Monthly Archives: October 2015

A-G-P easy as… actually maybe not!

Dan Brown

I’ve always thought that golden plover ID was relatively straight-forward given good views, but it turns out not all individuals fit nicely into our pre-defined boxes!

A couple of weeks ago I had a pleasant but not too noteworthy couple of days in Caithness. The weather was stunning and there thousands of birds around. Goldcrests were in every bit of vegetation that could support them, and some just on the rocks! The odd Yellow-browed and Sibe Chiff brightened up the birding. I checked the fields at the Quoys of Reiss. They are great for plovers, and in the past I’ve had Upland Sandpiper and American Golden Plover here. The first day revealed a small flock of Golden Plovers but nothing more. On the second day the flock had tripled in size and one bird instantly smacked me in the face as being different. A ‘lesser’ Golden Plover and no doubt an AGP. The light wasn’t brilliant and I rattled off a few DSLR shots from inside the car whilst parked up on the verge.

I stopped to check the images and during my chimping the whole flock rose and headed down slope and over the brow of a shallow hill, out of sight. This was the last I saw of the bird. All that remained were the few images I had. I hadn’t even seen the underwing colour.

Whilst the bird had struck me as being different something didn’t feel right for it being a ‘lesser’ and it prompted me to look into it further. Both Paul French and Nils van Duivendijk provided some great feedback (thanks chaps) which has provided both answers and questions.

The bird in question: lower-centre right. Small, sleak, & contrasty. A pale forehead and dark crown and generally very grey toned.

The bird in question: lower-centre right. Small, sleak, & contrasty. A pale forehead and dark crown and generally very grey toned.

Whilst I frequently see cold grey Golden Plovers, they always look just that, standard EGPs in a cold tone. At first glance this bird has a slightly smaller and more rangy in appearance than an EGP, longer legs, and a slightly more attenuated rear end. The crown is very dark and the face very pale, all pro ‘lesser ‘ GP features.

The treats support this being an EGP - too finally notched, yet the primaries are still surprisingly long. The bird also appears too golden for an AGP yet the mantle patterning is very pro-AGP

The treats support this being an EGP – too finally notched, yet the primaries are still surprisingly long. The bird also appears too golden for an AGP yet the mantle patterning is very pro-AGP

A closer look though reveals the tertials to be too finely notched for either American or Pacific, and the bill looks pretty standard for an EGP. The mantle feathering is dark and coarsely notched, more AGP than EGP.

So what is it? It’s not a ‘lesser’ Golden Plover that’s for sure, and the most likely explanation is that it’s an aberrant European Golden Plover, however with the number of AGPs that arrive in the UK each year the possibility of a hybrid should not be excluded.

What it is will remain a mystery but the most likely explanation is an aberrant EGP, however the possibility of a hybrid should not be excluded

What it is will remain a mystery but the most likely explanation is an aberrant EGP, however the possibility of a hybrid should not be excluded

Hybrid Pacific x American have been frequently recorded in the USA especially Alaska where breeding ranges overlap, but to date there are no instances of European x American Golden Plover (Handbook on Avian Hybrids of the World 2006).

This article in Birdwatch deals with some pitfalls of EGPs and ‘lesser’ GPs and also mentions a possible hybrid in Somerset in 1987-88.

Hybrid Golden Plovers should definitely be on the radar when faced with an unusual Golden Plover in future, but hopefully for your sake you’ll be faced with a stonking clear-cut PGP!

I Got Stuff To Do

The Next Chapter.

For my friends and followers to Birding Frontiers, I wanted folk to know our ‘new’ situation and some of my hopes.

This was posted on Saturday. It now being Monday for those who follow here and not the other social media spaces; here’s me bit of news. It’s on another blog called BigDDT.

Big DDT is HERE with a bit more of an explanation and video.










Goldcrests- the Undiscovered World

Really?- well hell yes.

YES really. Shetland was mint. Sharon and I even got two goes at Aurora borealis. One night we ‘found’ it for ourselves from our Shetland Nature sorted cottage- one of the most northerly houses in Britain (much further north than that old bus shelter of Unst!)

I have not aurora photo skills much. Garry has. This is taken on that very night from nearby looking north. We saw some nice aurora ‘searchlights’ and a few different colours. Most of all we saw it together (and Sharon found it!)

Aurora borealis from Shetland, October 2015. Garry Taylor

Aurora borealis from Shetland, October 2015. Garry Taylor

Here’s a retreat house at Norwick, Unst. It’s called Millfield. There is only the North Pole after this… see here

The last house in Britain- near enough!

The last house in Britain- near enough!

and when we arrived as dusk came in, one tiny bird was present avidly looking for insects in the grass in front of the cottage. A tiny Goldcrest.  It’s a blurry dark pic but I LOVE this spirit if nature. and he was our Goldcrest 🙂

Goldcrest, Norwick, Unst. October 2015 MG

Goldcrest, Norwick, Unst. October 2015 MG

The next morning more migrants. Blackcaps, also strange to watch as they fed, not in trees but on the lawn… And looked pretty beautiful.

blackcaps n (1 of 1)blackcaps 2 (1 of 1)blackcaps (1 of 1)


Goldcrest Revelations

Our Goldcrest was of course part of huge movement/arrival/fall of Goldcrests in Western Europe. They were the main companion very often to Yellow-browed Warblers.

The Yellow-browed Warblers come a very long way. YET we don’t very often ask where the Goldcrests come from. I am now. Because Peter Colston stirred the pot!

'Continental Goldcrest', Flamborough, October 2015 by Andy Hood.

‘Continental Goldcrest’, Flamborough, October 2015 by Andy Hood.

Above: This is just a stunning image by Andy Hood of Flamborough. It fits what I have always referred to/looked for as ‘Continental Goldcrests’ (Old Witherby Handbook). Well the identifiable ones with nice grey head contrasting wth olive upperparts (compared to insular, indigenous British birds). Varaition in the birds from Scandinavia, means some stand out and others, the grey on the head is obscured by olive and the  features is less obvious; they look no different to British birds.  See Yoav’s pics below of a migrant in Shetland:


So I got to go birding with these guys. How cool is that! The biggest fun was being joined by Peter and Tony. Peter Colston was THE bird skin man at the biggest collection of bird skins in the world- TRING, for many many years. He is rightly famed in many papers etc. He was the man who granted access to me to the museum back in the 1980’s.

WOW! Left to right: Peter Colston, MG, Yoav Perlman, Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington. Toab, Shetland, October 2015

WOW! Left to right: Peter Colston, MG, Yoav Perlman, Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington. Toab, Shetland, October 2015

So up the Geostter Burn we went, our motley crew, chasing a ‘grey’ ficedula Flycatcher, some Goldcrest and one or two Yellow-browed Warblers.

Geosetter Burn, Mainland Shetland, October 2015

Geosetter Burn, Mainland Shetland, October 2015

and Peter points out to me THIS Goldcrest below and his photos of.

I am IN straight away! I do know a little but he immediately waxes lyrical about more easterly taxa coming to Britain.

I  NEVER thought about that. What a dude! So there will be a another post on this later this week. I think and hope you might be a little surprised.

For now notice how the grey is MORE extensive – sort of almost reaching into the middle of the mantle.

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

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


Another Goldcrest post to follow soon…

Northern Treecreeper in Lincolnshire

and a BBRC rarity

This is just a ‘pointer post’ to send you to Graham Catley’s

PEWIT BLOGSPOT – so you can his Northern Treecreeper photos and be ready to find your own. It’s a very are bird in Lincolnshire based on past records…

Northern Treecreepers are now an official BBRC rarity. That’s because they appear to be… rare. Find one you’ve scored!

Graham Catley on quick check: Past Lincs avifaunas are as follows:

Smith and Cornwallis 1952
Treecreepers occur occasionally on the coast and an example of the Northern race was obtained at North Cotes in March 1947 shot by Dr J M Harrison
Atkin and Lorand 1989
No additions

2013 Donna Nook one trapped October 14th – 15th

So CLICK here to see more of this bird by Graham:


so = RARE!

Thanks as ever to GPC.

Cackling Canada Goose in Devon

 Love it- a Wild ‘Ridgway’s’ Canada Goose in Britain!

I love this stuff. Really! Matt Knott emailed a while back to say he found this bird on 27th September 2015 on his local patch on the Exe Estuary in Devon. I am just slow! The bird arrived with and was clearly part of the large flock of several hundred Dark-bellied Brent Geese. The Brent come from Central Siberia. 

If you interested in seeing wild vagrant geese- you should go see this one!

So the big question. Is this a wild bird, from Alaska. To me this is  ‘no-brainer’. The case for this being a wild bird is much easier for me to make, than it be an escaped captive reared bird.

I could wax lyrical. I would have drawn a map just like Matt’s. It’s a highly likely scenario.

I think at least 1-2 birds which appeared at Caerlaverock WWT in 2009, with Barnacle Geese also fit a wild Cackling Goose bill. So enjoy the pics and the map and believe in birds! 🙂

Check out Dave Boult’s lovely video of the bird. Click HERE


Huge thanks to Chris Townend for the beautiful photos below.

unnamed 6 unnamed 8 unnamed 9All photos above by Chris Townend– with thanks.
unnamed 12


BELOW: Tristan Reid’s beautiful photo of one of the ‘wild’ Cackling Canada’s at Caerlaverock back in 2009.



Helpfully as ever Richard Klim highlighter the correct spelling of Ridgway. More HERE

Lapland Bunting origins, ageing and sexing

Greenland is a long way away

Distances birds travel sometimes just trip off the tongue. So here’s a thing:

Lapland Buntings are one of only two passerines (small birds) which I know of that routinely cross an ocean on migration. Bonkers!

Lapland Bunting 4th Sumburgh Headf (1 of 1)

It was argued for (with some opposition) a while back, that some of our Lapland Buntings were coming from Greenland and not Scandinavia. See Here and Birding World article HERE

Hans Schekkerman graciously wrote from the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago about his article from 1989 which I totally missed!

“Hi Martin,
This mail was triggered by the Lapland Bunting note on your latest blog post. I hadn’t seen the earlier posts nor your Birding World paper. Attached find a paper I wrote in the Dutch journal Limosa on Lapland Buntings trapped at the ringing station where I was (and to a lesser extent still am) involved. I argued that in autumn both Greenlandic and Scandinavian birds occur in The Netherlands, with Greenland birds predominating in the smaller numbers occurring early in the autumn. At least in males, wing lengths decrease over time (fig 5) and early-autumn wings were closer to published wing lengths from Greenland than from Scandinavia. There are English captions and a summary, and besides Dutch is easy..
Following this paper we started to measure bill lengths of our trapped buntings (as these seem to differ even more between the subspecies than wings), but unfortunately numbers trapped dropped considerably around that same time, and I have never come round to analyse whether the smallish sample produced anything interesting..
Best whishes, Hans”

Thanks Hans. Read his paper:

Schekkerman 1989 Limosa – Biometrie en herkomst van IJsgorzen in Nederland


First winter male at Sumburgh, Shetland

I have learnt some bits. Not surprising, but still. On Shetland recently, a little highlight especially for my companion Yoav Perlman, were close views of this Lapland Bunting. Featured briefly here.

So what can we see to try to see of it’s a male or female and how old it is:

Lapland Bunting 3a (1 of 1)

A fairly bright bird with some nice reddish/ chestnut bits. Check out that nape… It also has a fairly obvious blackish ‘bib’ of spots (not streaks) just emerging on the breast. These are what I have looked for as having a greater bias towards males plumage than females. By comparison some birds – presumed to be females – have very grey streaked napes and streaked grey breast (not black spots). It is argued that adult females can have male-like features, so it’s not always straightforward. Here’s a lovely pic showcasing what could be a 1cy female recently at Bempton RSPB by Tony Dixon. See HERE

So using to the ‘ringer’s Bible,’ Svensson. The Sumburgh bird shows:

  • The bill base on this bird is brown (1cy) not yellow (adult)
  • The tail feathers look slightly pointed and frayed to me (1cy) and not broader + rounded (adult)
  • The crown feathers have quite extensive black fringe – better for male than female.


Lapland Bunting 4th Sumburgh Headf (1 of 1)

Lapland Bunting 5a (1 of 1) Lapland Bunting 6a (1 of 1)

Above: The tail feathers reach a gentle pointed tip and that right one is frayed 🙂

Lapland Bunting 8a (1 of 1)

Above: Good view of the crown reveals a lot of black fringing to the central crown feathers. Svensson indicated this is better for male than female.

So I do think the Sumburgh bird is a 1cy (first winter) male. The chestnut nape and black spotty breast stand-up 🙂

Lapland Bunting a 4th Sumburgh Head (1 of 1)


Blyth’s Pipit on Utsira

Challenging ID – still present

Bjørn Ove Høyland in touch last week about this young, large(ish) pipit, just across the North sea from Britain. The bird is till present yesterday (17th October) on the ‘Fair Isle’ of Norway. Utsira.  Great guys and I had hoped to go and speak at the birders get togther n Utsira this autumn. Really sorry I could not make it. Dang!


What can you see in the photos?

There’s a challenge. There always is with Blyth’s and Richards’ Pipits. Has this bird got pro- Blyth’s features? Is it identifiable? Maybe you can even check out our pages in the new WINTER book on Blyth’s and Richards’ Pipits!

They don’t really need my waffle.  I have to say this looks very Blyth’s. The bird has the nice slightly depressed upper mandible and more dagger/ pointed bill. Lovely evenly streaked crown, shortish supercilium not the length and breadth of many Richard’s. The flanks are well coloured and the hind claw looks rather decurved and about the right length. The tail does not look especially long.

The juvenile median coverts are not especially telling- a tad less compact and squarish than some Blyth’s which can be quite a good mimic of the adult pattern.

I don’t see anything in plumage and structure against it Blyth’s – indeed the photos show a bird that looks like one.

_MG_0834_mongolpip _MG_0787_mongolpip _MG_0705_mongolpip


Thankfully the bird called. It was heard by the guys on Utsira to give a ‘chip’ call many time. I can hear the call OK on the recording. Blyth’s do produce intermediate calls between the chip and the Yellow Wagtail psh-oo call. I recorded some last year on the Wakefield bird… so there is variety in the sound of the ‘chip’. This seems to fit the bill.

Have a listen


I can’t access (to make the links) to my own SoundCloud account, but you can listen to the recordings of the Wakefield Blyth’s Pipit giving both the ‘chip’ call and the ‘pssh-oo’ call by click HERE and just scroll a wee bit.

And this is well worth a very quick watch. A video of the bird clearly calling as it flies up. Thanks to Atle Grimbsy who sent a link. CLICK HERE.

These always help me increase my learning.