Monthly Archives: November 2015

More on taivana Wagtails in Middle East

and ‘xanthophrys’  –  feldegg (Black-headed Wagtail) intergrade/hybrids 

Following Mike Watson’s images, Ian Boustead has flagged up another…  so revisiting these stunning yellow and black Wagtails has had the very helpful input of Oscar Campbell. Grahame Walbridge and others have v helpfully chipped in (see comments box on the recent post).

I have added a bit on calls at the end  (MG).


“Here are some images of a flava wagtail, photographed at the pivot fields in Dubai in December 2009.” Ian Boustead

Oscar Campbell replies The bird Ian refers in the comment box is featured at in the UAE photo galleries ; one or more such individuals wintered at Dubai Pivot Fields from 2008 to 2012 at least. None of the images featured there are as good as the ones Ian has just emailed…

Anyway, consensus at the time amongst UAE birders was that the Pivots bird(s) fitted best as ‘xanthophrys’, which Alstrom & Mild in Pipits and Wagtails regard as an intergrade between feldegg and lutea…   cont’d below


image002 image006

all photos above by Ian Boustead, Pivot fields, Dubai, Dec. 2009

Same place, one year earlier.

Several examples seen in the Dubai Pivot fields in other years. This one photographed on 14th November 2008 – same area

feldegg hybird nick moran (1 of 1)

Photo above poached- take by sage-like BTO staff member Nick Moran :), Dubai Pivot Fields, 14th Nov 2008.

For more images of these bird(s)in Dubai Pivot Fields click HERE


… response cont’d from Oscar Campbell

The blackish blotches on crown and nape (also evident in Ian’s images) seem to indicate feldegg and the yellowish blotches on the cheek patches (more obvious in the UAE images than in the Oman bird) could be taken as indicative of lutea. Obviously, here in the UAE we would welcome any futher comment on this bird with regard to its identity.

One issue worth considering, and something I’d like to be enlightened on, is just how dark the ear coverts on taivana can get. HBW-Alive indicates that they can be pretty dark (darker then the image linked to by Jan). The only taivana I have seen (part of an enchanting flock of migrant Eastern Yellow Wagtails, mainly tschutschensis but also two taivana) in coastal fields in eastern Tawian, April 2012) went down in my notebook as having ‘thick, plain olive mask from lore through ear coverts to nape’. I also noted that the supercilium was ‘very broad, deep yellow; ending deeply and bluntly behind eye’. The supercilium on the UAE bird(s) is long and obviously curves downwards behind the ear coverts, in a manner rather similar to the pronounced effect on the Oman bird. This has the effect of cutting the mask off from the nape to some extent and giving a somewhat Citrine-like effect; again I am not sure this is a good feature for a true taivana. Finally, the rather obvious grey cast on the back of the bird(s) from the UAE (and especially evident in Ian’s images) is presumably at odds with taivana (?) – although I not sure it is compatible with either feldegg or lutea parentage either!



As ever Hanne and Jens Eriksen have some lovely summer time images of taivana HERE and for Oriental Bird Club images pages provides a very useful collection of ‘taivana’ photos to compare and contrast. Well worth  a visit here and remember to scroll through- lots more than just one photo! Click HERE

Calls and Sonagrams

MG – the bird below photographed in Turkey in August is going to have nice black mask and be classifiable a feldegg variant. The sonagram below is from call recorded same location. It’s clearly the ‘feldegg sonagram’ shape and not eastern taxa/ Citrine. Hopefully recordings  of birds in Dubai will be as revealing and why I am so keen on call recording 🙂

Turkey August 2009 466 ad male feldegg variant


feldegg wagtail turkey 19th Aug 2009 MGarner

Above photo and recording from Black-headed Wagtail variant. (Martin Garner)

Great Grey Shrike – melanopterus

Dark and Scaly

We included the latin name ‘melanopterus in the Challenge series: WINTER. Doing any chapter on the sweep of Great Grey Shrikes across in the ‘northern’ zone seemed impossible. Even looking through specimens at Tring was more perplexing than revealing. Thankfully a little light emerged as I kept looking into it – much aided by Andy Stoddart and others. This paper was very helpful from the equally helpful Martin Brandsma’s .

There is variation with the use of melanopterus as a description of Great Grey Shrike plumage. Generally it references (north) western end, no white at base of secondaries etc. The darkest birds, like this one- well you can see the characters – are similar to Ray’s illustration and do stand out. It was in Suffolk and is well worth analysing as we continue to learn the grey shrikes.

Thanks very much to  Robert Wilton and fellow Suffolk birders, Rene Baptiste (finder), Justin Lansdell (research), Andrew  Easton (most of photos) and Tim Oakes who bring this one to BF.



“Hi Martin,

I thought you may be interested in some pictures of a Great Grey Shrike that we had in Lowestoft, Suffolk in October. Whilst I didn’t see it in the field (other than in flight!) we believe that it could be ‘melanopterus’. Out of the 8 or 9 GGS that we have had this Autumn this is the only one that was atypical from the usual brighter individuals we get.

After speaking with Justin Landsdell and Andrew Easton the following features seem to present in all the photographs:

1. Matt slate grey upperparts that never look pale or shining silvery (this was the same in the field in different light)
2. Lack of obvious supercilium above the mask
3. Well scalloped underparts set against a grubby off white background
4. Lack of anything other than trace of a white secondary patch

Sadly the outer tail feather in the first photo is not spread to show extent of black like the penultimate tail feather is,

Best wishes

Rob Wilton, Lowestoft”


Photo above by Tim Oakes


Photo above by Rene Baptiste


image3 image4

IMG_0003Photos above by Andrew Easton


Black Scoter and Common Scoter ID

and check out  the eye-ring!

Christian Wegst kindly sent his paper though earlier this spring and its taken me ages to put it up. Given the winter cometh and wildfowl watching will go up- it’s not bad timing, even though I feel I owe Christian an apology. A great resource and could inspire some getting out and looking 🙂

Meanwhile chatting with top N. American birder Ned Brinkley, he has righly emphaised that the coloured eye-ring is VERY different between the two taxa. ID should be simples then!

Read the paper by clicking HERE:


Separation of Black Scoter from Common Scoter


The Orbital Ring

Hi Martin – I’ve received a manuscript from some California birders on the first North American record of Common Scoter, and they note that the bird’s eye-ring was bright yellowish orange, typical of Common Scoter, whereas Black Scoter tends to have a duller or dusky eye-ring. I don’t have a copy of your Frontiers book as yet. In a search of images of breeding adult males of each online, I’m seeing about 95% of adult male Common with vivid/distinct yellowish eye rings, whereas Blacks appear to have no detectable eye-ring (or in a few cases, a very thin dull yellowish eye-ring). What do you think of this? A Google and Flickr search of images took me just five minutes, but the contrast between these taxa in this respect was surprising.

Ned Brinkley

Hi Ned- I get nil points for speed. Sorry for being so slow. This sounds a great record in California. The text in ‘Frontiers’ in Birding’ refers to americana and says ! ‘Eye-ring tends to be bluish-grey not yellow’  in nutshell yellow eye-ring for Common Scoter – nigra, blue-grey for Black Scoter- americana’. My stuff is about 15-20 years old and may well need sharpening- sounds like your observations are doing just that. So we agree though your precise details are probably more accurate.  


Common and Black Scoters (1 of 1)

Separation of Black Scoter from Common Scoter


The Shetland Little Buntings

Celebration of the Bird that topped and tailed

Finally got my photos off the camera. Just celebrating. It’s the Little Bunting you see. So I am having a short reminisce on how the Little Bunting really has topped and tailed my Shetland experience. The beginning and the end and in-bewteen too! You’ll see what I mean. I’ll explain this rusty faced guy further down.

Little Bunting 2 (1 of 1)

First Group. First Find

The first group I guided in a storming week on Shetland in autumn 2010. Guess the first good ‘find’. Yep of course, not one but two Little Buntings dropped out of the sky at Valie, Norwick on Unst. These two got the adrenaline pumping from the off. You can read about the full amazing week HERE. It’s worth a read- still grips me! TWO! Syke’s Warbler and Lancy find topped the billing. I quite liked picking out the Black Duck hybrid in flight. but I am a bit of a nutter!

rustic bunting one lk (1 of 1)

Robbie Brookes photoed one of the two. I have pics of both but need to dig them out.

These bad boys spiced up the week:

rustic bunting one lkmm (1 of 1)

Lancy by Mike Penno!

rustic bunting one lkmm m (1 of 1)

Sykes’s Warbler – one of two

rustic bunting one lkmm mmm (1 of 1)

Black Duck- almost

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 05.54.36

find on the last day or so


Spring Time Singer

Spring time guiding produced this one. Delighted as it was a new world bird for some of our group. And they loved it! Much rarer than in the autumn, this fella took to singing at Skaw on Unst. Rather stunning scenery as it fed in the stream that ran into the sea.
Little Bunting Skaw one

Little Bunting Skaw 3

A cheeky Rustic Bunting

OK not a little. But it was find up the Feal Burn at Houbie. While leading on the best island ever. Fetlar. Photo by Andy Cook. A great friend whenever we visit. And of course Rustic Bunting really is a proper rarity 🙂


 rustic bunting one kj (1 of 1)

Rustic Bunting on Fetlar by Andy Cook-  a favourite island and top find spot for our groups. This one gave us a little runaround before we finally nailed the ID of a flying ‘ticking’ Bunting.

Brown Shrike friend

This one set us up to see the Brown Shrike – good ol’ Jim Nicholson got a great photosof the Brown Shrike. I got a rubbish one of the nearby Little Bunting.




Tame Autumn Beauty

This one – again at Skaw was an autumn scoop. Just the tamest bunting I think I have ever seen and great opporutnity for close up views of the nuances of plumage tones and the like. Spent a fair bit of time with this one. Beautiful.


Millfield Early Morning Joy – October 2015

This year. Wondered out the house on first proper morning of birding. And there on the road, only a few yards from the entrance to our amazing holiday house at Norwick- a Little Bunting. Never managed really close photo views but picked him or his mate up every day for the next few. And he loved the road! I say he, this was particularly richly brownish red over the head. Might not mean anything- just musing.

Little Bunting 4 (1 of 1)Little Bunting 3 (1 of 1)

Little Bunting 2 (1 of 1)Little Bunting 6 (1 of 1)

Thank you to the Little Bunting. Made Shetland extra special many times over.


Greenland Redpolls calls

It works (I think)

Well I finally got around to producing sonagrams of the brief flight/chatter calls we got of two redpolls at Durigath, Shetland with Roger Riddington and Paul Harvey. Of three redpolls, two were viewable and we identified one as a Lesser and the other as a Greenland/ ‘North-western’. In windy conditions I made a brief recording. I think the Greenland can be heard and seen (on sonagram) at the end of the session. The thick note with a kind of ‘leg’ on the sonagram at the left end/ start of call is similar to clearer recordings of the same taxa at Norwick, Unst in 2012.

I think so anyway! Especially when compared with other taxa like Lesser. Compare recent recordings of Lesser Redpoll at Flamborough.




Greenland and Lesser Redpoll Durigarth.png

Above: Sonagram of Durigarth redpoll recordings. See right hand end and compare with sonagrams of ‘North-west’ Redpolls recored in 2012 at Norwick, Unst.


Greenland Redpoll from 2012




Green-backed Wagtail heads west?

can you ID vagrants?

Mike Watson

The eastern most of the eastern flava wagtail clade is a stunner. Do they reach west? Claims have come from the Indian sub-continent of taivana. Odd similar birds have been reported as far west as France. The latter look like ‘sports’. Just odd variants of our western Yellow Wagtails.

Mike takes stunning photos anyhow so they are always worth showcasing. This wagtail was photographed at Khor Rori, Oman on 2 November 2015. It does look superficially good for taivana – the Green-backed Wagtail, with the ear coverts, breadth of the supercilium and the green mantle and nape. But sharp Oman birders have wondered about the extent of the yellow around the ear coverts thinking about the possibility of a hybrid with Citrine? Is it too extensive? Other features look OK such as concolorous mantle and nape but what about the breast (looks like a faded band there). It appears to have a vestigial breast band. Then there are some little yellow sub-ocular spots. hmmm ? What age then? 1cy?


So over to Birding Frontiers readers.

What say you?

Huge thanks to Mike Watson– his photos below


Wagtail taivana type Oman (1 of 1) Wagtail taivana type Oman 2 (1 of 1)

flava wagtail looking like a Green-backed taivana Khor Rori, Oman on 2 November 2015. Mike Watson.

Tyrrhenian Spotted Flycatcher – new species

Nearby! Have you seen one?

Do they reach Britain?

In case you have not picked up on this one…

In a nutshell the ‘Spotted Flycatchers’  of the Mediterranean may/should be better seen as a full species. They are polytypic (more than one subspecies). NB a FULL SPECIES – different from the Spotted Flycatcher  (ssp striata) which breed in e.g. Britain.

They could of course by visitors as migrants or vagrants to NW Europe – which would be (very!) interesting.

To read the scoop go here: Visit the site

“Accordingly, we suggest that insular Spotted Flycatchers could be treated as one polytypic species (Muscicapa tyrrhenica Schiebel, 1910) that differs from M. striata in morphology, migration, mitochondrial and nuclear DNA and comprises two subspecies (the nominate and M. t. balearica, von Jordans, 1913) that diverged recently phenotypically and in mitochondrial DNA and but still share the same nuclear alleles.”

and read a great paper by me pals Andrea and Miki with photos. go HERE

Thanks v much to Mark Payne who drew attention to the subject and provided some very useful photos. These (below) where taken on Mallorca, Son Real, Can Pinafort in July 2013, so are Balearic race.

Characters: noted to be PALER and LESS STREAKED (even looking unstreaked below).

Spotted Flycatcher b Balearic Mark P (1 of 1)

Spotted Flycatcher Balearic Mark P (1 of 1) Spotted Flycatcher c Balearic Mark P (1 of 1) Spotted Flycatcher d Balearic Mark P (1 of 1)

Above- all photos of the new species of Balearic Spotted Flycatcher by Mark Payne


Blast from the past:

Vaurie- the books that ‘fathered’ BWP look like this on the subject:

vaurie 1 (1 of 1)vaurie 3 (1 of 1)


Baseline ID

I (MG) have looked more for eastern taxa like neumanni. You can read about that exploration on Shetland HERE.  So here is a nice migrant Spotted Flycatcher, I photographed while guiding on Yell, Shetland in October which got asked a few questions of it’s origins. I assume its striata – a baseline for ID for the others taxa.

spotted-flycatcher-cullivoe-3 spotted-flycatcher-cullivoe-4