Category Archives: 01) Wildfowl

Northern Eiders off NE Canada

nostrils and carrots

Martin Garner and Bruce Mactavish

The Challenge of finding and identifying Northern Eiders ssp borealis as grabbed my (MG’s)  attention since around 1982! A water shed in the the 1990’s came with the find of a flock of 7 credible Northern Eiders off Fanad Head, co Donegal, with among Surf Scoter and a probable dresseri/ borealis intergrade. The same site eventually hosted the first Dresser’s Eider for the Western  Palearctic. Searching for sailed Eiders took off! NE Scotland became a boiling pot of Eiders, sails and lively discussion. Que this more recent paper:

Hellquist, A. 2014. Identification of Northern Eider. Dutch Birding 36: 221-231.

One of the author’s observations is that nostril postion can be discriminatory in identifying borealis from nominate mollissima. Simply put (and read the paper for the proper version!) you want a nostril position that is pretty much BEYOND the end of the feathering rather than heavily overlapping with it.

Start here to see what is meant with this nominate mollissima Eider in Varanger. The nostril overlaps with the end of feathering.

Common Eider nominate mollissima, Varanger Martin Garner

Common Eider nominate mollissima, Varanger Martin Garner

Common Eider nominate mollissima, Varanger Martin Garner

Common Eider nominate mollissima, Varanger Martin Garner

NE Canada

OK? Now I have always felt whenever delving into the subject that the Eiders of North East Canada were the most stand out- THIS is borealis baby land!  I have a high degree of Bruce Mactavish homeland envy and he has recently got some fantastic images showcasing the Canadian borealis.

Check out the nostril position on these shots by Bruce off Newfoundland last month:

Northern Eider ssp. borealis, Newfoundland, Feb 2015, Bruce Mactavish

Northern Eider ssp. borealis, Newfoundland, Feb 2015, Bruce Mactavish

Northern Eiders ssp. borealis, Newfoundland, Feb 2015. Bruce MacTavish

Northern Eiders ssp. borealis, Newfoundland, Feb 2015. Bruce MacTavish

Fanad, Co Donegal

Now have a look at this one taken of Fanad by Brett Richard’s. This bird was with the Dresser’s Eider.

Northern Eider, ssp borealis, Fanad, Donegal, Brett Richards. June2011.

Northern Eider, ssp borealis, Fanad, Donegal, Brett Richards. June2011.

NE Scotland

I trawled though quite a lot of shots of ‘sailed Eiders’ from NE Scotland. There might be some but I could find NONE with pro-borealis nostril position. Nada.

But this one- in Northumberland fits (if a little swollen)…

Apparent Northern Eider  ssp. borealis, Northumberland, May 2008 Tim Dean. The nostril position is very favourable!

Apparent Northern Eider ssp. borealis, Northumberland, May 2008 Tim Dean. The nostril position is very favourable!

Not all

This borealis (on range) on Svalbard would not be identifiable out-of-range.

Northern Eider ssp borealis, Svalbard, Chrys Mellow. This one has nostril no different to nominate mollissima

Northern Eider ssp borealis, Svalbard, Chrys Mellor. This one has nostril no different to nominate mollissima

and finally back to Bruce Mactavish in Newfoundland with grateful thanks…

He has a fantastic rich Eider vein to mine. V-nigrum, possibly v-nigrum intergrades, pucka borealis, Harlequins and as below Dresser’s Eider on the left with the King on the right.

Dresser's Eider- adult male in top left, with Northern Eiders ssp. borealis, Newfoundland, Feb 2015. Bruce MacTavish

Dresser’s Eider- adult male in top left, with Northern Eiders ssp. borealis, Newfoundland, Feb 2015. Bruce MacTavish

and this carrot bill still has me head scratching…

Carrotbill-x

 

 

Carrot-billed Eider off Newfoundland

Yesterday

Newfoundland’s Bruce Mcatavish emailed a rushed set of news and photos- check out this bad boy! See Bruce’s post HERE.

Carrotbill-x

A remarkabley bright orange-billed drake Eider. Thoughts instantly turn to the possibility of it being Newfoundland’s second record of Pacific Eider v-nigrum. Is that what it is?

Hmmm

We don’t think this is a  v-nigrum. At first glance it’s inspired but appears to completely lack a bunch of key characters.

Specifically v-nigrum should have deep curvature to base f black cap- horizontal on this bird with forehead bump- very typical of borealis. There is not enough green under black cap (under there seems tad more than most of borealis around it). I don’t think the basal lobes feathering intruding into bill base are big and fat enough. The bare skin frontal process should be short-looking for v nigrum

So what is it?

Either an extreme coloured borealis (not impossible) or that all-in v-nigrum from a few years back got cheeky with the locals?

IMG_1455-yup

 Palmer’s words.

The Handbook of North American Birds:

Referring to the Davis Straights/W &SW Greenland and southerly East coast… between Greenland and Canada...both typical and atypical v-nigra have been taken (not breeding) including measurements in Schioler (1926). Schioler indicated they occur there every winter…

J.C .Phillips (1926) thought them merely individual variants (of borealis) and not true Pacific Eiders.

So… the answer is?

 

Greenland and Russian White-fronted Geese

Inspired by Wild Geese!

Martin Garner and Brett Richards

A local double act. Our juices flowing a this rare opportunity to study- a few notes:

Two species, one Old World one new World. One OK, the other declining. Full of all the question about modern identification taxonomy, conservation and bird lore.

Two species, one Old World one new World. One OK, the other declining. Full of all the question about modern identification taxonomy, conservation and bird lore.

Adult Greenland White-front  a couple of weeks ago. Lots more HERE on flavirostris, albifrons and frontalis White-fronted Geese. (Vagrancy, Identification Taxonomy).

Brett then went a pulled a wonder with an adult Russian White-front which had found and joined the Greenland.  So much for all that ‘carrier’ goose stuff. It can be about right (giant monotypic flock, one vagrant) and utter unreadable (lone birds do whatever, move around, change flocks/species etc- seen it again and again).

Headlines on Greenland Whitefronts.

First Record. Apparently the first Flamborough record. In 50 years at Spurn:  1 in 1972 and 3 in 2013 (per Tim Jones). So scarce/ rare on English East Coast away from Northumberland. Nationally rarity  (?) across North Sea in Netherlands.

Better as a Full Species. Ecological studies in 2002 suggest the Greenland birds should probably be considered a separate species from A. albifrons. Unusually long period of parental care and association, which may last several years and can include grandparenting, possibly uniquely among the Anseriformes.

BWP Editor’s note. In BWP, the Greenland White-fronted Goose was treated as a subspecies of the White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons. Since that time, a great deal of ecological and behavioural work has been undertaken on this distinctive taxon, and it was felt that flavirostris merited an account of its own. In the light of the emerging data that highlight its distinctive nature, it seems increasingly likely that the Greenland form will be recognized as a species in its own right. Consequently, it has been decided that a separate account of the Greenland White-fronted Goose should be published at this time. Although there is ongoing research into the other forms of A. albifrons, it is unlikely that an Update of the full species will be available in the near future.

Key Differences between Greenland and Russian birds (scroll down and see photos!)

A few not great but OK shots in tricky conditions:

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 03.34.04

Oily and dark Greenland on right. Large than the Russian, similar sized to other North American forms with more marsh/tuber feeding habits and grass gazers of the Old World.

W fronts both
WF 1

Blurry flight but shows the more Pink-footed Goose-like grey caste of the Russian on the left with broader white tail tip ‘flaring’ into the dark. Smooth mocha Greenland on right with crisp tail pattern.

Greenland wf MG 15th feb

The Greenlander. A Conservation concern, seemingly outcompeted by Canada Geese (interior) and declining.

Some video. Close -ups near end. but windy!

 

Greenland (flavirostris) above and Russian (albifrons) below. Check out their bits.

Greenland (flavirostris) above and Russian (albifrons) below. Check out their bits.

Greenland (flavirostris) LEFT and Russian (albifrons) RIGHT .

Greenland (flavirostris) LEFT and Russian (albifrons) RIGHT .

Greenland in LEFT, Russian on RIGHT.

Greenland in LEFT, Russian on RIGHT.

Greenland (flavirostris) showing  ore extensive black on underparts (into) vent) than any other white-front taxon.

Greenland (flavirostris) showing ore extensive black on underparts (into) vent) than any other white-front taxon.

Russian from below to compare

Russian from below to compare

Compare and Contrast. Key Differences in Appearance e.g. see in photos above (from excellent wikipedia article with corrections…).

The Greenland white-fronted goose, in all plumages, looks darker and more ‘oily-looking’ than the European white-fronted goose, both at rest and in flight.:

1) The mantle and scapulars of flavirostris have narrow, indistinct pale fringes creating a uniform appearance to the birds’ upperparts, whereas albifrons has noticeable whitish fringes creating obviously barred upperparts

2) The tertials of flavirostris have indistinct pale fringes, whereas these pale fringes are more noticeable on albifrons3) The lesser- and median-upperwing-coverts of flavirostris have narrow, indistinct pale fringes, creating a rather uniform appearance to the wing, whereas on albifrons, these fringes are prominent and broad, creating wing-bars

4) The greater-coverts of flavirostris are dark grey, with a narrow white tip, forming a narrow wing-bar; on albifrons they are blue-grey, with prominent white tips, forming a bold wing-bar
5) The flank-line is narrows and white on flavirostris, but broad and bright white on albifrons
6) The tail of flavirostris is dark brown, with a very narrow white tip and sides; that of albifrons is dark grey, and the white tip and sides are at least double the width of the corresponding areas on flavirostris
7) The bill of flavirostris is orange-yellow (with a dark nail in juvs), compared with the bright pink bill of albifrons (dark on the nail in juvs); in addition the bill of flavirostris is longer and appears slimmer than that of albifrons
8) The belly-barring on adult birds is on average more extensive on flavirostris than on albifrons, but the individual variation in both forms renders this of limited use as an identification feature.

The bill of adult Greenland white-fronts are also orange-yellow at the base, but can be more pinkish-yellow on the outer-half, thus close in colour to European white-fronts; the colour difference is more easily determined in dull, flat light rather than bright sunshine

A Grand Day Out in Yorkshire

Twas!

Martin ST 1

Adult male Surf Scoter. Filey Brigg. Martin Standley. To see more of Martin’s awesome pics go to Martin’s East Yorkshire Wildlife Bog.

640RSPB & Biotope tour poster MGA thoroughly invigorating and inspiring evening had already been had last night (Friday) at the Flamborurgh Golf Club. So let’s  have a proper mañana day.

Last night’s gig went well:

After inspiring us at the soirée, the RSPB’s Graham White (Chief Ecological Officer) and Tormod Amundsen (Biotope) came by this a.m. after hearty local ‘Big Breakfast’ and we headed to Water Lane. Bingo! The adult Greenland White-front was there and then flew  off and then  was there again. Which stimulated a nice local twitch for several regulars who had not yet seen this first record for the Head.

Greenland wf MG 15th feb

The Adult Greenland White-front- and a source of some fascinating and disturbing issues in the species breeding biology.  P.S. Why is this a subspecies?

Local Twitch!

Local Twitch!

 

A hugely useful couple of hours with Graham explore the inspired work of John Beaumont’s team efforts at Thornwick as the new pool is raw and spring-action ready.

 

 

John Beaumont (Flamborough Bird Obs), Graham White (RSPB), Keith Clarkson (RSPB), Tormod Amundsen (Biotope) and Craig Thomas (FBO) planning and dreaming!

John Beaumont (Flamborough Bird Obs), Graham White (RSPB), Keith Clarkson (RSPB), Tormod Amundsen (Biotope) and Craig Thomas (FBO) planning and dreaming!

Back and home and a Patchtick in the garden- First Brambling seen this year at Flamborough. Even when photo crap, if it’s a tick…

Brambler

 

Black-bellied Dipper

Post lunch ‘Smooth Phil’ called by and we headed over to to check out a taxon, unusually for me, which I have not encountered in Britain before. A lovely performing Black-bellied Dipper. Slung low in darkish cover on dull afternoon. It nevertheless showed marvellously.

Black-bellied Dipper  at Kelk Beck, Harpham, East Yorks. Photo by  Brett R. who pinned it down and passed on the gen.

Black-bellied Dipper at Kelk Beck, Harpham, East Yorks. Photo by Brett R. who pinned it down and passed on the gen.

 

Surf Scoter

Finally up to Filey Brigg for the hottie of the day, a newly found adult Male Surf Scoter.

Martin Standley and I had been messaging to try and get him on the Greenland White-front. Rather glad he gave up and went and photographed the scoter! You can see why:

More at Martin’s site East Yorkshire Wildlife Bog.

Surf+scoter+(1+of+10)ms ss

We didn’t go as close as Martin to the Surfer, viewing for the cliff top instead. Still amazes me where we have come and what we can even video from such a range…

20150214_144347

Not the same but OK at de lonnnnnge range :)

surfer digi MG one

Greenland White-fronted Goose

Big Flamborourgh Record

Excuse a little indulgence as I convalesce ;) . Was quite chuffed to check out the top window of our house last week over looking the north side of Flamborough (Yes I know we are very blessed with where we live!) to see this bird. At about a mile away I thought I was watching the back of the head of a Greylag Goose (one of about 100 present) which seemed to flash some white at the bill base- “not seen one like that for a while’. Then a few moment later it turned around to reveal a proper white blaze, dark head and body a longish smoother thinner looking orange bill and… big black ‘speckled’ belly barring- whoop! a Greenland White-front. They seem to be rare at Flamborough. Indeed at cursory look I haven’t traced a previous record for the Headland yet. Could be a first.

I saw it on several subsequent days but always distant. however since the weekend (and I’m away) it appears daily with a few geese at the watering hole in the village- views much closer. Hence my indulgence with the photos of others…

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, Water Lane, Flamborough, Feb 2015. Brett Richards

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, Water Lane, Flamborough, Feb 2015. Brett Richards

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, Water Lane, Flamborough, Feb 2015. Andy Hood.

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, Water Lane, Flamborough, Feb 2015. Andy Hood.

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, Water Lane, Flamborough, Feb 2015. local photographer, Craig Thomas.

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, Water Lane, Flamborough, Feb 2015. local photographer, Craig Thomas.

Some other White-fronted Geese from east and west

We have managed to collect a few different images, nuances and taxa of the White-fronted Geese.

1st winter Greenland and Russian White-fronted Geese

Fuller post with videos HERE

 

1st winter Greenland Whitefront, Cleveland, 21 Jan. 2012 Martin Garner

1st winter Greenland Whitefront, Cleveland, 21 Jan. 2012 Martin Garner

1st winter Greenland Whitefront with Russian Whitefronts Cleveland, 21 Jan. 2012 Martin Garner. Note the 1st winter Russian, head down in centre and compare bill shape and extent of white with bird in Israel below.

1st winter Greenland Whitefront with Russian Whitefronts Cleveland, 21 Jan. 2012 Martin Garner. Note the 1st winter Russian, head down in centre and compare bill shape and extent of white with bird in Israel below.

1st winter Greenland Whitefront with Russian Whitefronts, Cleveland, 21 Jan. 2012 Martin Garner

1st winter Greenland Whitefront with Russian Whitefronts, Cleveland, 21 Jan. 2012 Martin Garner

Eastern/ Pacific White-fronted Goose.

Talking about birds which are more normally seen wintering along the Pacific Rim – albicans and frontalis. Still think this one looks about right. Written up more fully HERE.

First winter probable 'Eastern'Whitefront, Yotvata, Israel, Yoav Perlman

First winter probable ‘Eastern’Whitefront, Yotvata, Israel, Yoav Perlman

 

First winter probable 'Eastern'Whitefront, Yotvata, Israel, Yoav Perlman

First winter probable ‘Eastern’ Whitefront, Yotvata, Israel, Yoav Perlman

Russian White-fronted Geese

Adult and 1st w Russian Whitefront at Seaton Common, January 2012, Tristan Reid

Adult and 1st w Russian Whitefront at Seaton Common, January 2012, Tristan Reid

Russian White-front with orange bill. More HERE.

orange-pink-whitefronts-fronted-geese-slimbridge-14-10-11-j-lees-c

Greenland White-front with pinky bill. More HERE.

james-mccallum-11

 

 

Velvet Scoter – an odd one

with Sweeping Sub-ocular

Haven’t encountered one like this before. A drake Velvet Scoter (fusca) in which the white sub-ocular mark has an upsweeping tail as in White-winged (deglandi) and Stejneger’s Scoters (stejnegeri). It doesn’t look quite as thick and striking as on many examples of both of those species in adult male plumage- but is similar nevertheless.

Stuart Gillies sent this observation:

Hi Martin

I thought you may be interested in this. My usual birding site is Musselburgh and I am always checking the Scoters in the hope that a nice White-winged will appear!
I have noticed a lot of variation in the white eye patches on Velvets but never as pronounced as on the bird below. 
 
 
kind regards
Stuart Gillies
Adult male Velvet Scoter with unusually obvious white upsweeping tail on sub-ocular mark

Adult male Velvet Scoter with unusually obvious white upsweeping tail on sub-ocular mark

Adult male Velvet Scoter with normal white sub-ocular mark.

Adult male Velvet Scoter with normal white sub-ocular mark.