For one lucky person at least, ‘lockdown’ birding has delivered! At home in Spratton, David Arden was fortunate in having a Black Redstart visit his garden this afternoon. His excellent photos depict a very worn and faded bird, which appears likely to be a first-year female, based on appearance and feather wear. It has renewed a tertial on its right wing, the outer whitish edge of which would ordinarily contribute to the white patch on the closed wing, much abraded in this bird.
I spent some time with the Northern Wheatears at Clifford Hill GP this weekend. They were feeding around the base of a small group of trees alongside Hardingstone Dyke, which runs the full length of the southern side of the main barrage lake. Although two had been present since 9th May, there were at least five, including one male. All appeared to be of the Greenland race leucorhoa but it is, of course, not possible to say with any significant degree of certainty. Comments within captions, below.
Ringing data from Leicestershire and Norfolk indicate the majority of migrant Northern Wheatears after 30th April are ‘Greenlanders’.
A distant Northern Wheatear in a field off Mary’s Lane, opposite the rear entrance track to the Paul Britten Hide at Summer Leys, attracted my attention yesterday. It turned out to be a rather smart male, showing features characteristic of the Greenland race leucorhoa (large, upright, long-legged and swarthy with rich orange throat/breast, extensively orange-washed underparts and noticeable brownish cast to upperparts).
While I was trying to digiscope it through the heat-haze, another wheatear appeared nearby – this time a female. On switching attention to it, I noticed it was asymmetrically marked. The uppermost and lowest tertials of its left wing had broad whitish-buff fringes, indicating unmoulted winter/1st winter feathers, while the middle one was the ‘normal’ plain colour of a 1st summer/adult. Its right wing appeared to show a single, plain adult middle tertial with the lowest and highest ones seemingly absent.
I have not noticed this on Northern Wheatear before and the effect was quite striking. I had always assumed that wing moult took place before migration, although this would indicate that this is not always so. I know that some species’ moults can be arrested during migration and, according to BWP, Northern Wheatear may or may not moult 1 or two tertials pre-breeding, but I would not have expected such asymmetry as was apparent with this individual.
Any comments welcomed.
More on that Ring Ouzel
The Ring Ouzel which dropped into David and Sally Irven’s Bush Hill garden on Sunday is still present today. Although it comes and goes, it more often than not favours the Cotoneaster at the end of the garden furthest from the house. Showing well, as they say, it provides an opportunity for close study, which reveals its age and sex as a first-winter male.
The diagnostic ageing stuff, also visible in the accompanying images, includes broad white fringes to the outer greater coverts (these are ‘old’ unmoulted juvenile feathers), fresh, new inner greater coverts (only a thin greyish border) and the dark bill with just a pale horn-coloured section to the lower mandible. It’s a male because females are slightly duller with little or no white crescent.
A big thank you to David and Sally for letting me into their garden to see it!
It’s October, the east coast is brimming with migrant thrushes and many of us no doubt dream of something unusual finding its way to our garden. Today it happened for David and Sally Irven when this superb male Ring Ouzel dropped into their Bush Hill, Northampton garden with migrant Blackbirds during this morning’s rain. It remained for an hour or so before leaving when the rain lifted. Thanks for the superb photos, David!
Autumn Northern Wheatear
I took these images of a Northern Wheatear at Preston Deanery last week. Despite looking like two different birds it’s the same individual. The photos were taken within minutes of each other, the bird moving from the heap of builder’s sand to a track only a few metres away.
When the photo on the sand heap was taken the sun was behind a cloud and, with the light reflecting off the sand, the bird’s underparts appear quite richly-coloured as well as the upperparts appearing dark. When the wheatear was on the track the sun was out and the light reflected from the track’s surface was quite different, giving the plumage a wholly different tonal aspect altogether. Aside from a little sharpening, I have not altered the colour tones of the images. This serves to illustrate the difficulty associated with trying to assess plumage tones from photographs as well as in the field under variable light conditions.
Autumn 2015 is so far proving to be a great period for Common Redstarts moving through Northants. The first migrant appeared on 1st August, followed by another the next day and then, from 14th August, they have been seen almost daily with records from 13 sites. Most reports involve 1-3 birds but an exceptional 10 were present in scrub between Pitsford Res and Walgrave yesterday.
Some of these are ‘brown’ autumn birds, which are a challenge to age in the field so, prompted by some recent online discussion regarding the ageing of an autumn female, I pulled together some images of local birds to look at in more detail.
All adults undergo a full post-breeding moult, while first-winters undergo a post juvenile moult which is restricted to head, body, lesser, median and some/all tertial coverts and one or two inner greater covets. The upshot of all this is that all Common Redstarts seen in early autumn will have relatively fresh plumage with lots of bright fringes to the wing feathers.
Svensson (Identification Guide to European Passerines) states that, even in the hand, ageing according to plumage characteristics is very difficult with, on some first years, contrast between one or two fresh inner greater coverts and the slightly worn remaining greater coverts plus more pointed tail feathers on first-winters being the most reliable ageing characteristics.
However, both BWP and Van Duivendijk (Advanced Bird ID Handbook, The Western Palearctic) state that, as well as tail feather tip shape, the middle (BWP) or inner (Van Divendijk) primaries will have distinct pale tips as opposed to very uniform, narrow pale fringes on adults. The presence of rusty/grey tips to the greater coverts is shown by both adults and first-winters, so is not a valid ageing characteristic. BWP goes on to suggest that the tertials of first-winters are more pointed and have broad, buffy fringes while those of adults are squarer with little or no buffy fringes.
Here is the image which sparked the discussion.
Based upon the above criteria (complete narrow fringes to primaries, medium narrow fringes to tertials and nearest outer tail feather appearaing rounded) this an adult. Compare this below with a typical spring female with worn plumage.
Here’s what I would call an obvious first-winter, showing all the classic features associated with a first year bird. Broad buffy fringes to tertials, broad pale tips to middle/inner primaries and apparently pointed tail feathers. The underparts also look a little scaly.
Below is what appears to be another first-winter, although not so well defined as the individual above. Middle tail feathers look rounded, though outers look pointed.
Here’s an undisputed adult female, trapped in summer and found to have an active brood patch – so a likely local breeder. Well worn and no sign of any fringes.
For completeness, below is a first-winter male, already wearing and surprisingly little fringeing.
They have been particularly scarce in Northants this year with only two records (I think), so this fine male on the roof of a house in Upper Boddington a couple of days ago was a nice find for the photographer! Visit Barry’s site at www.britishbirdphotographs.com
The past few days have seen an arrival of Ring Ouzels en masse into the UK, with good numbers of migrants appearing in suitable habitats – mainly hillsides – in neighbouring counties. Buckinghamshire has had the lion’s share with at least eight at Ivinghoe Beacon, while seven were counted at Pegsdon Hills in Bedfordshire.
In Northants today, 14th April, two smart males were present throughout the morning at Borough Hill, feeding in open pasture on the summit some 300 metres north of the radio station compound. When disturbed they would take cover in a short, low stretch of bushes or in an isolated clump of hawthorns, where they could be surprisingly difficult to see. Thanks are due to Jonathan Philpot for supplying the below photo.
While these two were being watched, two more flew northeast at 11.00 but they were not relocated. Other migrants on the hill were two Northern Wheatears, close to the area which held the Ring Ouzels, and a big, swarthy, orange-bellied male Greenland Wheatear on the southern slope above the industrial estate. Although this may seem an unusually early arrival date for this race, one was trapped at Portland Birds Obs on 8th April – see http://tinyurl.com/crgc3jy.
There has always been some debate as to whether Northern Wheatears of the nominate race oenanthe and the Greenland race leucorhoa are separable in the field. As there is some overlap in identification criteria of both, ‘showing characteristics of’ has always been the safest caveat to apply to birds which display a suite of characters associated with either race, i.e. larger size, longer legs, longer primary projection, broader black tail band and rufous underparts are normally associated with Greenland Wheatear.
This evening (4th October 2011) near Bozenham Mill I had short, though good, views of a very striking individual which appeared to be a Greenland Wheatear, based upon my perception of size – a ‘bulky’ individual – and colour of underparts, which were uniformly deep rufous-orange from throat to under tail coverts. So intense was the underpart colouring that when I first saw this bird head-on I thought, for a split second, I was looking at a Robin!
Based on these characters alone this identification to race is not fully conclusive but nominate Northern Wheatears rarely approach the intensity of colour of this individual (whereas Greenland Wheatears frequently do). However, the date further supports the identification as Greenland Wheatear as recent ringing activities in neighbouring Leicestershire suggest that the majority of Northern Wheatears occurring there after mid-September are of this race (Tim Collins and Neil Hagley in The Leicestershire & Rutland Annual Bird Report 2009).
Below are two photographs I took of Northern Wheatears in Northants this autumn. The one on the left is an apparently typical nominate Northern Wheatear at Clifford Hill GP on 17th September and the other is today’s bird at Bozenham. There is a huge difference in underpart colouration. Both were taken using a Zeiss PhotoScope but today’s photo was taken hurriedly from the car, trying to balance the scope on the open window with one hand while attempting to operate the IR remote control with the other – this is why it is horribly blurred!