Author Archives: Martin Garner

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Red-throated Thrush taxonomy

Identification and fascinating taxonomy

I will try to say this simply. I think we looked at some of Terry’s images before. Some may be new. They illustrate the issue. These are normally seen as 4 separate specs.

It would be a twitcher’s dream to se ALL FOUR SPECIES in Britain. They are East Asian megas! Well BOOM! I have seen 3 of the 4. I didn’t get for the Dusky Thrush. Hey.

Are they four separate specs? Birds showing the full set of characters seem ok? Sure. They might not be sure at all- indeed every time they might not be sure. That’s OK.

A bird that looks like a Dusky Thrush might be a Red-throated Thrush X Naumann’s with tad of Dusky.

Truth man. Truth.

Something amazing and complex goes on. Why? So they can survive.

What you see… is NOT what you get. how to go birding? Love it. Enjoy it. Hold it lightly.

What if Hooded Crows are entirely black in some areas and some Carion Crows are pied in plumage in others areas… but are still essentially Carrion Crows- adapting to survive.


Dark throated bbnnn (1 of 1) Dark throated bbnnn b (1 of 1) Dark throated bbnnn bn (1 of 1) Dark throated diff a (1 of 1)


and then … thsi type seems less common. A male with blackish feathers intersperssed in the red breast patch. Seemingly a visible indication of what is going on underneath. But bear in mind the bird above may be even less ‘pure’.

So ABOVE- pure looking

Below. not so PURE LOOKING

Dark throated hybird c (1 of 1) Dark throated hybird d (1 of 1) Dark throated hybird e (1 of 1) thrush 2 (1 of 1) thrush 3 (1 of 1) 2015-03-01 Red-throated x Black-throated intergrade adult male



if the is ‘Red-throated Thrush’ in this Naumann’s?

thrush 1 (1 of 1)


Naumann’s looking all wrong 🙂

Sooo – this one demonstrates some of the issues:


 I don’t know the details, but this bird seemed to have for a large part the DNA-signature of a Naumann’s Thrush.  Major point of discussion was that there was plenty of orangy/reddish going on in e.g. the wing and tail of this bird:


Hooded Wheatears in the UAE

Elusive and Enigmatic

Oscar Campbell


One of harder resident species to find in the UAE is Hooded Wheatear, arguably the king of a superbly evocative genus. Stunning good looks (male) or a subtle palette of plumage shades (female), stupidly long wings (leading directly to a habit of floating, Hoopoe-like, over the wadi walls whilst attempting to flycatch its next meal), an affinity for the most sweepingly vast of montane landscapes and, not least, a simultaneously frustrating and delightful will-o-the-wisp unpredictability (you just never know when – or if – you are about to bump into one) all add up to tremendous allure.


In the UAE, as seemingly across almost all its limited range from Sinai to southern Pakistan, the species is very local and uncommon. Most visitors, if they haven’t been lucky enough to see one on a previous trip to Israel, generally haven’t seen one anywhere. And often they won’t see one in the UAE either, for birds come and go erratically and temporarily reliable spots suddenly and abruptly go quiet for months or longer.

For that reason, whilst guiding three fortunate UK and South African birders on an insufferably humid and sweaty mid-September morning earlier this year, I was delighted to find a young male at the migrant hotspot of Wamm Farms, on the UAE’s east coast. This site is one of most birded in the country and has a superb track record for both vagrants and large numbers of common migrants. However, despite this, and despite the fact that it’s overlooked by the towering Hajar mountains (with several known – if not especially reliable – sites for the species within 30 or 40 km) this was the first ever record of Hooded Wheatear at the food-rich farm. The ‘normal for autumn’ regular and intensive coverage (well, ok, in the UAE this means a few birders each weekend…) failed to relocate the bird until, in mid-November, there I was again and so was he, in pretty much exactly the same spot, feeding from the sprinkler heads on the edge of a stony, barren field. As is typical for the species here in the UAE, when you do manage to locate one, views were stunning as Hooded Wheatears are often fearless and very approachable; this one was audibly snapping for insects at ranges down to 2 metres! Watching and digiscoping this sensational bird for over 30 minutes at point-blank range was easily the highlight of my morning, and, on a day that produced Pallid Harrier, Amur Falcon and seven species of pipits, that is saying quite something.


Movements of Hooded Wheatear are poorly understood, although appear to be very limited. Of 291 records in the UAE bird database between 1992 and 2014, just eight, totaling four individuals, have been recorded away from potential breeding locations.

Tellingly however, all these come from sites on the coastal lowlands of the Persian Gulf, 350km or more west of the nearest known breeding sites in the UAE. One individual over-wintered December to March and the other three were all logged between mid-February to early April. The mountains of southern Iran are barely any further away across the Gulf that UAE breeding sites and are very likely the point of origin for these coastal birds.

Mike Jennings’ wonderful and very readable tour-de-force, the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia, details older records from Das Island and Bahrain, supporting the contention of at least some movement south across the Gulf and the same book shows scattered records from Kuwait and the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, again likely referable to migrants and winterers.

Shirihai’s Birds of Israel notes limited movements, mainly for females and 1st calendar-years dispersing from breeding grounds in early autumn and the species has (rarely) reached Cyprus, Turkey and even Greece. Of course, none of this brings the origins of the Wamm bird beyond mere speculation, although records from Masirah Island, off the central Omani coast, show that the species may move a long way along the Gulf of Oman coastline as well.

It will be interesting to see if the Wamm individual remains for the winter although, not entirely atypically, on my last visit several days ago there was, of course, no sign of it!



Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes

Beautiful. And the New Taxonomies Beckon.

What do I mean? I have touched on this with some of these photos before. Talking with Terry again they reignited the issues.

Bottom line is Taxonomy- the way we ‘order’ or organise animal life so we can make sense of it. All very well if it comes reasonably close to what is really happening. But what if it is way off? Whats if our chosen approach- say phenotype- i.e. the way they look is just ridiculously way off.

So much so the birds are laughing. I don’t understand all the disciplines but some I have seen indicate

the birds are laughing

One such is this group… (and ticking in Britain is about the most unhelpful way to be lead in making taxonomic decisions. It just is.) I saw the Chingford Naumann’s. Awesome bird. Just loved it. Is it a different ‘tick’ from the recent Kent Dusky? Very likely NOT. BUT it IS different. And beautiful. And that will have to be enough. Classifying the differences- and similarities is well worth while.

Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes and intermediates. Or possibly all intermediates. All photos by Terry Townshend.


Dusky Thrush or near as

Dusky Thrush or near as

Dusky Thrush- seemingly...

Dusky Thrush- seemingly…

OK thi one is different. Orangeyness on back and rump mmmm that's more than Ducky.

OK thi one is different. Orangeyness on back and rump mmmm that’s more than Ducky.

adding Naumann’s pics shortly

Birds of Spurn Book UPDATE!!

NOW is the time

The next two days are the last two days of the pre-publication price. So good time to purchase now I guess…


As we approach the publication. Now is the time. The 2016 NEW YEAR will see this book as a must-buy.

The Birds of Spurn. A local Book but not! Because it is the log of a national and international site for migration. The obvious place for the first ever Migration Festival. the obvious site to partner with other international locations like Cape May and Falsterbo.

A0A2E3A8-DD39-A920-63D9-3A88FD779F50_the-birds-of-spurn-friends-of-spurn-price.galleryA place of phenomenal numbers.
A place of unexpected migration revelations
A place of remarkable remote beauty
A place (the best place?) for rare birds on Mainland Britain

You are invited to Come and be a part of the action

Go HERE to secure your copy.



12265740_1541351376155228_7183972828308432141_o 12265685_1541351159488583_5919808087284698277_o 12232884_1541350459488653_232749423817410315_o 4AC466AC-8EF9-B5FE-0DB3-7077EEA85F85


Andy Roadhouse shines

Bean Goose Spurn book (1 of 1)



Is it a British First?

Waxham, Norfolk mid-October 2015

Detected as a little more than interesting by Mark Grantham. There are several aspects about the plumage meriting discussion but they would not raise eyebrows apart from the SECONDARIES!

So rather than labour the point- read the chapter on Great Grey  Shrikes in the Challenge Series: WINTER and have a look at the wing on this bird.

The immediate questions for me are:

Is it some kind of British first?

Is it still in the area?


Great Grey Shrike a (1 of 1)

Great Grey Shrike b (1 of 1)


shrike3 shrike4 shrike12


The 15 year old and the Desert Warbler and the

Long-billed Dowitcher. 1979.

Excuse the glorious nostalgia. The two recent Desert Warblers have stirred the pot. Super tame dude in the Netherlands and super rare (first national record) in Norway have stirred the pot. How did my fascination with rare birds begin? My first ‘twitch’ I suppose was a White Stork (a BBRC rarity back then) in 1978 at Chirk, near Oswestry.

Then I found one! one of the most magic moments I have ever known. Well. A family asked me what this funny bird was. I looked though a telescope and quiet unbelievably there was bird… and somehow I knew what it was. I must have absorbed myself sufficiently in the bird book pages- including the ‘vagrants section’. I knew what it was  – a dowitcher- instinctively, immediately, I had a name for it…


Here, on my patch. Looking at an American wader whose image I had learnt from a book. An exotic name. From a far-flung land. I submitted a Dowitcher sp. and the powers said Long-billed.

That was 29th September 1979.

A few days later I was watching- a DESERT  WARBLER. 

A bird I had never heard of- from an even further flung land. I can’t remember exactly who was present, but Billy Morton was my constant sparing partner, Don Weedon, my RSPB man and Dougie Percival our YOC mentor. I was well catered for and we were off!

And so began the fascinating world of rare birds that had travelled enormous distances, with some kind of amazing story behind them. The wonder has never dimmed.



Desert Warbler, Meols, October 1979. The 4th British record by Tony Murphy

huge thanks Allan Conlin, Tony Murphy, Bill Morton, Don Weedon. Allan esp helped sourcing the old pic.

Don Weedon (1 of 1)

Me with Don Weedon, who seems to have hardly aged. My RSPB field officer in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. One of the highlights of this years Spurn Migration Festival was to have Don present. Bloomin’ marvelous!