Category Archives: 01) Wildfowl

Female Common Eider plumages in the western Atlantic

by Guillermo Rodríguez

Eiders have been a recurring topic of Birding Frontiers, and Martin really pushed the boundaries of Eider subspecies identification. However, most of the effort so far has focused on males, and females have gone largely forgotten. It’s time to change that! Along the East Coast of North America, where at least 2 subspecies regularly occur (the local breeder Dresser’s Eider S. m. dresseri and the arctic Northern Eider S. m. borealis), identification of females is relatively easy, and studying them here is useful for understanding the phenotypic variation. Massachusetts hosts tens of thousands of wintering Dresser’s, and in a few spots they are very close to shore, allowing great opportunities for study.

Given that both subspecies have been recorded in Europe, but only/mainly in adult male plumage, it’s interesting to take a look at some females to raise awareness about how distinctive these birds are. As far as I know, the plumage variation of borealis is poorly known due to lack of information from the breeding grounds, so this post contains a lot of speculation!

Dresser’s Eider dresseri

dresseri is the default subspecies in the US and southern Canada, with an extensive intergradation zone with borealis along the Labrador Peninsula. There are several features that differ from both borealis and mollisima, and identification might be possible in most individuals.

Bill lobe: reminiscent of the massive bill of males, female dresseri show very long lobes, almost reaching the eye, which often look thick and always present a blunt and rounded tip. If seen close enough, the pattern of the tip is absolutely diagnostic in almost all birds, and even at long distances they give a characteristic look. There is a huge variability in lobe length and thickness, apparently without correlation to age or geography.

Nostril position: as in mollisima, nearly all individuals show overlap of the nostril with the feathering at the bill base.

Bill color: dark blue, with a reduced and contrasting greenish tip, duller in first-winter birds. On average they have a small nail.

Head shape: typically flat-topped, with the forehead relatively short leading to a profile that is dominated by the straight contour of the large bill. My impression is that the crown is longer and the bill is shorter than in mollisima, leading to a more square-looking head, as opposed to the elongated bill (and consequently profile) typical of mollisima.

Plumage coloration: adult females are typically rusty or orange-tinged, with most first-winter females being browner and darker. Nevertheless, variation is extensive and adults vary from dark brown to creamy pale, whereas first-winter birds sometimes look very reddish and adult-like even in the first prebasic plumage. The cheek is often neat, lacking any dark streaking.

Tertials: richly colored in adults, typically with a rufous fringe and darker feather center, but the pattern is quite variable and sometimes they show vermiculated or almost entirely rufous tertials. Plain brown in juvenile and second-winter plumages.

Sails: some adult females show small black scapular sails, not as large as in adult males but definitely distinctive if present, compared to mollisima.

eider dresseri adult famela IMG_1635

Dresser’s Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, February 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez


Dresser’s Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, February 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez

second winter female IMG_5012

Dresser’s Eider, female. Massachusetts, February 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez

eider dresseri first winter female IMG_2046

Dresser’s Eider, first winter female. Massachusetts, December 2016. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez

eider dresseri first winter female IMG_2120

Dresser’s Eider, first winter female. Massachusetts, December 2016. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez

eider dresseri first winter female IMG_2381

Dresser’s Eider, first winter female. Massachusetts, December 2016. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez


Dresser’s Eider, first winter female. Massachusetts, December 2016. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez


Dresser’s Eider, females. Massachusetts, January 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez. Note extensive color variation even in adult females


Dresser’s Eider, females. Massachusetts, January 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez.


Dresser’s Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, January 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez.

eider ssp adult female 1565

Common Eider ssp, adult female. Massachusetts, December 2016. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez. Interesting bird, very dresseri-like in plumage but showing pointed lobes. Likely an intergrade dresseri/borealis ?

Northern Eider borealis

Nearctic borealis overwinters around Greenland, reaching Newfoundland but quite rare further south (see below). I have experience only with vagrants in Massachusetts, but Bruce Mactavish kindly allowed me to study and show here some of his pictures from Newfoundland. Males from Newfoundland show orange bill but rounded lobe tips, likely suggesting these birds are relatively southern breeders in Greenland, as the high Arctic breeders are expected to show more pointed lobes.

Bill lobe: short and sharply pointed, and thus very different from dresseri, but probably not very distinctive if compared to mollisima.

Bill color: extensive pale greenish tip, sometimes with a more gradual transition towards the dark blue of the lobe. They often present a marked and pointed nail.

Nostril position: often no overlap of the nostril with the bill feathering, but there is definitely some variation and birds showing overlap aren’t rare.

Head shape: the bill height is very short in borealis, sometimes strikingly so, giving rise to a peculiar head shape. The triangular bill meets the rounded head forming a marked angle and leading to a usually concave head profile. In addition, the bill is remarkably short, especially the distance from the bill feathering to the bill tip – this feature is sometimes quite eye-catching.

Plumage coloration: it seems that birds overwintering in Newfoundland present two main “morphs” – rufous and pale grey – with all sort of intermediates. Whether this difference in plumage coloration is due to some geographical variation or just represents the plumage variation within a single population is yet unresolved. The fact that the few available pictures from N Greenland show completely grey females – whereas dresseri is usually reddish – suggests to me a clinal variation, but with the current evidence it’s difficult to say.

Wing bars: as in all other Common Eider subspecies, adult females present white tips on greater coverts and secondaries, forming two parallel white bards in the wing. This feature is in general quite variable, but in borealis the bars seem to be on average thicker and more obvious than in dresseri and mollisima.

Tertials: usually dull brown, or with at most rufous on the fringes.

Sails: pictures from Newfoundland don’t show obvious sails in females, but see below.

Note that most/all individuals shown here are adults: juvenile borealis seem to be quite rare, or at least in much lower proportion in the population than in dresseri, perhaps as a consequence of strong hunting pressure in Greenland & Canada?

NF 2

Northern Eider, adults. Newfoundland, March 2010. Picture by Bruce Mactavish.

NF 1

Northern Eider, adults. Newfoundland, March 2010. Picture by Bruce Mactavish.

Out of range borealis – some examples from Massachusetts

Borealis is scarce or rare on the East Coast of the US, with most accepted records involving adult males. However, females seem to be more regular, and given the striking differences in lobe pattern and overall coloration, they are much easier to separate from the local form than in Europe, where the similarity with mollisima hinders finding vagrant borealis. But certainly they are out there; several females have been claimed alongside confirmed males in the UK.

Among flocks of dresseri, female borealis look slightly smaller and less bulky. The measurements given in the Reever guide also suggest a smaller size compared to mollisima (but may depend on the population).  Most of the females seen in Massachusetts are of the striking pale grey morph, but it’s likely the proportion is also biased because they are the easiest to pick out from a distance. All five of the birds I’ve seen had neat pale cheeks and a distinctive pale eyebrow.

The bird below is a rufous adult female, quite similar to many of the birds from Newfoundland. Both the lobe length and the bill are fairly short, giving her a distinctive appearance.


Northern Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, January 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez.


Northern Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, January 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez.


Northern Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, January 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez.

This second bird is a more typical pale grey/creamy adult female. Note all the key characters – pointed lobe, extensive pale bill tip, clean cheek, pale eyebrow, dull tertials, and hint of sails.


Northern Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, February 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez.


Northern Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, February 2017. Picture by Guillermo Rodríguez.

Some of the females seen in Massachusetts and neighbouring states are very striking. Too striking, perhaps. For instance, take a look at this amazing bird found by Marshall Illiff and Ryan Schain off Cape Cod, MA, on December 2011. This adult female differs from the typical borealis from Newfoundland and other vagrants seen in Massachusetts – note the heavy head, flat crown, large size, and even the shape and length of the lobe. Is it possible that this bird shows some influence from sedentaria, the subspecies that breeds in the Hudson Bay and spends the winter in polynyas in the frozen sea? Very little is known about this subspecies, not to mention the potential intergradation with borealis at Baffin Island and its surroundings. Do some birds from this region actually take the eastern route and spread out into the western Atlantic? Hopefully we will discover more about this fascinating topic in the future!


Northern-type Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, December 2011. Picture by Ryan Schain.


Northern-type Eider, adult female. Massachusetts, December 2011. Picture by Ryan Schain.

I would like to thank Bruce Mactavish and Marshall Illiff for insightful discussion about nearctic eiders.

A nice flock of White-winged Scoters

by Guillermo Rodríguez

Although White-winged Scoter is very common in winter along the east coast of the US and Canada, they are rarely found close enough to shore to see plumage details, or at least rarely in large numbers. In late November 2016, a huge flock of this species built up off Crane Beach, Massachusetts. The 700+ birds were feeding on an unidentified species of mollusk for a period of roughly one week, very close to shore (at least by scoter standards). The Crane Beach flock provided an exceptional opportunity to study a large number of individuals, which I couldn’t let pass. Despite the freezing ocean breeze on a very windy day, I managed to take a good number of pictures that show the variability of some key characters well.

Below I present a small sample of my pictures from that day, with the goal of revisiting and testing some of the identification and ageing criteria (presented in eg Garner et al. (2004), Reeber (2016)).

WARNING! This post contains many pictures!

All photos were taken on November 23rd, 2016, in Massachusetts. Note that due to the warm light of the sunrise most birds look very brown-tinged, but they usually look much darker in the overcast light conditions that are typical of NW Europe.

caracolillo IMG_1216

The mollusk they were feeding on – Eastern Slippery Shell?

grupo vuelo IMG_8937

White-winged Scoter: a juvenile male (right at the center) with three adult females and three adult males.

Adult males (including second-years)

Here are some pictures of adult males showing the variability of the bill pattern, the white tick mark at the eye, and the extension of brown on the flanks. As is well known, the characteristic head shape and the bill pattern allow a straightforward separation from both Stejneger’s and Velvet Scoters.

male hint of horn IMG_0637

White-winged Scoter, adult male.

adult male vuelo IMG_0642

White-winged Scoter, adult male. Note the particular shape of the flank feathers.

This male (below) presents a “hint of horn”, not very different from that shown by some Stejneger’s (see, for comparison, the Stejneger’s seen in December in Alicante, Spain), and a quite equilateral nostril. The “two-stepped” head profile, lacking the oval, eider-like shape of Stejneger’s, is still very obvious.


White-winged Scoter (left) and the recent Stejneger’s Scoter (right) from Alicante, Spain. The Stejneger’s picture © Jana Marco, one of the finders of this mega!

Some second winter individuals completely lack the white mark behind the eye, whereas in others it’s present but is still shorter than in older birds. Head and bill shape, including the markedly two-stepped profile, is usually not fully developed at this age and some still show a relatively flat head profile. Bill tip is uniformly pink, with thicker black margins than in adults. Lack of the tricolored bill pattern of adults is also typical of a young age. Some of these young adult males seem to lack the brownish feathers on the flanks, and look more uniformly black than adults.

second winter IMG_1047

White-winged Scoter, second year male, lacking white tick mark.

second winter vuelo IMG_0655

White-winged Scoter, second year male, with limited eye tick mark.

young male comparison IMG_1181

White-winged Scoter, “young” adult male (presumed 2w), showing typical immature features such as greyish iris and pink bill, lacking any yellowish or orangeish tones.

adult male and yound IMG_1272

White-winged Scoter, adult male (left) and a male showing some immature traits (right), eg short eye tick mark, pink bill and not fully developed bill knob.

[Ageing female-type birds]
Ageing of female-plumaged birds is often simple, as many adult females are completely dark and even jet black. Differences in the head shape, the shape of the wing coverts (which are uniformly fresh and rounded in juveniles, and more squared in adults) and the paler belly in juveniles are also supportive. However, the most important feature for me is probably the pattern of the GCs and, in particular, the presence of white tips. The pattern is usually difficult/impossible to see when the birds are on the water, so it usually requires pictures in flight:
adult females: completely dark inner GCs, but the white tip sharply increases in size in the meadial GCs and can occupy almost the entire feather
first-year males: usually a small spot at the feather tip, of uniform size in all the Gcs or at most a gradual and slight increase, but always occupying <50% of the feather
first-year females: very small or completely absent white spot in all GCs

adult female vuelo IMG_0648

White-winged Scoter, adult female: note largely white medial GCs, bright reddish feet, squared wing coverts, very broad primaries.

female oscura vuelo IMG_8805

White-winged Scoter, adult female.

deglandi first winter male IMG_0199

White-winged Scoter, first winter male: limited amount of white in the GCs

first year male vuelo IMG_0665

White-winged Scoter, first winter male.

first winter female 2 IMG_8928

White-winged Scoter, first winter female.

I guess ageing criteria are the same for Velvet, but I never had the chance to look into the subject in detail in Europe (Velvet is regular but scarce in Spain). I usually find it problematic to understand the pattern and variability of s1, which is sometimes described as the key feature to age these scoters, so I won’t make further comments on this feature.

Adult females

Adult females vary from very dark birds (looking like a “dirty” version of adult males) to those having the more classic brown plumage with two pale areas on the face. I think that the first type is actually much more common than the latter; the number of these overall black birds within the population appears to be only slightly lower than the number of adult males eg from a sample of 205 birds, 14.6% were adult males and 12.2% were these black presumed females. I wonder if there is an age-related variability, and the black birds are actually the older females.

female oscura del todo IMG_1267

White-winged Scoter, adult female.

female casi oscura IMG_1205

White-winged Scoter, adult female: note the squarish shape of the wing coverts.

hembra adulta puntos IMG_0208

White-winged Scoter, adult female.

female IMG_9353

White-winged Scoter, female: dark below, slight bill bump, apparent bright feet, not very uniform back feathers… not sure about the age, could this bird be an adult?

The black-plumaged individuals are sometimes identified as first-year males with an extensive first pre-formative moult, but I think this explanation can be safely ruled out based on the GCs pattern (see the shots in flight above), the bright color of the feet, the dark irises, and the squared wing coverts shown by most of these birds. Only when the formative moult is much more advanced, around late January/February, first-winter males look similar, although with a much dirtier plumage, often looking “patchy” and not as uniformly jet black.

adult females with first year juv deglandi first winter male IMG_0199

White-winged Scoter, two adult females with a first-year male (right).

The head shape of these birds actually recalls that of adult males, due to a squarish head with a flat crown, a straight (non-concave) forehead profile and the hint of a bump at the bill base, leading to a two-stepped head profile, although it is much smoother than in males. Although the differences are sometimes subtle, I think these features are distinctive enough to allow separation from Velvet in most cases. Take a look at this compilation to get a sense of the variability in head and bill shape in adult females:


White-winged Scoter, adult females: variability in head and bill shape.

Note that some adult females present some diffuse pink “brush-strokes” at the bill tip, but the iris seems to be pretty dark in all the individuals (cf first winter males, see below).

First-year males

By late November, juveniles still look very fresh, and the pale velvet at the base of the bill often looks nicely neat. Around 40-50% show what seem to be signs of moult around the face, and a few males have already developed a pale greyish iris and pink in the bill. But even birds that still have a completely juvenile appearance can be readily sexed by the elongated bill and very flat head profile, in contrast to females, which show a shorter bill and often a slightly angular (concave) head profile.

comparison juvs IMG_1226

White-winged Scoters, first-year male (left) and first winter female (right). In my opinion, many juveniles can be reliably sexed in the field on grounds of the head and bill shape. Note, on the back, another first year female (left) and first year male (right).

no todos IMG_1118

White winged Scoter, first year birds. Sexing is definitely not always possible – this bird (center) looks intermediate, or perhaps on the female side?

first winter male prototypical IMG_9499

White-winged Scoter, first-year male: a nice bird still in completely juvenile plumage.

1w male moulted IMG_1260

White-winged Scoter, first-year male: gradual lightening of the iris, traces of moult around the face.

undetermined IMG_0293

White-winged Scoter, first-year male. This looks like a VERY advanced first year male.

Regarding the separation from Velvet, in addition to the head shape, the shape of the feathering at the base of the bill is quite distinctive given sufficiently close views; it extends further onto the bill than in Velvet and forms a 90-degree angle in the lower corner, always below the position of the nostril. A few more examples of (presumed) first-year males:


White-winged Scoter, first-year males: variation in head and bill shape.

firsst winter male bill IMG_1254

White-winged Scoter, first-year male. Interesting individual with a narrow bill, and relatively rounded shape of the feathering at the lower corner of the bill base.

First-year females

Undoubtedly the most problematic group, many first-year females look very similar overall to Velvet Scoter. With short bills, and often concave and rounded head profiles, it may be extremely difficult to pick one out among a flock of Velvets. However, the shape of the feathering at the base of the bill, even if it is not as distinctive as it is in males, is still quite a good character when properly seen. Most birds (>60-70% ?) clearly show, below the nostril, a right angle:

first year pico ejemplo IMG_1247

White-winged Scoter, first-year female.

first year female perfect IMG_1267

White-winged Scoter, first-year female.

hembras cabezas IMG_0380

White-winged Scoter, first-year females. In a few juveniles, the pale spots merge, giving a striking appearance.

first year female perfil IMG_0410

White-winged Scoter, first-year female – convex and rounded head profile, similar to Velvet.


White-winged Scoter, first-year female: variation in head and bill shape.

In a few birds the angle is not as sharply defined, looking rounder and closer to the nostril, and the pattern is probably consistent with Velvet. But this seems to be the exception and not the norm!

bill angle IMG_0706

White-winged Scoter, first-year female, showing a rounded corner of the feathering at the bill base.

bill angle IMG_9447

White-winged Scoter, presumed first-year female.

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.