Category Archives: 06) Birds of Prey

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
Guillermo

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

 

Rüppell’s Vulture or hybrid

or  What?

Yoav Perlman

On July 15th, Eitan and Judith Kaufman went birding at the scenic Gamla NR in N Israel . This reserve is well-known for its vultures that often fly past the lookout at very close range. Among the Eurasian Griffons, they noticed this very striking-looking vulture, that made one quick pass in front of them:

Vulture Sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 15 July 2014. Photo by Eitan Kaufman.

Vulture Sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 15 July 2014. Photo by Eitan Kaufman.

 

They sent the photo to several Israeli birders, and immediately the alarm bells went off – from above this bird looked very good for  Rüppell’s Vulture. Hot on the heels after the first Rüppell’s for Israel that was found in May 2014 by Ezra Hadad in C Israel but unfortunately was non-twitchable, we were all hoping that this bird shows better. The image was sent to Dick Forsman, who agreed that this bird had a good potential to be an adult Rüppell’s Vulture of the NE African race erlangeri, but he did clearly state that some bird are virtually impossible to separate from Eurasian Griffon, and that hybrids are known from Ethiopia.

Next morning quite a few birders assembled at the Gamla lookout, and when the air heated up and the vultures left their roost, soon the suspect was relocated. from above it looked very good, but from below – oh no! Pretty identical to Eurasian Griffon! Very plain from below, too plain, especially the undertail coverts. This bird stayed around Gamla for a couple more weeks. This image is by Shachar Alterman:

Vulture sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 4 August 2014. Photo by Shachar Alterman.

Vulture sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 4 August 2014. Photo by Shachar Alterman.

Googling Ethiopian Rüppell’s Vultures images, I found none that have completely ‘blank’ underparts like this bird. erlangeri is less striking than the C African race rueppellii, but surely pure erlangeri cannot be so plain from below? I wonder if anyone has images of known hybrids either from E Africa of elsewhere in Africa. Have any hybrids wandered into Europe via Gibraltar? Certainly worth looking out for.

Here are some ‘real’ Rüppell’s Vultures:

This is the first for Israel, found and photographed by Ezra Hadad, 5 May 2014. It was on the move with two other Eurasian Griffons and was not seen subsequently. This is a younger bird – probably 3cy – note especially the undertail coverts:

Rüppell's Vulture, Gva'ot Gad, NR, C Israel, 5 May 2014. Photo by Ezra Hadad. The first for Israel.

Rüppell’s Vulture, Gva’ot Gad, NR, C Israel, 5 May 2014. Photo by Ezra Hadad. The first for Israel.

Here is an adult Rüppell’s from Portugal, with an Eurasian Griffon, by Rami Mizrahi, November 2011:

Rüppell's Vulture (left) and Eurasian Griffon (right), Portugal, November 2011. Photo by Rami Mizrachi.

Rüppell’s Vulture (left) and Eurasian Griffon (right), Portugal, November 2011. Photo by Rami Mizrachi.

 

And a few from Kenya, December 2008:

Rüppell's Vulture of nominate race rueppellii, Masai Mara, Kenya, December 2008.

Rüppell’s Vulture of nominate race rueppellii, Masai Mara, Kenya, December 2008.

Rüppell's Vultures with African White-backed Vultures G. africanus, Masai Mara, Kenya, December 2008.

Rüppell’s Vultures with African White-backed Vultures G. africanus, Masai Mara, Kenya, December 2008.

Peregrine eating Kestrel

This is a smart piece of video taken in very strong winds in September at Spurn. The videographer is Dave Tucker- and this was shot with Swarovski ATX using Canon 7D attached to a Swarovski TLS APO adaptor and mounted onto the telescope. Balance Rail also used.

Peregrines take a wide variety of birds as their main food source. Kestrel however was not high on my list of species I thought they took! Great capture Dave.

 

It’s also a way of announcing the Premier of the Spurn Migration Festival video on the 25th October- more info coming soon!

 

 

 

£5000 reward offered for missing Montagu’s Harrier

and 20,000 signatures to the Queen

by Lush

£5000 reward offered for any information on the missing bird leading to a convictionlush one

LUSH customers from around the country recently signed 20,000 postcards to the Queen asking for her help to stop the illegal shooting of the beautiful Hen Harrier on driven grouse moors, a species teetering on the edge with only 3 breeding pairs left in England when there should be over 350. Now, with the recent shocking news of a satellite tagged Montagu’s Harrier suddenly going missing in Norfolk, it seems it doesn’t matter if it’s Hen Harrier on its breeding grounds, a migrating Montagu’s Harrier or a hunting Peregrine, no bird of prey is safe from the guns.

 

In a strange twist of fate, the satellite tag on the missing Montagu’s Harrier was actually paid for by LUSH founder Mark Constantine and the bird was even named after his wife Mo. The husband and wife team have also offered a £5000 reward for any information on the missing bird leading to a conviction.

 

The killing or disturbing of any bird of prey in England is totally illegal.  With 20,000 voices from the high street saying enough is enough, will their calls finally be heard above the gunfire?

 

Paul Morton from LUSH said “I can’t believe that just as we were gathering the last of the postcards from our recent campaign to send to Her Majesty, we get the news that another rare bird of prey, a Montagu’s Harrier, has gone missing near Great Bircham in Norfolk…it never ends! Luckily the bird was satellite tagged as part of a larger research project so the RSPB know exactly where the bird was right up until the last few seconds. Birds of prey are some of the most beautiful of any bird in world, I can’t understand what thrill people get from shooting them”.

 

LUSH’s Ethics Director, Hilary Jones added “It seems it is not a moment too soon that our customers are asking the Queen to intervene in this madness.  It is time to preserve our wild heritage with the same respect we treat our other institutions. Our once abundant birds of prey are being Harry’d to extinction and we need to act now before it becomes too late”.

 

LUSH will be handing the 20,000 signatures over to Buckingham Palace in the coming weeks in the hope the Royal Family take note of these atrocities and help put a stop to this slaughter once and for all.

 

 

 

For further information on the Hen Harrier plight, please visit www.raptorsalive.co.uk

For further press information and interview opportunities, 

please contact Stephanie in the LUSH Press Office on 020 7434 3948/07715 055 005 or email stephanie@lush.co.uk

Invasion of Red-footed Falcons in Bonkers Numbers

In Poland- and some questions…

See the video- only 15 seconds long but the numbers are incredible!

Lukasz Lawicki

 

immediate update: 9th September 2014.

New amazing news: in Poland, more than 1,500 birds (!), and further
about 500 in other Baltic countries (Latvia, Sweden, Estonia, Finland,
Germany, Denmark). Amazing! I wonder how many of them will reach to the western Europe. See on the photos from Poland HERE.

 

I am very curious if in countries in western and northern Europe in the
last week reported influx of Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus?

In Poland during the last week has been a very large invasion of this
species – at least 650 birds (now over 1500) were recorded, including 330 (!) birds at
one roost site near Lublin (SE Poland). See:

Of course, it is the largest ever invasion of Red-footed Falcons in
Poland (and still going!).

Perhaps it has to do with weather conditions – probably it is a result
of the high-pressure area, which in recent days pushed to Poland the
warm air from the SE Europe.

Probably most of these birds come from breeding grounds in south-eastern
part of continent (eg, from Ukraine or from a large population in
Hungary), but it is worth noting that one juvenile bird with Italian
ring (blue plastic) was photographed in NW Poland.

I would be grateful for information on whether in your country is also
now more Red-footed Falcons?

Cheers!

Lukasz

West-Pomeranian Nature Society, Poland.

 

The pale “FULVESCENS-LIKE” plumage of Lesser Spotted Eagle

Andrea Corso & Michele Viganò

MISC birding team

 

Very few birders and ornithologists acknowledge that Lesser Spotted Eagle has a much paler plumage than the common dark one which is similar to that shown by the Greater Spotted Eagle (chiefly in the eastern populations).
 

 

Juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina photographed north of Ardahan, North_Eastern Turkey,June 2014 by Igor Maiorano- THE MISC.  Note the impressive resemblance with the imperial eagles, chiefly with a faded juv. Spanish Imperial Egle Aquila adalberti : in particular note the extremely pale (much paler than usual) underwing coverts strikingly contrasting with the remiges, the very dark looking tail obviously contrasting with the vent and underbody in general, the well defined dark streaking to the breast forming as a darker breast band, the paler head with a darkish eye-line or eye-mask all characters shared with Imperials. As differences note however the very well marked and visible double pale commas at “wrist”, the less marked and striking pale “window” on inner primaries compared to both Eastern and Spanish Imperial Eagles (though it is usually less obvious in the latter!), the different wing formula with shorter and rounder, less protruding P4 (7th primary) and not projecting at all P3, the numerous and conspicuous dark barring to the whole remiges, and other minor characters as described in the text.

Juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina photographed north of Ardahan, North_Eastern Turkey,June 2014 by Igor Maiorano- THE MISC. Note the impressive resemblance with the imperial eagles, chiefly with a faded juv. Spanish Imperial Egle Aquila adalberti : in particular note the extremely pale (much paler than usual) underwing coverts strikingly contrasting with the remiges, the very dark looking tail obviously contrasting with the vent and underbody in general, the well defined dark streaking to the breast forming as a darker breast band, the paler head with a darkish eye-line or eye-mask all characters shared with Imperials. As differences note however the very well marked and visible double pale commas at “wrist”, the less marked and striking pale “window” on inner primaries compared to both Eastern and Spanish Imperial Eagles (though it is usually less obvious in the latter!), the different wing formula with shorter and rounder, less protruding P4 (7th primary) and not projecting at all P3, the numerous and conspicuous dark barring to the whole remiges, and other minor characters as described in the text.

 

While raptor watching in the last 30 years, one of us  (AC) noticed that among the usual plumage of Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina) there was a much paler plumage not shown or even not cited in any field guide, handbook or publication. Indeed, all birders and ornithologist know about the fulvescens plumage in Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) as well as its many pale and intermediate plumages of the Eastern range of distribution (paler birds are commoner among eastern populations).

In fact, this rare paler variant of LSE plumage, being so little known, is often wrongly identified in the field by even the keen birder, sometimes as fulvescens or other times as juvenile Aquila heliaca or juv. adalberti. For this reason we would like now here to give a short description on it and some hints and tips for its identification.

We noted this plumage during autumn migration in Israel as well as during breeding season in Eastern Turkey (near Ardahan and Kars).  Also the skins found in museums were from Eastern Turkey and the Middle East.

Description

A pale variant of the usual plumage of Lesser Spotted Eagle, found both in juvenile (more frequently) than in immature or near adult birds ( no adult yet observed). The whole body appears visibly paler than the usual coloured birds, ranging from tawny-buff or buffy-cream or isabelline, paler on both under and upperwing and on head, being off white or creamy-white on lower belly, vent and undertail coverts. Usually the “thighs” appear darker, pale brownish, as well as most of the time there is a noticeable dark streaked breast band as in Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) or in Eastern Imperial Eagle. All in all, the general appearance is very similar to that of a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle. Remiges and tail are like in the normal plumage, showing a regular and thick dark barring, with numerous bars; the inner primaries pale “window” could (or not) looks more obvious, again recalling more what is seen in juvenile heliaca. On the underwing, greater coverts (GC) and primary coverts (PC) are darker than the rest of the coverts, appearing as a dark band across the mid-wing; they are white-tipped. There is an obvious double pale comma at wrist. Pattern of upperwing is similar to that of underwing. In 2CY, faded birds are even much paler. Older birds (immatures) are similar to juvenile and appear much paler than equivalent plumage in typical pomarina (showing various moult stages and abrasion of course, differently from juvenile).

Juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina photographed north of Ardahan, North_Eastern Turkey,June 2014 by Michele Viganò – THE MISC.  Note in this angle the darker carpal patch and “trousers” or “thighs” , not usually shown by the imperial eagles. Darker carpal patch and pale double commas are very striking.

Juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina photographed north of Ardahan, North_Eastern Turkey,June 2014 by Michele Viganò – THE MISC. Note in this angle the darker carpal patch and “trousers” or “thighs” , not usually shown by the imperial eagles. Darker carpal patch and pale double commas are very striking.

 

Identification

These pale variants could appear extremely similar to GSE fulvescens and even more to juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle and Spanish IE. They are best told for:

  1. fulvescens: flatter wings during soaring and gliding, longer tail and neck/head, narrower wings and “hand” (more pointed wing-tip), typical LSE wing formula (less obvious in juvenile birds where the wing formula become is similar in both species). Plumage even paler in fulvescens, with contrast dark-pale more striking, more orangish in fresh bird (Ruddy Shelduck-like) and more pale creamy or off white-creamy in faded birds. Different flight feathers pattern, as for typical plumage, with a different dark barring. When shown (not all birds do), double pale comma distinctive of LSE.
  2. Imperial Eagles in juv. plumage (Spanish and Eastern): similar flight style showing to these species, both soaring and gliding being similar. Wings of the Imperials appear longer, narrower and more pointed, fingered primaries more numerous, narrower and longer, head and neck heavier, tail even longer. The pale rump-uppertail coverts patch on Imperials is wider and more conspicuous than in pale plumage LSE. Pattern of dark barring is similar but often, dark bars on the Imperials are wider and less numerous (but variable). Important characters are the darker, almost solid black, remiges in both Eastern Imperial and even more visibly in Spanish Imperial, with therefore the pale “window” on inner primaries much more striking and obvious at distance compared to pale variant LSE. Also, very hardly there is any pale comma on wrist in the Imperials (chiefly, it is extremely rare in Spanish) and there is no dark carpal patch on them (or only a hint of dark blotching to carpal area). When perched structure is of course very different, with stronger, heavier and higher bill of Imperials, oval, oblong nostril instead of small and round as in LSE, thicker, fuller and wider “thighs” on the Imperials, stronger legs and feet, bigger, heavier body held more horizontally (LSE appearing often more upright) and so on.
Juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina photographed north of Ardahan, North_Eastern Turkey,June 2014 by Michele Viganò – THE MISC. As for the imperial eagles, note in this pale plumage the contrasting paler head, the dark breast band and very pale body and underwing coverts. Note the very flat looking soaring, with very flat wings although the “hands” are held pressed downwards. Darker carpal patch and pale double commas are visible.

Juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina photographed north of Ardahan, North_Eastern Turkey,June 2014 by Michele Viganò – THE MISC. As for the imperial eagles, note in this pale plumage the contrasting paler head, the dark breast band and very pale body and underwing coverts. Note the very flat looking soaring, with very flat wings although the “hands” are held pressed downwards. Darker carpal patch and pale double commas are visible.

Conclusions

All in all, this plumage is not shown or discussed in most (or all) field guides, so it deserves great attention as indeed it poses serious ID problems when not seen well or if not bearing in mind the differences with fulvescens or even more with the juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle and possibly more Spanish Imperial Eagle. In a “vagrant context”, when facing with outside range records of these eagles, the possibility of this paler variant pomarina should be taken into consideration.