Monthly Archives: November 2015

Birds of Spurn Book UPDATE!!

NOW is the time

The next two days are the last two days of the pre-publication price. So good time to purchase now I guess…


As we approach the publication. Now is the time. The 2016 NEW YEAR will see this book as a must-buy.

The Birds of Spurn. A local Book but not! Because it is the log of a national and international site for migration. The obvious place for the first ever Migration Festival. the obvious site to partner with other international locations like Cape May and Falsterbo.

A0A2E3A8-DD39-A920-63D9-3A88FD779F50_the-birds-of-spurn-friends-of-spurn-price.galleryA place of phenomenal numbers.
A place of unexpected migration revelations
A place of remarkable remote beauty
A place (the best place?) for rare birds on Mainland Britain

You are invited to Come and be a part of the action

Go HERE to secure your copy.



12265740_1541351376155228_7183972828308432141_o 12265685_1541351159488583_5919808087284698277_o 12232884_1541350459488653_232749423817410315_o 4AC466AC-8EF9-B5FE-0DB3-7077EEA85F85


Andy Roadhouse shines

Bean Goose Spurn book (1 of 1)



Is it a British First?

Waxham, Norfolk mid-October 2015

Detected as a little more than interesting by Mark Grantham. There are several aspects about the plumage meriting discussion but they would not raise eyebrows apart from the SECONDARIES!

So rather than labour the point- read the chapter on Great Grey  Shrikes in the Challenge Series: WINTER and have a look at the wing on this bird.

The immediate questions for me are:

Is it some kind of British first?

Is it still in the area?


Great Grey Shrike a (1 of 1)

Great Grey Shrike b (1 of 1)


shrike3 shrike4 shrike12


The 15 year old and the Desert Warbler and the

Long-billed Dowitcher. 1979.

Excuse the glorious nostalgia. The two recent Desert Warblers have stirred the pot. Super tame dude in the Netherlands and super rare (first national record) in Norway have stirred the pot. How did my fascination with rare birds begin? My first ‘twitch’ I suppose was a White Stork (a BBRC rarity back then) in 1978 at Chirk, near Oswestry.

Then I found one! one of the most magic moments I have ever known. Well. A family asked me what this funny bird was. I looked though a telescope and quiet unbelievably there was bird… and somehow I knew what it was. I must have absorbed myself sufficiently in the bird book pages- including the ‘vagrants section’. I knew what it was  – a dowitcher- instinctively, immediately, I had a name for it…


Here, on my patch. Looking at an American wader whose image I had learnt from a book. An exotic name. From a far-flung land. I submitted a Dowitcher sp. and the powers said Long-billed.

That was 29th September 1979.

A few days later I was watching- a DESERT  WARBLER. 

A bird I had never heard of- from an even further flung land. I can’t remember exactly who was present, but Billy Morton was my constant sparing partner, Don Weedon, my RSPB man and Dougie Percival our YOC mentor. I was well catered for and we were off!

And so began the fascinating world of rare birds that had travelled enormous distances, with some kind of amazing story behind them. The wonder has never dimmed.



Desert Warbler, Meols, October 1979. The 4th British record by Tony Murphy

huge thanks Allan Conlin, Tony Murphy, Bill Morton, Don Weedon. Allan esp helped sourcing the old pic.

Don Weedon (1 of 1)

Me with Don Weedon, who seems to have hardly aged. My RSPB field officer in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. One of the highlights of this years Spurn Migration Festival was to have Don present. Bloomin’ marvelous!

Saunders’s and Little Terns ID pitfalls


Yoav Perlman

This is a topic I talked about briefly in my 2015 Spurn Migfest talk. Saunders’s Tern is one of the rarest and least-known breeding birds in the WP. Despite having a large range around the Indian Ocean, including Red Sea, coastal East Africa, Arabia and Indian Subcontinent, it is still a poorly-known species worldwide. ID of adults in summer is better described. Compared to its sister Sternula species, Little Tern, it is smaller and slimmer. Seeing them side by side (I have seen two in Israel alongside Little Terns), you get a similar comparison to Common versus Arctic Tern in differences in size, structure and derived flight pattern – about 10% smaller and more delicate, and flight more light and bouncy. Calls are also different – check the Xeno Canto page with lots of variation in call but the mainstream seems to be softer and less coarse than Little Tern. Some plumage features seem to be rather robust – first of all, contrary to what some birders may think, adult summer Saunders’s are paler above than adult little, very pale silvery-white. They have a larger dark primary patch, usually 4-5 dark primaries, compared to the normal 2-3 dark primaries in adult Littles. Also, Littles have a contrasting white rump and tail, at least the outer tail feathers (apprently greyer central tail feathers are quite normal in Little Terns). Saunders’s has concolorous (pale) grey mantle, rump and entire tail. And that’s it more or less. All the other features mentioned in literature are of unknown validity, mainly becuase the limits of variation within Saunders’s Tern, even adults in summer plumage, are little known.

But that’s not the only reason why separating these two species is challenging. Interestingly, the amount of variation shown by adult summer Little Tern, which is such a familiar and popular European bird, a photographer’s favourite, is not well described. More on this below.

My interest in them increased a few months ago. I noticed this Saunders’s-type tern in a blogpost of my good friend from Kuwait, Mike Pope from late April 2015:

Tern sp. with little Tern in background, Sea City, Kuwait, 25/4/15 by Mike Pope

Tern sp. with little Tern in background, Sea City, Kuwait, 25/4/15 by Mike Pope

This bird made some alarm bells go off – look at this broad wing patch (4 primaries), concolorous rump and complete grey tail – this must be a Saunders’s Tern, no? I flagged it up to Mike, he circulated among some experts, and the views were leaning towards Saunder’s tern – that would have been a long overdue first for Kuwait.

But then the plot thickened. I circulated Mike’s report among my fellow IRDC members. Yosef Kiat has been ringing Common and Little Terns for several years now in a breeding colony at Atlit, south of Haifa, on the Med Coast. He sent me some images of Little Terns from the breeding colony this late summer that knocked me off my chair. I was aware of the variation they show there, I did join him several times on his nocturnal adventures there, but have never seen extreme birds like these. First, a 2cy bird – this bird hatched in the colony to ‘normal’ looking Little Tern parents in 2014, and was retrapped this year:

2cy Little Tern, Atlit, israel, 25 August 2015 by Yosef Kiat

2cy Little Tern, Atlit, israel, 25 August 2015 by Yosef Kiat

Look at the grey rump and tail: perhaps outer tail feathers are slightly paler than the heavily abraded and dirty central tail feathers, but I am sure in the field this would look like a solid grey tail.

And take a look at this 1cy bird, hatched 2015, again to’normal’ Little Tern parents, wow!

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

Hmmm…. Grey rump, grey tail… And the wing looks like this – in the field it would look like a huge dark wedge:

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, Israel, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, Israel, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

Also this summer, in June, Yuda Siliki, an Israeli birder sent me this nice comparison of Little Terns from Ma’agan Michael – these birds are from the same colony in Atlit. Check out the variation in supposed features for Saunders’s Tern – shape of forehead patch and extent of dark bill tip. Saunders’s has much more limited white foreahead, not unlike the lower individual, but the white patch needs to more squared off in Saunders’s, less of a supercilium above and behind the eye, but still check the amount of variation among the two. Also, what about the amount of dark on the bill tip? Saunders’s should have more extensive dark than little, so what’s going on here?

Adult Little Terns, ma'agan Michael, Israel, 7/6/15 by Yuda Siliki

Adult Little Terns, ma’agan Michael, Israel, 7/6/15 by Yuda Siliki

I think it is very interesting to explore this species pair now. They were found breeding only recently in southwest Sinai, just 150 km away from the Mediterranean. For a long-distance migrant to hop into the Med is no big deal, and then it could practically turn up anywhere around the Mediterranean. An adult in summer plumage should be possible to pick out among Little Terns, but what about a young bird? and a non-breeding bird? Headache. If you read carefully Klaus Malling Olsen’s tern book he does state that in non-breeding and juvenile plumages it would not be safe to separate the species. With the circumstancial evidence provided here I tend to agree, but it is hard for me to accept that they cannot be separated. There must be something out there to teach us.

This is how some Saunders’s Tern breeding in Sinai look like – many thanks to Rich Bonser for allowing me to use his brilliant pics. Adults have a nice prominent wing patch, but only three dark primaries here. Is it moulting? Unclear. It has a small forehead patch, that doesn’t extend above and behind the eye:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Difficult light conditions here. Rump is grey – however in this image tail looks paler?

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

This bird in better light conditions does show the rump and tail pattern nicely. It is in active primary moult, so wing patch much reduced here:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

More extensive white forehead patch here, but again does not extend back above eye:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Very pale silvery white above. Solid dark bill tip as in all photos. There is some talk about Saunder’s having duller leg colour but I think this feature is not worth much. This is so dependent on the hormonal condition the bird is in during breeding. Also bill tip must change according to breeding condition?

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Siani, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Siani, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

This one below is a 1cy. I do not know if the colony at Ras Sudr is mixed with Little Terns or not, but in Rich’s blog this is a 1cy Saunders’s Tern – I will go with the flow. Not dissimilar to the Atlit 1cy Little Tern above? Pretty pallid bird but extensive wing patch. Greater and lesser primary coverts very dark here, but is it different to how the Atlit 1cy would look like in the field? I am not sure.

1cy Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

It would be great to study the amount of variation the Sinai Saunders’s Terns show in key features like forehead patch, bill tip and tail pattern. Also how many dark primaries do they have before moult?

One incredible place to study Saunders’s Tern in non-breeding would be Kenya. I visited Sabaki river mouth, north of Malindi in December 2010. There is a roost of hundreds of thousands of Saunders’s Terns (!) there during the northern winter. I was there at daytime so there were only few thousands… But they were all distant, and scoping them into the sun didn’t provide me with much insight on their ID. I wonder if anyone rings them there, or at least photograhps them.

But one very important piece missing in the jigsaw is how much variation ‘our’ Little Terns show, in adult summer plumage and also in other plumages. Does this variation that I have shown here in Israeli birds occur in northern populations as well? The Little Terns I have seen here in the UK looked all bog standard, but I didn’t study any juveniles. I guess that few 2cy Little Terns return in summer to N Europe? Would be great to get some feedback from ringers and birders with field experience.



Anders Faugstad Mæ

Desert Warbler AM 3 (1 of 1)


“On the afternoon of 12 november my focus was on…

…the Pipits. I choice to go to Rakke, on the Brunlanes peninsula in Larvik, Vestfold. Having seen Water– and Richard`s Pipits in the old military area before, I had a good feeling. November has offered me quite a few surprises during the years..

Just before sunset I was approaching a small beach, when I got aware of a small bird sitting on the ground, right towards the sun. In a split second I was thinking what the Treecreeper did there…Thru the bins I saw a small, fluffy and pale warbler, with a long tail. When it turned the head and showed me it`s yellow eye…..Desert Warbler!! I got a few record shots, and my eyes was not lying, a dream was about to be real! I Sneaked towards an old rock wall that it had jumped behind. There it appeared just three meters from me, actively feeding in the roadside and on naked rocks. It was very tame and come within 2 meters range. It was surreal to study this fantastic bird, in the last light of day, at my local patch!

Desert Warbler  AM 2 (1 of 1)

After enjoying it for 20 minutes, it flew behind a svaberg (smooth rock). Now the sun was almost down and I got home to alarm the tribe (yes, I did forgot my phone back home)

The Desert Warbler has been a long-awaited bird for the Norwegian list, and on top of the wishlist for many birders. The birders in Norway is not many, but very persistant. Several cars left the West-coast and drove the whole night, others flew early Friday morning. About 50+ persons was early at Rakke and the “Nana” was soon relocated, at the same spot. After a while it disappeared before it was found again, at a small peninsula near by. During the weekend lots of people arrived and the star was stable in the same area, often showing very well. On Saturday the wind was hard and the water very high, making the peninsula into an island. Some late arriving birders were unable to cross, while others fall into the cold water on the return! Most of the birders saw it good and there were many happy familiar faces!

I was surprised how small it was and how fast it moved, almost like a Wren. It often leaned forwards with the belly close to the ground and the tail in the air. It seems to preferred open rocky areas as long as it was little wind. It preferred a little reed bed when the wind got stronger. There it was very skulky, but still tame.

Desert Warbler  AM 5 (1 of 1)

It gave a very pale impression. The dark alula was obvious and so was the starry eye.

The legs was bright yellow and the scales made a banded impression .The white eyering was broken behind and in front of the eye, on an otherwise pale buff – grey head. It sometimes looked very big headed. The bill yellow and rather long. The lower mandible was all bright yellow, while the upper was grey with yellow sides.

The outer tail feathers was strikingly white in flight, but harder to see on the ground. The tale was very worn and it often looked clearly forked, with pointed tips.

The red tale and rump contrasting with the pale grey back and the rufus toned wings, made me comfortable that it was an Asian Desert Warbler.

Desert Warbler  AM 4 (1 of 1)

Asian or African?

The Asian (Sylvia nana) – and African Desert Warbler (S. deserti) are rather similar and was previously considered as one species.

Some distinctive plumage differences can tell them apart:

1) The Asian is generally more contrasting rufus / grey while the African is more evenly colored light warm brown. The Asian has rufus GC and PC and rufus edges to dark PP and SS. The tertials are dark brown with contrasting rufus edges.

2)This gives the wings a rufus impression contrasting to the pale gray back.

3) Under not-ideal light can the Asian look very evenly colored, both live and on pictures. This is the case for the Rakke bird (still present 15.11.15). The tertials pattern might be the best to look for then. (Contrasting = Nana, evenly = Deserti)

4) The Asian has a red/rufus tale and rump wish stand in contrast to the greyish back and off-white belly. The African has an evenly colored back and a whiter belly.

5) The Asian also have dark shaft on the middle tail feathers. This character can be hard to see and are not visible on all the pictures of the Rakke bird.

6) The leg color can also give an idea. The Asian has bright yellow legs while the African has more yellowish pink legs.

The Asian Desert Warbler breeds in a large area ,from the north and east side of the Caspian sea and C Iran, east to S Mongolia and NW China. The wintering area are from the west coast of the Red sea, and Arabia, east to NW India.

It is a very rare vagrant to Europe. Most records are from Sweden (15), while Great Britain has 12 and Finland 11 records (According to The Netherlands third record occurred in the same period as the Rakke bird. Late October and November is the best time, but there are also a few spring records, mainly in May.

The African Desert warbler breeds in NW Africa. It is considered to be a short distance migrator. A record from The Netherlands in November 2014, shows that it can also be a candidate in northern Europe.

The coastline outside Larvik in SE Norway is a great birding area. Here lies Mølen Ornithological Station, one of the oldest bird observatories in Norway. The passerine migration here, can be compared to Falsterbo. During the years several “megas” and “new for Norway” has showed up here. Among them are the famous wintering Willet (prob. Eastern!) in 1992-93.

Desert Warbler  AM 6 (1 of 1)

Birdwatching Norway offers birding tours to Norway and Sweden.

Varanger in the arctic Norway, is a fantastic area and a “must see destination”for all birders. Here the arctic and high alpine species meet the eastern. You will enjoy taiga forests, tundra, spectacular fjords and birdcliffs.

Falsterbo, in southern Sweden is one of the best migration points in the World! On a good day hundreds of thousands of birds pass you on close range. Standing at the most narrow tip you feel like standing in a stream of birds!

Southern Norway has an impressive biodiversity. High mountains, deep forests and costal migration points are all within close range from the capital Oslo.

The tours can be costume made.

For more information see:

Desert Warbler  AM 3 (1 of 1)


Turkestan Shrikes – phoenicuroides


MG. Not to be missed! Most of the flurry of first winter ‘isabelline Shrikes’ in Britain/ NW Europe this autumn have been stand-out 1cy Daurian Shrikes. – isabellinus. So when you see stunning images of the other taxa – which is likely to get more ID debate – don’t miss it! I hope these images taken by Mike help illustrate the differences between 1cy Daurian and Turkestan (and how easy peasy some of the latter can be).

Mike Watson

“Dear Martin

Here are a couple of Turkestan Shrikes from October/November 2015 in Oman. We usually see more phoenicuroides than isabellinus (using current id thinking that is). I have seen isabellinus more often in the north of Oman and in Bahrain (maybe wintering birds?) but phoenicuroides (on its way further south in east Africa) is usually seen throughout Oman in late October/early November.

Take care, Mike”

Turkestan Shrike Mike Watson 3 phoenicuroides (1 of 1)

Above: 1cy Turkestan Shrike (phoenicuroides type?), Oct/ Nov 2015. Mike Watson


Turkestan Shrike Mike Watson 2 phoenicuroides (1 of 1)

Above: 1cy Turkestan Shrike (karelini type?), Nov 2014, Mike Watson


Check out the two photos above. Do they represent examples of full-on young phoenicuroides (loads rufous above, fantastic barring btw) and then the bird which is very greyish above and white below- nice karelini features Lots of ID bullet points to wrestle with in Challenge Series: AUTUMN. Thanks Mike!


Turkestan Shrike Mike Watson 1 phoenicuroides (1 of 1)

Above: 1cy Turkestan Shrike Oct/Nov 2014. Mike Watson


Turkestan Shrike Mike Watson 4 phoenicuroides (1 of 1)

Above: 1cy Turkestan Shrike. Oct /Nov 2015. Mike Watson


Daurian Shrike

Daurian Shrike Mike Watson 1 (1 of 1)

Above.  Daurian Shrike prob 2cy+ female (thanks to Nils van Duivendijk), Nov 2014. Mike Watson