Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder of the Year 2017

The future’s bright!!

It’s hard to believe it’s over a month since the 5th migfest!!  

And with that the 3rd Martin Garner Spurn Young Birder of the Year competition!  The range of entrants was strong.   Nick Whitehouse (pictured at the front below), writes that the competition, “is really producing some real stars…All 3 winners so far since we started in 2015 have been excellent albeit their margin of victory has always been the slightest of margins over the other finalists.  Brilliant crop of young birders coming through.”

A massive well done to the five finalists, Corin Woodhead (age 11), Sami Sankey (age 13), James King (age 13), Angus Jennings (age 15) and of course the overall winner, Dante Shepherd (age 16)!

The five finalists receive their awards.

The five finalists receiving their awards. (Photo copyright Dave McAleavy).

Dante shares his experience of the competition…

It all started when Rich Bonser and Jamie Partridge, my two mentors, proposed to me that I entered the competition after seeing an advert. They suggested it would be a good opportunity for me to meet new people, make contacts and maybe even win a pair of new binoculars. In the initial online questionnaire I was asked numerous probing questions about all aspects of my birding. These included how my interest in birds started, my patch and my best birding moments.

A month or so later I was delighted to receive an email announcing I had a place in the final. After a Skype call with Nick Moran and Nick Whitehouse about the logistics of the day and any queries I had it was all set for Saturday the 9th of September. The initial plan was for Rich, Jamie and I to all drive up and down from London in one long day together in Rich’s car. However, an American Redstart ruined the party and a plan B was soon hatched.

I met Jamie on the Euston Road in the hire car around 4am and by 8am we were crossing the Humber Bridge with Spurn in our sights. Shortly before the start of the competition, as we were looking around Kilnsea Wetlands, a birder told us that a Wryneck was on show at nearby Sandy Beaches. A quick dash to see the bird was successful and resulted in long overdue UK tick for me.

We arrived at The Warren, the competition location, with just 2 minutes to spare and promptly started the competition. This constituted of several stages with a different assessor for each – an estuary watch, a seawatch, a vismig, a bush bash and a lab test. At each stage, apart from the lab test, I was asked to identify several bird species visible in the area. I was also asked some tricky questions during these stages about bird migration, breeding and identification such as how to separate a juvenile Sedge Warbler from an Aquatic Warbler. During the lab test I was asked to identify several bird vocalisations and identify different features of a birds topography. After every finalist had completed each stage it was time for the scores to be tallied up and the winner to be announced. I was amazed and very happy to hear I had won!

Buzzing with the result, Jamie and I decided to explore the area around the gas terminal to see if we could find any migrants. We unearthed a trio of juvenile Willow Warblers and an adult male Redstart. Throughout this time we were oblivious to the discovery of a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher on Holderness Field until it was too late. Fortunately we had seen an adult a few weeks before at Oare Marshes, Kent but it was a shame nonetheless.

That evening at the ceremony it was a real honour to receive the award from the amazing Ian Newton. Unfortunately, due to the fact we had to get back to London that same night, we left before his eagerly anticipated lecture on migration.

I would like to thank everybody that has helped me along my path as a birder. Especially Rich and Jamie who regularly take me out of the not-so-birdy urban sprawl of London to places I’d never be able to get to without them. I would also like to thank Spurn Bird Observatory and the BTO for organising the event and giving me such a memorable experience. I am really enjoying using the new binoculars! I will continue to be inspired by Martin Garner’s legacy as a pioneering and feather-by-feather birder.

Dante Shepherd.

Dante Shepherd presented with a pair of Swarovski Binoculars.

Dante Shepherd presented with a pair of Swarovski Binoculars. (Photo copyright Dave McAleavy).

The competition is set to run next year.  So if you or somebody you know is interested, keep your eye out on the BTO website for further information on how to enter!  

Interesting Redstart on Faroes

So, it seems that I fell into the pitfall I had warned from…

After posting this earlier on, I received some comments regarding the age of this bird. I made a mistake in ageing the bird – sadly reflecting how few Redstarts I have ringed since moving here three years ago (zero). I was pointed out that what I misinterpreted as moult limit in greater coverts (GC) is in fact normal pattern for adults, and that 1cy would normally sow a moult limit also in median coverts (MC). Additionally, all tertials have very neat, grey fringes – typical of adult feathers. Juvenile tertials have thinner buff fringes. See below some examples. In the bottom line, since this bird is an adult, it is NOT a strong sammamisicus candidate. I have corrected the post below with this new context.


Silas Olofson is one of the keenest birders on Faroe Islands. Silas has an amazing autumn for rarity finding, including Faroes first Parrot Crossbill and White-crowned Sparrow. Great stuff. On top of all those brilliant rarities, Silas found on October 4th at Sørvágur what in my eyes is the most interesting bird from an ID point of view. On the same morning he found Faroes first Parrot Crossbill and 4th OBP, Silas bumped into this eye-catching male Redstart with large white wing panel:

Redstart, Sørvágur, Faroe Islands, 4 October 2017. Photo by Silas Olofson.

Putative Ehrenberg’s Redstart, Sørvágur, Faroe Islands, 4 October 2017. Photo by Silas Olofson.

Unfortunately, the encounter was too brief. Silas managed to snap a few quick photos of the bird before it vanished. He never heard it, sadly. Obviously, when encountering such a bird, sammamisicus (Ehrenberg’s Redstart) jumps to mind. However, especially in far NW European context, identification needs to be very cautious.

First step in identification of this SE European (and further east into Asia) taxon in autumn is ageing it correctly. This individual shows what to crap birders like myself would look like a clear moult limit in GC, but in fact this is typical adult pattern, as explained above.


Check how proper moult limit looks like this 1cy male Ehrenberg’s Redstart – both in GC and MC. Check also the buff tertial fringes:

Ehrenberg's Redstart, 1cy male, 23 August 2010, Jerusalem Bird Observatory, Israel. Photo by Yosef Kiat.

Ehrenberg’s Redstart, 1cy male, 23 August 2010, Jerusalem Bird Observatory, Israel. Photo by Yosef Kiat.

While an adult autumn Ehrenberg’s looks like this – much darker on the coverts, scapulars and even mantle:

Ehrenberg's Redstart, 2cy+ male, 25 August 2010, Jerusalem Bird Observatory, Israel.

Ehrenberg’s Redstart, 2cy+ male, 25 August 2010, Jerusalem Bird Observatory, Israel.

These are a couple of 1cy male Common Redstarts from autumn, again showing a nice moult limit in GC and MC:

European Common Resttart, 1cy male, Norfolk, UK, 23 September 2015. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

European Common Redstart, 1cy male, Norfolk, UK, 23 September 2015. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

European Redstart, 1cy male, Ashdod, Israel, 18 September 2013. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

European Redstart, 1cy male, Ashdod, Israel, 18 September 2013. Photo by Yoav Perlman.

Another important ID feature of Ehrenberg’s Redstart, also in 1cy males, is the shape of the white of pale buff fringes of the tertial(s). In the Faroes individual, the fringes to the longest tertial appear slightly broader at the base; not quite broadened as the sammamisicus above, but not quite even all the way to the base. In phoenicurus, if there are any pale fringes, they are even-width all along the feather or broader towards the tip. This individual seems to fall in the ‘in-between’ category – not quite there for an unequivocal sammamisicus, but quite unusual for phoenicurus.

In general, Ehrenberg’s Redstart males are greyer and darker above than Common Redstarts. The Faroes individual is grey, but not too dark admittedly. In spring sammamisicus are really dark and pretty, with more black on neck sides and upper scapulars:

Ehrenberg's Redstart, Negev, Israel, 12 March 2012. Photo by Yoav Perlman

Ehrenberg’s Redstart, Negev, Israel, 12 March 2012. Photo by Yoav Perlman

It is a pity Silas didn’t hear the bird and sound-record it. The flooty calls of Ehrenberg’s Redstart are completely different from the typical ‘huit-tek’ of Common Redstart. Does Ehrenberg’s merit a full species status? This interesting study shows no differences in mithochondrial DNA between the two taxa. However, in chats, mtDNA may not tell the ‘true’ species ‘story’. This fascinating study shows that Pied, Cyprus and Black-eared Wheatears are practically identical in their mtDNA.

I am not sure what is the status of Ehrenberg’s Redstart in NW Europe. There are several claims in the UK, but as far as I know none have been accepted yet. There are a few nominate birds, mainly in Scandinavia (?), that show an extended wing panel. What are they? I am not sure.

To my refreshed eyes, the Faroes individual does not look like the real deal. However, without sound recordings and more high-quality photos I am not sure we can understand what this bird is. In any case, this is a superb bird! Well done to Silas once again for his sharp eyes; hope next time it sticks around and ticks more boxes. Many thanks to Silas and Yosef for sharing their images with me.

Special thanks to Pepe, Björn and Yosef for feedback on this bird. Much appreciated!

The Dutch Imperial Eagle

By Yoav Perlman

An Imperial Eagle was found in Holland on September 27th. It was on show for a short while and then went missing, to the disappointment of quite many twitchers. On October 3rd it was relocated and showed much better. From the start there was debate whether it is a Spanish or an Eastern. At this age, fourth-plumage, both species are not easy to separate. Björn Malmhagen (remember him from Stejneger’s Stonechats?) posted in a Facebook discussion this beautiful annotated photo-composite demonstrating why it is an Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) rather than Spanish (A. adalberti). I thought  it is worth publishing here.

Dutch Imperial Eagle

Björn based his knowledge on proper research he did with Hans Larsson. They studied field photos, and also spent time at NHM Tring studying skins there. They published a great article in the Swedish magazine Vår Fågelvärld in 2012. Here is a taster:

Spanish (left two) and Eastern (right two) Imperial Eagles. Photo by Björn Melmhagen at NHM Tring

Spanish (left) and Eastern (right) Imperial Eagles. Photo by Björn Malmhagen at NHM Tring

Many thanks to Björn and Hans for sharing this exciting material. Björn asked me to thank Mark Adams of NHM Tring for allowing access to the materials for their study.