Tuesday 20 November 2012

Pipits and Pigeons at Pennington and Romsey

With a bit of free time this weekend I decided that a little birding was in order between house duties. On Saturday I had a short stroll around Pennington Marshes. Pennington Marsh is feeling decidedly wintery since my last visit on 11th and 12th October (http://thedeskboundbirder.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/pennington-marsh-11th-12th-october-2012.html)  and the marsh to the south of Lower Pennington Lane is holding much surface water so numbers of birds here were large with approximately 250 black-tailed Godwit and many lapwing and golden plover. Duck numbers were high with over 1000 each of wigeon and teal and many pintail and shoveler. In the winter sunshine the ducks were displaying and the marshes echoed with the 'weeee-oooo' of wigeon and the soft piping of teal. Pintail too were getting into the spirit with their soft bubbling teal like whistle. Pintail, at close range are stunning ducks with their soft blue-grey vermiculated bodies, chocolate head and hind neck with a strap like spur of white extening up either side of the neck, shaggy golden and black scapulars and long fine black 'pin-tail' eminating from the greyish tail set within the jet black ventral area.
Northern Pintail, Terry Sohl - The Deskbound Birder
Northern Pintail (Male) - Photo by Terry Sohl (view Terry's massively 
impressive range of photographs here: http://sdakotabirds.com)
Ducks at this time of the year are an interesting mix of fine adult males and the young of the year approaching their first adult feathers with often strange conbinations of adult male and immature feathering, Wigeon can be particularly variable with a wide range in male plumage patterns but all ages seem to join in with bouts of display.

A female merlin was patrolling the marshes harassing the dunlin flocks and I watched her single out a dunlin from the main flock and pursue it for over a minute making repeated lunges just for the dunlin to perform a neat zig-zagging shimmy and elude the predator. Fortuitously, for the dunlin, the main dunlin flock passed close by and the pursued made a dive for the crowd, the Merlin realising that it was out gunned by numbers dropped like a stone to harass the meadow pipits and skylarks feeding below in the grasslands.

Amongst the pipits in the grassland I came across four water pipit feeding amongst the flooded grassland and rush beds. Water pipit is unusual in that those seen in the the British Isles in late autumn and winter have migrated northwards from mountaineous areas of southern and central Europe. These birds breeding in the short and flower rich grasslands and scree scattered slopes of the likes of the Alps and the Pyrenees decend to the more moderate climates of the lowlands of Europe to the north (including Britain), west and south and into northern Africa where they frequent freshwater marshes.

Water Pipit, Daniele Occhiatos - The Deskbound Birder
Water Pipit - Winter Plumage (Photo by Daniele Occhiatos', see more of
Daniele's stunning images at http://www.pbase.com/dophoto

On Sunday I walked from home onto the meadows between Sadler's Mill and Squabb Wood that constitute my 'very local' patch. I spent a short while at the 'viz mig watch point' which has great views over the River Test valley and enjoyed small flocks of lapwing, redwing, fieldfare and skylark moving north. However, most notable were the vast numbers of wood pigeon that seemed to be erupting out of the woodlands, and fittingly mostly from Squabb Wood, due to the local shoots. It was impossible to count the birds but I estimated approximately 2,000-3,000 birds present.

Populations of wood pigeon in the west are more sedentary than those in the east and those in the UK appear to travel only a short distance from their natal grounds. By contrast northern and eastern populations are more migratory with, for example, those from Scandinavia migrating south-west through Denmark, the Netherlands and into France while many of these continue and pass to the west of the Pyrenees to take advantage of the autumn acorn crop in Spain. While migration patterns through the UK are not fully understood it would appear likely that this wave of migrants passes through the UK explaining the large numbers recorded on the east and south coast in late Autumn. These birds probably account for those seen today above the beech and oak woodlands that line the Test Valley in which Romsey is located although, conversely, it is thought that continental birds pass through the UK rapidly accounting for the very small number of ringing recoveries of continental birds in the UK and thus these birds in Romsey could relate to aggregated British stock.While much maligned and overlooked, close study of woodpigeons reveals that they are quite stunning beasts but en-mass they provide a late Autumn spectacle that is hard to rival.

Romsey Birding, Simon Colenutt - The Deskbound Birder
View of Romsey showing Romsey Abbey from my 'viz mig watch point'
above the Test Valley (S.Colenutt)

Sunday 18 November 2012

Vagrant Eastern Thrushes

Thrushes are one of my, and many birders, favourite groups of birds and the eastern species are perhaps the jewels in the crown so I thought I would fill a quiet time in the birding calander with a little fantasy of what could be for those scanning diligently through redwing and fieldfare flocks or perhaps just born of good luck. Here I post on the thrushes from the east that have occured in the UK, a number of other species have occurred in Europe but not yet in the UK but can be expected, perhaps, at some time or another, these species will the subject of a second post to be published shortly. The systematics in this post follows Volume 10 of Handbook of the Birds of the World.

Naumann's Thrush Turdus naumanni
Naumann's thrush is frequently considered conspecific with dusky thrush due to the wide overlap in their ranges where hybridisation occurs. Naumann's breeds further south than dusky and winters further north and is thus a shorter distance migrant. In the breeding range the northern populations are those that overlap with and hybridise with dusky thrush. Naumann's thrush breeds in southern central Siberia and winters in south-east Russia to southern China.

In the UK there are two records of Naumann's thrush the first from Woodford Green, London from 19th January to 9th March 1990 and the second from Woodford, London from 6th to 11th January 1997. London is THE place! But this bird could surely show up anywhere, perhaps an east coast location is more likely but clearly another wintering bird could be on the cards.

Naumann's thrush has brownish upper parts admixed with rufous particularly on the margins of the secondaries, greater coverts and tail feathers. the underparts are extensively rufous with pale fringes to the feathers, notably, the flanks are extensively marked rufous and this serves to distinguish the species from rufous-throated thrush. There is normally a rufous tone to the supercilium and a dark malar stripe and malar patch.

Naumann's Thrush 
(Robin Newlin - See more of Robin's photographs on the fantastic pages of Birds of Korea http://www.birdskorea.org/Birds/Birdnews/BK-BN-birdnews-2008-02.shtml

More photos and footage of Naumann's thrush can be seen here:

Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus
Dusky thrush is, in effect, the northern equivalent (but with the range extending further east and west) of Naumann's thrush. Although often lumped with Naumann's thrush (and then both are referred to as dusky thrush), dusky thrush is phenotypically distinctive, although hybrids occur. As a result of the greater distance that the species migrates this is a more frequent. but still very rare, visitor to the UK.

In the UK there have been nine records from 1900 with the most frequent location being Shetland with three records from 1961 to 1975. The last record was a one day bird on 9th December 2010 in Manchester. Records are spread from 24th September to 23rd March with the majority in December. The next twitchable bird will be greatly admired.

In plumage pattern dusky thrush is similar to Naumann's, however, the rufous scaling on the underparts is replaced by blackish scaling which as the pale fringes where become progressively darker. The rufous tones on the head and tail are much reduced and dominated by darker tones. The mantle is also scaled darker. However, there are extensive rufous edges to the tertials, secondaries and wing covertes forming an extensive rufous panel which is reduced in Naumann's thrush. The overall appearance is of a, fittingly, more dusky and darker species than the cleaner more rufous Naumann's. 

Dusky Thrush 
(Dick Newell - See more of Dick's Photographs at http://www.magikbirds.com/)

More photos and footage of dusky thrush can be seen here:

Rufous-throated Thrush Turdus ruficollis
The rufous-throated (or red-throated) thrush is often considered conspecific with black-throated thrush, due to an extensive zone of hybridisation where their ranges overlap, however, the two are distinctive based on plumage and vocal differences.  The breeding range of rufous-throated thrush extends from central Siberia south to north-west China and with the wintering range in north-east India and southern China. Both these ranges are located to the east of the respective black-throated thrush breeding and wintering ranges.  Within the western parts of the breeding range lies a zone where much hybridisation with black-throated thrush occurs.

In the UK there has been a single record of rufous-throated thrush, from 29th September to 7th October 1994 at The Naze, Essex.

Rufous-throated thrush is readily distinguised from black-throated thrush by its rufous throat and supercilium and by the rufous fringes to the tail feathers. Naumann's thrush has a rufous wash and scaling extending to the flanks, lower breast and belly. However, due to hybridisation between this species and black-throated and Naumann's thrush a range of intergrades may occur and care is required in identification.

Rufous-throated Thrush
(Roi Yang - See more of Roi's Photographs at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/river0103/8090131710/in/photostream/

More photos and footage of rufous-throated thrush can be seen here:

Black-throated Thrush Turdus atrogularis
Black-throated thrush is often considered a race of rufous-throated thrush due to the extensive interbreeding within the area of range overlap in the two species, however, phenotypically and vocally the species are distinctive. Black-throated thrush is the more westerly distributed of the two, therefore, it is unsurprising that black-throated thrush is by far the commoner in the Western Palearctic. Its breeding range extends from eastern European Russia east to Central Siberia and south to north-west Mongolia. It winters in from Iran east to north-west China

Black-throated thrush is a rather dull grey above with darker centres to the tail and wing features. In the adults the throat and upper breast are black, in the female this is more mottled and less clean than in the male. The lower breast and belly are off white. The immatures are duller more olive above with the black throats scaled paler in the male and in the female confined to  and dark malar area and blotches and streaks on the upper breast extending to the flanks.

In the UK there are a total of 70 records with 68 since 1950. Amazingly, but unsurprisingly, 28 of these records are from Shetland with six from Yorkshire and five each in Norfolk and Scilly. Records extend from September to May with the peak month being October but there have been around 10 overwintering birds.


Black-throated Thrush - Adult Male (above) (Johan Stenlund - see more of Johan's stunning images and useful identification guides here http://www.pbase.com/johanstenlund
First Winter (below) (Chris Thomas - see 
more of Chris's stunning images here: http://birds.ceeege.com

More photos and footage of black-throated thrush can be seen here:

Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus feae
Eyebrowed thrush is a rather drab thrush with both sexes being a rather uniform brown with a paler vent and belly with distinct white supercilium and with a rusty flank and breast. There is a distinct, but variable, pale supercilium and a pale crescent below the eye. Adult males have grey heads compared to the females browner heads. First year birds, of which the majority of UK records are, have a brown head like the adult females with rusty flanks and a variable pale greater covert wing-bar. 

Eyebrowed thrush breeds from western Siberia eastwards to Kamchatka where it commonly breeds in pine and spruce forests and winters in south-east Asia from southern China, through Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

There are 19 records of eyebrowed thrush in the UK with the first in 1964. Records of the species are from April, May, September, October and December with the lions share of records from October. Perhaps surprisingly the Isles of Scilly, with seven records, out-do Shetland with two records - a strange pattern for an eastern thrush.

Eyebrowed Thrush - Immature Female (above) and Immature Male (below)
(Both photographs by Ingo Waschkies - See more of Ingo's stunning images at http://www.pbase.com/ingotkfr

More photos and footage of eyebrowed thrush can be seen here:

Siberian Thrush Zoothera siberica
Siberian thrush is an enigmatic species which most birders latch onto in a field guide at an early stage in their hobby as a must see species, but in the UK this is a difficult species to catch up with with only nine further records since the first in 1954. Records extend from 18th September to 25th December with October being the peak month. There are two records each from Shetland, Orkney and Norfolk so east coast or remote islands is the key. The last twitchable bird was on the Isles of Scilly in 1999 which shared the tiny island of Gugh during its four day stay with a White's thrush.

Adult males are a deep, dark slaty grey tinged blue with a white eyebrow which extends backwards from the bill base and with a scaly white vent. Immature males are similar but less striking with less vivid slaty grey upper parts, pale throat and scaly underparts. The females and immature females are brownish with scaly underparts and vent with a pale supercilia. All sexes and ages have the diagnostic banded black and white underwing typical of Zoothera thrushes..

Siberian thrush has a similar range to eyebrowed thrush breeding from Siberia eastwards to Ussuriland and winterimg in south-east Asia.


Siberian Thrush
Upper - Adult male by Thaibirder: http://thaibirder.blogspot.co.uk
Middle - Adult female by 'Wokoti': http://www.flickr.com/photos/wokoti/page1/
Lower - Immature male by Ran Schols http://www.pbase.com/ranschols

More photos and footage of Siberian thrush can be seen here:

Common Scaly (White's) Thrush Zoothera dauma
The only other Zoothera thrush to be recorded in the British Isles is common scaly thrush, more commonly known as White's thrush to British birders, this name has a greater air of mystic. Like siberian thrush, White's thrush has the distinctive black and white banded underwing characteristic of Zoothera thrushes. White's thrush has a wide breeding range extending from the Urals to Ussiriland in Russia, north Japan, north Korea and north Mongolia. A discrete breeding population in the Himalayas may prove to be a separate species. White's thrush winters in north India, much of south-east Asia, south China and south Japan.

This is our most frequently occurring eastern vagrant thrush with a total of 79 records in the British Isles with 47 from 1950 until the end of 2010. There are records in all months with the exception of March, July and August with the majority of records in October. Records are widely distributed with, perhaps unsurprisingly, Shetland and the east coast taking the lions share but there are a number of inland records and the Isles of Scilly has had two records since 1950, with one pre-1950 record. 

Highly distinctive, an experienced birder will surely not mistake the intricately scaled plumage for any other species. The crescent scaling on the flanks, mantle and rump and the bold buff fringes and tips to the wing features are particularly striking.

White's Thrush 
(Alex Varga - See more of Alex's Stunning 

More photos and footage of White's thrush can be seen here:

Further Reading
Handbook of the Birds of the World - Volume 10 (Lynx Edicions, 2005) - http://www.lynxeds.com
Thrushes - Helm Identification Guides (Clement and Hathway 2000) - http://www.nhbs.com/helm_identification_guide_series_sefno_6651.html

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Birdcast Website

This is just a quick post as am a bit short of time but thought this website was worth bringing to a UK audience. Daphne Watson of the Isle of Wight Birding Facebook page brought this to my attention. It is a US based website run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology providing realtime predictions of bird migration:


Go to the 'Forecasts' page. Particularly fascinating are the posts on hurricane Sandy and the effects this has had on bird migration in the US. The website may give an idea of potential species vagrancy to the UK and is well worth UK birders keeping a close eye on.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

BOU Taxonomic Update to the British List - October 2012

The latest issue of Ibis published by the British Ornithologists Union (BOU) (http://www.bou.org.uk) in October 2012 contains a number of taxonomic updates to birds on the British list. These include a number of family reshuffles but of most interest are the following (some long-anticipated) species splits:

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea to be treated as three species:
  • Cory's shearwater C. borealis
  • Scopoli's shearwater C.diomeadea
  • Cape Verde shearwater C.edwardsii

Of these both Cory's and Scopoli's shearwater are on the British list, the latter on the basis of a single bird seen from a pelagic off the Isles of Scilly on 2nd August 2004, read an account of the find here: (http://www.scillypelagics.com/scopolis.html).

Madeiran Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro is to be treated as three species in the Western Palearctic:
  • Cape Verde storm-petrel O.jabejabe
  • Madeiran storm-petrel C.castro
  • Monteiro's storm-petrel O.monteiroi

The status of these species in the UK is to be assessed but based on the current knowledge of the distinguishing features of these species it would appear unlikely that definite confirmation of identification of any of the records will be confirmed. There is one record of Madeiran storm-petrel senso lato in the UK since 1950:

With a second record from County Mayo of a bird found dead on 18th October 1931 and now in the collection of the National Museum, Dublin.

Madeiran storm-petrel, Madeira - S.Colenutt, The Deskbund Birder
Madeiran Storm-petrel - Off Madeira, May 2011 (S.Colenutt)

Cream-coloured Courser Cursorius courser is to be split into two species:
  • Cream-coloured courser C.courser
  • Somali courser C.somalensis

Since 1950 there have been seven accepted records of cream-coloured courser senso lato the UK by the end of 2010.

Cream-coloured courser, Socotra - S.Colenutt, The Deskbound Birder
                                 Cream-coloured Courser - Socotra, January 2007 (S.Colenutt)

Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis is to be split into three species:
  • Arctic warbler P.borealis
  • Kamchatka leaf warbler P.examinandus
  • Japanese leaf warbler P.xanthodryas

Since 1950 there have been 300 accepted records of Arctic warbler senso lato in the UK by the end of 2010.

Marmora's Warbler Sylvia sarda is to be split into two species:
  • Balearic warbler S.balearica
  • Marmora's warbler S.sarda

There are six records of Marmora's warbler senso lato in the UK from 1950 until the end of 2010.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta arctica is to be split into two species:
  • Siberian nuthatch S.arctica
  • Eurasian nuthatch S.europea

Eurasian nuthatch is, of course, a common breeder throughout mush of the UK but is absent from Ireland.

Siberian Nuthatch - Inner Mongolia, Wuerqihan Forest 
(Max Berlijn) 

The full BOU article detailing these taxonomic changes can be viewed here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2012.01273.x/full

Monday 5 November 2012

Waxwing, St. Just, Cornwall

Sarah and I spent the weekend (2nd-5th November) in Cornwall just to the west of St.Ives with the intension of some relaxation and a little birding. The birding was very quiet, not surprising given the weather conditions with a strong west to north-west wind, and sole rewards were a couple of firecrest in Cot Valley.

Sarah and I spent the morning of 4th November with our good friends Nigel Wheatley (http://www.wheretowatchbirdsandotherwildlifeintheworld.co.uk), his partner Alice and sons Ned and Tom in St. Just. We started the morning by bowling up to a stunning waxwing feeding on cotoneaster berries close to the junction of Victoria Row and Bosorne Road (thanks for pinning it down Nige and Alice!). There has been a small (but building) influx of these stunning birds into the UK over the previous three to four weeks with the first of the season being from Shetland on the 15th October and with birds arriving further south a little later in the month, with for example, the first birds in Norfolk on 25th October and reaching the Isles of Scilly on 31st October and mainland Cornwall on 2nd November.

Waxwing, St. Just, Cornwall 4th November 2012 - The Deskbound Birder
Waxwing, St.Just, Cornwall 4th November 2012 (S. Colenutt)

Waxwing breed from north-eastern Fennoscandia east across boreal areas of Russia to Kamchatka and from Alaska east to Hudson Bay. Their winter range is almost a southern ‘mirror’ of the breeding range with the regularly occupied range extending from the Balkans and Caucasus east through Kazakhstan to north China and Japan and in the USA the central states. Waxwing is a partial migrant but is particularly known for its eruptive movements with some winters seeing large arrivals of several thousand into the UK while others see far fewer. These arrivals occur as a result of a low supply or failure in the main autumn food source of berries forcing birds to move to areas outside of their regular wintering grounds. The largest arrivals occur when a productive breeding season is followed by high overwinter survival as a result of a good berry crop resulting in a large source population which are then confronted by a poor berry crop the following autumn. It is likely that the majority of waxwing arriving in the UK originate from Scandinavia.

The winter of 2012 to 2013 looks set to be a good waxwing winter so keep your eyes peeled wherever there are berries - favourites being rowan, cotoneaster and hawthorn berries. Rowan in particular is commonly used as a visually attractive plant in landscaping schemes associated with supermarkets and housing estates so these are often favoured habitats for winter flocks.