Category Archives: 05) Herons, Storks, Flamingoes

Identification of Chinese Pond Heron

The Challenge!

Eds.    Dave Gandy lives in Bangkok, Thailand. Javan Pond Heron (speciosa) and Chinese Pond Heron (bacchus) are on his doorstep. Dave got in touch as he has followed discussion on the Kent ardeola see >>>HERE<<< and >>>HERE<<<. Yesterday he went out and took some fab photos. What a cool thing the WWW is! So far away and yet so quickly he can illuminate our discussions. The Javan Pond Heron being a particularly interesting subject as both he and Dave Allen raised how hard Chinese and Javan can be to separate in non breeding plumage.

And the Kent bird?

Apparent Chinese Pond Heron, Hythe, Kent photographed this morning (13th Feb 2014) by James Lowen.  James commented  "Yes it had maroon sides to left side of crown in the field. I didn't see the right hand side!

Apparent Chinese Pond Heron, Hythe, Kent photographed this morning (13th Feb 2014) by James Lowen.
James commented:
“Yes it had maroon sides to left side of crown in the field. I didn’t see the right hand side!

Visit Jame’s website >>>HERE<<<

David Walker also got some nice shots a couple of days ago (scroll down) . Of course I know there are risks and dangers in trying to interpret photos. Bearing those in mind (and as ever check for yourself) I see obvious maroon feathering appearing around the head that makes it a stick on Chinese Pond Heron. The age of the bird could be really interesting of course. Brownish tips to wing coverts and brownish tips to tail feathers in Squacco Heron point to first winter plumage (all white in adults per Ian Lewington). If the same works for Chinese Pond Heron… And by the way 2 sources say there are no known records (that means zero, nada)  in recent years of Chinese Pond Herons kept in captivity in Europe.

Over to Dave Gandy’s for his superb piece and scroll to end for new photos of the Kent bird by David Walker.

Dave Gandy

Hi Martin,

I face the issue (or rather, I avoid it) every year from October to March when resident Javan Pond Herons are joined by wintering Chinese Pond Herons – all in non-breeding plumage, and the accepted wisdom has been that they are unidentifiable – until springtime. 

I spent an hour photographing eight different pond herons on my local patch, Suan Rotfai in central Bangkok yesterday, in my first attempt to try figuring these birds out and to inform discussion on the Kent bird:

The best images are attached, and I give some comments below.

Plenty of food for thought:

Bird 1 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th feb 2014- a fairly classic non-breeding Pond Heron sp., for which conventional thinking is that it cannot be done to species.  This bird appears to have clean wing coverts, so I'm guessing it is an adult.

Bird 1 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th Feb 2014- a fairly classic non-breeding Pond Heron sp., for which conventional thinking is that it cannot be done to species. This bird appears to have clean wing coverts, so I’m guessing it is an adult.

Bird 2 Chinese Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. A few small patches of maroon appearing on the neck indicate that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 2 Chinese Pond Heron, SRF 12th Feb 2014. A few small patches of maroon appearing on the neck indicate that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron shot 1 SRF 12th Feb 2014.   A few small patches of maroon (note the one behind/below the eye) indicates that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. A few small patches of maroon (note the one behind/below the eye) indicates that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron shot 2 SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as above.

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 4 Pond Heron sp. suspected Javan Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. This bird shows no indication of breeding plumage (well, perhaps the whitish feather shafts on the bird's back?). It was feeding in the same area as Bird 3, at the same time, and the photos were taken from the same place, just a few seconds apart.  When comparing this image with Bird 3 (shot 2) I am particularly struck by the difference in ground colour (bird 4 being much paler).  Is this within the range of variation of a single species?  It looks like an adult from the clean white wing coverts.

Bird 4 Pond Heron sp. Suspected Javan Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. This bird shows no indication of breeding plumage (well, perhaps the whitish feather shafts on the bird’s back?). It was feeding in the same area as Bird 3, at the same time, and the photos were taken from the same place, just a few seconds apart. When comparing this image with Bird 3 (shot 2) I am particularly struck by the difference in ground colour (bird 4 being much paler). Is this within the range of variation of a single species? It looks like an adult from the clean white wing coverts.

Bird 5 Pond Heron sp.Spp first winter. another fairly classic non-breeding plumaged Pond Heron spp. - dirty wing coverts suggest it is a 2nd CY

Bird 5 Pond Heron sp. A first winter. another fairly classic non-breeding plumaged Pond Heron sp. – dirty wing coverts suggest it is a 2nd CY

 

Bird 5  first winter. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 5 First winter Pond Heron sp. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 6 Chinese Pond Heron. a Chinese Pond Heron. The most advanced I saw yesterday in terms of its transition to breeding plumage

Bird 6  Chinese Pond Heron. The most advanced I saw yesterday in terms of its transition to breeding plumage

 

Bird 6  Chinese Pond Heron. Same as immediately above.

Bird 6 Chinese Pond Heron. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 6  Chinese Pond Heron. Same as immediately above.

Bird 6 Chinese Pond Heron. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 7 An adult bird based on the clear white wing coverts, and definitely not Chinese, given the pale yellowish-buff colours that are appearing on the neck.  It could be Indian Pond Heron (a rarity in Thailand), but the default species would be Javan Pond Heron.  At this stage I think it is too early to be certain.  Javan seems to be quite variable in the intensity of the neck colour, or perhaps it gets darker as the breeding season progresses?  I note that the ground colour of this bird is very similar to Bird 4, which makes me think that bird 4 is the same species (ie probably Javan PH).

Bird 7 An adult bird based on the clear white wing coverts, and definitely not Chinese, given the pale yellowish-buff colours that are appearing on the neck. It could be Indian Pond Heron (a rarity in Thailand), but the default species would be Javan Pond Heron. At this stage I think it is too early to be certain. Javan seems to be quite variable in the intensity of the neck colour, or perhaps it gets darker as the breeding season progresses? I note that the ground colour of this bird is very similar to Bird 4, which makes me think that bird 4 is the same species (ie probably Javan PH).

 

Bird 7  Probable adult Javan Pond Heron (Indian not eliminated) SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 7 Probable adult Javan Pond Heron (Indian not eliminated) SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 8 pond heron sp.- 1st winter. An apparent 2nd CY bird (dirty coverts).  No indication of breeding plumage that I can see.

Bird 8 Pond Heron sp.- 1st winter. An apparent 2nd CY bird (dirty coverts). No indication of breeding plumage that I can see.

 

Bird 8 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th Feb - 1st winter. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 8 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th Feb – 1st winter. Same bird as immediately above.

all photos above by Dave Gandy. Visit Dave’s website >>> HERE<<<

The Kent Bird

David Walker of Dungeness Bird Observatory fame lives pretty close to the Kent Pond heron and kindly sent these photos through. What features can you see ?

Ardeola sp Hythe 110214 2283Ardeola sp Hythe 110214 2302

are those wing coverts tipped brownish? Better views needed...

are those wing coverts tipped brownish? Better views needed…

Chinese Pond Heron or not?

Still in Kent

Martin G.

pond Heron Kent 10 feb 2014Thanks to Ian Roberts who sent this latest image yesterday of the Mystery Pond Heron. This was taken 2 days ago (9th Feb.) apparently in a different garden by a different chap who does not wish to be named. Look! No bling!

The photo still doesn’t fully resolve the identification, but it is tantalising! To my eyes the extensively dark feathering on the breast sides and the quiet broad streaks in the breast centre look too much for Squacco. There does appear to be the ‘feel’ of dark curtain across lower breast- unless some kind of photo artifact. The bill base still looks orangey and the lores have a dark mark. It all points away from Squacco Heron for me.
It does appear, at least from the photo to have a more open pale patch in the centre of the breast and weaker streaking pattern (compared to Indian Pond Heron) thus closer to the underparts of Chinese Pond Heron. All that is discussed and illustrated >>> HERE <<<.

Escape of Vagrant?

The identity is not yet established 100%. For my money from the photos it’s not a Squacco Heron. If it proves to be a Chinese Pond Heron, bacchus,  as the photo hints at then it could be argued as a potential vagrant. There are no rings or other escape related paraphernalia visible in the photo above.  Recent investigations found Chinese Pond Heron to be very rare/ absent from Zoos in Europe (though private collections cannot be accounted for). Do you know of any kept in captivity?
There are three accepted records of Chinese Pond Heron from Alaska, spring-late summer. The species is apparently increasing over much of its range in E. Asia and is strongly migratory. I think it’s potentially a very exciting record indeed…
Be interesting to see photos of Chinese Pond Heron from mid February in normal wintering range.
Thanks to Ian Roberts of this website for keeping us posted and Grahame Walbridge for comments on escape potential.

 

 

Rare Pond Heron in Kent

What species?

Martin Garner with Ian Lewington and Oscar Campbell

Squacco Heron, Indian Pond Heron and Chinese Pond Heron. How do you tell these ardeola herons apart in their non breeding plumages. A conundrum that has been around for  while. Vital to know if this mystery heron in Kent resurfaces.

aredola pond heron. Hythe, Kent, 21st-24th January and 3rd February 20014. Mike Dawson

aredola pond heron. Hythe, Kent, 21st-24th January and 3rd February 20014. Mike Dawson

A pond heron species in Kent in recent days (21st-24th January and 3rd February 20014) has been seen and photographed in private gardens in Kent. The photos are intriguing and suggest that it might not be a Squacco Heron but perhaps either an Indian or Chinese Pond Heron.

Here are the images from the Folkstone and Hythe Birds website. Thanks very much to Ian Roberts.

aredola pond heron. Hythe, Kent, 21st-24th January and 3rd February 20014. Mike Dawson

aredola pond heron. Hythe, Kent, 21st-24th January and 3rd February 20014. Mike Dawson

 

The most interesting features are a dark mark running horizontally though the yellowish lores and the underparts streaking, while only partly visible (and on a blurred image) appears too thick for typical Squacco Heron. Perhaps interestingly also the colour of the basal half of the lower mandible appears to have an orangey tone, which seems at least a little more obvious on Indian Pond Herons versus Squacco.

I looked at this subject with Ian Lewington about 8 years ago, so this intrigued me enough to revisit it. These are just musings, explorations of ideas if you like,  based on looking at specimens with Ian, his follow up work for the just released Rare Birds of North America, and conversations with him and with Oscar Campbell. Also grateful to Oscar for his photos.

Indian Pond Heron, Safa UAE, Jan. 2013 Oscar Cambell

Indian Pond Heron, Safa UAE, Jan. 2013 Oscar Campbell

Some potentially useful features for separating Squacco (ralloides), Indian Pond (grayii) and Chinese Pond Herons (bacchus) 

These are initial observations made a while back and still need working on and clarifying further!

Loral stripe: A well known feature of Indian Pond Heron, but can also been found in varying degrees on Chinese Pond Heron and even Squacco can have small dark marks in the lores. When present as well-marked (often V-shaped dark area), highly indicative of Indian Pond Heron. A few Indian Pond Heron’s don’t have it or barely show it.

‘Dark Curtain’ on feathering on breast: On both Chinese and Indian Pond Herons a line of dark feathering separates the breast streaking from the paler, plain belly. It is sometimes obscured by long overlying breast feathers. We coined this as a dark ‘curtain’. Squacco doesn’t normally show a (hidden) dark ‘curtain’ of feathering here. We did find a couple of Squacco specimens with darker feathering (not as dark as grayii and bacchus)  but the same individuals were mostly n summer plumage (see below).

Underpart streaking: Thinnest on Squacco with open plain central breast area with lovely warm yellowish-tan wash. Streaking broader on both Chinese and Indian Pond Herons and without warm tan wash. However with care there is a subtle difference. On the underparts of Indian the streaking is similarly broad throughout. On Chinese there is something of a difference with thinner darker streaks on in central breast region  and open unstreaked area on mid/lower breast compared to broader streaks on the sides. Excellent views and good photos would be needed. To be further defined as well!

Bill Colour: Might be nothing but worth exploring a bit further. Is more of a defined area of orange (versus) yellow component to lower mandible better for Indian Pond than Squacco (c.f. summer bare part colours)?

Anyhow. Have a look at some great photos below from Oscar Campbell, and some museum specimens. Hope the Kent bird gets seen again and further resolved.

Indian Pond Heron, Safa UAE, Jan. 2013. Oscar Cambell

Indian Pond Heron, Safa UAE, Jan. 2013. Oscar Campbell

Indian Pond Heron, Wam, UAE, Feb. 2010. Oscar Cambell

Indian Pond Heron, Wam, UAE, Feb. 2010. Oscar Cambell

Indian Pond Heron, Kerala, Nov 2010.  Oscar Cambell

Indian Pond Heron, Kerala, Nov 2010. Oscar Campbell. Weakly marked in loral area.

Indian Pond Heron, Kerala, Nov. 2010. Oscar Cambell

Indian Pond Heron, Kerala, Nov. 2010. Oscar Campbell

Indian Pond Heron, Corbett,  Jan. 2007. Oscar Cambell

Indian Pond Heron, Corbett, Jan. 2007. Oscar Campbell

Squacco Heron,  UAE,  Jan. 2013. Oscar Campbell

Squacco Heron, UAE, Jan. 2013. Oscar Campbell

Squacco Herons showing streaking pattern, more open plain area in central breast and lack of dark 'curtain'.

Squacco Herons showing streaking pattern, more open plain area in central breast, warm tan wash and lack of dark ‘curtain’. Martin Garner. Copyright NHM

2 Chinese Pond Herons (upper) and 2 Squacco Herons (lower) showing difference in underparts., with broader streaking and dark curtain of feathering on Chinese PH. Martin Garner. Copyright NHM

2 Chinese Pond Herons (upper) and 2 Squacco Herons (lower) showing difference in underparts., with broader streaking and dark curtain of feathering on Chinese PH. Martin Garner. Copyright NHM

Squacco Herons showing  dark curtain of breast feathering though paler than on Chinese and Indian Pond Herons and on an individual in (mostly) summer plumage. Martin Garner. Copyright NHM

Squacco Herons showing dark curtain of breast feathering though paler than on Chinese and Indian Pond Herons and on an individual in (mostly) summer plumage. Martin Garner. Copyright NHM

ardeola herons 3 Indian PH (left), 3 Chinese PH (centre), 2 Squacco Herons (right). Ian Lewington, copyright NHM

ardeola herons: 3 Indian Pond Herons, grayii,  (left), 3 Chinese Pond Herons, bacchus,  (centre), 2 Squacco Herons, ralloides, (right). Ian Lewington, copyright NHM. All 3 can be slightly paler/whiter in centre of neck and breast, though with differences in colour tones and streaking patterns. See below.

ardeola herons: 3 Indian Pond Herons, grayii,  (left), 3 Chinese Pond Herons, bacchus,  (centre), 2 Squacco Herons, ralloides, (right).  Upperpart tones are darker more purplish on Indian and Chines Pond Herons, but not an easy character to use with no direct comparison! Ian Lewington, copyright NHM

ardeola herons: 3 Indian Pond Herons, grayii, (left), 3 Chinese Pond Herons, bacchus, (centre), 2 Squacco Herons, ralloides, (right). Upperpart tones are darkest (and tad more maroon) on Chinese Pond Herons, slightly paler and browner on Indian Pond Heron and palest on Squacco Heron. However it’s pretty darn subtle and not an easy character to use with no direct comparison! Ian Lewington, copyright NHM.

Oscar Campbell on upperpart tone adds:  “In the light of some recent experiences, whilst the mantle colour is a good guide on some birds (certainly anything with a marked pale, creamy tan wash is likely to be Squacco), some Squacco Herons can appear very dark indeed and can even have a decidedly ruddy, almost purplish tinge”

4 Chinese Pond Herons. Ian Lewington, copyright NHM

4 Chinese Pond Herons, bacchus,  Ian Lewington, copyright NHM. Features visible in these specimens include visible or obscured dark ‘curtain’ of feathering across breast (not found in Squacco in winter where breast is washed with pale warm tan colour) and white centre of neck leading to open whitish area on breast. Streaking over this area finer than in Indian Pond Heron. See below.

 

4 Indian Pond Herons, grayii, Ian Lewington, copyright NHM

4 Indian Pond Herons, grayii, Ian Lewington, copyright NHM. Similar visible or obscure dark curtain of feathering over breast as per Chinese Pond Heron, and while whiter in centre of neck and breast, lacks more open patch on breast and dark streaking is thicker.

 

aredola pond heron. Hythe, Kent, 21st-24th January and 3rd February 20014. Mike Dawson

aredola pond heron. Hythe, Kent, 21st-24th January and 3rd February 20014. Mike Dawson

 

Not had enough? Lots more images of Indian Pond Herons in the United Arab Emirates >>> HERE<<<

 

Bitterns and Powder Down

Explaining the Blue

Bittern d Buckton Pond 7.4.13

THIS POST on a curiously ‘blue-capped Bittern’ (blue-grey on crown and in malars and even little at the bill base) at Buckton Pond produced highly illuminating responses. So here, a follow -up bringing those comments together. Certainly new learning for me (MG). James McCallum and Norman McCanch brought the intel. Robbe added a photo of a similar bird.

James McCallum:

“I’ve seen a couple of wintering Bitterns that appeared similar to this. In addition one memorable observation concerned a ‘text book plumaged-bird’ which, having spent several minutes preening under one wing, raised a very floury head – presumably covered in powder down. It was reminiscent of the bird you’ve photographed here and perhaps provides an explanation?
Powder Down – I looked this up shortly after observing it and was amazed to find out just what happens. Anyhow if my memory serves me this is basically what I read – perhaps somebody else will explain it more clearly –
Bitterns + Herons and some other bird species have patches on their bodies where this powder down is produced. I think that these are patches of specialised down feathers that are not moulted and grow continuously and disintegrate at their tips to form fine powder. Bitterns have two pairs on the breast sides and thighs and these presumably help the birds clean themselves from fish slime…etc. The Bittern I saw ‘powdering’ itself looked rather similar to your photos and it remained looking like this for an hour or so until I lost sight of it in the reeds. Of course if the bird you saw continues to look like this throughout the day then you can quickly dismiss the idea – It was just a thought!
(Found a dead Little Egret and it was quite easy to locate them – they looked quite horrible but are clearly useful!)
I also found some sketches of two different wintering Bitterns which both have dull grey-blue crowns, I’d put these down as young birds but am not 100%
I found the subject fascinating – connected and equally interesting is the preening comb present on the inner edge of the middle toe. I once found a dead Bittern and was amazed to see theses beautifully formed combs – I really like these adaptations but they are frustratingly hard to see in the field.”
James

from Norman McCanch:

“Hi Martin,
Attached a photo of the powder down patches on a dead bittern found in bizarre circumstances on my local patch in Kent last year. There seem to be rather few images of these structures out there, so thought it might be of interest.
At Seaton Lakes (my patch near Canterbury) I often get the chance to watch Bitterns undisturbed for extended periods and the bluey grey dusting can sometimes be seen during and shortly after preening. The purpose of the dust is to coagulate fish slime on the feathers, so it can be raked off using the adapted pectinate claws. It seems to get most frequent use if Bitterns catch eels, for obvious reasons.
Not your usual bird picture, but it might be of some interest.
Regards, Norman”

DSCF1964

from Robbe

“This Bittern I photographed in Belgium on Feb 8th has ‘powder’ even on the base of the bill.” Click here to see.

Great White Egret – and the modesta issue

Bridlington 12th April 2013

Always wanted to see one of these. Today was the day. A Great White Egret in Western Europe but with bare parts colours which used to be assumed to relate to Eastern taxon ‘modesta’. Breeding dress and other forms of Great White Egrets is a subject worthy of attention. For now a quick pic because it looks very smart. Get to see it of you can!

Great White Egret Bridlington 12.4.13Great White Egret in ‘high breeding dress’, Bridlington, 12th April 2013. Long aigrettes,   reddish-pink legs and all black bill. Not a plumage I have personally seen in the UK before though. and birds seen in W Europe with these characters about a decade ago, especially outside the breeding season were initially mooted as possible ‘modesta‘. This is almost certainly a western bird but there is an interesting narrative here and good to revisit the subject and it’s confusing past.

Yellow-billed Stork in Turkey

Anything is possible!

by Tristan

Turkish birder and photographer Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu recently contacted me with the exciting news that he had photographed a Yellow-billed Stork at Mogan Gölü, (Ankara Province). The bird was found by two Turkish photographers and constitutes the 4th record for Turkey (and the first for around 50 years).

Yellow-billed Stork with White Stork © Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu 2012

Yellow-billed Stork with White Stork © Emin Yoğurtcuoğlu 2012

Yellow-billed Stork is a predominantly sedentary resident throughout much of Africa, though the species will make partial migratory (nomadic) movements depending on food availability.

White Stork Migration

The wintering grounds for the White Stork overlap the range of the Yellow-billed Stork. So it is no great surprise how Yellow-billed Stork can make it into the Western Palearctic.

There are loads of predictions of migratory species that could (but haven’t so far) made it onto UK shores. The Willet is certain a favourite choice of many! However, I thought it would be interesting to look at the potential of species with local migratory/nomadic tendancies.

There are of course UK records of nomadic species such as the Black Lark and White-winged Lark. So there is a precedent! Are their species out there that we have not considered as potential vagrants due to limited migration behaviour?

High in the Sky

Linosa Diaries- Overhead

It’s a volcanic island with a lack of easy landing for some species and some birds are highly aerial anyway. Here’s a flavour of some very interesting birds seen essentially overhead during my 10 days on Linosa in November 2011.

All photos taken early November 2011 and © Michele Viganò (with very grateful thanks), apart from the big spider at the end, which is mine.

Eleonora’s Falcon. Available daily in juvenile and adult plumages, often in the same air space as other falcon species.

juvenile Arctic Peregrine ‘calidus’ . These were fascinating and an opportunity to see these huge Arctic birds.  They are super migrants, some heading from the Eurasian tundra zone apparently as far as South Africa. I chiefly just watched and listened to Andrea who knows all about these things (so I hope I have this right!). Sometimes a big calidus would get a attacked by one or two of the local resident  brookei Peregrines. WOW! The difference in size. It was like watching  Merlins chasing a Peregrine.

juvenile Arctic Peregrine ‘calidus’ . Very similar in appearance to the North American form ‘tundrius’.

Hawfinch. Think all the ones I saw were in flight, usually in flocks of up to 22 birds together!

Golden Plover. Any overhead wader gets immediate attention, as there are not many around and ‘common’ or rare species are seemingly equally likely.

Dotterel . Interesting to compare in flight from below with Golden Plover. We did get to see some on the ground and very close range too.

juvenile Pallid Swift. 

juvenile Pallid Swift. This juvenile (same bird in above 2 photos) was accompanied by the moulting adult (below).

moulting adult Pallid Swift

moulting adult Pallid Swift. Has replaced inner 3 primaries (nice one Ottavio who picked up on this). Also had very nice flight views of Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Martin.

juvenile Night Heron. I know this one is perched, but most views were of dusk flights over the town, often in small flocks

adult and juvenile Greater Flamingos. A fine sight over the sea, presumably heading north from Tunisia, North Africa

Ya big spider. Sort of aerial!