Category Archives: Mystery Birds

Christmas fudge goose

By Yoav Perlman

Geese are fun, aren’t they? The perfect head-scratching activity for dark and cold winter days. In Norfolk, views are typically rubbish, which makes it even more fun. Hybrid geese have been discussed on Birding Frontiers before.

When geese turn up in funny places, things get really interesting. This intriguing goose was found at the spectacular KKL Agamon Hula in Israel on Christmas day by Hamudi Musa Heib, and was later photographed by Dror Galili. Dror kindly allowed me to use his images here. Shai Agmon sent me some more images and shared his field impressions with me. It was an overcast day (even in Israel…) so Dror’s images are rather dark and blue.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

First impression is Lesser White-fronted Goose (LWFG), isn’t it? The bold eyering shouts loud. But then a closer look does show some pointers to other or mixed identities. In images it looks quite a brute, compared to Wigeon. However, people who saw it in the field said that the field impression wasn’t that massive. The neck is thick but rather long. The bill is long and powerful, different from the cute mini-beak of LWFG, to my eyes closer to Eurasian White-fronted Goose (EWFG).

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

First, ageing this bird is important – this appears to be a 1cy (1st-winter; it will turn 2cy in five days). Check moult contrast in scapulars and flanks. It is probably moulting out of juvenile plumage.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Some context: 

This is a special goose year in Israel. All geese are rare in Israel. The only regularly occurring species in Israel is Eurasian White-fronted, with single birds seen almost every winter. Agamon Hula is a hotspot for them. This winter Israel is experiencing a goose influx, with several flocks of White-fronts around the country, several flocks of the rare Greylag, and even records of mega rarities – Taiga Bean Goose (5th record) and Lesser White-fronted (7th record). Check this article in Hebrew (sorry), Google Translate will make you chuckle I’m sure. So it is likely that this bird is of wild origin.

In Israel this bird was first broadcast as Lesser White-fronted Goose. Then talk started about hybrid options.  With Eurasian white-fronted Goose? Red-breasted Goose? Egyptian Goose? Ruddy Shelduck? Perhaps wildfowl collections can create unlikely love stories? I don’t know if that’s even possible. So many question marks in one post… So to make some sense I contacted Dave Appleton from the excellent Bird Hybrids. Dave sent me this most detailed reply:

“Firstly I think the reddish colour on the flank feathers is a red herring… I think it is dirt and not a real plumage feature.  I don’t think any hybrid combination would give rise to such a plumage mark and also I don’t think the pattern of it really fits any normal feather patterns – it seems to cross feathers in a weird way, not like a normal plumage feature.  For example in IMG1897 (the top image in this post – YP) the rearmost blotch of reddish brown along the rear flanks seems to cover the outer half of the tip of one feather and the outer ¾ of the base of the feather behind it – like a random spot of dirt rather than a normal plumage pattern.

The other issues would all be explained, I think, if there was (Greater/Eurasian) White-fronted Goose influence – a first-winter would show a dark nail to the bill and have a longer bill than Lesser White-front, it would be large and heavy and I think the head shape and colour are ok too.  So then my question becomes, is it a hybrid between White-fronted Goose and Lesser White-fronted Goose, or could it be just a pure White-fronted Goose?  The features you mention as making it superficially like Lesser White-fronted Goose are the eye-ring and the long primaries.  To me the feathers at the wing-tip look dishevelled – the tertials aren’t lying flat and the primaries seem to be pointing at a slightly odd angle.  I am not sure if it is damaged or has loose feathers, but whatever the cause I am not sure it is safe to judge the relative length of the primaries in this state. 

That leaves only the yellow eye-ring (or more correctly, orbital ring) to potentially indicate Lesser White-fronted Goose origin.  Of course White-fronted Goose can have a slightly yellowish orbital ring, it’s just that its usually so dull and inconspicuous that you don’t notice it.  It does vary though – e.g. the Reeber Wildfowl book says (under the description of adult Greater White-fronted Goose), “Brown iris with a usually inconspicuous orbital ring, which is sometimes yellow (most frequently in breeding males).”  I can’t find them now but I’m sure I’ve seen photos of apparently pure White-fronted Geese with yellow orbital rings that would make a Lesser White-front proud.  Of course your bird appears to be a first-winter, so that may be more unusual in a bird of that age, but I am not sure it is enough on its own to exclude a pure White-fronted Goose.  On the other hand they say that most captive Lesser White-fronts are not pure, having some White-front ancestry (which in my experience rings true – they often seem to have less white on the forehead than wild birds) and I guess the opposite might be true of captive White-fronts.  So if captive origin is likely then perhaps mixed ancestry might be the best way of explaining the yellow eye-ring, but if wild origin is more likely (and if recent events in England are anything to go by it must be a good winter to see White-fronts a bit outside their usual range) then I would tentatively suggest a pure first-winter White-fronted Goose would be the most likely identification.”

Many thanks to Dave for this interesting and eye-opening analysis.

I have some points to discuss though – open to debate:

  1. I think the red colouration on the flanks is genuine feather pattern, rather than red dirt. It seems to be symmetrical on both sides (check two top images).
  2. I agree that wingtip structure is not fully clear in relation to tertials, but the primaries do certainly project beyond tail. It is hard to judge exactly how much, but this is more than I would expect from a EWFG.
  3. I am not sure that the dark bill nail is not a result of the goose digging in the dark peat soil of the Hula Valley.

Would be interesting to hear more opinions on this bird!

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

I apologize for a certain back-log I have here on BF. I promise to address the grey chat (stejnegeri?) issue soon. I also have some interesting terns in the oven, and should also write about a certain house martin that I hope to see on Thursday when I arrive in Israel for a short visit…

So stay tuned for some more exciting stuff here on Birding Frontiers in 2017. I wish all of our followers and supporters a lovely and exciting 2017!


Wacky Weekend Warbler

and Nearby Mammal. Two Mystery Photos.

Just for fun on a hot weekend. Hopefully not too tricky. I was working on something else and these tickled me – both photos taken in same area. One a warbler munching at a spider’s web, one a (dang ugly) mammal.

Do you know what they are?

birdy1 mammal one

Test Yourself Bird Song

Hidden Warblers of late May/ early June

Martin Garner

Just for fun

Here are 3 singing warblers. All recorded on the East Yorkshire coast in late May/ early June. All identified on song. All 3 almost impossible to see. What species are they?

A fourth ‘bonus ball’ is at the end:  a calling bird- same time of year. What species is it?

Hope you have fun with it and learn as I have 🙂


Summer Warbler Mystery One

Summer Warbler Mystery Two

Summer Warbler Mystery Three

Summer Bird Mystery Four



Secret Seven Quiz: The ANSWERS


Davy Bosman

Chris Batty

Jon Holt

The latter two have become serially good quiz players :). All 3 entrants got all 7 of the quiz birds correct. Quite a few other entrants got almost all correct, falling at just one of the quiz birds. So very well done Davy, Chris and Jon. Each name was written on a piece of paper and holding breath, Sharon Garner drew the winner from the 3 who is ……..

Jon Holt

huge thanks to Princeton for the superb double prize




lesser spotted and vulpinus

BIRD ONE a Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina same bird flying below a Steppe Buzzard

pied wheatear 1BIRD TWO A first summer male Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleshanka.  Not an easy ID from Cyprus Pied Wheatear. There are a few characters. More often than not the ID is a gut reaction. Bigger, duller and uglier = Pied versus, more slender and more beautifully coloured = Cyprus Pied Wheatear (gut birding!).

Adult male Cyprus Pied Wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca
ruppells w 2cy fem d

BIRD THREE 1st summer female Ruppell’s Warbler Sylvia rueppelli
ruppells w 2cy fem b

BIRD THREE 1st summer female Ruppell’s Warbler Sylvia rueppelli . The Sylvia warblers are always a bit challenging, especially the non adult males. To compare:


Female Cyprus Warbler Sylvia melanothorax, Feb 2014 by Yosef Kiat

mystery 4

BIRD FOUR Female Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca 

spotted crake 1

BIRD FIVE Spotted Crake Porzana porzana

n wheatear

BIRD SIX Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe

barabary 1

 BIRD SEVEN  young Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides

We have a Winner

Heads N Tails Quiz

3 competitors survived and correctly identified the tiebreak bird. Which impressed me deeply! Seriously I have seen quite a few of these and they don’t look much like Reed Warblers a lot of the time- way to olivey toned above and Marsh Warbler-like. So impressed I was!2014-03-09_013941

Huge thanks the to our leading seabirders in Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher of Scilly Pelagics who donated these 2 superb and innovative multimedia prizes for the quiz and conservation:


The Tiebreak bird is a Caspian Reed Warbler aka ‘fuscus’ Reed Warbler.

Chris Batty, Jon Holt and Nick Moran each continued on form by correctly identifying the tiebreak bird. This left only one option. Each was given a number and Sharon G. drew from the proverbial hat.

Chris Batty was drawn the winner. Commiseration to Jon and Nick- who ‘did enough’. Dang! Thanks to all who took part… and if you haven’t yet and would like to give to our BIRDING FRONTIERS team effort– please do us proud- and give to our Birdlife Conservation efforts. We are going for bust to reach £2000 by the end of the month. More here:

Please give to great conservation effort >>>> HERE <<<<


Some… Caspian Reed Warblers ‘fuscus’

Extra challenge from the Autumn in Israel

Extra challenge from the Autumn in Israel

caspian reed oneno 2 fuscus Reed Warbler c Hula Valley N Israel Nov 2012no 2 fuscus Reed Warbler a Hula Valley N Israel Nov 2012

ANSWERS: To Mystery Quiz!

4 Way Tie  🙂

for the Prize:



head 1    Eastern Olivaceous Warbler     Iduna pallida elaeica
head 2    Kentish Plover    Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus
head 3    Tamarisk Nubian Nightjar    Caprimulgus nubicus tamaricis
head 4    Caucasian Water Pipit    Anthus spinoletta coutellii
head 5    Eastern Blackcap    Sylvia atricapilla atricapilla/dammholzi
tail 1    Eastern Black-eared Wheatear    Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca
tail 2    Eastern Orphean Warbler    Sylvia crassirostris crassirostris
tail 3    Western Baillon’s Crake    Porzana pusilla intermedia
tail 4    Isabelline Wheatear    Oenanthe isabellina
tail 5    Eastern Woodchat Shrike    Lanius senator niloticus
Well done to all who have had a go. 4 people got all 10 Mystery Birds correct and of course some who missed by just one or two.

Winners so far…

WELL DONE to these 4 who hit the bulls eye:

Chris Batty, Quentin Dupriez, Jon Holt and Nick Moran.


So chaps- please submit your answer to the Tie Break (if you haven’t already))

Don’t forget: Donate PLEASE and support the TEAM. Thanks!






Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover

Tamarisk (Nubian) Nightjar

Tamarisk (Nubian) Nightjar

Water Pipit ssp. coutelli

Water Pipit ssp. coutelli


male Blackcap and pollen

male Blackcap and pollen


Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear


Eastern Orphean Warbler

Eastern Orphean Warbler



Baillon's Crake

Baillon’s Crake


Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear


Eastern Woodchat Shrike ssp. niloticus

Eastern Woodchat Shrike ssp. niloticus


Donate PLEASE and support the TEAM. Thanks!




Answer to Mystery Stonechat

or at least further exploration!

by Martin G.

Thanks to those who responded to the Mystery Stonechat question. It’s an intriguing bird. I picked up in flight from the car and called it as a ‘Caspian’ on account of thinking I saw white in tail and large pale rump. However on landing it was too dark overall, looking at times very European Stonechat- like and Sander Bot and I, together with Mick Cunningham quickly decided it looked better for a Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’. The rump was big and pale and somewhat peachy but no white was visible in the tail as it flew about. I was still bothered that I thought I had glimpsed some white so persevered with photos- and sure enough: a small area of white at base of tail feathers is just visible. Certainly a good bird to work with and learn from.

all photos below are of the same bird: Beit She’an Valley, N Israel, 13th November 2013 by MG

stonechat israel nov 13 b

Looking rather like a male European Stonechat. Makes you wonder if adult male Siberian Stonechat are overlooked in NW Europe – passed off as the Common cousin?

stonechat israel nov 13 f

Tending to look a tad paler and ”cleaner’ at times than European Stonechat with glimpses of large all pale rump. the primary projection -while subtle – does not look long enough to me for the Caspian taxa. Longer on Northern (hemprichii) and even longer on Southern (variegatus – ex armenicus), which has been suggested as an ID for this bird.


stonechat israel nov 13 e

stonechat israel nov 13 g

Large plain rump and black inner underwing coverts mean it can’t be European rubicola- even when it tried to look like one.


stonechat israel nov 13 dand there it is: the little patches of white, just visible on a spread tail shot and the base of the outer tail feathers. For me this seems like its’ OK for Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’


stonechat israel nov 13 a

White patches again visible at base of tail feathers from the underside- as detected by some folk. White at tail base of stonechats is easier to see on underside than upperside.


stonechat israel nov 13 cand back to a perched view.

So what is it?

I think it’s an adult male, though aging can be tricky. I think it’s a  Siberian Stonechat maurus and not a Southern Caspian Stonechat ‘variegatus‘ (ex armenicus). Why?  

1) Too much colour below. Both Caspian Stonechats, with some variation, show the most vivid stonechat plumage. An isolated orangey ‘blood spot stands out on the breast with lots of white or pale below. This bird has orangeyness 🙂 over most of the underparts. A normal feature of some adult male Siberian ‘maurus‘ in autumn.

2) Subtle, but to me primary projection looks too short. South Caspian Stonechat should have longest primary projection and seems to usually appear longer than it does on this bird.

3) Siberian maurus passing through southern Kazakhstan apparently have some white at the base of the tail sometime to similar extent as on this individual bird. Again from limited research- I think an adult male Southern Caspian would actually have more white than is visible in these 2 photos.

Your Turn!

This is another cusp of learning on the stonechats, so if you disagree or can add something to the discussion. Welcome!