Author Archives: Martin Garner

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Balearic Woodchat Shrike – badius

A New Feature?

by Martin Garner

I was very pleased to catch up with the Balearic Woodchat Shrike at Wykeham, North Yorkshire earlier this week. As ever when vagrants get studied closely it raised a question for me. Is there another feature of badius not yet described?

Here’s the boy. Balearic Woodchat Shrike was, at one stage considered possibly not identifiable with certainty by BBRC. A thorough review by Brian Small and Grahame Walbridge (read the paper: Balearic Woodchat Shrike paper ) found and affirmed key characters. Some are visible here on this 1st summer male like the rather thick, slightly bulbous bill, the lack of white at the base of the primaries and possibly pertinent the narrow black band on the forehead (though bearing in mind this will get broader in adult plumage. But there is another feature…

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Nick Addey

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Nick Addey


Critical in separating Eastern Woodchat Shrike (niloticus) from nominate senator is the amount of white in the tail. (Read the paper Eastern Woodchat Shrike paper)

What if the same applies to badius versus senator? I found no reference to this in a quick search of the key literature.

The Wykeham bird appears to have moulted most of its tail (apart from possibly the outermost t6) to black adult type feathers and yet it also appears to lack the prominent white at the base of some of the outer tail feathers. The outermost tail feathers t6 is obscured and may be a juvenile feather, but I would have expected to see at least some white obvious at the bases of say t5 and t4 if the pattern had been the same as nominate senator (BWP says bases of t2-t5 are white with almost half the feather on t4 being white and much of base of t5 also white). Instead the tail looks essentially all dark.

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Nick Addey

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Nick Addey

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Brett Richards

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Brett Richards

The tail looks black and does not appear to be a retained juvenile tail- apart from perhaps the outermost feather t6?  But then in flight you can see the more extensive grey over the uppertail coverts with small white rump patch and all dark-looking tail (T6 is mostly hidden under t5).

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Dave Aitken

2cy male Balearic Woodchat Shrike, Wykeham. North Yorkshire, May 2015. Dave Aitken

Ideally I would need to review specimens and see more inflight spread tails of various Woodchat taxa. What do you think? Go ahead have your say...

Compare with this bird recently on the Isles of Scilly-  a male nominate senator taken by Martin Goodey.

2cy male nominate Woodchat Shrike, Scilly, May 2015. Martin Goodey

2cy male nominate Woodchat Shrike, Scilly, May 2015. Martin Goodey

2cy male nominate Woodchat Shrike, Scilly, May 2015. Martin Goodey

2cy male nominate Woodchat Shrike, Scilly, May 2015. Martin Goodey

Eastern Woodchat- niloticus

and to complete the set- the even more extensive white at the base of the tail feathers found in niloticus- very rare in NW Europe with no British records… yet!

Notice also the BIG white area over rump and uppertial coverts of niloticus.

male Eastern Woodchat Shrike (niloticus), Eilat, March 2012. Martin Garner

male Eastern Woodchat Shrike (niloticus), Eilat, March 2012. Martin Garner

tail of male Eastern Woodchat Shrike (niloticus), Eilat, March 2012. Martin Garner

tail of male Eastern Woodchat Shrike (niloticus), Eilat, March 2012. Martin Garner

Spanish Wagtail X Blue-headed Wagtail

“Central Atlantique” Yellow Wagtails – flava x iberiae

by Eugene Archer

Yellow Wagtail_3241

Hi Martin,

Hope all are well there ?

Regarding the Filey wagtail I find it a bit difficult to judge exactly the colour of the upperparts, especially around the head so I don’t know if this will be of much use but here’s something else to muddle up the possibilities:
In western France (essentially from the Gironde up the Loire valleys) there is a fairly stable population (maybe 30% in some areas) of intergrade Yellow Wagtails showing plumage characters of both Blue-headed flava and Spanish iberiae. These bird are usually referred to as “Central atlantique” Yellow Wagtails locally.

Yellow Wagtail_1330Classic examples look basically like a normal flava but with a pure white throat. The blue-grey crown and nape are sometimes a little darker and often there is a prominent white sub-ocular crescent. It has also been suggested that 2CY birds may be more prone to exhibiting a full white throat. I’ve seen individuals with slightly contrastingly darker ear-coverts but not quite the full mid-grey and dark-grey head pattern of typical iberiae as it were. They give raspy calls too, like a lot of the birds around here, but I don’t have any recordings of them unfortunately.

Philippe Dubois wrote an interesting article on Yellow Wagtails in France in Ornithos, vol 8-2: 44-73 (2001) which covers the various intergrades including those on the Mediterranean coast (iberiae x cinereocapilla) which apparently can show the full range of mixed characters !

A few photos attached to show various birds from the Loire estuary region , some with variable amounts of yellow suffusions on the lower throat, some with more or less prominent supercilliums, etc. etc. ! Complicated, eh ;-)

All the best,


yellow wagtail_5080yellow wagtail_5096yellow wagtail_8138yellow wagtail_5074Yellow Wagtail_1332


all photos above by Eugene Archer

Collared Flycatcher hybrid

with Pied Flycatcher

by Dani Lopez Velasco

papamoscas JS


During the last few years, a team of keen Spanish birders has visited the idyllic island of Cabrera, a small islet off Mayorca, in search of rarities. The weather conditions and landscape –as well as the “common” birds – are pretty different to those in most rarity hotspots in western Europe (but I guess similar to Linosa), and birding under blue and sunny skies amidst large falls of migrants is the norm here.

Based on the results of past ringing campaigns, where a number of firsts for Spain have been caught, including sugh megas as Ruppell’s Warbler or Semicollared Flycatcher, we decided to give a first try some springs ago, which ended up in Juan Sagardia, one of our team, finding another first for Spain, a stunning Cretzschmars Bunting. Following that, we´ve made several more 3 day trips, in late April and mid October, producing large numbers of common migrants (and Balearic Warbler is one of the most common birds in the island!), as well as plenty of good rarities including Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (first for Spain) and Hume´s Leaf Warbler (3rd for Spain), Little Bunting, Collared and R-b Flycathers, lots of Y-b Warblers, etc…

fic sp 3 DSC_2195

We´ve come again this year, and on the first morning two days ago, a large fall of ficedula flycatchers took place. Amongst them, a classic female Collared Flycatcher – a rarity here and one of the first females to be identified in the field in Spain- was found and, most interesting, a male showing features of a hybrid Collared x Pied. Separating a hybrid from a male Iberian Piediberiae hereafter – and Atlas Flycatcherspeculigera hereafter- can be challenging or, in certain individuals, especially 2cy, almost impossible based on field marks, although the sound recordings of this individual, with a call very similar to that of a Collared, together with a couple of plumage features, point towards the bird being a hybrid.

fic sp 5 DSC_2192

fic sp 2 DSC_2191

Interesting features of this bird include an all black tail (with an all black T6), hint of a near-complete neck collar (especially obvious in certain angles)- although note that some male iberiae and speculigera can show similar neck collars-, a relatively large white forehead patch and jet-black upperparts.

fic sp 4 DSC_2186papamoscas-vuelo JS

All these features can be shown by both a hybrid and a pure speculigera/iberiae, although, given that the bird seems to be an adult, then the white primary patch is clearly smaller than on the most typical adult speculigera /iberiae (and the white forehead patch is also smaller than on a classic speculigera).

To compare: iberiae Pied Flycatcher

iberiae pied flycatcher Juan Sagardia first summer male

above: First summer male iberiae Pied Flycatcher

below apparent hybrid Collared X Pied Flycatcher

papamoscas2 JS

Call is therefore essential to reach a positive ID, and the plaintive, straight, thin whistle, very similar to Collared, and unlike the typical contact call of Pied, should rule out speculigera and iberiae, thus indicating hybrid origin. A very interesting and educative flycatcher for sure!

I´d like to thank Jose Luis Copete, Andrea Corso, Brian Small, Magnus Hellstrom and Guillermo Rodriguez for their comments on this and other ficedula flycatchers.

fic sp 1 DSC_2193

Scarce Tortoiseshell

aka Yellow-legs

Thanks to Will Brame who sent these images of a Scarce Tortoiseshell, also known as Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell. He found this one in Suffolk earlier this spring. In the butterfly world it’s an amazing find and follows an unprecedented arrival into Britain of about 7 Scarce Tortoiseshells last July 2014.

There was only one previous record- in 1953 of  a species which normally only occurs east of a line from the Baltic to the Adriatic- eastern Europe and Asia through to China. Some migrant occasionally reach up into Finland and southern Sweden, and its thought some of these proceed to head west into the Netherlands subsequently reaching eastern Britain. Apologies to Will for the late posting. Some of us have been keeping a keen eye out in East Yorkshire. No luck yet though…


IMG_6819 IMG_6822

above- Scarce Tortoiseshell in Suffolk by Will Brame- showing some leg. All photos above by Will Brame.

 How to Identify them? 

This book is a real boon- just published in early 2015, it even mentions the July 2014 arrival. It does a superb job at helping the learners like me to learn the differences between Small Tortoiseshell, Large Tortoiseshell and Scarce Tortoiseshell. see below:


Britain’s Butterflies:k10469
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland
Fully Revised and Updated Third edition
David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash & David Tomlinson





tort three (1 of 1)tort two (1 of 1)

Spanish Wagtail: iberiae

What they look like…

Trevor Charlton has taken these images in Morocco and Western Sahara in recent years. Most look like straight iberiae – ‘Spanish Wagtail‘. They give a good idea of the appearance and some of the variety to be found. The Filey bird looks very similar. Trevor describes the call as “To my ears, the call is rasping, often loud, sometimes uttered aggressively and repeatedly.

Have a look at these lovely images:

spanish 1 (1 of 1) spanish 3 (1 of 1) spanish 4 (1 of 1) spanish 5 (1 of 1) spanish 6 (1 of 1)

Here’s the Filey bird again:

spanish 8 (1 of 1) spanish 9 (1 of 1)

This next one taken in NW Africa by trevor is a little paler headed, at least in the photo:spanish 7 (1 of 1)


and this next one may be a cinereocapilla- Ashy-headed Wagtail.spanish 2 (1 of 1)

Spanish Wagtail

iberiae or no?

This afternoon Mark Pearson, busy writing ‘in the field’ had this flava wagtail drop in front of him. Speaking to him about it and then seeing the photos- yikes! I would be pretty pumped up to find one such. The plumage- crisp white throat with no ‘bleed’ of yellow on lower border, skinny white supercilium and Mark’s call description sound appealingly good. Please may it be seen again and sound recording obtained!

Mark writes:

“A brief but close encounter with this little beauty at a small wetland near the Dams here in Filey this afternoon. With conditions, time of the season and the glut of southern European overshoots further south, I’ve been hammering the patch accordingly – to no avail, until this afternoon. As well what seems like a very promising suite of characters, the bird also delivered an interestingly un-flava-like call several times….


More photos on Mark’s Blog


eIMG_5903a eIMG_5949a



Best Sites and Best Telly – this weekend!

The Long Good Friday

The spotlight falls on RSPB Bempton Cliffs and its neighbours this Easter, reflecting a quiet revolution of birder-led team efforts up here on the Yorkshire coast

Mark James Pearson (Northern Rustic)

After plenty of hard work and much anticipation, the all-new lip-smackin’ RSPB Bempton Cliffs re-opens this week, on Good Friday, 3rd April.

Coinciding with the relaunch of this most magical of reserves is a BBC Springwatch at Easter special, airing on the very same evening (at 9pm, with a repeat on Easter Sunday at 7pm, both on BBC2).

No doubt the BBC will do a fine job of transmitting the unique sensory overload of Bempton’s seabird city into the nation’s living rooms, resulting in that rarest of rares, an hour well spent in front of the TV

Sunset over Bempton by George Stoyle

Sunset over Bempton by George Stoyle

But what may not be so obvious to those tuning in over the Easter weekend is that the people, groups and projects featured on the show are part of a collective sea change along our beloved stretch of Yorkshire coast of late. Springwatch at Easter is set to showcase not only the drama of Bempton (justifiably taking centre stage) but crucially also the wider area, including both Filey and Flamborough Bird Observatories, as well as Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Centre. Thus the show reflects what is, increasingly, very much a team effort these days, with a burgeoning connectivity between our respective manors.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that those involved in the projects highlighted by the programme are genuine, locally-sourced, dyed-in-the-wool conservationists; better still, you’ll be pleased (and maybe surprised) to learn that, perhaps first and foremost, many are straight-up obsessive birders, trying their stuttering best to communicate their passions to wider audiences. No fear, then, of bland script regurgitations and feigned careerist enthusiasm; style over substance is resolutely off the agenda, and (while not wanting to draw attention to any on-screen fashion crimes) I’m happy to report it’s very much the other way round.

At the helm of the Springwatch coverage is RSPB Bempton Cliffs Site Manager Keith Clarkson. Responsible not only for the relaunch of the reserve but also for pulling together the disperate threads that made the programme happen, Keith is also a dedicated lifelong birder and pioneer in the dark art of visible migration. When not overseeing arguably the greatest show in Yorkshire, you’ll find him obsessively vismigging at Hunmanby Gap (in the south of the Filey recording area); if you do, be prepared to discuss the migration strategies of Meadow Pipits as enthusiastically as you would the virtues of toy Puffins in the reserve shop.

Puffins at Bempton by Steve Race

Puffins at Bempton by Steve Race

Most of the other key personnel (perhaps wisely) remained on the more flattering side of the camera. Out on the boat with Keith and Chris Packham was Steve Race, award-winning wildlife photographer, RSPB Bempton Cliff’s Education Officer, and co-director of Yorkshire Coast Nature, a local nature tourism company proudly putting its money where its mouth is by giving back to the places it celebrates – hence the bankrolling of local conservation projects, the sponsoring of the Filey, Flamborough and Yorkshire Bird Reports and plenty more besides.

Behind the scenes of the clifftop spectacle is Bempton’s warden, Dave Aitken; ever-helpful, highly-skilled, obsessively twitchy on the one hand and yet devoted to his adopted patch on the other. Just down the road is Rich Baines, finally seeing the rewards of years of patient toil in the face of indifference and hostility (modestly sharing such mind-blowing rares as Brown Flycatcher along the way); Rich’s dedication to conservation and a more open, welcoming culture at Flamborough are the foundations upon which the Observatory’s recent renaissance are based. Add the infectious enthusiasm of a certain Mr Garner and a growing team of forward-thinking, passionate birders to the mix, and it’s rosier than ever on the Great White Cape.

Breil Nook at Flamborough by George Stoyle

Breil Nook at Flamborough by George Stoyle

Here at Filey, meanwhile, a dynamic and multi-skilled team is ensuring the Observatory is in rude health. Membership is rising steadily (with a faithful hardcore augmented by many new members, including an encouraging percentage of younger people), our network of reserves are in fine fettle, community involvement is now an integral part of our work, and the overhauling and relaunch of our annual report happily received much acclaim recently. We’ve been working closely with RSPB Bempton (monitoring our breeding seabirds, hosting events) and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (at Filey Dams reserve), and we share plenty of skills and knowledge (and more in the near future) with our comrades across the bay at Flamborough Bird Observatory.

The great work being carried out by Kat, Ant and their colleagues at the YWT Living Seas Centre at South Landing, Flamborough is another example of localised collaboration working well. In addition to their day-to-day marine-themed endeavours, they host regular evening talks by special expert guests, maintain an up-to-date wildlife sightings board, and work closely not only with RSPB Bempton, but also with Flamborough Bird Observatory; to this end, they’ll soon be sharing their impressive new premises with FBO’s ringing team – the Observatory’s first ever physical presence, and a testament to the hard work of all parties.

Gannets at Bempton by Steve Race

Gannets at Bempton by Steve Race

Back at Bempton, and the opening of the new Seabird Centre is set to provide a new and much-needed hub for local groups, birding-themed events and activities, hosting talks, workshops and much more (as well as a catering for the more mainstream requirements of a flagship reserve) – a reflection of the focus and intent to keep the birding community very much in the mix at the relaunched reserve. There are many others who deserve a mention here, but space prevents a longer roll of credits.

All of which is worth celebrating; there’s a lot going on, and crucially, it’s all interconnected. Would any of this have happened twenty, ten, or even five years ago? Not likely. Being involved with much of the above, I’ll make no apology for shamelessly cheerleading here; it’s the prevailing mood of collaboration and cross-pollination that makes the groups and projects involved much more than the sum of their parts these days.

So when you tune in to Springwatch at Easter over this coming weekend, hopefully you’ll enjoy the spectacle and get inspired to visit this most awe-inspiring (and easily reached) of Britain’s natural wonders; but it’s also worth bearing in mind that, thanks to the efforts and vision of a dynamic bunch of birder-conservationists, we’ve never had it so good around here.

Come on in, the water’s lovely.