Another dilemma bird

News of a “Western Purple Swamphen” (Purple Gallinule to us old people) at Minsmere in Suffolk meant another visit to see a bird that may or may not get accepted as wild.

The bird was easy enough to see as it appeared and disappeared among reeds on a small pool, stopping to break off reedmace stems and chomp out the soft middles. But the gawky big blue and red bird did look really out of place on a Suffolk marsh!!

All previous records have related to birds from different populations of this super-species, and some have been proven escapes. So there was bound to be scepticism, but also bound to be plenty of people going for this one – the first Iberian bird to turn up – for insurance purposes.

The credentials of this are as good as any, and maybe even better than either of our Chinese Pond Herons. They are definitely spreading as a breeding bird, and there was a northern eruption of several birds into France contemporaneously with the arrival of the Minsmere bird.

A much more scientific and complete summary can be found on Birdguides, here:

There are much better photo’s than mine out there, but it is always nice to get your own.

A link also to a quick and shaky video clip where you can see the feeding action.


Worcestershire Wasps

I run a Twitter feed call Orchid Records UK, @ukorchids if you wish to take a look. On it I post news of sightings, and share pictures posted by followers.

On Friday 9th June a picture of a Wasp Orchid, the pointed-lipped variant of Bee Orchid, popped up. What drew my attention was that it was from an orchard in Worcestershire, my home county. I’ve only ever seen this variety at three sites before, and this was the third ever county record. Previous records were at Stoke Works in 1987 and Cleeve Hill in 1997. There are quite a few Orchids in the Wyre Forest, very close to home, so I was hoping they would be there.

I contacted the finder, Gerry Davies, and he kindly informed me where the site was – in the Vale of Evesham – and also that he had found it on a plant survey of the site, on behalf of the owner. Bad news was it is a commercial orchard with no public access. Good news, though, he offered to meet me there and show me the two plants he had found.

Twitch on! I met him at a nearby car park, and he had brought his step ladder to enable us to get over the fence. A short walk later and there were the two gorgeous, tall and colourful plants in the flesh. Excellent!

A further search of the area eventually revealed another seven Wasps, along with six “normal” Bees. Also growing in the unmown meadow between cider apple trees were five Greater Butterfly Orchids, about 30 Common Spotteds and a single Pyramidal Orchid just coming into flower.

In an adjacent part of the Orchard, currently being grazed by sheep as part of a management experiment, all the remaining Orchids had been caged, but because they were taller than the cages, had mostly been chomped off at the top. Here were a single Common Twayblade, three more Greater Butterfly, and a few more Common Spotted.

I hadn’t, in the two hours of my visit, covered the whole orchard, so expect there to be more of all of the species present. I am attempting to gain access from the site owners to do a full survey, so watch this space for updates.


Dalmatian Pelican in Cornwall

A whole host of southeastern rares turned up in the UK in May, such as Calandra Lark on Fair Isle, Britain’s second ever Green Warbler on Shetland also, a Great spotted Cuckoo in Dorset, amazingly, a Lammergeier – perhaps from the Alps, but nobody could be definite, and a Dalmatian Pelican.

All of these birds could feasibly have come from somewhere like eastern Turkey, for example. Europe’s first Sulphur-bellied warbler, in Denmark, was found soon afterwards – nearest breeding in Khazakstan.

I was in Seychelles when all this turned up, and only the Pelican remained and was easy to see when I returned. On the bank holiday weekend Trudy and I had already planned to go to the south west to try and re-find the East Cornish Small-flowered Tongue Orchid (last seen in 2008) and to spend time with her family, who were in Exmouth for a few days. Ideal!

On Saturday 28th we spent an hour in the company of Jon Dunn looking at the now overgrown field at Penlee, and failed to find the Orchid. It was a long shot, though.

On Sunday 29th, having dropped Trudes at Exmouth, I headed back west and went to Drift reservoir, where the Pelican had decided to spend the whole day.

Parking in the main car park on the west side, and walking over the dam and up the east side, the bird was easy to spot once halfway along. It sat preening on a submerged tree stump for the entire time I was there. The nearest accessible point was in the trees at the north east corner, about 150m from the bird.

At one point, the bird spread its wings, revealing two or three differently aged primaries. This could mean that the bird is not an adult, as was generally being reported. What is certain is that this bird was first seen in Poland in April. It then tracked through Germany and France before reaching the UK. Records below:

First sighted in
Przygodzice, Poland (06.04.-11.04.2016)
Was then resighted in
Pfaueninsel Berlin, Germany, (probably the same as others, 14.04.2016)
Brandenburg/Streng (16.04.2016)
Volkmannsdorf and other places (22.-23.04.2016)
Worms (01.05.2016)
Alsace, France (03.05.2016)
Cornwall, Great Britain (7.5.2016- still present 4.6.2016)

Whether the bird is wild is of course unknown, whether it will be countable is perhaps more of a certainty – unlikely! Whatever the decision, it is a spectacular – if ugly – bird. Just look at its size compared to a Grey Heron!


Bats in the garden!

My house is on the end of a recently-built estate at the northern end of Kidderminster, with a small meadow out front, a tributary of the Stour of to the left with “Stourvale Marshes” nature reserve beyond, and the Worcestershire canal to the right. Behind that is a small pool known as “Stack Pools”. So although I don’t have much of a garden, I do see lots of birds and wildlife from the kitchen window. The downside is the sound of Canada Geese honking loudly as they move from the pool to the canal early in the morning. Is it legal to shoot them?

On the evening of 20th April 2016, which was a beautifully clear and sunny, if cool, evening, I noticed a number of large bats flying about around the front of the house before it got dark. It was at least half an hour before nightfall. In total there were five or possibly more. I ran for the camera and managed to get a small number of record shots. Having posted a couple on Twitter, it would seem that these are either Serotine or Noctules. I don’t have a bat detector, and have not seen them since. Hopefully, then, they are identifiable from the photo’s?

Any feedback welcome.


Second Hoopoe of the year in the Midlands

The Hoopoe at Wall Heath disappeared in March, so was a recent memory when another was discovered at Romsley, near Halesowen, on 16th April. It was quite tame and feeding in a horse paddock. The equestrian ladies thought it looked exotic and odd, so asked a neighbour what he thought it might be. Luckily, he was a birder, so on Friday 22nd April news got out. I called to see it on the way home from work, but of course had no camera, so a revisit was required on the Saturday, this time with Trudy, who had seen quite a few before in Europe, but not in Britain.

The bird fed constantly in a single paddock, regularly picking up leatherjackets and other flightless and hapless insect prey. It wasn’t bothered about the small number of gathered birders, but did move aside for the horses and Crows when they decided to give it their attention.

Some photo’s below, and link to the youtube videos taken the same day. Unfortunately the sound is spoiled by strong wind and camera bursts from nearby photographers, all anxious for that moneyshot when the bird tosses prey into the air to catch in its gob.

Enjoy! It is a fantastic bird!


Birds galore on the Clent Hills

Ring Ouzels are annual on the hills around Clent, so when the bird news services were reporting up to six, I felt it was well worth a visit.

On Sunday evening, 17th April, the birds had been flushed and had gone to ground in the trees at the bottom of the valley. A singing Tree Pipit and a lovely male Redstart were more than enough compensation, being my first for the year.

I returned on Tuesday evening on the way home from work and scored with six magnificent Ring Ouzels, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera because I hadn’t expected to see them when I left home at 7 that morning!

So, Wednesday 20th April I was armed with camera in case they were still there, and luckily three were still present. Arriving at 6.45, they had disappeared again, but at least there was a cracking Mistle Thrush to keep me entertained as it plucked a juicy worm from the turf.

Fortunately, another birder spotted a single female Ring Ouzel on the opposite side of the valley, so I was able to get some distant photo’s and a bit of poor quality video. The bird accompanied a female Wheatear, different to the male that was present the previous evening.


Finally, being left alone to the bird, and hoping for closer photo’s, I spotted the Black Redstart that had turned up earlier that day, so tried a few shots of that feeding on the ground.

It caused me some consternation afterwards, as the bright sunlight make the bird look very different at various angles, and demonstrates that photographs can be deceptive. On some of my pics this bird actually looks like a Wheatear because the wings and tail look black and the mantle pale grey. On others it looks like an immature male Common Redstart with a patchy black mask and reddish tail base. But it is unmistakably a Black Redstart, possibly a first summer male.

Below is a composite image to show the different impressions based on angle and light.


So, over three visits, the tally was:

6+ Ring Ouzel

Black Redstart

Common Redstart

Wheatear 2

Tree Pipit

Add the Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Bullfinch, Buzzards, Swallow and Linnets.

What a great spot! And only 10 miles from home.

And not only that, but I had unknowingly driven past a Hoopoe on two of my visits!!!

To get to the right spot involves a steep walk uphill from the big car park on Walton Hill Road. This is at 52.420448 – 2.085487 on Google Maps, or B62 0NQ for a SatNav.


At Walton Hill Farm itself, take the track above it to view the field and valley to the west.

whf2 copy

Both the car park and footpath have fantastic views as well as great birds. Enjoy!

Later that evening, which was warm, clear and sunny, some interesting bats showed from the house. More of that later…..





Iberian Chiffchaff in Telford

Iberian Chiffchaff is subtle to say the least. It was described as a species less than 20 years ago. This was based mainly on studies of its DNA. In birds, however, the song is an important separating factor. Females recognise the song of males of the same species as themselves, and therefore are not attracted to birds that sing with a different voice. This is why Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, although they look very similar, do not normally hybridise. The same applies to other species of bird that to our eyes look almost exactly the same.

In Iberian Chiffchaff, these lines are somewhat blurred, because although it has, as a species, a song that is distinctly Chiffchaff but with its own unique characteristics, there is a problem: birds that find themselves in the wrong place can start to sing like their local cousins, presumably giving in to their sexual desires and copying the locals to get a partner.

This happened with the previous Iberian Chiffchaff that I had seen, at Portland in Dorset, in April 1999, which began its long stay singing like a proper Iberian, but then converted to “normal” British Chiffchaff when I saw it again a couple of months later. Let’s hope he got lucky, the little sod!

To my knowledge, Chiffchaffs are the only birds that do this, so for me it does blur the lines of species differences, and draw into the question the science behind the separation of the two into different biological entities.

So when an Iberian was discovered in Telford in early April, and confirmed on Sunday 10th, I decided to go and study this bird. It was local, and I hadn’t realised it had been 17 years since my last.

With social media and the bird information services, it was easy to prepare for this bird in terms of its identification, song, appearance and location. So after work on Monday 11th I spent two hours in the horrendous rain enjoying hearing him sing prolifically, and seeing him really well, but totally unable to get a photograph. On a bird like this it is actually better to get photo’s and study them later rather than try and get features like primary emargination from actual field observation. So I returned on Tuesday evening and got some half decent shots.

There is an excellent thread on birdforum which covers this bird, but you have to be registered to see it. Well worth the time looking though.

This initially covers a bird in Lancashire just before the Shropshire bird.

Below are some photographs that may prove instructive for future researchers.

This bird constantly gave a classic Iberian song, the “chiff chiff chiff” followed by other phrases, some sounding like the end of a Tree Pipit song, others like a Nuthatch. It was in a wood where both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were present, but neither species associated with this bird.

Plumage features that point to this bird being Iberian are the length of the supercilium, the fact that it has yellowish tones infused in various places across its plumage rather than in solid patches, the dark legs that mean it is not a Willow Warbler, and the general intermediate impression between Chiffchaff and WW. In fact when I posted unlabelled photo’s on a Facebook i.d. group, opinion was divided.

I also include a photo of a Willow Warbler which showed nearby, for comparison.