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

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 21 MARSH TERNS

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 marsh terns

This week we look at the so-called marsh terns (as opposed to the sea terns); small terns (not much bigger than Little Terns) so named because they are mainly freshwater birds, breeding inland; although they will fly over the sea during migration. There are three species in the world which all occur in the UK, but don’t breed. Black terns are regular passage birds in small numbers, while White-winged Black Terns are quite rare and Whiskered Terns even rarer. In breeding plumage ID is straightforward, but they are harder to ID in juvenile and winter plumages, which need a bit of learning.

 

Black Tern

Adult spring Black Tern

Adult spring Black Tern

Juvenile Black Tern

Juvenile Black Tern

Spring adults are dark grey to black with paler grey wings and back (including the rump and tail) , including the underwing. Winter adults are grey above, white below, with a dark mark at the ‘shoulder’ and with a black cap. Juveniles are similar to winter adults, but much more scaly looking, with neatly fringed wing and back feathers.

 

White-winged Black Tern

Adult spring White-winged Black Tern

Adult spring White-winged Black Tern

Striking in spring breedingplumage, with a jet black body and underwing coverts, dark ‘saddle’ on the back, but pale, almost white upperwings and whitish rump and tail. The legs are red. Juveniles share also have a dark ‘saddle and pale rump, and lack the Black Tern’s shoulder mark. All birds have finer, shorter bills than Black Terns.

 

Whiskered Tern

Adult spring Whiskered Tern

Adult spring Whiskered Tern

Adult winter Whiskered Tern

Adult winter Whiskered Tern

Adults have mid grey bodies and wings, with obvious contrasting white cheeks an, a black cap and red bill and legs. Juveniles are somewhat like a mix between the other two species’ juveniles, with a coarsely patterned brown and black and ginger ‘saddle’ and no shoulder mark, pale wings and tail.

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 20 SWIFT

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

Swift

Swift

Swift

In later summer, Swifts form screaming flocks

In later summer, Swifts form screaming flocks

Two Swifts

Two Swifts

The Swift is the only breeding member of its family and indeed its order, in the UK. It is an exotic looking extremist among our bird fauna. Not only does it spend nearly all its life flying, its legs are also so short and weak that even if it lands it usually can’t take flight again (unassisted). Swift nesting habitats are almost exclusively man made these days, using cavities in roof space and provided boxes..

Despite many inexperienced birdwatchers having difficulty telling Swifts from Swallows and martins, they are (despite their long pointed wings and forked tails) easy to separate from these unrelated birds. Swifts are much larger, with relatively much longer, sickle shaped wings and look all dark (there is a small whitish throat patch which is hard to see in the field).

Swifts generally appear in the UK May and most have left by early September. The call is a distinctive screaming, quite unlike the twittering notes of the swallows, 

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 19 CUCKOO

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 the Cuckoo

This week we look at the unique Cuckoo, a very widespread, though declining summer visitor to the UK. They are the only British bird which never raises its own young, laying eggs in the nests of Reed Warblers, Dunnocks, Meadow Pipits etc. Cuckoos are largely caterpillar scoffers, with a surprising liking for various hairy (qnd so presumably irritant laced) moth species.

Cuckoo

Typical male Cuckoo singing pose with wings down and tail up

Typical male Cuckoo singing pose with wings down and tail up

Adult Cuckoo with caterpillar

Adult Cuckoo with caterpillar

Young juvenile Cuckoo begging its 'adoptive' parents for food

Young juvenile Cuckoo begging its 'adoptive' parents for food

The Cuckoo is the size of a small Kestrel or Sparrowhawk and has a similar appearance to both birds. They are shy birds and most often seen when singing the famous song (males) in May and June or as juveniles later in the year. Males are females are usually quite similar, mid grey with finely barred underparts. The tail is long and rounded and the wings long and pointed, the body slim; in flight the wings look like they are flicked below the plain of the body. There is an uncommon but beautiful rufous (‘hepatic’) colour morph of the female, where the upperparts are barred black on a rusty orange/rufous ground colour. Juveniles are brown and heavily barred above.

Many adults leave of their southbound migration soon after mating/egg-laying, even before the end of June; as they, of course, take no part in bringing up the youngsters. So, most Cuckoos seen in August will be youngsters.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 18 CHATS

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 chats

Chats are basically small thrushes. They are closely related to flycatchers and warblers and are small, (mainly) insect-eating birds, with thin bills. In the UK, our chats include the Robin, Wheatear, Stonechat, Whinchat, Redstart and Black Redstart and Nightingale. I think there is no real need to include Robin here, as it is one of our commonest, most familiar birds; but let’s look at the other chats on the list.

Wheatear

Male Wheatear in spring

Male Wheatear in spring

Autumn Wheatear

Autumn Wheatear

This is one of the larger chats, about halfway in size between a Robin and a Song Thrush. Famously getting its name from its ‘white arse’, the Wheatear does indeed have a very prominent white rump (lower back), as well as a white tail with a black T shape on the tip and centre. Other plumage features to note include (on the male), a pale blue head and back with a black mask and largely black wings, contrasting with peachy and white underparts. Females are browner, but share the white rump and black and white tail pattern. It is mainly a ground based chat, running around on short cropped grass; breeding mainly in the north and awest of the country, often in upland. They are summer visitors, passing through the country on passage in spring and autumn (when they are in fresh, buff plumage, regardless of gender or age).

Stonechat

Male Stonechat

Male Stonechat

Female Stonechat

Female Stonechat

Stonechats and Whinchats are similar small (roughly Robin-sized), large headed, short-tailed chats which like to perch high on small bushes and tall ‘weeds’ and fence lines overlooking areas where they can pounce down on caterpillars etc. Stonechats are less migratory than Whinchats, breeding in suitable habitat (Heaths, gorse areas,  coastal sites etc) particularly in the western side of the country and wintering more widely, including the east coast. Stonechats are generally darker birds than Whinchats, especially males which have black heads and nearly black upperparts, including the wings and tail and orange breast, with patches of white around the side of the neck and near the shoulder. Females are similar but more toned down, in brown. They are named for their calls, which are like stones being ‘chacked’ together.

Whinchat

Spring male Whinchat

Spring male Whinchat

Autumn Whinchat

Autumn Whinchat

Juvenile Whinchat

Juvenile Whinchat

Similar to the Stonechat, the Whinchat is a summer visitor, arriving in late April/early may and leaving in September. In all plumages they are paler than Stonechats and have a bold white or pale buff supercilium (eyebrow) and white in the base of the tail. Spring males are very distinctive and pretty, while autumn birds are more toned down. Essentially an upland breeder, found more widely on migration.

Redstart

Spring male Redstart

Spring male Redstart

Autumn fresh (probably first-winter) male Redstart

Autumn fresh (probably first-winter) male Redstart

Another chat with a western distribution, the Redstart is a Robin-sized and Robin-shaped bird of woodlands and hedgerows. All Redstarts have lovely reddish tails which they quiver delightfully when perched. Male Redstarts are very strikingly coloured, though more toned down in fresh autumn plumage. Females are duller, but with warm tones, and an orangey wash to the underparts.

Black Redstart

Summer male Black Redstart

Summer male Black Redstart

Female or first year Black Redstart

Female or first year Black Redstart

The urban equivalent of the countryside’s Redstart, the Black Redstart is a common bird on the continent, but a rare breeder in the UK, localised to certain city and industrial sites. Males are black and grey, with a bit of white in the wing, but younger males and females are sooty brown. All have the same red, quivering tail.

Nightingale

Singing Nightingale

Singing Nightingale

An extremely elusive bird, the Nightingale is almost the size of a small thrush and is pretty plain brown in plumage, but has a full reddish brown tail. The buffish undertail coverts are long. Rarely seen, but if it emerges to feed, it hops on the ground like a small thrush.

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 17 SEA TERNS

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 sea terns

Terns are the fork-tailed, smaller, more delicate relatives of the gulls. Our terns fit into two broad categories: the sea terns and the marsh terns. The latter are three small species which are passage birds in the UK. The sea terns include five species which breed in this country, some commonly, and one as a very scarce breeder. All are pale grey with black caps. Common and Arctic terns can be tricky to tell apart, but Little and Sandwich Terns are pretty distinctive. The rare Roseate Tern is like an exaggeration of an Arctic Tern.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

The standard, familiar ‘sea swallow’, the Common Tern is a familiar sight not only at the coast but also at inland sites, such as gravel pits and lakes with relatively un-vegetated islands (and readily adapting to ‘tern rafts’). They are graceful, elegant birds with a distinctive flicky wing action. In many ways Common and Arctic Terns are very similar. Note the following features (all Common tern features): longer more orange-red bill with a black tip; at rest wings are about the same length as tail; flight feathers have darker grey smudges in a wedge shape; flight style languid and flicky, with wings seemingly set further back than on Arctic Tern; red legs are longer than Arctic’s.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

A very similar bird to the Common Tern, the Arctic tern is largely a coastal breeder, mainly of northern coasts (around Scotland, Ireland and northern Wales). They do pass through inland areas on passage, especially in spring (late April to early May), but don’t stay to breed like OCmmon terns. Form Comon Tern not the following Arctic features: shorter blood-red bill, without black tip; at rest, very long tail streamers extend beyond wing tips; flight feathers look very clean and translucent, never with darker wedges; flight style slightly stiffer than Common, with wings seemingly set further forward (partly because of very long tail); Legs are very short.

 

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

The Sandwich Tern is our largest breeding tern, considerably larger than Common and Arctic Terns, and with a different structure, looking front heavy, with a larger head and short tail. In breeding plumage, the back of the crown looks shaggy or spikey. The bill is black with a yellow tip. Sandwich Terns are coastal breeders, nesting on suitable beaches especially on the east and southern coasts of England (though at other places as well). They have distinctive coarse, creaking, hoarse ‘kirrick’ calls .

 

Little Tern

Little Tern

Little Tern

Little Terns are truly tiny terns a fraction of the size of their larger cousins. With relatively large heads and short tails, they are like mini versions of a Sandwich Tern, but a speeded up version! Unlike the larger terns, the bill is yellow with a black tip and the forehead white in breeding plumage. Little Terns have a similar coastal breeding distribution to Sandwich Terns, but there are fewer than 2,000 pairs in the country.

 

Roseate Tern

Roseate Tern

Roseate Tern

Our rarest breeding tern (with fewer than 100 UK pairs, mainly in Northern Ireland and Northumberland), the Roseate tern is like an extra pale plumaged mix of Common and Arctic terns. Its tail is even longer than Arctic’s, but its legs are quite long and the bill largely black with a red base.

 

All photos from Alamy

 

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 16 SMALLER GULLS

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 smaller gulls

Our group to look for this week are the smaller gulls. These include arguably our most familiar species, the Black-headed Gull, the Common Gull, Mediterranean Gull and the most sea-bond of all our gulls, the Kittiwake. Plus, we must include the beautiful Little Gull, a bird seen on passage in the UK.

Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult summer Black-headed Gull

Adult winter Black-headed Gull

Adult winter Black-headed Gull

Abundant and familiar, the Black-headed Gull is, of course, the gull with a brown head. Gulls always seem to get their names slightly wrong (and the scientific name of the Black-headed Gull means laughing gull, which is an altogether different bird… ). In winter., the brown hood becomes a spot behind the eye, which makes them look a little like they are wearing headphones. All BhGulls look pointy winged. There is a distinctive white wedge shape on the leading edge of the outer wing and a dark grey wedge on the underwing in the flight feathers (primaries). The bull is red (darker in summer) and the legs and feet are also red.

Mediterranean Gull

Adult summer Mediterranean Gull

Adult summer Mediterranean Gull

Adult winter Mediterranean Gull

Adult winter Mediterranean Gull

First-winter Mediterranean Gull

First-winter Mediterranean Gull

Scarce but increasing the Mediterranean Gull has a truly black hood, which is slightly more extensive than on the Black-headed Gull. It is also a little larger (roughly Common Gull sized) and altogether chunkier bird. In full adult plumage, the wings lack any dark tones beign pale grey with white flight feathers.  Birds a year before they are adults (second winters) have some black spots in the primaries. The thick bill is bright red and the legs are red.

 

Common Gull

Adult summer Common Gull

Adult summer Common Gull

Adult winter Common Gull

Adult winter Common Gull

Like a small Herring Gull, with a slightly darker grey back and a much smaller, yellow bill (lacking the the red bill spot of the large gull species), the Common Gull is a winter visitor to most of the UK, but a common breeder in the north of the country, especially Scotland. The wings are long and somewhat pointed, with distinctive large white ‘mirror’ at the tip. Legs and feet are grey-green.

 

Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

Adult Kittiwake

A little smaller than a Common Gull, the pretty Kittiwake is the most ‘pelagic’ of our gull species, spending much time out to sea and only coming to land to breed, mainly on steep sea cliffs in ‘seabird cities’.b Kittiwakes have subtly two-toned grey wings with black wing tips lacking white spots and looking like they have been dipped in black ink. Juveniles have a W of black lines and a black half collar. Legs and feet are black.

 

Little Gull

Adult summer Little Gull

Adult summer Little Gull

The tiny, cute, Little Gull is a passage bird in the UK (and to a lesser extent a winterer), seen passing through in spring and autumn. In some ways, they are more like Marsh terns than gulls, especially in behaviour, flying buoyantly and swooping down to pick insesct snad other food from the water’s surface. They are seen passing over the sea or at freshwater sites. Much smaller than even Black-headed Gulls, there are in some ways like minuscule Mediterranean Gulls, with clean upper wings, lacking black (in adults); but the underwing is distinctly dark. Juveniles are first-winters are like juvenile and first-winter Kittiwakes. Legs and feet are red.

All photos from Alamy

WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 15 DABBLING DUCKS

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 dabbling ducks

This week we look at the ducks in the genus Anas which feed on the surface by ‘dabbling’, just under by ‘up-ending’ or graze out of water. The point is they don’t dive (except in bathing and sometimes during courtship). The males are colourful and distinctive, the females camouflaged streaky brown (and best separated by structure). Most species have a colourful area of iridescent plumage on the trailing edge of the inner wing (the Secondary feathers) called the speculum, which can be important in ID. Unfortunately all drakes go into what is known as eclipse plumage in summer, where they moult to resemble females, so as not to be too prominent while moulting the wing feathers (which hampers their flight and makes them vulnerable to predation).

Mallard

Drake Mallard

Drake Mallard

Mallard duck with ducklings

Mallard duck with ducklings

The standard duck. This is the bird from which domestic ducks derive, hence why some duck pond ducks are rather odd looking in colour (and sometimes shape). Males are quite large and surprisingly handsome, with bottle green heads a white neck ring, dark red-brown chest and curly black ‘tail’ feathers. The body is mainly grey and the speculum purple-blue with white borders (also in female).

 

Shoveler

Drake Shoveler

Drake Shoveler

Duck and drake Shoveler

Duck and drake Shoveler

Shape alone is enough to identify the handsome, but essentially weird, short-necked Shoveler. Both ducks and drakes have huge bills used for filtering small food from the water’s surface. Males have Mallard-green heads and black bills, white breasts and rich chestnut flanks, otherwise beign black and white. The forewing is pale blue and the speculum green. Brown females have a greyforewing.

 

Gadwall

Drake Gadwall

Drake Gadwall

Drake Gadwall flapping, showing supercilium

Drake Gadwall flapping, showing supercilium

Slightly smaller than a Mallard, the drake Gadwall looks grey from any distance (with a black rear end and white speculum). Close up, his plumage is finely vermiculated. Females are best told from Mallard ducks b their white speculum (which can show even in the folded wing) and structure.

 

Wigeon

Grazing drake Wigeon

Grazing drake Wigeon

Duck and drake Wigeon in flight

Duck and drake Wigeon in flight

The handsome drake Wigeon has a pale grey body, black rear end and brick red head with a cream forehead and crown. The forewing is white and he speculum green. Of all the dabbling ducks, this is the one most often seen grazing out of water. Both males and females have short, ‘cute’ blue-grey bills with a black tip.

 

Pintail

Drake Pintail

Drake Pintail

Flying drake Pintail

Flying drake Pintail

The long-necked gracefuyl Pintail is an elegant bird, the drake having a chocolate brown head, white and grey body and a lvery ong ‘pin tail’. Females are best identified by being similar in structure to the drakes (though lacking the long tail).

 

Teal

Drake Teal

Drake Teal

Teals are tiny ducks, bt exquisitely handsome. The head is red-brown with a a gthick iridescent green stripe through the eye and cheek, lined with pencil thin yellow. The body is grey (vermiculated) with a white stripe parallel to the water line and a yellow and black rear end.

 

Garganey

Drake Garganey

Drake Garganey

Flying drake Garganey. Note pale grey forewing

Flying drake Garganey. Note pale grey forewing

Flying duck Garganey

Flying duck Garganey

A scarce summer visitor mainly toe the south-east of England, the ultra shy drake Garganey is not much bigger than a teal. It is brown and grey with a striking whitesupercilium. Females are similar to Duck Teals but have oddly striped faces.

All photos from Alamy