Category Archives: Studying Sounds

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Desert and Asian Grey Shrikes

Explorations

Martin Garner

Shrikes, aka butcher birds are always pleasing to see. Recent molecular studies have forced (yet another) rethink about what used to be called ‘Great Grey Shrikes’ and how they might be related to one another. A division between ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ forms is already well-known. Here’s a look at the Southern Grey Shrikes where there is much more to discovered about identification, genetics, vocalisations and interbreeding of forms. A birding frontier! Furthermore an ‘Asian Grey Shrike’ in Norfolk in 1982 considered to be an escape might be worth revisiting.

A paper published in 2010 (see end) suggested different possible (new) taxonomic treatments, with an option being to treat the southern birds as 3 separate species. This position has been adopted by e.g. Dutch Birding:

Desert Grey Shrike Lanius elegans with taxa: elegans, koenigi and algeriensis

Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis

Asian Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora with taxa: lahtora, pallidirostris and aucheri

What’s confusing is that birds with the most similar plumages and in some case breeding closest to one another, are not necessarily the most closely related. So takes some getting your head around! Expressed simply a broad sweep from the Canaries to India reveals most of the southern taxa are dark smoky-grey looking shrikes. From koenigi in the Canaries, algeriensis of coastal North Africa, aucheri of the Middle East through to lahtora in India all look broadly very similar. Into that mix the Iberian meridionalis is similarly dark, often with pinkish caste to underparts. The outstandingly paler form is elegans spanning right across inland North Africa through to the Middle East while the different looking pallidirostris sits perched in the NE corner (Central Asia) of this range.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging deep extensive grey tones below, contrasting with white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. Dutch have it as 'Desert Grey Shrike' and a subspecies of elegans (with algeriensis as another ssp.). The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species 'Iberian Grey Shrike' by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Desert Grey Shrike formkoenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging with deep extensive grey tones below with contrastingly white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species ‘Iberian Grey Shrike’ by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Desert Grey Shrike ‘koenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. A firts winter from nearby North Africa that seemed to fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal form,  algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans.

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. From nearby North Africa. Extensive white in the wing, with large white primarv patch and white outer webs in secondaries points to the paler elegans. Some aspects thought to indicate it fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans. Thankfully these are considered the same species in the new taxonomy! Bit more here

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans/ dodsoni, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

 

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike adult form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri in Israel (and algeriensis in N. Africa). Lots white in wing and tail, bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with very limited black over bill.

Adult Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012, Martin Garner. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri (Asian Grey Shrike) in Israel. Also with lots white in wing; large white primary patch and ‘linking’ white on secondary edges with bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with limited black on forehead/over top of bill base.

Southern Grey Shrike 2 aucheri Hula, Israel Nov 2012

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Billed as separate species from the paler elegans by the Dutch, aucheri is lumped with Asian Grey Shrike 'lahtora' and includes subspecies pallidirostris! This shrike is the commoner dark form in N Israel with darker grey upperparts, more black in mask and less white in wing than aucheri (e.g. see above).

2 photos above: First winter Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. You get 2 species to tick now in Israel!  the dark aucheri is lumped as Asian Grey Shrike with ‘lahtora’  from further east and includes central Asian subspecies pallidirostris, while elegans  is a Desert Grey Shrike. The more common form in N Israel is aucheri with darker grey upperparts, more extensive and darker grey in underparts,more black in mask and less white in wing than elegans (e.g. see above).

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. White in wing limited to primaries.

Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. White in wing essentially limited to primaries. Such a dark bird with limited white seems to fit more extreme end of aucheri, perhaps an example of taxon ‘theresae’ upheld by some authors

Southern Grey Shrike, , Beit She'an Valley,  Israel Nov 2013. In interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn't especially darker above and  with more white in wing than other easy 'aucheri'. This bird could be what is assumed to be an intergrade form between darker northern aucheri and paler southern elegans.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Beit She’an Valley, Israel Nov 2013, Martin Garner. An interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn’t especially darker above and with more white in wing than other easy ‘aucheri’…

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it's appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She'an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many 'Asian Grey Shrikes' were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980's? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not be reproduced in any form.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it’s appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She’an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many ‘Asian Grey Shrikes’ were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980’s? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not to be reproduced in any form.

 

Download the key paper which is bringing new taxonomic thinking:

 The Lanius excubitor conundrum

 

Grateful thanks to Roger Tidman, James McCallum, Chris Kehoe, Andy Stoddart, the MISC, Dani López-Velasco, Juan Sagardia and Yoav Perlman.

 

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Swinhoe’s and Pin-tailed Snipes- Display Sounds

 Magnus Hellström

A big warm welcome to new Birding Frontiers team member,  Magnus Hellström. Read his biog and see his gripping photo at the end of this post.

Citrine Wagtails and Long-toed Stints fed along the water edge, and a beautiful Rubythroat started to sing from the bushes next to us. A couple of Snipes took off and shortly after three Swinhoe’s and two Pin-tailed started to display intensively and simultaneously above our heads!”Recounting adventures from summer 2013 in Russia’s Eastern Sayan Mountains, Magnus talks about differences in sounds of the display flights of both species. Might even be useful on vagrants which can display… Read on and listen:

OK, I understand this topic is slightly off season but, nevertheless, it will also raise some questions that might as well be discussed during mid-winter (and, who knows, may perhaps also serve as an inspiration for next year’s trip planning). Some of you will probably not find anything new here, but it still serve as a good example of the process of learning…

Pin-tailed Snipe, Eastern Sayan Mountain, Russia in June 2013. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Eastern Sayan Mountain, Russia in June 2013. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

 

Today, sound recordings of Pin-tailed and Swinhoe’s Snipes may not be too difficult to find. But the situation was rather the opposite only ten years ago, especially if you were searching for multiple recordings of the full display (high-flight, dive and ascent).

The display from both species is structurally quite similar with:

  • 1) a monotonous and highly repetitive sound given during the high-flight
  • 2) an accelerating whining during the steep dive and
  • 3) finishing with a small cascade of short notes just when leaving the dive and entering the ascent.

This was more or less all I knew when I made my first visits in Siberian Russia. I had some frustrating encounters of displaying Snipes in Siberia during three different years in mid-2000’s; at a taiga bog close to Irkutsk, at a vast area of mowed meadow lands just east of the delta at Lake Baikal’s northern tip and also at the Tunka Wetlands, a huge low-land area of open and grazed wetlands, a couple of hours driving southwest of Irkutsk. According to some references the southern populations of Pin-tailed is primarily found in the mountains. This made me suppose (without really knowing) that the Snipes I heard probably were Swinhoe’s which, according to the same sources, inhabit the taiga and forest edges in the low-lands. Today I am not quite sure that these broad generalizations holds true, and to add further trouble it seems that both species display during migration (just like our European Snipes).

 

Taiga bog close to Irkutsk. A couple of Swinhoe’s/Pin-tailed snipes displayed here during a visit in June 2005. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

Taiga bog close to Irkutsk. A couple of Swinhoe’s/Pin-tailed snipes displayed here during a visit in June 2005. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

 

For me, the turning point came a couple of years later during a new visit to the Tunka Wetlands together with, among others, Rasmus Mäki, Ville Kirstilä and Tomi Kaijanen, who had enjoyed the first Swinhoe’s Snipe for Finland a year earlier. During a night walk we stumbled upon a Snipe in full display and my travel mates verbal comparison with the Finnish Swinhoe’s left little reason to doubt that the bird above our head was a Pin-tailed.

A view over the Tunka Valley, SW of Irkutsk. Displaying Pin-tailed Snipes were present here in both June 2010 and June 2013

A view over the Tunka Valley, SW of Irkutsk. Displaying Pin-tailed Snipes were present here in both June 2010 and June 2013

Preparing for a new visit in Russia this spring (May/June 2013) I was hoping for new opportunities to gain experience of the Snipes. We had terrific, but Snipe-less birding in both steppe and taiga before we entered alpine habitat in the Eastern Sayan Mountains.

During our third evening in the area we endured a short but heavy snowstorm. Small banks of snow packed up by our wind torn tents, but an hour later the wind disappeared completely and the temperature rose above zero. As the snow melted we went out and sat down enjoying the quiet evening by the shore of a small lake close to our base camp on c. 2000 m.a.s.l. Citrine Wagtails and Long-toed Stints fed along the water edge, and a beautiful Rubythroat started to sing from the bushes next to us. A couple of Snipes took off and shortly after three Swinhoe’s and two Pin-tailed started to display intensively and simultaneously above our heads! The birds were present during the whole evening and the morning after, providing superb opportunities to compare their respective repertoires. To me, this experience of simultaneously display from both species was very educative, with clear differences found between them.

The most obvious ones seems to be found in:

a) the monotonous and repetitive sound made during high-flight, and in

b) the small cascade of short notes after the dive, when entering the ascent:

 

a) In Swinhoe’s the high-flight sound is a “kxr-kxr-kxr-kxr-kxr…”, rather harsh with an obvious ‘r-component’ involved. This should be compared to the corresponding sound from Pin-tailed; a rather childish and slightly squeeky “chz-chz-chz-chz-chz…” lacking the above ‘r-sounds’ heard from Swinhoe’s.

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b) More or less the same also goes for the ending cascade where Swinhoe’s gives lots of deep crunchy “kxr” notes while Pin-tailed is, again, softer and more nasal, lacking the ‘r-quality’ and sounding more like some kind of a toy… The harsh sounds from Swinhoe’s have sometimes been compared to the Garganey while the softer Pin-tailed have been likened with the hissing sounds from displaying Capercaillie.

 

These differences where very consistent, also in other individuals (Pin-tailed) heard at other locations during the trip.

 

Have a listen to the recordings made during this concert and compare sonagrams:

Pintail Snipe high flight sound Eastern Sayan Mtn, MayJune 2013 Magnus Hellström

Pintail Snipe high flight sound Eastern Sayan Mtn, MayJune 2013 Magnus Hellström

 

Pintail Snipe whining running into ending cascade Eastern Sayan Mtns, May-June 2013 Magnus Hellström

Pintail Snipe whining running into ending cascade Eastern Sayan Mtns, May-June 2013 Magnus Hellström

Swinhoe's Snipe high flight sound Eastern Sayan Mtns, May-June 2013 Magnus Hellström

Swinhoe’s Snipe high flight sound Eastern Sayan Mtns, May-June 2013 Magnus Hellström

Swinhoe's Snipe whining running into ending cascade Eastern Sayan Mtns, May-June 2013 Magnus Hellström

Swinhoe’s Snipe whining running into ending cascade Eastern Sayan Mtns, May-June 2013 Magnus Hellström

 

Then have a listen to the full display sounds of both species:

 

 

(The recordings were made with a Canon 7D camera without external microphone, hence the noise level is a bit higher than wished).

 

Rather easy to tell apart, aren’t they!? Again, this may not be new to you, but still posed a bit of a frustrating problem for me only a couple of years ago (in the pre-Xeno-Canto era…).

 

Eastern Sayan Mountains, June 2013. The Snipes were displaying at our base camp (and the lake just left of the camp) visible in the lower part of the image. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

Eastern Sayan Mountains, June 2013. The Snipes were displaying at our base camp (and the lake just left of the camp) visible in the lower part of the image. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

 

Tranquility in the mountains. The same lake as in the photo above. Three Swinhoe’s and two Pin-tailed was present here in June 2013. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

Tranquility in the mountains. The same lake as in the photo above. Three Swinhoe’s and two Pin-tailed was present here in June 2013. Photo: Magnus Hellström.

 

During a subsequent discussion on the subject, Lars Svensson raised the question whether I’d heard “tic-ka tic-ka tic-ka…” calls from the Pin-tailed Snipes, similar to the ones heard from Common Snipe on breeding grounds? Such sounds can be heard on Veprintsev’s recording of Pin-tailed Snipe (Birds of the Soviet Union: A Sound Guide). On the same recording Common Snipe displays in the background, and that species was obviously present on the locality as well. It seems reasonable to ask the question whether it is possible that a mistake have been made: did the wrong species end up on tape, or does Pin-tailed actually have a corresponding call? A recording of Pin-tailed Snipe on Schulze (Vogelstimmen) also include“Tic-ka”-calls, and on that one display of Pin-tailed is heard in the background. “Tic-ka”-calls were heard at several sites where Pin-tailed Snipes were present in the Sayan and the Tunka Valley 2013, but on the same spots there were also Common Snipes present, and I cannot say for sure which of the birds that produced the sound. Readers of this should feel very welcomed to add any further information or experience to the above…

Happy New Snipe-year!

The number and shape of the tail feathers contributes to some of the differences in sound made during display flights. With big nod to Paul Leader, compare these Pintail and Swinhoe’s Snipe tails- from this former Birding Frontiers ‘Mystery Bird Quiz’:

Pintail Snipe tail,  Paul Leader. 8 ‘pins’ of similar length form outer tail feathers

Pintail Snipe tail, Paul Leader. 8 ‘pins’ of similar length form outer tail feathers

 

Adult Swinhoe’s Snipe tail,  Paul Leader. 6 ’pins’ form outer tail feathers, which broaden noticeably inward.

Adult Swinhoe’s Snipe tail, Paul Leader. 6 ’pins’ form outer tail feathers, which broaden noticeably inward.

 

 Magnus HellströmMagnus Hellström

“Glad to join the team! I’m a lifelong bird watcher born in 1974. I’m a biologist and agronomist and live in Kalmar, part of the huge Baltic flyway along the coast of SE Sweden. I’ve been involved in all kinds of different ringing projects and monitoring programs over the years, working with many small and large projects, both in Sweden and abroad. This has resulted in a deep interest in bird ID (including moult, ageing and sexing) as well as taxonomy. I am employed by the Swedish Ornithological Society as head of Ottenby Bird Observatory where the scientific work today focuses on bird migration, phenological analyses of long-term ringing series, providing zoonotic sampling for external institutions etc. Concerning bird ID, my primary interest lies within the Palearctic fauna and I enjoy traveling anywhere in the east. I was a member of the Swedish rarities committee 2002-2012 and since 2007 I also work as a tour leader for AviFauna.”

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Calls of Thayer’s, Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls

Peter  Adriaens

First off, a very warm welcome to new Birding Frontiers team member, Peter Adriaens. Read his biog and see his remarkable photo at the end of this post 🙂

Interminable debates have surrounded the identity and taxonomy of Thayer’s, Kumlien’s and Iceland Gulls of Arctic Canada. Until now, most of these have focused on plumage similarities and differences. Having obtained recordings of Kumlien’s Gulls in Newfoundland in early 2013, comparison could then be made between all 3 taxa. The long call of gulls is effectively their ‘song’. When the flight calls and especially long calls of the 3 are compared, the results are unexpected and surprising…

While our knowledge of birds in general has increased exponentially over the last few decades, it seems that some gull taxa have managed to remain a mystery. This is particularly true for the “Iceland Gull complex”. The taxonomic position of Thayer’s Gull, Kumlien’s Gull and Iceland Gull is a much discussed topic, but for the last 15 years or so, the debate seems to have been going in circles rather than forward. It may even be going backward: indeed, Snell (2002) in ‘Birds of North America online’ treats the three taxa as just one, monotypic species, Larus glaucoides. Thus, we are led to believe that gulls with white wing tips (glaucoides) living in Greenland are the same taxon as gulls with black wing tips (thayeri) living in western North America, 2,000 to 5,000 km further away. Convenient perhaps, but a bit despondent surely?

The debate is characterised by many unanswered questions and a lot of speculation. To add something more informative, I would like to draw attention to the calls of these taxa. For display, large gulls have a “long call” that is unique to each taxon. It is effectively the song of a gull, and consists of three separate stages, the third one being a long, loud series of fairly short, staccato notes. One thing that the three “Iceland Gull taxa” have in common, is that the staccato notes of the long call are delivered more slowly than in other large gulls: there are usually only two staccato notes per second, as opposed to four in, e.g., European or American Herring Gull. For a recording and sonogram of a displaying pair of the latter taxon, have a look at the recording >>>HERE<<< and note that about 3.5 – 4 staccato notes are delivered per second (from seconds 3 to 7), at a frequency of c 1000 to 4000 Hz.

Yet, there are noticeable differences between the three “Iceland Gull taxa” as well. Recordings have become available in recent years, except for Kumlien’s Gull, so I recorded this taxon myself in Newfoundland in January and February 2013. When discussing these recordings with Magnus Robb, it became clear that especially Thayer’s Gull is somewhat different. While gull long calls are variable, e.g. differing between male and female and depending on the kind of interaction that is going on, the difference may be significant, and has actually been hinted at before: Sibley (2000) described the long call of Thayer’s Gull as lower and flatter than (American) Herring Gull, while Iceland Gull is said to be ‘shriller’ (i.e. higher).

 Thayer’s Gull

Thayer' s Gull (near) adult Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2013. Peter Adriaens

Thayer’ s Gull (near) adult Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2013. Peter Adriaens

So what do these birds sound like? The Macaulay Library has three recordings of adult Thayer’s long calls and two of flight calls. You can listen to them >>> HERE <<< . As the recordist also comments, these calls sound rather deep. If we put this into a sonogram, we can see that the fundamental (i.e. lowest) staccato notes start below 1000 Hz and have a rather flat, gently arched shape. There are also some guttural sounds, which go below 500 Hz.

Adult Thayers Gull, flight calls & long calls. Churchill, Canada 3 June 2009 (from Macaulay Library)

Adult Thayers Gull, flight calls & long calls. Churchill, Canada 3 June 2009 (from Macaulay Library)

Note also that the flight calls sound quite low, starting clearly below 500 Hz.

Thayer's Gull (near) adult, Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2012. Peter Adriaens

Thayer’s Gull (near) adult, Choshi, Japan, 11th March 2012. Peter Adriaens

Another recording of Thayer’s Gull long call is available on the Stokes CD ‘Bird songs of West America’. Again, the sonogram shows deep staccato notes (starting below 1000 Hz) with a flat shape.

Thayer' s Gull long call from Stokes CD ‘Bird songs of West America’.

Thayer’ s Gull long call from Stokes CD ‘Bird songs of West America’.

 Iceland Gull

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik , Iceland, 28 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik , Iceland, 28 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Compare the Thayer’s Gull calls above to the following recording of a displaying adult Iceland Gull (nominate glaucoides), made by Magnus in Iceland in spring:

Transferring this to a sonogram reveals that the call notes have a distinctly peaked shape, are all clearly above 1000 Hz and therefore higher pitched than in Thayer’s Gull:

Adult Iceland Gull long call, Iceland, Magnus Robb

Adult Iceland Gull long call, Iceland, Magnus Robb

Goethe (1986) based on several hundreds of recordings made in breeding colonies in Greenland and on birds in captivity, also describes the long call of adult Iceland Gull as higher than 1000 Hz. He also found it to be 500 to 700 Hz higher than in Herring Gull.

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik, Iceland, 23 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Adult Iceland Gull, Grindavik, Iceland, 23 March 2010. Peter Adriaens

Further recordings of nominate Iceland Gull can be found on commercial CDs such as Schulze’s ‘Bird Songs of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East’ – though the long call on there is that of an immature bird.

Flight calls can be heard from about the 24th second in Magnus’ recording (first recording above and in short section extracted in 2nd recording directly above). These sound higher pitched than in Thayer’s Gull. In the sonogram, they are clearly above 1000 Hz:

Adult Iceland Gull flight call, Iceland. Magnus Robb

Adult Iceland Gull flight call, Iceland. Magnus Robb

 

 Kumlien’s Gull

Adult Kumlien's Gull Newfoundland, 22nd January 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien’s Gull Newfoundland, 22nd January 2013. Peter Adriaens

The long call of Kumlien’s Gull seems similar to Iceland Gull, though perhaps sounding even higher – which is a bit unexpected in a taxon that is seen as intermediate between Thayer’s and Iceland Gull, or even as a hybrid between the two by some. In any case, the long call is clearly higher than in Thayer’s Gull, with the fundamentals starting above 1000 Hz. The flight calls sound higher pitched too; in the sonogram, they are at about 1000 Hz or higher, while Thayer’s flight calls start below 500 Hz already.

Long calls

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best 2) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best 3) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls and Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien's Gull adult Long calls (best 2) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls (best 2) Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

 

Kumlien's Gull adult Long calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Long calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien's Gull Newfoundland, 1st February 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien’s Gull Newfoundland, 1st February 2013. Peter Adriaens

 

Flight calls

Kumlien’s Gull adult Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien's Gull adult Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Kumlien’s Gull adult Flight calls Newfoundland Jan- Feb 2013. Peter Adriaens

Conclusions

 It seems interesting that Thayer’s Gull appears to have a deeper, flatter voice than Iceland, Kumlien’s and even Herring Gulls. While I fully realise that many more recordings are needed, especially from the breeding grounds, I simply hope that the above information provides a fresh look at an old problem. Perhaps the taxonomic debate cannot be settled by measuring skins in musea. There is still a need for more detailed and controlled research, which should probably also take into account voice and ecology. Thayer’s, Kumlien’s and Iceland Gull certainly behave like three distinct populations; each one has its own breeding and wintering range, for instance. Each one seems to have its own plumage traits (Howell & Elliott, 2001; Howell & Mactavish, 2003) and probably also voice. If the whole Iceland Gull complex is just one big cline, as suggested by e.g. Snell (2002), how can there be three distinct populations? And if Kumlien’s Gull is merely a hybrid, as advocated by e.g. Weir et al (2000), why does it have its own range? Surely the taxonomic debate can only be settled when there are firm answers to such questions.

References

 Goethe, F. 1986. Zur Biologie, insbesondere Ethographie der Polarmöwe (Larus glaucoides Meyer, 1822). Ann. Naturhist. Mus. Wien. 88/89(Ser. B):113-146.

Howell, S & Elliott, M T. 2001. Identification and variation of winter adult thayer’s gulls – with comments on taxonomy. Alula 7 (4): 130-144

Howell, S & Mactavish, B. 2003. Identification and variation of winter adult Kumlien’s Gulls. Alula 1: 2-15

Snell, R. R. 2002. Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/spe…0.2173/bna.699

Weir, D. N., Kitchener A.C., and McGowan R. Y. 2000. Hybridization and changes in the distribution of Iceland gulls (Larus glaucoides/kumlieni/thayeri). J. Zool., London, 252: 517-530

 

Trickier birds would be very interesting to record…

Adult Kumlien's Gull (dark individual), Newfoundland, 25 January 2013. Peter Adriaens

Adult Kumlien’s Gull (dark individual), Newfoundland, 25 January 2013. Peter Adriaens

 

“As usual, I am fashionably late – even when it comes to joining something as interesting and thought-provoking as the Birdingfrontiers.com website. I am honouredPeter Adriaens photo resize to now be part of a great team of blog writers, and I hope I can contribute something useful from time to time. I promise it will not always be about gulls! As an editor for Dutch Birding, I enjoy writing identification papers, but some topics and ideas probably lend themselves better to the blogging world than to a 25 page in-depth article. I live in Belgium, where I have had the good fortune to be able to work in gull and tern colonies for a few years. I have also worked in Armenia, surveying breeding birds and migration. I have traveled widely, mainly with the idea of becoming more familiar with some species that interest me. Birding has been my main passion for over 25 years and I still thoroughly enjoy it – be it when seeing a new bird or some kind of variation that I was not familiar with; it is all thrilling. If nothing else, it is often great to just be outdoors. Time spent in nature is never time wasted, as they say…”

(Photo taken just before entering a heavily polluted part of the Maasvlakte when we were ringing Common Terns…)

 Peter Adriaens, December 2013

 

The Hartlepool Western Orphean Warbler – now with sound!

Alarm/ Contact Call

Tom Francis managed to capture the call of the recent Western Orphean Warbler at Hartlepool Headland as it was being processed in the hand.

You can listen to it <HERE>

I have made cursory comparison of calls of Eastern and Western birds. However there are several call types and the data is very limited. Still good to have this and perhaps it may ‘resolve’ with more research on similarities and differences between calls of Eastern and Western Orpheans. We are always learning!

1st summer male Western Orphean Warbler, Hartlepool, May 2012, Martyn Sidewell.

Also don’t miss this account of an Eastern Orphean Warbler in Norway in August- Sept. 2006. Both species have reached  N/W Europe. Both can be expected in the future.

1st summer male Eastern Orphean Warbler, Halten, Norway Aug-Sept 2006, Frode Falkenberg

Thanks to Tom Francis, Toby Collett, Magnus Robb, Frode Falkenberg, Chris Kehoe and Tris Reid.

Western Bonelli’s Warbler

Alternating Song Trills

Went to see this amazing record. An early July Western Bonelli’s Warbler on the edge of Manchester. Rather unprecedented! It was not too difficult to hear with sufficiently regular song trills. These came in very short bursts. Seeing it though a lot harder. When  I finally got reasonable views it was a rather colourless looking thing. Greenish fringes on wing and faint yellow on rump  rather tricky to discern due to the worn plumage. It’s constant movement didn’t help in trying to get a good view of the plumage characters either. I did manage some OK recordings of the song trill. I also heard 3-4 times a ho-eet type call which I think was it, but couldn’t be absolutely sure.

These sonagrams were fascinating for me and a learning experience. I didn’t notice a difference in the song trill in the field, though it did seem very short. Notice how there are 2 types of song trill on the sonagrams. They correspond  roughly to song trills:  Bonelli’s type 1 and Bonelli’s type 3 in this Dutch Birding paper. Interestingly the bird was actually alternating between these 2 trill types. The following is a sequence of 6 song trills, in the order in which the bird sang during a  period of 2 minutes and 6 seconds. It’s pretty consistent:

4th July 2011: (click through for larger sizes)