Category Archives: 18) Warblers, Crests, Wrens

Dusky Warbler and curious Goldcrest

Monday 5th October

I went a little slower and enjoyed Virkie’s shoreline. Yoav joined Pierre A-C to explore Walsay and I expect ended up talking forever about Siberian Thrushes! The ‘south ness’ had an increase in Barnacle Geese over and landing in good numbers as well as the more usual Pink-feet. Wild Geese. There is a magic about them.

Barnacle geese 5th oct 2015 (1 of 1)

Barnacle geese 2 5th oct 2015 (1 of 1)

Paul and Roger, together with Peter Colston and Tony Quinn went to Sumburgh and scored a Dusky Warbler at Grutness. RR aced a lovely photo showcasing superbly key Dusky Warbler features:


Dusky Warbler, Grutness, Shetland 5th October 2015. Roger Riddington.

Goldcrests from further EAST

Rather predictably Goldcrests and  Robins became a little more evident today (often goes with Dusky Warbler finds). I was nevertheless taken aback when near octogenarian Peter Colston (Mr Tring Museum for a VERY long time) began ruminating on ‘eastern Goldcrest’. WHAT!

We were birding together at Geosetter and watching and photographing several Goldcrest (plus Yellow-broweds and a curious ‘grey’ 1cy Pied Flycatcher).

coatsi Goldrest!

He was drawn to this Goldcrest by the ‘extra grey’ extending from the nape onto the mantle. Maybe it’s no big deal. Maybe it’s even the ‘angle of the dangle’. Can you see how there is more extensive grey, contrasting with olive green- but in the mid-mantle region rather than at the base of the nape. Often specifically British Goldcrest show almost no real contrast between grey- olive head and olive mantle. Nominate/ continental birds range from obvious contrasting grey heads to some more like British birds. See Yoav’s blog from yesterday for examples)

I have long been interested in greyer heads/ identifiable ‘Continental Goldcrest’ (see me illustrations in last month’s Birdwatch magazine). I never knew about birds from further east… other taxa…but then this is Peter Colston I got to go birding with! I checked out Goldcrests from further east and discovered a taxon- ‘coatsi’ Goldcrest. The range is east of nominate regulus. This is how they are described on the Birds of Kazakhstan website:

“Mantle is lighter, grey on rear-neck more developed than in regulus.”  Birds of Kazakhstan

Now this is only a little exploration. We may never get ‘coatsi’/ birds from that range in W. Europe but its fun to explore and learn. And we were also watching a Yellow-browed W as Peter pointed out. So here’s the bird. It’s how I explore and learn :)

Goldcrest Peter C Geosetter 5tboct 2015 (1 of 1)

Olive-backed Pipit.

I finished my day with a stunning (rarely are they not) OBP at Scatness. Not easy to see. Not everyone getting on to it. I was indeed fortunate to be wowed by the head and underparts and it meander through rank grass.


Pechora Pipit, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, emotions and friends

Difficult is not Impossible

Known for- well since I started birding as A 'Shetland Speciality. The moniker still sticks. Away from the Northern Isles, Pechora Pipits remains extremely difficult to see in Britain. We saw one on our first day on Shetland.. of course ;)

Known for- well since I started birding as A ‘Shetland Speciality. The moniker still sticks. Away from the Northern Isles, Pechora Pipits remains extremely difficult to see in Britain. We saw one on our first day on Shetland.. of course ;)

30th September 2015. Waking up in the early hours at R and A’s was special. Always is, but especially today. After yesterday journey north form Flamborough, I passed through something. I pass through the moment two ears ago at York Station where unbeknownst to me the sharp pain in my back at the time on lifting a suitcase awkwardly was a vertebrae collapsing.  A cancerous tumor had eroded my bone tissue. Obviously my life changed forever at that point. but it didn’t need to define me. It took several months to diagnose but I spoke to that situation yesterday. I stared back at myself and spoke to the cancer of two years earlier and very emphatically declared. ” You will not define me!”

Coming back to Shetland has many times seemed impossible and impractical. Thankfully difficult is not the same as impossible. I genuinely could not have had a more special journey with Sharon. Felt like a was living in high-definition all the way. Now I wish for her an extra special holiday while remembering that she is not a birder!

Yoav’s enthusiasm has been infectious and his humility at wanting to join us for this trip and being so patient around my annoying and frustrating unpredictability has been so gracious. R and A and B and V have paved the way, without them…

Keep and eye on Yoav’s blog, Nubian Nightjar for better pics and story line.

So here we begin. Roger’s garden stumped up  three Yellow -browed Warblers and Chiffchaff. As we ringed the Yellow-broweds, they called that lovely less familiar monosyllabic call. 60 PInk-feet Geese flew over south. We were here! Now to thoroughly engage and enjoy :)

Yellow-browed Warblers at Virkie by Martin Garner

Yellow-browed Warblers at Virkie by Martin Garner

With a supposed relaxed morning planned to rest little and sort some details I was chuffed to bits for Yoav when, in taking the walk from Paul’s to Roger’s he found this Blyth’s Reed Warbler. BOOM! Welcome to Shetland :)

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Toab by Yoav Perlman

Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Toab by Yoav Perlman

The day was already changing. Will, Sharon and I drove to see Yoav’s bird.  A really smart clean Blyth’s Reed Warbler together with more Yellow-browed acolytles. We then headed north to Lerwick to ‘get organised’. That was until Timmy Jones of Spurn picked up a pod of Killer Wales heading north. Headless chicken mode ensued but to no avail. A couple of Otter were lovely though.

The main afternoon slot had to go to the Pechora out west at Norby. With some serendipity we did see it well and I managed  some OK shots.

Here it’s wet, may just have ben washing in the burn:

Pechora Pipit 3 (1 of 1)

a little drier on the edge of some Canary Reed Grass.

Shetland Stormer!Pechora Pipit 4 (1 of 1)Pechora Pipit 6 (1 of 1)

A drake Scaup on Loch Norby invited a quick check for the Nearctic taxon… unrecorded in Europe. However the vermiculation pattern looked very Palearctic. Whooped Swans flew over and life was good!

scaup (1 of 1) whoopers (1 of 1)

Yellow-browed Warblers remained inescapable:

Yellow browed warbler 1 (1 of 1)


We called by a place named Cot and Ian and Yoav managed v brief views of the Arctic Warbler. Me? just pinching myself as we head back to the loveliest lady in the world.

and err… can’t resist another

Pechora 7 (1 of 1)




Eastern Subalpine Warbler

cantillans at Flamborough

Martin Garner

Sometimes remarkable things happen. Found on 1st September, based on just the visible plumage colours the bird seemed to be an Eastern. Unfortunately we could obtain no calls, no DNA and we never got a sufficiently good view of the tail pattern to know what was going on there. The bird’s finder Phil Cunningham than pulled a rabbit out of the hat. on 18th September, nearly 3 weeks later he re-found the bird, in the same hedge. This time we got some more information:)


I don’t normally say but thanks to Swarovksi for amazing gear. This bird was long way off. Yet using the mighty ATX 95 Telescope I could obtain video beyond imagining several years ago. Are the video and images perfect? No. But remarkable for gathering fine details  at such a range and in windy conditions.

The Bird’s Appearance.


Check out the previous post from September 1st sighting of this bird (scroll down).

and this one from Shetland which caused some controversy at the time when I suggested it was an Eastern!

On 1st September came to the quick conclusion that the plumage looked closest/ best for Eastern Subalpine. The throat patch looked more intensely coloured and restricted. 17 days the throat patch looked less intense and slightly more extensive (and typical).


The bird still looked lovely and bluish above, with a throat patch whose colour tone and distribution still looked pretty good for Eastern. So this time (18th sept.) what else could we see? Super Phil, one of Flamborough’s hottest bird finders had re-found the distant pale blob in the hedge while I was photographing some lovely Lesser Redpoll with Brett and Cynthia Richards nearby.

We got lucky!

Over a period of a couple of hours watching the bird would periodically just sit for minutes in one spot. On one of these occasions, with its back to us the tail feathers lay misplaced and T5 on the left side sat right out- BOOM! Perfect Eastern Subalpine pattern with nice white slice running up the feather (instead of just white tip). I even managed to get a video grab of the same pattern, discernible on T5 on the right side (see below).


Have a look for yourself at the bird’s appearance- bare in mind the low evening light ‘burnt out’ some of the plumage and the ‘scope is pumped to the max as are the camera zoom function… (and I am not the world’s greatest digiscoper!)


Above- video of Eastern Subalpine Warbler– long range and in windy conditions… but OK I guess.


Subalpine 1 Warbler MG 18 sept 2015 a (1 of 1)

Eastern Subalpine Warbler 10 (1 of 1)

Eastern Subalpine Warbler 16 (1 of 1)

Eastern Subalpine Warbler 8 (1 of 1)

Above- showing displace T5 with white wedge intruding into otherwise dark outer tail feather.


Subalpine Tail 2 MG 18 sept 2015 900 (1 of 1)

Above – close up of T5


Eastern Subalpine Warbler 4 (1 of 1) Eastern Subalpine Warbler 6 (1 of 1) Eastern Subalpine Warbler 12 (1 of 1)

Above- this looks like you can see the tips of the outer tail feathers on the RIGHT side. It includes a white-tipped feather (T4?!) and next to it a wedge of white that looks about right for the T5 pattern.

Below- it was relatively easy to see when the bird was knocked off its perched by the wind, or dived into the bush that it had two outer tail feathers- visible on the underside of the tail, which were very extensively white.

Eastern Subalpine Warbler 14 (1 of 1) Eastern Subalpine Warbler 15 (1 of 1)

That’s all for now folks. hope you saw it/see it if you came looking.

Eastern Subalpine Warbler ID

But it’s about way more than that!

Genuinely. It’s hard to contain the sheer enjoyment I get every day right now. Because every day there is migration magic. And behind so many species are extra-ordinary stories of avian derring-do.

Yesterday alone. Yes we had a good bird. A ‘Birding Frontiers’ kind of bird in a hedge that runs away from the end of my garden (though too far for a garden tick!) at Flamborough. But there was much more to yesterday.

Juvenile Swifts – Migration Magic

It was the Swifts. Magic views of juvenile Common Swifts yesterday. Unless there has been an upsurge that I missed these are seemingly very rarely photographed in this plumage. Can someone put me right?

Here a few snaps from yesterday. It’s an ID challenge covered in here but more these little waifs won’t land again for 2-3 years. They will travel from here, probably to Spain, down west Africa and perhaps across to Mozambique. Then back again to fly past Spurn next summer. :) #migrationmagic

Common Swift 6 (1 of 1)

On the seawatch – Migration Magic

In the morning yesterday I saw my ALL TIME BEST bird: Sooty Shearwaters. More than one. Gliding past from their breeding home – an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean- bonkers! Viewed just down the road from my little house in East Yorkshire. Never mind the Pomarine and Arctic Skuas from the Arctic,  Balearic Shearwaters from the Mediterranean and Waders and Wildfowl, some of which are coming 1000’s of miles from Siberian breeding grounds.

Little Stint – Migration Magic

Like this juvenile Little Stint hatched form an egg on some permafrost in central Siberia and feeding on little invertebrates on a pond at… Buckton. Buckton (near where domestically I picked my daughter up from her train yesterday evening) ! I got thrilling alone time with another stunning, intricately pattern wee shorebird with a migration narrative that defied human logic. This one was a couple of days ago- but needed slipping in!

little stint 9small juv 27aug (1 of 1)


Wood Warbler and friends – Migration Magic

Back on the land little ‘songbirds’ which had crossed the North Sea- crossed the north sea? Have you seen how big … err. how small they are? Redstarts, Willow Warblers, a Wood Warbler….

wood warbler three (1 of 1)


Eastern Subalpine Warbler – Migration (and rare bird) Magic

Then the ‘what the heck are you doing here’ surprise.

That was a fun garbled message and discussion with Phil C. What a star. Didn’t he do well in a spot we don’t really look hard at.

So why is it an Eastern (thinks me)? We haven’t  heard a call (at least not yet) or recorded any outer tail feather patterns. But, it’s an adult male. It’s already got a rather intense deep blue head more so than you get on Moltoni’s and Western (subtle) in autumn. Critically the underparts at first look are rather white, even silvery, the there is a subtle wash comes into view on the upper breast, weak, hard to make the colour. But stuck right in the middle of the throat and chin is a deep vinaceous-brick spoldge. It’s a dark Eastern Subalpine coloured patch. :)  Exactly the kind of colour and distribution of that colour you might expect for an ‘Eastern’. Then (perhaps less should be read into it) but them thar Easterns – even if the colour doesn’t but up to the white malars- so often have big broad long white malars that stand out in the head pattern- just like this one. So the sum of some bits are all very Easternish…

ad male Eastern Subalpine Warbler 900 (1 of 1)


Which is all by way of saying – birds and migration are amazing! These are a little handful of the kinds of things I ruminate on every day. and it thrills me.

I will be spending from Friday to Sunday at Spurn. At  the Third Migration Festival. Loving it!

Give Something Back:

Those three words encapsulate the Spurn Migration Festival. Andy Roadhouse and I conceived the idea several years ago we wanted to give something back. Guiding folk around Spurn we became aware that what had become familiar to us was a huge wow to our visitors. Indeed it was magical- almost like a kind of ‘best kept secret’ in British Birding. So the question was how to share the wonder of Spurn, it’s birds, its wildlife and the extra dimension of phenomenally accessible, very visible migration. As we approach the third festival we do so with great expectations!

Day Trip the Migration Festival

We have similar number of folk to last year booked for the whole weekend. It looks likes plenty are planning to ‘Day Trip’. Highly recommended! Two organisations have done a great job at putting together an overview of th festival with details; Please follow the links (with big thanks):


go >>> HERE <<<

Rare Bird Alert

go >>> HERE <<< 



GREENISH WARBLER: new for Beijing and the missing link?

The discovery of breeding GREENISH-type WARBLERS in Beijing could represent part of the missing link between the central Chinese form obscuratus and what is now known as TWO-BARRED (plumbeitarus) from NE China and Siberia  

All my life I have found nature fascinating, usually amazing and often surprising.  But every now and again something happens that just blows me away.

In July, when Paul Holt and I found a small population of Greenish-type Warblers (Phylloscopus trochiloides) at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, I had no idea that the discovery could represent a missing link in the distribution of what is thought be one of few examples of a “ring species”.

The Greenish Warblers are widespread leaf warblers whose breeding range extends from temperate northeastern Europe to subtropical continental Asia. They are strongly migratory and most winter from India east to Thailand.

According to a theory first put forward by Ticehurst in 1938, Greenish Warblers were once confined to the southern portion of their range and then expanded northward along two pathways, evolving differences as they pushed north. When the two expanding fronts met in central Siberia (W Europe’s viridanus and Siberia’s plumbeitarus), they were different enough not to interbreed.  Hence plumbeitarus is now considered a separate species – TWO-BARRED WARBLER.

This unusual situation has been termed a ‘circular overlap’ or ‘ring species’, of which there are very few known examples.

greenish warbler map

“Map of Asia showing the six subspecies of the greenish warbler described by Ticehurst in 1938. The crosshatched blue and red area in central Siberia shows the contact zone between viridanus and plumbeitarsus, which do not interbreed. Colours grade together where Ticehurst described gradual morphological change. The gap in northern China is most likely the result of habitat destruction.” (emphasis added)


As one might expect when looking at the map, in Beijing we are used to seeing TWO-BARRED WARBLERS (P. plumbeitarus) on migration as they make their way to and from their breeding grounds in NE China and Siberia.  However, until a few weeks ago, there were no records in the capital of any of the races of GREENISH (P. trochiloides).

Fast forward to 22 June 2015 and Paul Holt and I were in the middle of a 3-day trip to explore Beijing’s highest mountain – Lingshan.  We had already encountered the albocoeruleus form of RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL, until very recently thought to be confined to a handful of sites in Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, more than 1,000 km to the southwest.

 In a relatively small piece of woodland on a northeastern facing slope Paul suddenly heard the distant song of a Greenish-type warbler.

 Fortunately the path we were following led us towards the sound and, after walking a little further, we could soon hear, and later see, the songster.  It was clear that it wasn’t alone and, during the next couple of hours we encountered at least four singing birds.  Paul focused on recording the song (see below) as I tried to snatch a photo or two as it flitted almost non-stop amongst the thick foliage in the canopy of the birch trees.


GREENISH WARBLER, Lingshan, 22 June 2015.  The only decent photo I was able to capture!

Paul was confident that these birds were not TWO-BARRED WARBLERS and most likely belonged to the obscuratus form of GREENISH WARBLER.

At this point it’s worth outlining the key plumage differences between GREENISH and TWO-BARRED:

  • Two-barred is fractionally stronger billed than the viridanus Greenish we see in W. Europe but these figures probably don’t hold up too well when comparing it with the more poorly known obscuratus of Qinghai and Gansu.
  • A typical Two-barred should have a broader greater covert wing bar that extends on to more inner greater coverts than viridanus – a greater covert bar that doesn’t taper towards the inner wing as conspicuously as it does on viridanus.
  • Two-barred usually also has a second (median covert) wing-bar & this is often whitish or even white – this second bar is rare on viridanus (& when present is indistinct & typically not white).
  • A median covert wing-bar is commonly seen on obscuratus (Paul Holt, pers. obs).
  • Two-barred is also slightly darker above & whiter below than viridanus – but again that’s difficult/impossible to discern on a lone bird & in any case obscuratus has the darkest upperparts of any subspecies of Greenish Warbler (& is often contrastingly darker on the crown then inviting confusion with Large-billed Leaf Warbler P. magnirostris).
  • Two-barred often (‘but not always’ sic Svensson 1992) has a pale yellowish supercilium while obscuratus is ‘apparently on average’ whiter here.

A recording of the Lingshan Greenish Warbler is below.  Note that the interval between strophes has been shortened for convenience.


We thought that this newly discovered population was most likely the obscuratus form of GREENISH WARBLER rather than plumbeitarsus (TWO-BARRED WARBLER).  Or is it an intermediate form between obscuratus and plumbeitarus?

We are keen to hear the views of others with experience of these species.  If it is obscuratus, the find represents the first record for Beijing of GREENISH WARBLER.

Perhaps supporting the identification as obscuratus, it’s worth noting that there are two other species from Gansu/Qinghai that have recently been discovered breeding on mountains in or nearby Beijing  – “Gansu” Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanus albocoeruleus) at Haituoshan (a forested mountain in Hebei immediately to the north of Beijing) and Lingshan and Large-billed Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus magnirostris) at Wulingshan (a forested mountain in Hebei immediately to the northeast of the Chinese capital).  It seems likely that small pockets of forest on some of Beijing’s higher mountains are supporting small disjunct populations of these relatively high elevation species, helping to fill in the gap in the map above (attributed to habitat loss).

The finding begs the question: are there other species from the Gansu/Qinghai area that could yet be discovered in the capital?  Grey-headed Bullfinch, Chestnut Thrush and Chinese White-browed Rosefinch are possible candidates…  In any case the Lingshan Greenish-type Warblers provide yet more evidence that there is still so much to be discovered in Beijing, the most well-watched part of China, let alone the rest of this vast country.


Greenish or Green?

Warbler of course!

Keeping the story warm :)

You may remember the curious, rather bright looking, rather ‘Green’-looking phylloscopus warbler in Denmark in the spring (27th May). DNA results are awaited sometime in the next 2-3 months perhaps (per H. Knudsen). More info and photos HERE.

Meanwhile as the autumn Greenish have just begun to appear (bloomin Filey!) this subject needs to stay alive. Green Warbler can appear early too!

We were very fortunate where I live. Following our reporting of the Danish warbler- our own Mr. Andy Hood went and got woken up by a singing Greenish Warbler right outside his bedroom window at Flamborough, on 15th June. Though it made an interesting comparison with the Danish bird. Our bird sang- marvellous! It was also one of those Greenish (not too infrequent) in which the wing bar is entirely worn-off in spring.

Greenish Warbler, Flamborough, 15th June 2015

Grenish Warbler A hood 15th June 15 (1 of 1)

Greenish Warbler, Flamborough, East Yorks. 15th June 2015. Andy Hood

in full song


Green or Greenish Warbler, Blåvand, Denmark, 27th May 2015


warbler two (1 of 1)

Green or Greenish Warbler, Blåvand, Denmark, 27th May 2015. Henrik Knudsen


Green Warbler in Finland, May 2012

and for completion and comparison- don’t forget the accepted Green Warbler in Finland all written-up HERE.

Green Warbler

Green Warbler, Phylloscopus nitidus 20 May 2012 Lågskär, Kaukaasianuunilintu. First record for Finland. Mika Bruun.

Quizbird: Leaf Warbler with a wing bar.

Blåvand, Denmark, 27th May 2015

On the 27th of May this year Henrik Knudsen trapped a wing-barred phylloscopus warbler at Blåvand, Denmark. It wasn’t heard to call.

WP 3-4, 2nd=7 Wing 61.5 mm.

So what species is it? Feathers for DNA which have already been sent off and are awaiting results of their analysis.

I (Martin G) have expressed my opinion on the identification to Henrik (and I will share them). He also has thoughts. What do you think?

warbler two (1 of 1) warbler three (1 of 1) warbler one (1 of 1)