Sunday 27 February 2022

Azerbaijan 2022 Days One and Two

Currently on a trip to Azerbaijan looking for Siberian Crane (only one individual. 'Omid',  remains in the Western Palearctic) with a group of nearly 30 birders (feels like Corvo on tour).  A few photos from last couple of days. Ebird Trip report HERE

Caspian Tits (above)

Trumpeter Finch - a national rarity. We had 7 birds.
Lanner (male above and female below) 080324 update: For update on the identification of these birds see HERE

Male and female Finsch's Wheatear 
Isabelline Shrike- another rarity found by our group
Flock of Little Bustard
Long-tailed Tit of the alpinus race complete with black bib
Goitered Gazelle (above and below)

Large Tortoiseshell
Horseshoe Bat sp

Tuesday 22 February 2022

The Old Vicarage, Storm Week

Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin have all come through during the last week bringing wide spread devastation and several fatalities but dare I say that here at the Old Vic, by an absolute miracle. we did not sustain any garden or structural damage. Fortunately we did some storm proofing tree work a few weeks ago but nothing could have stopped damage caused by gusts of over 100 mph. Fortunately we missed all the damaging squalls. Needless to say it's been busy at work on the tree and garden game. 

The only abnormal thing noted was the Siskins feeding on the ground because the Niger seed had blown off the bird feeders. 

Had a Brambling flying around between the storms. Old Vic Bird List for 2022 now on 49 HERE.

Siskins (above and below) 

Good numbers of Redwings feeding in the Sheep Field
Storm Eunice at the Old Vic 
The first handful of moths this year last night (22nd) five moths of five different species (left to right): March Moth, Common Quaker, Early Grey, Hebrew Character and Red Chestnut (cheers Steve Gale for upgrade ) . Daffodils and Snow drops are out and the Cherry Plums are flowering (for last couple of weeks) so I guess that's Spring officially started now. 

Monday 21 February 2022

Azores Endemics Sounds

Here's a few recordings from last week of some of the local Azores birds/endemics (from top to bottom, Western Azores Goldcrest and Azores Chaffinch followed by European Robin and then Island/Atlantic Canary). 

The Goldcrest and Chaffinch are distinct taxonomic units and from these recordings below the songs sound quite different to their European counterparts too. The Goldcrest is more Firecrest like and the Chaffinch seems more bubbly with distinct churring calls. 

The European Robin sounds the same to 'our birds' to my ear. The resident population of this species on the Azores is considered to be nominate (same as European birds) so that would make sense too.

Finally on this post a short burst of the Macaronesian endemic, Atlantic or Island Canary, the ancestor of all those cage birds and sounding like them still too. 

Following recent research Azores Chaffinch has already been split by the Dutch and looks like other taxonomic authorities might follow soon. May be the Goldcrests next? 

More on the Azores Endemic birds on the website AZORES WILDLIFE. In the back ground of these recordings there are other species calling too including Azores Grey Wagtail, Azores Gull, Azores Blackcap, Azores Blackbird, Azores Starling and House Sparrows and Collared Doves. 

Azores Chaffinch - already split by the Dutch, other authorities might follow soon following this research HERE

Sunday 20 February 2022

Semipalmated versus Ringed Plover

Here's a few images of 'Ringed Plovers' from Terceira, the Azores,  last week. There is a well known small (resident and migrant) population of Semipalmated Plover at Cabo da Praia quarry on Terceira, a site that also regularly hosts Ringed Plover, so it's a great place to practise separation/identification between the two species. We've had a least one case (on Corvo in 2016 see appendix) where a bird that had a loral stripe pattern like a Ringed Plover and was identified as such but later responded well to 'tape' and called repeatedly like a Semipalmated Plover and we also occasionally come across other less obvious birds too.

As a re-cap the features for Semipalmated Plover are 1) Loral stripe reaches above gape line 2) Yellowish eye-ring 3) Short and stumpy bill with an orange/red base 4) Semipalmations between front toes, conspicuous between middle and outer (Ringed can have semipalmations between inner and middle toe) 5) Small round head 6) Thin but unbroken breast band 7) Two-toned legs in first winter/juvenile 8) Unmarked and white underwing in flight and last but first in importance 9) 'Spotted Redshank-like' call.   

Here's a sample of birds from last week of both species (if identified correctly- calls not heard on all birds and really need call to nail it home as we have seen puzzling birds in past where calls and field characteristics were not matches). A few less obvious birds below too . I had at least 4 of each Semipalmated and Ringed Plovers. 

Semipalmated Plover 
Loral line above gape line, semipalmations showing between middle and inner toe and thin unbroken breast band. Not much of an eye-ring visible in this image and legs not really two toned either. In this image not looking too round headed or stumpy-billed too. A good starting case of how many birds do not show the full suite of features. I'm working on if a bird has at least two or three features it's going in one box or the other but to be more towards certain need to confirm with call too. 
Loral line above gapeline and hint of a yellow eye-ring. Stumpy billed and round headed. Quite a pale bird.
A nice short stumpy bill, round head, loral line above gape line, quite a prominent eye ring and also looks like that's a muddy semipalmation between the middle and outer toe. Looks like breast band is complete but need a better angle really. Same bird below. 

Another relatively pale bird, loral line over gapeline and semipalmations shown between middle and inner toe. Not seeing this two toned legs on these birds. Again not particularly round headed in this image but bill is short and stumpy. Breast band thin and complete. 

A bird in strong light probably accentuating the apparent relative darkness of the upperparts. Loral line where it should be, hint of eye ring and thin complete breast band.  
A real classic- short stumpy bill, bright eye ring, rounded head, loral stripe above gape line, thin apparently unbroken breast band 

Ringed Plover
A wide breast band, relatively thick loral stripe which seems to just about meet gape line. Zoom in to see but looks like no palmations even between middle and inner toe (which Ringed Plover can have sometimes) 
A pale bird, a paleness which presumably contributes to the washed out loral stripe (which does seem to meet gape line). Same bird below. Quite stumpy billed but 'angular' head, relatively broad breast band at sides. Called several times as expected from Ringed Plover too.

Thick loral line which meets gape line. We have however had Semipalmated Plovers (or birds that called identical to Semipalmated Plovers with this loral line pattern in past though). The call is the really hammer home. Quite stumpy billed and a thin breast band. I think the image below is same bird. 

Another image of a bird I'd like to hear call but with a loral line that meets the gapeline its going in the Ringed Plover box. No eye ring either but the breast band is narrow and structurally it quite stumpy billed and round headed. With resident Semipalmated Plovers in the quarry which could be breeding or even mix-pairing (no evidence I believe of anything along those lines) we perhaps don't need to summon the hybrid possibility but worth noting the haunting thought. 
I'd say it's hammer time for something like this. Thick loral line that meets the gape line, quite a wide breast band, long necked and no hint of an eye ring. Quite a dark bird too. I generally assume the Ringed Plovers on the Azores are Tundra Ringed Plovers (Tundrae) as many look pretty dark (like this bird) on the upperparts. Also according to Duivendijk (2010) Tundra Ringed Plover moult into a more distinct winter plumage compared to Taiga Ringed Plover, hiaticula , which also seems to be the case here. Of note in Spring more fresh looking dark Ringed Plovers are more likely Tundra birds as they moult into a fresh spring plumage unlike Taiga birds. 
Above and the others below- for all the reasons I keep repeating above I'm sticking these in the Ringed Plover box 

Semipalmated or Ringed ?
Zoom on the face of this- not sure where that loral line and gape line meet and there seems to be an eye ring. The breast band is wide. Not sure what box to stick this one in. Again as always really need to hear the call on all of these birds. Same thing going on around the face of the bird below. 

The loral line seems to meet the gape line but cant see eye ring or palmations between middle and outer toe and the breast band is quite wide at side too 
This could be one the same birds above. Several 'Ringed Plovers' kept flying around the quarry so I was presumably coming across the same birds as I went round. 
Hint of an eye ring and not sure what's going on with those lores. Wide sided breast band too. Bung it in the TDB  (too difficult box). 

Advanced Bird ID Guide, The Western Palearctic. Nils Van Duivendijk, 2010. 

Semipalamated Plover on Corvo 2006 (Vincent Legrand). Called repeatedly like a Semipalmated Plover but lores not great (seem to meet just above gape line with a bit of imagination) and semipalmations not much to sing and dance about either. Eye ring present. Legs are two-toned. Most of us thought this was a Ringed Plover until it called. 

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Ring-billed Gulls at Praia da Vitoria, Terceira, the Azores

The story of the Ring-billed Gulls on the Azores and across the Western Palearctic is told in Josh Jones' article, 'The Rise and Fall of Ring-billed Gull HERE. An extract from that article reads:

"Given its geographical position, it is no great surprise that the Azores has traditionally produced the highest counts of Ring-billed Gull within the Western Palearctic. While a small number of new vagrants appears across the archipelago each year, Terceira Island is unique in that it has traditionally attracted a sizeable wintering flock. Data prior to the turn of the century is scant, although maximum counts since then include 56 in February 2001, 33 in 2003, 25 in 2004, 46 in 2005 and 26 in 2007.

What is telling is the gradual but nonetheless noticeable drop from 2005 onward. While the flock still regularly peaked in the low twenties in the late 2000s and early 2010s (for example, 23 on 22 February 2011), such figures have grown increasingly scarce as the 2010s have progressed. Twenty-two were tallied on 16 February 2014, but nothing has come close since. Winter 2017-18 produced a maximum of 12 birds, including just two first-winters (the rest adults), with early 2019 counts peaking at 14. Therefore, though a sizeable wintering population still remains, the story is a familiar one to that encountered across mainland Europe – a diminishing number of individuals and an ageing population among those returning birds"

This year I could only find 10 birds at the usual pre-roost site on the beach at Praia da Vitoria although there were reports of up to 13 birds earlier in the winter, so it seems like this unique small wintering population is hanging in there. The population this year comprised 6 adults and 4 first-winters indicating renewal of the population.  It would be fascinating to know where these birds spend the rest of the year. 

Adult Ring-billed Gulls (above) 
First-winter Ring-billed Gull, bird #1 (above and with a first-winter Common Gull below). A distinctive bird with rather plain greater coverts. 

First-winter Ring-billed Gull, bird #2 (a more typical plumage with mottled coverts with some greater coverts also moulted. Common Gulls on similar age tend to not moult their greater coverts) 
First-winter Ring-billed Gull, bird #3.  This individual had a relatively dark bill. 
First-winter Ring-billed Gull, bird # 4 
First cycle Ring-billed Gull (#3) showing the distinctive mid-underwing pale panel
First-winter Ring-billed Gull (#1) in flight
Adult Common Gull. There were four Common Gulls on the beach and also up to 12 Mediterranean Gull and a hybrid Mediterranean x Black-headed Gull (pictured again below) in the local area this year. Both Mediterranean Gull and Common Gull have been increasing on the Azores over the last couple of decades as Ring-billed Gulls have decreased which may indicate a change in the source populations. More photos of the other Common Gulls on the Beach HERE all of which were confirmed as nominate canus with reference to Peter Adriaens et al, Gulls of Europe.  

Ring-billed Gulls and first-winter Mediterranean Gull on Praia da Vitoria Beach