Author Archives: Martin Garner

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit

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.

8C0AC5FD-A431-A6DE-6B41-8CD5F85F6749 B5E5E47E-A3EB-3F5A-9475-6DBC25AD1DD7

 

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

7716700

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.

East Asian House Martin – lagopodum

at Whitburn?!

This is potentially a first for Britain- possibly even for the Western Palearctic (dunno if other claims?). So getting the news out there without detailed analysis but gut reaction- I’d be very keen to see it!

I got a phone call from Richard Crossley yesterday (Monday). Richard and Dave Foster had seen an interesting looking House Martin at Souter Point, one mile south of Whitburn around 11:00 am for a few minutes. Dave messaged me this morning re the photos on Richards’ twitter feed. Yikes! Have just spoken to Richard and last night they were able to look at the photos and began seriously thinking about the Eastern lagopodum.

It’s a first winter House Martin and appears to have white extending across all the upper tail coverts. As a rough guide the length of the shorter central tail feathers (black) on this bird is less the half the length of the white ‘rump’ patch. On the nominate western form urbicum the length of white on rump is about the same as the length of short central tail feathers.

As it might head south via Flamborough :) or Spurn this is an alert to study closely or follow-up reports of – any late House Martin!

Photos of the bird by Richard Crossley

B2G7C9WCMAA_M7UB2G7C3JCYAAlbjj

Have had quick chat with Ian Lewington this am who knows the subject and we are struggling to explain away what looks like massive white rump area.

Plate by Ian Lewington from Rare Birds of North America which shows both nominate urbicum and eastern lagopodum

4HouseMartin1c

 

Citrine Wagtail calls analysed

The Barry White of Citrine Wags.

This morning (8th November) Phil (who gave it the Barry moniker) and I went to check out Danes Dyke South- to look for the Citrine Wagtail. Last seen two days ago, the tidewrack at South Landing which had provided food for pipits and wagtails including the Citrine had been almost nearly washed away in the windy/ stormy conditions of two days ago. South Dykes, one mile to the west can keep the higher level tide wrack. It had, and there was the Citrine Wagtail.

First winter Citrine Wagtail South Landing, Flamborough, 6th Nov. 2014. Andy Hood

First winter Citrine Wagtail South Landing, Flamborough, 6th Nov. 2014. Andy Hood

There are some curious things about this bird as already covered. In a nutshell it is:

1) Exceptionally late- about the 4th November record in Britain ever

2) It has a distinct orangey bill base- more usually associated with flava wagtails

3) The call seemed odd, deeper and ‘fuller’ than typical Citrine

Late birds often come from further east… There are several potential explanations. The plumage and call are too close to Citrine to me to invoke the hybrid explanation. Normal variation, say a young bird with pale bill base may explain it (though have no data on such young birds)? However my preferred working hypothesis is that it’s from a less well-known breeding population- perhaps further east than our usual records. Intriguingly this record of Citrine Wagtail on Vancouver Island (2nd record for North America) was coincidentally (or not) a vagrant in mid November with similar orangey bill base pattern.

The call really is also definitely unusual. Following the field impression of three of us Flamborough regulars that it sounded a little odd for Citrine (and some friends commenting here on the blog), the sonogram seemed to bear that out. So I asked some Dutch guys who have been looking into the calls of Citrine and eastern flavas for some time. Thanks to Nils van Duivendijk, Sander Bot and especially Dick Groenendijk

Hi Martin,

I just looked through the recording of the Flamborough Citrine Wagtail. I looked at the recording where eight calls can be heard and these calls are all rather low pitched. I compared the calls with some of my own recordings and after some measurements it seems that the Flamborough wagtail called more than 1 kHz lower compared with other recordings of Citrine Wagtail. The average maximum frequency of the Flamborough bird is 6.6 kHz, whereas I am used to see recordings of Citrine Wagtail with maximum frequencies well above 7.5 kHz.

When looking to sonogram structure, this looks OK for me for Citrine. The first ascending part with two very close parallel lines, the length of both legs roughly similar and for most of the eight calls in the recording the rather blunt-tipped ‘n’ shape. Note that the descending second part of the call looks rather solid and that the modulations are only proper visible at the maximum frequency, which also suits Citrine much better compared with an eastern yellow wagtail. The first and to a lesser extend also the fifth flight call looks a bit more pointed (like in Eastern Yellow Wagtail), but I have found some more flight calls of Citrine showing this feature and I think this is best explained by variation.

Although (very) low pitched, structure of the sonograms looks to me pretty good for Citrine Wagtail.

Dick Groenendijk

Citrine Wagtail sonagram 6th Nov 2014 2nd half

 

Have another listen to the call:

 

Citrine Wagtail. Calls of…

… the Flamborough Bird

And I still have some questions. So welcome to some exploring.

Fuller set of photos below (in this previous post). This morning I got one good series of calls recorded.  I found it a little odd. Certainly not western flava. Certainly raspy, but little (strangely) deep sounding. Was I just rusty? I mentioned this to my compatriots. You can listen to the Flamborough birds’ calls here:

Sonagrams (click on images for larger version)

Though some variation in sonogram shape, the steep ascending  first lines are very close together, no introductory dog-leg and overall shape with descending end of call of similar length to start. This creates a rough N shape typical of Citrine- most obvious in shape of 4th and 7th calls below. However…

The bulk of the call is a little lower pitched – around 6kHz rather than 7 kHz of the few Citrine recordings I have checked. Some of the sonograms are a little closer to Eastern taxa but may just be Citrine variation… I will ask folk who know more than me for some input.

These eight calls on the sonograms are the same eight calls you can hear in the recording above.

Citrine Wagtail sonagram 6th Nov 2014

.

Citrine Wagtail sonagram 6th Nov 2014 2nd half

and this is the bird again as photogrpahed by the birds’ finder:

First winter apparent Citrine Wagtail, South Landing, Flamborough 5th November 2014. Andrew Allport

First winter apparent Citrine Wagtail, South Landing, Flamborough 5th November 2014. Andrew Allport