Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Iberian Chiffchaffs

2 Sundays, 2 Iberian Chiffchaffs, both at Spurn, both very different birds. Seen as they are generating a bit of discussion ID wise recently I thought I'd pull together a few notes on these 2 birds.

Excellent paper on Iberian ID originally published in BB avaliable here

Bird 1

9th & 10th April, Crown Car park, Singing and calling constantly. Quite a dull bird overall. Trapped & Ringed and feathers taken for DNA testing.


Seemingly classic, with 3 different 'phrases' used in alternating fashion, as described in THE BB paper, ‘djup djup djup wheep wheep chittichittichittichitta’. Sometimes just djup and wheep, sometimes, djup and chitti, sometimes wheep and chitti.

Recording here

None of its song phrase lasted for longer than 3.5 sec (Ibe always < 4 and often  < 3) with most being around 2.5 sec. All song phrases recorded were 7kHz or below.

This bird was calling a lot between singing, virtually all of the calls I recorded are the same, between 0.16-0.19 sec long and have a frequency range of 5.7-3.3 kHz.

The classic Iberian, down slurred call, with a slight convex shape to them.


Quite a dull Iberian, with more brown tones than usual greenish tones on mantle and wings, but otherwise, lacking an obvious eyering but slightly more prominent on the lower half than bird 2, orange first 3/4 to lower mandible, darker upper, more yellow in the first half of the super, dark brown 'red wine' coloured legs, much cleaner white underneath than Common Chiffchaff. This bird was more similar to Chiffchaff in the field than bird 2 and had us scratching our heads when we caught it!

In field photos © Martin Standley

Bird 2

16th April. Canal Zone, calling a fair bit and tiny bit of subsong. Very bright bird. Trapped & Ringed and feathers taken for DNA testing.


Bird was frequently calling and was how it was first found/identified.

Link to this birds calls here https://soundcloud.com/timmyjones1234/iberian-chiffchaff-no2-calls 

Most of the recordings of this birds calls last around 0.13-0.15 sec, and have a frequency range of 5.7-3.7 kHz

Aberrant? calls

The first call on the above Sound Cloud link looks like this on a Sonogram

To my eyes this seems to have a very steep decline compared to the other calls this bird was giving and the 1st bird gave, with a slight kink at the end of the call, it also sounds a bit more chippy than the more slurred sounds to the other calls. Is this within variation of Iberian calls? The first slope part lasts for 0.04 sec and including the kink 0.09 sec, much shorter than its other calls. Its frequency range is 6.1-3.3 kHz

Another odd call is the following

This call has a slightly different shape to the others, with a kink in the downward slope, it also lasts for 0.11 sec very slightly shorter than the other calls, it has a frequency range of 5.7-3.2 kHz. This call is given around 58 sec into the above Sound Cloud link.

Some calls on Xeno-canto do show a slight kink in similar to this one just not as pronounced, so presumably within variation and it only did it once?

What these two calls do match though is the notes in the below sub song, so a sub-sub song of just one note?


This is quite confusing! Seems to do some good Iberian, djup notes, but then a lot of the below notes that seem to be chiffs and chaffs, it does 2 of the 'diagnostic' up-slurred Iberian notes.

Recording avaliable here

Most of them last for around 2.8 sec with 1 lasting 3.7 sec and the longest being the 'plastic' song at 45 sec in lasting 4 sec.

A frequency range of 6.2-3.4 kHz

Opinion seemed to be that this was just sub-song and the calls and plumage meant it still fit within range of Iberian? 


Much brighter than bird 1, lacking an obvious eye ring, lots of orange on lower mandible with only really a dark tip, darker upper, much yellow in the first half of the super, greenish toned mantle and wing fringes, dark brown 'red wine' coloured legs, plenty of yellow tones around the wing joint and upper breast, much cleaner white underneath than Common Chiffchaff. Very much more similar to Willow Warbler in the field than Common Chiffchaff.

In hand photo © Paul French

Monday, March 27, 2017

Female Wigeon sp

Popped down to Orgreave last Sunday (19th March 2017) and picked up this interesting looking female Wigeon, contrasting grey head/orange flanks, black lip round bill and black tertials. Knew photo of axillaries was key so got some video and it kindly flew, rather grey looking axillaires with quite a bit of barring, not an American then?!

Bit more research and decided to go back today 27th March 2017 and the bird is still present, got further pics and this bird hits plenty of features for both species.

Some good websites I found on this subject

Pro-Eurasian features

- Very pale outermost secondary (not pure white but very very pale grey) (grey in Yank)
-quite a bit of barring on pale grey axillaries (seemingly quite pale for most Eurasian) (pure white in Yank)
-very clean pale chin (mottled and not contrasting in Yank)

Pro-American features

-black outerweb of tertials with nice good white edges (brown in Euro with thinner white edges or no white edging)
-black spotting on breast (variable, plainer in Euro)
-Pale/white bases to greater coverts with dark tip (reversed in Euro, dark base with pale tip)
-black lip coming round lower mandible (cited as diagnostic of American on several websites) (absent in Euro, although search of photos seems to suggest otherwise)
-Overall grey head with clear contrast/cut off at start of flank into orange (more uniform brown wash throughout in Euro)
-at times darker mask apparent behind eye (less contrast in Euro)
-Pale eyelid (needs further research apparently, dark in Euro)
-rufous fringes to scaps (variable, greyer in Euro)

Surely with so many Pro-Yankee features it's gotta have some American blood in it somewhere? Surely can't be just variation in Euro? Easier to say Wigeon sp.

Although as a great man once said ''Never underestimate the extent of natural variation!'' Always learning! So this bird doesn't fit nicely into an American box, but does it fit into a European box? Does it have to? It's got mixed features, but does that put it in a hybrid box? Don't think this bird will go in a box for now....

''It is a feature of human nature to 'fear' chaos and to arrange what is around us into some sort of order. In this process we may tend to do some 'wishful grouping', to oversimplify and to define categories which do not really exist in nature. This often leads to premature conclusions based on too small samples, or to identification keys which are simple to read but which are inaccurate or at least misleading''

Wise words indeed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Semipalmated Plover on Achill

Studying the weather maps on Monday 26th September I was a bit dismayed to see it was forecast to be another westerly airflow for the weekend at Spurn. However, several low pressure systems were tracking in across the Atlantic with the potential for them to drop some Yanks in looking good. I toyed with the idea of going west, so tried to find a couple of other mates to do a long weekend on Barra or South Uist but no one seemed keen (until a Kingbird turned upon Thursday 29th!). So the decision was made, I'd head to Ireland with my Dad for a long weekend of rarity hunting on Achill Island.

We got the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin in the early hours of Saturday (1st Oct) morning and were scanning Mulranny Harbour by lunchtime. No sign of anything different so we continued onto Achill, the golf course was our first port of call and we quickly flushed a Pec, a nice start. We settled in and found some accommodation.

Sunday 2nd, started with a check of the golf course, the Pec was still present, before checking several nearby decent stands of cover for passerines and a few lochs for nil return. We then pulled up to scan the machair above Achill Rovers football pitch to see 3 distant plovers on the top of the hill, quickly grabbed the scope and could see that the middle bird was a crisp juv American Goldie! Nice! Got some cracking views of it before heading back round to the golf course for the second check of the day.

juv AGP (left) with Euro Goldie (right)

Juv AGP (right) with Euro Goldie (left)

Walking in from the east side, we could see straight away there were a lot more Ringed Plover on than earlier on in the day. We picked up a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper that looked rather out of place feeding alone on the golf course. Getting better views of this we managed to get pretty close to the 60+ Ringed Plover that were also feeding on the golf course. I started looking through these, when I noticed that one of the closest birds in the flock had a very pale gape line. I'd been looking at juvenile Ringed Plover for the last couple of months at Spurn and Hatfield Moor, paying particular attention to variation in gape line and breast band. This bird instantly stuck out showing a very pale gape line and thinly connected chest band, as we were looking into a F6 SE wind I decided to phonescope a few pics and had a look at them on my phone. My Dad asked what I was photographing and I told him it was just a Ringo but had a few Semip features and put him on the bird. I blew the photos up on my phone and realised just how pale the gape line was on this bird! Having been looking at juv Ringos quite a lot in the weeks running up to this trip I knew what else to look for, pale flared super, connected chest band, slim bill with orange at base and slender structure, this bird ticked all the boxes and I started to get a little excited, but surely it wasn't actually a Semip Plover!

The bird was quite flighty and it was noticeable how dull the wing bars were in flight. We kept picking the same bird out of the flock each time they moved, now seriously thinking we might be looking at an actual Semip and having obtained on the deck and blurred flight shots, I knew we needed to hear it call. We tried our best to position ourselves down wind in order to hear it if it did call when flying, to no avail. The whole flock then lifted and moved off down the golf course and we lost the interesting looking one. We were now starting to loose the light, so after not being able to relocate the bird we started walking back towards the car, thoughts turned to a frustrating evening posting photos of the bird online and seeing what others thought of it and hoping we could locate it in the morning. However as we were coming away we noticed a few Ringed Plover feeding in the shingle on the edge of the golf course. We walked towards them, the majority of the flock got up and flew but we struggled to hear any non-Ringo calls. Then 3 birds separately got up and flew, one of which gave the the diagnostic chewee call of Semipalmated Plover. I turned to my dad to see if he heard it as well ''Did you hear that???!!! It actually went chewit!!'' adrenaline was now pumping and I quickly set the scope up again to get straight back on the bird from earlier! There it was, a Semipalmated Plover in all its subtle glory, a dream find! It then flew several more times continuing to call and I even managed to sound record it on my phone!

Sound recording available here http://www.xeno-canto.org/337236

We floated off the golf course and straight into the nearest pub where we could share news of our find with a pint of Guinness in hand! A 5th for Ireland and a bird I would always dream of finding as a teenage birder, never thought I'd actually be lucky enough to find one!

With worsening weather conditions the next day there was no sign of the bird, despite our best attempts to turn a good looking Ringed Plover into it! However the bird was again seen by visiting Irish Birders on and off until the 14th October. With some cracking photos taken by Pat Lonergan and Michael O'Briain viewed here http://www.irishbirding.com/birds/web/Display/sighting/91972/Semipalmated_Plover.html

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Glauc Fight

Back in March I was lucky enough to travel to Northern Norway to enjoy the delights of the frozen north as part of GullFest, one of the highlights of the trip were the large numbers of Glaucous Gulls present in nearly all the harbours.

The following photos were taken during GullFest 2016 (hosted by Biotope) in Vardo Harbour. A dead drake Common Eider came floating past and attracted much attention with the large gulls.

Initially claimed by a 3w Glauc, it was then claimed by a juv Glauc before an adult GBB was the winner of the final! Some rough and tumble from the Glaucs, but just a menacing stare was enough for the GBB to win!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Frustrating Bunting

Had this bunting u-turn at Spurn on 7th October with a Yellowhammer, frustratingly I couldn't subsequently relocate it along with a few others so all I have to go on are these 4 flight shots and the call seemed a little harsher than the accompanying Yellowhammer more akin to Corn Bunting.

Pro Pine Bunting features seem to be;
-pale/white ear covert pattern with smaller pale spot at rear of ear coverts
-dark/brown eye stripe and broad malar stripe
-pale throat with seemingly dark tips to throat feathers
-pale/white underparts with streaking extending down flanks
-really pale/white undertail covert area
-seems to show white area in primaries that would relate to the shafts?! (last 2 photos)
-no yellow in plumage (with thanks to Photoshop as well)
-white/pale underwing coverts

Anti Pine Bunting features seem to be;
-slightly smaller than accompanying Yellowhammer
-short tail compared to Yellowhammer
-early date?

Struggling to find any flight pictures online of Pine Bunting so if anyone knows of any, get in touch!

Opinions welcomed!

(And no I'm pretty sure it's not a Rustic Bunting looking down!)

And Yellowhammer it was with, for comparisons

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Home made phone-scoping adaptor

A few months ago I made myself a phone scoping adaptor for virtually nothing, had quite a few people ask me how I did it so thought I'd put some more detail on here

So I had an iPhone 5 with an Otterbox Defender case on it, a good case for a birder and someone that drops their phone a lot! It also conveniently comes with a 'belt clip' (yes apparently these didn't go out of fashion in the early 00's!) so I realised I could make a phone scoping adaptor and still keep my rugged case on, I cut out a section of the belt holder so the camera wasn't covered and broke the clip off it. I then got a hard lens cap cover for my scope, easy to get one off eBay or similar if you don't already have a spare/hard version (a soft plastic/rubber version won't work as it has to support the weight of the phone) 

I cut a hole in the lens cap and a bit of fiddling to line it up glued it onto the belt clip, giving me a detachable phone scoping adaptor allowing me to easily use my phone to digiscope with.

So if you already have a case for your phone and don't fancy spending £40+ then search for a belt clip for your case or get a case with a belt clip on it and you can make yourself a digiscoping adaptor for next to nothing!

I have recently upgraded to an iPhone 6 and got a Griffin Defender case, that also comes with a belt clip that I easily converted into a digiscoping adaptor 

And to prove these do work and really simply, all you have to do is stick it on the end of your scope and start taking photos/video, here's a video I took using my homemade adaptor with my iPhone 5


Just remember to stop the video before you run like a mad head to wake up the lazy Little Tern Warden!