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Magnus Robb – Undiscovered Owls

The Interview

‘Undiscovered Owls’ is the new title from the Sound Approach. I figured the best way to dive in and discover its content was to interview the author, Magnus Robb. It was an information- packed discussion, starlit with impersonations of the Owls themselves. Make sure you listen!

“Can you imagine how my heart was beating..’

Omani Owl, Al Jabal Al Akhdar mountains, Oman 26th May 2013. Arnoud B. van den Berg. One of the first ever photographs of the newly (re) discovered species.

Omani Owl, Al Jabal Al Akhdar mountains, Oman 26th May 2013. Arnoud B. van den Berg.
One of the first ever photographs of the newly (re) discovered species.

 

With the personal account of discovering the Omani Owl, impressions of Ural Owl, Omani Owl, Tawny Owl, Cucumiau, Barn Owls and Cyprus Scops Owls, Magnus talks about so many discoveries as he explores ‘Owls’.  As well as some far-flung taxa, he homes right in on familiar and common species like Tawny and Barn Owls, where, especially in the case of the latter there are, remarkably, key things we still don’t know. So someone needs to get out and keep discovering! There’s information but also an invitation.

“Owls are a joy to record, it’s an indulgent pleasure”

Here’s the interview:

 

Snippest from the Interview

Barn Owls.

Dark-breasted Barn Owl, March 2005, Texel, Netherlands. Photo by René Pop

Dark-breasted Barn Owl, March 2005, Texel, Netherlands. Photo by René Pop

“Let me just say something which I find really striking… as you say one of the commonest species and yet…

Magnus explains how, despite much literature he could not get to the bottom of the Barn Owl sounds he was hearing. He had to establish a vocabulary to explain it. Having recorded a few  Barn Owl calls at Flamborough- it got me animated and annoyed! Another fascinating subject to explore, things still to discover. Where will I find the time?! :)

Tawny Owls

“I love Tawny Owls- they’re so wild”

Tawny Owl, Ruissalo Turku Finland by Dick Forsman

Tawny Owl, Ruissalo Turku Finland. Dick Forsman

 

“I always start-up with something that I have heard”

Magnus Robb in action sound recording.

Magnus Robb in action sound recording.

 

Cucumiau and Little Owls  

OK what’s with using this weird name for one of the ‘Little Owl’ group? Listen to the interview. It’s brilliant!. The ecology of the this particular Little Owl – Cucumiau has already been worked out and described by local people in multiple countries. I don’t think you’ll be able to argue against the name once you hear the explanation. Seriously!

Ooo and there is a little bit of gossip in the process of finding sites with owls…

“He discovered it  (the site) because he had been there with a series of girlfriends”

 

Cucumiau, Larnaca, Cyprus 30the June 2013. René Pop

Cucumiau, Larnaca, Cyprus 30th June 2013. René Pop

 

Cyprus Scops Owl

Cyprus. A popular tourist destination. Must have been lots of birder chillin’ of an evening. How many noticed the odd calls of the local Scops Owls and the peculiar duetting of pairs. It sounds unlike Scops Owls elsewhere. There seems to be isolating mechanisms. They really function as separate species. All in the interview…

Cyprus Scops Owl, Panagia Cyprus 29th June 2013. René Pop.

Cyprus Scops Owl, Panagia Cyprus 29th June 2013. René Pop.

 

Omani Owl

“It was bugging me,  it was bugging all of us and I had to get to the bottom of it…”

Hear Magnus describe the moment when he knew he had found something.. a completely unknown and undiscovered Owl.  It sounded like a kind of strix owl because of the rhythm, but with no sightings and no more sounds. What the heck was it? What did it look like? What were they supposed to do?

Arnoud returned and got some recordings and amazing images. Magnus again describes the moment the email arrives in his in-tray.

“Can you imagine how my heart was beating when … the email ‘cos it sounded more like a Ural Owl…”

Then there’s the  Owl on the balcony in Iran…

 

 

 

**** Naming the New Owls ****

So what are they and what do we call them?

Omani Owl Strix butleri

The new species (re) discovered  by Magnus Robb as described in the interview.

Full and new information and paper HERE. Previous post (press release) on Birding Frontiers HERE.

Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach

Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach

Omani Owl, Al Jabal Al Akhdar mountains, Oman 26th May 2013. Arnoud B. van den Berg. One of the first ever photographs of the newly (re) discovered species.

Omani Owl, Al Jabal Al Akhdar mountains, Oman 26th May 2013. Arnoud B. van den Berg.
One of the first ever photographs of the newly (re) discovered species.

Desert Owl Strix hadorami  

(same thing we called Hume’s Owl that folks go and see, usually on a trip to Israel.)

There is a suggestion for the name being “Desert Tawny Owl” but you would probably then have to change our temperate Tawny Owl to something like “Forest Tawny Owl”. So please lets keep it simple:

“…nobody wants to change Tawny Owl to Forest Tawny Owl”

Desert Owl, Dhofar, Oman February 2014. Killian Mullarney.

Desert Owl, Dhofar, Oman February 2014. Killian Mullarney.

Did you miss it?

Here’s the interview:

You can get more information about the book, what’s in it and buying it from the The Sound Approach.

undiscovered-owls

Juvenile Garganey

The Subtle ID challenge

Why does it stand out- just. At the same time easy to overlook. Last Wednesday 26th we had our final Spurn Migration Festival meet. Mark Thomas had found a juvenile Little Stint on Buckton Pond so figured I would swing by en route home. No Little Stint. Maybe it’s at Thornwick Pool ?  Nope. But beautiful juvenile Whimbrel and Little Ringed Plover, and more wildfowl than usual. Mostly Mallard, a pair of moulting Gadwall, some Teal and a…

I know what that’s going to be!  Fired off this shot:

Garganey 18 first pic (1 of 1)

 

There is something about those orange brown tones and the shape of scapulars long, warm brown, with crisp white fringes. And why do the ones I see look orange on the breast on underparts (does it say that in ‘the book’). It’s fast asleep. No real view of the head pattern. But I just ‘know’ it’s going to be a Garganey- presumably a juvenile.

So I speed around to our magic photo pod. It’s still there, still asleep This is the first pic from the pod:

Garganey 19 next first pic (1 of 1)

OK little missy- time to wake up. please.

 

Garganey 14 (1 of 1)

LOVERLY! Kinda final confirmation A baby Garganey has arrived in a little influx of wildfowl to our special conservation site at Thornwick Pool. Only the 3rd Garganey record at Flamborough this year and a Patch tick for me :)

P.S. perhaps not conveyed in these pics, but the head pattern is not always so ‘obvious‘. Rather easy to pass over at times actually.

Garganey 9 (1 of 1)

 

She heads onto the water feed. Not so likely to up-end like the Teal, she prefers to just submerge head into water and keep most of body afloat.

Garganey 12 (1 of 1) Garganey 13 (1 of 1)

 

Let’s have some detail:

Garganey have narrower specula than Teal. Silvery whiteness going on in the outer wing. This one has pretty plain brown wing coverts. Guess that makes it a female, though notice how the width of white borders both above and below actually appears to vary and the overall width of the specula appears to vary from narrow to broader- curious!

Garganey smaller one (1 of 1) Garganey smaller two (1 of 1) Garganey 33 (1 of 1) Garganey 32 (1 of 1) Garganey 31 (1 of 1) Garganey 30 (1 of 1) Garganey 29 (1 of 1)

 

Tail Feathers

Juvenile wildfowl (most/all?) wear in such a way that a V wedge forms at the feather tip and the shaft pokes out down the centre. Adult tail feathers don’t do that.Garganey 28 (1 of 1)

 

Meanwhile…

The Whimbrel was very smart-looking

whimbrel 2 (1 of 1)

and the Mark’s Little Stint hung around for me to see it the next morning:

litle stint juv 27aug (1 of 1)

 

 

I love the Spurn Migration Festival…

Neil Glenn

journalist –  Birdwatching Magazine columnist

I love the Spurn Migration Festival…

…because after the manic whirlwind that is The Rutland Birdfair, it gives me the chance to chill and actually get out and about to do some birding!
Right from Day 1 of the very first Spurn Migration Festival, it was obvious that this was going to a very friendly event. I love the way birders of every ability and age mix together to help each other find and identify birds. There is a tremendous atmosphere around the Spurn area over the weekend.
Even though this is only the third # MigFest, it has already become an established event in the birding calendar and I would hate to miss it.

I know all of my old and new friends I have met at the event feel the same.

See you there!

Neil messing about on the Birding For All stand at Birdfair 2015

Neil messing about on the Birding For All stand at Birdfair 2015

 

 

Omani Owl – Breaking News & Interview

Discovered in 2013 by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach and confirmed using sound analysis, Omani Owl has created a stir among both birders and biologists. That a bird around the size of a Barn Owl Tyto alba had evaded discovery was extraordinary. Now one has been captured- the ‘discovery-of-a-lifetime’ story continues…

 Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach


Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach

Discovered in 2013 by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach and confirmed using sound analysis, Omani Owl has created a stir among both birders and biologists. That a bird around the size of a Barn Owl Tyto alba had evaded discovery was extraordinary. That it was described and named only using sound recordings and photographs was controversial.

When a rival group of researchers re-examined museum specimens of the closely related Strix butleri, they suspected that its type specimen was in fact an Omani Owl. All the other specimens were different enough, especially when their genes were analysed, to be described as a new species, Strix hadorami. However, the study did not examine DNA of Omani Owl.

In a new paper published online Magnus Robb and his colleagues returned to the mountains of Oman where they captured and released an Omani Owl.* Feathers and blood from the owl corroborated both teams’ findings that there are two different Strix species in the Middle East. DNA analysis shows that Omani Owl is the same as Strix butleri, and the other species is the recently named but much better known Desert Owl S. hadorami (previously ‘Hume’s Owl’).

So when Magnus heard unknown sounds of an owl in March 2013, he was in fact rediscovering a species previously known from just one tatty old specimen in The Natural History Museum (Tring, England) said to be from Pakistan, and collected 135 years earlier.

The new paper also examines DNA from a mystery owl discovered in Mashhad, northeastern Iran in January 2015. Babak Musavi and Ali Khani took four feathers for DNA analysis, which the team showed was also of an Omani Owl, the first confirmation that it still exists outside the Arabian peninsula and 1300 km from the nearest record of this species.

* with the permission of the Omani Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, as part of a joint conservation project with the Environment Society of Oman and BirdLife International.

This new study once again underscores that much remains to be learned from owls. Magnus Robb’s recently published book ‘Undiscovered Owls’ describes his work on owls in detail.

Robb, MS, Sangster, G, Aliabadian, M, van den Berg, AB, Constantine, M, Irestedt, M, Khani, A, Musavi, SB, Nunes, JM, Sarrouf Willson, M & Walsh, AJ (2015). The rediscovery of Strix butleri (Hume, 1878) in Oman and Iran, with molecular resolution of the identity of Strix omanensis Robb, van den Berg and Constantine, 2013.

Robb et al – Strix butleri (20-8-2015) (1)

 

Forthcoming Interview

(from Martin G.)

Stand out highlight of Birdfair 2015 was chewing the cud with the Sound Approach guys- more nocturnal migration recording to come soon from Flamborough then! I also engaged Magnus in a full half hour recorded interview. A couple of years ago we met for a coffee and ‘Undiscovered Owls’ was just emerging as a ‘working title’ for a new book. Amazingly there was no hint of something called an Omani Owl. Be careful what you wish for!

This interview will be a MUST listen! Magnus does gorgeous impressions of owl calls from the Tawny’s to the Omani’s, plus a host in between like the Cyprus Scop’s Owl as he thoroughly and entertainingly informs and inspires. Watch this space.

One of my 2015 Birdfair highlights. Chilling. learning and wonderful scheming with Magnus Robb and Nick Hopper of the Sound Approach last weekend.

One of my 2015 Birdfair highlights. Chilling. learning and wonderful scheming with Magnus Robb and Nick Hopper of the Sound Approach last weekend.

August at Spurn: NOW!

WOW!

Andy Roadhouse

The list of rare and scarce birds seen at Spurn in August this year is mouth-watering and there is still a week left – Black Stork, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Black Tern, White-rumped Sandpiper, 2 Red-footed Falcons, Greenish Warbler, Pectoral Sandpiper, Bee-eater, 2+ Caspian Gulls, Cory’s Shearwater, Corncrake, Honey-buzzard, and several each of Wryneck, Barred Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Wood Warbler, Spoonbill, Long-tailed Skua and Balearic Shearwaters.

Apart from rare and scarce birds there has already been some good migrant passage with good numbers of wading birds moving south off shore and some good Swallow passage, with a few days recording over 1000 birds moving south.

Over the last couple of weeks there have been a few small falls of drift migrants producing several of the scarce migrants listed above. However on 23rd and 24th an incredible fall occurred, probably the best ever in August, certainly for some species and record counts of Willow Warblers (345) and Pied Flycatchers (230) occurred, along with good numbers of regular drift migrants such as Tree Pipits, Redstarts, Whinchats, Wheatears, Garden Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers.

Even on quiet days the number of waders present either on the Humber or at Beacon Ponds and Kilnsea Wetlands has been impressive with over 50,000 birds present on some days, the fields are starting to attract gulls with several Caspian Gulls and Yellow-legged Gulls recorded and up to 49 Mediterranean Gulls.

The tern roost movements have been fairly quiet but still up to 20 Black and 4000 Common Terns have been logged.

So do you want to see just a part of this – then come to the #MIGFEST.

The best place for migration in the UK!

2015?

Bird Race- New this year a bird race will run from dawn on Saturday to Sunday lunchtime with prizes for the winning team (2-4 members) of the new Birds of Spurn book, and the Challenge Series: Winter book. Full set of information (and tips on winning!)  will be given to all bird race entrants.

“Where migration is defined”  -Sat night lecture Yoav Pearlman will be speaking on migration through Israel. With massive resurgence and interest in the migration flyways of the Middle East – conservation is at the fore but there are also new discoveries about bird movements and new taxa being discovered. It’s one the best place to pioneer and get ‘wowed’. The sheer spectacle is one of the wonders of the world.

Where to buy tickets click  >>>HERE<<<

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Day tickets might be the way forward for you. Come for the Saturday or Sunday, especially if it’s your first time. Taste and see!

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The 2014 #migfest video. For a fuller flavour- just watch here:

……………………. >>>> Vist Dave’s Site <<<<

 

 

Spurn Migration fetival (1 of 1)

 

 

 

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Patterns of white in the wing and origins.

Agh- the glorious annual autumn wader fest continues. yesterday was dominated by flocks of Knot flying south from High Arctic breeding grounds pasting over the head at Flambrough. Thornwick Pools continues as a hot spot of excellent variety and great views of with Wood and Green Sandpipers, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwits, Knot etc.

knot (1 of 1)

Knot flying south past Flamborough yesterday- probably originating in Greenland!

 

Dunlin Treat

My little treat was watching a  flock of fresh baby Dunlins as various stage of moult from their bright fringed juvenile feathers into duller plain greyer ones on the upperparts Most I suspect now with slghtly longer bills are nominate alpina. One piece of plumage information which is interesting to record is the pattern of white in the primaries.

Basically on the 3 Dunlin taxa regular in W Europe- schinzii, alpina and arctica, white marks are separated from the feathers shafts (which are also whitish ) by dark feathering.

However in (some)  eastern taxa including e.g centralis and pacifica and as well as the North America hudsonia, the white joins of the feather meets the shaft (‘rachis’ in old money) producing a bigger whiter looking, Sanderling- like wing – bar.

Summat else to look for, especially with what our cameras can do now.

Dunlin 3 (1 of 1)Dunlin s landing 16th (1 of 1)dunlin5 (1 of 1)dunlin10 (1 of 1)

 

 

 

A little wing stretch reveals the white pattern in the primaries

 

dunlin6 (1 of 1)dunlin7 (1 of 1)

 

And some other glorious shorebirds on me patch…

 

juv-Ruff-1-of-1 ad litle stint 4 (1 of 1) ad Little Stint (1 of 1) mix of waders b (1 of 1) ruff 3  1500 (1 of 1) wood sandpiper (1 of 1)

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