Thursday, 19 September 2019

Woodpeckers Of Europe - ID Guide

I have always found Woodpeckers fascinating with their gaudy plumage and yet often secretive behaviour. In fact the Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting my garden feeders was the first bird I properly looked at and it reignited my passion for birds as a teenager. Ever since I always take the time to watch these characters of the woodland and as I started to go birding abroad I began a quest to see every species that breeds in Europe which earlier this year I completed! Finally tracking down a Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker in the remote forests of the Lithuanian/Belarus border. To mark this occasion I have written a short piece about each species with some I.D features that I hope will help people find and enjoy them as I have done.


Three-toed Woodpecker Courtesy of Armandas Naudzius



Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus Canus) is found in ancient deciduous forest, mature parkland and even visits urban gardens in Eastern Europe. Although it shares the olive-green upperparts and yellow rump with the Green Woodpecker there are several features which make it straightforward to separate the two species. Grey-headed Woodpecker has a uniform grey coloration to it’s face which spreads around the ear coverts, it also has an unstreaked grey coloured breast which extends to the undertail coverts. The face pattern of Grey-headed Woodpecker is also diagnostic. Their thin black triangular shaped lores above the bill and thin black malar stripe below the bill make the head look rather plain at a distance. Males can be sexed due to the presence of a red crown (less extensive than on Green Woodpecker) which the female lacks. You may also notice the smaller size in comparison with Green Woodpecker and the very distinctive (www.xeno-canto.org/species/Picus-canus) call which descends in pitch and slows down at the end. 



Male Grey-headed Woodpecker above and below. Note the grey head and belly which extends down to the undertail coverts. The red on the crown is limited and extends to just above the eye, together with the thin black malar stripe this creates a distinctive appearance.





European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) - This large bulky Woodpecker can share the same habitat as the Grey-headed Woodpecker but is also more likely to be seen foraging on the ground in short grass or gravel forest tracks looking for ants. Adults of both sexes always show a large red crown and black face mask which surrounds the eye. Sexes can be separated by the colour of the malar stripe which is mostly red on a male and black on a female. The malar stripe is also much thicker and more prominent when compared to Grey-headed and the bill see is much thicker and more powerful looking. Also the call of Green Woodpecker doesn’t have the descending ending or the rather mournful quality of a Grey-headed, it has a shreaker more repetitive tone and sounds a bit like an annoying laugh! www.xeno-canto.org/species/Picus-viridis




Male Green Woodpecker (below) and Female (above). Not the prominent black triangle around the eye, thick black malar stripe and extensive red on the forecrown extending to the nape.







Iberian Woodpecker (Picus Sharpei)This relatively new species (recently split from nominate Green Woodpecker) is endemic to Spain, Portugal and the far south of France where it’s range overlaps with Green Woodpecker. It can be found in a variety of habitats with my best views coming from birds on golf courses around the Algarve and in mixed woodland in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  The head pattern is the main feature in separating the species from Green Woodpecker as the Iberian shows at best a ‘washed out’ face mask on a male and typically greyish head on a female. The male shows a red malar stripe with much less conspicuous dark border whilst the female has an all dark malar stripe. If you hear a Green Woodpecker type call in Iberia then you have yourself an Iberian Woodpecker as the Green is absent from this area (www.xeno-canto.org/species/Picus-sharpei ) When you see the bird it is more reminiscent of a Grey-headed Woodpecker which breeds much further north in Europe and shares a face pattern similar to Levaillants Woodpecker which breeds in North Africa.








Iberian Woodpecker: male (below female (above). Note the grey cast to the head on both sexes and the lack of a black face mask. The red crown stripe is more restricted than on Green Woodpecker and the red malar stripe on the male lacks the clear cut black border of Green Woodpecker.







White-backed Woodpecker  (Dendrocopos leucotos) – The largest of the European pied woodpeckers needs carefully managed intact deciduous or mixed forest with plentiful dead or dying wood in which to forage for wood boring beetle species. Thus sadly in most areas it is declining in numbers as suitable habitat disappears. They do have quite a large range throughout central and eastern Europe with relict populations in Northern Spain and Scandinavia. As the name suggests it does have more white on it’s back than the other pied woodpeckers with a white lower back and extensive barring from the wing coverts. In most views you may not initially see the back at all but there are several other features which can distinguish White-backed from other pied woodpeckers. Firstly to my eye it is obviously larger and longer in the body to Great Spotted Woodpecker. The first plumage feature I noted was the pencil line streaking on the flanks (shared with the smaller Middle Spotted Woodpecker). The face pattern was also noticeably different and intermediate between Middle Spotted and Great Spotted in that it shows more white on the face than Great Spotted Woodpecker but lacks the plain faced appearance of Middle Spotted Woodpecker as it still has a thin dark moustachial stripe. Sexes can be separated by the fact that males have a red crown which females lack.  











White-backed Woodpecker- note the pencil line streaking on the underparts, the white back with diffuse horizontal ladder like streaking on the upperparts and the thin malar stripe below the bill. Calls of White-backed Woodpecker: www.xeno-canto.org/species/Dendrocopos-leucotos 


White-backed Woodpecker excavating nest hole





Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus Major)- The generic pied woodpecker must surely be the most common member of it’s family throughout most of it’s range. It is widespread throughout suburban areas , parks , woodland and forests. So the odds are that when you are looking for scarcer pied woodpecker species the Great Spotted will be nearby which makes it important to know this species well. Great Spotted Woodpecker shows a plain; unstreaked breast and on the closed wing shows conspicuous white ovals on the wing coverts with white barring on the flight feathers below this. The face pattern shows a clear difference to the very similar Syrian Woodpecker (which can be found in Eastern Europe also) as the black malar stripe (line below its bill) links up with a thin black line reaching the red crown on it’s head. Syrian Woodpecker lacks this black line (which encloses the white cheeks of a Great Spotted) giving it much whiter looking cheeks and neck.The colour of the undertail coverts is also much more vivid red than Syrian, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers.uvenile birds show much more red in the crown than adult birds which could be a potential ID pitfall when searching for other pied woodpeckers. Size alone will rule out Lesser Spotted whilst Middle Spotted has a much plainer face pattern (owing to pale lores and no black malar stripe.) and streaking to the belly. Males and females can easily be separated in a good view as the male shows a red nape (back of head) patch which the female lacks.


Female Great Spotted Woodpecker. Note distinct white ovals on closed wing, red undertail coverts, prominent black malar stripe, white cheeks enclosed in a black outline and unstreaked breast.




Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus)- This rapid coloniser from the east now has a strong foothold in Eastern Europe and overlaps in range with the very similar Great Spotted Woodpecker. I saw my first in Israel (where it is the only occurring Woodpecker species and was common) and also in Turkey. Like the Great Spotted Woodpecker the Syrian can be found in urban environments and also parkland and smaller copses and orchards. It is very similar to Great Spotted Woodpecker but shows whiter cheeks, washed out red vent and paler lores. If you think you have a Syrian listen out for it’s call it is pretty distinctive and sounds like a squeeky toy. (Call of Great Spotted Woodpeckerwww.xeno-canto.org/species/Dendrocopos-major call of Syrian Woodpecker- www.xeno-canto.org/species/Dendrocopos-syriacus) Sexes can be separated in the same way as Great-Spotted with the male having a red nape which the female lacks.


Male Syrian Woodpecker: When compared to Great Spotted Woodpecker undertail coverts are pinkish rather than red, white cheeks lack black post-auricular stripe and on the closed wing fewer but larger white splodges are present. The red malar patch indicates this is a male (which is larger and more conspicous on Syrian Woodpecker).


Juvenile Syrian Woodpecker could easily be mistaken for other species but note that the head pattern is still the same as an adult.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocoptes medius)- This charming woodpecker occurs across mainland Europe and from my experience is suited to many different tree habitats probably because they glean their prey from the surface and do not bore deep into bark (so they aren’t so dependant on unspoilt ancient woodland).  I have watched them in city parks in Berlin and Vilnius, ancient forests in Lithuania, mature mixed deciduous woods in central France and olive groves and orchards in Turkey. With a good view this woodpecker is very different from it’s other pied cousins. Both sexes show a red crown (similar to perhaps juvenile Great Spotted) and also have a strikingly pale face with white cheeks and pale grey lores which give an open faced look about them. The upperparts are a similar in pattern to Great-Spotted but the underparts show more obvious streaking than that species and the vent of Middle Spotted Woodpecker has a distinctive pink flush and isn’t as vivid in colour as Great Spotted Woodpecker. Structurally it is rather petite with a weak bill and smallish size when compared to Great Spotted, Syrian and White-backed Woodpeckers (it is still obviously larger than Lesser Spotted). Vocally I think the calls of Middle Spotted Woodpecker are the easiest to separate when you are in the forest with several other species occurring. I have picked up on a Meeowing KYaa! Type call and also a longer excitable ‘kick’ call which is repeated several times in quick succession (reminiscent of a Falcon) www.xeno-canto.org/species/Dendrocoptes-medius . The sexes are difficult to separate without good views or photographs. The crown of the male stays red in colour through to the back of the head whilst the crown of the female’s is more diffuse at the rear and often shows a brownish/yellowish tinge. 

Middle Spotted Woodpecker – This male shows the 3 main I.D features of pale lores creating an open faced look , bright red crown and washed out pinkish vent.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker  Dryobates minor)- Europe’s smallest Woodpecker is still a widespread resident but is sadly declining through much of it’s range particularly in Britain. They can be found in a range of different habitats from deciduous forests to orchards and parkland but from my experience they tend to need dead or decaying wood and I have seen them nesting in mature Alder tree’s in France and Lithuania. If searching for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Britain it isn’t a bad idea to look along river banks and wet woodland. Owing to their tiny size locating by call In early spring is the easiest way of finding one. They sound to my ear rather like a Falcon or perhaps Wryneck (www.xeno-canto.org/species/Dryobates-minor ). The small size is eyecatching as is the barred back (similar to the larger White backed Woodepcker). In flight the compact shape and undulating flight reminds me of a Hawfinch.  Males have a red forehead which the female lacks.




Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (above) and Female (below). Note the thin streaking to the underparts and the horizontal barring on the upperparts which creates a ‘ladder’ effect.


Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) – This enigmatic Woodpecker is found throughout much of mainland Europe and despite breeding within view of Britain on a clear day from the forests of Northern France it has never been recorded in the UK. It seems to thrive in a multitude of different woodland habitats on the continent from ancient forests to vast conifer plantations (seems to do well In pine forests) and even urban parkland with the one essiential requirement being large mature tree’s in which to nest in.  The Black Woodpecker is surprisingly large and in flight is around the size of a Carrion Crow with a flight similar in style to a Jay. Note that the flight is not undulating unlike most woodpecker species. The jet black plumage, conspicuous white eye and ivory coloured bill also make the largest European Woodpecker unmistakable in a good view. The easiest way of locating them however is by voice at first (https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Dryocopus-martius ). Sexing birds is pretty straightforward with a clear view of the head as males have a red stripe extending from above the bill to the nape whilst in females the red is much more restricted to the rear of the head.
Male Black Woodpecker. Note the pale eye which stands out against black plumage, pale dagger like bill and extensive red crown (indicating it is a male).


Black Woodpecker in it's nest hole


Three-toed Woodpecker – this species can be difficult to catch up with in the forest as it seems to prefer the interior zones and doesn’t frequent the outskirts of the forest or clear fell areas. It also has a high habitat dependency on dead or dying tree’s so it can use it’s weaker bill to search for food in the bark. The call of Three-toed woodpecker is a distinctive ‘Churp’( https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Picoides-tridactylus ) but it isn’t very far carrying , also note the drumming is rather slow paced and also quiet.  My first impression of Three-toed Woodpecker was that I was surprised that it’s size was approaching that of Great Spotted Woodpecker (I was expecting it to be smaller for some reason). This is a very distinctive bird with side on and back on views sufficient to nail identification. My initial impression reminded more of an American Woodpecker species . The head pattern shows a thick black mask through the eye separated by white stripes above and below. A very thin malar stripe is also evident in a good view below the lowest white stripe whilst the thinner white stripe behind the eye extends and spreads in shape down onto the back to form a large white patch. Sexing is straightforward with a good view as the male has a black crown and a yellow patch on it’s forehead. The female has a greyer coloured crown and lacks the yellow patch of the male.

 
Three-toed Woodpecker (male) – Note the very prominent black face mask bordered by thin white lines  on the face. The prominent yellow crown sexes this bird as a male. From behind note how the supercilium broadens from behind the eye and forms a large white patch on the back. A very distinctive yet elusive species.



A good clue that Three-toed Woodpecker is present in the forest is the distinctive holes they leave in bark. They seem to gently tear away at the outer bark and then with needle like precision peck further into the wood leaving these neat 'cartwheel' like indentations in the bark. 

Eurasian Wryneck-. Has a wide breeding range across Europe and is the only woodpecker in Europe which migrates to Africa for the winter. In Britain it Is mainly sighted as a scarce migrant chiefly in Autumn. It’s cryptic plumage, small size and long rounded tail make it easily identified in a good view. In fact I would say they are more likely to be confused with a large Sylvia Warbler and remind me of Barred Warbler especially in a poor flight view. Wryneck is typically a ground feeder with a high dependence on ants to feed on so it favours open areas with bare ground as long as there are holes for nesting nearby. On migration it can be found around dry stone walls, hedgerows and rough patches of land chiefly near the coast. Although mostly silent on migration it is rather vocal on it's breeding territory (very good way of finding birds on territory), it's call sounds more like a raptor than a Woodpecker and reminds me of a Kestrel. ( www.xeno-canto.org/species/Jynx-torquilla). 
Wryneck's are notoriously difficult to age and sex. This 1st winter bird in the hand showed a  pale grey eye (ochre/red colored in adult) and on the open wing showed fresh unmoulted secondaries (which would be old/retained in an adult during autumn as they moult the secondaries in their wintering grounds).   

Finding a Wryneck on migration is always a great thrill! Pete and myself found this bird at Dozmary Pool;Bodmin Moor feeding on ants in a small garden. It is worth searching  for Wryneck during high pressure systems and easterly/south easterly winds during the Autumn months. We found this bird at the end of August which is a really great time to connect with one. Coastal sites turn up the majority of records but birds are found well inland every year. Scrubland, field margins, blackthorn and dry stone walls  are good habitats for a migrant to rest up and feed .  



References; Woodpeckers Of the World The Complete Guide by Gerard Gorman
Thankyou to Adrian Langdon for the stunning pictures of Green Woodpecker , Lesser Spotted Woodpecker & juvenile Syrian Woodpecker





Friday, 13 September 2019

August Autumn Arrivals

Autumn Migration is happening and has started in spectacular style! For a couple of weeks heavier migration was apparent as Nanjizal had started producing exceptional numbers of passerine migrants, as expected Sedge Warbler and Whitethroats made up the majority of catches. But the scarcer birds, the ones that get birders out of bed in the morning, had not made much of an appearance as yet. 


My first inclination that things were about to change came on the 22nd of August. After a family meal and with only limited time before the sun sank to low, I opted for a brisk stroll around the nearby Parkhead National Trust headland. Located between Porthcothan and Mawgan Porth it is always worth a visit and is a real beautiful spot. As I started to descend into the small valley a familiar call caught my ear as I inadvertently flushed a Yellow Wagtail from the nearby cattle field. As it sailed over head, I manged to locate it in the bins and realised it was the far more unusual nominate race “flava” as it showed a blue head! Always a red-letter day when you get a different wagtail in Cornwall.  A short while later I had made it into the foliage rich valley and had started to enjoy the brief views of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff, clearly some birds were on the move. A larger cleaner looking bird flitted in and out of view that grabbed my attention. I patiently waited a few moments staring into the tree that it seemed to bolt towards. My patience paid off as a Pied Flycatcher dropped into view, feeding heavily and obviously stocking up for another journey that evening. Little else noteworthy was found but there was enough variety to switch my brain into autumn mode, what was going to happen over the next few days?  

My next venture out was on Saturday the 24th. A 4 30am start saw me and Bob bundled into the car and heading to West Cornwall and more specifically Nanjizal! Not classic conditions but it was the peak Sedge Warbler period so felt it was going to be worth the effort. My morning was already made during the first net round when John Ryan presented us with a Convolvulus Hawkmoth that he had carefully extracted from a mist net. This was a new species for me, and I was thrilled to see it! We didn’t ring a huge amount of birds, finishing on around 50 new (slow for the site at this time of year), but it is always a pleasure to process some Grasshopper Warblers and we also had a single Garden Warbler of note. The real highlight happened during a mid-morning net round. I was at the Trevilley end of the site and my attention was grabbed by a distinctive call that I subconsciously knew deserved my attention! A sharp ‘tshilp’ call with a House Sparrow like quality about it, could be heard sporadically coming from the seaward end of the valley and heading towards me. I cottoned on quite quickly as to the species responsible for two reasons. Firstly, Kester had the same bird a couple of days previously. But more pleasingly I had studied this species quite intently on a trip to Cyprus last year. It was a Tawny Pipit! My first in the county for some years now and I was even more pleased when Bob had confirmed that he “had it” as well! A great morning that I really enjoyed.

Convolvulus Hawk-moth was a pleasant surprise


On our way home we stopped off at Drift Reservoir as it was the sort of weather conditions that has seen many good birds turn up there in the past. I opted for the easiest option and stayed at the car to rest my eyes whilst Bob took a walk around the reservoir to see what he could muster up! The agreement was that we would call each other if we picked up anything of interest. I am not sure how long I was in a comatose state but remember being startled by the loud ringing that woke me! Bob had picked up an Osprey that had flown in and had started fishing, sending the Gulls into panic mode. Awesome, a great year tick and one you don’t mind being woken for! A little while later I had regained full consciousness and was chatting to visiting birder Graham Lawlor, Bob had made it back to the car and we were merrily chewing the cud and scanning around for anything else that might be making the most of the thermals. A bird was then viewed heading in from the west that looked remarkably different from the nearby Common Buzzards. It was broader winged, appeared to have a longer tail and a pronounced head. Most interestingly it was soaring on bowed wings! As it got closer it became apparent that this was in fact a Juvenile Honey Buzzard! A stonker and never easy to connect with in Cornwall. We were ecstatic with the days tally and couldn’t wait for tomorrow!

After the previous day’s excitement, the 25th saw Bob and I bundled back in the car at 4 30 am again and on our way to Nanjizal. Weather conditions were more favourable, and our expectation was for a better quantity of birds. The first round proved our theory correct as it was certainly busier! A good showing of Sedge Warbler and 4 Grasshopper Warblers in the first round! I left Bob and John at the ringing table and started the 2nd net round and mid-way through the valley extracted a pleasant surprise! Once back at the ringing table I made sure a certain bag was directed John Ryan’s way as it was a bird that he had wanted to see in the hand for some time! There was no need for tricky wing formulas to identify the bird as he carefully extracted a Wryneck! It was an absolute beauty too.

Wryneck was an exciting encounter at Nanjizal Valley
The morning continued to produce birds to ring and Nanjizal threw up another exceptional bird overhead. Myself and local birder, Royston headed off to check some nets not far from the ringing table and as we started to return I picked up a wader call that I knew was from something special. A mournful, disyllabic “K-lip” emanating from a Plover. The bird came into view and there was no doubting that it was an American Golden Plover! The bird had been seen and heard several times in the area by Kester and Mark Wallis. A great year tick and delightful bird to see at Nanjizal.

Once back at the table and most of the birds had been processed, I was about to venture off to empty the nets once again but was told to hang fire! The last bag contained a surprise from Bob that I would want to see. Another fantastic Wryneck! Two in a morning cannot be bad? A total of 150 birds were ringed that morning much of the catch being made up of 76 Sedge Warbler.

The 2nd Wryneck of the morning!
Here the bird is showing exactly how it got its name!

A Spotted Flycatcher also added to the variety that morning.
After Nanjizal we were on route home with not much of a plan but then news came out that a flock of over 20 White Storks were over Lizard Village! Bugger what do we do? By the time we drive there they could end up just about anywhere! We opted to head to Marazion, as we guessed that they would hit the coast and then start heading back towards us. A great plan that probably would have worked perfectly if Marazion wasn’t bedlam! Roads were blocked and traffic was extremely heavy as a consequence. I decide that I would skirt around the town and head in from the other end. Again, not a bad plan until the traffic and disruption was just as bad there too! What made matters worse is that during all this upheaval the flock had now made its way to Drift Reservoir and we were caught in heavy traffic and 30 minutes away. I decided to do what any Cornishman would do and took to the back roads not knowing exactly which route would work and ensuring that any passing motorist knew how annoyed I was finding life right now by rapid hand gestures and vocal obscenities! Thankfully it worked and eventually we made it to the Reservoirs just a short time before the Storks started to descend to the banks to roost for the evening. A truly breath-taking sight that I hope to witness again in Cornwall in future years. As it transpired this flock had been seen at several locations on the south coast over the last few days and had originated from Knepp Estate where they are reintroducing the species. More information can be found here: knepp.co.uk/reintroductions

White Storks roosting at Drift Reservoir
              A real sight to behold in Cornwall! 

The 26th saw Bob and I take a more leisurely approach and a later start. At 5 30 am we were on route to the Goss Moor to carry out one of my final CES ringing sessions for the year. Slightly perturbed on arrival as we glimpsed a middle-aged man in the area. A most unusual sighting in this location at this time of day. After getting some nets up and open it became clear what he was doing there as we stumbled across him and his family “wild” camping in the middle of three of my net rides! Sadly, this drastically reduced my ringing totals for the day however, the pain was eased a little as a Tree Pipit was part of the catch. By late morning we had decided to knock it on the head and try and salvage the day by a visit to Colliford Reservoir and Dozmary Pool located on Bodmin Moor. We started by scanning Loveny Arm at Colliford but sadly the heat haze was so severe that there was little chance of picking up anything of note! From here we ventured on to Dozmary Pool. As we drove in along the road a bird that had just alighted from a bramble bush on my side caused me to call out to Bob immediately! I knew from its size and odd Warbler like flight that it was a Wryneck. Our third in two days! I was even more ecstatic as every year Cornwall sees this species reported from inland locations and I have never had such luck seeing them away from a coastal headland. We had distant but prolonged views of the bird as it fed on the lawn of a nearby remote moorland cottage before perching on a gate for a few moments and then off into the undergrowth and out of sight. There were plenty of other birds in the vicinity with at least 20 Wheatears present and it deserved a better scan. This paid off as Bob had soon located a single Tree Pipit and a Whinchat amongst the conglomeration of birds present. It was at this time that news broke of a Western Bonellis Warbler sporadically showing at Trevescan in West Cornwall. This was over an hour away from my location and despite having never seen the species in the county I decided that it would have to wait for another day before I made the effort! Bob and I continued our tour of Colliford and were pleased to pick up a Little Ringed Plover for our efforts. All in all, a great visit and well worth the effort. The added bonus was that we were home with our families for lunch and back in people’s good books.

A pristine Tree Pipit ringed on the Goss Moor 
Our 3rd Wryneck in 2 days, made even more notable by the inland location!
After an afternoon of chores and cooking I received a call from “the boy” young Reuben Veal about the Bonellis Warbler that by now seemed more settled, pinned down to a location and showing well at frequent intervals. Reuben was struggling for a lift to the bird, had a driving lesson booked and didn’t know how he was going to connect. Never let it be known that I would leave a damsel in distress and I agreed to pick him up ASAP. Secretly it was the kick up the arse that I needed to get down there too and not waste this opportunity to connect with a new county tick for my list! It didn’t seem long before we were on site and enjoying great views of this joyful species. The evening was made even more pleasant as “the boy” went for a wonder and soon got a few of us present on to one of the lingering White Storks that had choose a nearby chimney top as its evening roost, a Yellow-legged Gull and some Common Ringed Plover! Not only do Reuben's growing birding skills impress me but I was dumbfounded by his organisational abilities too, managing to recruit a driving instructor (Pete Walsh) that is also interested in twitching to meet him at a twitch and then have a lesson after. I tell you this, he is one to watch! 


Western Bonelli's Warbler showing well at Trevescan
The next few days saw me tied up with work and travelling! As I was driving out of Cornwall there was some news that nearly resulted in a handbrake turn and heading back home. The Brown Booby that Kester located without bins from St Ives had shown up again with some frequency! What a record and I am sure would have been low on the list for many birders if asked what is the next first for Britain! Also, that morning a Blyths Reed Warbler had been trapped and ringed at Nanjizal! Of all the birds to show up it had to be that one. I have never connected with one anywhere in the Western Palearctic, so I was a bit gutted to say the least!


Blyth's Reed Warbler trapped and ringed at Nanjizal showing the diagnostic wing formula
 I was back to normality on the 29th and after some serious discussions with Bob the previous evening I hatched a plan to get to Carbis Bay as early as possible before work to give myself a chance of seeing the Brown Booby, even if it was a slim chance! From this vantage point I had a view of the whole bay and felt that if news broke, I could view the bird albeit distantly wherever it was in the bay. My morning was pleasant and started well as I picked up a couple of Arctic Skuas in the Bay, a year tick and exciting species even on the busiest of days. The next couple of hours seemed to pass by in no time and although the birding wasn’t bad, I still hadn’t connected! Around 8am a distant bird caught my eye at Godrevy! A Gannet like bird that seemed small and stocky, an overall brown appearance but with a striking white belly! Could this be it? As the bird moved marginally closer, I could see that it was diving at a pronounced angle and showed a pale-yellow face! It was the Booby! Booom!!!!! My next dilemma was that no news was coming out over the regular channels so I started by contacting the local WhatsApp group so that any locals present would have an idea of place names etc and could get any visiting birders on to the bird. Thankfully by the time that I had done this Mike Mckee had also located the bird and the news was spread far and wide!

The St Ives Brown Booby in all its glory! 
A delight to see and witness in Cornwall. If anybody has any theories as to why multiple birds have appeared around and near Britain this autumn I would be delighted to know. My own theory is that there was possibly a food shortage in the areas that these birds normally reside forcing them further out to sea where they have been caught in rough weather and forcing them here. But what do I know?

What a start to the autumn in Cornwall! Hopefully September will be just as productive.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

South African Sandwich Surprise

In this day and age with the introduction of satellite tagging and other technological advancements, we know the incredible journeys that some of our avian friends can make. However, (for me anyway) these incredible journeys are just facts and figures that go in one ear and out the other. The distances are merely numbers that mean very little. Yesterday I encountered a bird that changed that thought process!  

Whilst checking the mouth of the Camel Estuary at Padstow, Cornwall to see if any interesting Gulls or Waders were about I came across a group of Sandwich Terns resting on some nearby buoys. From a distance I could see that one was sporting a color ring! Not near enough to read it I scrambled to the car and sped towards it in a bid to read the combination. After narrowly avoiding the pasty eating "emmets" (local terminology for tourists) I was much closer and had a chance of reading the ring. To my relief I managed to get the scope out and locked on to the still settled bird! The ring was read and I was a happy chap. This was even more of a relief as another local (suppressor) birder flushed it shortly after as they were trying to get "photos" of the Terns! Ironic that the same person has chastised countless people down the years for their poor photography behavior!

Color ringed Sandwich Tern

The Tern had a yellow ring and the combination was KKT. After a quick look on the CR Birding website I had it narrowed down to an Irish Scheme and sent off the details. 

I was delighted to receive an email from the ringer of the bird Mr Tony Murray this morning with the movement details of the bird. Here is his response:

"This is one of our 2017 birds, so it is now a 2nd Summer bird. Ringed 21/6/17, seen as a juvenile on site that July then a few times over its 1st Winter in South Africa. I’m guessing this is its first venture back north."

The movement details:

KKT
DD78779
21/06/2017
Inish, Lady's Island Lake, Wexford
KKT
DD78779
07/07/2017
Inish, Lady's Island Lake, Wexford
KKT
DD78779
16/11/2018
Strand, Cape Town, Western Cape Provence, South Africa
KKT
DD78779
27/11/2018
Strand, Cape Town, Western Cape Provence, South Africa
KKT
DD78779
02/03/2019
Strand, Cape Town, Western Cape Provence, South Africa
KKT
DD78779
03/03/2019
Strand, Cape Town, Western Cape Provence, South Africa
KKT
DD78779
07/08/2019
Padstow Harbour, Camel Estuary, Cornwall, England

I was flabbergasted when I read that this bird had been observed in South Africa! This is a distance of 6155 miles in a straight line! Again more figures that doesn't equate to much mentally until
you see that plotted on a map.

Not many movement maps that require a picture of the whole Earth!
When you have to plot a journey like this you really do getting a feeling on how magical some of our species are and the arduous journeys they make. 

      

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Greenish Warbler Update




After the reaction of some very experienced birders and ringers on Twitter regarding photographs posted by myself and Steve Rogers I decided to try and do some more research on the Greenish Warbler at Porth Joke. I had heard that Steve Rowe had some recording of the bird singing and he very kindly supplied me with the original recording. The next step was to contact a very helpful Martin Cade who gave me contact details for Magnus Robb from Sound Approach team and his colleague Roy Slaterus who has recently been working on the first Green Warbler for Holland. (interesting article on this bird here: http://www.intobirding.com/greenwarbler.html)

Both Magnus and Roy quickly replied to me and I was delighted that they would help analyse the recording and get back to me with their results. In super quick time I soon had two excellent and informative replies from these sound experts with detailed notes and a sonogram which seems to suggest that the bird was in fact a Greenish Warbler. Snippets from their email include:




Roy Slaterus :

Yes, I agree. This sounds like Greenish Warbler song to me. These are things I look at, when separating Greenish from Green.


-          A short high-pitched ‘jeet’ at the very start of (almost) every song phrase is typical for Greenish. This intro note is lacking in Green. But I can see it in the Porth Joke recording.


-          The song of Greenish is usually broken up into sections, like Magnus explained. Vaguely reminiscent of Wren or even Chaffinch (in Dutch: ‘vinkenslag’). In Green this is less obvious. But I can see it in the Porth Joke recording.


-          Greenish Warbler song consists mainly of rather simple elements and descending notes are dominating, whereas Green Warbler song is a bit more rich with more V-shaped notes. The Porth Joke recording is similar to Greenish in this respect (if my judgement is correct; the recording sounds a bit affected in some way).


Many Greenish Warblers sing longer song phrases than those recorded at Porth Joke. But it is within variation, I would say.

Magnus Robb:

I think this is really a bona fide Greenish Warbler. Lets see if Roy agrees. It sounds like several examples I have recorded and it doesn’t those of Green that I have just been listening to. The structure has a very slight hint of Wren about it, in the way it is broken up into sections whereas Green has less contrast in frequency range etc within the strophe. Also, as Roy recently pointed out to me, the little intro note just after 13 seconds is typical for Greenish whereas Green doesn’t have it.





In the mean time Steve Rowe remembered a post from Portland Observatory of a Greenish Warbler trapped in June. It was very interesting to see that the bird in the hand showed plumage characteristics pro Greenish (such as a grey cast to the mantle and white looking underparts). Yet the image of the bird in the tree's depicts a bird that looks much brighter and yellower especially around the face so I can only imagine that perhaps the Porth Joke bird was affected by the light and the green foliage in our photographs as in the field it looked much whiter underneath and showed a contrast similar to Wood Warbler between head colour and flank, underpart coloration.  A link to this post is here: http://www.portlandbirdobs.com/2017/06/1st-june.html.

Comments I have heard about the structure of the Porth Joke Greenish being too weak billed may have some relevance but I wouldn't put too much onus on this feature. My ringing experiences have taught me that there is much overlap with biometrics in Phylosc Warblers. Another interesting comment from Kester Wilson was that Greenish Warbler seems to show much more solid dark lores (which the Porth Joke bird shows) in comparison to the relatively plainer faced Green Warbler from images on the internet.



So in the end it does seem that the bird was a standard Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides. A great record for Cornwall this spring and a really good find for Steve Rowe. I certainly feel more prepared should a Green Warbler turn up again in Cornwall and I have learnt that the Greenish complex is more difficult than I realised. Good photographs from a series of angles in good light are vitally important to determine positive ID yet field observations and notes are just as important as they have always been in order to compliment the pictures and prove that they are accurate as all cameras can show different hues and colours on a bird. Sound recordings of calls and songs are going to become more and more important in separating difficult passerines and when possible I am definitely going to make more of an effort to get sound recordings. Birds trapped and ringed at migration sites and observatories will also add to our understanding through DNA analysis and in the hand descriptions. With a Green Warbler turning up on the Lizard this year and with an autumn bird on Lundy last year us birders should always keep an open mind with what can and will turn up in Cornwall.

A Special Thanks to Steve Rowe, Magnus Robb, Roy Slaterus and Kester Wilson for their help, knowledge and ideas.