Monthly Archives: December 2015

BTO joins Spurn Migration Festival

Hot news of the Best Kind

“It’s always great to approach Christmas with good news. One of the highlights of my year has been the 3rd Spurn Migration Festival. The event has gone to a new level of enjoyment and engagement to all those who’ve come. It seemed obvious to take it to the next level and establish new footings. Therefore we are all chuffed to bits in the #migfest Spurn Migration fetival (1 of 1)team that the highly esteemed British Trust for Ornithology has become a new partner. They will raise the profile of the festival to a much wider audience and will create new opportunities to continually improve the design and content of the event. The BTO Need little or no introduction depending on your knowledge or experience of them.If you follow the #migfest then do read more here. I think you can see why we are big BTO fans.

More on the British Trust of Ornithology,,,,, CliCK here.

There will be proper details in the New Year of the new arrangement but for now we have every reason to approach Christmas 2015 in celebration and the Spurn Migration Festival 2016 with great optimism as Britain’s premier outdoor birding event.”

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They are the seriously best researchers and know how to have fun too.  Arriving at this years’ #migfest

The British Trust for Ornithology

Spurn Migfests’ Hero

Adam Stoyle

It’s easy to overlook that is. Without doubt one of the unsung heroes of the Spurn Migration Festival, not just this year but every year, has been local lad Adam Stoyle.

So, A very small attempt on my part to say thank you. Adam was integral to the team, to some of our best plans and to making sure above all they got quietly implemented.

Thanks Adam ‘stoggle’ Stoyle…

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Extraordinary Grey Shrike

Make a Fuss!

Shrike Eemshaven 18 oktober 2015

 

Sometimes you have to 🙂

This bird, trapped in the Netherlands on 18th October (that woul be last month) I think is extra- ordinary for this far west. Fits gallaie/homeyeri  profile. Least all I can say is I have never come across one.

Of course it may still be around. Somewhere in the region of the land bordering the English Channel

Why fuss?

So much white! The extra white running along the edges of the secondaries. That’s the main feature for me. You would need to see/ read the text and illustrations in the Challenge : WINTER to see what I am on about.

No further gen. Thanks to Mark Grantham who first flagged up a similar bird in Suffolk last month. And to Martin Brandsma who gained permission to share this one. In haste…

Shrike Eemshaven 18 oktober 2015

Red-throated Thrush taxonomy

Identification and fascinating taxonomy

I will try to say this simply. I think we looked at some of Terry’s images before. Some may be new. They illustrate the issue. These are normally seen as 4 separate specs.

It would be a twitcher’s dream to se ALL FOUR SPECIES in Britain. They are East Asian megas! Well BOOM! I have seen 3 of the 4. I didn’t get for the Dusky Thrush. Hey.

Are they four separate specs? Birds showing the full set of characters seem ok? Sure. They might not be sure at all- indeed every time they might not be sure. That’s OK.

A bird that looks like a Dusky Thrush might be a Red-throated Thrush X Naumann’s with tad of Dusky.

Truth man. Truth.

Something amazing and complex goes on. Why? So they can survive.

What you see… is NOT what you get. how to go birding? Love it. Enjoy it. Hold it lightly.

What if Hooded Crows are entirely black in some areas and some Carion Crows are pied in plumage in others areas… but are still essentially Carrion Crows- adapting to survive.

Truth

Dark throated bbnnn (1 of 1) Dark throated bbnnn b (1 of 1) Dark throated bbnnn bn (1 of 1) Dark throated diff a (1 of 1)

 

and then … thsi type seems less common. A male with blackish feathers intersperssed in the red breast patch. Seemingly a visible indication of what is going on underneath. But bear in mind the bird above may be even less ‘pure’.

So ABOVE- pure looking

Below. not so PURE LOOKING

Dark throated hybird c (1 of 1) Dark throated hybird d (1 of 1) Dark throated hybird e (1 of 1) thrush 2 (1 of 1) thrush 3 (1 of 1) 2015-03-01 Red-throated x Black-throated intergrade adult male

 

What

if the is ‘Red-throated Thrush’ in this Naumann’s?

thrush 1 (1 of 1)

 

Naumann’s looking all wrong 🙂

Sooo – this one demonstrates some of the issues:

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 I don’t know the details, but this bird seemed to have for a large part the DNA-signature of a Naumann’s Thrush.  Major point of discussion was that there was plenty of orangy/reddish going on in e.g. the wing and tail of this bird:

http://www.dutchbirding.nl/images/fotos/fotoid4173.jpg

 

A new mammal ID frontier – Western Palearctic Canids

Dan Brown

From forest ghost and desert dweller, legends of folklore and Egyptian deities; the canids of the Western Palaearctic are shrouded in intrigue, respect and awe. This year saw a surprising twist in the tale (or should that be tail), and yet another great example of thinking and looking outside of the box when it comes to field ID 

When I first started writing this a few months ago I hadn’t fully appreciated just how complicated the subject matter was! The ID of WP canids has always been pretty straightforward; Grey Wolf & Golden Jackal, however a recent discovery has created an eye-opening twist to the story, and a true frontier in canid identification.

Grey Wolf. Top predator from tundra to deserts. Niko Pekonen www.pictoure.fi

Grey Wolf. Top predator from tundra to deserts. Niko Pekonen www.pictoure.fi

The story of WP canids is evolving rapidly. From two species last year to three species this year; and with one expanding its range exceptionally rapidly it pays to keep an open mind if you encounter one of these amazing predators. This article will focus on ID but it’s impossible to write a piece on Wolves and allies without covering some of the diverse cultural connections which surrounds them.

The species covered are:

  • Grey Wolf (Canis lupis)
  • African Golden Wolf (Canis anthus)
  • Golden Jackal (Canis aureus)
Presumed Golden Jackal Jerusalem. Amir Balaban

Presumed Golden Jackal Jerusalem. Amir Balaban

For as long as humans can remember we have had a relationship with Wolves. Through fear and through respect they have entwined themselves in legend, folklore and lives of remote communities. Sadly, as is so often the way, that which we fear becomes persecuted and across Europe the number of wolves has declined leaving isolated populations. It was formerly the most widespread mammal on the planet but its range has contracted by approximately a third. Thankfully, despite continued persecution, populations are increasing in some areas and overall it is considered stable.

Wolves feature heavily in fairy tales from Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs to Norse mythology. In the former the Wolf represents the night and consumes various characters that represent the sun or dawn (eg Little Red Riding Hood is likely to represent dawn when she is cut from the belly of the wolf). Many of these tales were probably a product of direct warnings to children not to venture in to forests at night where they could have realistically become prey for Wolves, this is particularly true in native North American culture. There are of course positive references to Wolves in the literature and in indigenous cultures where they are seen to remove weaker ungulates (especially Reindeer) from the population thus maintaining healthy herds which were generally managed by the Saami and other Reindeer herding communities.

Grey Wolf, Kuhmo, Finland. A species feared and revered. Niko Pekonen www.pictoure.fi

Grey Wolf, Kuhmo, Finland. A species feared and revered. Niko Pekonen www.pictoure.fi

Sadly there are still numerous instances of illegal persecution and continued hunting. Some countries in Scandinavia actively manage their Wolf populations for hunting and indeed they suppress the population to such an extent that species such as Elk/Moose are now overly abundant, similar to the situation we have in Scotland with Red Deer (we just need some Wolves to help with the population management).

The Grey Wolf is as a remarkable predator, and much like the Raven in the bird world, it has colonised all habitats from Arctic tundra to arid desert. A communal pack hunter, this animal is capable of working cooperatively to run-down and out-smart some of European largest animals. In the WP Wolves can still be found throughout Scandinavia as well as in the remoter areas of Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Alps, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and through the Middle East to Israel.

Ancient history did not neglect Golden Jackals either. Anubis, the god associated with mummification in Egyptian mythology was thought to be based on the Golden Jackal (though the recent discoveries tend to point to it actually being African Golden Wolf rather than Jackal). Interestingly despite being one of the most heavily depicted gods, Anubis played little role in Egyptian Mythology.

Anubis, the greek name for the god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion. We now know that the Jackal is in fact African Golden Wolf in Egypt

Anubis, the greek name for the god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion. We now know that the Jackal is in fact African Golden Wolf in Egypt

In contrast to wolves, the Golden Jackal tends to be a solitary hunter, more opportunistic and more eclectic in their diet. They are found throughout the Middle east and south-eastern Europe however the last decade has seen a massive expansion in its range with animals recorded throughout eastern Europe as far north as Estonia, up to north-eastern Italy, Poland, Germany, and the first record for Denmark occurred only a few weeks ago. It seems not illogical to expect this expansion to continue and observers in France, Holland and maybe even Spain should be aware of the possibility of encountering Jackals.

Golden Jackals are generally solitary or found in pairs though multiples will occasional occur together at feeding sites. Zoltán Gergely Nagy / Sakertours

Golden Jackals are generally solitary or found in pairs though multiples will occasional occur together at feeding sites. Zoltán Gergely Nagy / Sakertours

Now a third species comes into the mix, African Golden Wolf. Until recently it was assumed that the North African animals were simply Golden Jackals however a study published this summer showed that in fact these animals represent a cryptic Wolf species Canis anthus.

The current distributional limits of Golden Jackal and African Golden Wolf haven’t yet been fully established and evidence of African Golden Wolf DNA in Jackals in Israel suggests there is a hybrid zone. Until further work has been undertaken then a crude assumption would be that Golden Jackal occurs up to the Egyptian border and those animals in Africa represent African Golden Wolf. The situation is further confused by the presence of Grey Wolf right up to the Egyptian border and possibly even west of the Nile. A summary of recent events is as follows:

  • In 2011 the first suggested occurrence of Grey Wolves in North Africa came to light and was reported here.
  • Further evidence and pictures in 2012 including what looks like a superb full adult Grey Wolf west of the Nile were documented here:
  • Pictures and video from 2011-2013 in Morocco raise questions as to just what these animals are. Superficially some look large and robust but others slightly closer to African Golden Wolf. These can be seen here.
  • Genetic work undertaken in 2012 extended the range of Grey Wolf by 6000km to the west as far as Senegal and was published in a paper here.
  • This year a new paper examined the DNA of North African canids and discovered that they were not North African Grey Wolf as previously thought but African Golden Wolf with the divergence from Jackals being significant (6.7%). The paper makes no mention of any Grey Wolves in North Africa

The taxonomy in North Africa is still confused. The above links show animals that appear to be large and robust, occurring in the mountainous regions of Morocco whilst those in Senegal appear much slightly and more Jackal-like. Whilst this variation may be explained by differences in environmental conditions experienced by different populations, it may also represent cryptic species.

The more that we investigate these amazing mammals, the more questions we seem to be unearthing. Just how many species of canid there are in North Africa and across the rest of Africa and Asia is anyones guess!

Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) walking in woodland wetlands. Kuhmo. Finland. July 2014. Niko Pekonen www.pictoure.fi

Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) walking in woodland wetlands. Kuhmo. Finland. July 2014. Niko Pekonen www.pictoure.fi

In March 2015 Richard Moores and myself camera-trapped two animals in the Dahkla area of Southern Morocco which appeared to resemble the structure of a Grey Wolf as well as several African Golden Wolves (at this time we still assumed they were Golden Jackals). Whilst the most recent paper does not provide any indication or even mention the presence of Grey Wolf in Africa I feel that the possibility of its existence or of a superficially similar species shouldn’t be ignored. Hopefully further more extensive genetic work will clarify the situation.

Un-identified large canid, Dakhla Bay, Western Sahara, March 2015 Dan Brown

Un-identified large canid, Dakhla Bay, Western Sahara, March 2015 Dan Brown

Coywolf

Across the pond in the States the canid situation is also fascinating and evolving. Dubbed the ‘Coywolf’ Eastern Coyotes are evolving and adapting to the modern mosaic of environments including the urban landscape. Research has shown that whilst most of the DNA is Coyote, varying percentages of Dog and Wolf DNA is also present. These hybrids would have been borne during periods of low population density when individuals searching for mates couldn’t locate another individual of their own species, instead settling for a Wolf, Coyote or Dog. This hybridisation period has occurred over the past 100 years and has resulted in potentially a better adapted Coyote than previous ‘untainted’ Coyotes. Animals are bigger and better able to take down deer, they are also more accepting of urban environments and the food sources they bring. You can read more of this fascinating evolution here.

Identification

I’d like to say the ID of our three WP canid species is straightforward, however in general it’s not! If you encounter a Wolf pack on a cold clear snowy day in a Finnish forest then you will probably know exactly what you are looking at. Your heart will be pumping faster than should be physically possible and the yellow of the wolves eyes will cut right through you.

A few thousand kilometres to the south and the pressures of arid environments create very different beasts. Sleek, slim, and smaller Wolves can be easily confused with Golden Jackals. There are a few key features that you should focus on should you be lucky enough to encounter a Jackal or Wolf, although, like many complex species groups, a combination of features often proves the most reliable way of identifying individuals. You should also bear in mind that not all individuals may be identifiable to species on single views. Key features are:

  • Overall Size
  • Leg length and shape
  • Head proportions including: ear size and shape, and muzzle length and breadth
  • Throat and chest colouration and pattern
  • Tail colour

Grey Wolf:

Large and robust (especially northern individuals), large ears, broad face with cheeks as wide or even wider than ear base when viewed head-on. Heavy brow producing a distinct forehead. Muzzle broad and long with a large nose. Colouration is variable but generally shows large white clown-style lip which often extends into a white throat. Frequently shows a predominantly pale tail with a dark tip.

A northern Grey Wolf. Large, powerful, broad-faced, large ears and a long broad muzzle. The white throats and chin are also distinctive on this individual. Niko Pekonen. www.pictoure.fi

A northern Grey Wolf. Large, powerful, broad-faced, large ears and a long broad muzzle. The white throats and chin are also distinctive on this individual. Niko Pekonen. www.pictoure.fi

A desert Grey Wolf. Still a large and powerful animal but slightly sleeker and lighter-weight than its northern counterpart. Meidad Goren, Ramat HaNegev Birding Center

A desert Grey Wolf. Still a large and powerful animal but slightly sleeker and lighter-weight than its northern counterpart. Meidad Goren, Ramat HaNegev Birding Center

Desert Grey Wolf, Israel. A side profile and despite being a arid-dwelling individual it still appears large and powerful with long legs and a powerful head and jaw. Meidad Goren, Ramat HaNegev Birding Center

Desert Grey Wolf, Israel. A side profile and despite being a arid-dwelling individual it still appears large and powerful with long legs and a powerful head and jaw. Meidad Goren, Ramat HaNegev Birding Center

African Golden Wolf:

Medium to large canid, formerly considered to be Golden Jackal though subtle field differences are apparent. Large triangular ears create a top heavy appearance to the head with a long, thin muzzle and smaller nose, forming a pointy face. Within its current taxonomic status there appears to be significant variability within its appearance with large robust animals in the Atlas Mountains and much smaller, slimmer individuals in the deserts. There is still the possibility that these represent two species.

An African Golden Wolf near Aousserd, Western Sahara. A much slimmer animal than more northern and mountainous populations with large ears, and a long slim muzzle. This animal has a distinctive dark saddle as well. Manolo Garcia

An African Golden Wolf near Aousserd, Western Sahara. A much slimmer animal than more northern and mountainous populations with large ears, and a long slim muzzle. This animal has a distinctive dark saddle as well. Manolo Garcia

African Golden Wolf near Aousserd, Western Sahara. Dan Brown

African Golden Wolf near Aousserd, Western Sahara. Dan Brown

Golden Jackal:

A medium sized dog with smaller more rounded ears, a slimmer and shorter muzzle which generally ends in quite a pointy nose. The pelage is often richly golden brown or even rufous-toned and animals can exhibit an extensive dark saddle. Jackals appear long-bodied and shorter legged than Wolves. Many also show the distinctive pale throat, darker collar and pale chest patterning which is typical of all our WP canids.

A European Golden Jackal, showing the distinct golden pelage, a more fox-like facial appearance with small ears and a slimming face to a pointed muzzle. Zoltán Gergely Nagy / Sakertours

A European Golden Jackal, showing the distinct golden pelage, a more fox-like facial appearance with small ears and a slimming face to a pointed muzzle. Zoltán Gergely Nagy / Sakertours

A presumed Golden Jackal in Jerusalem, Israel appearing slightly broader faced than the European animal and with a distinctive dark saddle. Amir Balaban

A presumed Golden Jackal in Jerusalem, Israel appearing slightly broader faced than the European animal and with a distinctive dark saddle. Amir Balaban

Golden Jackal in India showing a structure intermediate between the Israeli and European Golden Jackals. Dan Brown

Golden Jackal in India showing a structure intermediate between the Israeli and European Golden Jackals. Dan Brown

Golden Jackal, India. This animal as in some others shows a very distinct sloping face and almost completely lacks any distinct brow. Dan Brown

Golden Jackal, India. This animal as in some others shows a very distinct sloping face and almost completely lacks any distinct brow. Dan Brown

Sri Lankan Golden Jackal. Still classed as a Golden Jackal but potentially a new species?? This animal is very distinctively coloured with a black tail and richly-coloured fur. The face, like some Indian animals, lacks a brow. They also appear to occur is lose packs. An all together different animal from those in Israel and Europe. Amy Squirrel www.worldpictured.co.uk Flickt @Amysquirrel

Sri Lankan Golden Jackal. Still classed as a Golden Jackal but potentially a new species?? This animal is very distinctively coloured with a black tail and richly-coloured fur. The face, like some Indian animals, lacks a brow. They also appear to occur is lose packs. An all together different animal from those in Israel and Europe. Amy Squirrel www.worldpictured.co.uk Flickt @Amysquirrel

Dogs and hybrids:

Theoretically hybrids could show any number of intermediate features, or even almost identical features to one of other parents. It should be borne in mind anywhere in the range of any of these species that hybrids could and probably do occur. In fact we already known that hybrid Golden Jackal x African Golden Wolf occur in Israel so the chances are high that other hybrids also occur.

Where to see:

Grey Wolf:

Finland – Niko Pekonen’s amazing images above were all taken from his Wolf Photography hide in Finland. You can find out more about visiting his site here, and also his Facebook page

Spain – Wolves are now proving to be regular sighted in Cantabria. A number of tour companies run trips to find them

Israel – Israel offers the best opportunities of encountering desert wolves in the WP. Populations are still reasonable good and areas such as Sde Boker are a good bet, especially around the Vulture feeding station at Ramat HaNegev Birding Center, as well as in the Negev.

Italy – If you want to experience Wolves in an atmospheric setting then Abruzzo National Park in central Italy is the place to go. Visit the park in Autumn and you stand the chance of experiencing howling wolves alongside rutting Red deer as this beautiful soundscape illustrates.

Golden Jackal:

Given its rapid range expansion you should bear in mind that you could encounter Jackals almost anywhere in eastern Europe, from Matsalu Bay in Estonia to Israel, Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and Italy, they are possible. With Denmark getting its first record recently observers out in Holland, the Alps and even France and Spain should be aware of the possibility of encountering one.

Saker Tours offer Jackal photography. For more info see here.

African Golden Wolf

We currently recognise this species as occurring throughout North Africa and most recent sightings seem to come from birders visiting Morocco; Tan Tan, Guelimin, Western Sahara (especially the Aousserd Road). It is no doubt a widespread and probably fairly common species and any areas of relatively undisturbed open landscapes should be worth checking.

Anyone encountering a canid in North Africa should endeavour to gather images as I’m sure there is still a twist in the taxonomic tale of this species to come.

Golden Jackal Israel. Where ever you are and which ever species you encounter it is sure to be a memorable day. Dan Brown

Golden Jackal Israel. Where ever you are and which ever species you encounter it is sure to be a memorable day. Dan Brown

 

 

Hooded Wheatears in the UAE

Elusive and Enigmatic

Oscar Campbell

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One of harder resident species to find in the UAE is Hooded Wheatear, arguably the king of a superbly evocative genus. Stunning good looks (male) or a subtle palette of plumage shades (female), stupidly long wings (leading directly to a habit of floating, Hoopoe-like, over the wadi walls whilst attempting to flycatch its next meal), an affinity for the most sweepingly vast of montane landscapes and, not least, a simultaneously frustrating and delightful will-o-the-wisp unpredictability (you just never know when – or if – you are about to bump into one) all add up to tremendous allure.

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In the UAE, as seemingly across almost all its limited range from Sinai to southern Pakistan, the species is very local and uncommon. Most visitors, if they haven’t been lucky enough to see one on a previous trip to Israel, generally haven’t seen one anywhere. And often they won’t see one in the UAE either, for birds come and go erratically and temporarily reliable spots suddenly and abruptly go quiet for months or longer.

For that reason, whilst guiding three fortunate UK and South African birders on an insufferably humid and sweaty mid-September morning earlier this year, I was delighted to find a young male at the migrant hotspot of Wamm Farms, on the UAE’s east coast. This site is one of most birded in the country and has a superb track record for both vagrants and large numbers of common migrants. However, despite this, and despite the fact that it’s overlooked by the towering Hajar mountains (with several known – if not especially reliable – sites for the species within 30 or 40 km) this was the first ever record of Hooded Wheatear at the food-rich farm. The ‘normal for autumn’ regular and intensive coverage (well, ok, in the UAE this means a few birders each weekend…) failed to relocate the bird until, in mid-November, there I was again and so was he, in pretty much exactly the same spot, feeding from the sprinkler heads on the edge of a stony, barren field. As is typical for the species here in the UAE, when you do manage to locate one, views were stunning as Hooded Wheatears are often fearless and very approachable; this one was audibly snapping for insects at ranges down to 2 metres! Watching and digiscoping this sensational bird for over 30 minutes at point-blank range was easily the highlight of my morning, and, on a day that produced Pallid Harrier, Amur Falcon and seven species of pipits, that is saying quite something.

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Movements of Hooded Wheatear are poorly understood, although appear to be very limited. Of 291 records in the UAE bird database between 1992 and 2014, just eight, totaling four individuals, have been recorded away from potential breeding locations.

Tellingly however, all these come from sites on the coastal lowlands of the Persian Gulf, 350km or more west of the nearest known breeding sites in the UAE. One individual over-wintered December to March and the other three were all logged between mid-February to early April. The mountains of southern Iran are barely any further away across the Gulf that UAE breeding sites and are very likely the point of origin for these coastal birds.

Mike Jennings’ wonderful and very readable tour-de-force, the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia, details older records from Das Island and Bahrain, supporting the contention of at least some movement south across the Gulf and the same book shows scattered records from Kuwait and the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, again likely referable to migrants and winterers.

Shirihai’s Birds of Israel notes limited movements, mainly for females and 1st calendar-years dispersing from breeding grounds in early autumn and the species has (rarely) reached Cyprus, Turkey and even Greece. Of course, none of this brings the origins of the Wamm bird beyond mere speculation, although records from Masirah Island, off the central Omani coast, show that the species may move a long way along the Gulf of Oman coastline as well.

It will be interesting to see if the Wamm individual remains for the winter although, not entirely atypically, on my last visit several days ago there was, of course, no sign of it!

 

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