Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Now is the spring of our discontent. Scarce birds are feeling very much a thing of the past at the moment. Even the passage of common migrants has slowed to a trickle. A Firecrest, a Marsh Harrier and a pair of Tufted Ducks have all made brief appearances, spicing things up somewhat, although only really in a Bardsey context. One bird however, again only seen for one evening, was really quite something. Despite giving good views, the identification will probably never be resolved.

Very much like a Willow Warbler on first inspection, the very dark legs quickly suggest that all is not quite right. Then a closer inspection of the wing formula reveals six emarginated primaries. So it's a Chiffchaff that looks like a Willow Warbler. The bird was silent throughout which is unfortunate if anyone was leaning towards the possibility of Iberian Chiffchaff. And what about the possibility of a Willow Warbler x Chiffchaff hybrid? Such beasts have occasionally been documented but S.C. Norman's 1994 look at a probable hybrid showed a wing formula with only five emarginated primaries. Answers on a postcard please (or just leave a comment). (c) Richard Brown

The Manx Shearwaters are having a bit of a hard time of it at the moment. The dark skies around the new moon period saw hundreds of birds attracted to the Lighthouse and a few were fatally injured. To add to their woes, a pair of crafty crows have summoned the courage to enter the nest burrows to retrieve the Shearwater eggs. At least 17 have so far been extracted. (c) Richard Brown

Perhaps taking a leaf out of the Manxy book, the Ringed Plovers have decided to nest in a little cave this year. This has been documented elsewhere and is usually linked to enterprising birds experiencing increased productivity if they nest where stock can't trample their eggs. However this particular pair have never lost eggs to sheep. It seems more likely to us that the appalling spring weather drove our Solfach pair to nest somewhere sheltered. (c) Richard Brown

These savage little owls have been recorded eating prey up to the size of Moorhen and Lapwing. However they are probably not responsible for the massive decline in Moorhen numbers evident this year. This pair generally takes invertebrates with an occasional Slowworm or Wheatear thrown in. At this time of year the male will be doing the hunting as he leaves the incubation duties to his female and takes food into the nest burrow for her. (c) Richard Brown


  1. Couldn't the mystery warbler from your 22 May post be some race of EASTERN Willow Warbler? It is virtually identical to a bird we had here at Gambell Alaska a few days ago--including face pattern and primary projection--and which has been ID'd as that by several folks (and I agree), although several others were leaning Siberian Chiffchaff. These eastern Willows (e.g., yakutensis) are much duller than western Willows and have mostly darkish legs.

    --Paul Lehman, San Diego, Calif. (currently at Gambell)

  2. The emargination on the 6th primary of both wings probably means that this bird is some form of Chiffchaff or possible hybrid. Or it's just not quite right.

  3. Rich can you provide any more info on the bird?

    apparent primary-projection in the field
    colour tones in field (just to be sure as photos can misrepresent)
    are you sure of P6 emargination - not doubting you, just that my eyes don't work so well close-up with contacts in!

    looks an interesting bird.

    Hope you both have a good summer on the island. Nice lifestyle!