Monday, 31 January 2011

KILLDEER makes landfall on Islay, Argyll

A total of 246 species has now been recorded in Britain and Ireland in 2011, with today's KILLDEER the first recorded since 2009.

The finder of St Kilda's Blackburnian Warbler chanced upon this morning's KILLDEER on Islay (Argyll) - Mr Will Miles. The bird was watched at close range on the beach at Lossit Bay before it flew off calling but was not relocated.

A very confiding juvenile BLACK-THROATED DIVER was a popular attraction at Ryder's Mere, Clayhanger Marsh (West Midlands) in recent days but flew off west shortly before midday, whilst the regularly returning adult winter PACIFIC DIVER continues to feed fairly close inshore in Mount's Bay, generally between the Windsurfer's Car Park at Marazion Beach and 500 yards to the west. Few RED-NECKED GREBES appear inland these days so singles at Fairhaven Lake (Lancs) and Grafham Water (Cambs) are noteworthy.

It has been an exceptional winter for GREAT WHITE EGRETS with a record-breaking flock of 6 at the Ham Walls RSPB reserve at Shapwick Heath (Somerset), the two returning birds at Pitsford Reservoir (Northants) and the French colour-ringed adult at Mockbeggar Lake and Ibsley Water in Hampshire and a regular winterer at Hoveringham Sailing Lake (Notts).

A EURASIAN SPOONBILL remains present on the Sea Pool between Cley and Salthouse (North Norfolk) for its third day, with 8 in Poole Harbour (Dorset) and 5 in North Devon at Isley Marsh.

The first-winter RED-BREASTED GOOSE was seen today with Pink-footed Geese in the field south of the car park just west of Fluke Hall (North Lancashire), whilst the adult remains with Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Solent Breezes (Hants) in the large field west of Lower Brownwich Farm. A further 11 birds of unknown origin continue to be seen at further sites in southern Britain, including all 5 (pair and three first-winters) now back in coastal Suffolk. Meanwhile, the adult LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE of unknown but perhaps introduced origin appears to have departed the Cantley Marshes RSPB and Yare Valley (Norfolk) with half of the wintering Taiga Bean Geese (reduced from 102 to 58 in past week).

An adult SNOW GOOSE is still present with Greylag Geese at Gremista (Shetland), with 1 of 3 ROSS'S SNOW GEESE in Norfolk still being seen in the east of the county with the Pink-footed Geese grazing the Haddiscoe Levels.

A drake AMERICAN WIGEON has been present for several days at Martnaham Loch (Ayrshire), with the long-staying drake still on the Serpentine by East Bank, Cley NWT (Norfolk) and another near Tingwall on Shetland, whilst a drake RING-NECKED DUCK continues to show well in West Cornwall at St Gothian Sands LNR (at SW 585 418). Another drake of the latter can also be found at Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park (Cleveland), with a further on the Thornton ICI Reservoir in Lancashire. Just two LESSER SCAUPS are being seen of late: the first-winter female on the Rushy Pen at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs) and the adult drake (presumably a returning bird) at Colliford Lake, Bodmin Moor (Cornwall), in the Loveney NR arm. Dependable SURF SCOTERS include just one single adult drake in Largo Bay (Fife) and the adult female off Dawlish Warren (South Devon).

The juvenile WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE is still present at Hordle in South Hampshire, ranging between the woodland west of Hordle Lane just north of the Milford road and its favoured roost trees to the west of Angel Lane about a mile to the west, whilst in North Norfolk, the juvenile Hen Harrier showing characteristics of the Nearctic form hudsonicus remains faithful to the saltmarsh.east of Thornham Harbour.

At the extreme north end of the Shetland Islands, at least one ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD remains on Unst (at Vaila Field), with other wintering birds still being reliably seen at South Ferriby (North Lincs) and in the Holkham Freshmarsh/Scolt Head Island areas (up to 5).

Dorset's wintering LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER was relocated today in Poole Park, Bournemouth, where it was frequenting the large lake visble from the roadside by the old Swan Lake Cafeteria.

A twitchable LITTLE AUK survived a couple of days in Scarborough Harbour (North Yorks)

Wintering SHORE LARKS are still to be found at Titchwell Beach (Norfolk) (9), Cley Beach (11), Dingle Marshes, Walberswick (Suffolk) (11) and Reculver Marshes (Kent) (3). A single has also been seen frequently at Carnforth Beach (Lancs).

Up to 5 gorgeous WHITE-HEADED CONTINENTAL LONG-TAILED TITS (Caudatus) continue to roam with 10 of their British counterparts around the churchyard and adjacent well-stocked gardens at the north end of Dymchurch (East Kent)

A first-winter ROSE-COLOURED STARLING has been visiting a suburban garden in Penzance (West Cornwall) for over two weeks now (at Weethes Cottages), whilst SCANDINAVIAN ARCTIC REDPOLLS have included at least three different individuals at Rainton Meadows (Co. Durham), three in Bedfordshire and a single in Bell's Wood, Whiteadder Reservoir (Lothian).

LAPLAND BUNTINGS still remain plentiful following last autumn's record bounty, with 36 WNW of Port Eynon at Paviland (Glamorgan) (SS 453 853), 4 at Buckton (East Yorks), up to 14 at Cut Bridge, Sturt Pond (Hants), at least 40 at Chyvarloe, Gunwalloe (Cornwall), 25 at Weybourne (Norfolk) and up to 60 along the South Wall at Breydon Water (Norfolk).

In IRELAND, the SPOONBILL is still to be found at Courtmacsherry Quay (County Cork), the adult winter FORSTER'S TERN remains in Galway Bay just east of the Mutton Island causeway, the AMERICAN COOT at Termoncarragh Lake (Co. Mayo) and the adult female BLUE-WINGED TEAL on North Bull Island (Co. Dublin). The CENTRAL ASIATIC LESSER WHITETHROAT remains in Drogheda.

The first-winter drake SURF SCOTER in the Great island area near Cobh (Co. Cork) was most recently reported off Aghada Pier and Ballybrassil, with the INDIAN HOUSE CROW nearby at Cobh Town.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Here's a couple of pictures copyright of Julia Harris DBWPS Assistant County Recorder.

The bird was found 'dangling' one legged from a bush where it had presumably gone to roost the evening before - one awesome, but really 'odd' record!

Steve Waite
Devon Bird Recorder

AMERICAN PURPLE GALLINULE found dead in South Devon

A woman phoned the RSPB yesterday morning to inform them of a very odd dead Moorhen that was hanging in a Cotoneaster bush in her garden on the edge of Dartmoor in South Devon. A local birder (Julia Harris) popped around to the house and photographed the bird and found to her amazement that the bird was a dead first-winter AMERICAN PURPLE GALLINULE - ouch!

There is only one previous British record of this Nearctic species in Britain relating to a first-winter picked up in an emaciated condition in the High Street in Hugh Town, on St Mary's, on the Isles of Scilly, on 7th November 1958. It survived in care for two days but died on 9th, the corpse being sent to the British Museum and now retained at Tring. Its appearance on Scilly followed a particularly violent storm in the Gulf of Mexico which later tracked over the Atlantic.

There is a much more recent second record of which I have my doubts over its provenance - another sub-adult that was apparently found dead in Southill Park in Bedfordshire in April or May 2008 (A. Jeeves, per Barry Nightingale and Barry Squires) (published in British Birds 102: 550).

There are 14 other previous records from the Western Palearctic: Azores (6), Canary Islands (1), Cape Verde Islands (1), Iceland (2), Madeira (1), Norway (1), Switzerlamnd (1) and one at sea taken to the Faeroe Islands.

Friday, 21 January 2011

SLATY-BACKED GULLS and VEGA GULL photographed today in Japan

Stuart Price very kindly obtained these images of large white-headed gulls in Japan for me today. An adult VEGA GULL leads the gallery followed by a suite of paler variant SLATY-BACKED GULLS amongst the large flocks of this species currently scavenging.

A week passes but still no sign of the gull

A total of 237 species has so far been recorded in Britain and Ireland in 2011, including one never before recorded. A near adult SLATY-BACKED GULL was identified at Rainham Marsh RSPB Wennington Marsh and Landfill Site (London/Essex) on 13 January and seen again by just 34 observers the following day. At least 1,400 observers visited the site on Saturday 15 January but of this number, just 25 believed that they had seen it that day.

The adult winter PACIFIC DIVER remains in Mount's Bay, West Cornwall, fishing with up to 6 Great Northern and 5 Black-throated Divers in the Marazion area (difficult to see in inclement weather conditions).

An unusual number of BALEARIC SHEARWATERS has been seen this year, with a raft of 40 or more in Carbis Bay, St Ives (Cornwall) for a couple of weeks and almost daily sightings off Porthgwarra (Cornwall), including an impressive 29 birds on 16th. Porthgwarra also logged some very early Manx Shearwaters, along with two different SOOTY SHEARWATERS - another of the latter passing Portland Bill (Dorset) on 17th.

After leaving Freeman's Marsh just west of Hungerford (Berkshire) on 9 January, the long-staying GLOSSY IBIS pitched up at Dungeness RSPB (East Kent) before crossing the English Channel next day. It has remained ever since, showing mainly on the pools to the right of the entrance track. GREAT WHITE EGRETS remained at seven sites, including a new winter record of 5 together at Ham Walls RSPB (Somerset) on 17th; last winter's two were again at Pitsford Reservoir (Northants) with other regular wintering birds at Thorpeness Mere (Suffolk) and at Blashford Lakes HWT (Hampshire). Apart from one over Elmley Marshes RSPB (North Kent) on 16th, all EURASIAN SPOONBILLS this past week have been in the Southwest, with 9 on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour (Dorset), 3 at Walmsley Sanctuary CBWPS (Cornwall) and another on Samson (Scilly).

In West Cornwall, the 7 BEWICK'S SWANS were still to be found most afternoons at the southern causeway of Stithians Reservoir, with further out-of-range herds being noted in Dorset, Hampshire and in Surrey, whilst on the goose front, Norfolk continued to host an adult LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE of unknown origin with up to 107 TAIGA BEAN GEESE in the Yare Valley between Buckenham Carrs RSPB and Cantley Beet Factory and up to 3 different ROSS'S SNOW GEESE with the Pink-footed Geese including a fairly reliable bird at Holkham Freshmarshes.

A first-winter RED-BREASTED GOOSE continues to be seen in North Lancashire with the wintering Pink-footed Geese there, wandering each day and being seen at Cleveleys, Pilling Lane Ends and Eagland Hill. An adult of unknown origin appeared amongst the Dark-bellied Brent Geese on Titchfield Haven foreshore (Hants) on 19th and was still present today, feeding just inland of the shore in fields by the caravan and Holiday Park half a mile to the west of the reserve. The only SNOW GOOSE reported was the long-staying bird with Greylag Geese near Kirkwall in Orkney. Some 10 or more BLACK BRANTS continue to be seen.

A female FERRUGINOUS DUCK was seen at Cockshoot Broad (Norfolk) on 16th, with long-staying RING-NECKED DUCKS involving a drake at Cowpen Bewley (Cleveland) and at Loch Evelix (Sutherland) and females at Nosterfield Quarry (North Yorkshire) on 16th and at Talley Lakes (Carmarthen) on 18th. There was also a drake at Stithians Reservoir (Cornwall) on 16th. Four adult drake AMERICAN WIGEONS are on offer, with singles at Udale Bay, Cromarty (Highland), Rutland Water (Leics), Cley Marshes NWT East bank (North Norfolk) and Stoke Ferry Washes (Central Norfolk), whilst LESSER SCAUPS include drakes at Cosmeston Lakes CP (Glamorgan) and Dozmary Pool, Bodmin Moor (Cornwall) and a female at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs).

The female SURF SCOTER remains offshore at Dawlish Warren (South Devon), with the usual drake off Ruddons Point in Largo Bay (Fife) and others in SW Wales and on Harris (Outer Hebrides) and the three continuing KING EIDERS in Northern Scotland - the adult drake off Burghead (Moray) and the first-winter drake and female in the West Voe of Sumburgh (Shetland). SMEW continued to be in good supply with at least 120 wintering, with a single bird in Wales, 5 in Scotland and two in Ireland.

Norfolk continued to harbour up to 6 different ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARDS, mostly in the Scolt Head/Overy Dunes/Holkham and Lodge Marsh areas, with several elsewhere including the long-staying bird on the River Humber (at South Ferriby) and another at Hatfield Moors NNR (South Yorkshire), whilst the juvenile Hen Harrier showing some characteristics of the Nearctic form hudsonicus remained very faithful to Thornham Marsh and its environs (North Norfolk).

The juvenile WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE continued to eek out carrion in the woodlands to the west and SW of Hordle Lane near Milford-on-Sea (Hampshire) until at least 17th.

On the wader front, the first-winter LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER at Lodmoor (Dorset) was the main event, whilst in terms of rare gulls, the regular adult RING-BILLED GULLS could all be relied upon in Argyll (Oban Harbour), Hampshire (Gosport), Essex (Westcliff-on-Sea) and in West Yorkshire (Mirfield).

It has been a very good winter for SHORE LARKS with reliable flocks still to be found at John Muir Country Park (Lothian) (5 birds), Gibraltar Point (Lincs) (21), Theddlethorpe Dunes (North Lincs) (7), Titchwell RSPB (North Norfolk) (9), Holkham Bay (North Norfolk) (5), Cley Beach (North Norfolk) (11), Dingle Marshes (Suffolk) (13) and Reculver Marshes (North Kent) (3) whilst the most impressive gatherings of LAPLAND BUNTINGS remain the 15 or so at Weybourne Clifftop Fields (North Norfolk) and 14 or so at Cut Bridge stubble field, Hurst Beach (Hampshire).

BOHEMIAN WAXWING numbers still remain high in the south, with over 700 at one site in Hampshire and flocks of 200 or more still present in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Essex.

It has also been a very good winter for MEALY REDPOLLS, with many hundreds of birds present, with a few SCANDINAVIAN ARCTICS amongst them including two in Bedfordshire, 3 at Rainton Meadows (County Durham) and a singleton near Whiteadder Reservoir (Borders).

The male DUSKY THRUSH that appeared in gardens in Leigh (Gtr Manchester) in early December and may have been the same bird seen at two further suburban localities in Central England did not make it into January 2011 but may well be lurking with the large numbers of thrushes in SW England, whilst NORTHERN WHITE-HEADED LONG-TAILED TITS included a flock of 5 in Dymchurch (Kent) and at least 2 more at nearby Kingsdown.

IRELAND held on to at least seven species not recorded in Britain thus far in 2011 namely PIED-BILLED GREBE, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN COOT, BONAPARTE'S GULL, FORSTER'S TERN, INDIAN HOUSE CROW and CENTRAL ASIATIC LESSER WHITETHROAT. The PIED-BILLED GREBE, although elusive and wide-ranging, was seen at Great Island (Co. Cork) until at least 20th, with the AMERICAN COOT at Termoncarragh Lake (Co. Mayo) until at least 16th, the female BLUE-WINGED TEAL at North Bull Island (Co. Dublin), the adult winter BONAPARTE'S GULL at Great island on 15th, the adult winter FORSTER'S TERN at Glassagh Beach, Galway Harbour (Co. Galway), the INDIAN HOUSE CROW in Cobh (Co. Cork) and the apparent halimodendri LESSER WHITETHROAT on garden feeders at Drogheda (Co. Louth).

Also recorded were a SNOW GOOSE at Grey Abbey, Strangford Lough (Co. Down), the RICHARDSON'S CANADA GOOSE (SMALL CANADA) at Raghley (Co. Sligo), FERRUGINOUS DUCKS at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford) and Craigavon Balancing Lakes (Co. Armagh), SMEWS at Portmore Lough (Co. Antrim) and Inch Island Lake (Co. Donegal), the Hen Harrier showing characteristics of 'NORTHERN HARRIER' at Tacumshin Lakes (Co. Wexford) and good numbers of WAXWINGS still.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Check out Dominic Mitchell's latest update at

He has put together a nice summary of gathered information with appropraite images.

Saving the NORTHERN BALD IBIS from extinction

I appreciated Richard Porter's response to the personal email of Gianluca Serra that was posted shortly before Christmas. Also Gianluca's apology and clarification that he never intended the email to go more widely, but I still feel it may be useful to give some clarifications and background. So here's a brief summary of the activities and involvement of BirdLife, RSPB and other partners in the combined efforts to conserve the Syrian NBI population, and why open criticism can be very destructive to our shared goals to prevent this population from extinction in the wild.

It is clear that the eastern NORTHERN BALD IBIS population is in as precarious a state as is possible, and working to prevent its extinction is a priority, and relies on cooperation between the multiple governments, NGOs and all those concerned. Since the rediscovery in Syria back in 2002, the BirdLife Middle East office has taken a leading role within the region on this, in addition to the IUCN programme, the Syrian Desert Commission together with research and coordination support from RSPB (BirdLife UK), and key support in Turkey from Doga Dernegi (DD - BirdLife Turkey) and the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS - BirdLife Ethiopia). Longstanding and more recent involvement has come from Saudi Wildlife Commission (SWC), Waldrappteam (Austria), several committed individuals among a longer list of other supporting funders and technical experts. As BirdLife International endeavours to work more widely internationally, identifying a potential national NGO partner to work for bird conservation in each country, which is an ambitious overall goal of the Partnership and it is fair to say that in the MiddleEast, this Partnership is a long way from being comprehensive. Despite this, the Partnership in the region is growing, with very strong Partners in Iraq and Jordan and a long standing Partner in Ethiopia that has been the most relevant one to draw upon in the context of the ibis.

Newer to the scene, in Syria there has been good progress with the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW) and in Turkey, DD has had a long standing involvement with the species. The International Advisory Group for NBI (IAGNBI) also adds what support it can, but is largely composed of elements of the above mentioned elements. One crucial feature in all this is, of course, respective Government support, involvement and activity. Further challenges have arisen due to (in some cases) frequent changes of personnel, and often squeezed environment budget lines, and a paucity of qualified biologists within Governments.

Meanwhile, the need to understand the threats to the remaining few birds has been paramount, as there is a real risk of putting resources into activities that are not actually linked to the major threats. The fact that breeding productivity in Syria was almost double that in the stable Moroccan population was suggestive of subsequent low survival rates, but the need to protect the birds at the breeding sites was also a major activity, requiring considerable coordination and engagement with the local authorities. It was unfortunate that Gianluca was excluded from these activities by the authorities, perhaps because of his public criticisms of their performance, which also made it more difficult to include him within the BirdLife programme, but he was certainly not excluded by BirdLife.

The progress there includes the establishment of protection scheme for the breeding and feeding areas in Syria (not perfect but definitely having some effect), permissions to tag in Syria and Turkey (this has been a major stumbling block for other Critically Endangered species in Asia even in recent times), establishing the migration route and stop-off areas, permissions to transfer birds from Turkey, practical aspects of achieving this carried out, engagement of senior public figures in both Turkey and Syria, surveys of Ethiopian, Saudi and Yemen sites (included direct collaboration between Syrian and Saudi biologists, Yemen Minister of Environment involved in the field, etc), ,

I do feel that the level of collaboration has generally been excellent, and Gianluca has been ready to collaborate throughout. But many of the actions need to be taken by people from within the region and the countries directly concerned, and despite the frustrations, it very rarely helps to criticise from outside, as so often inaction is caused by other players who from the outside may not seem to be part of the process. I may be accused of putting too positive a spin on things, but echoing Richard Porter's email, knowing how complex such things often are, I think we've helped achieve a huge amount in what has from the outset been a precarious situation, and the way the trial supplementation in 2010 went far exceeded expectations based on the prior documented research on how the species has coped with earlier release trials. I was unofficially privy to an exchange between two senior very long standing biologists from the region (I won't name them here and they didn't know I'd get to see this when they wrote it) who agreed that the progress and cooperation "was little short of a miracle,and we should all start believing more that miracles for conservation are possible!". But whether the progress has been small or large, we all know that there's a huge task ahead to keep the possibility alive that the NBI population can be maintained in the wild and its most important to focus on how we achieve that.

Chris Bowden, International Species Recovery Officer, RSPB

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


This BRUCE'S GREEN PIGEON was photographed in Luxor, Egypt, by Steven R van der Veen recently - yet another mega to befall this bird-rich country in winter.

And another SLATY-BACKED GULL from Wisconsin, USA

Sometimes these gulls get TOO much analysis. Even birds that are phenotypically one species might have plenty of genes from species X, Y, or Z. Where does one draw the line?
Here's a SLATY-BACKED GULL I distantly photographed here in Wisconsin back in November. Didn't get to study it much as it was around for only 15 minutes or so.
Ryan Brady, Washburn, Bayfield County, WI

SLATY-BACKED GULL in Alaska today

I have been reading your recent comments on Frontiers of ID, and thought you might be interested in photos of a similar-looking bird that I found today in Juneau, Alaska. I hope the photos may be useful to you, at the very least in showing the extent to which the mantle can vary in degree of gray/blackness. There is an array of different aged Glaucous-winged Gulls for comparison.
These superb photographs were taken by NICK HAJDUKOVICH, a very good friend of mine.
Best wishes,
Gus van Vliet
Juneau, Alaska

And more on that eye colour

I'd also urge some caution re identification of the London bird as a pure Slaty-backed Gull, although I agree SBGU genes appear to be involved. We had a similar bird in California a few years back which we concluded, after much investigation, was too pale on the back to be acceptable as a pure Slaty-backed. During the investigation I looked at the Ujihara sites and concluded that there may have been a bit of circular reasoning there; i.e., it was unclear how they were separating hybrids from pure birds at that time (a couple of years ago). They had some individuals that were clearly mis-aged and 1-2 that I thought were mis-identified, which essened my confidence about the hybrid question. Perhaps it has improved since then.

couple of additional comments:

The eye seems too dark for a pure Slaty-backed, even if a subadult. Perhaps this has been discussed. I see no proof that the bird is in its 4th cycle although it certainly could be. Head streaking in basic plumage gradually lessens with age, on average, but the amount here is within range for "definitive" birds I believe, and some very old birds can show heavier streaking if their molt or hormonal cycles are off. Timing of molt also cannot be used to age gulls, especially vagrants. The best indication that this might be a younger bird is the eye color, but this seems too dark, even for a first or second cycle Slaty-backed (Peter Pyle)

Eye colour of Rainham SBG

I agree that the eye color is an issue (in fact the only thing I see that is wrong). Although I have seen a small percentage of (apparently pure) SBGU with this kind of dark mottled eyes in Japan, I think it would just be 1-2% at most that would show something this dark. In my experience, SBGU already start to show a pale eye by Oct of their second year and it's the norm in 2W birds. The dark eye might be a sign of vegae genes, since these two apparently hybridize extensively. I only saw one bird that had a paler mantle and was a presumed hybrid.

On trips to Honshu, I have had a bit more trouble with large gulls because of the greater mix of species and likely hybrids. I may have seen one much darker-backed bird on a 1992 trip, but it's certainly an exception to see 'blackish-backed' SBGUs in my experience. I don't really see that there is a lot wrong with the mantle color myself.

My experience in Hokkaido in 1997 was that SBGUs were remarkably uniform on the mantle and that a graellsii-like gray is a reasonable match.


Comparable sub-adult 'SLATY-BACKED GULL' from California

Here's a 3rd-cycle (by brown greater coverts and bill) SBGU accepted in California that appears darker backed and certainly paler eyed than the London bird

It strikes me that the head streaking of the London bird may also be a sign of hybridism for a 4th+ cycle bird, that of vegae being darker, age for age, than SBGU. I also agree with you (contra Lethaby) that the back color seems to vary a lot in these gulls, whatever they are, at least according to what the Japan sites identify as Slaty-backed. In the end I still think the biggest issue is that nobody seems to know how to define a pure Slaty-backed Gull (Peter Pyle)

The Rainham SLATY-BACKED GULL - further expert comment


Some years ago I spent a fair bit of time researching a paper on SBGUs, along with Jon King, that we never got to finish and never will. Hybridization with GWGUs on the Kommander Islands is well-documented (can’t provide the reference unfortunately) and other birders (I think Angus Wilson) have seen odd mixed pairs along the coast of Kamchatka. I think that there are some specimens of hybrids in Russian collections too. Having said all this, I don’t think this hybrid combo is all that common because the two forms don’t meet on the mainland and I saw only one presumed hybrid in Hokkaido where there are thousands of wintering SBGUs and dozens/100s of GWGU. I suspect that there are hundreds of SGBU/GWGU hybrids but not thousands.

There is a paper by a Russian (again don’t have reference anymore) that reported that Vega and SBGU commonly hybridized where there ranges met around the N. end of Kamchatka. It’s likely that many of these hybrids would winter in Honshu where vega is common (it’s rare in winter in Hokkaido). At least on my first trip, I remember experiencing quite a bit of confusion as to where vega stoped and SBGU started when it came to mantle coloration. I don’t remember being so confused on my next winter visit to Honshu when I understood the large gulls a bit better. However, Vega and SBGU are similar enough in many respects (string of pearls, brighter pink legs, etc.) that hybrids might not be too obvious at times.

As to other hybridization of large gulls in the Pacific, GWGU interbreeds extensively with several species and American Herring and Glaucous also interbreed commonly.

Nick Lethaby

Monday, 17 January 2011

SLATY-BACKED GULLS - Dick Newell Photography


A mixed flock of SLATY-BACKED GULLS and GLAUCOUS GULLS photographed at Hokkaido, Japan (Pete Morris)


A relatively typical adult SLATY-BACKED GULL photographed at Hokkaido (Japan) by Jim Lawrence. Note the flaring white tertials and the dark grey upperparts; weakly striated crown and neck and not such an obvious pale iride. There is a distinctive 'gap' between where the dark grey ends and where the line of the nape runs up - the feathering here is white.
As Chris Heard said to me - it's all in the name ''Slaty-backed'' - so why those of us who did see the Rainham bird are worrying about its slate-coloured upperparts is somewhat unwarranted.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


A first-winter male BLACK-THROATED THRUSH was present in gardens and in adjacent playing fields of the two schools at Sheerwater Housing Estate in Woking on 9 January. The bird was seen well feeding with a bumper influx of Redwing and Fieldfare to the area but despite exhaustive searching since, has not been relocated (contributed in confidence)


Lee, I saw the images of Britain's first probable SLATY-BACKED GULL on Surfbirds - congratulations on that.

Speaking from a bit of experience here, you may receive questions about the bird's mantle color (dark gray rather than blackish...which may cause folks to scream 'hybrid.'). This bird appears to have a similar mantle color/shade to a sub-adult bird I found here in Connecticut, USA. The idea of a hybrid was looked into, and we looked for any other features (eg, size, structure, and plumage) that might indicate a hybrid with Vega or Glaucous-winged Gull. We could not find any...the bird seemed spot on for SBGU. On top of that, we sent the images to the Ujihara's in Japan for analysis, and they felt the entire bird was just perfect for SBGU, with the mantle color falling within range for pure SBGU (as far as they know it to be).

Some of the problem with the CT bird were that a few of the first photos (some of mine) were a bit over-exposed/'bleached out'...but later photos by folks like Mark Szantyr and Julian Hough were higher-quality images (but the mantle was still not blackish to be sure).

Here is that CT bird, including those original photos:

Here is a very nice write-up by James P. Smith regarding SBGU mantle shades:

The Ujihara's website in Japan is a fine resource for images of NW Pacific gulls, with a huge selection of Slatys:

Nick Bonomo, Wallingford, CT -

Friday, 14 January 2011

SLATY-BACKED GULL finder adds more detailed images to his blog

As I stated in an earlier email today, Dominic Mitchell was given permission to enter the Rainham Landfill Site and was able to get further images, showing critical detail of the wing formulae and patterning and other finite detail - the information and images can be viewed here -

Photographic evidence supports identification as SLATY BACKED GULL

I have now had the opportunity to study some nice flight images of the Rainham dark-backed gull and from what I can see the patterning is spot on for a near-adult SLATY-BACKED GULL. It also appears that this species can have leg length in the region of cachinnans (particularly males) and that the dark grey shading is very variable, ranging from the grey of this bird to almost fuscus black

Just to remind you all, park only at the RSPB car park at Rainham Marsh reserve (Lee G R Evans)

Putative hybrid gull resembling Slaty-backed Gull in Cheshire

Hi Lee, as a Larid fan , I'm obviously fascinated by the appearance of the apparent Slaty-backed Gull at Rainham Landfill and hope to see it over the weekend. I have only limited experience of this species from the US West coast but it does look good from the pix if a trifle pale from my recollections. It does however reminds me somewhat of an odd gull which we had in Cheshire a couple of years ago.
This was a large bird, as big or bigger than the big Argentatus stood on the same rooftop. It had a broad secondary trailing edge, much more so than any other Gull stood nearby. This extended in to a broad, flared out, white tertial crescent, again much larger and broader than any nearby Gull. Its mantle colour was really individual in tone: much darker than Argentatus, "bluer" than LBB but not as dark as GBB, all of which were on the same rooftop. Its legs were a bright raspberry-pink colour and it had a greenish-yellow basal area to it bill with a brighter tip. The golden brown head , nape and upper breast streaking was different in tone and patterning than any of the nearby Gulls. Although we didn`t see this bird fly we did see it wing stretch when it appeared to have some white spots along the subterminal rear edge of the primaries, sadly this feature wasn`t photographed nor seen for long.
We concluded that it was a hybrid of some kind, possibly involving Argentatus but we did remark at the time the birds resemblance to a Slaty-backed Gull


Simon Buckell was with me at Rainham Landfill this afternoon and obtained this image above and the following footage at his website here
Adrian Webb managed to get some all-important flight images and I hope to receive these later
SLATY-BACKED GULL is still my favoured option of identification at present

Confusing large white-headed, dark-backed gull at Rainham Landfill, London/Essex


Dominic Mitchell photographed this very odd, dark-backed gull at Rainham Marsh (Essex/London) yesterday afternoon and this very same bird was seen on a number of occasions today, as it commuted between Wennington Marsh Fields (on the RSPB reserve) and the Landfill.

I saw it very well this afternoon, initially in the field and then later as it wandered about the rubbish of the landfill from 1435-1515 hours. It certainly is a very intriguing gull and is either a 4th-year or older SLATY-BACKED GULL, a VEGA x SLATY-BACKED GULL intergrade or an exceptionally dark SCANDINAVIAN HERRING GULL.

Two features worry me about its appearance. It has unusually long legs, almost Caspian Gull-like, which are raspberry-red in colour (in dull light) and it has dark grey upperparts (not black). Other than these two anomalies, everything else suggests schistisagus. It could be that these features fall within the normal variation of Slaty-backed Gull but I don't know.

There is very limited parking near the landfill (perhaps for 20 cars maximum) so it will be preferable to park at the official Rainham Marsh RSPB reserve car park and then walk back west for 2 kilometres to view through the wire fence at the landfill. At the 1.3 km mark, the roosting gulls in the fields can be studied (this afternoon this field harbouring 5 different CASPIAN GULLS).

The landfill will be active until midday tomorrow but will then close until Monday morning. History has dictated that feeding gulls distribute far and wide on Sundays, so to be sure of a sighting, a visit tomorrow is essential. There are upwards of 5,000 feeding gulls at the tip.


On Thursday, I made a trip up to Drogheda Co. Louth, in the company of Alyn Walsh and at the invitation of Chris Honan, to view a Lesser Whitethroat that showed up in Chris' and his neighbours' gardens just after Christmas.

First noticed by Chris' neighbour, Kevin McGuigan, who recognised it as being "like a Blackcap but without a cap" he notified Chris of an unfamiliar bird visiting his bird feeders. Chris subsequently obtained a couple of record shots, which confirmed that it was a Lesser Whitethroat, but its somewhat unusual appearance was immediately interesting. Suspecting that it might be one of the Asian forms of Lesser Whitethroat, Alyn and I accepted Chris' kind invitation to investigate this possibility further by in-the-field observation, sound-recording and if possible, trapping, in order to obtain detailed biometrics and feather samples for DNA analysis.

Within a minute of arriving at Chris's house we were watching the bird at close range, and it was present on and off throughout the afternoon, making frequent visits to the feeders in Chris's and Kevin's front gardens.

Field identification of out-of-range Lesser Whitethroats to a particular taxon is nigh on impossible, though there are several characters that may be used to separate Asian forms, in a broad sense, from the familiar nominate form that breeds throughout Western Europe.

Biometrics offer further clues but DNA may, ultimately, be required to assign birds to a definite taxon with a high degree of confidence. To our great delight, Chris and Alyn were successful in catching the bird in a well-placed mist net! A thorough but efficient examination was carried out, a couple of tiny feather samples were collected, the bird was ringed, photographed and released, upon which it immediately resumed feeding, just as it had been earlier in the day. The wing formula, very extensive clean white in the outer tail feathers and the distinctive call (heard a couple of times but unfortunately notrecorded) point strongly to the bird being referable to one of the Asian forms of Lesser Whitethroat, most probably halimodendri or minula.

It is hoped that DNA analysis will enable us to confirm the identification, one way or the other, but this might take some time.

Anyone interested in seeing this bird for themselves is welcome to do so, though of course they will be expected to conduct themselves with due regard for the fact that their observations will, inevitably, be directed into one or other of the front gardens of Chris' neighbours. All the people living here seem to be exceptionally friendly and tolerant, so let's make sure that none of us does anything to change this attitude!

Chris kindly provided the following directions, from Drogheda:On the Termonfeckin Road (just outside Drogheda town centre), go under arailway bridge. As you go up an incline there's a garage on your right and immediately after that, the entrance to Westcourt is on your right. After entering Westcourt, the entrance to The Priory is the first turn to the left. The first turn on the right in the Priory brings you to the cul-de-sac where the bird has been seen at feeders on trees in gardens on the right (No. 9) and left (No. 16). As you enter the cul-de-sac, there is space for at least three or four cars to be parked on the left, alongside a white wall, where they will not be in anyone's way. It is easy from here to spot the bird feeders on both sides of the road.

I have sent some photographs of the bird to the website which hopefully will be uploaded in the morning. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Chris and Sue Honan for the greatwelcome and hospitality extended to Alyn, myself, and a couple of other local birders who dropped by. Likewise to Kevin, whose sharp observation ledto the discovery of this very interesting bird and whose well-filled (with Christmas cake!) feeder seems to be sustaining it. With a bit of luck it will stay around for another while (Killian Mullarney)

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Trips Itinerary and Planned Schedule for 2011

Ruff and Ready* Tours have a full itinerary of birding tours in 2011 designed and catering for the keen and active birder. There are currently vacancies on scheduled trips to Spain in February (for Spanish Lynx, Spanish Imperial Eagles, Bustards, Wallcreepers and the like) and May (White-rumped Swifts and breeding birds), the Western Sahara and Morocco in late February/early March (1-2 spaces), Israel (both North & South) in March, Scandinavia in April (for Owls and seaduck in breeding plumage), Georgia in early May, The Highlands & Islands of Scotland in May, Poland in May (woodpeckers, Hazlehens, warblers and more), Sicily in June, Egypt in June, Madeira and the Canary Islands in July, The Azores in November, Goa in November, The Gambia in December and Thailand in December.

Also, NEW FOR 2011 is the Round-Britain January week-long tour concentrating on all of the 190 resident and wintering birds to be found at that time of year.

More destinations will be added as and when interest demands

If any of these trips take your fancy, do not hesitate to email me (Lee G R Evans) on or phone for more details on the Hotline at 07881 906629

*Ruff and Ready is a trademark of LGRE Tours and Wallcreeper Enterprises

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Jonathan Eames gets New Year Honour Award

Jonathan Eames has been awarded an OBE in the British New Year Honours List. Jonathan was a great friend of mine when I first became obsessed with twitching in the mid 1970's but as we both grew up, Jonathan got more and more involved with Oriental Birding and took a different ornithological route. I am delighted that all of his hard work and energies have been reflected in this award - he is one great guy.

Jonathan Eames, programme manager for BirdLife International in Indochina, has been awarded an OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the British New Year's Honours List. The award has been given for services to biodiversity, conservation and civil society development in Vietnam.

"This is a great recognition of the work of Jonathan and the entire Indochina Programme, acknowledging the impact that BirdLife is having in the region", said Dr Marco Lambertini, BirdLife's Chief Executive.

ames first went to Vietnam in 1988 and then 1990 on expeditions when access to the country was very limited for foreigners. In 1993, he set up BirdLife's Vietnam Programme which has not only grown within Vietnam but has expanded to a region wide programme including work in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

"In the early days a major conservation success was being able to play a leading role in the formulation of the biodiversity action plan. At that time we worked with the Ministry of Forestry with the focus on increasing the size of the protected areas system and eventually succeeded in getting first one then finally about 12 new protected areas gazetted. Despite resourcing and enforcement issues several of these sites have developed, thanks to the Vietnam government's commitment and with continued BirdLife support, into established protected areas. For example the size of Yok Don NP was doubled in part because of BirdLife lobbying", said Jonathan Eames.

Eames and the staff of the Indochina programme's work and knowledge of the avifauna of the region has also led to the discovery of four new bird species (Black-crowned Barwing Actinodura sodangorum, Golden-winged Laughingthrush Garrulax ngoclinhensis, Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush Garrulax konkakinhensis and Limestone Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus calciatilis
BirdLife in Indochina is also the Regional Implementor for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund"> in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand which has provided civil society in the region with US $ 8.5 million over the last two years.

"The conservation challenges in the region are still huge. Protected areas and wildlife management laws need better enforcement in order to avoid encroachment and eradicate poaching of wildlife and trees", said Eames.

OBEs are given for distinguished regional or county-wide roles in any field, through achievement or service to the community.The British honours system is one of the oldest in the world. It has evolved over 650 years as the country has found alternative means of recognising merit, gallantry and service.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE continues in Hampshire

This exceptional image was taken of the Hampshire juvenile WHITE-TAILED SEA EAGLE by Keith Maycock. The bird is a juvenile in uniform brown plumage - 2nd-winter birds should be much more mottled white and dark brown below and the inner 3-4 primaries would be fresh and newly moulted (Dick Forsman)
I watched the eagle this morning, saw it a couple of times (10:10 & 11:35) and it followed the same route each time - picked up over woodland south of A337 at Ashley Clinton (c. SZ263935) then heading north over A337 towards Hooper's Hill. Flight line viewable from either A337 (see the churned up grass verges) or from Hordle Lane.
Between these sightings, the bird was seen by others from Angel Lane - presumably when it looped back south of A337 (Bob Marchant)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Spaces available on MOROCCO and SPAIN tours

I have two places on a Morocco/Western Sahara tour 26 February to 9 March and several places on a Spanish tour in February concentrating on finding SPANISH LYNX, SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE, WALLCREEPER, both BUSTARDS and many other specialities

Please email me on or phone 07881 906629 if you are interested in joining me on either