Author Archives: Martin Garner

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littoralis Rock Pipits

The Blues

Roger Wyatt

…took these beautiful images at Farmoor Reservoir Oxford on 19th and 20th March 2013. They showcase the subtle blue tones appearing on the heads of these inland littoralis Rock Pipits. Presumably they wintered further south in Britain or France and were photographed moving NW though Britain as part of their Scandinavian-bound journey. Perhaps they staged near Flamborough?

These kind of blue and pink plumage tones will start to be revealed again in Britain in the next few weeks…. and is the lowest bird a littoralis or a petrosus?? Yes I guess. ;)

Thanks Roger!

bRock Pipit litoralis-2 2 bRock Pipit litoralis-3 Rock Pipit litoralisRock Pipit_-2


Moulting Daurian Shrike ID in Autumn

Older Females

Martin Garner and Andrew Lassey

Texel, Netherlands and Kent, UK. October 2014

Autumn 2014 brought a fine collection of ‘red-tailed shrikes’. Several more obvious first winter Daurians (isabellinus) headlined. A trickier looking first winter Turkestan (phoenicuroides) in Cornwall gave rise to lively debate. The Dutch trapped a stunning looking first winter Turkestan Shrike at Castricum that seemed to tick all the boxes. And there were more…

including this bird….

female 'red-tailed shrike' (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

female ‘red-tailed shrike’ (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

In the Challenges Series chapter on Daurian and Isabelline Shrike we covered the expected first winters and adults. Fresh plumaged  (fully moulted) adult female Daurian Shrikes have been well recorded in e.g. the UK in recent years. We know them, don’t we?

Head scratching

This Texel bird stepped outside familiar boxes. It’s a worn and moutling female, probably in its 2nd calendar year (so a year and ++ half old). Which makes things a little trickier. Indeed the presenting appearance of cold greyish tones above, white looking below, apparently contrasting dark mask quickly gave rise to speculation that it could be  an example of the rarer Turkestan- keen Dutch birders woke-up!

Have another look at these excellent photos thanks to Maurits and Charles Martens



Rumination and discussion followed. While not definitive, the balance of opinion lies with the Texel (and Kent) bird being a worn and moulting female Daurian (isabellineus). With very grateful thanks to Nils van Duivendijk, Andrew Lassey, Grahame Walbridge, Arend Wassink.

Moult and Migration timing

As this bird is worn and moutling, it is helpful to look further at movement. Oscar Campbell updated understandings of Isabelline and Daurian Shrike movements in the U.A.E. as follows:

The status of Isabelline Shrike taxa in the United Arab Emirates by Oscar Campbell

“My data show that there is a clear distinction between phoenicuroides and isabellinus in terms of their occurrence in the UAE. The former [Turkestan- phoenicuroides] is almost exclusively a passage migrant, mainly between mid September and mid October, and again from early March until early May, with stragglers until mid May or even later.

Although not recorded by me, very small numbers of phoenicuroides are seen in the UAE in August, at least in some years, and mainly in the last week of the month (average of 3.6 bird-days each August, during 2007–11 in the country as a whole; T. Pedersen pers. comm.).

In contrast, [Daurian- ] isabellinus is generally present only from October to March, with very few records outside this period (and in August, only three bird-days in total in the five years 2007–11). It is often widespread in favoured habitats (fodder fields, desert edge and urban parks) throughout the winter, with many individuals departing by mid February and replaced by a strong wave of passage migrants that peaks in the first half of March.”

British Birds 105 • July 2012 • 417–42

In contrast to some literature (but not all), the considerable experience of A.W. and Nils van D. is that (on average, with overlap?) Daurian moult later than Turkestan. Thus:

Turkestan Shrike often complete moult before the autumn.

Daurian Shrike similarly complete or not complete before the autumn.

This maybe reflect the (much later) breeding season of Daurian and could also correspond with Oscar Campbell’s observation of movement and  through the U.A.E.


Andrew Lassey who has loads of experience with the Red-tailed Shrikes (and an understanding of ‘photo-artefacts’) brough as apposite comment on the images of the Texel bird:

“Hi Martin,

Thank you for letting me see the series of images.

Though many females and even more 1st winter ‘Red-tails’ can be a problem I eventually came to the opinion that this bird is not too bad. Initially I thought I was seeing mixed features but finally came to the view that everything points to Daurian. I believe the opinion is that the bird is a 2nd CY female and that seems reasonable. Looking at a few features I would comment as follows:

Tail – largely brown which is typical of most females, however the base of the tail and upper tail coverts are more cinnamon than red and this is consistent with most Daurian.

Supercilium – hardly present, Turkestan usually has a good whitish super, whereas Daurian is less well marked (buffish), this feature (or lack of) supports Daurian.

Crown – some images show a slight rufous or brownish tinge which might be seen as a Turkestan feature, it is however not unusual for Daurians to show this.

Mask – several images show it to be fairly prominent though it does look fairly slim and I believe the shape (lack of downturn and flairing at the rear) to be more typical of Daurian but not necessarily
ruling out Turkestan.

Upper parts – look pretty well fine for Daurian.

Underparts – Initially puzzled by the whitish appearance on most of the images which would be odd for Daurian and more typical of Turkestan. I wonder if the underparts in reality were less strikingly white and the crescent markings to be rufous/orange (or whatever) which supports Daurian as apposed to the colder brown of Turkestan.

I can see no signs of any Red-back features though most female hybrids are near impossible to tell from the genuine article. Intergrades between Daurian and Turkestan do occur but they are so rare as to hardly be an issue in extralimital birds.

Not the easiest individual but several features strongly suggest Daurian and I can’t find much to positively support Turkestan!

All the best, Andrew”

and then it went to Worth, Kent

A week late (16th October) Steve Ashton got some lovely close-ups. See Steve Ashton’s website- lots of smart photos! It’s the same bird.

It’s a sunny day- so beware! On plumage it starts to look warmer. The crescents aren’t so blackish, the forehead scales help ageing (more 2cy than adult) , the underparts are not really pure white and the white supercilium is un-white-  not striking as on easy Turkestan. There’s  a bit too much buffishness wash going on in cheeks and underparts… maybe (while heavily emphasising the great struggle of interpreting photos! Have a look:




and if you are following :)

Some of the others from autumn 2014

Turkestan Shrike –  apparent 1cy at Castricum, Netherlands in November

Turkestan Shrike-  apparent 1cy at Pendeen, Cornwall in November

Daurian Shrike- 1cy at Spurn, East Yorkshire in October

and this very interesting one found by John Edwards was on Mallorca on 30th October. It’s a an interesting looking one… More discoveries ahead!

lanius 1




Scandinavian Rock Pipits

The annual staging

Once again a gathering of Rock Pipits is feeding near North Landing at Flamborough on the cliff-top facing due northeast. Here they feed often in the teeth of the icy blasts. It feels like a specific pre-migratio  gathering. Sometime in the next few days/weeks back to Scandinavia, in some case all the way up tothe Arctic?

I have seen at least 2 birds. However some or all of 10-15 could be littoralis. They don’t all flush an identifiable spring plumage, but hopefully more fine moments to come.

Two Rock Pipits- both may be littoralis but the left hand bird is recognisably so.

Two Rock Pipits- both may be littoralis but the left hand bird is recognisably so.

littoralis Rock Pipit

littoralis Rock Pipit

Rock Pipits of both nominate petrosus and littoralis are supposed to normally have grey on outer tail father tips versus white in Water Pipit. However littoralis do seem to quite regularly show more obviously white here...

Rock Pipits of both nominate petrosus and littoralis are supposed to normally have grey on outer tail father tips versus white in Water Pipit. However littoralis do seem to quite regularly show more obviously white here…


and this is a littoralis in Varanger in mid- April, on its breeding grounds

and this is a littoralis in Varanger in mid- April, on its breeding grounds


Meanwhile the Big Birds bring daily highlights too…

Greenland w front 23 feb 2015

Peregrine mg

You’re Invited! Flamborough Bird Observatory

My Personal Invitation to You

(from Martin Garner)

Saturday, 7th March 2015.


Flamborough AGM 2014 poste

“I don’t normally do this, but feelin’ the need to say…”

We are Celebrating!

There’s a special buzz here right now. A bunch of ordinary people  with extra-ordinary vision for working together. On a personal note Sharon and I have found such a warm welcome and genuine open community here. Our family has hugely benefitted from those involved in the well-known organisations locally, like the YWT Living Seas Centre,  the staff at RSPB Bempton, the Yorkshire Coast Nature team, the Thornwick Vision with Green Future Buildings…. sheesh I am easily gonna forget someone.

I want to honour these people and celebrate some great progress this last 12 months. There are also some very juicy looking plans for the future.

So to help do this I am showcasing a whole bunch of new material of bird ID, vagrancy and what might turn up next all part of forthcoming ‘Challenge Series’ books.

So I invite you personally to come along and be part of the party…

Main evening gig start at 7:00pm prompt.

The Observatory AGM starts at 4:30 pm followed by a pre-booked Supper from 6:00pm. Come along to whatever you fancy! Just contact Chrys Mellor for more info (as per poster).


Carrot-billed Eider off Newfoundland


Newfoundland’s Bruce Mcatavish emailed a rushed set of news and photos- check out this bad boy! See Bruce’s post HERE.


A remarkabley bright orange-billed drake Eider. Thoughts instantly turn to the possibility of it being Newfoundland’s second record of Pacific Eider v-nigrum. Is that what it is?


We don’t think this is a  v-nigrum. At first glance it’s inspired but appears to completely lack a bunch of key characters.

Specifically v-nigrum should have deep curvature to base f black cap- horizontal on this bird with forehead bump- very typical of borealis. There is not enough green under black cap (under there seems tad more than most of borealis around it). I don’t think the basal lobes feathering intruding into bill base are big and fat enough. The bare skin frontal process should be short-looking for v nigrum

So what is it?

Either an extreme coloured borealis (not impossible) or that all-in v-nigrum from a few years back got cheeky with the locals?


 Palmer’s words.

The Handbook of North American Birds:

Referring to the Davis Straights/W &SW Greenland and southerly East coast… between Greenland and Canada...both typical and atypical v-nigra have been taken (not breeding) including measurements in Schioler (1926). Schioler indicated they occur there every winter…

J.C .Phillips (1926) thought them merely individual variants (of borealis) and not true Pacific Eiders.

So… the answer is?


ANNOUNCING! Saturday 7th March at Flamborough

Next instalments in the ‘Challenge Series’


Just like today’s goose flock at Flamborough- there will be added value :)

4 taxa together on view today... Russian White- front, Pink-footed Goose, Greenland White-front and Greylag Goose.

4 taxa together on view today… Russian White- front, Pink-footed Goose, Greenland White-front and Greylag Goose.


………………Flamborough Bird Observatory present!fbo logo 

……………………A evening talk by Martin Garner

What’s Next!…

…in Yorkshire, this spring and in the next Challenge Series books.

When: Saturday 7th March 2015, 7:00 pm prompt

Where: Flamborough Head Golf Course, Lighthouse Road, Flamborough, YO15 1AR.


Part of the Observatory’s AGM

The evening is as part of the Observatory’s AGM. Open to all from 4:30 pm

4:30 FBO AGM

6:00pm pm pre-booked supper

More info on AGM and supper contact Chrys Mellor. email: chrys.mellor’at’