Monday 30 November 2009

And as quickly as they arrived they were gone.....

Well, there were 582 click-counted at Chesil Beach yesterday and an estimated 600 or more west past Portland Bill (both Dorset) but today, with a change from SW to NNW winds overnight, not a single LEACH'S PETREL was recorded.
Martin Cade who took these superb images above has carefully examined the dead adult picked up yesterday and made some very interesting observations on the Portland Bill Bird Observatory website at It explains how virtually every bird noted was an adult-type, a few notes about ageing and proof of how starving some of these bird are, with fat levels dangerously low.

Starling extravaganza

As many as 50,000 COMMON STARLINGS are currently utilising the heat generated by Gretna Green Motorway Services just west of the M6/A74 confluence as you cross the border into Scotland. It is a magical sight and conjures up the real wonder and sparkle of birdwatching and is incredibly soothing and relaxing as the flocks swirl back and forth, completely in unison and as if they are performing a 'sky-dance'. Chris Baines obtained these really evocative images last week.

Dead LEACH'S PETRELS required for analysis

Sadly many of the Leach's Petrels over the weekend have been exhausted and in a poor state of health. Should you have found one dead, Tony Bicknell at Plymouth University would like to hear from you and receive the corpse for analysis - email

Dark-rumped Petrel off St Ives Island

A 'dark-rumped' petrel was found in near gale force NNW winds in St Ives Bay (Cornwall) just after noon and got pushed back into the bay. It was possibly a Swinhoe's Storm Petrel. A single Leach's Petrel was also seen (Royston Wilkins)

Exceptionally late BLYTH'S REED WARBLER on Shetland

This exceptionally late BLYTH'S REED WARBLER was present in Quendale Burn, South Shetland, on 29 November allowing Roger Riddington to obtain these excellent shots.

New treatment of the 'grey' shrike complex

First-winter Saxaul Grey Shrike at Lound GP, Nottinghamshire, October 2009 (Ken Roberts)

Following the publication of some major scientific work on the 'grey' shrikes of North Africa and Europe, the UK400 Club/BBA proposes to treat DESERT GREY SHRIKE as a full species from 1 January 2009.

Paper Link :

The WESTERN PALEARCTIC list will be affected as such -:

NORTHERN GREY SHRIKE (Lanius excubitor) comprises nominate excubitor, hometeri, leucopterus, sibiricus, and a number of marginal isolated recognised forms occurring in central and eastern Asia.

SOUTHERN/IBERIAN GREY SHRIKE (Lanius meridionalis) restricted to southern France and Iberia.

SAXAUL GREY SHRIKE (Lanius pallidirostris) comprising nominate pallidirostris and lahtora, although latter requires more study and may merit individual status or link with Chinese Great Grey Shrike..

DESERT GREY SHRIKE (Lanius elegans) - now includes North African forms algierensis, aucheri and elegans as well as koenigi found on the Canary Islands. It also includes theresae, which breeds in northern Israel.

As far as the combined British and Irish List is concerned. ONLY Northern Grey and Saxaul Grey Shrikes have been recorded

Even larger 'wreck' of LEACH'S PETRELS off French coastline

There appears to have been an even bigger wreck of LEACH'S PETRELS along the French west coast - particularly in the Charente Maritime and Vendee departments just south of the Loire estuary.

On the coches-fr email group there is the following email reporting 1000-1500 Leach's past Charente Maritime yesterday

Bonjour à tous, le passage remarquable d'Océanite culblanc se poursuivait aujourd'hui 29 novembre avec 320 individus en 1 heure de seawatch au Phare de la Coubre (17) pour un passage en flux continue durant au moins toute l'après-midi, soit raisonnablement 1000 à 1500 oiseaux auxquelles on peut rajouter 37 oiseaux au repos à Bonne Anse avant qu'ils ne s'éjectent les uns après les autres en mer.

Beau spectable que toutes les océanites pansant à 1 ou 2 mètres de nous au ras des dunes de la Palmyre. Observations réalisées en compagnie d'Aurélie De Seynes et Cécile Bruderer.

Clearly this is something not just affecting the UK but generally in the Bay of Biscay etc

Contributed by William OLIVER

GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS at Grafham Water in November 2009

Grafham Water has been blessed by the presence of FIVE different GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS this November, including two adults and three juveniles. Mark Hawkes has successfully photographed all five, four of which are illustrated above. The first two were both adults, the initial individual still bearing a fair amount of breeding plumage and a second bird just retaining a few white spots on the wing coverts. The following three were typical pale-fringed juveniles. A single adult BLACK-THROATED DIVER was also recorded.

Ageing GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS in early December

Ageing GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS in late November and early December

Last night, admittedly in poor weather conditions, a GREAT NORTHERN DIVER was observed at Brogborough Lake in Bedfordshire which proved far from straightforward to age (see Neil Wright's image at the top of this thread). The bird was very dark and contrasting on the upperparts and showed little 'chequering' on the mantle and back typically seen on juveniles. It was suggested that the bird may be a 'second-winter', described by Lars Svensson as being ''as adult winter, but upperparts darker, and has paler, not so blackish bill-tip and lacks any white-spotted lesser wing-coverts''.

I have put together a gallery of late autumn/early winter photographed GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS to illustrate the key differences.

From Top to Bottom

The Brogborough bird, possibly a second-winter, is followed by a typical ADULT in late autumn, retaining much of its gaudy breeding plumage - this individual photographed at Keyhaven in Hampshire by Alan Lewis on 7 October.

There then follows a number of typical juveniles, all clearly showing the pale fringing on the wing-coverts and upperparts, quite circular in shape, and easy to see - at Draycote Water (Warks) on 22 November (Steve Valentine), three images of the same juvenile in Hartlepool Harbour (Cleveland) on 26 November (Stephen D Keightley), in Newlyn Harbour (Cornwall) on 3 March (Kit Day), at Weybread GP (Suffolk) on 14 December (Rob Wilson), at Draycote Water on 22 November (Carl Baggott) and on Diddington Pit (Cambs) on 28 November (Stuart Elsom).

Towards the bottom of the gallery, I have included images of Great Northern Divers photographed this past week - a juvenile at Belvide Reservoir (Staffs) on 28 November (Steve Nuttall) and adults still largely in breeding plumage at Shustoke Reservoir (Warks) on 28 November (Dave Hutton) and at Carsington Water (Derbyshire) at the same time (Glyn Sellors)

Sunday 29 November 2009

An unprecedented early winter 'wash' of LEACH'S PETRELS

The South Coast was today battered by strong SSW winds and following a week of very unsettled weather, masses of LEACH'S PETRELS were displaced and 'wrecked'. A conservative estimate of at least 600 birds was involved in the displacement, from west Dorset east to Sussex, with the majority off Portland Bill, Abbotsbury Swannery and in Chesil Bay, but with unprecedented numbers in Hampshire, with up to 30 in the Solent and off Milford-on-Sea. Steve Copsey obtained these really dramatic and very evocative images today, many of the birds flighting just along the shoreline. A great proportion of birds are moulting adults, which is of major concern, as many are exhausted and being killed by gulls (Lee Evans)

Friday 27 November 2009

CRESTED LARK at private site in Wiltshire in mid November

A CRESTED LARK was photographed at a private site in Wiltshire on 16-17 November, showing well at times, calling and allowing reasonably close approach (news courtesy of

There are three record images taken of the bird, one in flight and two perched on a roof


The 'Punkbirder' boys have put together a superb photo-essay illustrating the identification and covert-bar variation of BLACK-BELLIED STORM PETREL at the following link

Thursday 26 November 2009


The top three images are of a juvenile gull currently present in Lissadell Bay in County Sligo (Ireland) (Michael Casey) whilst the remainder are of a juvenile gull that ranged widely throughout the London area and Home Counties in February-March of this year (Mike McKee).
Both birds are fairly similar and perhaps represent dark clades of juvenile GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL plumage. On the other hand, perhaps there is North American Herring Gull influence and both birds may be unidentifiable hybrids. Whether or not such vagrants are identifiable to form is debateable, particularly when one realises the amount of convergence that is represented in northern California in winter.

A mega of megas - BLACK-BELLIED STORM PETREL in the Severn Estuary

Well my heart-felt condolescences go out to Keith Vinicombe, one of my closest life-long birding friends. Keith was on the phone to me kindly keeping me updated all yesterday morning but despite being on site, frustratingly just could not get himself on to this mega of megas whilst it was in view. Here are the details of this incredible occurrence which took place at Severn Beach on 25 November 2009 -:

Bristol birder John Martin was birding Severn Beach for the third day running due to the storm-like conditions of recent days in the Bristol Channel. He was also joined by four birders from the Wolverhampton area (including Richard Greer) who were keen to see a Leach's Petrel. At around 0820 hours in a fierce Force 6-7 SW gale, an odd petrel was picked up hugging closely the east shore of the Severn, 150 yards south of the southernmost Severn bridge crossing. It was Leach's Petrel-sized but significantly, had striking white underparts and axillaries and underwing-coverts. There was little forking in the tail and its flight was gliding, erratic and low to the sea. It was blackish above, with an obvious white rump, and generally all-white below but with some hint of a thin blackish stripe from the black upper breast to the blackish undertail-coverts. The upperparts were unusually dark and plain and quite unlike typical Leach's with its whitish fringes and tips appearing as a pale diagonal bar on the inner wing from the carpal joint to the trailing edge. Even at long range, the expected covert pattern was not visible and it appeared all dark on the upperparts, perhaps suggesting that the bird was heavily worn. When flying away, the white rump was very obvious. There was perhaps a slight projection of the feet beyond the tail but this feature was hard to see in the blustery conditions. It was either a BLACK-BELLIED STORM PETREL Fregatta tropica or a WHITE-BELLIED STORM PETREL Fregetta grallaria.

It remained on view at very close range for about 15 minutes, gradually getting further and further away mid-channel and being pushed with the incoming tide towards the bridge parapets. It was lost from view at about 0835 hours, just five people witnessing the unique event.

John quickly got the news out as widely as he could and with the knowledge that the tide still had three more hours to come in and this was generally the optimum period for petrel displacement in high winds, birders from the local area quickly descended on the site. The South Atlantic waif must have been sat on the sea for some time as at 0934 hours, it was glimpsed in line with bridge parapet 43 flying back out and battling its way with the wind south. It continued in a line just east of the two marker buoys mid-river being attended by four Herring Gulls which were taking an interest in it. By this time, a crowd had gathered and although very distant by now, a further 14 observers successfully managed to divert their scope lenses on the storm-tossed waif, keeping on it for just over four minutes before it dropped down on the sea at 0939 hours. The Herring Gulls were still surrounding it at this time and with the knowledge that at least 3 of the morning's Leach's Petrels were killed and eaten by gulls, it is not known if this is what happened to it. Despite a constant vigil at the exact area in which it was seen to drop down, it was not seen again, and whether or not the strong tidal surge swept it upriver is unknown. In addition to the original five observers, the later 14 included Mark Ponsford, Gary Thoburn, Chris Craig, Rupert Higgins, Paul Marshall, Dick Reader, Brian Lancastle, Richard Baatsen and David Gibbs.

Sadly, not one image or video was obtained during the two sequences of observation.

A total of 140 observers eventually arrived at the scene, from as far afield as Lancashire, Kent and Norfolk, but despite an all-day vigil until dusk, no more was to be seen of the bird. A total of 14 Leach's Petrels was seen, along with 93 displaced Kittiwakes, a sub-adult Pomarine Skua, a Little Auk and a Grey Phalarope.

Black-bellied Storm Petrel breeds in the South Shetlands, Elephant Island, South Orkneys, South Georgia, the Tristan de Cunha group and Gough Island, Prince Edwards, Crozets, Kerguelen, Antipodes and Auckland, with a total population of some 150,000 pairs. It is nowhere abundant but disperses in winter north to subtropical and tropical waters of all the three oceans and reaches the Northern Hemisphere in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. There are four records for example off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.

There has been one previous record in Britain - a Black or White-bellied Storm Petrel seen off Sheringham (Norfolk) on 10 December 2007 (Kevin Shepherd).

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Jon Chappell videos the Cornish PACIFIC DIVER

Click to view


For all things Cornwall, bookmark Steve Rogers superb site at
Steve's excellent array of images are published above and they portray the beautiful transitional plumaged adult PACIFIC DIVER which is currently visiting Carnsew Basin at the east end of the Hayle Estuary to feed. With patience, the bird can be very confiding, particularly if you hide out of view on the footpath leading up behind the houses in Carnsew Road. Although it flies off mid-afternoon presumably to roost on the safety of the open sea in Carbis Bay, it can be found on the Basin from around 0900 hours. It is presumably the regularly returning bird but has never before returned in such summer splendour. Although it is difficult to assess any difference in bill shape, structure or size from Black-throated Diver, it is flatter in the water and has the characteristic 'chin-strap' and 'vent-strap' and also lacks the diagnostic white rear flank patch of arctica. The fact that it is still in such 'summer finery' is also of real significance.
It was first seen on the Basin on Thursday 12 November but was initially seen by Frederic Jiguet in Mount's Bay, Penzance, at the turn of the month.