Category Archives: 06) Birds of Prey

Gyr Falcon in Lincolnshire?

Graham Catley

Grey morph Gyr Falcons can be very tricky bird to identify away from their core range. The spectre of a challenging ID and the possibility of falconer’s hybrids is ever present. This juvenile bird seen the last 2 days in N. Lincolnshire looks spectacular! Is it even the same seen at Patrington Haven in Nov, 2013? Graham Catley is keen to hear from those with a working knowledge of the subject. To be cont’d..!


See full set of Grahams photo of the bird:    >>>>Pewit Blogspot<<<<

“Morning Martin

A few quick words!
As I was passing Read’s Island on Sunday evening (9th March) I stopped off to do a quick Avo count but all the birds in the area were airborne; a quick scan revealed the two Marsh Harriers high up amongst the mass of gulls but none seemingly affected by each others presence; after a while I dropped my gaze and on the front edge of the island was what appeared to be a buteo sized pale falcon sitting head on to me! a panic for the scope revealed two distinctly blue – grey looking legs that showed no obvious signs of entrapment, some heavy underpart streaking and a notably pale head; fell for the modern disease and reached for the camera in which time it flew off closely chased by Lesser Black backs but it returned and landed on the back of the island again head on. It looked interesting but my one fuzzy flight shot suggested its upperparts were brown toned with a contrast between forewings and flight feathers and the paler head and nape. it remained distant to 17:45 when the light was going and it flew over the back of the island and out of sight.
Monday morning (10th March) I was back and initially passed over its upperparts protruding above a bank as a juv gull! Views were much better than the previous day and a series of pictures take albeit still at long range with a 500 lens and 2x converter; the upperpart colour seemed to vary but was typically a grey -brown; the legs were seen again with a scope and in photos nothing appears on them; it was mobbed by Marsh Harriers and LBB and GBB Gulls and always seemed to spook the Shelduck which it seemed to have a close eye on — I left at 11:15 but apparently it flew south early afternoon and was not seen between 15:15 and 17:15 — still not sure of the ID myself; I sent a link to Dick F. and wonder if he may actually be in Israel as its March

Graham Catley BSc Env

Ornithological Consultant and Professional Photographer

Director, Nyctea Ltd



Cryptic Forest Falcon

Once thought extirpated.

Extirpation refers to local (rather than global) extinction. A 40 year gap existed since the Cryptic Forest Falcon had last been seen along the Atlantic forest of Brazil. Then some good news. Ornithomedia regularly posts on the Birding Frontiers Facebook page. Here’s their report:


The Mata Atlântica or Atlantic Forest stretches along Brazil’s coast to Uruguay, reaching inland northeastern Argentina and eastern Paraguay. Formerly covering nearly 1.5 million km ², its area is more than 100,000 km ² today, only 2% remained intact!

Although still very rich, the biodiversity has suffered from such destruction, and many plant and animal species are on the brink of extinction. The good news is so rare and welcome. In the December issue 2013 Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, we learn that José Eduardo Simon and Gustavo Rodrigues Magnago observed and recorded July 29, 2012  a Carnifex Minton ( Micrastur mintoni ) in the Reserva Natural Vale, in the Brazilian state Espírito Santo. The last observation that some raptor in the Atlantic Forest dated 1972, and some ornithologists even thought he had disappeared from this ecosystem.

Read the full story >>> HERE <<<

Steppe Merlin

Overlooked in Europe? No way, so distinctive!

Yoav Perlman

Merlin has a huge breeding range accross Europe and Asia. It has several subspecies – as in many other species the W European populations being darker, and the E populations being paler and larger. pallidus (‘Steppe Merlin’) is the largest and palest of those occuring in the WP. It breeds in the steppes of N Kazakhstan and SW Siberia, and winters mainly in the Indian Subcontinent. It is a rare winter visitor to the Middle East, and therefore it should be looked for in Europe as well. In Israel it is rare indeed, with one or two wintering in some winters.

Last week I was doing a wintering raptor census in the NW Negev, in the open fields of Urim. This area is very rich in winter, with a strong C Asian steppes influence – Saker, callidus Peregrine, Sociable Lapwing, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Pallid Harrier are regular winter visitors, and this area hosts important populations of these species. As I was working a small patch of Tamarix trees that often are used as day roosts for Merlins, I noticed a brilliant male pallidus Merlin shooting out of a tree. I had quick flight views at first, but this form is so distinctive – especially in direct sunlight the upperparts are as pale as a Pallid Harrier so ID wasn’t challenging… It landed in a farther tree, and I managed to drive up to it and get a couple of crap shots in the shade before it flew out again.

pallidus Merlin, NW Negev, israel, january 2014

pallidus Merlin, NW Negev, Israel, January 2014

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to focus on the bird in flight and got nothing of it in proper light conditions. So I checked google and found these fantastic shots by Indian friends Rajesh Shah and Nirav Bhatt – I use their images here with their kind permission:

pallidus Merlin, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India, November 2010

pallidus Merlin, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India, November 2010


The size and structure differences from European aesalon might be difficult to judge in the field, especially in males that are anyway smaller than females. However, the pallid grey upperparts, pale head, faintly marked moustache and eyestripe, and faintly streaked upperparts make identification rather easy if seen in good light conditions. I guess that females and juveniles are much more challenging to identify – should be duller, paler and less streaked, but very hard to find convincing images.

Some more friends from the NW Negev:

Eastern Imperial Eagle, 3cy, NW Negev, January 2014

Eastern Imperial Eagle, 3cy, NW Negev, January 2014



Saker, 1cy, NW Negev, Israel, December 2013

Saker, 1y, NW Negev, Israel, December 2013




Lesser Kestrel X Kestrel Hybrid?

Armenia, 1st October, 2013

by Peter Adriaens

While surveying Lesser Kestrels in Armenia on Oct 1st 2013, I noticed this male kestrel.

In the field, I saw its short P10, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that it had to be a Common Kestrel.

I quickly took one photograph and thought no more of it. There were many Lesser Kestrels around, and these were my main focus at the time.

probHybridLesserxCommonKestrel_male_Armenia_P A

When I looked at the photo at home, however, it became clear that a number of things are at odds with Common Kestrel, even though the wing formula and the pattern of the remiges strongly suggest this species, and are very wrong for a male Lesser Kestrel in autumn. I guess it is mainly the lack of black spots on the underparts that is outside of the variation seen in male Common Kestrel, but added to this are some more subtle differences:

- grey cheek

- lack of blackish moustache

- unmarked white ‘boomerang’ around the wrists

- not much pattern on the underwing coverts, including axillaries

- a rather rounded, bulbous head

- rather fat body and broad tail base

- very big white tips to the tail feathers

Wouter Faveyts and Andrea Corso have been very helpful in discussing this bird (on the basis of the single photograph). From our e-mail correspondence, it is clear that the bird can be aged as an adult male: all remiges are of the same generation, and the tail pattern is obviously not that of a juvenile as it does not show even a hint of barring. Birds in the autumn of their 2nd calendar year either show different generations of flight feathers (usually 9 adult primaries and 1 juvenile, outermost, after arresting their moult) or a complete set of adult primaries (with the typical, unbarred pattern). In any case, the pattern of the remiges is wrong for any Lesser Kestrel, particularly males, as they show a broad dark trailing edge to the secondaries, which this bird lacks.

Eastern Lesser Kestrels may show a bit more strongly barred remiges than western birds, but they still have the broad dark trailing edge on the secondaries, and besides, an adult male would not show such extensive Common Kestrel-like barring (nor short P10). They also tend to have darker head and body, the latter with rounded black spots – which are absent in this Armenian bird.

In conclusion, the wing formula and pattern of remiges suggest Common Kestrel, while most other characters suggest Lesser Kestrel.

The most logical conclusion, hence, is that this bird is a hybrid.

The people from the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds, who ring chicks of Lesser Kestrels every year, have told me that they have seen a few suspected hybrids in the main colony over the years, but they have no photographs. There are only two colonies of Lesser Kestrel in Armenia, and Common Kestrels breed in at least one of them too. Though the two species are genetically distinct and have very different calls, I guess rare cases of hybridisation may occur. Hybridisation (in nature) is mentioned in Panov (1989). Hybridization is said to have occurred in Italy too, though there is no documentation of this.

Though it is unfortunate that there is only one photograph, this may be the first documentation of a hybrid kestrel.



Peter Adriaens

2nd Cal (plus) Male Marsh Hawk in Cornwall

2nd of this male plumage type in Britain


All the fun of modern birding. Another web-based discovery. I returned from very fine couple hours of seawatching with Flamborian friends this morning. Highlights were 2 Little Auks, 1 Sooty and 2 Manx Shearwaters, 3 diver species with Black-throated Diver and 2 Great Northerns, 2 Bonxies and my favourite- a close very smart adult Pomarine Skua.

Back at home warming up with porridge, my twitter feed, featured discussion on a harrier in Cornwall. Clocked by David Campbell on this Cornish website (and in discuss with David D. L and ‘Prof W.’), he suspect it might be a North American ‘Marsh Hawk’ (Northern Harrier). I agreed- looks spot-on and I would like to see one such as this in the UK!

The bird’s finders were Bob Sharples and I. Webster. Bob (visit his website) has provided the following images:

_BSP0239 BS12nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved. Roughly half black and half white outer primaries (mostly black in Hen), only 5 (not 6) marked with obvious black, dark grey head with strong pattern around eye (see photos below), extensive rufous bars, spots and heart marks over underbody and underwings coverts nail it!

Bob comments on the sighting

Hi Martin,
 The bird in question did initially look like it was going to start hawking, but just flew around in a small circle looking below then carried on with its brief flyby! 
 I have put some images on my blog here
Cheers Bob

Location of Men an Tol, Cornwall where the bird was seen: HERE


_BSP0247 bs32nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved

_BSP0243 BS22nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved

_BSP0248 bs42nd cal or older male Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier), Cornwall, 23rd Nov. 2013 (c), All Rights Reserved

For lots more beautiful photos visit Bob Sharples web pages.


The 3rd Hula Valley Bird Festival

10th – 17th November 2013

By Martin G

Tomorrow morning I head off to visit the  Israel with Sunday heralding the start of the 3rd Hula Valley Bird Festival. Here’s a reblog of  just one of the many highlights seen last November. What this year?

Asian Black-shouldered Kite

Elanus caeruleus vociferus

 ‘Evil Red Eyes’ typed into the Google search engine brings up these images. Just like the piercing ruby eyes of the Black-shouldered Kite. Those eyes, deep-set in black furrows, on the side of triangular Owl-like head, form part of the super charismatic appeal of these birds. Add an apparent Asian (not European origin) of vagrant turned breeder, arriving in the rescued Hula Valley (a whole David versus Goliath conservation story there) and you will meet this bird:

asian black shouldered kiteapparent Asian Black shouldered Kite- ssp. vociferus. Agamon Park, photographed during the 2nd Hula Bird Festival, November 2012. M Garner. This is the adult male from the first breeding pair in Israel (and the Western Palearctic?)

A dream start. The first Hula Bird Festival in Nov. 2011 ushered in another first. A pair of Black-shouldered Kites an otherwise extreme rarity here was found breeding in the Agamon Park. Thankfully the same pair were still present and breeding like proverbial rabbits. Already at 3 consecutive broods- apparently mating and nest building for round two while still feeding young from round one. In terms of the Western Palearctic region, the Black-shouldered Kite is represented by disjunct populations of the nominate formcaeruleus. Some of these breed as near to Israel as Egypt, so surely a likely source of colonisation? In fact the Israeli birds appear to be the Asian taxon vociferus, whose normal range runs from Pakistan east into Asia. Pakistan is about as far away from Israel to the east, as Spain is, to the west.

asian black shouldered kite 3Normally perched up, giving fine ‘scope views, the adult male gave one close fly-by.

asian black shouldered kite 6apparent Asian Black shouldered Kite- ssp. vociferus. One difference between nominate caeruleus and vociferus- well seen here, appears to be the dark shadow of grey over the secondaries. Not as black as the underside of the primaries, but the black appears to ‘bleed’ from inner primaries to adjacent secondaries and overall the grey secondaries contrast obviously with white underwing coverts. The secondaries are normally nearly white/just slightly grey in nominate birds, lacking the obvious contrast. Light plays a big role in assessing this properly. Suppose there might be other subtle differences, to be explored!

So not just a first for Israel but first for the Western Palearctic ( I think), the  breeding of vociferus- Asian Black-shouldered Kite.

asian black shouldered kite 5

asian black shouldered kite 4apparent Asian Black shouldered Kite- ssp. vociferus. Agamon Park, during the 2nd Hula Bird Festival, November 2012. M Garner.

Really benefited hanging out with learning about this stuff from the pioneers: Yoav Perlman, Nadav Israeli, Jonathan Merav and Dan Alon. More on the spread of the kites (since  2011- some 5 pairs have been found in Israel e.gsee Yoav’s blog and see conservation in the Hula ,where more should be written Dan’s herculean work to get this all started.

Video capturing some of the first breeding and taken during the 1st Hula Bird Festival in Nov.2012 by Mark Andrews.

526074_524421854235687_243778855_nSome of the folk on the 2nd Hula Bird Festival enjoying views of Black-shouldered Kite in the Agamon Park.