WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 40 LARKS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Larks

There are three regular lark species in the UK: Sky Lark, Wood Lark and Shore Lark. Sky Lark is a very common bird (1.5 million pairs) of open countryside of all types, Wood Lark is a relatively scarce and localised breeder (3K breeding pairs) and the Shore Lark is a scarce wintering bird.

Sky Lark

Sky Lark

Sky Lark

Sky Lark in hovering song flight

Sky Lark in hovering song flight

Big and chunky, the Sky lark is the ‘next size up’ from Meadow Pipit, being closer to the size of a Starling. These are the larks you here pouring out their endless twittering, warbling rapid-fire song from a high-altitude song-flight hover. They are robust, heavy birds with a slight crest and almost triangular wings with white trailing edges and white outer tail feathers. The call is a delightful bubbly chirrup, which some find more pleasing to the ear than the endless song.

Wood Lark

Wood Lark

Wood Lark

Singing Wood Lark

Singing Wood Lark

A breeding bird at isolated suitable heathy habitats with scattered trees in the southern half the country, particularly in places like the New Forest or the East Anglian heaths. Similar to the Sky Lark in appearance, apart from with a notably shorter tail, more prominent, extended supercilia (pale ‘eyebrows’), which ‘meet’ on the nape. Lakes pale trailing edge to more rounded wings and white outertail feathers, having instead white tips to the tail. Habitually sings from trees, overhead wires etc or in song-flight from a high perch. Song is aa delicious series of descending, fluty ‘lu lu lu lu’ phrases. Call is a soft ‘whistling yodel’.

Shore Lark

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A scarce winter visitor mainly to the east coast of England (with fewer than 100 birds in a typical winter), the Shore Lark is quite a different looking bird than the other larks. It is a quiet bird which shuffles along on coastal shingle or short vegetation picking for seeds. Most distinctive is its beautifully patterned black-and-yellow face. Sometimes you can see the little black crest spikes which give it its alternative name the Horned Lark.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 39 PIPITS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Pipits

There are four species of pipit which are regular visitors to the UK (plus a bunch of scarce and rare species, mainly from the east): Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Rock Pipit and Water Pipit. Meadow and Rock Pipits are predominantly resident birds, found all year round. Tree Pipit is a summer visitor and Water Pipit is a winter visitor in small numbers.

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

One of the classic Little Brown Jobs (LBJs) the Meadow Pipit is the ubiquitous, squeaky little pipit of open country ( found throughout the UK and Ireland. This is the bird against which you should judge all other pipits; so get to know it well. Meadow Pipits are small, ‘weak looking’ pipits with short wings and a weak flight and rather feeble ‘see see see’ call. The back is boldly streaked, the breast and belly have black streaks of roughly even size and there is usually a reasonably well-defined pale eyering. The legs are pale pinkish and if you get a decent look, the hind claw is long and curved. Be aware that Meadow Pipits are variable in appearance!

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Quite similar at first glance to the Meadow Pipit, the Tree Pipit is a more robust bird, with longer wings and a stubbier bill. The face has a distinctive pattern, usually with a dark  line in front of the eye and a pale spot at the back of the ear coverts. The back is streaked but the breast streaking is bolder than the flanks streaking which is notably and characteristically fine. This is a summer visitor mainly to the west and north of the country but also further south and east where there are suitable heaths, newly planted conifers etc. . Almost buzzing ‘zeeez’ call. Sings its beautiful song from a tree top or in song flight parachuting from a tree.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

The classic coastal pipit, particularly on rocky coasts (so especially in the north and west of the country), the easily overlooked Rock Pipit is like a larger, darker Meadow Pipit. Seen properly, it is not too difficult to identify, being a more robust bird, with a much plainer dark back (lacking the contrasting streaks) and much smudgier streaks on the underparts. The bill is correspondingly longer and stronger and the legs usually dark. Has a more piercing ‘feest’ call and a quite similar song to Meadow Pipit. Rock Pipits (probably from Scandinavia) appear inland as scarce passage birds in spring and autumn.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit (winter plumage)

Water Pipit (winter plumage)

A close relative of the Rock Pipit (and formerly lumped), the Water Pipit breeds in high alpine country and winters on lower damp ground. Painfully shy and easy to fluch, whereupon it disappears into the far yonder, getting a good look can be a challenge. In winter plumage it is like a pale Rock Pipit, with whiter underparts, much finer streaking and a long pale supercilium. But the outer tail feathers are white not grey and the overall impression is of a much paler bird. Call similar to Rock Pipit’s.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 38 BLACK CROWS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Crows

There are six species of ‘black’ crow in the UK: Carrion Crow and Hooded Crow, Rook, Raven, Jackdaw and Chough. Yes, Hooded Crow and Jackdaw have grey bits, and Chough has red bits, but you get the idea… Carrion Crow and Hooded Crow have only recently been split into separate species, having previously been regarded as subspecies of Corvus corone. There is also a school of thought that proposes that rather than being separate species or subspecies, the two crows are a actually geographically stable colour morphs. But that is another story for another place…

Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow

The default black crow for most of the country. This is the mid-sized crow 'cawing' on a roof, aerial or tree near you. Black all over with a decent sized black bill and a square tail. Judge all other crows against this standard.

Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow

Just about identical in every way to the Carrion Crow, with the important exception of its grey body (they have black heads and breasts, black wings and tails), the Hooded Crow occurs in Ireland and Scotland west of the Great Glen Fault. Hybrid birds of all sorts of plumage pattersn occur around the fault , including the Inverness area and the Moray firth coast, east of the city.

Rook

Rook

Rook

Rook

Rook

Another abundant and very widespread mid-sized crow, the Rook is the same size as the ‘crows’ and may take a second glance to separate. Look for the pale base to the peg-shaped bill, the high forehead, the shaggy ‘trousers’ and the rounded tail in flight. Rooks are the crows which nest colonially in, of course, rookeries, found high in trees.

Raven

Raven

Raven

Raven

Raven

In some ways like a massive version of a Carrion Crow, the Raven is a huge corvid, easily the size of a Buzzard. Structurally, it is also different from other cros, having a massive, deep bill, shaggy throat feathers and a long wedge-shaped tail. The long wings taper much more than other crows; Ravens are masterful fliers, at distance looking almost cross-shaped in flight. They are shyer than other crows and are working their way eastwards by the year. The voice consists a range of rough or quite ‘fruity’ ‘kronks’, often doubled.

Jackdaw

Jackdaw

Jackdaw

Jackdaw

Jackdaw

The baby among our common crows, the Jackdaw  is about the size of a Woodpigeon, and has a correspondingly short bill. Easily recognised by size, as well as its grey hindcrown and neck (and body compared to the crown and wings/tail), as well as the pale eye. Characteristic ‘jack’ calls. Jackdaws often hang out with Rooks.

Chough

Chough

Chough

Chough

Chough

This is a scarce bird, largely found around the Welsh coast and Islay in the Inner Hebrides. These are birds of cliff country with short-cropped feeding grounds, where they probe for invertebrates with they fine, down-curved red bills. Very broad-winged with deeply ‘fingered’ primaries, Choughs rival Ravens for the title of champion fliers of the corvid world. The 'chow' calls are like resonant extreme versions of the Jackdaw's 'jack'.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 38 WOODPECKERS

 

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Woodpeckers

There are the resident species of woodpecker in the UK. Wryneck is a very scarce but regular passage migrant, which used to be a summer visitor and may still breed in tiny numbers at secret sites (probably in Scotland). But we will deal with the other three, here: Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted and Green Woodpecker. Of these, the Great Spotted Woodpecker and Green Woodpecker are common and widespread, while the Lesser Spotted is much scarcer and does not occur in Scotland.

Green Woodpecker

Green Woodpecker feeding on the ground. Note this is an adult male, as told by the red in the 'moustache' (females have a black 'moustache')

Green Woodpecker feeding on the ground. Note this is an adult male, as told by the red in the 'moustache' (females have a black 'moustache')

Our biggest woodpecker is about the size of a Mistle Thrush. It is predominantly green above, with a bright yellow rump, and yellowish below. The head has a red cap, onto the nape. This is the most terrestrial of our woodpeckers, spending most of its time feeding on the ground, eating ants using its long sticky tongue. ID should be straightforward, as it is the only green bird of this size, and the only  yellow-rumped bird of this size. And the only biggish green bird you will see hopping around digging for and eating ants. Green Woodpeckers are famous for their laughing calls. Learn these and you will start to realise that Green Woodpeckers are all over the place. Doesn’t drum.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker. Note this is an adult female, as told by the lack of red on the nape (which males have). Juveniles have red crowns

Great Spotted Woodpecker. Note this is an adult female, as told by the lack of red on the nape (which males have). Juveniles have red crowns

This is the only black-and-white woodpecker most people encounter in Britain. It is also the only one of our woodpeckers with red on its underparts (on the lower belly and undertail coverts); so if you see red on the underparts of a woodpecker, it must be a Great Spotted. They are about the size of a Starling. Note the big white shoulder patches.  As with the Green Woodpecker, a knowledge of the sharp ‘kik’ call (as well as the chattering call birds do when excited), is easily the best way to detect Great Spots in a wood or park. Drum is short and loud, slowing lightly at the end.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Adult male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (females have white not red, forecrowns)

Adult male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (females have white not red, forecrowns)

Only about the size of a Chaffinch or sparrow, the tiny Lesser Spotted Woodpecker can easily disappear in the ocean of leaves from the spring onwards. They have a sneaky habit of feeding high in treetops, on the smallest twigs, which makes then=m even harder to see. At this time of year, however, the challenge is reduced. They are black and white woodpeckers, with small bills, and barred backs (without the big white shoulder patches). Only males have any red (on the crown) in their plumage. As with all woodpeckers, sound is the key: listen for a Kestrel like ‘kee kee kee kee’, like a mini-Green Woodpecker yaffle. Drum is longer than Great Spots’ and more even and rattling, not fading out at the end.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 37 KINGFISHER

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Kingfisher

This week we look at a bird which is among the most familiar and iconic of all British birds. Yet, ask most people and they will say they have never seen one in real life. If you showed them a photograph they could name it in an instant, but finding one in real life is another matter. Everyone knows that Kingfishers are bright blue above with orange underparts, and a long fish stabbing bill.

But until you actually see one, you may not be aware quite how small they are. A Kingfisher is about the size of your fist; they are pretty small birds, and though brightly coloured in full sunlight, can be remarkably difficult to see as they perch dead still low down in shade over the edge of a lake or side of a river.

Most birdwatchers locate Kingfishers by their loud, high-pitched, piercing calls, a bit like the seep call of a Dunnock, but usually more disyllabic and much louder and more painful on the ear. They may look very pretty but they don’t have a matching beautiful voice! After hearing the sound, birders look up and see what they expect to see, a tiny ball of electric blue fire, whizzing along at high speed directly on whirring wings, just above the water or even across a field.

Watch to see where it lands, then set up a scope or binoculars to see  the perched Kingfisher doing its stuff: sitting dead still then plunging into water and back in less than a second.

The only other thing you need to know is that the bright electric blue is restricted to the middle of the back, so don’t expect the whole bird to be the same shade.

Classic perched Kingfisher

Classic perched Kingfisher

Plunge diving Kingfisher

Plunge diving Kingfisher

Note that from the front, Kingfishers are predominantly orange

Note that from the front, Kingfishers are predominantly orange

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 36 PIGEONS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LISTT

This week, it is Pigeons and Doves

The terms 'pigeon' and 'dove' are pretty much interchangeable terms (though dove somehow implies a smaller bird) and even  the archetypal pigeon the Woodpigeon has been alternatively called the Ring Dove in the past. We have five regular species, of which four are resident and one (the Turtle Dove) is a summer visitor. ID is not particularly tricky, though Stock Doves and Ferl Pigeons sometimes need a second glance.

 

Woodpigeon

The standard large pigeon of countryside, parkland and suburban gardens, the Woodpigeon is the whopper among British pigeons and doves. It is the big brute that some people think of as bird food Hoovers in their gardens. Looked at without prejudice, Woodpigeons are subtly beautiful birds, mixing shades of blue-grey and pink and iridescent neck feathers. They are notable in having an obvious white patch on the side of the neck and obvious white bands in flight, which are visible even at a considerable distance. The bill is pale tipped and the eye pale.

Woodpigeon

Woodpigeon

Flying Woodpigeon

Flying Woodpigeon

Stock Dove

A country cousin of the Woodpigeon, the Stock Dove is a smaller bird (the size of a Feral Pigeon) and lacks the white neck side and white wing panels of the bigger pigeon. The wings are bordered by black and the subtly ddifferent grey tone sin the wing are also clear in flight. The rump is grey as is the underwing (both are white in Feral Pigeons) and there are a couple of short ‘broken’ black wing bards. The bill is pale tipped and the eye dark.

Stock Dove

Stock Dove

Flying Stock Dove

Flying Stock Dove

Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove

The wild Rock Dove was domesticated centuries ago and now pure-wild-bred birds are rare and localised to remote cliffs, if they exist at all. Much more numerous are the descendants of domestic stock (kept for food or as homing/racing pigeons). These are the city and town pigeons, that local authorities seem to wish to melt the feet of and prevent them roosting with hideous spikes. Wild birds and plenty of Feral Pigeons are similar looking to Stock Doves, buttend to have have darker front end and paler back and wings; white underwing sadn rump; pale leading edge to wing; and two long, complete black wingbars. However, all sorts of variation in plumage occur! The bill is dark tipped and the eye red.

A 'wild looking' Rock Dove/ Feral Pigeon

A 'wild looking' Rock Dove/ Feral Pigeon

Flying Feral Pigeon

Flying Feral Pigeon

Collared Dove

These are the small sandy doves which famously first colonised the UK in the 1950s. Now they are common birds of the countryside and suburban settings. Small are buff, they are sasy to identify. They ahave a thin black neck ‘collar’ and a dark base to the undertail. These are the doves which have the triplet ‘hooo-hooo-hoo’ song.

Collared Dove

Collared Dove

Flying Collared Dove

Flying Collared Dove

Turtle Dove

Having undergone a catastrophic population crash, the delightful summer migrant Turtle Dove is now a scarce bird in the UK, in rural settings of the south half of the country. Most often detected by its evocative soft purring song, they are small doves (even smaller than Collared Doves), with lovely black-centred orange wing feathers, a pink breast and blueish head with a red eyering and a stripy black and white neck patch.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove

Flying Turtle Doves

Flying Turtle Doves

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 35 DIPPER

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Dipper

The Dipper is unique among British birds. Members of the dipper family are scattered across the world, but they are a low diversity group and only one occurs in Europe. Our Dipper is alternatively known as the White-throated Dipper or the European Dipper. They are classic birds of fast flowing upland streams or rocky rapids in rivers, which are the places to look for them whizzing up and down the stream, or bobbing on a rock. They are easy to identify, being about the size of a fat Starling, shaped like a giant Wren, with often cocked short tail. Black (very dark brown) above with a white throat and breast, and a black underbelly. There is a thin band of chestnut feathering between the underbelly and the white of the breast, which is absent on central European birds, which are scarce visitors to the UK in winter.Juvenile birds are greyer and a bit speckled.

Adult Dipper (note chestnut at base of white breast, which is characteristic of UK resident birds

Adult Dipper (note chestnut at base of white breast, which is characteristic of UK resident birds

Juvenile Dipper

Juvenile Dipper

 

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 34 WAGTAILS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Wagtails

There are three British wagtails. Pied and Grey Wagtails are resident birds and Yellow Wagtail is a summer visitor, arriving from mid-April and leaving in autumn. Wagtail identification is not too complicated at a basic level, but the field is muddied somewhat by the fact that Pied and Yellow Wagtails are both part of species complexes containing several subspecies with distinct plumages. The subspecies we have in this country are both British Isles and near-continent versions, while other subspecies dominant the rest of he continent. Confused? Read on…

Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail, male

Pied Wagtail, male

Pied Wagtail, female

Pied Wagtail, female

White Wagtail, female

White Wagtail, female

This is the classic, common black and white (or black and grey and white) wagtail that scurries around playgrounds, car parks, parks and gravel pits across the country. British birds of the subspecies yarellii have jet black backs in the male and dark grey backs in the female. Juveniles and winter birds can look less clearly black and white, with greyer tones and buff tones on the face. Conitniental rare birds, of the subspecies alba are called White Wagtails. They have pale grey backs, black caps and generally cleaner flanks. They are easiest to pick out on passage in the spring, harder in the autumn and winter, when Pieds and Whites can look more similar.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail, male

Grey Wagtail, male

Grey Wagtail, female or first-winter

Grey Wagtail, female or first-winter

This is the wagtail which is most closely associated with fast rivers and streams and similar water bodies. It is the longest tailed wagtail and has its own particular grace. Grey wagtails are named after their grey backs, not their lemon yellow undertail coverts! Adult breeding males have neat black bibs and yellow underparts; females and winter birds are duller, but still have the bright yellow undertail coverts and lower belly. The call is a piercing, metallic version of the 'Chiswick' call of the Pied.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail, male

Yellow Wagtail, male

Blue-headed Wagtail, male

Blue-headed Wagtail, male

The summer wagtail is our only wagtail with a greenish back and yellow underparts. Males can be spectacularly bright birds. These are country birds, liking fields with plenty of insects, such as those which hold cattle (and the flies that go with them and their dung). Shorter tailed than the other wagtails, they also have a distinctive ‘shweep’ call. Males of the UK subspecies flavissima have largely yellow heads, but look out in spring for male Blue-headed Wagtails (flava) from the continent, which have blue heads with a white supercilium (eyebrow).

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 33 STARLING

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Starling

This familiar garden bird has declined hugely as a breeding bird in the UK. In addition to our breeding population, each autumn into winter, perhaps millions of birds come over from the continent to winter here. Famed for its spectacular murmurations: huge gatherings of swirling Starlings preparing themselves for roost. Legend has it that beneath every swirling murmuration is a Bill Oddie conducting operations.

Starling

Adult winter Starling

Adult winter Starling

Juvenile Starling

Juvenile Starling

Winter adult Starling in flight

Winter adult Starling in flight

Starlign pre-roost 'murmuration'

Starlign pre-roost 'murmuration'

Starlings are dark, chunky, mid-sized (ie like a small thrush) birds with longish pointed bills and short tails. Identification-wise main problem species is Blackbird, which it superficially resembles, but Starlings have a completely different structure: big headed, short tailed, long billed and upright in stance, with a striding walking  gait. And they have glossy, iridescent plumage liberally spotted white in winter (when the bill goes blackish). In flight, Starlings look chunky and black with triangular pointed wings. Flocks of migrating or pre-roosting birds ae usually very tightly knit. Juvenile Starlings also cause confusion to some people, as they are grey-brown with pale legs, but a dark bill and lores (area between the eye and bill) and a pale throat. As they get slightly older, they obtain the spotted adult body and wings, leaving the head like a juvenile for a while.

 

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 32 SNIPE & WOODCOCK

 

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is snipe & Woodcock

This week we look at three cryptically coloured, shy, long-billed waders, Snipe, Jack Snipe and Woodcock. Snipe and Woodcock are found throughout the year (though numbers are boosted for the winter) and Jack Snipe is a winter visitor.

Snipe

Snipe feeding

Snipe feeding

Snipe in drumming display flight

Snipe in drumming display flight

Absurdly long-billed, the stripy Snipe is a bird of damp fields and marshy ground, where it probes deep with a sewing machine action. A shy bird, easily flushed, the Snipe flies zig-zagging off with a squelching, sneezing ‘voiceless’ call, only coming down some distance away. In the breeding birds, males display by flying around and falling with spread outer tail feathers, resonating to produce a curious bleating called ‘drumming’. They also have an ‘unoiled wheel’ repeated squeak call.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe

The little, chunky, dark-crowned cousin of the Snipe, the Jack Snipe is usually a very difficult bird to see on the deck, preferring to remain concealed among beds of rushes on damp, marshy ground and only flushing when you are just about to step on it. It rises (usually silently) with what appears a struggle, looking like a tiny Woodcock, and only flies a short distance before returning back down. If seen on the ground, notice the constant up and down bobbing. In flight it is obvious that the bill is much shorter than that of the Snipe.

Woodcock

Woodcock

Woodcock

Woodock in roding display flight

Woodock in roding display flight

Essentially a nocturnal woodland bird, the Woodcock is usually only seen in the daytime when accidentally flushed. It then looks heavy like a pigeon, rather than skinny like a Snipe (albeit a pigeon with an very long bill). It has a rich chestnut tone and when seen well is actually delightfully cryptically pattered. In summer, males perform a song flight called roding, where they patrol around the open woodland breeding habitat alternating deep croaks with very high squeaks.

 

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 31 THRUSHES

 

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Thrushes

We have five species of larger thrush which occur in the UK in the winter, plus the Ring Ouzel, which is a summer visitor, arriving in April and leaving in the autumn. However, it is slightly confusing as only two of our thrushes are called ‘Thrush’ in their name. Identification is not that tricky, apart from (in some circumstances) Mistle and Song Thrushes and birds seen distantly in flight. Redwings and Fieldfares are primarily winter visitors, which come into the country in their hundreds of thousands in the late autumn. The other species are also migratory to some extent, with continental birds boosting our resident populations.

Blackbird

Adult male Blackbird

Adult male Blackbird

Adult female Blackbird

Adult female Blackbird

A large, plump, short-winged, long tailed thrush. Adult males are all black with yellow-orange bill and eye ring. Adult females are dark brown and slightly spotted (some pale individuals can cause confusion). First-winter males are black with black bills and are the commonest groups seen as autumn immigrants.

Ring Ouzel

Adult male Ring Ouzel

Adult male Ring Ouzel

Adult female Ring Ouzel

Adult female Ring Ouzel

The Blackbird’s sexy, long-winged, silver-winged, white breast flash cousin. Ring Ouzels are scaly, ultra shy birds of mountains, seen on passage in spring and autumn across the country, in suitable short cropped, undisturbed fields, shunning man. Adult Males have the cleanest white breast band, females are browner. First-winters are duller still, like attenuated, scaly Blackbirds.

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Thrush

Our biggest thrush, the Mistle Thrush is a whopper. Long tailed, small headed and quite pale brown with blob like black breast spots and white outer tail corners and white underwing. Dry, rattling call. A bird of tall mature trees and open parkland.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush smashing snails

Song Thrush smashing snails

Song Thrush

Song Thrush

Much smaller than a Mistle Thrush, the Song Thrush is the snail smashing thrush. Plainer olive brown with a hint of yellow ochre in the breast and breast spots almost forming ‘streaks’. High 'tick' call and this is the thrush which repeats each phrase of it song a few times. Yellowish underwing.

Redwing

Redwing

Redwing

Even smaller and shorter tailed than a Song Thrush, the Redwing has a distinctive face pattern, with bold pale supercilium (eyebrown) and bred-ochre flank patches and underwings. This ‘pseee’ call, often heard from overflying birds,even at night.

Fieldfare

Flying Fieldfare

Flying Fieldfare

Fieldfare

Fieldfare

Fieldfares feeding on fallen apples

Fieldfares feeding on fallen apples

Almost as big as Mistle thrush and sharing its white underwign, the Fieldfare is a striking bird if seen well. The head and rump are pale blue-grey and the back brown and tail black. The breast has a yellow ochre flush. Distinctive ‘chack chack’ call

 

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 30 CORMORANTS, GANNET & FULMAR

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Cormorants, Gannet & Fulmar

Here are four species of seabird. Although you may be familiar with Cormorant from inland freshwater sites, they also live at the coast, as do their relatives, Shag and Gannet and the unrelated Fulmar. The latter three species are unusual inland and inland Fulmars are often sadly moribund. All are fish eaters.

Cormorant

Cormorant

Cormorant

Cormorant

Cormorant

Big and ugly, the reptilian Cormorant is an angular, goose-sized pterosaur of the bird world. Largely blackish, but with a white throat patch and hip patch (and often a white head in breeding plumage), Cormorants are distinctive perched upright in a tree or on a cliff or on the water. Younger birds are whitish on the underparts (unlike Shags of the subspecies found in the UK).

Shag

Adult and juvenile Shags

Adult and juvenile Shags

Juvenile Shag

Juvenile Shag

Much smaller than a Cormorant, the Shag is about the size of a large duck. Mainly a coastal bird, they may wonder inland occasionally, especially the browner juveniles. These can be identified by their small size, much finer bill, steeper forehead and white throat, lacking any of the yellow-orange bare skin of a Cormorant.

Gannet

Adult Gannet

Adult Gannet

Juvenile Gannet

Juvenile Gannet

Third-calendar-year Gannet

Third-calendar-year Gannet

Three feet long and six feet in wing span, the Gannet is a huge seabird. Adults are just about unmistakable: giant Persil white with a yellow head and black outer wing and pointed at both ends. Younger birds (they take several years to mature) are harder to ID. Concentrate on the size and shape. The general rule is that they get whiter with successive years; juveniles are dark and neatly white spotted, second years get white bellies and so on…

Fulmar

Fulmar

Fulmar

Fulmars

Fulmars

Our only largish petrel, the Fulmar is as close as a tubenose gets to looking like a gull, with a white head and underparts and pale grey wings. The key is the way it flies: on stiff straight wings. Note also that there are no black wing tips and the rump and tail are pale grey (not white or dark banded). Almost exclusively seen at sea.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 29 SKUAS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Skuas

Skuas are close relatives of gulls, which specialise in bullying other seabirds to make them regurgitate their fishy catches (kelptoparasitism). There are four British species, two of which (great Skua and Arctic Skua) breed in northern Scotland and some Scottish islands and are regularly seen around the coasts. The other two (Pomarne and Long-tailed Skuas) are scarcer to rare, and are usually seen on passage in May and autumn. The Great Skua, aka Bonxie, is quite distinctive and relatively easy to identify, while the three smaller species are notoriously similar to each other and a big pitfall for the unwary. Practice in the field is the only way to get better at indentifying smaller skuas.

Great Skua

Great Skua

Great Skua

The Bonxie (to give it its Shetland name) is about the size of a Herring Gull: big and powerful and pretty uniformly brown all over, apart from obvious white ‘flashes’ in the wings, which can be seen even at great range at sea. Deep chested and short tailed, the impression is of a dark immature gull with long wings and a powerful flight on deep wing beats. Bonxies parasitise larger seabirds, including Gannets.  Found in small numbers round the coast out of the breeding season.

 

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua, pale morph adult

Arctic Skua, pale morph adult

Arctic Skua, dark morph adult

Arctic Skua, dark morph adult

Arctic Skua, pale morph juvenile

Arctic Skua, pale morph juvenile

Notably smaller than a Bonxie, the Arctic Skua is the commonest of the smaller skuas. Two main colour morphs (dark and light). Adults have mid-length, pointed central tail feathers and (on pale morph adults) a neat contact between the dark underwing and the pale belly. White flashes are obvious.  Juveniles and immatures are tougher to identify, but look slim (not chunky like Pomarines) but not tern like (like Long-tailed Skuas). Arctic Skuas chase terns and Kittiwakes. Youngsters can often have rusty fringing (unlike the colder tones of the other two smaller species).

 

Pomarine Skua

Pomarine Skua, pale morph adult

Pomarine Skua, pale morph adult

Very like a slightly bigger, deeper chested, chunkier Arctic Skua in all plumages. Pale morphs predominate. Adults have long, spoon-shaped central tail feathers (which may be absent), and a smudgier contact between the dark underwing and the pale belly. Pomarine Skuas bully Common Gulls and the like .Juveniles are usually colder in tones with a double wing flash on underwing and extensively barred tail coverts.

Long-tailed Skua

Long-tailed Skua,  adult

Long-tailed Skua,  adult

Long-tailed Skua, intermediate morph juvenile

Long-tailed Skua, intermediate morph juvenile

The rarest of the four, the Long-tailed Skua is also the smallest, most tern-like skua species. Adults with complete tails are easily identified but their very long central tail streamers, lark of dark shoulder stripe and small slim shape. Juveniles are like small, slim versions of Pomarines Skuas, but with much smaller bills and only hints of white flashes (especially on upperwing, where only outer shaft is white).

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 28 CURLEWS & GODWITS

 

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Curlews & Godwits

This week, we are looking at four of thelargest wader species in the UK, the Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit. The first three species, in winter, have pretty similar overall plumage, while Black-tailed Godwits are more distinctively patterned. All have outsized bills, rivalled only by the Snipe. Curlews and Whimbrels have down curved bills while the godwits are straight or very slightly upturned.

Curlew

Curlew

Curlew

Curlew

Curlew

Our largest wader is so big it can resemble a gull in flight. Essentially brown streaked and rather plain (with a barred tail, white rump and lower back), the Curlew is all about size, astonishing bill and one of the most magnificently evocative voices in the British avifauna. They are told from the similar Whimbrel by having the larger size, longer bill and relatively plain head (lacking the bold crown markings of a Whimbrel). Adult females have notably longer bills than males and juveniles. Variousloud ‘curlee’ calls, plus a beautiful bubbling string of curlees for the song.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

A smaller, more compact yet slimmer version of the Curlew, the Whimbrel is closer in size to a godwit. The bill often looks straight, with the downward kink neat the tip (rather than an even downward curve seen in Curlews). Apart from size and bill shape, concentrate on the head, where the crown is dark with a prominent pale median stripe. The had usually looks slightly more angular than that of a Curlew. The usual flight call is a rapidly repeated monotone series of clipped whistles. The song is deceptively similar to that of the Curlew.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Breeding male Bar-tailed Godwit

Breeding male Bar-tailed Godwit

Winter Bar-tailed Godwit

Winter Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

In summer, male Bar-tailed Godwits are deep brick red on their underparts. Females, however, are paler and look more like wintering birds: which are similar in plumage pattern to Curlews and Whimbrels (including the barred tail and white rump extending up the back; and lack of wing-bars). Females are bigger than males and can be much longer billed. Told from Similar Black-tailed Godwit, mainly by wing pattern (Black-tailed Godwits have very striking wing-bars) and back and tail patterns. Bar-taileds are shorter necked (so they look more compact) and shorter-legged, particularly above the ‘knee’ and tend to look more streaked than plain grey Black-taileds.

Black-tailed Godwit

Breeding male Black-tailed Godwit

Breeding male Black-tailed Godwit

Winter Black-tailed Godwit

Winter Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit

Tall and gangly (some would say elegant), Black-tailed Godwits are best recognised by their obvious wing bars, as well as the small square white rump and black tail. In orange summer plumage, the orange only extends to the front of the belly, being white (barred with variable amounts of black) on the lower belly. Long legs, mean feet project well beyond tail in flight. In winter, note plain plumage but bold pale supercilium.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 27 OWLS & NIGHTJAR

 

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Owls and the Nightjar

There are five owl species in the UK and one Nightjar. Tawny Owls and Long-eared Owls live in woodland. Barn Owls and Short-eared Owls are more open country birds and Little Owls are found in classic parkland and farmland types of habitats. Nightjars are found at insect rich heathlands and woodland edges and rides. All species are predominantly nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), but it is often possible to encounter Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl and Little Owl in broad daylight (the other three rarely).

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl

The Tawny is the classic owl that everyone knows by its hoot (though not everyone knows that the hot is a Tawny Owl). It is the male that does the long drawn out, quavering hoot, ‘hooooooo [pause] hoo ho-hoo’. Both males and females have a ‘keewick’ call. They are nocturnal, rarely seen in daylight, unless disturbed by scolding birds which find one roosting. Dumpy, rounded, with dark eyes and relatively short rounded wings (compared to the ‘eared’ owls).

 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl hunting by day

Barn Owl hunting by day

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Everyone’s favourite owl, the Barn Owl is the white owl members of the public think is a snowy owl. It is also the ‘screech owl’, making hideous, blood curdling calls which are music to birders’ ears. Unmistakably white beneath with a heart-faced (and dark eyed) and delicately patterned grey and buff upperparts, Barnies are often seen hunting by day, on shortish, stiff wings.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl hunting by day

Short-eared Owl hunting by day

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Breeding in northern and western young conifer plantations and moors etc, Shorties are much more numerous in winter, when they spread south and east. In good years, when there is a vole abundance, several birds may hunt the same area, often well before the sun sets. Magnificently long-winged with a buoyant rowing wingbeat, SeOs are the harriers of the owl world, patrolling up and down rough grassy fields before pouncing. Note the yellow eyes, heart-face, dark carpal patches and wing tips. Forget about seeing the ‘ears’ though. The most frequently heard call away from the breeding grounds is a Lapwing-like moan or bark.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl at roost site

Long-eared Owl at roost site

Usually more nocturnal than Short-eared Owls, Long-eared Owls are also much more closely associated with dense wooded habitats. The nest in trees and outside the breeding season can sometimes be seen roosting in dense bushes, ivy-covered trees etc, often sharing a roost site with several other birds. Similar in many ways to the Short-eared Owl in appearance, but with a slightly different face patter, and orange eyes and lacking the black wingtips and with a more uniformly streaked body. The ear tufts are usually obvious, especial on disturbed birds, when they are held dead upright. Males and females have soft monosyllabic hoot. The female's sounds a bit like a Collared Doves flight call. Babies squeak like creaking gates!

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

No bigger than a thrush, the Cute, yellow eyed, dumpy Little Owl is pretty unmistakable. They will often spend the day, mopping up the sun, perched in full view in an old willow or oak on on a barn or quarry face. Mainly crepuscular in feeding habits. Various yelping calls.

Nightjar

Male Nightjar

Male Nightjar

Not an owl, but distantly related to owls, the Nightjar is a summer visitor which is a delight to behold. The weird mechanical ‘churring’ song of the male is a joy to the ear and the lighter-than-air buoyant flight is unique among our birds. They may be falcon- or Cuckoo-shaped, but they certainly don’t fly like them. They are tough birds to see well, usually only coming out to play (and catch aerial insects), once the light has become almost too bad to see them at all. Males help matters by singing and also by having white signal flashed on the wings and tail, which helps pick them out of the gloom

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 26 HIRUNDINES

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Hirundines

We have three species of hirundine (ie swallows and martins) breeding in the UK: Swallow, House Martin and Sand martin. The similar looking Swift is not related! Summer visitors, arriving in spring, they gather up in autumn in numbers prior to diurnal migration. Note that juveniles of all species look like toned down versions of adults

Swallow

Swallow feeding over water

Swallow feeding over water

Swallow underside

Swallow underside

Hirundine is not really very difficult in the UK, with low diversity and pretty distinctive birds. Swallows, or Barn Swallows if you prefer, are slightly larger that the martins, blue black above (including the dark rump), white or buff below with a dark read, dark-lined red throat and very long tail streamers (with white spots at the base of the tail). They are often seen feeding quite low, and nest in out buildings, barns and under bridges etc.

House Martin

House Martin; note white rump

House Martin; note white rump

House Martin underside

House Martin underside

Typical House Martin nest

Typical House Martin nest

Nesting just under the roof of houses, these birds live up to their name. They are blue-black above with an obvious pure white rump. Quite a short forked tail. The underparts, including the throat, are pure white. Often feed quite high up.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin

Sand Martin

Sand Martins near nest holes

Sand Martins near nest holes

The smallest of the three hirundines is also the brownest, brown above (including the rump) and white below, with a brown upper breast band. Sand Martins nest colonially in burrows dug into sand banks.

 

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 25 LEAF WARBLERS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Leaf Warblers

There are three breeding leaf warblers ie in the genus Phylloscopus) in the UK: Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler and Chiffchaff. We also have an increasing amount of Yellow-browed Warblers which pass through on passage from September to November. The other species are too rare to consider here…

Willow Warbler

Autumn Willow Warbler

Autumn Willow Warbler

Spring Willow Warbler

Spring Willow Warbler

With more than 2.4 million pairs across the whole of the UK, the little Willow Warbler is one of our commonest and most widespread warblers. It is sort of greenish borwn with a hinto of yellow and very similar to the Chiffchaff. To distinguish them, voice is very usefu. They have completely different songs: the Willow Warbler has a sweet descending warbling ditty while the Chiffchaff repeats its name with clipped tones. The calls are closer, but Willows have a more disyllabic, drawn out ‘hooeet’ (rather than ‘hweet’). Willow Warblers are longer winged, dip their tails less frequently and can look quite clean and yellow in autumn (fresh adults and first-winter birds); and they have a better defined supercilium (pale line over the eye)

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff

Very similar to the Willow Warbler but with a preference for more mature habitats in the breeding season. Some Chiffchaffs winter in the UK and they tend to arrive earlier in the spring and leave later in the autumn. See Willow Warbler for distinguishing features. Suffice to say if you see a scruffy looking, tail dipping hweeting, plain, greeny brown warbler this autumn it is probably a Chiffchaff.

Wood Warbler

Wood Warbler

Wood Warbler

The sexiest of the three ‘Willow Wren’ species, as they used to be regarded. Mainly a norther and western bird, the Wood Warbler is an exotic looking gem compared to the other common leaf warblers. The green is greener, the yellow of the supercilium,  throat and upper breast pure as a lemon and the belly silver white. The wings are so long they nearly reach the tail tip. The call is an odd ‘pew’ and the song famously sounds like someone spinning a silver sixpence on a plate…

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

Almost as small as a Goldcrest, the Yellow-browed Warbler is a gorgeous little passage migrant from the east. Bright green above and white below with a bold and long yellow-washed supercilium and two obvious transverse wingbars and pale tips to the tertials. Best picked up by its thin, almost Coal Tit-like, slurred ‘pseeooeet’ call.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 24 AUKS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Auks

In the UK there are four breeding species of auk. Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins live in colonies in what are called ‘seabird cities’ where several species nest together by and on tall steep cliffs. Black Guillemots breed on boulder strewn shores. In some years, Little Auks are seen mainly at coastal sites after storms at sea. Most of our auk population winter far off shore at sea, returning to the breeding sites in spring.

Guillemot

Breeding Guillemots

Breeding Guillemots

Summer Guillemot in flight

Summer Guillemot in flight

The classic penguin-like seabird city auk, nesting packed like sardines on impossibly thin ledges on suitable tall cliffs around the country. Guillemots are similar to razorbills but have narrow, pointed bills, browner upperparts (which look black in many lights) and a shorter tail (so the feet project further in the fast-flapping flight).

Razorbill

Breeding Razorbills

Breeding Razorbills

Summer Razorbill in flight

Summer Razorbill in flight

The beautiful Razorbill usually nests lower down the cliffs than the Guillemot. They are similar but more black and white than brown and white, and have a flattened bill, like a razor shell, or a smaller, black and white version of a Puffin’s bill.

Puffin

Breeding Puffins

Breeding Puffins

Summer Puffin in flight

Summer Puffin in flight

Cavity nesters, including burrows, Puffisn are often found near the top of cliffs. In breeding plumage these small auks are unmistakable. Even at a distance in flight, the pale face and colourful bill is obvious. The bill ‘moult’s slightly in winter, losing size as well as colour and the face darkens.

Black Guillemot

Breeding Black Guillemot

Breeding Black Guillemot

Winter Black Guillemot

Winter Black Guillemot

The delightful Black Guillemot is considerably smaller than the Guileelmot, but with a similar shape. In breeding plmage they are jet black with white a bold white shoulder oval and red legs. In winter they are much whiter, with black and white barred back and black wings still with the white oval. Juvelies are line a browner verson of the witner birds.

Little Auk

Winter Little Auk

Winter Little Auk

The tiny Little Auk is a scarce wind-blown visitor to the UK, usually found after bad weather in the North Sea. They are not much bigger than a Starling, chunky, small-billed and black and white.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 23 FLYCATCHERS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is Flycatchers

There are two regular breeding flycatchers in the UK and one regular scarce passage migrant. All do what it says on the tin and catch flies for a living. As such, they are by necessity summer visitors. In fact, Spotted Flycatchers, which take the highest proportion of their food in mid-air sallies, are among our latest arriving summer visitors. They are also in a steep decline owing to the general depletion of flying insects in the country.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher

The Spotted Flycatcher is a large (by flycatcher standards), longish billed, upright, grey-brown flycatcher. It is not really spotted, more lightly streaked, although juveniles and firstw-inter birds have pale spots n their heads and back. Long winged and quite long tailed, the Spotted Flycatcher is a wonderful elegant bird, catching flying insects in swooping sallies, before returning usually to the same perch. They often perch on exposed bare branches or along fence lines, on passage.

Pied Flycatcher

Typical autumn Pied Flycatcher

Typical autumn Pied Flycatcher

Summer male Pied Flycatcher

Summer male Pied Flycatcher

A small black-and-white (spring/summer males) or brown-and-white (the rest) flycatcher, which can be surprisingly elusive. In autumn, even the males are brown and white in fresh plumage. The white in the wing is usually obvious (Spotted Flycatchers can also show some white in the wing). Although they fly out to catch flying insects, Pied Flycatchers do more gleaning and ground feeding than Spotted Flycatchers. Can perch on exposed perches and fence lines, but may also ‘disappear’ inside a tree.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

First-winter Red-breasted Flycatcher

First-winter Red-breasted Flycatcher

A scarce passage bird, the Red-breasted Flycatcher is similarly sized and shaped to the Pied Flycatcher. Most birds we see in the UK are first-winters in September and October, lacking the orange breast of the adult male. Buff washed and brown and white, the black and white tail is the most striking feature. Can be a very elusive bird, sitting still within vegetation for extended periods.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 22 SYLVIA WARBLERS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is Sylvia warblers

This week it is the turn of a group of larger, chunkier warblers, which includes some of the more boldly patterned species (though, as with most warblers, they could be lumped as ‘little brown jobs’, or LBJs), as well as one or two sexually dimorphic species (ie males and females look different). We have five regular species; Blackcaps and Dartford Warblers can be found throughout the year. The other three are essentially summer visitors, arriving in spring and leaving in autumn. At this time of year , they often feed up on soft fruit, such as blackberries to pack in the energy required for migration.

Blackcap

Male Blackcap

Male Blackcap

Female Blackcap

Female Blackcap

A grey brown warbler with a black cap has to be a Blackcap. The only possible confusion is with marsh and Willow Tit, but, these a. look like tits and b. have black ‘bib’s, unlike the Blackcap. Females and youngsters have red-brown caps. The song is a rich, fluty warbler with harsh note. The call a harsh ‘tack’.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler

Similar in colour and size and indeed often in habitat to the Blackcap, but without the black (or brown) cap, the chunky Garden Warbler is famous for its general lack of distinctive features. There is a hint of grey on the sides of the nape and a bit of a staring, beady, eye, but otherwise, this is a grey-brown above, paler below sort of bird. The song is like a more drawn out bubbly version of the Blackcap’s, and the call is softer.

 

Dartford Warbler

Male Dartford Wabler

Male Dartford Wabler

A resident species, the tiny, long-tailed Dartford Warbler is mainly a bird of true acid heathland, with gorse and heather, in the south of England (further north is too cold in winter for this tiddler). Breeding males are rich wine-red below and dark brown-grey above. Red eye-ring. Females and youngsters and winter birds are duller. Lacks white outer feathers in the frequently cocked long tail. Call is a harsh ‘charr’ and the song is a scratchy warbler. Often very shy and retiring.

Whitethroat

Whitethroat

Whitethroat

Very common summer visitor, the long-tailed Whitethroat is a familiar bird producing familiar sounds. Easily told from the similar Lesser Whitethroat by longer tail, rufous in wing and pinky flush to breast and pale legs. Males have greyer heads and clearer white eyerings. Sings a scratchy song from a scrubby bush or in a short song flight. Call a scolding, nasal ‘churr’

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat

Like a smaller, greyer, more compact Whitethroat, lacking any warm tones (eg there is no rufous in the wings). Often very shy and retiring, but will come out to feed in autumn. Legs are black, tail moderate length (not long) and there is often a hint of a darker ear covert ‘mask’. Call is a similar ‘tack’ to that of Blackcap. Most frequent song is a dry rattle, not hugely dissimilar to the rattle of the Yellowhammer.

 

All photos from Alamy