Monday, 30 September 2013


BOOTED WARBLER at Hope Cove, Seaford Head (Paul Rowe Photography)
Kris Gilham discovered a BOOTED WARBLER late morning in coastal scrub at the bottom end of Hope Cove at Seaford Head and was quick to inform Matt Eade (whose local patch it is) and Jacob Everitt of its presence. Jake then very kindly relayed this same message to myself and the Sussex birding fraternity and within the hour, Ian Barnard, Roger & Liz Charlwood, John & Doreen Cooper, John King, Bob Self, Mick Davies and Jake had connected.
By the time that I arrived from Buckinghamshire at 1300 hours, the bird had seemingly gone to ground and had disappeared into very thick gorse cover. It seemed a hopeless task and with temperatures in the sheltered valley reaching upwards of 70 degrees F, my attention was diverted to migrant butterflies and the task of photographing them. Standout was the presence of at least 6 different CLOUDED YELLOWS and it was whilst I was trying to stake these out that I came across a female LONG-TAILED BLUE, presumably part of this year's unprecedented invasion of the species in the southeast.
The hours ticked by and up to 30 birders came and went. Perhaps just ten of us kept at it and after wandering around for the best part of three hours, I eventually stumbled upon the bird in a sheltered hollow of scrub literally just inland of the clifftop (in fact, in the same place that Kris had initially found it). I called the few others still present over (fortunately including Matt Eade) and over the next half hour, we all enjoyed some excellent views of the bird. It was a classic individual and fresh in plumage with very pale buffish-brown upperparts, dark lores, buffish flanks, a broad supercilium ceasing just behind the eye, a relatively short bill with a dark tip and pale lower mandible, contrastingly dark tertial centres and short primary projection. It remained in this same general area for the rest of the evening, showing at regular intervals until at least 1900 hours. Matt, Paul Rowe, Luke Dray and I all managed to get some reasonable photographs of the bird, whilst others obtained a sequence of video. It had been a great ending to a frustrating afternoon.
I also noted 4 Common Whitethroats and 3 Common Chiffchaffs in the well vegetated valley, 3 Yellow Wagtails east, a constant migration of Meadow Pipits east, 250 Barn Swallows and a pair of COMMON RAVEN, one of which stood on the barn roof on my return to the car park

Getting up close and personal with a BARRED WARBLER

This weekend provided me with a unique opportunity of getting up close and personal with a migrant BARRED WARBLER in the Northeast of England. It spent the day taking aphids from an apple tree and spiders from a hedgerow in the front garden of one of the houses on Hartlepool Headland (Cleveland) and was remarkably confiding as my pictures below show..........

Note the dull brown tone to the iris colour typical of first-year birds

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The conundrum of Orange-billed Tern identification

I returned home from holidays yesterday to see a few great birds have
turned up, not least the orange-billed tern found by a fellow Larne man in
Kerry.  I have received the following email from Tony Tree, who has
studied terns for many years in South Africa. He has kindly agreed to let
me share his thoughts on the current minefield of tern taxonomy on IBN.
Makes for interesting reading I'm sure you'll agree.

 "I see that there have been several sightings of Elegant Tern in the
south recently. How are these birds treated in UK/Ireland? We have a good
batch of recent records but having had a colour-ringed bird from France,
which has proved on DNA to be a hybrid with Sandwich, we are no longer
accepting this bird on the SA list. When the first bird turned up I
questioned it being a genuine vagrant but our resident ticker-in-chief was
adamant that it was. Shortly after that a second bird turned up at the same
site but he was adamant that there was only one despite one of our
foremost ornithologists photographing the two on the same morning. Last
summer three different birds turned up at one site in Namibia, one of which
was the ringed bird that was proven hybrid on DNA. As there are several in
Sandwich colonies in France and Spain now which appear to be asymptotic
throw-backs to the ancestral form it is impossible to distinguish these from
the genuine article. We have also had the same problem with Lesser
Crested Tern on the west coast (and even once in my area but that was
also colour-ringed from the same French colony) but I have also seen
genuine F1 hybrids as well as these asymptotes in the W Cape and
Namibia. The Elegant is a short-distance migrant from the Pacific coast of
North America and so genuine vagrants are rarely likely to appear in the
Atlantic and even more rarely likely to reach us here in SA. But with the
addition of the long-range migratory gene from the Sandwich its
occurrence is much the more likely. I see that they are also hybridising
merrily with the Cabot's Tern in Mexico!

Just as a matter of interest - I read that the Cabot's Tern and Elegant Tern
(both distinct species) are very closely related genetically. This then throws
an interesting question when one starts looking at terns from around the
world. The fairly recent separation of Little and Least terns for instance -
they look almost identical and yet are sufficiently genetically diverse to be
cited as separate species. Just to make things interesting and pertaining to
my long term study of the Antarctic Tern we are starting to get some
strange findings. We have two forms visiting us that are morphologically
identical (one from the Indian Ocean and one from the Atlantic). But the
Indian Ocean bird which is quite different morphologically from the more
southerly Indian Ocean birds is identical in DNA with them. Hence a
probable colour/size cline from north to south. But the really amazing thing
is that the Atlantic form is genetically so far off (much, much further apart
that the Elegant and Cabot's Tern) from all the others in the Indian Ocean
and Antarctica that it is possibly a species new to science (this still needs to
be tested more thoroughly). That the morphological differences are almost
non-existent is concurrent with the Sandwich and Cabot's tern which are
genetically well differentiated apparently but totally impossible to separate
in the field (and probably in the hand unless they were ringed as chicks).
So you can never twitch a Cabot's in UK/Ireland unless you can read it's
ring number!! I also suggested to Prof Alan Baker in Australia many years
back that they should look at the Australian Gull-billed Tern versus the
form visiting from Asia (we did take some blood samples but these
disappeared into his cavernous fridges back home and never surfaced
again!). I do believe that they are separate species as well and certainly
have several morphological features enabling easy separation in the hand,
and also in the field when you get your eye in". <<<

Neal Warner

Friday, 20 September 2013

Up and coming Young Birders

Very refreshing to meet these two 'Young Guns' at the Brown Shrike twitch this afternoon - Sussex newbies Luke Dray and George Kinnard. Both seemed mad keen on birding and ready to learn. We need such youngsters in the hobby - the majority of us now in our 50's or older. I have a massive library of bird books and well over 100 stuffed birds that will have to go to a good home and it is these sort of guys that I hope will benefit from them.

Thursday, 19 September 2013


A selection of fabulous shots from David Carr.....

.........and David Campbell's videos below

This juvenile GREAT SNIPE happened upon Kilnsea (East Yorks) on Saturday 14th September when it was discovered by John Cooper in the garden of Warrenby Cottage at the south end of Beacon Lane mid morning. The bird quickly flew to the neighbouring North Field and was then lost. Many hours later, at around 5.00pm, Pete Wragg stumbled upon the same bird on the grass verge just as you enter the Beacon Lane; it flew immediately and appeared to drop in the ditch next to the lane. Pete alerted others of its presence by placing breaking news of it on the Observatory CB system and within ten minutes, some 30 birders were on site. The bird was quickly relocated by the gathering crowd and began showing very well on the edge of the field before it walked back into the ditch. It continued to show very well for an hour or more before flying strongly towards Southfield Farm, on the opposite side of the road. There was no further sign up until dark but at 11.30pm, it was relocated back on the verge as birders were returning back from the Crown & Anchor pub.

Next morning, 30 or so observers gathered at dawn and within a short time, the Great Snipe reappeared in its favoured area in Beacon Lane. People could hardly believe their eyes as it performed down to several yards at times, seemingly oblivious to them. It seemed to be in a healthy state and was taking worms from the grass rather incessantly. On and on it showed and following repeated messages on the News Services, no less than 500 twitchers connected before nightfall. Continuing the same pattern remarkably on the Monday, a further 400 or so visited and enjoyed perhaps the best views they were ever likely to get of this decreasing autumn vagrant and Siberian breeder.

No doubt related to its unusual behaviour, this lone waif was sadly found dead next morning (Tuesday) having seemingly been partially eaten by a predator.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Latest Atlantic Depression displaces a few LESSER YELLOWLEGS...

Whilst it seemed like the majority of the Nation's twitchers were at Kilnsea (East Yorkshire) watching an exhausted Great Snipe patrolling a ditch in Beacon Lane, I was in Southwest Britain photographing a juvenile LESSER YELLOWLEGS at Trews Weir, Exeter - a particularly confiding individual......