but in the field this impression was counteracted by the short legs, shortish-looking neck and wrong upperwing pattern in flight.

That is no normal baby Lesser Black-backed Gull!



with a 1cy Lesser Black-backed (below)9529785


with a 1cy Herring Gull (below)9529789


on da beach9549874


Oof- underwing with magic whiteness…9549921


and a whiter rump and tail…9529802


please can I have one this autumn 🙂9549874,,

Flamborough 2014



Collared Flycatcher – first ever in this plumage in Britain

Sumburgh Head, Shetland 21st September 2015

They continue to surprise us. Of all the birds a new plumage for Britain in a species fraught with agonies over identification and hybrids wasn’t quite expected. With some good fortune all kinds of detail were captured on this stunning autumn male Collared Flycatcher- the first in this plumage type in Britain.

Roger Riddington



At first light on Monday 21st September, there were no migrants at all at Sumburgh Head – or at least not that I could see – and I went to work soon after. At coffee time, Pete Ellis walked round the lighthouse area and found quite a different story: three or four Yellow-browed Warblers (the vanguard of a large arrival – Fair Isle logged 53 that day and there were probably similar numbers in southern tip of Shetland) and two flycatchers:

One Red-breasted Flycatcher and something more intriguing.

Pete phoned me at about 12.15 and he was clearly excited; I can’t remember exactly what he said but something along the lines of ‘there’s an amazing looking flycatcher up here, I think it could be an adult male Collared…’. I jumped in the van and was soon up there to join him, George Petrie and Martin Heubeck watching this stunning little bird. The rain and dull light wasn’t good for photography but we soon had a few record shots of the wing markings and other features.

Like most people, I hadn’t got much idea of what to expect when I first took the call, but found a basically female-like bird, with obvious grey rump and nape shawl and acres of white in the wing. From what literature was easily available, it seemed that Pete was right: everything seemed to fit adult male Collared pretty much spot on, and the news was released 15 or 20 mins later.

Later, back at home with 500+ mostly rubbish photos and a greater range of literature to wade through, the difficulties of black-and-white flycatcher ID became more apparent – but it still looked like an adult male Collared. It’s the first British record for this plumage as far as I’m aware. In terms of ageing, note the black remiges, coverts and tail, the tertial pattern (with a narrow, even fringe around the tip, not a marked step at the shaft) and also the amount of white beyond the primary coverts in the closed wing. In combination, the amount of white in the primaries, tail, median and greater coverts, and forehead helps to rule out Semi-collared and Atlas.

Here’s some pics: (all photos Roger Riddington)




Autumn Adult male in the Netherlands in October 2010.

Hi Martin

This is the adult male Collared Flycatcher I found from my daughters bedroom window in October 10th 2010.

Thought you might like these pics
Arnold Meijer

This appears to be the first adult male in autumn in ‘NW Europe’ – away from the strictly N/S Scandinavian flyway.

BLUE ROBIN Withalsvliegenvanger Katwijk 101010 Arnold Meijer 287C1611BLUE ROBIN Withalsvliegenvanger Katwijk 101010 Arnold Meijer 287C1534