Category Archives: Israel

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe identification

By Yoav Perlman

Swinhoe’s Snipe and Pin-tailed Snipe are a notoriously difficult species-pair. In fact they might be the only birds in the WP that even in perfect field conditions cannot be identified. In this post I will try to spotlight some potential ID features. Jari Laitasalo, an intrepid Finnish birder and ringer, has kindly allowed me to publish these images of a Swinhoe’s Snipe he took in May 2016 at Baikal Bird Ringing Station on the shores of Lake Baikal in eastern Russia. I will highlight here what little is known about their field identification (in fact I just need an excuse to show here Jari’s perfect images).

WP status

Both species breed right in the northeastern corner of the WP, in the northern Urals. In this context both are potential vagrants to the UK and western Europe. If I am not mistaken there are a few UK reports of ‘dark-underwing no trailing edge’ snipes – Martin once told me about one he had on Shetland some years ago but he couldn’t nail it. Swinhoe’s Snipe was recorded only once in the less extreme parts of the WP – a displaying male was in southeastern Finland in June – July 2008. It was identified by its unique display song, and during its display flights it did fan the tail and the characteristic outer tail feathers were seen well. Pin-tailed Snipe has been recorded twice in Italy (Sicily) – if I am not mistaken the only European records away from Urals. In the Middle East it is more frequent. In Israel it is a very rare but regular autumn visitor, just about annual in recent years, with 10 records up to late 2015. The situation in Israel is slightly awkward: three of these ten records involved ringed birds, and they were all Pin-tails (see some images below). All other seven records could not be separated positively from Swinhoe’s in the field. Until there is further evidence about how to identify them in the field, they are regarded by IRDC as Pin-tailed ‘by default’. Similarly, in eastern Arabia and Persian Gulf Pin-tailed is also a rare but regular visitor. If I am not mistaken there are also a couple of records of Pin-tailed Snipe in Sinai, Egypt. I must say that from the images I found online of Middle Eastern birds that were not trapped, the possibility that these were Swinhoe’s Snipe could not be eliminated.

Some clues towards identification

When you find a ‘dark underwing no trailing edge’ snipe in the WP, try to catch it! Please use a mistnet and not a gun as happened with the first Pin-tailed Snipe for Sicily that was shot by hunters (if I am not mistaken – couldn’t find anything on it online). In the hand first check the outer tail feathers. The outer tail feathers of Swinhoe’s Snipe are nice and broad, gradually broadening from the outermost pair inwards:

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

The outer tail feathers of Pin-tailed Snipe are very different – all outer tail feathers (normally 8 pairs but varies between 6 and 9 pairs) are of equal width, about 1.5 – 2 mm. This is a scan of a slide (over-saturated, sorry) I took of the 2nd Pin-tailed Snipe for Israel I took in November 1998:

Pin-tailed Snipe, Kfar Ruppin, Israel, November 1998

Pin-tailed Snipe, Kfar Ruppin, Israel, November 1998

And here’s another example, of a bird ringed at Tsora, Israel by Yosef Kiat:

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Pins indeed.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Pins indeed.

But what to do with birds in the field? It may be possible that in exceptional images of a landing or preening bird, the shape of the outer feathers can be identified. However I have not had success with this yet. Andrea Corso told me that he found a difference in the tail shape in flight: Pin-tailed Snipe has a more diamond-shaped tail (similar to Raven), as a result of the short pin-feathers at the base of the tail. Swinhoe’s should have a more square- or gently rounded-shaped tail. I have tried to check this on images online but there are very few rear flight shots, and anyway in most it is impossible to say whether they were identified correctly. This is how Jari’s Swinhoe’s  looks like in a view similar to flight – square tailed?

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

And Yosef’s pin-tailed in a similar view, when those pin-feathers are clustered: raven-shaped?

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Check also the scapulars - inner webs buff, outer webs white.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Check also the scapulars – inner webs buff, outer webs white.

This is something that is certainly worth looking into, especially in birds of known identity. In general, I find Pin-tailed to be less-patterned above, with narrower fringes to scapulars and mantle braces compared to more boldly patterned Swinhoe’s. However this must be very variable, depending on wear and age.

Some more images of Jari’s Swinhoe’s:

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo). Check the scapulars - inner and outer webs both buff toned.

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo). Check the scapulars – inner and outer webs both buff toned.

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Vocalisations

Both species are rather silent, much less vocal than Common Snipe. Paul Leader and Geoff Carey discussed the possible differences in length in their excellent BB article, but they admitted that even to an experienced ear telling them apart is not straightforward. They suggested that Swinhoe’s is even more mute than Pin-tailed. Both species give soft take-off calls, though it is possible that calls of Pin-tailed are higher-pitched and clearer, while Swinhoe’s gives a lower-pitched, hoarser call. The bottom line is that it is worth sound-recording suspicious snipes, though it is not easy (I have tried several times but if the snipe did call it was very faint).

If you are lucky enough to be in an area where they breed and encounter a displaying bird, then display songs are sufficiently different. The song of Swinhoe’s is harsher and contains more ‘rrr’ notes, while Pin-tailed contains softer, more nasal notes. Check this educational post by Magnus Hellström.

What else?

Not much at the moment. Studying a large sample of birds in the hand in Hong Kong, Leader and Carey found no consistent differences between the two species other than outer tail feathers and perhaps vocalisations. They demonstrated that both species show considerable morphological variation in almost all features. Previous publications discussed features such as bill length, tail projection, overall patterns and pattern of scapulars, loral stripe and a few others. There might be something in the pattern on the scapulars: in Swinhoe’s, a higher proportion of individuals showed same-coloured outer and inner webs, while in Pin-tailed more individuals had white outer webs and buff inner webs. Check the images of the individuals above – in these individuals here this works but this is a tiny sample size and it is really about percentages of birds and does not apply to a single bird. And it would be very difficult to judge this on worn birds in the field, as WP vagrants would probably be.

This is a bird I photographed in November 2013 – hard to tell what it is. So frustrating.

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe's) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, November 2013. This bird was silent. Scapular pattern? Hard to say on this worn bird.

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013. This bird was silent. Scapular pattern? Hard to say on this worn bird.

Lior Kislev has kindly allowed me to use his flight shots of this same individual. Not easy to tell what the tail shape is. In some it looks more pointed and narrow, in others it looks more rounded and fuller.

 

Nice wing pattern:

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

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Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

And here it does look more pointed with a distinct ‘bulge’ at the base of the tail: pins?

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Can I see pins here when its landing? BTW there is a Spotted Crake in this image too…

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev).

Some more information about Baikal Bird Ringing Station

Capture

This exciting ringing project started in 2012. If I am not mistaken they ring there only in Spring. Check their blog! They catch there mouthwatering Siberian species such as this stunner:

Siberian Blue Robin, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Siberian Blue Robin, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

You can find more great images Jari took there this year on his Facebook page, and other images from previous years in his Tarsiger gallery. Many thanks to Jari, Lior and Yosef for allowing me to use their images.

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

Mixed Yellow Wagtails

Israel in spring is a great place to study Yellow Wagtail subspecies. There is a good mix of western and eastern forms, and the males are obviously very good looking in spring. Among the more distinct forms, such as nominate flava or the almost-full-species feldegg (ask the Dutch), there are some interesting ‘mixed’ birds. In late March, quite a few males that look similar to feldegg but have a supercilium are seen. Some have nice clean white supercilium:

Male ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2011

Male ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2011

Note also the prominent lower eye-ring. This bird is what I would expect a mix between feldegg and flava to look like. These birds normally give a sweet ‘western-type’ call. I would expect the female to look like this:

Female ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, Israel, March 2008

Female ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, Israel, March 2008

I call these birds ‘superciliaris‘ with quotation marks because the consensus is that it is not a real subspecies, but rather a ‘fluid’ mix from E of the Balkans.

During the recent Champions of the Flyway race day in late March, I found this stunning bird at Neot Smadar sewage farm. This tiny gem of a site in the desert held a couple hundred Yellow Wagtails, mainly feldegg and flava. I had very little time so couldn’t study it properly and just fired off a few images. I did hear it call – it gave a western call. But it looks very much like what I would expect from ‘xanthophrys‘ – another dodgy mix thing. This bird has a vivid yellow supercilium and dark green – blackish crown and ear coverts.

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

It superficially resembles taivana, which belongs to the Eastern Yellow Wagtail group, but is separated by having too much black on the crown and ear coverts (taivana is greener) and also mantle is too dark green. taivana has a vivid green-yellow mantle, and lacks a prominent lower white eyering. Check stunning images here. And of course the call of the Eastern Yellow Wagtail group is distinctive, closer to Citrine Wagtail – check here.

This individual was seen by other birders as well and did attract some attention, because xanthophrys types are not commonly seen in Israel. I was slightly disappointed to hear its western call. xanthophrys should have rasping eastern calls, similar to feldegg and lutea that are the supposed ancestors of this mix. So what is this bird? I am not sure, probably superciliaris too. But because both forms superciliaris and xanthophrys are mixed anyway, I am not sure whether there is a real distinction between them or are they just two ends of a cline between birds with white supercilium in the west and yellow supercilium in the east?

Another mix-type that is seen in Israel in pretty good numbers is dombrowski that breeds in Romania. dombrowski is another type of mix between flava and feldegg or beema and feldegg:

‘dombrowski’ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2012

‘dombrowski’ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2012

It looks more like a very dark flava, rather than an eye-browed feldegg. Some individuals can be slightly paler and bluer than this, but they typically are dark and dull on the head and lack a pale ear coverts patch.

And here are some of the ancestors. Male Black-headed Yellow Wagtails are really unmistakable, and cracking too…

Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Yotvata,Israel, March 2016

Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Yotvata,Israel, March 2016

Female feldegg typically have a short yellow or sometimes whitish supercilium behind the eye:

female feldegg Yellow Wagtail, Bet Kama, N Negev, Israel, September 2013

female feldegg Yellow Wagtail, Bet Kama, N Negev, Israel, September 2013

flava Yellow Wagtails are pretty variable in Israel. Some are rather dark, deep blue-headed like this one and lack almost any pale on the ear coverts:

flava yellow Wagtail, Arava Valley, March 2013

flava yellow Wagtail, Arava Valley, March 2013

Some are a bit drabber, paler-headed with more pale on the ear coverts. This is a young male (2cy) – check the obvious moult contrast in the greater coverts:

flava Yellow Wagtail, 2cy male, Neot Smadar, May 2012

flava Yellow Wagtail, 2cy male, Neot Smadar, May 2012

beema Yellow wagtails are very pale headed, and typically have a large pale patch on the ear coverts. They have an eastern call.

beema Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, April 2014

beema Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, April 2014

lutea is a striking bird. Not dissimilar to the British Yellow Wagtails. Some have slightly greener ear coverts and crown. They have an eastern call as well. They are uncommon in Israel, but they are one of the dominant forms seen in East Africa in winter.

lutea Yellow Wagtail, Chem-Chem Lake, Kenya, December 2010

lutea Yellow Wagtail, Chem-Chem Lake, Kenya, December 2010

Saunders’s and Little Terns ID pitfalls

 

Yoav Perlman

This is a topic I talked about briefly in my 2015 Spurn Migfest talk. Saunders’s Tern is one of the rarest and least-known breeding birds in the WP. Despite having a large range around the Indian Ocean, including Red Sea, coastal East Africa, Arabia and Indian Subcontinent, it is still a poorly-known species worldwide. ID of adults in summer is better described. Compared to its sister Sternula species, Little Tern, it is smaller and slimmer. Seeing them side by side (I have seen two in Israel alongside Little Terns), you get a similar comparison to Common versus Arctic Tern in differences in size, structure and derived flight pattern – about 10% smaller and more delicate, and flight more light and bouncy. Calls are also different – check the Xeno Canto page with lots of variation in call but the mainstream seems to be softer and less coarse than Little Tern. Some plumage features seem to be rather robust – first of all, contrary to what some birders may think, adult summer Saunders’s are paler above than adult little, very pale silvery-white. They have a larger dark primary patch, usually 4-5 dark primaries, compared to the normal 2-3 dark primaries in adult Littles. Also, Littles have a contrasting white rump and tail, at least the outer tail feathers (apprently greyer central tail feathers are quite normal in Little Terns). Saunders’s has concolorous (pale) grey mantle, rump and entire tail. And that’s it more or less. All the other features mentioned in literature are of unknown validity, mainly becuase the limits of variation within Saunders’s Tern, even adults in summer plumage, are little known.

But that’s not the only reason why separating these two species is challenging. Interestingly, the amount of variation shown by adult summer Little Tern, which is such a familiar and popular European bird, a photographer’s favourite, is not well described. More on this below.

My interest in them increased a few months ago. I noticed this Saunders’s-type tern in a blogpost of my good friend from Kuwait, Mike Pope from late April 2015:

Tern sp. with little Tern in background, Sea City, Kuwait, 25/4/15 by Mike Pope

Tern sp. with little Tern in background, Sea City, Kuwait, 25/4/15 by Mike Pope

This bird made some alarm bells go off – look at this broad wing patch (4 primaries), concolorous rump and complete grey tail – this must be a Saunders’s Tern, no? I flagged it up to Mike, he circulated among some experts, and the views were leaning towards Saunder’s tern – that would have been a long overdue first for Kuwait.

But then the plot thickened. I circulated Mike’s report among my fellow IRDC members. Yosef Kiat has been ringing Common and Little Terns for several years now in a breeding colony at Atlit, south of Haifa, on the Med Coast. He sent me some images of Little Terns from the breeding colony this late summer that knocked me off my chair. I was aware of the variation they show there, I did join him several times on his nocturnal adventures there, but have never seen extreme birds like these. First, a 2cy bird – this bird hatched in the colony to ‘normal’ looking Little Tern parents in 2014, and was retrapped this year:

2cy Little Tern, Atlit, israel, 25 August 2015 by Yosef Kiat

2cy Little Tern, Atlit, israel, 25 August 2015 by Yosef Kiat

Look at the grey rump and tail: perhaps outer tail feathers are slightly paler than the heavily abraded and dirty central tail feathers, but I am sure in the field this would look like a solid grey tail.

And take a look at this 1cy bird, hatched 2015, again to’normal’ Little Tern parents, wow!

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

Hmmm…. Grey rump, grey tail… And the wing looks like this – in the field it would look like a huge dark wedge:

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, Israel, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

1cy Little Tern, Atlit, Israel, 1/9/15 by Yosef Kiat

Also this summer, in June, Yuda Siliki, an Israeli birder sent me this nice comparison of Little Terns from Ma’agan Michael – these birds are from the same colony in Atlit. Check out the variation in supposed features for Saunders’s Tern – shape of forehead patch and extent of dark bill tip. Saunders’s has much more limited white foreahead, not unlike the lower individual, but the white patch needs to more squared off in Saunders’s, less of a supercilium above and behind the eye, but still check the amount of variation among the two. Also, what about the amount of dark on the bill tip? Saunders’s should have more extensive dark than little, so what’s going on here?

Adult Little Terns, ma'agan Michael, Israel, 7/6/15 by Yuda Siliki

Adult Little Terns, ma’agan Michael, Israel, 7/6/15 by Yuda Siliki

I think it is very interesting to explore this species pair now. They were found breeding only recently in southwest Sinai, just 150 km away from the Mediterranean. For a long-distance migrant to hop into the Med is no big deal, and then it could practically turn up anywhere around the Mediterranean. An adult in summer plumage should be possible to pick out among Little Terns, but what about a young bird? and a non-breeding bird? Headache. If you read carefully Klaus Malling Olsen’s tern book he does state that in non-breeding and juvenile plumages it would not be safe to separate the species. With the circumstancial evidence provided here I tend to agree, but it is hard for me to accept that they cannot be separated. There must be something out there to teach us.

This is how some Saunders’s Tern breeding in Sinai look like – many thanks to Rich Bonser for allowing me to use his brilliant pics. Adults have a nice prominent wing patch, but only three dark primaries here. Is it moulting? Unclear. It has a small forehead patch, that doesn’t extend above and behind the eye:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Difficult light conditions here. Rump is grey – however in this image tail looks paler?

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

This bird in better light conditions does show the rump and tail pattern nicely. It is in active primary moult, so wing patch much reduced here:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

More extensive white forehead patch here, but again does not extend back above eye:

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Very pale silvery white above. Solid dark bill tip as in all photos. There is some talk about Saunder’s having duller leg colour but I think this feature is not worth much. This is so dependent on the hormonal condition the bird is in during breeding. Also bill tip must change according to breeding condition?

Adult Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Siani, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

Adult Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Siani, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

This one below is a 1cy. I do not know if the colony at Ras Sudr is mixed with Little Terns or not, but in Rich’s blog this is a 1cy Saunders’s Tern – I will go with the flow. Not dissimilar to the Atlit 1cy Little Tern above? Pretty pallid bird but extensive wing patch. Greater and lesser primary coverts very dark here, but is it different to how the Atlit 1cy would look like in the field? I am not sure.

1cy Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders's Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

1cy Saunders’s Tern, Ras Sudr, Sinai, Egypt, July 2013 by Richard Bonser

It would be great to study the amount of variation the Sinai Saunders’s Terns show in key features like forehead patch, bill tip and tail pattern. Also how many dark primaries do they have before moult?

One incredible place to study Saunders’s Tern in non-breeding would be Kenya. I visited Sabaki river mouth, north of Malindi in December 2010. There is a roost of hundreds of thousands of Saunders’s Terns (!) there during the northern winter. I was there at daytime so there were only few thousands… But they were all distant, and scoping them into the sun didn’t provide me with much insight on their ID. I wonder if anyone rings them there, or at least photograhps them.

But one very important piece missing in the jigsaw is how much variation ‘our’ Little Terns show, in adult summer plumage and also in other plumages. Does this variation that I have shown here in Israeli birds occur in northern populations as well? The Little Terns I have seen here in the UK looked all bog standard, but I didn’t study any juveniles. I guess that few 2cy Little Terns return in summer to N Europe? Would be great to get some feedback from ringers and birders with field experience.

Olivaceous Warbler ID and Iduna Issues

 

Yoav Perlman 

On October 1st Noam Weiss trapped this intriguing Iduna Warbler at IBRCE, Eilat.

Noam is the director of the IBRCE, and is one of the most experienced ringers in Israel. Noam must have handled in his extensive ringing carrier several thousand Eastern Olivaceous Warblers I. elaeica, the default Iduna in Israel, and he was immediately struck by this individual – how pallid and sandy it was, and this amazing bill!profile1

 

Noam understood he had an unusual bird in his hands, and did what an experienced ringer should do in cases like this: he took full measurements of the bird, made sure he had enough photographs in good light conditions, and collected a couple of belly feathers that were shed during the normal ringing process, for DNA analysis. He suspected it could be opaca, the Western Olivaceous Warbler based on its very long bill. There are no accepted records of opaca in Israel, yet…

wing

Naom’s bird was rather large, larger than average elaeica, with a wing length of 67 mm. The wing formula wasn’t helpful – especially the 2nd primary that falls between P6/7 – OK for both species:

The bill length fits opaca, with length to skull of 19.6 mm, but the bill width was too narrow and fits elaeica better – 4.4 mm. Also note the bill shape from below – in opaca it’s supposed to be convex, with swollen mandibles, while elaeica shows straight or slightly concave mandibles:

bill

 

A few other pointers to this bird being elaeica are:

Pale wing panel on secondaries – opaca lacks a wing panel.
Overall tones – though this bird lacks the typically olive-grey tones of elaeica, it still lacks the brown, almost Acrocephalus tones of opaca.
The lores are pretty dark, and supercilium rather pronounced. opaca has a more open-faced impression with pale lores.

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profile2

After consulting with members of the Spanish rarities committee, including Manolo Garcia, the consensus on this bird is that it is an unusual elaeica with a deformed bill, and not opaca. But maybe DNA analysis provides different insights? We will know more soon. Thumbs up to Noam for picking out this interesting bird, and sharing the images and information with me.

normal Eastern Olivaceous Warblers

Here are a few images of normal elaeica from Israel. They normally are darker and have stronger olive tones, though this is often hard to perceive in photographs, as it depends on light conditions and on how images are manipulated in editing software. This is an individual in May – look at the pointed and narrow bill:

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And this is a cute 1cy, recently fledged (huge awww factor), after a limited post-juvenile moult. Very short and thin bill:oli

Identification of Iduna warblers has been discussed on Birding Frontiers before – check this post with some images of opaca and reiseri. But always there is more to learn!

Champions of the Flyway 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 03.45.14

Martin Garner

I was pretty gutted not to be able to lead the Birding Frontiers Team out last year for the inaugural ‘Champions of the Flyway’. We were proud to be one of the first supporting teams to register having been much inspired by the vision and passion of Jonathan Merav and Dan Alon. Unfortunately falling ill meant that despite radically misplaced optimism on my part I was never going to get there. Roger Riddington, Paul French and Adam Hutt did superbly well to place so high (and without me- how so! 😉 ) in last years race.

 

Our 2014 BF Team of Paul, Adam and Roger

Our 2014 BF Team of Paul, Adam and Roger

I am not fit enough to race a team this year so it did not seem appropriate to tender one.

BBRC Vagrants

I am delighted  therefore that Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 04.14.24Paul French (Frenchie) has formed a new BBRC team with some special friends, Micky Maher and Richard Schofield. I was invited but I won’t be able to stay awake as long as Scofers (er hmm), so I’ll just back them instead!

Please do check out the this excellent video by Yuval Dax of last years’ race. It really draws you in! Lots of familiar face and some excellent leg pulling, and of course… superb birds and birding.

For lots more info on this years 2015 Champions of the Flyway go >>>HERE<<<

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Desert and Asian Grey Shrikes

Explorations

Martin Garner

Shrikes, aka butcher birds are always pleasing to see. Recent molecular studies have forced (yet another) rethink about what used to be called ‘Great Grey Shrikes’ and how they might be related to one another. A division between ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ forms is already well-known. Here’s a look at the Southern Grey Shrikes where there is much more to discovered about identification, genetics, vocalisations and interbreeding of forms. A birding frontier! Furthermore an ‘Asian Grey Shrike’ in Norfolk in 1982 considered to be an escape might be worth revisiting.

A paper published in 2010 (see end) suggested different possible (new) taxonomic treatments, with an option being to treat the southern birds as 3 separate species. This position has been adopted by e.g. Dutch Birding:

Desert Grey Shrike Lanius elegans with taxa: elegans, koenigi and algeriensis

Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis

Asian Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora with taxa: lahtora, pallidirostris and aucheri

What’s confusing is that birds with the most similar plumages and in some case breeding closest to one another, are not necessarily the most closely related. So takes some getting your head around! Expressed simply a broad sweep from the Canaries to India reveals most of the southern taxa are dark smoky-grey looking shrikes. From koenigi in the Canaries, algeriensis of coastal North Africa, aucheri of the Middle East through to lahtora in India all look broadly very similar. Into that mix the Iberian meridionalis is similarly dark, often with pinkish caste to underparts. The outstandingly paler form is elegans spanning right across inland North Africa through to the Middle East while the different looking pallidirostris sits perched in the NE corner (Central Asia) of this range.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging deep extensive grey tones below, contrasting with white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. Dutch have it as 'Desert Grey Shrike' and a subspecies of elegans (with algeriensis as another ssp.). The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species 'Iberian Grey Shrike' by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Desert Grey Shrike formkoenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging with deep extensive grey tones below with contrastingly white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species ‘Iberian Grey Shrike’ by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Desert Grey Shrike ‘koenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. A firts winter from nearby North Africa that seemed to fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal form,  algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans.

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. From nearby North Africa. Extensive white in the wing, with large white primarv patch and white outer webs in secondaries points to the paler elegans. Some aspects thought to indicate it fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans. Thankfully these are considered the same species in the new taxonomy! Bit more here

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans/ dodsoni, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

 

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike adult form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri in Israel (and algeriensis in N. Africa). Lots white in wing and tail, bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with very limited black over bill.

Adult Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012, Martin Garner. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri (Asian Grey Shrike) in Israel. Also with lots white in wing; large white primary patch and ‘linking’ white on secondary edges with bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with limited black on forehead/over top of bill base.

Southern Grey Shrike 2 aucheri Hula, Israel Nov 2012

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Billed as separate species from the paler elegans by the Dutch, aucheri is lumped with Asian Grey Shrike 'lahtora' and includes subspecies pallidirostris! This shrike is the commoner dark form in N Israel with darker grey upperparts, more black in mask and less white in wing than aucheri (e.g. see above).

2 photos above: First winter Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. You get 2 species to tick now in Israel!  the dark aucheri is lumped as Asian Grey Shrike with ‘lahtora’  from further east and includes central Asian subspecies pallidirostris, while elegans  is a Desert Grey Shrike. The more common form in N Israel is aucheri with darker grey upperparts, more extensive and darker grey in underparts,more black in mask and less white in wing than elegans (e.g. see above).

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. White in wing limited to primaries.

Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. White in wing essentially limited to primaries. Such a dark bird with limited white seems to fit more extreme end of aucheri, perhaps an example of taxon ‘theresae’ upheld by some authors

Southern Grey Shrike, , Beit She'an Valley,  Israel Nov 2013. In interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn't especially darker above and  with more white in wing than other easy 'aucheri'. This bird could be what is assumed to be an intergrade form between darker northern aucheri and paler southern elegans.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Beit She’an Valley, Israel Nov 2013, Martin Garner. An interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn’t especially darker above and with more white in wing than other easy ‘aucheri’…

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it's appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She'an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many 'Asian Grey Shrikes' were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980's? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not be reproduced in any form.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it’s appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She’an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many ‘Asian Grey Shrikes’ were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980’s? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not to be reproduced in any form.

 

Download the key paper which is bringing new taxonomic thinking:

 The Lanius excubitor conundrum

 

Grateful thanks to Roger Tidman, James McCallum, Chris Kehoe, Andy Stoddart, the MISC, Dani López-Velasco, Juan Sagardia and Yoav Perlman.

 

Champions of the Flyway – Back Birding Frontiers to Win!

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Champions of the Flyway IS:

  • A Big International Bird race

  • On April 1st 2014 in Eilat, Israel

  • To raise money to stop illegal bird killing

  • [and the Birding Frontiers team is going to win!]

 

You can read all the stuff on the >>>Champions of the Flyway<<<

“All our race teams are also competing to raise the most sponsorship in support of BirdLife‘s action against illegal killing of birds in Southern and Eastern Europe. You can donate to the team you wish to help the most here and cheer them on with a goodwill message.”

You can read about Birdlife’s Migratory Birds and Flyways Programme and the  very real threats facing populations of migratory birds.

Who is on the Birding Frontiers Team and who is supporting us?

……………….>>>Birding Frontiers Team<<<

and we would love you to support the Birding Frontiers Team efforts by giving directly to the conservation cause on our team page. Here:

……………………>>>Just Giving Page<<<

 

and check out this gorgeous set of moving images of the birds of Eilat. Have a cuppa, sit down to enjoy. LOADS of cool birds on it!

 

oddie_bwHere is a checklist of the 237 species seen during the Eilat Birding Festival in 2013.

Bill Oddie on Home Truths about Bird Racers (very funny)….

and this is the area we will be birding in for 24 hours, non-stop!

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ooo and in case you missed it:

and we would love you to support the Birding Frontiers Team efforts by giving directly to the conservation cause on our team page. Here:

………………………….>>>Just Giving Page<<<

 

THANK YOU!