28 April 2013

Aberrant Moorhen

Spent a few hours this afternoon at the London Wetland Centre with Rachel. Rather quiet with 2 Common Tern, c30 Sand Martin around the artificial next bank, 1 Barn Swallow, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 2(H) Reed Warbler, 2 Redshank, 10 Northern Lapwing (including 1 with a chick and 4 on nests), 2 Little Grebe (including 1 on a nest), 3m Northern Shoveler, 3 Gadwall, and quite a few Common Teal and Tufted Duck remaining.

This interesting aberrant adult Common Moorhen with no red pigment was wandering around in World Wetlands. Check out the complete yellow bill and bright greenish legs with no red base to the tibia. The bird was repeatedly chased away by the 'normal' moorhens. This is actually the second 'yellow-billed' moorhen I've seen at the London Wetland Centre. My notes from 31 July 2005 record "1 with complete yellow bill and browner on back than nearby normal plumaged birds".

Aberrant Common Moorhen

What is 'normal' anyway?


Common Chiffchaff

Flowering plants included a few Snake's Head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris, Cowslip Primula veris, Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris and Cuckoo Flower Cardamine pratensis.

Snake's Head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris

Cowslip Primula veris

27 April 2013

Another Common Redstart

A few cold hours at the patch from late morning revealed less migrants than yesterday, but still a good haul including 1f Common Redstart around the hawthorns, 6 (4m, 2f) Whinchat around the anthills, 9 (5m, 4f) Northern Wheatear, 2(1H) Lesser Whitethroat, many Common Whitethroat, 2-4 Hobby and 1 House Martin. Also logged were 1 Redshank, 2 Shelduck, 1 Little Egret along the Colne, another pair of Long-tailed Tits visiting a nest, and my first Speckled Wood butterfly of the year.

Female Common Redstart in full tail-quiver

2 of 5 Yellow Wagtails around the cattle on the moor briefly before heading off high north

6 Whinchat today including 4 males

No sign of the reported Grasshopper Warbler on Stanwell Moor, but migrants here included 1 Hobby, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler, 9 House Martin, 14 Barn Swallow. 1 Red Kite, 1m Kestrel and 2 Northern Lapwing were also noted.

26 April 2013

Blackwits and a fall

The weather forecast last night looked promising for a fall - a partly clear night with a full moon, light winds (albeit from the north-west) and a cold front across southern England bringing cloud and rain before dawn, and high pressure over central Europe - so I decided on another early start at the patch this morning. After waiting out a heavy rain shower in the car, it was obvious there was a increase in grounded migrants.

A look at Stanwell Moor tallied up: 14 Blackcap (1H), 14 Common Whitethroat, 4 Sedge Warbler, 2 Willow Warbler, 5 Chiffchaff and a Garden Warbler. Vis mig included 3 House Martin W, 3 Barn Swallow and a beautiful flock of 40 summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits that circled overhead a couple of times before heading east over King George VI Reservoir.

40 Black-tailed Godwits circled over Stanwell Moor at 08:21 before heading off east

Black-tailed Godwits, Stanwell Moor, 26 April 2013

On Staines Moor: 5 Whinchat (3m, 2f), 43 (12m, 31f) Northern Wheatear; a new patch record (and highest count since my previous record of 20+ on 15 April 2011), were around the anthills at the north end, and the bushes held 2 Reed Warbler, 7 Sedge Warbler, 15 Blackcap, 2 Lesser Whitethroat (1H), 10 Common Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler and 9 Chiffchaff (3H). Overhead 1 Hobby N, 4 Common Buzzard, 2 Sparrowhawk, 6 Barn Swallow (3N, 3W), 1f Bullfinch high NE, 2 Shelduck E, 1 Pied Wagtail W and 5 Gadwall were noted.

Male Whinchat

Female Whinchat

1st summer male Northern Wheatear

1st summer female Northern Wheatear. More females than males passing through now.

5 of the 43+ Northern Wheatear on site today - the highest count ever recorded for Staines Moor

Also seen today; on Stanwell Moor 2 Hobby, 1 Barn Owl, 2+ Redshank, 2 Common Teal E, and on Staines Moor 1+ Redshank, 1 Goldcrest, 2 Little Egret and 1 Kingfisher along the Colne and a pair of Long-tailed Tits building a nest.

Weather pattern in the early hours of 26 April 2013. These birds set off under clear skies and very light winds, only to
encounter a cold front in the early hours, causing them to drop down.

25 April 2013

Early morning on the patch

A few hours from dawn at Staines Moor this morning produced a brief Barn Owl flying around the hawthorns in the northwest corner first thing, and some new spring migrants in the form of 4 Common Swifts over W and 2 Lesser Whitethroats in the hawthorns. 4(1H) Common Whitethroat and 1 Sedge Warbler were all singing but warbler numbers in general had dropped with just 2m Blackcap noted. 5 (3m, 2f) Northern Wheatear were around the anthills at the north end.

Overhead, a Common Snipe flew east, 4 Barn Swallow north and a Jackdaw (scarce here) went northwest. Also seen were 3+ Redshank, 4 Shelduck (oddly taking a liking to the Butts Mound - repeatedly flying off but frequently returning), 6+ Linnet, 4 Reed Bunting and 10 Black-headed Gull (mainly 1st summer birds) along the Colne.

On Stanwell Moor; 1 Cuckoo, 2+ Barn Swallow, 1(H) Lesser Whitethroat, 4(1H) Common Whitethroat, 3(2H) Sedge Warbler, but just 2 Chiffchaff. An Egyptian Goose flew west Stanwell Moor Village, where 1 Sparrowhawk was also logged.

Terrible record shot of the Barn Owl. Hopefully I'll get some better images next time.

A few more plants flowering including Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris and Cuckoo Flower Cardamine pratensis.

Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris

Cuckoo Flower Cardamine pratensis

20 April 2013

Gropper at the moor

I'd only just started checking the hawthorns in the northwest corner of Staines Moor early this morning, when the distinctive reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler starting up. After a couple of flight views, the bird eventually flew out into the long grass where I watched it for a while feeding on the ground. Managed a few record shots as it perched briefly back up in the hawthorn.

Grasshopper Warbler

A noticeable influx of Blackcap today with 18 (1H) including a pair nest building, 12 Chiffchaff (2H, and a pair nest building) but still just 2 Common Whitethroat. Overhead, 3+ Red Kite, 4+ Common Buzzard, c20 Barn Swallow, 1 Greylag Goose W, 1 Mistle Thrush S were logged. Also noted were 1 Red-legged Partridge (my second patch record), 5 (3m, 2f) Northern Wheatear, 3+ Redshank, 18 Blackcap (1H, and a pair nest building), 6 Linnet and 2+ Little Egret. Butterflies noted include 3 Comma, 5 Peacock and 2 Brimstone.

At least 3 Red Kites today

4+ Common Buzzard today

Female Northern Wheater. 5 birds present today.

PATCH MEGA!!! Red-legged Partridge - my second record at Staines Moor

Comma Polygonia c-album

A very brief look at Stanwell Moor added 4+ Cuckoo (4 seen flying together), 3 Sedge Warbler, 3 Common Whitethroat (2H), 3 Willow Warbler (1H), 7 Blackcap (1H), 3 Chiffchaff (1H), 2 Barn Swallow, 1 Goldcrest and 7+ Northern Lapwing.

15 April 2013

London-wide fall!

Today turned out to be quite phenomenal locally for spring migrants, not only at the patch but across the whole of the London recording area, with a Hoopoe, Mealy Redpoll, Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher, several Ring Ouzels and Tree Pipits seen, and Dominic Mitchell tallied up an amazing 44 Common Redstarts, 260+ Northern Wheatears and 244+ Willow Warblers amongst the migrants reported! Interestingly, Dungeness, Sandwich Bay and Portland Bill Bird Observatories all reported rather quiet days.

More or less the first bird I saw at Staines Moor early this morning was a superb male Whinchat flitting around the (remaining) hawthorns in the north-east corner, and a look around the hawthorns and along the disused railway embankment produced 1m Common Redstart, 2 Common Whitethroat, 3 Willow Warbler (2H), 3m Blackcap and 7 Chiffchaff (3H). Out on the grassland around 20 (17m, 3f) Northern Wheatear were hoping around the anthills and also along the banks of the Colne, and a flock of 10m Yellow Wagtail were feeding around the cattle.

Male Whinchat in the northwest corner

Male Whinchat

Part of a fantastic 10 strong flock of male Yellow Wagtails feeding around the cattle

Male Yellow Wagtail

The cattle have only been out on the moor a few days - a male Black-headed Wagtail next, please!

2nd summer (?) male Northern Wheatear

Female Northern Wheatear

2nd summer male Northern Wheatear (right) and adult male (left)

5 of a flock 7 male Northern Wheatear along the banks of the Colne

2nd summer male Northern Wheatear

Male Common Redstart
10 House Martin S, 15 Sand Martin S, 23 Barn Swallow S & W were noted overhead and 1-2 Red Kite, 2 Common Buzzard, 1 Pied Wagtail along the Colne, 3 Linnet, 2 Reed Bunting, and several of both Meadow Pipit and Skylark were also logged.

On Stanwell Moor 1+ Sedge Warbler, 1 Common Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler, 3m Blackcap, 10 Chiffchaff (1H), 7+ Sand Martin, 1 Barn Swallow, 1 Common Snipe, 2 Linnet, 3 Reed Bunting, 1 Sparrowhawk, 4+ Northern Lapwing and a Little Owl were noted.

For more on today's fall across London see here:

Weather: Heavy cloud for much of the day with some brighter periods and occassional blue sky (7-8 oktas), light southerly wind, a couple of short showers.

14 April 2013

Hirundine arrival

A five hour session at the patch this afternoon revealed an arrival of hirundines. On Staines Moor, 65 Barn Swallow over (mainly NW), 3+ House Martin and 2+ Sand Martin logged. Other migrants noted were 8 Chiffchaff, 1 (H) Blackcap, and 2 Pied Wagtail (W and S). Other birds seen included 2 Redshank, 4-5 Common Snipe, 1+ Little Egret along the Colne, 2 Canada Geese SW, 1m Common Teal, 1 Kestrel, 2m Reed Bunting, small numbers of Meadow Pipit, 1 singing Goldcrest, 1 Linnet and 3+ Jay. On Stanwell Moor, 10 Barn Swallow NW, 3 Chiffchaff (1H), 2 Northern Lapwing, 1 Kestrel and 2 House Martin around Stanwell Moor Village were also noted.

Common Chiffchaff

Also had my first butterflies of the year with a Brimstone on Stanwell Moor, and 1 Comma, 6 Peacock and more 8 Brimstone on Staines Moor.

Comma Polygonia c-album

Peacock Aglais io

Weather: Sunny, blustery southerly wind, warm.

13 April 2013

Long-tailed Potoo article available to download

In 2010 at REGUA in southeast Brazil, I discovered a new feature for Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus. The feature is unique to this potoo species and easily observed in the field, making it a very useful for identification. My paper on this, A new identification feature for Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus, was published last April in Neotropical Birding (Neotrop. Birding 10: 27–30.), and is now also available online to download as a PDF.

To download a copy click here.

12 April 2013

Seebohm's Wheatear

Most often considered conspecific with Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, the Moroccan and Algerian race, O. o. seebohmi or Seebohm's Wheatear, is actually a very different looking bird. After dipping at one of their best known breeding grounds, Oukaimeden in the High Atlas, at the start of our trip to Morocco last month (they hadn't arrived), we thought we'd blown our chances of seeing them, but a few days later found a migrant male at a wadi near Tinejdad. It seems we were very lucky to find a bird on passage as according to Thévenot (2003) in The Birds of Morocco, "outside breeding range, [there's] only few records of migrants". For me, this was one of the most interesting birds on the trip.

Seebohm's Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe seebohmi, near Tinejdad, 16 March 2013. The pale grey upperparts and very white
underparts with no orange-buff, creates a distinctive 'cold' look compared to Northern Wheatear. Note the faint peachy-buff wash
to the undertail-coverts and vent - a feature I've not found mentioned in the literature?

I'm a little confused over the age of this bird. Presumably the white edges to the tertials and tips to the primary, greater and medium
coverts age this as a 1st summer male? There are photos on the internet of males with no white edges which are presumably 2cy
birds. The black throat-patch looks very extensive here, reaching the upper breast and almost reaching the carpal.

Fig 1: Notice the weak black 'band' across the nape - a feature noticeable on other photos on the internet but which I've not found
mentioned in the literature. Fig 2: Note the rather narrow black terminal tail-band and white tips to the tail feathers. Fig 3: The black
underwing coverts are diagnostic (cf. Northern Wheatear here).

Seebohm's Wheatear breed in the Rif and Atlas mountains of Morocco and also in northern Algeria, but in contrast to nominate oenanthe are a short distance migrant (so unlikely to make it to Britain, but just imagine one on the patch!), wintering in southwest Mauritania with some only making it as far south as Saharan Morocco.

10 April 2013

The patch: 10 April

A very quiet couple of hours at the patch late this afternoon produced c50 Meadow Pipit (mainly migrants feeding in a large flock some 30-40 strong), 1 Redshank, 1 Chiffchaff (H), 3 Common Snipe, 3 Little Egret, 1 Reed Bunting and 2 Greylag Geese W on Staines Moor, and 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Shelduck W, a pair of Northern Shoveler, and a flock of c35 Fieldfare and c20 Redwing on Stanwell Moor.

The water levels on the pools have dropped considerably which is a shame, however, 31 cows have been put out to graze - bring on those wagtails!

Weather: Overcast (8 oktas), light but cool SE wind, rain towards dusk.

7 April 2013

Rock Martins at Bagaa, Tafilalt, Morocco

On 15 March 2013, while having a picnic lunch at an oasis near the village of Bagaa, in Tafilalt, eastern Saharan Morocco, we found a flock of about 10 Rock Martins Ptyonoprogne fuligula resaharica flying around the dunes and scattered trees at the edge of the oasis. This is a poorly understood species in Morocco, and being aware of the potential identification pitfulls with Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris and even hybrids, we watched and photographed the birds for about an hour. The photos below are of several birds (note that I pushed the exposure by about 1 stop to bring out the detail against the sky).

Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula resaharica, this race previously considered a separate species from Rock Martin - Pale Crag
Martin P. obsoleta. Note the whitish throat, dark grey underwing coverts with paler grey axillaries (cf. all blackish on Crag Martin
P. rupestris) and greyish undertail coverts with pale fringes.

The contrast between the darker grey underwing coverts and the paler grey axillaries can be seen well in this pic, despite the
underwing being in shadow (click to enlarge). Also note the whitish edges to both the undertail coverts and uppertail coverts.

For comparison, this image was taken with no exposure compensation

Note the faint whitish fringes to the undertail coverts. To us the white tail spots looked more obvious than we expected
for this species after consulting the literature.

Even at a distance the pale bluish-grey upperparts were obvious, as was the contrast with the darker primaries, secondaries,
primary coverts, medium coverts and greater coverts.

The Collins Guide mentions a pale forehead but I can find no sign of this feature on any of the birds I have photos of.

The white tail spots were generally not visible on the upper tail when closed

The black lores against the pale grey face give the impression of a mask which is more obvious than on Crag Martin

We'll be submitting this record to the Moroccan Rare Birds Committee (MRBC) shortly. More on this here: