Category Archives: 10) Auks, Sandgrouse, Pigeons

Candidate mandtii Black Guillemot in Lincolnshire, UK

By Yoav Perlman

mandtii Black Guillemot featured on Birding Frontiers in the past – see here and here. It also featured in Martin’s Challenge Series – Winter book. While to my understanding previous claims (e.g. East Yorkshire 2013Cumbria 2013 and maybe a couple more) were abnormal arcticus rather than mandtii, this recent bird found by the sharp Dave Roberts on December 7th off Cut End in Lincolnshire does tick all the boxes and is a strong candidate to become a first for Britain.

Just a quick taxonomic reminder: Black Guillemots can be divided into two distinct groups – High Arctic (mandtii, from Arctic E N America across the arctic rim via Svalbrad to NE Siberia and Alaska) and Low Arctic (arcticus N America and W Europe, islandicus Iceland, faeroeensis Faroes and grylle Baltic). As far as I know nobody has any current plans to split them, though some years ago AOU treated them as separate species for a while. However, I find this a sexy taxon, that brings to mind eiders, Ivory Gulls and other stuff Martin loved to study. I should go and see it…

These are the first images I saw of the bird, by Graham Catley on December 9th. HUGE crops, taken in adverse light and weather conditions, they give the feel of a ‘proper’ birding experience!

First photo – on the water. Striking white appearance! Head is almost all white with just a little bit of dark feathering in the top crown. Very white mantle and rump too. The big white wing patch is completely white as well, with no dark coverts.

madtii Black guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th december 2017. photo by Graham Cately

mandtii Black Guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th December 2017. Photo by Graham Catley

Then it took off – and revealed the diagnostic wing pattern. First the underwing. Limited black on remiges (primaries and secondaries) – arcticus tends to have all black remiges.

madtii Black Guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th December 2017. photo by Graham Catley

mandtii Black Guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th December 2017. Photo by Graham Catley

Upperwing pattern, already visible in these difficult shots, ends the discussion IMO. The white primary coverts are diagnostic for mandtii. Some mandtii have white bases to primaries too, in a pattern resembling skua underwing, but not all. The pattern shown by the Lincolnshire bird, creating a ‘pointed’ wing patch rather than oval, is similar to Svalbrad birds from Dan Brown’s post.

madtii Black Guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th December 2017. photo by Graham Catley

mandtii Black Guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th December 2017. Photo by Graham Catley

madtii Black Guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th December 2017. photo by Graham Catley

mandtii Black Guillemot, Lincolnshire, 9th December 2017. photo by Graham Catley

Next day, Steve Gantlett got better photos of the bird – still heavy crops in bad light conditions, but the features mentioned above become very clear in these pics. Snow white! Just a small greyish cap:

mandtii Black Guillemot, Cut End, Lincolnshire, 10 December 2017. photo by Steve Gantlett

mandtii Black Guillemot, Cut End, Lincolnshire, 10 December 2017. Photo by Steve Gantlett

White median primary coverts are diagnostic. Interestingly, in these photos delicate pale primary bases can be seen:

mandtii Black Guillemot, Cut End, Lincolnshire, 10 December 2017. Photo by Steve Gantlett

mandtii Black Guillemot, Cut End, Lincolnshire, 10 December 2017. Photo by Steve Gantlett

White bases to primaries and secondaries, extending the white part of the underwing, are beautifully pictured here. Again, hint of white primary bases in rear wing:

mandtii Black Guillemot, Cut End, Lincolnshire, 10 December 2017. Photo by Steve Gantlett

mandtii Black Guillemot, Cut End, Lincolnshire, 10 December 2017. Photo by Steve Gantlett

For reference, here is the plate from Challenge Series – Winter. Sorry about the lousy scan. Drawings by Ray Scally.

New Doc 2017-12-11

Oh, how Martin would have loved this.

Many thanks to Graham and Steve for allowing me to use their great photos here.

Mandt’s Guillemot in the Netherlands


Martin Garner

A first summer Mandt’s Guillemot was found in the Netherlands two days ago. The subject of one of the chapters in the next Challenge Series, due out in a couple of months, the timing of its appearance couldn’t be better!

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

A Great Find

Tom van der Have emailed over the weekend to point out a summer plumaged Black Guillemot which had been found by Roger Pynaerts at Kamperland – Jacobahaven on the southern Dutch coast (east of Essex and Kent). The bird seems only to have ben present on Saturday 27th June and not yet seen since. Tom was quick to note it showed characters of mandtii

Corstiaan Beeke and Pim Wolf got lovely photos, demonstrating beyond doubt this was indeed no ordinary Black Guillemot. In fact it’s a first summer Mandt’s Guillemot from the High Arctic.

It’s already in the next Challenge Series: WINTER

We have looked into this subject on Birding Frontiers with this excellent piece from Dan Brown. In preparing the next Challenge series book on ‘Winter’, it seemed an obvious chapter to include. Having gone into the subject in-depth it’s fantastic to have a Mandt’s appear in the southern North Sea up just  couple of months before publication. We guessed they should occur- then one shows up with immaculate timing:). This bird widely touted as mandtii on Talkin Tarn, Cumbria in December 2013, unfortunately appears from the photos to be a paler than average southern bird. In the pictures it lacks critical features of mandtii. I have seen similarly pale birds in Shetland. So Britain awaits its first…

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

Full Species?

It seems worth commenting that originally Mandt’s Guillemot was consider a full species including by the normally conservative American Ornithologists Union. Its morphology stands in contrast to the southern taxa which vary little, all being very similar. Indeed despite some purported differences among southern taxa, I found none which were robust. One could almost simply have two ‘Black Guillemot’ taxa- the souther ‘grylle’ type and High Arctic mandtii.

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Corstiaan Beeke

Key Features – a section from the new book

To explain why this is a Mandt’s Guillemot- here’s a sneak preview, just for you, from the new book in the Challenge Series: You’ll have to wait though for Ray Scally’s excellent illustrations and some lovely photos 🙂

Key features all plumages


  1.  In southern taxa, primaries largely dark contrasting with white underwing coverts. Some have short white ’bleed’ visible at the base of the primaries. On mandtii white covers about half of the underside of the primaries, slightly less so on birds from Alaska. Secondaries similarly white-based (black in southern taxa) with white visible beyond underwing coverts.Outer upperwing
  2. White patterning in primary coverts is diagnostic for mandtii with greatest extent found in 1cy-2cy. White, to varying degrees on the median and greater primary coverts produces bars across these coverts. In adults the outer primary coverts are typically black but inner primary coverts are white, frequently on inner webs or outer webs or both. In some (adults) white is restricted to innermost median primary coverts and forms just small ‘bud’ of white pushing across into the median primary coverts. In others (and especially first-winters) there are one or two broad conspicuous white bars across the primary coverts almost to leading edge of wing.
  3.  White tipped secondaries (diagnostic formandtii) obvious in1cy-2cy birds and present to varying degree in adultsInner upperwing
  4. Pattern of white patch over secondary coverts (the big white oval) similar in mandtii to southern taxa except that feathers more often wholly white (or almost so) in mandtii, versus being black- based in southern taxa. Black bases are sometimes visible as a dark ‘wingbar’ across white oval patch in adults. Thought to be a feature of islandicus, it is found in other southern taxa also.
  5.  In 1cy-2cy mandtii the black spotting on white upperwing patch is generally smaller than in southern taxa
2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

In the UK anytime now?

With a fly-by Black Guillemot off Portland last week and a bird which I saw off South Landing, Flamborough also last week (frustratingly distant) – we really need to be on full alert in the UK for this this taxon 🙂

Hope you enjoyed the read… Now to get back to polishing off this flippin book!

2cy Mandt's Guillemot by Pim Wolf.

2cy Mandt’s Guillemot by Pim Wolf.



The Arctic comes to my Garden

Snow Bunting and Little Auk

A Thursday evening (23rd Oct.) walk out with Ebony, our collie cross bought me lovely views of these two birds. I wasn’t expecting to see much and came back a very happy chappy. It got me reflecting on my love of the arctic. I can’t go there all the time so sometimes the bird from there come to me. I know- not quite in my garden- but close enough.

Snow Bunting

This is an  individual of the nominate form nivalis quickly recognized by the obvious paler greyish mantle area contrasting with darker browner scapulars. Appears to be a first winter male. We get two taxa each winter in Britain. The nominate form as here is considered to be the less common of the two according to information from ringing and birds assigned to subspecies in the hand. They could come from Scandinavia, Svalbard or Greenland.

Then there is the darker taxon insulae from Iceland. Identifying Snow Bunting to their correct age, sex and race can be both challenging and rewarding. Behind each birds lies a fascinating narrative from a species that can survive and thrive in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Taxonomy of Snow Buntings and MacKay’s Bunting of Beringia is a fascinating subject with the Siberian vlasowae of disputed range and validity. I don’t really mind. Birds with that Siberian characters look amazing whatever! I did an old post HERE and there is a paper HERE  (though he used the darkest possible Snow Buntings  specimens to make his point.) Hmm..

For ageing and sexing on this one amount of white in wing, pattern of underwings, white in primary coverts, shape and pattern of tail feathers.


Snow Bunting 6 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 7 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 1 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 4 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 5 25 Oct 14 1


Siberian Snow Buntings

And I hope one day in Britain to find one that looks like this. The Siberian form vlasowae.

There’s material for another book there…


above- male Siberian Snow Bunting- ssp vlasowae, Vardo, Varanger, March 2012.

Little Auk

Then directly below the cliff top on which the Snow Bunting was feeding, on a becalmed sea, sat this little chap. All the way from the High Arctic.

A very pleasant encounter indeed 🙂

little auk 3 little auk 4



Brünnich’s Guillemot off Flamborough

and Fly-by Records

Martin Garner

One week ago today, the weather was a bit more lively. Weather charts indicated strong to near gale winds (force 6-7) coming from the north. Seawatching!

A few shearwaters, a Blue Fulmar, ‘flocks’ of Great Skuas moving south and Pomarine Skuas in good numbers. Northward moving auks, mostly Razorbills with smaller numbers of Guillemots were the most visible feature. It wasn’t long before Lee J. called the first hoped-for Little Auk. Then I picked up another trailing a flock of the larger relatives. Around 9:15 I was now routinely checking the auk flocks when, in a closer range group (few hundred meters out) I picked out what looked like a ‘stick-on’ Brünnich’s Guillemot, hard to put into words but the whole look of the bird appeared spot-on for the species. The head pattern was the most eye-catching feature. I then immediately called for other observers to ‘get on this auk’. Then zooming the ‘scope up to see the head and bill better  I clocked a fat head, much more extensively dark then other auks with white throat patch surrounded by dark, but most importantly the head shape was long flat 45 degree angle into… no bill. At least the bill end came to point with slightly down wards tilt, so that the bill almost disappeared into this long slope on a fat head. All in a few seconds, so very quickly after the ‘get on the auk’ call- I yelled (something like) Brünnich’s , it looks like a Brünnich’s , it’s a Brünnich’s – with some considerable enthusiasm.

With 8 plus observers present, very windy conditions and auks spread out individually and in flocks over the sea it wasn’t going to be easy. The Brünnich’s was initially trailing a closer group of auks straight out- in full profile. As folk asked what to look for I shouted to look for the group of auks it was trailing and the distinctive head pattern. Unfortunately the bird then peeled off and I was now tracking it as a lone auk. Lee J and Dave T managed to get on to it though from their accounts after it was ‘going away’ with bill not fully visible but head pattern just discernible as well as the birds colour and shape “definitely  black and white and tubby looking with isolated white throat patch surrounded by dark“. It all happened rather quickly. No-one else got in it.

Vagrancy of Brünnich’s Guillemot in Europe

Read the paper by finders of Dutch fly-by HERE.

Read this paper on ringed Brünnich’s and their movements (with maps).

Data includes the SW migration of from breeding grounds in the North and North-eastern part of the WP.  Primarily young birds moving SW toward the NW Atlantic (off e.g. Newfoundland) in area north of Britain in October. Self-evidently northerly winds with the kind of reach to bring Little Auks into the North Sea (we had 7 on the 13th October and c 15 on 14th October) can also bring Brünnich’s  from the same vector.

Fly-by records in Europe

As of 2008 there were 7 accepted fly-by records in Sweden 1 in Denmark and subsequently  1 (photographed) in the Netherlands but none so far in Britain (what do they know that we don’t?)

This account of a fly-by in the Netherlands is a great read and they did mange a photograph. The same bird is written up in greater details in Dutch Birding 35:2 after it was accepted.


Below some of my shots of Brünnich’s Guillemots in the mouth of Varanger Fjord in March 2013. I have really studied them closely over 3 early spring seasons in succession. I actually think they look pretty darn distinctive with practice.

One of my question is I wonder if Razorbills can ever really show a very similar plumage to the typical winter pattern of in mid-October? Maybe though I am not aware of it.

Anyway enjoy the photos. Most shots chosen to convey the classic winter appearance of Brünnich’s . The odd Common Guillemot (arctic ssp. hyperborea) is alongside. Check out the fat heads, long sloping forehead, small pointed bill tip and white throat patches surrounded by black. The white throat patch can be variously larger and crisp white or smaller and sullied with some dark. First winter birds (most likely to reach the north sea in October) have small/ shorter bills than adults.

Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 11 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 15 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 4Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 14 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 13 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 12 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 4 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 1 Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 5

Brünnich's  and Common Guillemot side-by-side

Brünnich’s and Common Guillemot side-by-side

Brunnich's Guillemot in flight 6

some have a head pattern resembling winter plumaged Common Guillemot

some have a head pattern resembling winter plumaged Common Guillemot

some have a more yellow tomium stripe

some have a more yellow tomium stripe

and then they come back into summer plumage...

and then they come back into summer plumage…

Brünnich’s Guillemot

a quick comment

Martin Garner

It was me what picked this bird up 2 days ago (13th October) on a lively seawatch off Flamborough Head. Been meaning to blog about it, though somewhat nervously. It has however been a bit mad the last couple of days with lots to see here at Flamborough and a hacking of the web site to spice things up (apologies if you were affected by that).

The bird was seen by myself and less well by two other birders. More to come.

For now a Brünnich’s Guillemot in Varanger Fjord in March 2013. Not in flight.

Brunnich's in Varanger



Arctic Black Guillemots: Can we ID them in summer?

ssp. mandtii – and possible British records.

Dan Brown


Polar Bears and Ivory Gulls should be too much of a distraction but closer scrutiny of the Arctic Black Guillemots (mandtii) around Svalbard proved to be an interesting exercise.


A trip to Svalbard normally sees observers straining their eyes for Ivory Gulls and Polar Bears, but there’s a lot more on offer. On my first day at Longyearbyen, the capital, I was enjoying the chance to photograph a few commoner Arctic species, Black Guillemot being one. I was immediately struck on reviewing the first flight images by the striking wing patterning of this individual. Had I missed something back home? Was this just an aberrant individual? Or was it a previously un-recognised plumage feature? Over the course of the next couple of weeks I made a half-hearted effort to get further in-flight shots of Black Guillemots, though the afore-mentioned distractions proved too much of a draw most of the time!

mandtii Black GuilleIMG_3180Five subspecies of Black Guilliemots are recognized in the WP, arcticus (UK, Norway, SW Sweden, Denmark, White Sea), islandicus (Iceland), faeroeensis (Faeroes), grylle (Baltic), & mandtii (Arctic E North America as far south as Newfoundland, W & E Greenland, Jan Mayen, Svalbard and through to E Siberia and N Alaska).

Very few literature sources comment on racial identification, and those that do only focus on the distinctive winter plumage of mandtii which becomes significantly whiter during winter than any of the other races. Collins fails to recognise any racial difference and even the Advanced Bird ID Guide only notes differences in the winter plumage of mandtii.

Only a single recent winter record of mandtii is known from the UK, a striking bird in Talkin Tarn, Cumbria, last year ( As is often the way with vagrant alcids, they appear in weird inland locations.

So back to Svalbard, and after nearly three weeks of watching Black Guillies the vast majority of individuals showed two main distinctive features; white tongues on the inner webs of the primaries, and white tips to the primary coverts, and/or the lesser primary coverts (is this the correct term?). Some birds only showed one of the features, and several birds were noted resembling arctica Black Guillemot with no additional white plumage marking.

IMG_4336 IMG_3151 IMG_5184

The former feature forms a distinctive white blaze in the outer wing almost akin to skua, whilst the latter feature creates a more pointed white wing patch rather than the oval or kidney-bean shape we are used to.

IMG_6026 IMG_3154 IMG_5186

I was still unsure as to whether this was a feature that I had simply overlooked in the UK or something new. A search of the Iris photo database produced 2 interesting looking birds from the UK. The first a tatty first summer (?) bird photographed by Chrys Mellor in Bridlington/off Flamborough, East Yorkshire appears to show pale tongues to the inner primaries:

Whilst the second bird from late winter in the Isle of Man appears to show two or three all white primary coverts, presumably an abnormality rather than a plumage trait:

This leaves several questions, firstly are these features indicative of mandtii Black Guillemots? If so does the Bridlington Bird constitute the first British record? Or, is the feature indicative of northern birds, islandica and arctica included? If the latter is true then, like borealis Eider, we may expect to see birds with these features more commonly in Northern Scotland. I’d be very interested to hear of other similar birds at home or abroad for comparison.


Turtle Dove – remarkable record of an apparent albino

Can it be anything else?

Received these photos and comment from Willem-Jan of a remarkable looking white dove. I concur, it looks like a Turtle Dove in bill structure, overall weight, primary projection and according to his field impression. Any comments? Has anyone come across similar in the past? Thee Turtle Dove has undergone dramatic decline in the UK and also in the Netherlands and sparked some inspiring conservation and fund-raising projects, such as here and here.

Read on. Cheers Martin

Willem-Jan Hooijmans

“Hi Martin,

Hope all is well.

I would like to share the following pictures and thoughts with you.

Albinistic Turtle Dove (1) , Lisse, The Netherlands, 11 July 2014 (W J Hooijmans)

On Friday 11 July I digiscoped, which I believe to be, an albinistic Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) in my area. As you can imagine, initially I was  flabbergasted and in disbelief, dismissing the bird as a feral dove, as I had never seen an albinistic Turtle Dove  before. Furthermore, up until then I had been completely unaware of the existence of albinistic Turtle Doves, having never come across any pictures, documented sightings or references in the available literature. However, I quickly regained my senses and decided to try to digiscope the bird because I was convinced that the bird must indeed be a Turtle Dove and I wanted to have proof of my sighting. The bird in the pictures flew like a Turtle Dove (rocky and pitching flight), acted like a Turtle Dove (kept well hidden in a high poplar, where,  perhaps quite surprisingly, it could be hard to spot, and was alert), had the posture and size of a Turtle Dove, showed structural features of a Turtle Dove (e.g. the bare skin surrounding the eye) and showed up in an area (overgrown orchard) where I annually see “normal” Turtle Doves and hardly, if ever, Collared Doves. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear the bird call, which would have clinched the ID beyond any reasonable doubt, but, still, on the basis of what I had seen I could not but conclude that the bird was indeed a Turtle Dove.

I have the following questions for you:

– do you agree with my identification of the bird in the pictures as a Turtle Dove? YES!

– if so, do you know of the existence of documented sightings of albinistic Turtle Doves in the UK or anywhere else in the world? NO- but will ask our readers…

Look very much forward to hearing from you, when you have a chance.

Please feel free to put my pictures with your own comments on your excellent Birding Frontiers website for a lively discussion.

Cheers, Willem-Jan Hooijmans”

Sassenheim, The Netherlands

Albinistic Turtle Dove (2) , Lisse, The Netherlands, 11 July 2014 (W J Hooijmans)