Saturday, 28 October 2017

Mediterranean flycatcher - a very modern way of birding

Spotted Flycatcher - Corfu

I didn't expect to increase my Western Palearctic list by one today, but despite having never heard of  Mediterranean flycatcher before this morning, not only did I add it to my WP list, I even managed to tick both races!

"From 1 January 2018 the British Ornithologist's Union (BOU) will adopt the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) World Bird List for all its taxonomic needs, including the British List". There are gains and losses. Some species are lumped into one species, others such as tundra and taiga bean goose become two. Overall my list remains much the same. Click here for the full BOU statement.

However, it turns out that completely unbeknown to me, the IOC have split spotted flycatcher into two species in Europe. Spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striata, the bird we know and love in the UK, occurs over the majority of the Western Palearctic (including the vast majority of the Mediterranean).  The new species, confusingly called Mediterannean flycatcher Muscicapa tyrrhenica, occurs as two races with very limited range in the Mediterranean, M.t. balerica on the Balearic islands and M.t. tyrrhenica on Sardinia and Corsica.  This came to light (for me!) today following the discovery a few days ago of a possible Mediterranean flycatcher in North Yorkshire. I can't comment on the identification of that particular bird having not seen it, but you can read more about the ID features of the species on Birding Frontiers here.

I knew that I had seen "spotted" flycatchers in the Mediterranean previously, but they hadn't particularly stuck in my mind, and I struggled to remember exactly where I had seen them. Fortuntately having kept a meticulously detailed database of my bird sightings for many years I was able to query my records almost instantaneously and discover that not only have I seen quite a few on Mallorca of the race M.t. balerica, I've also seen several of the other race M.t. tyrrhenica in Sardinia. Result! One armchair tick and even a possible second pending a futher split of the two races!

Interestingly, the Yorkshire bird is sometimes being referred to as Tyrrenian flycacther, which presumably means that it most closely fits the Sardinian race rather than the Balearic. These two groups of islands also share other species which are rare or unknown elsewhere in Europe, including Balearic and Mamora's warbler. Like Mediterranean flycatcher, I've also seen both Balearic warbler in Mallorca and Marmora's in Sardinia, and in 2010 I saw a Marmora's warbler in South Wales. What a coincidence it would be if in the case of both the warbler and the flycatcher it was the Sardinian race which reached our shores. I believe that DNA has been collected and is on its way to the lab. The joys of modern birding!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017


It's not often I get such good views of twite, and with sun in the perfect position I was able to get some half decent phonescope photos. I love their bright yellow bills.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Yellow-legged gull, Pennington Flash

Mid October saw the return of last winters long staying yellow-legged gull to Pennington Flash. It's now a smart 3rd winter bird and hopefully it will remain with us for the rest of the winter so that we can watch it attain full adult plumage. Thanks to John Tymon for letting me know about the bird.

Here it is in 2nd winter plumage from last winter. I wonder where it spent the summer?

It's quite an interesting bird, with a mirror on p10 reminiscent of Caspian gull and a mainly dark quite retarded bill.

It spent a lot of time catching mussels, either diving in as in this instance or stealing from coots.

Monday, 9 October 2017

A late common tern at Pennington Flash

Finally this morning I caught up with a common tern which has been present for a few days at Pennington Flash. It's particularly of interest to me because it's my latest ever common tern, anywhere, in fact it's the first I have ever seen in October, so it was an opportunity to get a good look at it's plumage at this time of year. What makes the date even more remarkable to me is that this is an adult not a juvenile. I would have expected adults to be long gone by now, and any stragglers to be juveniles.

It was very approachable, and I wondered if it was unwell, but an angler told me that earlier it had been feeding on casters which he had been throwing into the water, and later I saw it fishing in the western bay so perhaps it's just a tame bird (extreme northern breeder??). It's also more or less still in breeding plumage, with a full black cap and quite a lot of red in the bill (I love the yellow tip!). Just a hint of a carpel bar perhaps and the dark patch behind the eye is there, despite the fact that the forehead is still black.

It seems quite short legged and pale to me, but a I'm not trying to claim anything other than common tern! Most common terns are long gone from north-west England by the end of September, and what few remain into October are almost exclusively coastal.

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