Category Archives: 14) Swifts, Swallows, Martins

Pallid and Common Swifts – juveniles (mostly)

Miracles of Migration

A Pallid Swift at Flamborough on Saturday (31st Oct)  was an amazing treat as it flew over and above my garden.

As often the identification began as a wrestle for observers. Just seeing a swift sp. well enough. The WHAT FEATURES to look for? I think the head and it’s plumage can be a very quick route to identification.

I got some nice pics of JUVENILE COMMON Swifts in late August. The PALLID SWIFT was a juvenile. So a little comparison is possible:

For me the striking isolated white throat of juvenile Common, dark behind eye is the quick giveaway so often. This is a hurried post but hopefully the pics are informative.

Pallid and Common Swift ID was covered in Challenge Series: AUTUMN. So I included a couple of Ray’s Sally’s illustrations which shows the features so well…

Juvenile Common Swifts:

The neatly demarcated white pattern on the throat and forehead is often a giveaway with dark behind the eye.

Common Swift 2 (1 of 1)Common Swift (1 of 1)

Juvenile Common Swift, part of the illustration by Ray Scally

Juvenile Common Swift, part of the illustration by Ray Scally

Love Ray Scally’s illustrations.

One of the most difficult subjects is getting across what is going on in the plumage of juvenile Swifts. This from the Challenge Series: AUTUMNjuv Swift 1 (1 of 1)


Juvenile Pallid Swifts:

Here on the Flamborough bird, Craig’s photos show a diffuse pattern of pale on the throat and there is obvious dark behind the eye- besides in this case the whole bird looking more brownish. The pale fringing is more creamy and evenly distributed and the primaries and secondaries contrast nicely with the slightly paler coverts. Can you see it ? 🙂 On juvenile Common pale fringing on juveniles is more concentrated on the outer coverts and more strikingly black and white. (see below).

Pallid Swift 1 CT 1 (1 of 1)Pallid Swift 1 CT 2 (1 of 1)


Palllid Swift 1 (1 of 1)



Ray Scally’s illustrating again showing the more even pale creamy fringing over the wing coverts. He done a good job!




Some Adult Swifts

Adult Common Swift in late August by MG

Common Swift in late August by MG – this may be an adult on head pattern- hard to be sure

Pallid Swift by Miki Vigiano

Adult Pallid Swift  in November by Miki Vigiano. This bird is showing moult limit in the secondaries


Pale fringing on juveniles.

Here’s the pale fringing thing on upperparts of juveniles again:

On juvenile Pallid Swift…

Pallid Swift 1 CT 1 (1 of 1)


On juvenile Common Swift (could be better pic!)

juvenile Swift 3 (1 of 1)


Pallid Swift at Flamborough

What happened then!

Today. 31st October 2015. That was some morning. Brett R and Andy M. kicked off with  a very early swift sp. from the fog station at Flamborough. Finally as you can see it resolved. Craig T and John B around and the blooming thing resolved right in front of us!

Awesome. I need a sleep after that.

Super captures by Craig Thomas. More on the days events on the Flamborough Bird Obs. website later. Don’t’ miss it!





Eastern Subalpine Warbler ID

But it’s about way more than that!

Genuinely. It’s hard to contain the sheer enjoyment I get every day right now. Because every day there is migration magic. And behind so many species are extra-ordinary stories of avian derring-do.

Yesterday alone. Yes we had a good bird. A ‘Birding Frontiers’ kind of bird in a hedge that runs away from the end of my garden (though too far for a garden tick!) at Flamborough. But there was much more to yesterday.

Juvenile Swifts – Migration Magic

It was the Swifts. Magic views of juvenile Common Swifts yesterday. Unless there has been an upsurge that I missed these are seemingly very rarely photographed in this plumage. Can someone put me right?

Here a few snaps from yesterday. It’s an ID challenge covered in here but more these little waifs won’t land again for 2-3 years. They will travel from here, probably to Spain, down west Africa and perhaps across to Mozambique. Then back again to fly past Spurn next summer. 🙂 #migrationmagic

Common Swift 6 (1 of 1)

On the seawatch – Migration Magic

In the morning yesterday I saw my ALL TIME BEST bird: Sooty Shearwaters. More than one. Gliding past from their breeding home – an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean- bonkers! Viewed just down the road from my little house in East Yorkshire. Never mind the Pomarine and Arctic Skuas from the Arctic,  Balearic Shearwaters from the Mediterranean and Waders and Wildfowl, some of which are coming 1000’s of miles from Siberian breeding grounds.

Little Stint – Migration Magic

Like this juvenile Little Stint hatched form an egg on some permafrost in central Siberia and feeding on little invertebrates on a pond at… Buckton. Buckton (near where domestically I picked my daughter up from her train yesterday evening) ! I got thrilling alone time with another stunning, intricately pattern wee shorebird with a migration narrative that defied human logic. This one was a couple of days ago- but needed slipping in!

little stint 9small juv 27aug (1 of 1)


Wood Warbler and friends – Migration Magic

Back on the land little ‘songbirds’ which had crossed the North Sea- crossed the north sea? Have you seen how big … err. how small they are? Redstarts, Willow Warblers, a Wood Warbler….

wood warbler three (1 of 1)


Eastern Subalpine Warbler – Migration (and rare bird) Magic

Then the ‘what the heck are you doing here’ surprise.

That was a fun garbled message and discussion with Phil C. What a star. Didn’t he do well in a spot we don’t really look hard at.

So why is it an Eastern (thinks me)? We haven’t  heard a call (at least not yet) or recorded any outer tail feather patterns. But, it’s an adult male. It’s already got a rather intense deep blue head more so than you get on Moltoni’s and Western (subtle) in autumn. Critically the underparts at first look are rather white, even silvery, the there is a subtle wash comes into view on the upper breast, weak, hard to make the colour. But stuck right in the middle of the throat and chin is a deep vinaceous-brick spoldge. It’s a dark Eastern Subalpine coloured patch. 🙂  Exactly the kind of colour and distribution of that colour you might expect for an ‘Eastern’. Then (perhaps less should be read into it) but them thar Easterns – even if the colour doesn’t but up to the white malars- so often have big broad long white malars that stand out in the head pattern- just like this one. So the sum of some bits are all very Easternish…

ad male Eastern Subalpine Warbler 900 (1 of 1)


Which is all by way of saying – birds and migration are amazing! These are a little handful of the kinds of things I ruminate on every day. and it thrills me.

I will be spending from Friday to Sunday at Spurn. At  the Third Migration Festival. Loving it!

Give Something Back:

Those three words encapsulate the Spurn Migration Festival. Andy Roadhouse and I conceived the idea several years ago we wanted to give something back. Guiding folk around Spurn we became aware that what had become familiar to us was a huge wow to our visitors. Indeed it was magical- almost like a kind of ‘best kept secret’ in British Birding. So the question was how to share the wonder of Spurn, it’s birds, its wildlife and the extra dimension of phenomenally accessible, very visible migration. As we approach the third festival we do so with great expectations!

Day Trip the Migration Festival

We have similar number of folk to last year booked for the whole weekend. It looks likes plenty are planning to ‘Day Trip’. Highly recommended! Two organisations have done a great job at putting together an overview of th festival with details; Please follow the links (with big thanks):


go >>> HERE <<<

Rare Bird Alert

go >>> HERE <<< 



Dusky House Martins

another hirundine tale


“Terry Townshend: So, in summary, the combination of a smallish white rump (sometimes flecked), dark underwing coverts, ‘dirty’ underparts contrasting with a clean white throat, a shorter, squarer tail and a darker ‘face’ are all characteristics associated with Asian House Martin. Maybe one will turn up at your migration watchpoint this autumn…?”

The possibility of rarer taxa always get the juices flowing. I am not aware of a full credible record yet of the Asian House Martin (Delichon dasypus) in the Western Palearctic. There have been a few claims. We have featured the subject before as in Terry Townshend’s post HERE.

The thing is (and I am in this group) knowing what some juvenile House Martin’s could look like has been largely ignored for many birders. As we approach the Spurn Migration Festival– House Martin is another species we will certainly see migrating south. Watching, studying and talking about! Migrating to winter in areas of sub-Saharan Africa that have remained a mystery for most of my 40 years in birding. Just beginning to be revealed. Amazing!

Spurn and House Martins in Autumn

Andy Roadhouse (from his new book out later this year ‘The Birds of Spurn’.)

“Passage ranges from mid-August to mid-November, with the latest record on 28th November 1991. Peak passage is from early September to early October. A total of 316,544 flew south in the autumns between between 1952 and 2014 (313,026 since 1965) and the best autumns are 1989 (27,373), 2003 (18,264), 1980 (16,719), 2000 (14,417), and 2011 (14,011). 313, 026   3518

The highest day count was on the same day as the highest count for Swallows — 3rd September 2003 — when a minimum of 15,000 flew south. Other high counts include 12,550 on 22nd September 1989, 8000 on 12th September 2000, 7525 on 24th September 1980, 7000 on 8th September 2009, and 6000 on 16th September 1983.

Them funny darker House Martins

Yoav Perlman who will be bringing, no doubt and absolutely fascinating Saturday evening lecture at the Migration Festival, sent these photos of a House Martin whose plumage is a little less familiar:

This first winter bird below was ringed at Ngulia, E Kenya, in December 2008
Similar looking birds are seen in Israel in autumn. Check it out!

House Martin Ngulia 1208 YP profile House Martin Ngulia 1208 YP upper

House Martin Ngulia 1208 YP under


At Flamborough in late October

and to compare…  I photographed this first winter House Martin, showing more typical upper and underparts, at Flamborough, outside what is now our home, on 30th October 2013.

Asan House Martin would be sooooo easy to overlook. Discerning the tell-tale more blackish underwing coverts of Asian dasypus can be extremely difficult in the field. The biggest stumbling block is that European bird flying above you have the underwing coverts mostly in shadow and they look (and photograph) blackish. I am pretty sure Andrea Corso and I have chatted about this- I look forward to his big hello!

All photos below, 1st winter House Martin, Flamborough, 30th October, 2013, Check out appearance of underwings and quite extensive dark marks on flanks.

juvenile House Martin c Flamborough 30.10.13 juv i House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1) juv j House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1) and finally the underwing coverts revealed:juv f House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)

still really well marked flanks

juv c House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1) juv d House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)

and managed just one shot from above

juv h House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)


Enjoy your hirundines and don’t miss out! Sign up for the field birding event of the year

Spurn Migration Festival– booking right here honey:  Click HERE

juv b House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)

eilata Sand Martins

The Little, Rare Ones

by Martin G.

There are…

two themes running through some present posts.  The glorious Spurn Migration Festival (YES – I really want you to be there– (there is such high praise for the enjoyment so many folk get out of the migfest weekend). The second theme is on the Saturday evening talk at the Festival. Delivered by the hugely respected, and mega keen Yoav Perlman, it will be sure to open some eyes and be full of WOW factors.

One subject I have explored with Yoav are some of the curious and bewildering hirundines which pass, on migration, through Israel. It’s timely because….  when you visit Spurn, early September is the peak time for hirundine migration– Swallows and Martins.

Spurn and Sand Martins

As a warm-up here’s some stats from the (soon to be published) ‘The Birds of Spurn’ by Andy Roadhouse.

“Sand Martins generally have two broods, and this is shown with the autumn passage at Spurn. Two ‘waves’ of passage occur, the first from late June to early August and the second from late August to mid-September. In the earlier days of the Observatory the first wave would have largely gone unrecorded due to the lack of observers in the summer months. The highest counts in the first wave are 2800 on 5th August 1984, 2000 on 17th July 1999 and 15th July 2008. There is one exceptional count of 12,000 on 22nd August 1996, otherwise high counts in the second wave are 3000 on 28th August 2000, 2500 on 3rd September 2003 and 2000 on 20th August 1996.”

Our Sand Martins (nominate riparia)

You’ll see Sand Martins migrating at the festival- For sure! Here a couple of nominate Sand Martins trapped and ringed at Spurn (by Adam Hutt). Before rushing forward to the enigmatic eilata, check out the throat, breast band and overall head pattern of our Sand Martins. This is one has a tiny bit of streakiness on the throat sides.

sand martin spurn aah 1 (1 of 1) sand martin spurn aah 2 (1 of 1)


Enigmatic eilata – ‘Little’ Sand Martins in SPRING

The ringing station at Eilat provides one of the most thrilling migration encounters in the world. Hidden away under the wonderful colour and variety of bird species passing through the area is a ‘little brown job’. Trapping hirundines coming into roost in the evening proved the best opportunity of seeing an ‘eilata’ Sand Martin. The taxon was first recorded by Hadoram Shirihai and written up in Shirihai & Colston, (1992). (Though I don’t think diluta ‘Pale Martin’ passes through Israel as suggested in the article- just part of the learning).

I was fortunate with a little effort to see several individuals of eilata in early spring 2012.

eilata Sand Martin. Tiny with many nominate birds in the catch. Wing of 94 mm. This adult has more limited throat spotting than some.

eilata Sand Martin. Tiny with many nominate birds in the catch. Wing of 94 mm. This adult has more limited throat spotting than some.


They are tiny! Compared with nominate riparia Sand Martins they are slightly colder and paler brown with a much shorter wing length (over 100mm in nominate riparia). The eilata featured here had a wing length of 94mm. Other features included feathered tarsi and slightly more contrastingly dark lores: ‘sunglasses’.

Curiously neither the breeding nor wintering areas are known, nevertheless they represent up to 5% of the Sand Martins passing through Israel in spring.

Enigmatic eilata- ‘Little’ Sand Martins – in summer

This spring Francis Argyle was ringing Sand Martins in the Hula Valley. He trapped several ‘tiny Sand Martins’. A very small percentage among nearly 2000 nominate riparia. They were in juvenile plumage (age 3 for ringers). Francis writes:

“This spring, 20th March to 24th May, I have ringed 1990 Sand Martins. I ring in 4-day sessions of which three per month.7th to 10th May,  893 Sand Martins ringed of which only 1 tiny age 3 bird. 21st to 24th May just 1 tiny out of 379. 2nd to 5th July only 4 Sand Martins caught and all 4 were small age 3 birds although one had a wing length 105mm.

cheers, Francis”

These juveniles have much more patterning over the throat, sometimes looking more like a Brown-throated Martin (paludicola). From the very small sample of apparent juvenile eilata most of them had fringes to wing coverts closer to ‘silvery’ than ‘gingery-buff’. On passage birds at Spurn, gingery -buff os the normal type of juveniles with just occasional silvery ones. We blogged about there >>>HERE<<<.

Here’s what the apparent juvenile eilata look like. All photos by Francis Argyle.

juvenile Sand Martin eilata N. Israel, May 2015 F.SAM_2423SAM_2428SAM_2431SAM_2171SAM_2425SAM_2205



Francis collected a couple of feathers and with help from Yoav and the Prof (Martin Collinson) a very preliminary look said these were pretty bloomin’ well closely related to other Sand Martins. There are still plenty of questions though…

Martin Collinson:

“I have some preliminary results on the small Riparia riparia feather from Hula Valley, 20/5/15 (X264997). I put it through with a batch of cytb sequencing – there is only 1 cytb sequence for this species in GenBank – a bird collected in S Africa and therefore of unknown subspecies. Your bird is 99.4% identical to that one, i.e. very closely related.

Looking in the literature, although eilata has not been sequenced, COI and ND2 data suggest very little genetic differentiation (0.6%) between Sand Martins across the range, in US/Canada, Europe, through to East Asia, suggesting gene flow until very recently, and your bird fits with that general pattern.

Best wishes

Martin C.”

Really , really hope to see you at the Migration Festival. You won’t regret it!

……………………….To book go >>>HERE<<<


Spurn Migration Festival one

Swallows and Enigmas

Where Migration is Defined

I am always drawn back to my first birding love. The Swallow. I have written about this before, but the (Barn) Swallow is, above all others, THE species which hooked me as a 10/11 year old into the magic world of birds.

So as we approach the 3rd Migration Festival at Spurn, the Swallow will once again take centre stage. The Festival is on 3rd-5th September and early September is THE peak time for swallow migration there. I hope we get a big one! I have been there for a 20,000 bird morning and the spectacle is simply breath-taking. I would personally love you to be there to encounter such wonders. Info on booking HERE.

Swallows will also get a mention in the talks. I am especially looking forward to Yoav Perlman’s talk on the Saturday evening at the Migration festival on ‘Where Migration is Defined‘. Featuring the Arava Valley, Israel and the Middle East which is a place of spectacular migration.

There are enigmas too.

I think of the four commoner hirundines, each one has its own intriguing, sometimes shadowy plumage type/ subspecies which passes through the Middle East and especially Israel. They are mysteries! I bet we can draw Yoav out to talk more about them. 🙂

Ice-white Swallows with no breast bands.

I saw a few of these in the Nizzana region. There lots of comparison. Tons of nominate Swallows, tons of orange-bodied semi-resident ‘transitiva’ Barn Swallows. Then there are these things with icy-white plumage below and strangely weak breast band- like one of the SE Asian taxa of Swallow. ?$%£?

Yoav has seen similar birds in east Africa. What are they?

Barn Swallow Nitzana, Israel 11th Nov 2013Barn Swallow 2 Nitzana, Israel 11th Nov 2013Above. First winter Ice-white Swallows with reduced blue breast bands. November 2013. Nizzana, Israel. Martin Garner.

To follow:

Sand Martins. Normal ones and the ‘Little’ Sand Martin that can almost look like a brown-throated Martin.

House Martins. Normal ones and the dusky Asian House Martin scares.

Red-rumped Swallows. Do super streaky ones pass through as well as the regular type?


Book for migfest while your planning your start to autumn 🙂

Be great to see you there. More info/ booking etc. HERE.




Spurn, Swallows and Spectacles beyond imagining

Come on, Enter in.

Martin Garner

I am musing about Swallows. And Spurn. And the 2015 Migration Festival. I am going to blog about Swallows at Spurn. About amazing days with huge numbers flying south past the Warren at Spurn. About entering in to the story of the Swallow and how it can be utterly captivating.

About Red-rumped Swallows I have also seen, at Spurn in early September. And about strange Barn Swallows in the Middle East which is also the home our one of our special guests this year.

For now- a little of what is going on. Come on- Enter in. To a world of wonder and discovery.


140707 Spurn Mig_ eventsposter_A4