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Friday, 12 September 2014

Tragic news - ROY DUNCAN, the Scilly Boatman dies

ROY DUNCAN was a treasure. I first met him in the 1980's when he joined the Isles of Scilly Boating Association where quickly I established a friendly rapport with him, eventually coaxing him into enjoying some of the rares that befell the archipelago. Along with John and Joe, he was always keen to help out whenever the inevitable occurred, chauffering hordes of twitchers at the beck and call for the biggies. He got me countless birds during his reign, particularly late in the day (the Tresco Bicknell's Thrush comes to mind, as well as the Great Pool Yellow-billed Cuckoo) and will be sorely missed. Testamony to his popularity is the number of people that turned out today for his funeral - rest-in-peace Roy - you were a one in a million.......

Friday, 5 September 2014

The late great JIM ENTICOTT..

It was forty years ago today, 5th September 1974, that the late, great Jim Enticott, in the company of Pete Ewins and Chris Cook, observed an extraordinary looking seabird fly past Blanan', Cape Clear Island. He
immediately realised it was something completely new for him and, after conducting some research in the observatory library that evening he and his co-observers cautiously concluded that it had to have been a
'Pterodroma petrel sp'., probably 'Soft plumaged Petrel', as it was known then. One anomaly however was that the literature and illustrations available all indicated that Soft-plumaged Petrel had a distinct breast band, something that their bird lacked....

Jim's style of research following the observation is most impressive; in an extensive write-up of the record published in 'British Birds: 92: 504-518, October 1999 he explains how he left Cape Clear on 9 September and (following a brief visit to Akeragh Lough Co Kerry) arrived in Dublin on 12 September. There he embarked on the SS Nevasa bound for the Atlantic seaboard of France, Spain, Portugal, Gibralter and then Madeira. During the course of the voyage he saw and photographed numerous seabirds that were new to him including Madeiran Storm-petrel and Bulwer's Petrel. The problem of the identity of the Cape Clear Pterodroma was solved on 21 September when he saw and photographed several groups of 'Soft-plumaged Petrels' at sea, within sight of Madeira. He took extensive field notes on these birds, recording that they did not possess the complete breast band illustrated and described in the literature.

Following this discovery Jim visited the British Museum to examine specimens of Pterodromas and he was able to confirm that all of the northern populations of 'Soft-plumaged Petrel' (now known as Fea's Petrel, Desertas Petrel and Zino's Petrel) lacked a complete breast band.

I recommend reading the full account, for those of you who have access to British Birds (it is available free online at the British birds website, but the search facility on the website is useless, so anyone looking for it
will have to employ a more laborious process to get it...).

If ever there was a case of the RIGHT person being in the right place, Jim Enticott being on Blanan' that day is it! What a great discovery.

Killian Mullarney

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Up close and personal with CURLEW SANDPIPERS........

I could not resist sharing with you my views today of two migrant juvenile CURLEW SANDPIPERS. The two birds have been present for the best part of the week on Farmoor 1 Reservoir (Oxfordshire) where some draining of the reservoir is taking place. The two birds are just so confiding (as seemingly are all the other juvenile waders taking advantage of the prime feeding conditions here) and came to within a few feet of me - the closest I have ever been to the species. Generally speaking, Curlew Sandpiper is a rare passage migrant inland, with very few records annually. This was a rare treat. Although I took well over 500 images, here is a selection of my favourite ones - enjoy!!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Yet another BLUE-WINGED TEAL hybrid

Took a trip out west yesterday to twitch Brian Stretch's eclipse BLUE-WINGED TEAL in Worcestershire at Grimley New Workings, just east of the A443. It was drizzling as I arrived and the bird had been flushed off by a dogwalker. I decided to investigate and after soliciting local expertise, followed a footpath down into the valley to check the pools further along. It didn't take long to relocate the bird, as it was feeding on mud on the south shore with Mallard. I was immediately struck by the bill size and shape and a number of plumage anomalies, the bird bringing back instant memories of the last Blue-winged Teal I successfully twitched in the Midlands - at Daventry Reservoir (Northamptonshire). I took a number of shots of the bird from my position on the north shore but they were distant and grainy, so I then decided to carry on and walk right round. Relocating it there, it soon became apparent that this was a hybrid, almost certainly a Blue-winged Teal x Northern Shoveler - certainly on size. The bird kept moving away in front of me and back towards the crowd at the far end but eventually I managed to get some reasonably decent shots of it (see below). As soon as I realised it was a hybrid (between Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler), I informed RBA and attempted repeatedly to contact Steve Whitehouse (Birdline Midlands) but he was out of phone reception in the Forest of Dean. Blue-winged Teals and Shovelers seem to hybridise quite freely proving that they are extremely closely related and there have been several cases of mixed pairings in this country (including a female that nested successfully in Cambridgeshire for a number of years).

Here are my images -:

I gradually coerced the Teal into flying back towards the crowd, where it landed in good view in front of them. I then walked back and informed them of my beliefs but few of them seemed interested and were intent in calling it a 'Blue-winged Teal'. Once home, I sent my images to Chris Heard and Keith Vinicombe, both agreeing with my synopsis.

This is what Keith had to comment - 

''Lee, well, if I saw this at Chew I would probably have overlooked it as a Shoveler! The bill looks huge. The only thing that looks slightly odd to me are the noticeably paler lores and the paler eye-ring. In the second photo, the facial pattern and facial expression are certainly very reminiscent of BWT.But, bearing in mind that all species vary individually, I wouldn't even like to say for sure from these photos that it's a hybrid. If it is a hybrid, then of course Shoveler x BWT or Shoveler x Cinnamon Teal would be the obvious options - but I would have thought that a hybrid would have been obviously on the small side compared with Shoveler. Of course this is easier to judge in the field in comparison with other ducks. It's certainly not a pure-bred BWT''.

Wildfowl expert Chris Batty has raised the spectre of female CINNAMON TEAL into the equation, Keith Vinicombe kindly providing these images -:

I must admit, it's a difficult call - little to choose between them (LGRE)