Category Archives: 18) Warblers, Crests, Wrens

Marsh Warbler at Spurn this Autumn

and the Caspian Reed/Blyth’s Reed/Reed Warbler ID process

On 9th October 2015 (earlier this month) Jeff Clarke leading a small and keen group of birders came across this warbler at Spurn. An acrocephalus (pointy head) warbler. Autumn ‘acros’ are notoriously tricky. The few I have seen at Flamborough this autumn, were all identifiable as Reed Warblers very quickly. Usually the plumage tones combined with ESPECIALLY the face pattern pointed the way.

‘acrocephalus’  roughly translates peak or pointy-headed. Some people think you need a pointy head to identify these little brown jobs. We covered 4 acrocephaplus warbler in Challenge Series: AUTUMN. They were Reed, Marsh, Blyth’s Reed and Caspian Reed Warbler. One of the questions once October comes around is that of vagrant Caspian Reed Warblers. Birds like this one flag up the challenge! They have reached Britain before!


Nearly/all/all the birds we see in Britain are young birds in fresh plumage. The adult shave long since migrated. If we were to see an adult acrocepaphalus warbler it would look worn, moulting and weird/scary/ like a rare thing.

That Head Pattern

That head pattern with such a large open area in front off the eye is scary! It is very similar to some Caspian Reeds I have seen. It’s also very reminiscent of some Blyth’s Reeds. Its is also good for Marsh Warbler. Sheesh! Not really like a Reed Warbler at least so should draw the observer eye! I would be very exited to find a face like this.

Colours and Contrasts

Jeff Clarke describes the bird:

“The underparts were noticeably pale on this bird and in fact that is how we first picked it up in the hedge (at first glance I did wonder if it was a Hippo). Pale creamy buff is probably the best description of the underparts, slightly paler on the throat and no obvious darker wash on the flanks. Never got to see the leg colour properly, other than quite pale and couldn’t see the talon colour. The rump was definitely not rusty rump, but rather the colours were a  light olive-brown rump”

The tones and rump colour rule out western Reed (again). the long primary primary projection with striking pale tips, do point towards Marsh. On the upperparts the  Reeds I encountered were pretty plain- indeed with uppeparts/ primary zone that look like more like Blyth’s Reed. So this is a long-winded way of exploring best fit for Marsh Warbler, on head pattern, plumage tones above and below and the primary zone. Have a wee study of the pics 🙂

Well done Jeff and team for excellent find and ID process for us to learn from. Great experience for group birding… and of course it was at SPURN. Special thanks to Ben Miles for getting such informative photos. Great job! All photos below by Ben Miles

Spurn Warbler 1 Spurn Warbler 3Spurn Warbler 2

Olivaceous Warbler ID and Iduna Issues


Yoav Perlman 

On October 1st Noam Weiss trapped this intriguing Iduna Warbler at IBRCE, Eilat.

Noam is the director of the IBRCE, and is one of the most experienced ringers in Israel. Noam must have handled in his extensive ringing carrier several thousand Eastern Olivaceous Warblers I. elaeica, the default Iduna in Israel, and he was immediately struck by this individual – how pallid and sandy it was, and this amazing bill!profile1


Noam understood he had an unusual bird in his hands, and did what an experienced ringer should do in cases like this: he took full measurements of the bird, made sure he had enough photographs in good light conditions, and collected a couple of belly feathers that were shed during the normal ringing process, for DNA analysis. He suspected it could be opaca, the Western Olivaceous Warbler based on its very long bill. There are no accepted records of opaca in Israel, yet…


Naom’s bird was rather large, larger than average elaeica, with a wing length of 67 mm. The wing formula wasn’t helpful – especially the 2nd primary that falls between P6/7 – OK for both species:

The bill length fits opaca, with length to skull of 19.6 mm, but the bill width was too narrow and fits elaeica better – 4.4 mm. Also note the bill shape from below – in opaca it’s supposed to be convex, with swollen mandibles, while elaeica shows straight or slightly concave mandibles:



A few other pointers to this bird being elaeica are:

Pale wing panel on secondaries – opaca lacks a wing panel.
Overall tones – though this bird lacks the typically olive-grey tones of elaeica, it still lacks the brown, almost Acrocephalus tones of opaca.
The lores are pretty dark, and supercilium rather pronounced. opaca has a more open-faced impression with pale lores.



After consulting with members of the Spanish rarities committee, including Manolo Garcia, the consensus on this bird is that it is an unusual elaeica with a deformed bill, and not opaca. But maybe DNA analysis provides different insights? We will know more soon. Thumbs up to Noam for picking out this interesting bird, and sharing the images and information with me.

normal Eastern Olivaceous Warblers

Here are a few images of normal elaeica from Israel. They normally are darker and have stronger olive tones, though this is often hard to perceive in photographs, as it depends on light conditions and on how images are manipulated in editing software. This is an individual in May – look at the pointed and narrow bill:



And this is a cute 1cy, recently fledged (huge awww factor), after a limited post-juvenile moult. Very short and thin bill:oli

Identification of Iduna warblers has been discussed on Birding Frontiers before – check this post with some images of opaca and reiseri. But always there is more to learn!

Goldcrests- the Undiscovered World

Really?- well hell yes.

YES really. Shetland was mint. Sharon and I even got two goes at Aurora borealis. One night we ‘found’ it for ourselves from our Shetland Nature sorted cottage- one of the most northerly houses in Britain (much further north than that old bus shelter of Unst!)

I have not aurora photo skills much. Garry has. This is taken on that very night from nearby looking north. We saw some nice aurora ‘searchlights’ and a few different colours. Most of all we saw it together (and Sharon found it!)

Aurora borealis from Shetland, October 2015. Garry Taylor

Aurora borealis from Shetland, October 2015. Garry Taylor

Here’s a retreat house at Norwick, Unst. It’s called Millfield. There is only the North Pole after this… see here

The last house in Britain- near enough!

The last house in Britain- near enough!

and when we arrived as dusk came in, one tiny bird was present avidly looking for insects in the grass in front of the cottage. A tiny Goldcrest.  It’s a blurry dark pic but I LOVE this spirit if nature. and he was our Goldcrest 🙂

Goldcrest, Norwick, Unst. October 2015 MG

Goldcrest, Norwick, Unst. October 2015 MG

The next morning more migrants. Blackcaps, also strange to watch as they fed, not in trees but on the lawn… And looked pretty beautiful.

blackcaps n (1 of 1)blackcaps 2 (1 of 1)blackcaps (1 of 1)


Goldcrest Revelations

Our Goldcrest was of course part of huge movement/arrival/fall of Goldcrests in Western Europe. They were the main companion very often to Yellow-browed Warblers.

The Yellow-browed Warblers come a very long way. YET we don’t very often ask where the Goldcrests come from. I am now. Because Peter Colston stirred the pot!

'Continental Goldcrest', Flamborough, October 2015 by Andy Hood.

‘Continental Goldcrest’, Flamborough, October 2015 by Andy Hood.

Above: This is just a stunning image by Andy Hood of Flamborough. It fits what I have always referred to/looked for as ‘Continental Goldcrests’ (Old Witherby Handbook). Well the identifiable ones with nice grey head contrasting wth olive upperparts (compared to insular, indigenous British birds). Varaition in the birds from Scandinavia, means some stand out and others, the grey on the head is obscured by olive and the  features is less obvious; they look no different to British birds.  See Yoav’s pics below of a migrant in Shetland:


So I got to go birding with these guys. How cool is that! The biggest fun was being joined by Peter and Tony. Peter Colston was THE bird skin man at the biggest collection of bird skins in the world- TRING, for many many years. He is rightly famed in many papers etc. He was the man who granted access to me to the museum back in the 1980’s.

WOW! Left to right: Peter Colston, MG, Yoav Perlman, Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington. Toab, Shetland, October 2015

WOW! Left to right: Peter Colston, MG, Yoav Perlman, Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington. Toab, Shetland, October 2015

So up the Geostter Burn we went, our motley crew, chasing a ‘grey’ ficedula Flycatcher, some Goldcrest and one or two Yellow-browed Warblers.

Geosetter Burn, Mainland Shetland, October 2015

Geosetter Burn, Mainland Shetland, October 2015

and Peter points out to me THIS Goldcrest below and his photos of.

I am IN straight away! I do know a little but he immediately waxes lyrical about more easterly taxa coming to Britain.

I  NEVER thought about that. What a dude! So there will be a another post on this later this week. I think and hope you might be a little surprised.

For now notice how the grey is MORE extensive – sort of almost reaching into the middle of the mantle.

extrs grey Goldcrest, Geosetter Burn, Shetland. October 2015. Peter Colston

extra grey Goldcrest, Geosetter Burn, Shetland. October 2015. Peter Colston


Another Goldcrest post to follow soon…

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 <<<