Friday 27 October 2017

Shrike photos wanted!

Do you have any top quality photos of shrikes? Norbert Lefranc and I are preparing a new edition of 'Shrikes' for Helm/Bloomsbury Publishing and this time we will be including photos.

We are looking for high resolution images of all species/subspecies of Lanius, Corvinella, Urolestes and Eurocephalus. Ideally we want to show males, females, juveniles and immatures (if ageable). RAW or TIF formats are preferred but high res JPEGs may be acceptable.

We are particularly interested to see photos of less well-known species, e.g. Tibetan (Giant) Grey Shrike (Lanius giganteus), Mountain Shrike (L.validirostris) , Emin's Shrike (L.gubernator) and São Tomé Fiscal Shrike (L.newtoni). Even less than perfect shots of these may be just what we need.

All published photos will be credited. Our budget is not large and we cannot pay for images, instead all photographers whose photos we use will receive a copy of the book.

If you'd like to help please drop me a line at

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Norwegian-ringed Little Stint

18th September 2017 - Topsham

I honestly never thought I'd be writing another post about a stint so soon after the July bird - we just don't see that many in Devon - still, you gotta take your excitement where you can...

To cut a long story short: found a colour-ringed Little Stint on BGM on Sunday 17th September (Dave Boult, Keith Birchall and probably a few others had also seen it from the hide). Couldn't read the code that day but it reappeared the next when it briefly came close enough for me to read. Tracked down the ringing scheme in Norway and got a very quick reply. Here's the details:

Little Stint Calidris minuta
Left tarsus: metal ring Stavanger ED08797, red ring above
Right tarsus: yellow ring 6UC (black engraved)

1st cy; wing 100mm, weight 21.9g

Ringed 10:00 12/9/2017 (i.e. five days previously) at Makkevika Bird Reservation, Island of Giske,
Møre & Romsdal, Norway (se map below).

Ringers: Kjell Mork Soot, Petter Birger Folkestad and Eldar Arne Giske / Sunnmøre Ringing Group.

Clearly the bird was on passage when caught in Norway so how far it had already travelled we'll never know.

Little Stint yellow 6UC, Norway to Topsham.
 In the short time the bird came close enough to read the code I had no time to take photographs so here's a few of Dave Boult's phone-scoped shots from Sunday - pretty good under the circumstances.

Little Stints - Topsham 17/9/2017 (Dave Boult)

Little Stints - Topsham 17/9/2017 (Dave Boult)

Little Stints - Topsham 17/9/2017 (Dave Boult)

Little Stints - Topsham 17/9/2017 (Dave Boult) code just about readable on this shot, if you know what it is.

Little Stints - Topsham 17/9/2017 (Dave Boult)

Little Stints - Topsham 17/9/2017 (Dave Boult) three together (there were five in total).
Thanks to DB for the use of his photos and to Kjell for replying so quickly.

Thursday 27 July 2017

The Topsham Stint

24th July 2017 - Topsham


edited 28/7/2017 - got date wrong.


I was starting to wonder if I should just pull the plug on this blog - no posts for six months and no signs of anything I really wanted to write about. Then a bird turned up and got us all scratching our heads. Opinions differed, I posted a few photos on twitter, some comments followed and I decided it was a good time to blow off the dust and write a new post.

The Background. In late afternoon 24th July the bird in question was found by Keith Birchall way out in the estuary on a rising tide. He made a few calls, I soon joined him and we watched a small Calidrid, clearly smaller than the accompanying Dunlin, white below and rather plain grey brown above with dark legs. This narrowed the possibilities: Little Stint (uncommon), Semipalmated Sandpiper (rare), Western Sandpiper (very rare) and Red-necked Stint (very rare). We couldn't make any further progress with the views we had but fortunately, as expected on the rising tide, it soon flew up the Clyst and was refound on the mud at Goosemoor. By then a few of East Devon's finest were on site and we watched it for another hour or so, at distances of 50-100m, before it flew off high to the south east. Surprisingly, given the relatively good views, no consensus was reached; some were happy to call it as a Semi-P, I was undecided.

I took some photos (below), adjusted for colour balance, sharpened and cropped but not resized. I also made notes shortly afterwards.

1. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

2. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

3. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

4. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

5. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

6. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

7. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

8. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

9. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

10. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

11. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

12. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

13. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

14. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

15. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

 Ageing. Clearly this is not a juvenile, the scapulars and tertials are fairly plain grey-brown with indistinct darker centres, a juvenile would show much more obvious paler tips to the scapulars at least and, at least on the uppers, more obvious dark or blackish centres. Also, it's not a breeding plumage bird, that would also show some blackish patterned scapulars and more obvious streaking and colour on the head and neck, even if worn. In fact it most recalls a winter plumage bird though perhaps with more diffusely darker feather centres - as in 1st winter. In theory, a July stint should be in one of two plumages - juvenile or breeding adult - this appeared to be neither. Ivan Lakin suggested a 1st summer and I agree this seems the case. A few 2nd calendar year birds - certainly Little, Semipalmated and Western, and possibly Red-necked do not show the usual summer feathers but moult into a plumage much like adult winter (Grant and Jonsson 1984; Veit and Jonsson 1987). Most 1st summers are thought to remain in the south on the wintering grounds but some certainly travel north with breeding birds. While this may explain the unexpected plumage it doesn't actually help much with identifying it, winter plumages (and presumably also 1st summers) are extremely similar in the four dark-legged species. On the plus side, Red-necked at least can probably be discounted on plumage at least; apparently all 1st summer Red-necked Stints in Australia during June to August show at least some rufous on the face and scapulars (Paton and Wykes 1978 per Veit and Jonsson 1987).

Structure. It was relatively slim, even sleek, with a rather long rear end, the wings looked quite long with tertials extending nearly to the wing tip - just a small primary extension. The bill was medium length, not obviously short like many Semi-P's or Red-necked and not long and thin like typical Western. On some photos it does give the impression of being deep at the base but I can't be certain. The bill tip did at times and very briefly suggest a slightly expanded tip but I could never be sure - it might have been mud or water drops; again the problem was that it never stopped moving. The legs appeared relatively long for a stint although maybe this was due to the warm weather, it certainly never looked short-legged and low-slung like many Red-necked. Since the two American species show partly webbed toes a good view of the feet should have helped. Despite looking no webbing was seen. The bird was constantly moving, often on mud or in water so it is, of course, possible we all overlooked this, but then nobody could say for sure the toes were unwebbed.

Plumage. I'm not convinced plumage detail is going to be much help but I'll describe it for the sake of completeness. Basically brownish grey (or maybe greyish brown?) above and white below. The crown was slightly darker and faintly streaked, the dark area did not appear to reach the bill leaving the forehead white - this quite markedly so at times. The supercilium was white and obvious behind the eye, above the lores it merged with the white forehead. The eye stripe was darkest on the lores and reached the bill base but did not appear to join with the darker crown. The ear coverts were only faintly darker apart from at the rear where a slightly more obvious patch was sometimes noted. The neck and breast sides were brownish grey and indistinctly streaked, not meeting across middle. All scapulars, wing coverts and tertials were brownish grey with slightly paler fringes and diffusely darker centres, all appeared relatively unworn though one or two longest (rear) scaps seemed to be missing.

Conclusions. It would have been so much easier if it had been a juvenile or a summer adult, the nondescript plumage could really fit any of three species (probably not Red-necked as explained above). I believe any chance of resolving what it was must rely on structure. I suspect an argument could be made for any species based on structure though I doubt it would be wholly convincing and largely comes down to probabilities; nevertheless I'll have a go. I think Red-necked unlikely as the bird looked rather too long-legged. Of the remaining three I would suggest Little is the best fit due to the slim, long shape with moderate primary extension (though hard to see exactly) and relatively long legs. The bill length and apparent shape could fit any though less typical of Western. No one saw any webbing between the toes but then absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. However, here are a couple of enlargements which may show something interesting.

16. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

16. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham
These may show the outer toe or they may not, there's so few pixels it's impossible to be sure. If it is the outer toe then it definitely looks unwebbed, making it a Little Stint. It all comes down to interpretation, is that a toe or a stick in the mud?

Edit 28/7/2017. Should have thought of this before but the toe/stick question can be resolved by examining subsequent photos; here's photo 16 again and the next in the sequence.

16a. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

17. Calidris sp. 24/7/2017 Topsham

 There's nothing left sticking up in photo 17 as the bird takes it's next step so it's clearly a toe and not something in the mud, it also looks most likely to be the outer toe. It's nigh on impossible see exactly what's going on where the toes meet but it takes a lot of imagination to see any webbing/palmation; I think this is a Little Stint.

As always, other opinions are available and comments welcome.

A few references: the two classic papers on stint/peep ID (from European and North American perpectives and both featuring Lars Jonsson's superb paintings) are still the business after 30 years.

GRANT, P.J. and JONSSON, L. 1984. Identification of stints and peeps. British Birds 77: 293-315
PATON, D.C. and WYKES, B.J. 1978 Reappraisal of moult of Red-necked Stints in southern Australia.  Emu. 78: 54-60
VEIT, R.R. and JONSSON, L. 1987. Field identification of smaller sandpipers within the genus Calidris. American Birds 41: 213-236

Sunday 29 January 2017

Just a Common Gull?

28th January 2017 - Topsham

Well this one stuck out like the proverbial. A distinctly dark Common Gull and thoughts naturally turn to heinei*. But there's more to it than a dark mantle of course; first, here's the bird in question.

Common Gulls (and a BH Gull) - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gulls (and a BH Gull) - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gulls (and BH Gulls) - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham

Common Gull - 28/1/2017 Topsham
I'm handicapped by not having a copy of the recent Dutch Birding paper by Peter Adriaens and Chris Gibbins (it's now on order) but I did get some information from  and this fascinating video presentation by Peter Adriaens.

Differences between heinei and canus (my interpretation of the bird in question in italics):

- heinei averages larger and longer winged, though with much overlap,
    impossible to tell though it didn't look significantly larger
- heinei has darker upperparts (some approaching pale graellsii?), though some overlap with canus
    certainly darker than nearby 'normal' canus
- winter heinei white-headed with only fine dark spots/streaks concentrated on hind neck,
    head and neck no different to 'normal' canus
- pale iris in many heinei,
    appeared to be dark
- bill and legs of heinei tend to be brighter yellow.
    legs did appear a little brighter yellow, bill apparently identical to nearby 'normal' canus.

The important features of the wing are:

- heinei has a deep black subterminal band on P5; canus only thin or broken band,
    broad black band on P5 on the left wing, a little narrower and almost broken on the right wing
- heinei has black all the way to PC on P8; canus only 50-75% of length,
    black on P8 almost reaches PC on outer web, on inner web about 85% of length
- heinei has black on P7 outer web more than 80% of length; canus less than 50%,
    black on P7 outer web hard to judge but I estimate about 75%
- heinei has long black 'bayonet' on P6 for approx. 65% of length; on canus mostly 20-40% of length,
    black 'bayonet' for just under 50% of length.

There's clearly too much wrong with this bird to claim it as heinei but equally it seems to show features at odds with a 'normal' canus. Perhaps the best that can be said is that the darkness of the mantle and some features of the primaries indicate a possible canus-heinei intergrade. Once I've had a chance to read the DB paper I'll come back to this.

Thanks to Mike Langman and others who've already commented on photos posted on the twitter. More opinions welcome as ever.

 * Larus canus heinei breeds in Russia from Moscow area east to Lena River in central Siberia; it winters in SE Europe, Black and Caspian Seas, also China and Japan.

Monday 16 January 2017


15th January 2017 - Topsham

Just got back from an arduous couple of hours at Topsham Rec checking the gulls for colour rings when the phone rings: herself is walking back into Topsham and has found a small flock of Waxwings (I specifically asked her to look out for them). After a call to Martin Elcoate and a quick look to see that Dave Stone's car (and presumably also he) is not home and I'm off on my bike. Five minutes later (wife's directions, like her map reading, not so good) and I've got the Waxwings; feeding on the remnants of the hawthorn crop between Clyst Bridge and Darts Farm. In bad light I managed a few useable (I use the term in its loosest sense) photos. I counted nine, which matches the number seen in Alphington Sainsburys earlier that day. I looked for the Topsham birds the following day/this morning and they'd gone. It appears the Sainsburys 9 are still on the run.

Waxwing - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Waxwings - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Waxwings - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Waxwings - 15/1/2017 Topsham

Tuesday 3 January 2017

My kind of birding or, the blog still lives

January 2nd 2017 - Topsham

OK, it's been a while. Several reasons come to mind but mostly it's just idleness and bloody-mindedness. Early in the autumn I decided the theme for the season was going to be 'patch loyalty'. I'd turn my nose up at all the fancy vagrating exotica turning up elsewhere and spend my time in and around Topsham; yeah, I know I twitched the LG Shrike in September but that was only 40 miles away and it was a shrike, plus my plan hadn't fully developed by then. So I daily scanned The Rec for rare gulls, stood by suitable bushes at BGM and Highfield Farm listening for the calls of lost Siberian passerines, and checked the pools for transatlantic waders. The result - zero. Nothing to trouble the BBRC (or even the DBRC for that matter). I could have become discouraged; maybe it was the patch, maybe it was me. But The Rec has had some great birds in the past and I've even found some of them myself. This is where bloody-mindedness comes in to its own, persistence in the absence of encouragement or, no birds yet - keep plugging away. At this point I should be able to report a major rarity find but as you'll know that hasn't happened just yet. Still, a new year and all that; January and February to come and still the chance of a decent gull, we've turned the corner on winter and spring's now in sight. I decided to refresh my birding batteries, join the crowd for a day and spend a few hours just pottering around Topsham on my bike for some New Year's Day birding - I know it was the 2nd but the 1st was a shocker so I postponed. Maybe it was the weather, sunny though not warm, maybe it was bumping in to old birding mates, but more than anything it was the birds - nothing rare, just variety, a bit of spectacle and some real quality. I had a really great day; I also took a few photos.

First the Yellow-browed Warbler found by The Rec's other regular 'patcher' Martin Elcoate. Always a pleasure to spend time with one of these, I just wish they'd sit still a bit more often.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
 Tracking the bird and focusing through the branches was a little difficult at times.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
 Showing the faint pale crown stripe.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
The tail feathers appear to be worn and pointed indicating, not surprisingly, a 1st winter bird.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
Constantly searching for, and finding, food - overwintering caterpillars presumably.

Bowling Green Marsh and the VP were, as expected, heaving with people, Avocets and ducks so after an hour scanning the estuary for a few year ticks I went on to Goosemoor. The long-staying Spotted Redshank gave its usual close views as it swam and probed for worms (ragworm?) as soon as the falling tide allowed.

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Spotted Redshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017
  And possibly even more elegant, a fine Greenshank.

 Greenshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Greenshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017

Greenshank - Topsham Goosemoor 2/1/2017
I dropped back in on The Rec later for the low tide gulls and another seesion with the Yellow-browed Warbler. The gulls failed to deliver but the YBW continued to perform and our wintering Goldeneye and Long-tailed Duck looked good enough to photograph, so I did.

Goldeneye - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Long-tailed Duck - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Long-tailed Duck - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017

Long-tailed Duck - Topsham Rec 2/1/2017
A few final thoughts: is Topsham really the best place in the world? Why does birding these days feel like an episode of  'Last of the Summer Wine', and why is every other birder I know called Dave?