Category Archives: 01) Wildfowl

Christmas fudge goose

By Yoav Perlman

Geese are fun, aren’t they? The perfect head-scratching activity for dark and cold winter days. In Norfolk, views are typically rubbish, which makes it even more fun. Hybrid geese have been discussed on Birding Frontiers before.

When geese turn up in funny places, things get really interesting. This intriguing goose was found at the spectacular KKL Agamon Hula in Israel on Christmas day by Hamudi Musa Heib, and was later photographed by Dror Galili. Dror kindly allowed me to use his images here. Shai Agmon sent me some more images and shared his field impressions with me. It was an overcast day (even in Israel…) so Dror’s images are rather dark and blue.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

First impression is Lesser White-fronted Goose (LWFG), isn’t it? The bold eyering shouts loud. But then a closer look does show some pointers to other or mixed identities. In images it looks quite a brute, compared to Wigeon. However, people who saw it in the field said that the field impression wasn’t that massive. The neck is thick but rather long. The bill is long and powerful, different from the cute mini-beak of LWFG, to my eyes closer to Eurasian White-fronted Goose (EWFG).

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

First, ageing this bird is important – this appears to be a 1cy (1st-winter; it will turn 2cy in five days). Check moult contrast in scapulars and flanks. It is probably moulting out of juvenile plumage.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Some context: 

This is a special goose year in Israel. All geese are rare in Israel. The only regularly occurring species in Israel is Eurasian White-fronted, with single birds seen almost every winter. Agamon Hula is a hotspot for them. This winter Israel is experiencing a goose influx, with several flocks of White-fronts around the country, several flocks of the rare Greylag, and even records of mega rarities – Taiga Bean Goose (5th record) and Lesser White-fronted (7th record). Check this article in Hebrew (sorry), Google Translate will make you chuckle I’m sure. So it is likely that this bird is of wild origin.

In Israel this bird was first broadcast as Lesser White-fronted Goose. Then talk started about hybrid options.  With Eurasian white-fronted Goose? Red-breasted Goose? Egyptian Goose? Ruddy Shelduck? Perhaps wildfowl collections can create unlikely love stories? I don’t know if that’s even possible. So many question marks in one post… So to make some sense I contacted Dave Appleton from the excellent Bird Hybrids. Dave sent me this most detailed reply:

“Firstly I think the reddish colour on the flank feathers is a red herring… I think it is dirt and not a real plumage feature.  I don’t think any hybrid combination would give rise to such a plumage mark and also I don’t think the pattern of it really fits any normal feather patterns – it seems to cross feathers in a weird way, not like a normal plumage feature.  For example in IMG1897 (the top image in this post – YP) the rearmost blotch of reddish brown along the rear flanks seems to cover the outer half of the tip of one feather and the outer ¾ of the base of the feather behind it – like a random spot of dirt rather than a normal plumage pattern.

The other issues would all be explained, I think, if there was (Greater/Eurasian) White-fronted Goose influence – a first-winter would show a dark nail to the bill and have a longer bill than Lesser White-front, it would be large and heavy and I think the head shape and colour are ok too.  So then my question becomes, is it a hybrid between White-fronted Goose and Lesser White-fronted Goose, or could it be just a pure White-fronted Goose?  The features you mention as making it superficially like Lesser White-fronted Goose are the eye-ring and the long primaries.  To me the feathers at the wing-tip look dishevelled – the tertials aren’t lying flat and the primaries seem to be pointing at a slightly odd angle.  I am not sure if it is damaged or has loose feathers, but whatever the cause I am not sure it is safe to judge the relative length of the primaries in this state. 

That leaves only the yellow eye-ring (or more correctly, orbital ring) to potentially indicate Lesser White-fronted Goose origin.  Of course White-fronted Goose can have a slightly yellowish orbital ring, it’s just that its usually so dull and inconspicuous that you don’t notice it.  It does vary though – e.g. the Reeber Wildfowl book says (under the description of adult Greater White-fronted Goose), “Brown iris with a usually inconspicuous orbital ring, which is sometimes yellow (most frequently in breeding males).”  I can’t find them now but I’m sure I’ve seen photos of apparently pure White-fronted Geese with yellow orbital rings that would make a Lesser White-front proud.  Of course your bird appears to be a first-winter, so that may be more unusual in a bird of that age, but I am not sure it is enough on its own to exclude a pure White-fronted Goose.  On the other hand they say that most captive Lesser White-fronts are not pure, having some White-front ancestry (which in my experience rings true – they often seem to have less white on the forehead than wild birds) and I guess the opposite might be true of captive White-fronts.  So if captive origin is likely then perhaps mixed ancestry might be the best way of explaining the yellow eye-ring, but if wild origin is more likely (and if recent events in England are anything to go by it must be a good winter to see White-fronts a bit outside their usual range) then I would tentatively suggest a pure first-winter White-fronted Goose would be the most likely identification.”

Many thanks to Dave for this interesting and eye-opening analysis.

I have some points to discuss though – open to debate:

  1. I think the red colouration on the flanks is genuine feather pattern, rather than red dirt. It seems to be symmetrical on both sides (check two top images).
  2. I agree that wingtip structure is not fully clear in relation to tertials, but the primaries do certainly project beyond tail. It is hard to judge exactly how much, but this is more than I would expect from a EWFG.
  3. I am not sure that the dark bill nail is not a result of the goose digging in the dark peat soil of the Hula Valley.

Would be interesting to hear more opinions on this bird!

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeon, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp., Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

Goose sp. with Eurasian Wigeons, Agamon Hula, Israel, 25/12/16. Photo by Dror Galili.

I apologize for a certain back-log I have here on BF. I promise to address the grey chat (stejnegeri?) issue soon. I also have some interesting terns in the oven, and should also write about a certain house martin that I hope to see on Thursday when I arrive in Israel for a short visit…

So stay tuned for some more exciting stuff here on Birding Frontiers in 2017. I wish all of our followers and supporters a lovely and exciting 2017!


Black Scoter and Common Scoter ID

and check out  the eye-ring!

Christian Wegst kindly sent his paper though earlier this spring and its taken me ages to put it up. Given the winter cometh and wildfowl watching will go up- it’s not bad timing, even though I feel I owe Christian an apology. A great resource and could inspire some getting out and looking 🙂

Meanwhile chatting with top N. American birder Ned Brinkley, he has righly emphaised that the coloured eye-ring is VERY different between the two taxa. ID should be simples then!

Read the paper by clicking HERE:


Separation of Black Scoter from Common Scoter


The Orbital Ring

Hi Martin – I’ve received a manuscript from some California birders on the first North American record of Common Scoter, and they note that the bird’s eye-ring was bright yellowish orange, typical of Common Scoter, whereas Black Scoter tends to have a duller or dusky eye-ring. I don’t have a copy of your Frontiers book as yet. In a search of images of breeding adult males of each online, I’m seeing about 95% of adult male Common with vivid/distinct yellowish eye rings, whereas Blacks appear to have no detectable eye-ring (or in a few cases, a very thin dull yellowish eye-ring). What do you think of this? A Google and Flickr search of images took me just five minutes, but the contrast between these taxa in this respect was surprising.

Ned Brinkley

Hi Ned- I get nil points for speed. Sorry for being so slow. This sounds a great record in California. The text in ‘Frontiers’ in Birding’ refers to americana and says ! ‘Eye-ring tends to be bluish-grey not yellow’  in nutshell yellow eye-ring for Common Scoter – nigra, blue-grey for Black Scoter- americana’. My stuff is about 15-20 years old and may well need sharpening- sounds like your observations are doing just that. So we agree though your precise details are probably more accurate.  


Common and Black Scoters (1 of 1)

Separation of Black Scoter from Common Scoter


Pallid Swift at Flamborough

What happened then!

Today. 31st October 2015. That was some morning. Brett R and Andy M. kicked off with  a very early swift sp. from the fog station at Flamborough. Finally as you can see it resolved. Craig T and John B around and the blooming thing resolved right in front of us!

Awesome. I need a sleep after that.

Super captures by Craig Thomas. More on the days events on the Flamborough Bird Obs. website later. Don’t’ miss it!





Cackling Canada Goose in Devon

 Love it- a Wild ‘Ridgway’s’ Canada Goose in Britain!

I love this stuff. Really! Matt Knott emailed a while back to say he found this bird on 27th September 2015 on his local patch on the Exe Estuary in Devon. I am just slow! The bird arrived with and was clearly part of the large flock of several hundred Dark-bellied Brent Geese. The Brent come from Central Siberia. 

If you interested in seeing wild vagrant geese- you should go see this one!

So the big question. Is this a wild bird, from Alaska. To me this is  ‘no-brainer’. The case for this being a wild bird is much easier for me to make, than it be an escaped captive reared bird.

I could wax lyrical. I would have drawn a map just like Matt’s. It’s a highly likely scenario.

I think at least 1-2 birds which appeared at Caerlaverock WWT in 2009, with Barnacle Geese also fit a wild Cackling Goose bill. So enjoy the pics and the map and believe in birds! 🙂

Check out Dave Boult’s lovely video of the bird. Click HERE


Huge thanks to Chris Townend for the beautiful photos below.

unnamed 6 unnamed 8 unnamed 9All photos above by Chris Townend– with thanks.
unnamed 12


BELOW: Tristan Reid’s beautiful photo of one of the ‘wild’ Cackling Canada’s at Caerlaverock back in 2009.



Helpfully as ever Richard Klim highlighter the correct spelling of Ridgway. More HERE

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.


Juvenile Garganey

The Subtle ID challenge

Why does it stand out- just. At the same time easy to overlook. Last Wednesday 26th we had our final Spurn Migration Festival meet. Mark Thomas had found a juvenile Little Stint on Buckton Pond so figured I would swing by en route home. No Little Stint. Maybe it’s at Thornwick Pool ?  Nope. But beautiful juvenile Whimbrel and Little Ringed Plover, and more wildfowl than usual. Mostly Mallard, a pair of moulting Gadwall, some Teal and a…

I know what that’s going to be!  Fired off this shot:

Garganey 18 first pic (1 of 1)


There is something about those orange brown tones and the shape of scapulars long, warm brown, with crisp white fringes. And why do the ones I see look orange on the breast on underparts (does it say that in ‘the book’). It’s fast asleep. No real view of the head pattern. But I just ‘know’ it’s going to be a Garganey- presumably a juvenile.

So I speed around to our magic photo pod. It’s still there, still asleep This is the first pic from the pod:

Garganey 19 next first pic (1 of 1)

OK little missy- time to wake up. please.


Garganey 14 (1 of 1)

LOVERLY! Kinda final confirmation A baby Garganey has arrived in a little influx of wildfowl to our special conservation site at Thornwick Pool. Only the 3rd Garganey record at Flamborough this year and a Patch tick for me 🙂

P.S. perhaps not conveyed in these pics, but the head pattern is not always so ‘obvious‘. Rather easy to pass over at times actually.

Garganey 9 (1 of 1)


She heads onto the water feed. Not so likely to up-end like the Teal, she prefers to just submerge head into water and keep most of body afloat.

Garganey 12 (1 of 1) Garganey 13 (1 of 1)


Let’s have some detail:

Garganey have narrower specula than Teal. Silvery whiteness going on in the outer wing. This one has pretty plain brown wing coverts. Guess that makes it a female, though notice how the width of white borders both above and below actually appears to vary and the overall width of the specula appears to vary from narrow to broader- curious!

Garganey smaller one (1 of 1) Garganey smaller two (1 of 1) Garganey 33 (1 of 1) Garganey 32 (1 of 1) Garganey 31 (1 of 1) Garganey 30 (1 of 1) Garganey 29 (1 of 1)


Tail Feathers

Juvenile wildfowl (most/all?) wear in such a way that a V wedge forms at the feather tip and the shaft pokes out down the centre. Adult tail feathers don’t do that.Garganey 28 (1 of 1)



The Whimbrel was very smart-looking

whimbrel 2 (1 of 1)

and the Mark’s Little Stint hung around for me to see it the next morning:

litle stint juv 27aug (1 of 1)



ANSWERS. To Eider Prize Quiz

Not so easy 😉

Thanks to everyone who had a go at the female Eider prize quiz. Not easy!

Six people named all 4 birds correctly to their taxon/ subspecies level. Well done- they were:

Kent Olsen, Davy Bosman, Liger Alexandre, Mike Buckland, Tony Davison and Hans Martin Høiby. (if I missed anyone- tell me quick!)

and drawn from the hat (by Abi Garner) the winner is drrrrrrrrrrrrr is :

Mike Buckland

I was heartened that by using new features and what for me is ‘right-now’ learning, these and other female Eider can often be identified to a subspecies/ lowest taxonomic unit level- especially when location and circumstance are taken into account. There’s’ more in the new book of course!

A copy of the Challenge Series: WINTER is on its way to Mike.


female Eider 1 (below) is a female Northern Eider – borealis

female Eider one (1 of 1)

Above. Female Northern Eider, borealis, Sindri Skúlason. Quite a few plumped for faeroeeensis on this one. Many true Faeroes birds are a deep peaty brown colour- e.g. lovely photo by Silas Olofson in new book.


female Eider 2 (below) is a female Dresser’s Eider dresseri

female Eider

Above. Female Dresser’s Eider, dresseri, by Chris Wood.


female Eider 3 (below) is a female Pacific Eider –  v-nigrum

Eider female

Above. female Pacific Eider v-nigrum, Chris Wood

female Eider 4 (below) is a female nominate (Common) Eider- mollissima

female Eider three (1 of 1)

Above. female (Common) Eider  – nominate mollissima by Martin Garner.

Fanad, co Donegal

Where much borealis discovery and learning happened for me. This pair while late on (June) and the male is a little worn and just beginning moult to eclipse- you can see nostril position looks pretty good for borealis on both- togther with other features. More on this in Challenge series: WINTER.


Eiders MG (1 of 1)