Saturday 25 July 2015

Weekend near Wolin, Poland

I spent last weekend with my aunt and friends on the island of Wolin, Poland:

Having never been eBirded nor being a destination for birders I wasn't really sure what to expect in terms of birding. Turns out that the island is very well preserved with large well-preserved forests, a large lake (where I saw hundreds of Little Gulls!), and large estuaries. Unfortunately I had less than 48 hours to bird the area...

The highlight for me was meeting Grzegorz Kiljan - a local ornithologist who does a lot of bird banding. We set up 4 nets in a marsh near where I was staying helping me get great looks at secretive species that are difficult to identify!

The Great Reed-Warbler looks more or less the same as the Eurasian Reed-Warbler, except that it's a lot larger! Both were lifers for me.
Here's the greater of the two:

Sedge Warbler - another lifer. We only caught juveniles which can be aged by faint spots on their breasts.

Another highlight for me was my first ever female Garganey. The vast majority of Garganey records in North America are males. Probably partly due to the males being quite distinctive, but also maybe because males tend to wander a bit more. Surely some females are being over-looked. The dark facial stripes, darkish body, and white spot at the base of the bill help pick them out.

Lots of Red-backed Shrikes were in the area - including a family on the property where we stayed.

This White Wagtail was eating damselflies:

Adult Red-backed Shrike:

Another juvenile RB Shrike:

Bearded Reedling - I wish we caught the male! If you think this bird is cute you're missing out!

We also came across a family of Barred Warblers. Here's one of the juveniles:

One more week remaining at the hospital (which has been an amazing time itself) before I have a week of birding in one of Northern Europes top shorebird destinations. Stay tuned ;)

Thursday 23 July 2015

Golden-Plover Identification

Newfoundlands 4th record of Pacific Golden-Plover was found earlier this month by a visiting tour group from USA. The identity wasn't immediately clear due to distant photos, but eventually photos came about that clearly showed the necessary features to confirm the ID adding to a growing pattern of July records of Pacific Golden-Plovers on the island. All four records are within the previous 10 years (although there is hearsay of a previous sighting that was seen in July, 1985). So this may not be a new pattern of behaviour/vagrancy, just simply a pattern that previously went unrecognized.

Interestingly, there are only two other July records of PAGP's in Eastern North America on eBird + 1 from Bermuda. But, there are SEVERAL summer records of PAGP from Great Britain but relatively very few American GP records....

Check out Bruce's page for some further discussion on their occurrence in Newfoundland.


Here are the 3 photos that helped verify the 4th sighting on the 16th of July, 2015.

Thank you to Mark Amershek for sharing these photos and allowing me to post them here. And thank you to David Trently for sharing the sighting - unfortunately I was away from Internet access when he sent the message so I couldn't forward it to the Newfoundland birders in a timely manner :S


The above bird can be identified as an adult male due to the solid black face.

To compare, adult American GPs do not have white that extends along the flanks all the way to the tail, and it has a solidly dark undertail. This makes it fairly easy to separate American Golden-Plovers from the two other GP species in their adult plumages.

This adult American GP (probably a female) was photographed in October so is transitioning between adult and winter plumage. Still, it is still easy to tell that it is an American GP, despite the white patches along the flanks and belly, because the white is not continuous from head to tail as in both other Golden-Plover species.

An adult Golden-Plover with white that extends from the head to the tail could be a European or Pacific GP. So we have to look at further details to separate those two species.

In general, European GPs are more bulky compared to the slimmer and more elegant Pacific GP. To add to the elegant body shape, Pacific GPs have slightly longer tibias.
Note the short tibia of the adult European GP above.

Compared to the long tibia of a Pacific GP.

Note in the above two photos that the white extends from the head through the flanks all the way to the tail. But in the Pacific GP, there are small dark patches in the flanks.

Another useful field mark to separate these two species is the undertail colouration. European GPs generally have more white than their Pacific counterparts.

European GP undertail:

Note the more solidly black undertail of the Pacific GP:

In flight, European GPs have white axillaries (i.e. armpits) - this area is grey in Pacific GPs.

Three European GPs in flight showing their white armpits.

In summary, adult Pacific & European Golden-Plovers in alternate (aka summer/breeding) plumage can be separated by close study of the flanks, undertails, axillaries, tibia length, and general body shape. Of course, out of range Golden-Plovers would need more than one, preferably all, of these features to be documented.


If you think identifying adults was difficult, try juveniles!
I won't write much here, but will show a key feature of American Golden-Plovers that North American birders should be familiar with. If you are familiar with the primary extension of the more regular American Golden-Plovers, you will be more likely to find an interesting juvenile (or winter-plumaged) Golden-Plover that deserves closer scrutiny.

Note the long primary project beyond the tertials. This feature is often confusing because it is not referring to the actual length of the primaries, but the RELATIVE length of the primaries in comparison to the tertials. In fact, the primaries of American GPs are intermediate in length between those of European & Pacific GPs, but they appear longer because they are less concealed by the overlying tertials.

On a standing bird, the primaries extend beyond the tertials of all Golden-Plover species. However, American Golden-Plovers have relatively shore tertials allowing more of the underlying primaries to be visible.

In the above and below photos you should be able to count 4 individual primary feathers that extend beyond the tertials.

European Golden-Plover below:

I think this is a good teaching opportunity, because in the above photo of a European Golden-Plover 5 primaries are visible! BUT, only 3 extend beyond the longest tertial. Those that extend beyond the longest tertial contribute to the primary extension.

To reiterate, 4 primaries extend beyond the tertials in American GPs, and 3 in European GPs. Of course, there are exceptions (especially if a bird is missing a tertial or more!) so look beyond this feature to make a final identification!

And one more European GP photo just for the fun of it:

Tuesday 14 July 2015

More photos from Germany

As promised, here are some more photos from my first 2 weeks in Germany.

Red-backed Shrikes are scarce breeders throughout the country so I was excited when I ran into a birder who told me about one he had just seen. I went straight to the spot and was thrilled to see not one but eventually 6 Red-backed Shrikes!!

There were 2 adults and 4 fresh juveniles still growing in their first set of flight feathers:

The adults were actively hunting a grassy field to bring back food for their youngsters. The juveniles were also testing out some berries from the trees, not sure if they ate them though.

Here you can see 3 of the 4 young ones: 

Common Buzzards are quite similar to Rough-legged Hawks - they also hover regularly.

A key feature to separate Common Buzzard from Rough-legged Buzzard/Hawk is the tail pattern. The Common Buzzard has a pale band across the lower breast that separates the dark upper breast from the belly. Also, the Rough-legged Hawk has a white inner tail above and below. The Common Buzzard has more grey in this area.

Red-backed Shrikes are called "Neuntöters" in German - directly translated, this means "killer of nine"...

Sky Larks are, surprisingly, increasing in population in the region. I'm not sure if or what the explanation for that pattern may be.

Eurasian Oystercatcher:

Yellow-legged Gull - one of 4 I have seen so far.
This is a different sub-species from the one we see in Newfoundland. It is noticeably paler than the YL Gulls I am familiar with back home:

And a beluga:

Monday 13 July 2015

Yellow-legged Gull & Little Ringed Plover!!!

.... AND Eurasian Blackbird & Eurasian Oystercatcher!

It's been a good couple weeks, in Germany ;)

I'm here for a total of 6 weeks. Four for a medical elective, the other 2 for travelling time, visiting relatives, and of course, birding!

One of the highlights has been the opportunity to start learning some of the songs of European species. My previous trips to the continent have been outside of the breeding season.

A common singer is the European Greenfinch:

This headless raptor is a Common Buzzard - easily the most common raptor in my area of Germany (Düsseldorf):

Common Wood-Pigeons are extremely common - and quite distinctive in flight. Good to know in case one ends up somewhere it shouldn't ;)

One species I really wanted to get good looks at is the White Wagtail. They are uncommon here, but widespread so I often see a handful during a morning of birding. This one was not aware of my presence when it landed nearby: 
They really are quite distinctive in flight with their long tails, stream-lined body, bounding flight, and prototypical flight calls - really worth learning the flight calls if you don't already know it!

When that wagtail landed close-by, I was crouched down low sitting still hoping these guys would make their way closer to me:
Little Ringed Plovers - these shorebirds are very shy, more so than the other similar plover species I have observed in Canada.

But one was more than just shy, it was so scared it couldn't walk anymore and decided to crouch down low in hopes that I wouldn't see it: 

This European Goldfinch got in the way while I was trying to photograph one of the plovers:

Fieldfares are declining big time in Germany. In Düsseldorf they've dropped 90% in the past 15 years!! And there is only an estimated 4-7 pairs breeding in the area. So I was surprised to come across this Fieldfare, let alone the rest of its family (which I unfortunately didn't get photos of):
Not a good stat, especially considering I haven't seen one on the other side of the pond!

Ruddy Shelducks are common in the right habitat:

More photos tomorrow!

This weekend I'm headed to Poland - judging by Google maps it looks like a good spot for birding so stay tuned ;)