Category Archives: 02) Grouse to Pheasants

Yellowhammer with Pine Bunting bits

in the garden, but just passing through…

Martin Garner

Out at end of Flamborough head, light spring passage includes Chaffinches, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer in small numbers at the moments.

Yellowhammer PB5 (1 of 1)

Martin Garner

I have had a little passion for Yellowhammers for quite a while. Looked at lots. Know the drill. Males with rufous in roughly the moustache/malar region are very common. Nowt out of the ordinary. However last Friday a male appeared in the garden with a rufous band under the throat. Now that grabbed my attention. I have personally never seen that pattern on a male Yellowhammer. Indeed I knew it was interesting. Why? Probably indicates some level of Pine Bunting ‘influence’. Check out a picture of a male Pine Bunting. The two places you expect chestnut to show on yellow Yellowhammer with Pine Bunt bits? The chestnut on the throat, a and chestnut around eye.

This bird had both. So I grabbed  a couple of  distant shots. Took me another couple of hours of effort over next 2 days to get better pics. And the bird appears to have moved on.

think I’m making it up 😉 ?

BWP text

“Birds with chestnut spotted or full malar stripe occur frequently in various populations, without clear trend; birds with patches of rufous elsewhere on head, throat or upper chest occur mainly in East European Russia and Asia, probably due to introgression of characters of Pine Bunting E. leucocephalus.”

Anyone can add to the picture, we are keen to learn. It may be vestigial characters on this individual (I can find photos of odd trapped Yellowhammer with rufous around the eye in W Europe by scrolling t’internet) or may be evidence of recent (several generations?) introgression- thus this individual is already ‘from the east’. Both scenarios or entirely possible.

Yellowhammer PB3 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB2 (1 of 1) Yelllowhammer 4 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB10 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB9 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB11 (1 of 1)


Lancashire December 2003

Meanwhile I think this is also one with more rufous, photographed by Chris Batty at Bradshaw Lane Head, Pilling Moss, Lancashire on 30th December 2003. We featured it HERE

yellowhammer30122003b yellowhammer30122003c


and this one with even more rufous (see how the pattern increases) from Calle

Sweden February 2015

“Hi Martin!

Saw your picture of the possible hybrid bunting on Twitter! I photographed a bunting earlier this winter (February 8th) in my garden in Sweden that I consider to be a Yellowhammer X Pine Bunting. Here are some pictures of it!

Best wishes,

Calle Ljungberg”

Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 7 (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 8 (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 9 (1 of 1)

Calle hybird 14 (1 of 1)

March and April and good bunting migration/ movements months. I’ll keep looking.


Thanks to Frédéric Jiguet check out this bird written up in Dutch Birding:

Jiguet F 2003, Dutch Birding 25-5, 323-326. Hybrid Yellowhammer x Pine Bunting in central France in May-June 2002.

“Hi Martin,
Attached are the three photos of the male, presumed hybrid, that I caught at a breeding site in western France. Caught and ringed 27 May 2002, recaptured on site 24 June 2002.
This male had a very pale yellow head with dark bold blackish stripes (being the most Pine-trends), but deeper yellow on face, a very large rufous band on the breast (Pine-pointing too), pale lower flanks and vent.

The possibility of an hybrid Cirl x Yellow was considered but rapidly excluded.



fred y1 (1 of 1)

pho2fred y3 (1 of 1)


and a normal male in the garden yesterday in low evening sun

male yammmer 2 (1 of 1)


Red Grouse at Flamborough !?@~# WOT!

A remarkable local event for us yesterday. A Red Grouse appeared on the outer head at Flamborough. Simply beyond expectation or comprehending. How and why, and for a  bunch of folk- please show up again!

With the launch of the new website, a forward looking AGM this evening, a great and growing community of keen folk- the new era at Flamborough marches forward a pace – even if marked by a most unexpected bird. Flamborough’s most prolific birder takes up the story of his find:

and what about that old Spurn record….?

Brett Richards

FBO header

Cynthia & I found a Red Grouse at South Dykes this afternoon.  It came out of the long grass by the side of the path along the East side of the ‘Shrike Hedge’, and ran along in front of us for a short distance before running back into the rough stuff.  I managed a few shots with my Canon superzoom before it disappeared, and then put the news out.  Phil Cunningham & Andy Hood arrived after a while, and Phil refound it in a nearby field, where I took some digiscoped shots.RG_Image It then went over the ridge and onto a grass field on the other side of the entrance road, where it was showing right in the open.  However, it was flushed by some noisy people with a dog just before Craig T & John B arrived, and flew towards the SW corner of Dykes.  We looked for it on Bridlington Links golf course, and we were standing in the middle of the golf course talking when Phil saw it briefly when it was flushed from the cliff edge by 3 people walking along from Sewerby.  We thought it had probably flown onto the East side of the Dykes, but it couldn’t be refound.

When we first saw it, the red comb over the eyes was clearly visible, and easily visible in my first photos, but there is no sign of any red there in any of my subsequent digiscoped shots.

I am always daydreaming of finding a mega when I am walking around Flamborough or seawatching, but this is one bird that never figured in my dreams.  An amazing record!

Red Grouse 006edited

Red Grouse by Andy Hood


Sicilian Rock Partridge and the ‘Rock Partridges’ of Italy

Andrea Corso

The Sicilian Rock Partidge, may best be treated as a distinct species, separate from other Rock Partidges and Chukar.

“According to Randi (2006): ‘Phylogeographic and genetic data are concordant in indicating that the Sicilian Partridge (A. g. whitakeri) meets the criteria for an Evolutionary Significant Unit (ESU: Moritz, 1995).’ The molecular evidence and the morphological differences described and illustrated here suggest that Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris whitakeri represents a unique lineage and is best regarded as a separate species according to the criteria outlined by Helbig et al (2002).”

I dealt extensively with Rock Partridges in Italy and Europe, and chiefly with taxonomy and identification of Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris (g.) whitaker in Dutch Birding 32: 79-96, 2010. I report the key information here again, in another version for birders that do not have that wonderful magazine (I suggest to subscribe to it !!). The main artwork by Lorenzo Starnini published there (alongside with many other plates showing variability of all the taxa). Lorenzo is to my eye simply a Caravaggio of the birds…. However, here I want to report just a few comments on the plate and therefore in fact on the various main Italian taxa. Hope you enjoy this plate and the short comments following:

alector 550 wide

1)       MIDDLE BIRD – SICILIAN ROCK PARTRIDGE (whitakeri): Note the warm plumage and facial pattern which make this the closest taxon to Chukar, it is the smallest and dullest of all the Italian taxa with the most uniform upperparts (warm olive-brown). Compared with other graeca taxa, it frequently has an interrupted black collar, often spotted in front, invariably dark vermiculation on the upper­tail-coverts and on all or almost all of the tail-feathers, a more contrasting and paler ear-covert stripe, warmer and more richly coloured under­parts, a different voice and a different moult. In particular, the pale ear-coverts stripe and the general colour makes it looking in fact closer to Chukar more than the other taxa.

2)       TOP RIGHT – ITALIAN ROCK PARTRIDGE (orlandoi) : It appears paler all over than any other Western Palearctic subspecies (?), purer bluish-grey than the other taxa, almost lacking any strong olive-brownish hue. The mantle shows a very pale and delicate, almost pink, vinaceous wash. The colour intensity varies as in the other taxa but less obviously, but it is lack­ing conspicuous strong olive tinge. The scapulars do normally not contrast with the rest of the up­perparts, with the bluish-grey markings being al­most the same colour as the mantle and coverts and with the surrounding vinaceous tinge being quite pale as well. Uppertail and rump are quite pale grey or even cerulean-grey, usually uniform and without dark vermiculation. The underparts are also very pale, paler than in the other taxa, varying from pale buffish-cinnamon to cream. The black collar is quite narrow and regular, broader and sometimes irregular on the neck-side while often narrower at the front (on the breast).

3)       LOWEST BIRD – ALPINE ROCK PARTRIDGE (saxatilis): The upperparts vary from dark greyish, quite obviously tinged olive to extensively olive-brown, sometimes very close to whitakeri but generally paler, less dull, with a more contrasting paler rump and uppertail lacking an obvious brown-olive or fulvous tinge on the uppertail-coverts and rump and the extensive dark vermiculations over the uppertail and tail-feathers. The black collar is normally wider than in all other taxa, better marked and defined, becoming narrower in birds from west to east. The throat is usually more greyish tinged, the white line over the forehead is often absent or narrow and the black over the lores is quite wide, wider than in orlandoi and whitakeri.


Adult male Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris (graeca) whitakeri, Monti Iblei, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy, 21 March 2009 (Angelo Zimmitti). Singing male but no very typical characters. Indeed, the upperparts are at the lowest range of saturation and least olive-tinged and with least vinaceous hue. Also note paler rump  compared with typical whitakeri. Throat buffish-cream as many whitakeri, black collar narrow but not broken. Pale ear-coverts conspicuous, as typical of whitakeri. DNA of such birds need to be analysed to be sure whether they are pure or genetically ‘polluted’ by other taxa (after introduction by hunters).

Adult male Sicilian Rock Partridge Alectoris (graeca) whitakeri, Monti Iblei, Siracusa, Sicily, Italy, 21 March 2009 (Angelo Zimmitti). Singing male but no very typical characters. Indeed, the upperparts are at the lowest range of saturation and least olive-tinged and with least vinaceous hue. Also note paler rump
compared with typical whitakeri. Throat buffish-cream as many whitakeri, black collar narrow but not broken. Pale ear-coverts conspicuous, as typical of whitakeri. DNA of such birds need to be analysed to be sure whether they are pure or genetically ‘polluted’ by other taxa (after introduction by hunters).


Click once on plates to enjoy larger and lovely colour-filled view!

Download Andrea’s full Dutch Birding paper with more illustrations by Lorenzo:

Sicilian Rock Partridge. Identification and Taxonomy

Golden Pheasant mutants

in Norfolk

Couldn’t help but think of the ‘X Men’. Wolferton sounds too close to Wolverine is well. O.K. I’ll stop now.

by Dave Appleton and Nick Moran

Bedazzled by colour, we surmised in our ignorance on this day  that the surprising dark face of the male Golden Pheasant we saw was the result of a little bit of Lady Amherst’s Pheasant influence. A follow-on email discussion between Nick M. and Dave Appleton was illuminating. Lee Evans also emailed Yoav P. and MG to say he thought dark throats did not necessary indicate hybrid introgression.

Golden Pheasant Wolferton jan 13

Dave Appleton’s correspondence with Nick Moran is below (with much thanks to both). A fuller discussion with lots more photos can be found on Dave’s site.

“I’ve taken quite an interest in these birds for some years, as well as having an interest in hybrid birds in general, and all the evidence I’ve found (and I’ve looked quite hard) is pointing to them being mutants and not hybrids.

For me there are two possible hypotheses:

(1)    that ‘obscurus’ birds are hybrids with Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, backcrossed with Golden Pheasant;

(2)    that they are mutant but pure Golden Pheasants.

In considering these I make the following observations:

  • Regarding the hybrid hypothesis:

o   Golden Pheasant x Lady Amherst’s Pheasant hybrids are very common in captivity and are fertile so backcrossed hybrids are possible;

o   Based on my experience of hybrids I would not expect hybrids to normalise to a single type unless that was broadly intermediate between the two species and neither one species predominated in the population;

o   If I was wrong about that and they did normalise to a single type then I can’t see how a population could move from being pure-looking to being these normalised hybrid types unless the second species (or a hybrid with that second species) was introduced to the population at some point;

o   The Wolferton birds are reported to have changed from being pure-looking to dark-throated (although I have not been able to establish beyond doubt that they were ever pure-looking – the evidence for that is entirely anecdotal);

o   There have been no records of Lady Amherst’s Pheasants or hybrids (excluding ‘obscurus’ birds) in the Wolferton area;

o   The Breckland birds are also now showing some evidence of dark throats without any reported introduction of Lady Amherst’s Pheasant.

Golden Pheasant Wolferton b jan 13

  • Regarding the mutant hypothesis:

o   Many aviculturists describe ‘obscurus’ as a type of Golden Pheasant, not a hybrid;

o   If ‘obscurus’ is indeed a mutant form and not a hybrid then I would expect it to occur in captive populations with in-breeding much more frequently than in wild populations with little in-breeding;

o   The form ‘obscurus’ is common in captivity and appears to be rare in significant wild populations (I have no data from native populations but have found no references to ‘obscurus’ appearing there and most references specify that it’s a characteristic found in captivity or in feral populations);

o   If a wild (or feral) population declined to the extent that gene flow was restricted and in-breeding became commonplace then I would expect mutants to occur more frequently;

o   There is anecdotal (only) evidence that the Wolferton population has increasingly displayed characters of ‘obscurus’ as the population has declined;

o   If ‘obscurus’ is a mutant form predominating in in-bred populations then we might expect such birds to appear in other declining populations, such as in the Brecks;

o   The last 2-3 birds I’ve seen in the Brecks have had darker throats than normal (albeit not as dark as the birds at Wolferton).

So my observations reconcile far better with the mutant hypothesis than the hybrid one.

Golden Pheasant Wolferton e jan 13

Sometimes people voice an objection that goes along the lines of “ Isn’t it too coincidental to be credible that a pure Golden Pheasant should throw up a feature of Lady Amherst’s Pheasant through mutation when the two species are known to hybridise readily in captivity?”  The simple answer is no – mutant characteristics in birds are often characteristics of closely related species, presumably because both species normally have the genes for that characteristic but they are normally suppressed in one species and expressed in the other. So it’s not surprising to me that a frequent mutant form of Golden Pheasant should be one that displays a characteristic that’s typically found on a closely-related species.  I suspect the objection is a significant one though in so far as it has helped to sustain the notion that these birds may be hybrids. Several high-profile birders have propagated the view that they are hybrids apparently based only on their perception that pure birds surely can’t look this different from textbook pure birds.

I think there is more to learn about these birds and some of it might surprise me.  If it shows that they are hybrids after all then that would surprise me!  But I always hope that by sharing my thinking on things like this it might prompt others to engage and challenge me where I might have got it wrong.

Like you I don’t really care about their tickability!  I suspect that all Golden Pheasants populations are destined for BOU’s category C6, a category that seems to me to be an anomaly itself – self-sustaining populations that have failed to sustain themselves….. huh?

Cheers Dave”

yoav and Barn owlSkillfull field craft (best from the car) is required as modeled by Yoav P. to see and photograph the Golden Pheasants (here he’s on to a Barn Owl).

One Day, 111 Species.

NW Norfolk 

Saturday (26th Jan) we had and excellent day in Norfolk. Tormod and I were joined by Chris Hind and Tristan Reid from Cumbria, Nick Moran from Thetford and Yoav Perlman…from Israel. Our plan in icy, remnant snowy weather was to have fun, see as many species as possible and try and get a few new birds form the non-Brits. Moving from Kings Lynn, via Docking to Titchwell we scored some 111 species. Not bad!

Golden Pheasant Wolferton jan 13Male Golden Pheasant. My (plastic) bird of the day. Looks superb don’t it? Even if it has a…hmm.. face a bit like a Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. At Wolferton Triangle.

Yoav perlman Tormod Amundsen Norofolk jan 13Yoav poses as Tormod has just enjoyed his first views of Grey Partridge. See Yoav’s excellent ‘chicken’ photos and more here

Corn Bunting norfolk jan13

Water Rail titchwell jan 13Corn Bunting and Water Rail were amoung those commoner , but not always guaranteed birds

tormod and BH GUllTormod and Black-headed gull at Titchwell with Nick M in background

Barn owl 1Barn Owls put on show on both Sat and Sunday

motlley crewSaturdays motley crew at Titchwell. Left to right: Chris Hind, Tormod Amundsen, MG, Tristan Reid, Yoav Perlman, Nick Moran.

Barn owl 4

Now I am sat in Dick and Vida Newell’s most homely farmhouse kitchen watching a roosting Barn Owl in a box on a cctv link (not the one above, which as at Holkham). Had an excellent , well organised evening at the Cambridge Bird Club last night and now heading to the Bedfordshire Bird Club and old friends. Anyone can come (to any of the upcoming events).

My Best Views Ever!

Day Two of the Spurn Spring Special:

25th May- a SUPERB DAY!

Best Views ever? Read on…

After the first day bonanza- they were keen. I thought my suggestion of a 5:30 am start might meet with some disapproval. Not at all! So visible migration began at the Warren soon after and the reward came at 6:30 am. A ring-tailed Harrier, with 3 fingered ‘pointed wing’ and light build was soon affirmed as a Montagu’s Harrier and as it got closer the greyish hood, rufousy colouring underneath, old juvenile wings but new pseudo-adult male body plumage – a lovely 1st summer male Montagu’s Harrier’s was full appreciated by all of us as it flew by nice and close:

1st summer male Montagu’s Harrier, Spurn May 2011. SBO

Watching from the Warren, it’s also possible to engage with the ringing activity as well as the early morning Moth Trap. Despite one of the local Blue Tits having trapped itself which I released, we were rewarded with both Elephant Hawk Moth and Small Elephant Hawk Moth (latter pic by Nathan Pickering).

Upper Elephant Hawk Moth and lower Small Elephant Hawk Moth. one of the best springs ever for the latter species at Spurn with c 6 records so far.

Ringing activity rewarded us with a quite striking acredula-type Willow Warbler. These brown (or grey) and white Willow Warblers are of uncertain destination as some head off for northern Scandinavia and even West Siberia and beyond, but some with similar plumage are apparently found in e.g. upland areas of Scotland. This one in late May I think was a proper tundra breeder…

acredula-type Willow Warbler, Spurn May 2011. Added more interest to an already good Spurn Spring Special. We also saw Reed Warbler and Chiffchaff in the hand today.

Buck Roe Deer. Spurn is bursting with all kinds of wildlife. This young buck Roe Deer was seen several times near the Warren over our 3 days.

Mid afternoon produced our second ‘peak event’ of the day (following the early morning Monty’s Harrier). A Quail had been heard singing. Having only ever had poor views in the UK, I counselled the group.

“Let’s go have a look, but we will probably only hear it. That’s normal and usually all that’s to be expected”

No. We got views a few feet away in dune grass of a singing male- absolutely amazing!- and my best views ever.You can see the dark throats mark and anchor shape which females don’t have. As the group headed off for evening meal one person was heard remarking:

“I am just pinching myself- I can’t quite believe what I have just seen.”

Male Quail, Spurn on DAY 2 of the Spurn Spring Special and MY BEST VIEWS EVER!

Andy and I finished off Day 2 promising to try to see some ’trip ticks’ in the forms of Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Barn Owl. 20 minutes after heading out we had bagged all 3 species including lovely close views of the Barn Owl. The Corn Bunting was a little distant, but a couple of days later Martin Standley obtained this much closer (excellent) photo of the bird.

Malayan Peacock-pheasant at Spurn

A surprise find!

Sharon and I were walking along the main road just past the ‘Crown and Anchor corner’ when we noticed this feather on the path. Amazing! we knew it was some sort of Peacock, but not the traditional big Indian Peacock. A bit of investigation and we found out it was the tail feather from a Malayan Peacock-pheasant Polyplectrum malacense – at Spurn? Remarkable! Was one at large and undetected?

Further investigation was revealing. Have a careful look at the photo below, taken one day earlier at the local Cancer Charity Sponsored Bike Ride. Hiawatha wannabe (a.k.a. Mick Turton), right of centre seems to provide the answer.