Monthly Archives: October 2015

Hume’s Warbler and the ID issues

A peak inside the head of ….

John McLoughlin

Follow John’s explanation of his gut reaction of seeing and identifying the Hume’s Warbler at Flamborough this last week.

Hume's Warbler by Andrew Allport

Hume’s Warbler by Andrew Allport

Visit Andrew Allport’s website HERE

“As on the previous afternoon at the Lighthouse there was an arrival of winter thrushes and finches. However unlike the previous day, which had been, sunny and bright today was dull and overcast and the strong southeasterly blow continued.

As I was about to check a favoured little cliff top gulley I noticed a small gathering at the lighthouse wall. A mixed group of birders and walkers were looking intently into the garden. “Must have a Black Red” I thought and went over to check. Sure enough there was a Black Redstart on the tidy lawn, actually there is no cover in the garden for much else to appear. Exchanging pleasantries with a guy called Gerard he informed me that the elder bush I had been about to check moments before being distracted held a Pallas’s Warbler! We hurried back down the path whilst he expressed concerns about the birds’ true identity.

Almost immediately the warbler in question undertook a short aerial sally before returning to the said elder. It was actually a Yellow-browed Warbler! Something that Gerard had been trying to explain to me.

Something different about this one…

But there was something different about this Yellow-browed, something subtly but also very different. I had met this bird before and I exclaimed that it was actually a Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler! What was it about the bird that made me feel confident in making such a quick declaration?

From the start I must admit to previous experience as I saw at least four birds in Yorkshire back in the nineties. The last birds I saw where two birds at Flamborough Head and at Spurn in late October 2003. More of the Spurn bird later 🙂

What do I see?

The bird is greeny grey above and whitish below it has a prominent supercilium and two distinct wing bars. It is a fresh bird with neat white tertial fringes and white tips to the primaries.

However the crown is dull and shows a distinct grey coronal stripe.

The mantle is green but suffused grey with a hint of a grey shawl and a grey wash on the scapulars.

Through binoculars the brightest part of the bird is actually in the wing… the fresh fringes to the flight feathers contrast with the duller upperparts.

Hume's Warbler, Flamborough, by Craig Thomas

Hume’s Warbler, Flamborough, by Craig Thomas

Look at the Face!

So what was it about this bird that convinced me that this was a humei? Well I once attended a lecture given by Lars Jonsson and he was talking about identifying birds and amongst the advice he gave I always remember one point. He said “look at the face” this is how we remember/recognise friends and acquaintances it seemed to make sense to me.

Back at Flamborough Head on this “rare” afternoon in late October I am looking at the face of this warbler and I recognise it. The face has an open expression so therefore is immediately different from other Yellow-broweds I have seen this autumn.

Key Features

This appearance is created by the following features:

  • The supercilia are distinct and creamy white but narrow in front of the eye
  • The eyestripe is more diffuse across the lores thus making the eye more prominent
  • The throat is also creamy white and contrasts with the rest of the sullied white underparts
  • The cheeks appear plain lacking the mottled effect shown by phylloscopus warblers.
  • Finally the bill was “spiky” and “crestlike”… dark almost blackish
  • Overall the bird was greeny grey but not dull like many winter humei but the brightest green tones appear in the closed wing … not in the mantle…see the various photos, e.g.  on RBA website
  • The soft parts are darker the bill has only the faintest of pale bases to lower mandible.
  • The legs are dark to not black but dark becoming paler around the toes but lacks pale “socks”.
  • It does show two prominent wing bars but this must be a feature of fresh humei and look closely and the bases of the secondaries below the greater covert bar are dark creating a shadow but I suggest that this is probably a variable feature.

Back to the 2003 Spurn bird which was trapped and ringed as a Yellow-browed but then we heard it call in the field!

Finally this bird was heard to call confirming the diagnosis!”

(confirmed by multiple observers keen t hear the right sounds!)

Hume's Warbler, Flamborough, by Craig Thomas

Hume’s Warbler, Flamborough, by Craig Thomas

and here’s me notebook from 1990:

Hume's Warbler 1990 (1 of 1)


Pallid Swift at Flamborough

What happened then!

Today. 31st October 2015. That was some morning. Brett R and Andy M. kicked off with  a very early swift sp. from the fog station at Flamborough. Finally as you can see it resolved. Craig T and John B around and the blooming thing resolved right in front of us!

Awesome. I need a sleep after that.

Super captures by Craig Thomas. More on the days events on the Flamborough Bird Obs. website later. Don’t’ miss it!





Goldcrests from further east… coatsi and beyond?

Intro to post by Martin G.

This little Goldcrest with ‘extra grey’  began a journey of questioning. The joy of others birders and learning from one another kicked in to play. Getting the privilege of being out with octogenarian Peter Colston, famed as the skin man at the Natural History Museum for many years- TRING! He flagged up ‘Eastern Goldcrest as we birded together watching this bird:

extrs grey Goldcrest, Geosetter Burn, Shetland. October 2015. Peter Colston

extra grey Goldcrest, Geosetter Burn, Shetland. October 2015. Peter Colston

Peter spoke. I had NEVER heard of eastern taxa. Just not come onto my plate. Two subspecies are flagged up here, now.  The taxa coatsi and japonensis

Given the distance that Yellow- browed Warblers and Hume’s Warblers come from… reaching my garden at Flamborough- well :

How far do some late autumn the Goldcrests come from?

Do I know we get coatsi for sure? No idea. Can you identify them really? I don’t know. This might be hugely revealing or a flght of fancy. It doesn’t matter. It’s how we discover and I love exploring. 

Spurn and Falsterbo (and Cape May)

and meanwhile… I get to champion the wonderful new partnerships. Falsterbo Bird Observatory and Cape May Bird Observatory are forming dynamic partnerships with Spurn Bird Observatory.  So I am chuffed to have Stephen bring data from Falsterbo… and thinking of all those Goldcrest and the awesome ringing programme going on work at Spurn Bird Obs. These are wonderful heady days.


Goldcrests from further east?

Stephen Menzie


Map of Goldcrest range from Wikipedia

Map of Goldcrest range from Wikipedia

Autumn 2014 saw exceptional number of Goldcrests ringed at Falsterbo Bird Observatory, Sweden – 11,581 to be precise, a record total and well above the 1980–2013 average of around 2,500 per autumn. The two biggest days came on 11th October (1,853) and 21st October (2,027). Most of the birds we caught were a bit greyer around the head than birds I’m used to seeing in Britain, although some – like the one below – probably wouldn’t be detected amongst British birds.



Above: regulus type ?

Most, however, looked like the bird below:
Above: ‘Continental type’?
It was difficult to know exactly where these birds were coming from. Recoveries gave us a clue as to where they had passed through: (elsewhere in) Sweden, Poland, Kaliningrad (Russia), and a few from Norway. The bird above, in fact, is a control from Kaliningrad. There was perhaps a tendency for eastern-ringed birds to arrive on average a tad later than Swedish/Norwegian ringed birds but I’m quite sure the whole movement was part of one single mass emigration. It’s my gut feeling that many of the Swedish-ringed birds were simply caught on their way through as they headed west in a broad front across northern Europe before filtering down through Falsterbo.
As the season went on, from about mid October, there was an increasing proportion of birds on which the head got greyer, the underparts got less saturated, and the mantle got greener. Some, like the bird below, were striking.
Above: coatsi type?
Side-by-side with a typical (“Continental-type”) bird, the differences are even more apparent. The grey of the head is purer and more extensive – though we didn’t catch any birds with the grey extending down as far onto the mantle as the bird in this previous post (go HERE! )
–  and the mantle is a purer green with a well-defined limit between the two. The buff tones on the underparts were greatly reduced. We also got the feeling that these birds looked consistently more “bull necked”, at least in the hand.
Above: coatsi type?
Some of the more extreme birds we were catching were almost approaching japonensis in appearance (see e.g. HERE) 
I would be surprised if we were catching japonensis but I started to wonder how extreme coatsi could get. Spp japonensis is genetically quite distinct from the western group (nominate and the Macaronesian forms), though I’m not aware of any studies that have included coatsi. Nevertheless, we managed to catch a dislodged feather from one bird (not one of the extreme grey-headed birds, but noticeably grey-headed nonetheless – phenotypically somewhere between the two birds in the above photo) and we are awaiting analysis. My worry is that coatsi and regulus are just one big cline and a genetic sample isn’t going to tell us a great deal. Still, it’s worth a try.
These grey-headed green-mantled birds are probably regular visitors, perhaps occurring under irruptions conditions rather than as true migrants.
Indeed, I have photos of one from Falsterbo from mid-October 2012 (an autumn when 4,600 Goldcrests were ringed) but I didn’t note any during autumn 2013 (when just 1,100 Goldcrests were ringed). Sadly I haven’t spent any length of time at Falsterbo this autumn so I can’t comment on the situation there, other than the fact that – contra might what be expected given the arrival of birds on the east coast of Britain – the Goldcrest total stands at a distinctly average 1,850.
There’s still plenty to discover about these autumn-ariving birds and it feels like my brief look into the species has barely scratched the surface. Certainly, if the genetics do show the Falsterbo bird to be coatsi, there’s absolutely no reason to think the taxa isn’t reaching the UK too.

Hume’s Warbler at Flamborough

but it wasn’t about that.

That being two days ago on 27th October. Johnny Mac and Craig T. had already planned a visit. We are in chaos as we land from my weeks stay in hospital (see here).

The house needing to be utterly re-ordered. Then Johnny messaged to say he’s got a Hume’s Warbler. Well we have been talking about these suckers since Johnny helped ID one (against some uncertainty from others) back in 1987. Another Flamborough Hume’s saw me planning to meet Johnny at Flamborough on a  foggy morning in November 2004 (I think). We both saw the Hume’s’ Warbler in OLd Fall. He found some Tundra Bean Geese I jammed a female Pine Bunting!

Anyway two days ago they showed up and proceeded to man haul me out of the house in a wheelchair and down to see the Hume’s’. I tell you what. My body is busted. I feel like a look really weird. I often feel unsurprisingly very vulnerable. Dependant. I even wonder, as you do, why these dudes would be bothering with me.

I did get a brief view off the Hume’s Warbler, and a Chiffchaff and a Firecrest. Way way more importantly I am in a state that leaves me very humble and weak.  In a topsy turvy world the product  of my weakness was and is a  sense of community here I wouldn’t swop for the world.

While we are out… Phil and Sue Cunningham are trying to make  our house work.  Gaynor C. comes over is keen to visit and help. Brett R. wants to get me on the bird.  I am a blessed man.

friends 1friends 2

Hume’s  watching with CT.  Johnny dodged being on the pic! I love my friends.


15-10-28 Humes Warbler Flamboro15-10-28 Humes Warbler image 2 Flamboro

Early shots of the bird by Craig. Great ID by Johnny who knows this one soooo… well.


Superb image by local doyen Andrew Allport. Make sure you see more on the Flamborough Bird Observatory blog where I poached this from! Andrew trumps the pics most of the time at Flamborough.

Meanwhile back at home this wee team tirelessly adding to our flipping brilliant sense of community. Fixing the house up. That was a day to remember!

a team



Northern Treecreeper. Be Prepared!

East Coast Stunner from 2013

I want to keep this subject alive! Northern Treecreepers are beautiful and rare. Many folk DON’T realise how rare Northern Treecreepers are nationally in Britain. The identification is covered in Challenge Series: AUTUMN.

Graham Catley, once again has provided another chance to keep learning from Lincolnshire. Apart from a record from North Cotes 1947 – there are zero other records of Northern Treecreepers from this east coast, English county. Amazing! Here then is what seems to be the first modern Lincolnshire record.

14th-15th October 2013, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire

This Treecreeper was trapped by Martin Sizer, all photos by Steve Lorand. thanks indeed to Graham, Martin and Steve. So what do we think? Is it a Northern?

Northern Treecreeper (A)

Above: First look and it appears awesome :). The white feathering on the upperparts looks continuous with the white feathering on the crown. Notice how broad the white supercilium IN FRONT of the eye.

Northern Treecreeper (A)

Above: The wings. Check out how the pale marks in the primaries are pallid, creamy, almost white. Certainly not straw/ yellow etc as on ‘British’ birds.

Northern Treecreeper

Above: Head on Northerns have broad white supercilium zone, not especially pinched right up the front of the snozzle.

Northern Treecreeper (A)

Above: The rump patch on Northerns is paler than on British birds and often stands out as lovely bright pale cinnamon spot. On British Birds the rump doesn’t look the same but looks more concolourous with the rest of the upperparts.

Northern Treecreeper (A)

Above. So lets go… find some more!




Marsh Warbler at Spurn this Autumn

and the Caspian Reed/Blyth’s Reed/Reed Warbler ID process

On 9th October 2015 (earlier this month) Jeff Clarke leading a small and keen group of birders came across this warbler at Spurn. An acrocephalus (pointy head) warbler. Autumn ‘acros’ are notoriously tricky. The few I have seen at Flamborough this autumn, were all identifiable as Reed Warblers very quickly. Usually the plumage tones combined with ESPECIALLY the face pattern pointed the way.

‘acrocephalus’  roughly translates peak or pointy-headed. Some people think you need a pointy head to identify these little brown jobs. We covered 4 acrocephaplus warbler in Challenge Series: AUTUMN. They were Reed, Marsh, Blyth’s Reed and Caspian Reed Warbler. One of the questions once October comes around is that of vagrant Caspian Reed Warblers. Birds like this one flag up the challenge! They have reached Britain before!


Nearly/all/all the birds we see in Britain are young birds in fresh plumage. The adult shave long since migrated. If we were to see an adult acrocepaphalus warbler it would look worn, moulting and weird/scary/ like a rare thing.

That Head Pattern

That head pattern with such a large open area in front off the eye is scary! It is very similar to some Caspian Reeds I have seen. It’s also very reminiscent of some Blyth’s Reeds. Its is also good for Marsh Warbler. Sheesh! Not really like a Reed Warbler at least so should draw the observer eye! I would be very exited to find a face like this.

Colours and Contrasts

Jeff Clarke describes the bird:

“The underparts were noticeably pale on this bird and in fact that is how we first picked it up in the hedge (at first glance I did wonder if it was a Hippo). Pale creamy buff is probably the best description of the underparts, slightly paler on the throat and no obvious darker wash on the flanks. Never got to see the leg colour properly, other than quite pale and couldn’t see the talon colour. The rump was definitely not rusty rump, but rather the colours were a  light olive-brown rump”

The tones and rump colour rule out western Reed (again). the long primary primary projection with striking pale tips, do point towards Marsh. On the upperparts the  Reeds I encountered were pretty plain- indeed with uppeparts/ primary zone that look like more like Blyth’s Reed. So this is a long-winded way of exploring best fit for Marsh Warbler, on head pattern, plumage tones above and below and the primary zone. Have a wee study of the pics 🙂

Well done Jeff and team for excellent find and ID process for us to learn from. Great experience for group birding… and of course it was at SPURN. Special thanks to Ben Miles for getting such informative photos. Great job! All photos below by Ben Miles

Spurn Warbler 1 Spurn Warbler 3Spurn Warbler 2

Olivaceous Warbler ID and Iduna Issues


Yoav Perlman 

On October 1st Noam Weiss trapped this intriguing Iduna Warbler at IBRCE, Eilat.

Noam is the director of the IBRCE, and is one of the most experienced ringers in Israel. Noam must have handled in his extensive ringing carrier several thousand Eastern Olivaceous Warblers I. elaeica, the default Iduna in Israel, and he was immediately struck by this individual – how pallid and sandy it was, and this amazing bill!profile1


Noam understood he had an unusual bird in his hands, and did what an experienced ringer should do in cases like this: he took full measurements of the bird, made sure he had enough photographs in good light conditions, and collected a couple of belly feathers that were shed during the normal ringing process, for DNA analysis. He suspected it could be opaca, the Western Olivaceous Warbler based on its very long bill. There are no accepted records of opaca in Israel, yet…


Naom’s bird was rather large, larger than average elaeica, with a wing length of 67 mm. The wing formula wasn’t helpful – especially the 2nd primary that falls between P6/7 – OK for both species:

The bill length fits opaca, with length to skull of 19.6 mm, but the bill width was too narrow and fits elaeica better – 4.4 mm. Also note the bill shape from below – in opaca it’s supposed to be convex, with swollen mandibles, while elaeica shows straight or slightly concave mandibles:



A few other pointers to this bird being elaeica are:

Pale wing panel on secondaries – opaca lacks a wing panel.
Overall tones – though this bird lacks the typically olive-grey tones of elaeica, it still lacks the brown, almost Acrocephalus tones of opaca.
The lores are pretty dark, and supercilium rather pronounced. opaca has a more open-faced impression with pale lores.



After consulting with members of the Spanish rarities committee, including Manolo Garcia, the consensus on this bird is that it is an unusual elaeica with a deformed bill, and not opaca. But maybe DNA analysis provides different insights? We will know more soon. Thumbs up to Noam for picking out this interesting bird, and sharing the images and information with me.

normal Eastern Olivaceous Warblers

Here are a few images of normal elaeica from Israel. They normally are darker and have stronger olive tones, though this is often hard to perceive in photographs, as it depends on light conditions and on how images are manipulated in editing software. This is an individual in May – look at the pointed and narrow bill:



And this is a cute 1cy, recently fledged (huge awww factor), after a limited post-juvenile moult. Very short and thin bill:oli

Identification of Iduna warblers has been discussed on Birding Frontiers before – check this post with some images of opaca and reiseri. But always there is more to learn!