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Hybrids, morphs, mutants or just Dolphins with a dark-side?

Dan Brown

Ever encountered a dolphin with a dark-side? Careful scrutiny of pods of Common Dolphins occasionally reveals dark individuals, but what are they?

If you’ve ever paid much attention to Common Dolphins you may have been lucky enough to see a dark individual amongst a pod. But what are they?? There are a number of documented records of these dolphins and back in mid-September I was lucky enough to bump into one on the sailing from Harris to St Kilda.

Common Dolphin: A classic individual showing a creamy-peach thoracic patch.

Common Dolphin: A classic individual showing a creamy-peach thoracic patch.

Much like Mallards, Gulls, chickens, & bonobos, dolphins will have a go at humping just about anything! There are a few instances of hybridisation amongst captive Dolphins and recently the first wild instance in the UK of a Risso’s x Bottlenose Dolphin off the Western Isles:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-29541605

Clymene Dolphin is also likely to have arisen as a species through hybridisation, and there has been talk that these dark Common Dolphins are also hybrids but their structure doesn’t point to any other species influence.

Common Dolphin: melanistic individual showing the dark thoracic patch, darker pectoral fins, and a darker lower flank stripe

Common Dolphin: melanistic individual showing the dark thoracic patch, darker pectoral fins, and a darker lower flank stripe

It seems most likely that these animals are simply melanistic individuals. Given the rarity of this morphotype it would probably be incorrect to call them morphs (in generally >1% of a population has to show the features associated with being a morph rather than a result of a mutation).

Common Dolphin: A melanistic individual between Harris & St Kilda

Common Dolphin: A melanistic individual between Harris & St Kilda

In the case of this individual and other observed in the North Atlantic (eg http://cotf5.blogspot.com.es/2014/01/day-4-blow.html) the dark colouration is often restricted to the thoracic patch, which is normally a creamy-peach colour. Other variations including notably pale individuals have been recorded with animals around New Zealand well documented.

This colouration can often lead to confusion with the similar Striped Dolphin, however, structure and behaviour should be enough to rule this species out. Striped Dolphin is a compact and highly energetic dolphin and generally found in deeper oceanic water. Given good enough views the distinctive lateral blaze is also characteristic.

Striped Dolphin: A small, compact, highly energetic dolphin, found in deep oceanic waters

Striped Dolphin: A small, compact, highly energetic dolphin, found in deep oceanic waters

Next time your crossing Biscay, or out in the Atlantic keep an eye open for aberrant dolphins, the more information we have on them the better!

Digiscoped Hoopoe

Steve Blain

Hoopoes are always wonderful birds to see, even better when you can get stunningly close views and get some images too

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It seems like an age since I’ve had some decent digiscoping opportunities.  In the last couple of weeks I’ve had two brilliant encounters.  The first was a couple of weeks ago with a Barred Warbler (but more of that later) and today’s was a local Hoopoe.

This bird was originally seen five days ago over a mile away by a girl walking her dog.  She told her mum about it and described the bird.  They looked it up on the internet and took a picture round to the local ‘bird man’.  He put out the news on the local email group the next day but there was no sign in the original area.  Several birders then started checking the local paddocks, just in case.  One local birder had basically given up looking and decided to take his camera out to photograph his new puppy along a local lane.  He gazed over to a paddock at the end of the lane and bingo!  The bird has shown fantastically well ever since.

This evening it was showing exceptionally well in the paddock, seemingly feeding along the shadow lines of the wooden fence.  It was certainly finding plenty to eat!

Hoopoe, Willington, Bedfordshire, 7th October 2014. Digiscoped using a Nikon V1, 10-30mm lens, Swarovski ATS 80 HD, and 25-50x eyepiece.

Spy Hopping: Marine mammals from the air!

Dan Brown

New aerial survey techniques for monitoring marine birds are proving to be valuable tools in monitoring other marine wildlife

It’s amazing what you can find on GoogleMaps. With an impending visit to Norway I thought I’d have a look for potentially suitable Beluga areas in the north of the country. Belugas love shallow bays so using the satellite imagery to identify suitable sites is a great starting point before actually getting out in the field and finding the real thing. Ninety seconds of searching later and this is what appeared on the screen…

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@69.7898558,30.8214049,304m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

It looks very much like a pod of Beluga at the mouth of a shallow sandy estuary! Belugas typically form tight pods and spend much of their time close to the surface. I’ll tell you in a couple of weeks whether they were still there!

But there’s a more mileage in these aerial images than you may think. If you follow anything marine-based or environmental on twitter you may have seen some superb aerial images of marine wildlife from our UK waters recently. These images were shot by the HiDef (http://www.hidefsurveying.co.uk) team as part of a European Shag survey of waters around the Isles of Scilly for Natural England. You can follow them @HiDefSurvey

 

Risso's Dolphin: 16km WNW of Bryher, Isles of Scilly 12/06/2014. 3m long; grey and white mottled body; prominent ‘melon’ and indistinct beak; tall falcate dorsal fin

Risso’s Dolphin: 16km WNW of Bryher, Isles of Scilly 12/06/2014. 3m long; grey and white mottled body; prominent ‘melon’ and indistinct beak; tall falcate dorsal fin

Harbour Porpoise: Dogger Bank June 2012. Mother (1.8m) and calf – small size, indistinct beak, fairly uniform colouration, dark pectoral fins

Harbour Porpoise: Dogger Bank June 2012. Mother (1.8m) and calf – small size, indistinct beak, fairly uniform colouration, dark pectoral fins

Aerial surveying of marine wildlife has become increasingly common and provides a superb way of documenting and monitoring a range of marine species.  All surveys follow pre-determined transect routes using a small aircraft flying at close to 2000 feet carrying four super high definition cameras. These cameras take digital video footage at several frames per second providing a snap shot of seabirds and other marine wildlife on or close to the surface of the sea.

Northern Right Whale: mother and calf  east of Virginia, USA. Mother (identified from images as ‘Blackheart’) 14.0m, calf 6.5m, identified by barnacles on lips and narrow upper jaw

Northern Right Whale: mother and calf east of Virginia, USA. Mother (identified from images as ‘Blackheart’) 14.0m, calf 6.5m, identified by barnacles on lips and narrow upper jaw

Whilst you may expect that monitoring seabirds and marine mammals (as well as turtles & sharks) would be impossible using aircraft so high above the sea, it is surprising how frequently they are encountered when analysing the images, and how easy they are to identify.

Fin Whale: east of Virginia, USA 15/02/2013. 16.5m Long slim body, small dorsal fin far back on body, white lip on right side.

Fin Whale: east of Virginia, USA 15/02/2013. 16.5m Long slim body, small dorsal fin far back on body, white lip on right side.

Common Dolphin (10): Outer Bristol Channel on 25/05/2009. Average 2.2m long, typical ‘hourglass’ pattern on side, pale pectoral fins, large splash from recent breaching

Common Dolphin (10): Outer Bristol Channel on 25/05/2009. Average 2.2m long, typical ‘hourglass’ pattern on side, pale pectoral fins, large splash from recent breaching

These recent surveys have identified three species of cetaceans around the SW English coast as well as Blue Shark, Sunfish and Leatherback Turtles, even though they are not the target of the surveys, showing how valuable this new technique is and how important our coastal waters are for marine wildlife. We can no doubt look forward to more fascinating marine revelations and a better understanding of the distribution and abundance of many species.

Leatherback Turtle: 20km west of Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 2m long (= adult) with prominent ridges down back

Leatherback Turtle: 20km west of Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 2m long (= adult) with prominent ridges down back

Blue Shark: 16km south of Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 1.8m (=immature) slim snout, blue-grey colour, long pectoral fins

Blue Shark: 16km south of Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly 02/07/2014. 1.8m (=immature) slim snout, blue-grey colour, long pectoral fins

 

Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus

One of the BIG three

Well done to all who had a go. Last weekends wacky weekend warbler was the giant Clamorous Reed Warbler, which along with Great Reed Warbler and Thick-billed Warbler form the big three (at least in the old fieldguides and old taxonomy ;).

And the butt-ugly mammla- Yees and Egyptian Mongoose. Both photographed at Ma’agan Michael in November 2013.

Here’s the Clamorous along with some pond side friends: same place, same day.

Clamorous Reed Warbler 1 Clamorous Reed Warbler 2 Clamorous Reed Warbler 3

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Smyrna Kingfisher- one of three showy kingfisher species on site

Smyrna Kingfisher- one of three showy kingfisher species on site

first winter Night Heron with bits of moult going on

first winter Night Heron with bits of moult going on

smart looking Little Egret

smart looking Little Egret

and ending with my next planned find at Flamborough before the summer is out please... A Great White Egret

and ending with my next planned find at Flamborough before the summer is out please… A Great White Egret

 

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Migration Festival: Chairman and MG answer questions

Who, What, Where, When, Why.

With grateful thanks to Dave Tucker who asked Rob Adams (#Migfest Chairman) and I a few question about the forthcoming Migration Festival at Spurn on 5th-7th September 2014.

Have you booked in yet?  More info click on how to book your ticket

Be great to see you there!

 

wryneck-spurn-12-8-11-c

Spurn Migration Festival one

 

 

A WEEK OF DIGISCOPING CHALLENGES!!

Common Swift

Common Swift  about to enter its nest.

Recently I made a trip to Hornsea to hopefully see some of the reported Little gulls on the mere, a few distant birds where present and after scoping them i thought i would head for the seafront for a spot of seawatching which was quiet to say the least. so my attentions turned to the local Swifts and wondered if i could manage to Digiscope them thease are my best efforts.

Common Swift

Common Swift

A few days later i paid a visit to my local reserve Hatfield  Moors NNR birds of interest were in short supply, but there were lots of Damselflys hawking around just in front of the Boston park hide. my next challenge.

Common Blue damselfly

Common Blue damselfly coming in to Land!!

Common blue Damselfly's

Common blue Damselfly’s

GOOD DIGISCOPING!!