Sunday 28 October 2012

Bobolink - Hillwell, Shetland 26th October

A 1st winter bobolink was found today on Shetland at Brake, Hillwell, mainland Shetland by Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington. Jim Wood was, as always, on the ball and managed to get this shot:

Bobolink, Hillwell, Shetland - James Wood
Bobolink, Hillwell, Shetland 
(James Wood - see more of James stunning photographs here:

If accepted, this will be the 35th British record of this species, the last being from Pembrokeshire and Glamorgan in September and October, 2010 respectively.

Bobolink is  one of the Icterids, a New World family comprising the orioles, grackles and cowbirds although to 'our' eyes it closely resembles the buntings of the Old World, in fact it is so dissimilar to other icterids that it was once given its own subfamily. Red-shouldered blackbird (below) is a more typical member of the family. The bobolink breeds across southern Canada and northern North America migrating south in large flocks along the eastern seaboard of the USA and through the Greater Antilles in the autumn. Much of the population winters in eastern Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina where large flocks of many thousands of birds are nomadic within extensive areas of grassland and Pantanal.

Red-shouldered Blackbird, Cuba - Simon Colenutt - The Deskbound Birder
Red-shouldered Blackbird, Zapata, Cuba (Simon Colenutt). 
Endemic to Cuba and the Isle of Pines

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler - New for the Western Palearctic

Well, readers of this blog yesterday perhaps visiting to read the post on the chestnut-eared bunting will have seen a prediction posted later in the evening, it read:

'It was on this day in 2009 at The Lea, South Shields, Durham that an eastern crowned warbler was found, study the range of chestnut-eared bunting of the nominate migratory race fucata and there is a remarkable degree of overlap in breeding and wintering range between the two. Can we expect the third UK record of eastern crowned wabler any day now?'

This was 'inspired' by the news of the bunting followed by a relaxing evening on the settee reading 'Birds of Asia' by Mark Brazil. I looked at the range of the bunting and thought ' well what else may turn up', I scanned over pale-legged leaf warbler and thought 'mmm, similar range but too way out, i know lets settle on eastern crowned warbler, thats turned up twice, and, blow me down, on the same day in 2009', so before heading for bed I posted a quick prediction on the blog. I was flabbergasted to see the news in the morning of the pale-legged leaf warbler at Portland having not seen the breaking news in the evening. Anyway, enough of that guff - so what of the bird?

What I stunning find! Found in a private garden at Southwell on Portland on 22nd October and initially (understandably) identified as an eastern crowned warbler it was viewable to a select few Portland birders who were invited to view the bird in the garden. Fortunately, good photographs were obtained but it wasn't until later that Martin Cade identified the bird as pale-legged leaf warbler. Despite efforts to mistnet the bird the following day it had departed. Photographs of the bird are viewable here:

With a write-up on Lee Evans blog here:

Pale-legged leaf warbler is an extreme eastern vagrant, its breeding range is restricted to south-east Russia (including Ussiriland), north-east China and North Korea the entire population migrants south to winter in South-east Asia including Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia - its chances of reaching the UK are slim in the extreme. It is distinguished from eastern crowned warbler by its pale legs, the concolorous grey crown lacking the pale central crown of eastern crowned warbler and by the grey of the crown merging into the greyish tones of the mantle.

Some good videos and pictures here to compare very three similar species:

This is the first record for the Western Palearctic and the species is generally not known for its vagrancy although according to 'Handbook of the Birds of the World' there are records from the Andaman Islands and Nicobar, still a long flight to reach Portland from here.

I am sure there are many people up and down the country hoping that this bird is re-found, but this seems unlikely now.......

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Second for Britain

A chestnut-eared bunting has been found at Pool of Virkie, Shetland. The bird was found on 23rd October but was initially identified as a little bunting. The bird has been showing well for much of the 24th and 25th October but was not seen after. If accepted this will be the second for Britain after the first from 15th to 20th October 2004 on Fair Isle. This is a stunning image of the bird taken on 24th October by Jim Woods:

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Jim Woods
Chestnut-eared Bunting - Virkie, Shetland
(Photo by Jim Woods - see more of Jim's stunning photographs here:

Additional photos can be seen here

The chestnut-eared bunting is perhaps a surprising candidate to turn up in the UK being a relatively short distance migrant from its breeding grounds in northern Afghanistan patchily eastwards to Japan and wintering in the southern parts of its range in Korea, southern Japan and northern Indochina. The nominate subspecies fucata has a breeding range located entirely east of Lake Baikal, this is a migratory race and the most likely to occur in the UK. Other than the 2004 Fair Isle record the only other record from the Western Palearctic that I am aware of was in October 2011 at Uppland, Sweden, photos here:

To my eyes chestnut-eared bunting appears somewhere between a little bunting and reed bunting in both plumage and structure. The key differences between it and little bunting are:

  • Larger size, chestnut eared bunting is in fact marginally larger than reed bunting;
  • Little bunting has more marked dark lateral crown stripes compared to the browner streaked lateral crown stripes of chestnut-eared bunting;
  • Supercilia more brightly washed chestnut in little bunting, grey in chestnut-eared bunting;
  • The well marked gorget of breast streaks on chestnut-eared bunting compared to the finer breast streaking of little bunting;
  • The rufous tinged scapulars and rump of chestnut-eared bunting compared to the browner or greyer tones of little bunting;
  • The convex rather than straight to slightly concave upper culmen of little bunting;
  • The shorter primary projection of chestnut-eared bunting which, when the wing is close, is virtually non-existent.
Excellent comparative photographs of little bunting can be found on Steve Arlow's site:

Also, on 23rd a Siberian rubythroat was on Fair Isle but this bird was not seen again, this would be the 9th British record if accepted and assuming last years bird on Shetland is accepted.

Monday 22 October 2012

The Amazing Rediscovery of Sillem's Mountain Finch

Sillem's mountain finch Leucosticte sillemi was known only from two specimens collected by J.A Sillem on 7th September 1929 during the Netherlands Karakorum Expedition of 1929-1930 at Kushku Maidan on the West Tibetan Plateau at 5,125m. The bird has not been recorded since these specimens were collected, however, in early June 2012 Yann Muzika was trekking in Yenigou Valley of the Qinghai province in China when, confined to camp due to illness, he came across a flock of Tibetan rosefinch. In this flock was a bird which he did not recognise but which resembled Brandt's mountain finch so, fortuitously, he took a series of photographs. On returning home he submitted these to Krys Kazmierczak who manages the Oriental Bird Club photo database ( where they were correctly identified as the missing species.

There are seven species of Leucosticte distributed over Tibet, China, north-east Asia and with two species in North America. Based on current taxonomical knowledge, they are closely related to linnet, crimson-winged finch and trumpeter finch of the Western Palearctic.

Read the full story by Yann Muzika here:


Wednesday 17 October 2012

Lesser-spotted Woodpecker - Scalloway, Shetland - First for Scotland

The autumn of 2012 will long be remembered amongst birders as a phenomenal one for the quantity and quality of scarce migrants and extreme vagrants to the British Isles with, at times, an almost overwhelming mix of American and Far-eastern species present. This pattern has been driven by the very changeable weather conditions with  a mix of high pressure systems extending easterly air flows drifting birds from central Russia battling with low pressure systems sweeping in from the Atlantic depositing birds caught up in their cross ocean migrations from Canada and North America to the Caribbean, Central America and beyond. However, one of the most intriguing recent records, in my book anyway, has been the first record of lesser-spotted woodpecker for Scotland present at Scalloway, Mainland Shetland from 15th October 2012 until at least 17th October 2012. Being largely sedentary in England and Wales this record surely represents a bird of one of the continental races.  The species is a partial migrant in Northern Europe (and in much of its northern range further east) showing eruptive and nomadic tendancies into the southern part of the breeding range. An excellent study by Gohli et al ( concluded that migrants recorded in southern Norway are likely to orginate from a wider area of Scandinavia as well as more local source populations. These migrations are likely to be as a result of high productivity at source populations. Therefore, it seems most likely that the Scalloway bird is of the nominate race 'minor' whose range extends from Scandinavia and northern continental Europe east of the Baltic to the Urals. This race is a larger and longer tailed race which tends to be whiter and less streaked than our endemic race 'comminutus', however, these distinctions are not always clearly defined. Observers did report the Scalloway bird to appear larger, paler and more finely streaked than comminutus, the only race currently on the UK list. I suspect that without DNA analysis the race of this bird will be hard to prove.

Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Scalloway - Rebecca Nason
Lesser-spotted Woodpecker- Scalloway. Photograph by Rebecca Nason
(view Rebecca's excellent website here:

Sunday 14 October 2012

Pennington Marsh 11th-12th October 2012

Spent these two mornings birding at Pennington Marsh, the 11th was a morning that threatened rain but instead was just rather gloomy with south-west winds of force 5. The 12th was a beautiful crisp still autumn day with a north-west wind of force 3. My usual birding route at this site takes me around a relatively limited area of the complex of marshes covering Fishtail, Butts and Shoveler Pools from the Lower Pennington Lane car park. This is a nice route taking in bushes which are good for migrant warblers, both freshwater and saline pools and the seafront as well as providing expansive views east towards Lymington. As a result of the diversity of habitats a good range of birds can be seen and I am rarely fussed about striking eastwards towards Normandy Lagoon which does however often hold excellent numbers of birds. A map of the site can be viewed here:

Having not visited the site since 2nd October it was quite noticeable that numbers of wildfowl and waders had increased with good numbers of wigeon, teal and pintail now present. My first dark-bellied brent geese of the year consisted of a small flock flying westwards along the Solent. The tides were particularly high during my visits and Fishtail Lagoon held a flock of 275 black-tailed godwit which gave excellent views. The birds were very nervous – possibly as a result of the high tides concentrating the birds into a relatively small area and they frequently exploded into the air to wheel around before settling again.

Black-tailed Godwit, Pennington Marsh - Simon Colenutt, The Deskbound Birder

Black-tailed Godwit, Pennington Marsh - Simon Colenutt, The Deskbound Birder
Black-tailed Godwit, Pennington Marsh

Shoveler Pool held two green sandpiper and three spotted redshank. Due to the small size of these pools birds here provide excellent views:

Spotted Redshank, Pennington Marsh - Simon Colenutt, The Deskbound Birder

A small jay movement was in evidence on both days with eight moving east on 11th and 11 on the 12th. These birds appeared on site high from the west before landing in the scrub around the lagoons – here they appeared unsettled and shortly took flight and regained height to continue their movement. Birdguides ( have reported a number of jay movements in October with 668 over Hunstanton, 189 over Sidestrand and 130 over Great Yarmouth on 6th and 340 over Reculver and 448 over Hunstanton on 7th October. Given that many of these records included birds arriving in off the sea it is probable that these records involve continental birds moving in response to an acorn failure, however, it is possible that a similar failure has resulted in the movement of local birds.

Also of note today was a sleepy juvenile spoonbill on Pennington Lagoon and my first brambling of the year – a male which flew east with chaffinches giving its rather harsh nasal call.

Crete 3rd-9th October 2012

Sarah and I took a much needed break on Crete from 3rd to 9th October, this was not a birding trip as such mainly a much needed rest from the hectic 2012 bat survey season and a recent house move. However, me being me I did manage to do a little birding and in addition I took my actinic moth trap with me. Therefore, this posting will provide a little information on birds we saw (albeit not many!) and the moths we recorded. 

We stayed in Elounda on the north coast of the island at the Domes of Elounda resort - while not the cheapest resort we weren’t after cheap we wanted somewhere nice to stay with a decent view and potentially with some birding and the resort certainly provided us with this. The resort is located on a slope running down to the sea and our room was located at the top of the slope affording good views to Spinolonga Island I was able to run my moth trap in our small private garden. This is the view from our balcony:

Spinalonga Island from Domes of Elounda- The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Spinalonga Island from Domes of Eulonda

During our stay we explored mainly the central area of the island from Heraklion in the west, to Gourtys in the south and east as far as Gournia.

To date I have been able to identify a total of 18 species trapped at Elounda with around another 15 photographed and still to identify. These included a range of species recorded as migrants to the UK as well as some unfamiliar species. Those identified to date are: vestal, obscure bar, hummingbird hawk-moth, eastern bordered straw, small mottled willow, pale mottled willow, dark mottled willow, shuttle shaped dart, dark sword grass, Mythimna ruparia, Opthiusa tirhaca, Devonshire wainscot, cosmopolitan, golden twin-spot, pale shoulder, purple marbled, Udea ferigalis, Nomophila noctuella and Palpita vitrealis.

Devonshire wainscot, Crete- The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Devonshire Wainscot

Pale Shoulder, Crete - The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Pale Shoulder

Palpita vitrealis, Crete -- The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Palpita vitrealis

Opthiusa tirhaca, Crete - The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Opthiusa tirhaca 

Purple Marbled, Crete - The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Purple Marbled

Golden Twin-spot, Crete - The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Golden Twin-spot

I have to say my experience of birding on the island was not astounding. We saw very little and not really through lack of trying (or through to much relaxing by the pool with a glass!). There appeared to be a lack of migrants on the island at the time of our stay (possibly due to the presence of a long settled high pressure system over the eastern Mediterranean) and relatively few resident birds. Highlights included: griffon vulture, Eleanora’s falcon, booted eagle, golden eagle, yellow-legged gull, crested lark, red-throated pipit, Sardinian warbler, red-backed shrike, chough, Italian sparrow and cirl bunting. Most of these birds appeared to be generally distributed and we did not visit any specific sites to see these birds. There are no endemic bird species on the island which is a little surprising given its relative isolation especially when considering an island such as Corsica. The races of jay (race cretorum) and great tit (race niethammeri) are endemic.

Griffon Vulture, Crete - The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Griffon vulture

Sardinian Warbler, Crete - The Desktop Birder, Simon Colenutt
Sardinian warbler

Further Information
If you are considering a birding trip to Crete then the following websites are useful:

For moths I used Volumes 1, 2 and 3 of Patrice Leraut's 'Moths of Europe' published by N.A.P Editions.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Pink-barred Sallow

After a spell of cool nights and low numbers of moths in the moth trap in my Romsey garden the night of the 30th September/1st October produced overcast conditions with temperatures dropping to 12c. While still very slow a few classic autumn species appeared amongst the familiar drab of the likes of large yellow underwing, setaceous hebrew character and square-spot rustic. Lunar underwing an autumn flying species was the first of the year as was a satellite but pride of place went to this pink-barred sallow. While common and widespread the autumnal colours which match perfectly with the yellows and russets make for a stunning moth.

Pink-barred Sallow, Romsey, Hampshire, UK - Simon Colenutt The Deskbound Birder
Pink-barred Sallow, Romsey (S.Colenutt)

The pink-barred sallow is one of six Xanthia species found in the UK all fly between September and October in the south of England (a little earlier to the north) and all exhibit a range of russet, yellow, pinkish and orangey tones. All species are relatively common with the exception of the pale-lemon sallow which is classified as Nationally Notable A being found locally in the south-east of the UK.