Category Archives: 06) Birds of Prey

Tawny Eagle identification by Barak Granit

First, a short introduction (by YP):

Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax is rather poorly known in the WP. It is widespread in Africa and S Asia, but now with the North African population probably extirpated, the only breeding population is perhaps in the southern Arabian Peninsula, though I have managed to find no recent evidence of this. Ssp. belisarius breeds across the Sahel Region and sub-Saharan Africa. It is generally sedentary, but some individuals disperse, occasionally to long distances. It seems to occur as a rare visitor to S Arabia, Egypt, Israel and perhaps also S Morocco. It is unclear whether WP occurrences involve also birds from the Asian subspecies vindhiana.

A recent individual that was found in Israel a couple of weeks ago sparked an interesting ID exercise. Barak Granit, one of Israel’s top birders, was involved in the identification process, and wrote a nice identification article that first appeared on the Israeli Birding Portal. It is reproduced here:

Tawny Eagle Identification by Barak Granit

On July 14th, Olga Chagina posted on her Facebook page a series of images of an Aquila sp. she took south of Kibbutz Ze’elim in the northwestern Negev (not far from the famous Urim powerline), seeking for ID Help. Initial responses called for Steppe Eagle while others suggested Lesser Spotted. Itai Shanni was the first to call for Tawny Eagle – a species with only five previous national records, four of which in the same general area. Shortly after Itai’s opinion appeared on FB, I supported Itai’s identification as Tawny Eagle and pointed out some diagnostic identification features. These are Olga’s first photos:

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Later on, Dick Forsman approved the identification. This is not an ‘Identification article’ proper – identification features of Tawny Eagle are available in literature. I review here the status of Tawny Eagle in Israel, and point out the key features that separated this individual from similar species.

Status in Israel

Tawny Eagle was first recorded in Israel on 1st November 1992 at Urim (Shirihai, Harris and Williams). Subsequent records came from the same locality: one on 22nd November 1996 (Aldersons), and one on 21st December 1997. Information about these records are in Hadoram Shirihai’s book Bird of Israel (1996) and in volume 21(1) of Sandgrouse, dedicated to fifty new species Hadoram had found in Israel.

Between January 1999 and March 2000 a Tawny Eagle was seen occasionally around Urim-Zeelim, by different birders including James Smith, Trevor Ellery, Eyal Shochat and others. On December 17th, 2000 while conducting a wintering raptor survey I finally locked on that bird. During the following weeks we were amazed to discover that it had built a huge nest (!) on one of the Eucalyptus trees by Urim’s gas station. Moreover, soon after a (probable) female Eastern Imperial Eagle showed some interest in becoming a partner, and it was observed perched by the nest and it even collected some nesting material.

Eventually, no breeding occurred but that bird enabled a close look at the species’ key features. It is possible that this bird was the same bird seen in 1996 and 1997 or perhaps even the same bird from 1992 that ranged in the area for almost a decade. We’ll never know.

13 years later, in early August 2013, Ezra Hadad photographed a Tawny Eagle near Bet-Kama in the northern Negev, some 20 km east of Urim. This bird was seen again by several birders over next few days.

Key features seen on Olga’s photos

Tawny eagle is a highly variable species. In Israel we don’t have records of the easy creamy-buff morph or the more difficult dark morph. All the birds recorded involved tawny-brown individuals. In this respect confusion might happen with Steppe Eagle, especially sub-adult birds which lack already the broad white greater coverts and with Lesser Spotted Eagle. Here I give the main ID pointers that could be seen in the first set of photos. Hopefully this will refine the ‘Search Image’ for local and visiting birders in Israel.

  1. Ageing the bird – the bird is in active moult, growing outer primaries while the outermost primary being paler and pointed, thus unreplaced yet, indicating a 3rd calendar bird (hatched in 2014). Actually correct ageing was enough to eliminate other species of the same age: Steppe Eagle still shows a broad white line on the greater coverts at this age; and Lesser Spotted still shows some whitish undertail coverts.
  1. Structure: Large headed with somewhat shortish wings compared with the long wings of Steppe or the more well-proportioned Lesser Spotted. When perched, tail looks rather short as well and the whole ‘weight’ of the bird is moved forward. The Bill is large compared to Lesser Spotted but the gape-line is only medium-long reaching the centre of the Eye, not as long as in Steppe.
Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

In flight the wings are typically pressed forward and although it was not clear if that feature was a result of a photo that caught it during active wingbeats, the effect could be noted.

Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

  1. Partially black greater coverts – contrary to Lesser Spotted and Steppe, the black GC are more solid and prominent. Actually the prominent black GC are similar to that of fulvescens Greater Spotted Eagle which in general, at least the intermediate morph can look quite similar!
Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

  1. Barring on flight feathers – every Aquila Eagle has a unique barring pattern which enables diagnostic identification (see in Dick Forsman’s new raptor ID book). In Lesser Spotted, the dark barring extends along all the feathers to the trailing edge. In sub-adult Steppe (from 4th year plumage) the barring is well developed and first adult feathers show a broad black trailing edge. On Olga’s photos it is clear that the barring doesn’t reach the trailing edge, thus covers only inner part of the feather (as in juvenile and immature Great Spotted), but also that the bars are faint, unlike all other species.
Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

  1. Almost entirely plain tail feathers – unlike in any of the similar species. This is a very important feature.
  1. Paler ‘wedges’ on inner primaries – that was actually a good example of how a good feature was hard to detect in a too-close photo. Later on, when flight photos from greater distance became available, this feature was easily noted: somewhat resembling juvenile / immature Eastern Imperial Eagle though fainter, Tawny Eagle has paler inner primaries that create pale ‘wedges’. On the first set of photos this pattern was difficult to see.
  1. General plumage tones – the plain ground colour of the belly, trousers (lacking any spots typical in both Spotted Eagle species) and undertail coverts are unique for Tawny Eagle. Personally when seeing the first set of photos I hesitated on this feature the most, since it was hard to tell if it was the real colour or a result of light-effect of low evening sun. However, the entirely tawny and plain undertail coverts convinced me that the tones seen in the photos were close to reality.
Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Many of these features were confirmed later by Dick Forsman, who also added the elongated shape of the nostril as in Steppe and unlike ‘spotted’ eagles that have a round nostril.

Tawny Eagle, Ze'elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Ze’elim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Itai Shanni also pointed out the contrast from above between the paler median coverts to the much darker greater coverts.

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

Tawny Eagle, Zeelim, NW Negev, Israel, July 2016

This individual is still present in the same area, and became very popular during the first two weeks of its stay among Israel birders and photographers.

Many thanks to the photographers Olga, Ezra, Eldad, Avi and Meir who contributed their superb photos to this article.

Arctic Peregrines in Eastern Europe

Latvia and the (Western) Edge of the Range

peregrein calidus 5 (1 of 1)

Gaidis Grandans

Hello, Martin!

I want to know your ID thoughts about a 1cy Peregrine Falcon, photographed on 3rd October at Latvia. According to “Winter Book” it looks good for ‘Arctic Peregrine’  ssp. calidus = new subspecies for Latvia. Thanks!

Gaidis  Grandans 

Gaidis is writing from from Latvia. He’s the manager of – rare and interesting bird observation in Latvia. 

A reply from MG:

Well this is lovely looking Peregrine. As you say, a bird in its first year. A 1cy.

It is not as distinct as some calidus but well within the ‘wake up and look at this’ range! It shows exactly the kind of features we want to be here if looking for vagrants. Right now.

The rather browner uppers, lots of pale about the head, specifically large pale cheek, rather thin dark ‘moustache’. A pale ‘nick’ under the eye trying to cut the dark moustache off. Rather large pale supercilium- bit broken up. Then check out that underpart streaking- YES! fading to thinner in the middle. What about the vent/undertail. Barring weak and reduced. All in all rather delicious!

How to record such birds?

I have seen similar plumage in similar latitude further north. The range to the north of this bird will appear in books as the edge/ overlap zone of nominate and calidus. I suspect more calidus pass through Latvia given the geography. Some of these will be travelling MONSTER distances.  All such birds should be well documented as calidus and calidus-like records as part of the local avifauna. 

Probably overlooked,  I wonder what the real status of migrants/ vagrants passing through Latvia is?

Cheers Martin

I have lightened this first shot to show the underparts which were in shadow.

peregrein calidus 2 (1 of 1)


and then it lands

peregrein calidus 3 (1 of 1) peregrein calidus 4 (1 of 1) peregrein calidus 5 (1 of 1)

.peregrein calidus 1 (1 of 1)


Pallid Harrier on Shetland

needs me and Mrs G to be on Shetland too 🙂

Thanks to my bloomin marvellous friends on Shetland, Sharon, me and Yoav the Perlman will be heading north early next week. I just wanted to flag up my hopes. Maybe this chap will still be around. Photographed by Brydon Thomason in one of my favourite places on the planet. As this particular spot is one of favourite birding places in the world, and is best best birded solo- if I tell you where it is I will then have to kill you 🙂 . Brydon has been a friend for nearly 10 years since we met on a very windy day on Foula. Since then we have worked together and played together. I love his passion for Shetland and its nature- which is so wonderfully informed by his knowledge of his native Shetland and its nature. I have guided for him over several years being more than happy to serve the vision of Shetland Nature . Brydon’s business which has grown to be a shining example of its kind.

and he takes bloomin juicy photos (check out the little montage below). This Pallid Harrier, probably still around is no doubt awaiting our arrival. It was found just over a week ago.

We are ready and will soon be on our way!

Shetland here we come!

DSC_4102_Pallid_Ndale 2015_web

DSC_4158_montage_webDSC_4108_pallid_Ndale 2015_webDSC_4100_Pallid_Ndale 2015_web


Not the first time you have seen this kind of banner- don’t think it will be the last 🙂

Shetland Nature (1 of 1)


Hen Harriers – getting a little soapy for the cause

Bath Bomb, Bath Bomb, your my….

Some folk are doing some serious campaigning, information sharing and opinion changing on behalf to save the shocking decline of the Hen Harrier in the U.K. and exposing the underlying issues. I am not one of those-  but I am a big fan of what they are doing and feel I should do more. Well here’s little effort in the hope that my foolishness might encourage YOU if you havent  signed up yet- you just might.

LUSH have produced a Hen Harrier ‘bath bomb’. Sent me one after an unguarded comment, so happy to play the fool.

I need to point well away from myself to those doing the work. Please visit and sign up and support. For more info and action please click on these:

Raptors Alive collaborative inv. Chris Packham

Mark Avery’s Blog crammed with info and action points

Birders Against Wildlife Crime

Lush Hen Harrier Campaign

anyone else I should point to?

and to ‘inspire’ you/ terrify you to action…  a little insight into bath-bomb time

Lush Hen Harrier soap one (1 of 1)Lush Hen Harrier soap three (1 of 1)Lush Hen Harrier soap two (1 of 1)


Soapy Hen Harriers?

Lush offer sweet smell of salvation to save Hen Harriers

Lush cosmetics are releasing a new bath bomb named by TV presenter Chris Packham called Skydancer – Far From The Madding Guns, to help raise funds for one of England’s rarest bird of prey, the hen harrier.


Lush soap Hen Harrier (1 of 1)

Knowing the strength of feeling amongst the public, after their hen harrier campaign last year, they wanted to provide their customers with a way of directly contributing to the efforts of protecting this vulnerable bird. By buying a bath bomb, people can personally contribute to the monitoring of these precious few birds. A form of crowd funding, for people who otherwise feel powerless to help.

The money raised from the product will be put towards aiding the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE+ project which is satellite tagging as many hen harrier chicks as possible over the coming years. This strategy allows the UK’s largest and most successful conservation organisation to monitor these birds after they leave the nest.

A Government-commissioned report states that there should in fact be over breeding 300 pairs breeding on the uplands of northern England. However, in 2013 there were no successful nests and the situation has barely improved with just four successful pairs in 2014 and six pairs in 2015 – a statistic that still worries the conservation organisations greatly. According to the report, the main culprit for this decline is illegal persecution associated with driven grouse moors

Lush first got involved with the campaign to protect hen harriers in August 2014 when they linked up with the organisers of Hen Harrier Day, an event set up by Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Birders Against Wildlife Crime to highlight the near extinction of one of England’s rarest and most beautiful birds of prey. Between them a campaign was set up which saw Lush customers sign a politely worded plea to Her Majesty the Queen asking for her help and support in stopping this illegal activity. Over the course of the campaign 20,000 postcards were signed by Lush customers and hand delivered to Buckingham Palace late last year.

In an effort to conserve hen harriers the RSPB and Natural England have been satellite tracking the chicks of these birds to learn more about their ecology and to find out where they might be at risk.

Paul Morton, Lush campaigner says

By helping the RSPB tag as many chicks as is legally and ethically possible, we’re compiling a much clearer understanding of where these birds are most at risk. If you think about it, this should be a project the shooting lobby should welcome with open arms. If they’re as concerned about hen harriers as they say they are, they won’t mind the whole country being updated and informed where roughly every tagged hen harrier across the country is through the RSPBs Hen Harrier LIFE+ project”

 Jeff Knott, the RSPB’s Head of Nature Policy, said: “We are delighted that Lush has come up with this imaginative way of raising awareness about hen harriers and getting their customers involved in their conservation. Everyone who buys a bath bomb will be making a valuable contribution towards bringing this amazing bird of prey back from the brink of extinction in England.”

 Anti-RSPB group, You Forgot The Birds recently issued a statement blaming the RSPB for the failure of five hen harrier nests this summer due to over-monitoring of these nests. However, Government agency Natural England confirmed the failure was actually down to the males from each pair never returning to the nest whilst out hunting miles away, therefore forcing the females to have to leave the eggs un-incubated whilst they went and found food for themselves.

Griffon and Rüppell’s Vultures

More on ID of tricky ones

Guillermo Rodriguez Lazaro

Hi Yoav and Martin,

I saw your post about the Israeli vulture in the Birding Frontiers blog and thought that perhaps I could provide some light about this bird.

Vulture sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 4 August 2014. Photo by Shachar Alterman. Now thought to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

Vulture sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 4 August 2014. Photo by Shachar Alterman. Now thought to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

The second photo (underparts) shows an indisputable Griffon (repeated above), definitely ruling out Rüppell’s The complete absence of white edges in wing coverts (not only GCs but also in MCs) is diagnostic. Other features which don’t indicate Rüppell’s are the shape and color of the axillary feathers, absence of white edges in UTCs, strong contrast between black GCs and much lighter MCs, etc… I attach a photo of a classic erlangeri adult from below from northern Ethiopia for comparison.

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Guillermo Rodriguez Lazaro

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Guillermo Rodriguez Lazaro

So, as pointed in your post, only the upper parts resemble Rüppell’s, I think that mainly due to the presence of two-rows of dark wing coverts, a feature typical of Rüppell’s (which usually has present 2-3 rows). Additionally the bird’s overall colour is perhaps unusually greyish for Griffon, but this species presents a high variation in this trait and I feel it isn’t a strong feature to discard Griffon. In my opinion, your bird doesn’t fit well one of the striking “pale morphs” Rüppell’s which from time to time are observed in NE Africa (it’s too patterned and browner above), so we should compare with the more classic erlangeri adults.

In both Griffon and Rüppell’s all wing coverts present a dark feather center with a pale edge. In Griffon, only the greater coverts present an extension of black large enough to be visible, whereas in the median coverts the dark part is very limited (due to the broad pale edge) and it’s usually not visible. In Rüppell’s, the pale edge is much finer and thus the dark centre of the feather is exposed and very obvious in the upperwing. However, I’ve found that a few Griffons (Spanish breeders at least; I’m not sure if it is an individual characteristic or just the result of a certain state of moult, though the first option is more likely since these birds seem to present also more patterned scapulars) can show two rows.

Vulture Sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 15 July 2014. Photo by Eitan Kaufman. Now considered to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

Vulture Sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 15 July 2014. Photo by Eitan Kaufman. Now considered to be an odd Griffon Vulture.

In my opinion, your bird is one of these odd Griffons. Detailed analysis of the upperparts pattern shows that the feather edge of the second row (median coverts) is too broad, and concolorous (cream coloured) with the rest of the wing, whilst it is usually whiter and thinner in Rüppell’s. The wing looks very uniform and with the characteristic griffon-colour of the species, instead of the more browner/greyer appereance of erlangeri Rüppell’s. I also attach one photo of an adult erlangeri (again from N Ethiopia), in which these features are evident.

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Pablo Garcia

Rüppell’s Vulture, adult ssp. erlangeri, N. Ethiopia, Pablo Garcia

Taking into account these points, I don’t find consistent reasons for considering a Rüppell’s here but just a slightly unusual Griffon. Other characters also support this id, eg the bird silhouette and the blue skin around the auriculars which provides the characteristic Griffon head pattern.

The option of a hybrid is, in my opinion, even more complex: as far as I know there aren’t proved records, though there is at least one suspected individual from Spain which certainly ticks all the boxes:

Apparent hybrid click HERE
Hope these comments are interesting for you and help to clinch the id.

Best regards

Rough-legged Buzzard- juvenile at Grindale

Majestic Beastie

Already much photographed mostly in flight, our local wintering Rough-legged Buzzard ramped up the game today. I arrived to find a handful of birders watching our Arctic visitor at ridiculously close range. Feeding on a road-kill hare. It took no notice of us 🙂

roughlegged 4 nov i

How Close?

I had hoped to get pictures of the ‘trousers’/thigh feathering/ tibia feathering. Why? I have noticed when exploring the subject at the Natural History Museum, Tring that there was a potential difference from pale juveniles of the North American form and the European form. Many N. American birds have plain unmarked rich apricot trousers. European birds are inevitable dark (spade-shaped) spotting here- just like on the Grindale juvenile.

I did see a pale juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard on Foula (Shetland) in mid October 2007 in NW near gales. Bet it was North American- just never saw it close enough. Next time!

roughlegged 4 nov croughlegged 4 nov droughlegged 4 novroughlegged 4 nov jroughlegged 4 nov lrough legged 8rough legged 7