Author Archives: Martin Garner

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More thoughts on ‘grey and white’ Chiffchaffs

from Alan Dean

Hello Martin and thanks for the response.

Below is a composite image showing

(a) a photo of the St Agnes, Scilly, Chiffchaff from October 2011 (the bird I have long featured in discussions as a classic example of a ‘grey and white’ Chiffchaff and with which you will be correspondingly familiar);

(b) a copy of the image by Anthony McGeehan of his suggested abietinus on Inishbofin in October 2014 (I trust Anthony is happy for me to repeat it here).

I do not suggest that either image is colour perfect nor that their appearance in the field would not vary somewhat from their depictions here. I do suggest that there is a close similarity between the two individuals in these photos and that they are ‘the same kind of beast’. I have selected an image of the St Agnes bird which has a somewhat comparable posture to the Inishbofin bird.

There are further images (and plenty of discussion!) of the St Agnes bird on my website: http://deanar.org.uk/tristis/tristis.htm 

Regards, Alan

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Siberian Chiffchaff heads

Ottenby Bird Observatory, Sweden

Magnus Hellström

Here’s a photo with a slight nerd warning, primarily for those of you deeply into this subject…

During the autumn we caught 12 Chiffchaffs at Ottenby Bird Observatory, which we have recorded as Siberian Chiffchaffs ‘tristis’. Several were very typical but also some best described as ‘fulvescens’ (western tristis)- showing slight presence of yellow, and perhaps a trifle more olive above. The image is a rather amusing compilation, and gives a quick impression of the variation.

Click on to see closer/ larger size.


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Siberian and Scandinavian Chiffchaffs

Be careful. More Questions still.

It’s become something of an enigma. Routinely recorded in old bird reports as abietinus (Scandinavian Chiffchaff), or sometimes ‘Eastern Chiffchaff’ as a catch-all for those uncertain tristis/abietinus. Birders are increasingly more savy and better informed. Siberian Chiffchaffs (tristis) are identifiable most of the time. And they are probably better classified as a full species…

Common Chiffchaff with characters of North-eastern or Scandinavian 'abietinus'. Inishbofin, Ireland, late October 2014. Anthony McGeehan

Common Chiffchaff with characters of North-eastern or Scandinavian ‘abietinus’. Inishbofin, Ireland, late October 2014. Anthony McGeehan

Common Chiffchaff- taken in Jerusalem on 19th October 2012 has similar plumage tones and themes to the Inishbofin bird above.  Martin Garner. Many/most? of the Common Chiffchaffs migrating though Israel will be abietinus.

Common Chiffchaff- taken in Jerusalem on 19th October 2012 has similar plumage tones and themes to the Inishbofin bird above. Martin Garner. Many/most? of the Common Chiffchaffs migrating though Israel will be abietinus.

We do still get birds with characters of more obvious abietinus and usually in conditions bringing other Scandinavian migrants (two memorable birds in mid October at Flamborough this year). Yet early studies showed all birds trapped in late autumn/ winter in the Netherlands and Britain and thought to be abietinus or tristis.…were all tristis.

Blessed with frustratingly good skills in photography and prose, Anthony McGeehan took these highly instructive comparative images of a stick-on Siberian and seeming Scandinavian Chiffchaffs on his haven on Inishbofin on Ireland’s west coast, in late October.

Do notice the differences- especially in ear coverts pattern and distribution of plumage tones.

The read on Siberian Chiffs is excellent- more on Anthony’s Facebook page is well worth a visit.

Siberian-Chiffchaff-plate-F

Topmost bird – a Common Chiffchaff with plumage tones typical of some (more obvious) Scandinavian ‘abietinus’. Many abietinus are indistinguishable form typical collybita (Magnus Hellström).

Lower 3 birds – All of the same Siberian Chiffchaff (tristis)

All photographs- Inishbofin, October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

Siberian Chiffchaff- tristis, Inishbofin, late October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

Siberian Chiffchaff- tristis, Inishbofin, late October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

 

 

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Desert Lesser Whitethroats

Two of ‘em!

Spun Bird Observatory has had  monster autumn. Alongside some more sexy headlining birds were two halimodendri candidates. This remains a rare bird in Britian whereas the term ‘scarce’ probably fits Siberian Lesser Whitethroats (blythi).

The first was found at Easington Cemetery by Tony Disley on 14th-15th October. Here it is:

halimodenrdi e c late oct 14

The second was at the point near the VHS tower. Both called (which helps enormously in the ID) and recordings were obtained of each. Sonograms look the same and fit halimodendri nicely. Here’s the point bird. Have a listen:

Here’s the sonogram of that November point bird. Though some variation, notice the thicker introductory note followed by several thinner notes on the seconds series. It’s virtually identical to the recording featured via the QR code in the Challenge Series: AUTUMN.

lesser whitethroat spurn 13 nov 2014

 

Here’s that second bird (the one with the recording above)  at the point on 13th November 2014. Both photos by Dave Boyle. Can’t see all you would want to but the bill looks smallish, the primary projection looks tiny and ‘squished’ the second primary (P2) looks especially short and the outer tail  feather very white.

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Back to Bird One

Here’s the bird at Easington Cemetery on 14th-15th October. Photos by Tony Disley. The first photo shows  fat rounded heading and tiny bill. Lovely! Again the primary projection looks  like its particularly short.

All this info is in the Challenge Series. Great to see records like these where lots of data obtained helping towards a much more robust ID than the old generic ‘Eastern Lesser Whitethroat’ epithet.

halimodenrdi b e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi c e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi d e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi e c late oct 14 halimodenrdi e e c late oct 14

 

Sandwich Tern with yellow…

on more of the bill than usual

This curious looking tern was photographed on the 5th of November at Faro Saltpans in the south of Portugal. Thijs Valkenburg  is the guy who picked it up and in discussion with Pim Wolf came to a considered ID. I agree- see what you think. It’s interesting too when you recall that yellow-billed tern at Cemlyn, N. Wales a few years back. What have I said! ;)

Hi Martin,

 I got your email from Pim Wolf after discussing the identification of this tern. (see pictures attached)
 
We got to a fairly good conclusion we think, sandvicensis with a weird bill deformation and colouration.
 
We would like to see what´s your opinion about it. It´s quite a nice case. Lucky it was not a fly by,
that would be quite a heart breaking bird I think!
 
Best regards and thanks in advance for an answer,
Thijs Valkenburg

 

 

sandwich 1 sandwich 2 sandwich 3

 

Velvet Scoter – an odd one

with Sweeping Sub-ocular

Haven’t encountered one like this before. A drake Velvet Scoter (fusca) in which the white sub-ocular mark has an upsweeping tail as in White-winged (deglandi) and Stejneger’s Scoters (stejnegeri). It doesn’t look quite as thick and striking as on many examples of both of those species in adult male plumage- but is similar nevertheless.

Stuart Gillies sent this observation:

Hi Martin

I thought you may be interested in this. My usual birding site is Musselburgh and I am always checking the Scoters in the hope that a nice White-winged will appear!
I have noticed a lot of variation in the white eye patches on Velvets but never as pronounced as on the bird below. 
 
 
kind regards
Stuart Gillies
Adult male Velvet Scoter with unusually obvious white upsweeping tail on sub-ocular mark

Adult male Velvet Scoter with unusually obvious white upsweeping tail on sub-ocular mark

Adult male Velvet Scoter with normal white sub-ocular mark.

Adult male Velvet Scoter with normal white sub-ocular mark.

 

Turkestan Shrike in the Netherlands

First Calendar Year at Castricum

There have already been several Isabelline Shrikes this autumn- some creating lively debate about whether there are one form or the other. We might look at a few of the others. First off this very interesting one.

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

OK I know it might be pushing it to put a definite name to it. This bird has caused some head scratching. There will hopefully be definitive DNA analysis and claiming it as a ‘definite’ Turkestan – well wouldn’t it just be better to keep you’re head down? To me it’s very similar to one of the individuals we feature in The Challenge Series: AUTUMN – here on Flamborough (at Buckton). That bird was also identified as a 1cy Turkestan.

Making mistakes. Trying and sometime getting it wrong- but still pushing the boat out and having a go. It’s what it’s all about!

So enter Hans Schekkerman, with photos from Cees de Vries  and Luc Knijnsberg (and thanks to them). I understand after more views they are mostly pro-Turkestan. Here’s what Hans wrote on the first day:

“Hi Martin,

Today (13th Nov) a 1st winter Isabelline shrike was trapped and ringed at Castricum, Netherlands.  A set of photo’s by Cees de Vries can be found at http://waarneming.nl/waarneming/view/95333564 .

Here is a translation of the comment I posted with the record:

This species is as difficult in the hand as in the field! … First-winter with completely juvenile wing … In the sunlight it appeared to me more like Daurian, but in the shadow it reminded more strongly of Turkestan (Red-tailed).

Pro-phoenicuroides: (1) mask rather dark and contrasting (but with some gingery wash); (2) clear off-white supercilium (though extending well behind eye only on the right side), with some buffy wash only above the lore; (3) rather stronk dark barring on crown, rump, uppertail-cov and even some on lower mantle; (4) underparts mainly whitish, contrasting rather strongly with upperside.

Pro-isabellinus: (5) there was some clear buffish/orange wash on flanks (particularly on those feathers with brown chevrons) and also on the central belly; (6) this wash faintly continued up the breast-sides and onto the cheeks, that were not entirely white even directly under the mask; (7) tail fairly bright rufous with only a little bit darker centrals and not much darkening distally; (8) in sunlight, warmer ‘gingery’brown tinge to upperparts (almost invisible in shade).

 Centres of juv median coverts were neither whitish nor orange but dark brown, with even darker subterminal line and warm-brown edge.

 Any opinion on this bird would be greatly appreciated.

Best wishes, Hans Schekkerman”

So I say the DNA will make it a Turkestan- phoenicuroides- the rarer of the two regularly identified forms of ‘Isabelline Shrike’ which turn up in NW Europe. It’s not the easiest example and in some of the photos- brighter sunlight causes it to morph into something looking a little more akin to a Daurian Shrike. The Buckton bird did exactly the same - morphing in sunlight. I think the flat ‘overcast’ light depicts it more accurately.

Most of the features fit the details described and illustrated for Turkestan in The Challenge Series: AUTUMN.

What do you say it is? Place yer bets.

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

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1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 20114. Cees de Vries

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 20114. Cees de Vries

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Cees de Vries

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Cees de Vries

The variety of photos in different light shows how the plumage tones ‘morph’ to see degree. Overcast flat light is best.

Thanks especially to Grahame Walbridge for much excellent input on this and others Issy Shrikes.