Category Archives: Studying Sounds

Too Much to Blog About!

Shetland. Wildness everywhere.

I enjoy. Well pretty much everything with Birds and Nature ūüôā

Some wind in the west has cut down numbers of migrant birds. I hope Yoav is still enjoying himself- off today with PAC to explore another island. Being a little less mobile I just go a little slower and stay more local.

I am not short of things to look at. Indeed I have had lovely couple of days both with birds and wildlife and with great people company. ¬†I have too many subjects I would like to explore further. But can’t do them justice!

So here’s what I am wrestling with about whether to ‘blog’ about and will try to look into more…

Yellow-browed Warblers – call variation

Yellow browed W (1 of 1)

Mono-syllabic in hand call:

Two birds calling to each other- normal di-syllabic calls

They are everywhere. I can see 2-3 Yellow-broweds outside the windows most days. They also have both a well known disyllabic call and less well know other calls. Roger and I recorded the trapped bird giving alternate calls (which trapped birds do anyway). I have however heard and recorded Yellow-broweds giving mono calls in the field and seen them fool folk into thinking , maybe it’s a Hume’s Warbler. More on that maybe..

Pink-footed Geese – grumbling!

Each morning flocks fly over. Every time I smile. Straight in the Iceland/ Greenland/Svalbard?. Wow! Most continue south. Some land. This flock of 6 flew south close. It’s sounded as if one or more were grumbling. The flock flew over Sumburgh, turned around and back over my head presumably to land in fields north of me. The grumbling had stooped.

Teenage Pink-feet. Have a listen on the first pass after 30 seconds the grumbling kicks in…

Then on return a few minutes later when the long trip is cancelled- for now.

Lapland Buntings – from where?

I raised this a few years ago now. The assumption that Lapland Buntings all arrived in Britain from Scandinavia– tosh-me gosh! This one yesterday could have easily come from Arctic Canada. Now there’s a thought! Lapland Buntings join Northern Wheatears¬†in being one of the only songbirds which routinely crosses an ocean as part of their migration. Bonkers!

Lapland Bunting 4th Sumburgh Headf (1 of 1)


Redpolls and the Redpoll Code

Always want to wade in to this. A scattering of redpolls in Shetland and all so far have proven to be identifiable Lessers Рand that is unusual for Shetland, where Lesser is generally the less common taxon. This adult male shows off some easy ID features. Red in the breast- already becoming visible here means only 2 one of two taxa could be involved. but then you would know that. #redpollcode

Lesser Redpoll- adult male by Yoav Perlman

Lesser Redpoll- adult male by Yoav Perlman

Already the Lesser Redpoll, photographed by Yoav near Sumburgh Airport- above shows pinkish- red over the breast and flanks- adult male signs, in a deep rich buffy plumage. Cracking photo!


Yoav and I came across this perplexing individual which did have us initially a little foxed. Like a miniature Common Goldeneye. Head shape wrong. Little bill. Vague whitish patch over lower cheek (not visible in pics). What the heck??. A very small, perhaps late hatched juvenile Common Goldeneye. Tim Jones and those nice chaps form the NGB followed up my waffle and got some pics the next day:

Goldeneye juv 4 (1 of 1)Goldeneye juv 3 (1 of 1)

goldeneye 4 (1 of 1) Goldeneye juv 2 (1 of 1)

bird on far left (top)

and I have not even started on (see what I mean)…

Snow Buntings, Redwing, Wader calls, vagrant Canada Geese…




Overnight Mysteries

Sound Recording at Flamborough

What species are these?

Delighted to be recording bird sound overnight again. My house is very near the lighthouse at Flamborough. It offers fascinating possibilities. I compared two nights, one overnight 2 nights ago which was clear skies not a cloud in sight. Then last night with overcast but high cloud. The clear cloudless night struck gold especially in the first period after dark. Lots of recordings. Not all easy to identify. Indeed I am struggling with some. So am crowd surfacing your knowledge and have-a-go spirit.

Eleven recordings. No Prizes. WHAT ARE THEY ?? 




Mystery ONE

Mystery one


Mystery TWO


mystery two

Mystery THREE

mystery 3



Mystery FOUR

mystery 4

Mystery FIVE

mystery 5

Mystery SIX

mystery 6

Mystery SEVEN

mystery 7

Mystery EIGHT

mystery 8

Mystery NINE

mystery 9

Mystery TEN

Mystery 10


Omani Owl – Breaking News & Interview

Discovered in 2013 by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach and confirmed using sound analysis, Omani Owl has created a stir among both birders and biologists. That a bird around the size of a Barn Owl Tyto alba had evaded discovery was extraordinary. Now one¬†has been captured- the ‘discovery-of-a-lifetime’ story continues…

 Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach

Omani Owl Strix butleri, Al Hajar mountains, Oman, 2 March 2015. Magnus Robb, Alyn Walsh & The Sound Approach

Discovered in 2013 by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach and confirmed using sound analysis, Omani Owl has created a stir among both birders and biologists. That a bird around the size of a Barn Owl Tyto alba had evaded discovery was extraordinary. That it was described and named only using sound recordings and photographs was controversial.

When a rival group of researchers re-examined museum specimens of the closely related Strix butleri, they suspected that its type specimen was in fact an Omani Owl. All the other specimens were different enough, especially when their genes were analysed, to be described as a new species, Strix hadorami. However, the study did not examine DNA of Omani Owl.

In a new paper published online Magnus Robb and his colleagues returned to the mountains of Oman where they captured and released an Omani Owl.* Feathers and blood from the owl corroborated¬†both teams‚Äô findings that there are two different Strix species in the Middle East. DNA analysis shows that Omani Owl is the same as Strix butleri, and the other species is the recently named but much better known Desert Owl S. hadorami (previously ‚ÄėHume‚Äôs Owl‚Äô).

So when Magnus heard unknown sounds of an owl in March 2013, he was in fact rediscovering a species previously known from just one tatty old specimen in The Natural History Museum (Tring, England) said to be from Pakistan, and collected 135 years earlier.

The new paper also examines DNA from a mystery owl discovered in Mashhad, northeastern Iran in January 2015. Babak Musavi and Ali Khani took four feathers for DNA analysis, which the team showed was also of an Omani Owl, the first confirmation that it still exists outside the Arabian peninsula and 1300 km from the nearest record of this species.

* with the permission of the Omani Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, as part of a joint conservation project with the Environment Society of Oman and BirdLife International.

This new study once again underscores that much remains to be learned from owls. Magnus Robb‚Äôs recently published book ‚ÄėUndiscovered Owls‚Äô describes his work on owls in detail.

Robb, MS, Sangster, G, Aliabadian, M, van den Berg, AB, Constantine, M, Irestedt, M, Khani, A, Musavi, SB, Nunes, JM, Sarrouf Willson, M & Walsh, AJ (2015). The rediscovery of Strix butleri (Hume, 1878) in Oman and Iran, with molecular resolution of the identity of Strix omanensis Robb, van den Berg and Constantine, 2013.

Robb et al – Strix butleri (20-8-2015) (1)


Forthcoming Interview

(from Martin G.)

Stand out highlight of Birdfair 2015 was chewing the cud with the Sound Approach guys- more nocturnal migration recording¬†to come soon from Flamborough then! I also engaged Magnus in a¬†full half hour recorded interview. A couple of years ago we met for a coffee and ‘Undiscovered Owls’ was just emerging as a ‘working title’ for a new book. Amazingly there was no hint of something called an Omani Owl. Be careful what you wish for!

This interview will be a¬†MUST listen!¬†Magnus does gorgeous¬†impressions of¬†owl calls from the Tawny’s to the Omani’s, plus a host in between like the Cyprus Scop’s Owl as he¬†thoroughly and entertainingly¬†informs and inspires. Watch this space.

One of my 2015 Birdfair highlights. Chilling. learning and wonderful scheming with Magnus Robb and Nick Hopper of the Sound Approach last weekend.

One of my 2015 Birdfair highlights. Chilling. learning and wonderful scheming with Magnus Robb and Nick Hopper of the Sound Approach last weekend.

Answers to Bird Sound Quiz

Thanks to all those who had a go with this little quiz posted last weekend. Hope you enjoyed the challenge :). Some were easy than others…

Hidden songster can be especially tricky but we dare not ignore them!

Here are the answers:

Icterine Warber

at Spurn in early June 2012. Can you hear the ‘squeaky toy¬†motif or as one friend put it: Think children’s programme¬†Sooty and Sweep- the noise which Sweep made!

Marsh Warbler

at Flambrough in early June 2013. How about that BLue Tit mimic at the end. Th ultimate songster, with over 200 species recorded as being imitated by Marsh Warbler, in one case over 90 species mimicked by just one individual.

Garden Warbler

at Flambrough in May 2014. Bit of practice needed to distinguish the more melodic songs of Blackcap and Garden Warbler. This was almost impossible to see. lacks the ‘little diddle’ ditty of Blackcap (which I can’t put into words!)


Common Chiffchaff

at Flambrough in May 2014. Not an easy one. This bird is paired in South Landing this summer and the male I think calls very loudly and almost Chaffinch-like.


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 ūüôā


Summer Warbler Mystery One

Summer Warbler Mystery Two

Summer Warbler Mystery Three

Summer Bird Mystery Four



Night Flight Calls at Flamborough


by Martin Garner

It is. What birds call at night? Which ones migrate at night undetected- through the middle of the land, over your houses, along the coastline… Close your eyes and LISTEN!


I am trying to do a little more night time recording. maybe once a week or so. Last Friday- Saturday I recorded overnight from my house in Flamborough village. It looked a good evening as the wind swung SW from blocking easterlies and several days foggy conditions. Saturday was a good day. REALLY good As I found a Red-rumped Swallow from our upstairs window with Ray Scally. Also 3 Barn Swallows, 4 Common Buzzards, Fieldfare and Redwing all on view as migrants.


What about the previous night? Well I can identify some but not everything. Indeed I have always struggled with disembodied sounds. Some of you are much better. So here are 12 sounds from that night. I really could do with a little help. ¬†Some are not too tricky. Others fascinating and I really don’t know… Please let me know easy or hard, some or all- what do you think… ?


Each sound recording is followed by its sonagram. Best listened to with headphones plugged in.

1-1.30 Bird two.

1-1.30 Bird two


2.30-3.png Bird three


2.30-3.png Bird four.

2.30-3.png Bird five.

2-2.30.png Bird six.

2-2.30.png Bird seven.

3-3.30.png Bird eight.

4-4.30.png Bird nine.

3-3.30.png Bird ten



11 - 11.30. Bird eleven



12.30-1.png Bird twelve





Fascinating Bird Sounds

 Martin Garner

Many birders have been weened on books where the bird’s image and appearance has been the main/only means of identification. For the birds themselves, recognition is arguably much more frequently done through the sounds they make. This frontier is a wonderful place for discovery and exploration. Here’s a taster of some recently recorded sounds that have interested me from ID point or I just find evocative. There’s also a couple of mystery birds if you want to have a go ūüôā

Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, blythi

The Lesser Whitethroat complex: If it only boils down to DNA when identifying vagrant Lesser Whitethroats from Siberian, central and Eastern Asia, then rightly, birders should switch off. Thankfully it doesn’t. Subtle structural and plumage differences mark out certain individuals, but also calls can point to getting the identifications sorted. I was much chuffed to see and hear the Lesser Whitethroat below give both ‘tac’ and rattle calls (like Spectacled Warbler). Plumage and sound said blythi. DNA confirmed it!
This Lesser Whitethroat was present in South Mainland, Shetland in Sept/Oct 2013. It gave both typcil 'tac' calls and a rattle call, just like the sound recorded in Eilat, Israel - below. The Shetland bird was trapped and DNA confirmed it as a blythi- Siberian dude!

This Siberian Lesser Whitethroat was present in South Mainland, Shetland in Sept/Oct 2013. It gave both typical ‘tac’ calls, like W European birds and an obvious rattle call, just like the sound recorded in Eilat, Israel below, together with ambient cafe music.

Lesser Whitehtroat probable blythi ratttle call Eilat late March 2012


Caucasian Water Pipit, coutelli

Here’s a subject that fascinated me since Brian Small indicated these sound different to his ears. I agree, they really do. I have recorded several ‘coutelli’ on 3 recent visits to Israel. Raspy and generally distinctive I think. Have ¬†a listen and look at that sonagram shape.
Water Pipit 'coutelli', Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner

Water Pipit ‘coutelli’, Mount Hermon, Israel 15th Nov 2013. Martin Garner


coutelli Water Pipit 1 Negev November 2012 sonagram

Common Crossbill. Type ??


Can you help? One of the Common Crossbills recorded at Broomhead, S. Yorks on 13th Dec. 2013 with background twitcher chatter. I had a quick look but couldn’t assign it easily to one of the several ‘Common Crossbill types’. What do you think?

Two-barred Crossbills – trumpeting


And if Crossbill types doesn’t float your boat; the sounds of Two-barred Crossbills should at least! First recording, a flock of at least five chattering to each other as they feed, then a recording of more sustained ‘meep meeps’. Distinctive enough.



Two barred Crossbills 5 +Broomhead, S Yorks, 13th Dec 2013 heard but not seen

Mystery Sound

What was that? That’s a frequent comment coming from my lips. So many¬†sounds¬†I am still¬†learning. This¬†one¬†was from a¬†small bird (warbler¬†sized) in Tamarisk at Ma’agan Michael, Israel on 15th Nov. 2013. I never got a¬†proper¬†look¬†at it and¬†couldn’t¬†put the¬†sound¬†to a name. Happy¬†to¬†look a¬†fool.¬†What¬†species¬†was it? Comments very¬†welcome!

British Storm Petrel

It doesn’t have to be all about ID. Some sounds are just worth hearing for themsleves. Here British Storm Petrels on Mousa, Shetland in May 2013. Famously described as: “The sound of a fairy being sick.”


Graceful Prinia

Are they all the same? With more than one taxa of Graceful Prinias these invite further study. Plumages are not massively different. What secrets do calls and song hold?
Graceful Prinia Jerusalem Bird obs. Israel, Nov. 2012

Graceful Prinia, Jerusalem Bird obs. Israel, Nov. 2012

2 Graceful Prinia Beit shean valley nov 132 Graceful Prinia Beit shean valley nov 13.png b

  • akyildizi¬†Watson, 1961 – S Turkey, possibly into NW Syria.
  • palaestinae¬†Zedlitz, 1911 – Lebanon, S Syria, E Israel, Jordan and NW Saudi Arabia.
  • deltae¬†Reichenow, 1904 – W Israel S to N Egypt (R Nile delta).


Italian and Maltese Sparrows


A recent and former claims of potential Italian Sparrows in Britain seem not to have majored on recording sounds. If Italian Sparrow then I wonder if we should expect some Spanish Sparrow type notes – and if hybrid House/Tree then some Tree Sparrow like notes. Best interpreted/ confirmed with use of sonagram. I don’t know about Italian repertoire but Maltese Sparrows on Linosa, Italy recorded in November 2011 include Spanish Sparrow type calls. Roy Slaterus, who found the first confirmed female Spanish in NW¬†Europe¬†commented on these calls. Might¬†include¬†more¬†details¬†on what to listen for in future post. Here’s a brief look and listen.

Male Maltese Sparow 'maltae' Linosa, Italy, Nov. 2011. Miki Vigiano.

Male Maltese Sparow ‘maltae’ Linosa, Italy, Nov. 2011. Miki Vigiano.

maltae sparrow linosa early nov 2011

Desert Grey Shrike

See this post on Asian and Desert Grey Shrikes. Sounds surely hold some unexplored revelations when it comes to the various groups of grey shrikes. This is a vagrant bird in its first autumn, still stirred up to give a bit of song.
Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano.

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. Have a listen to this guys sounds below.

Desert Grey shrike 1a Linosa Nov 2011 Igor MaioranoDesert Grey shrike 1b Linosa Nov 2011 Igor Maiorano