Spring Birding: Opening to Flava & Channel Wagtail

Spring migration is now in full swing with all our summer migrants back in the UK and set for another breeding season. Everyone has a migrant which for them is the symbol of spring and for me it can only be one bird and that's the one and only Northern Wheatear, yet saying that there is one bird which each and every year never ceases to amaze me and a bird that I can't go a spring without seeing, so much so that I'd twitch one. That bird is one of the most iconic birds of the traditional British farmland and is the Western Yellow Wagtail aka Motacilla flava.

The RSPB estimate there are 15,000 territories in the UK but unfortunately it's on the decline as it is across it's global range. But that's not why were here, were here to give you a brief insight on one of the biggest and baddest avian subspecies complexes there is out there as well looking at one of common hybrids within the subspecies complex that frequently occurs on British soil.

As it currently sta…

Spring Birding: The Quest for White Wagtail

Out of the White Wagtail complex 4 out of the 11 races have been documented in UK & Ireland: White (alba), Pied (yarrelli), Amur (leucopsis) & most recently Masked (personata). Where as Amur & Masked are vagrants Pied Wagtails are the dominant race in the UK & Ireland with the dominant global race White Wagtail occurring as a passage bird with the occasional wintering bird or even hybridisation with our resident Pied.

For many the White Wagtail is a true sign of Spring like that of Barn Swallow, Northern Wheatear, Common Chiffchaff & Sand Martin, however unlike that of its fellow spring migrants the White Wagtail requires a bit more expertise when identifying in the field. So ladies & gentleman, here's a list of key features to keep an eye out for whilst out in the field:

Key Features:
Mantle & Rump: Compared to that of our resident Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrelli), which mantle tone shades from a dark grey (♀) to a coal black (♂), the White Wagtail…

Winter Birding: Kumlien's or Iceland ?

1st Winter Kumlien's Gull Identification:
Bray Harbour in my home of Co. Wicklow, Ireland is one of best sites for gulling in the county with over 15 races of gull being recorded. As it is with winter the white-wingers (Iceland & Glaucous) are everyone's goal and throughout the winter of 2016-17 both species along with the return Ring-billed Gull had all been recorded, however on one of my visits to Bray I came across a gull sp which at first struck me as a 1st winter Iceland Gull (L.g.glaucoides), loafing about with the Herrings. The appeared bleached which would have been due to its spring moult and as the days went on it started to show extremely well and come to bread which lead to me being able to extract a series of shots in the field to study more when I headed back to base; after looking at a number of features the idea that this individual could infact be a candidate for a NE Canadian race of Iceland Gull kumlieni, started to become more & more realistic due t…

Winter Birding: 1st winter Scandinavian Herring Gulls

The thought of trying to pick out a Scandinavian Herring Gull (LarusArgentatus), amongst a flock of 100's of varied plumaged British Herring Gulls (LarusArgenteus), is enough to put any birder off gulling for life! But fear not my friends, as here is a brief guide to identifying 1st winter Argentatus Herring Gulls whilst out in the field.

The key things which I note when I'm out in the field during the winter months when looking through a flock of Herring Gulls, usually tends to be the pattern of the scapulars. This is a good feature to look out for due to the majority of 'Argenteus' birds having already moulted there 1st cycle scapulars and begin to start showing 2nd cycle feathers on the mantle. The 2nd cycle scapulars mainly appear in the the upper half as a result of 'Argenteus' moult occurring earlier than there northern race of 'Argentatus' due to the differences in breeding.

So lets begin shall we ? Insert 1 shows a classic 1st winter 'Arge…

Winter Birding: Cian's thoughts on the 'Continental' Cormorant

Ever since the beginning of 2015 a major part of my birding life has been dedicated to one of my favourite birds, the Great Cormorant and more to the point the two sub species of it which occur in British waters, ssp carbo & ssp sinensis. When I first started out with Cormorants I like many believed that every Cormorant which had a gular pouch (the yellow skin at the base of the bill), over 90 degrees was to be classed as that of the Continental race of Great Cormorant ssp Sinensis, not the Atlantic race of ssp Carbo which is what were more familiar with here in the UK & Ireland. Yet in fact over the last year or so I have learned that this is not the case, infact its far from it; So here's my thoughts on the Identification of 'Continental' Great Cormorant in Ireland. Although I have not yet got a chance to study these bird's abroad I hope to soon and have been I contact with experienced Birders who have.
Above is a perfect example of the classic 'Atlantic…

Winter Birding: Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings have always been a bird I really enjoyed finding along my local beaches and headlands, as it's only been in the last year that I've noted the 'Icelandic' race of this winter treat.
A flock of 7 Snow buntings turned up in November of last year on my local patch in Co.Wicklow, this is when the 'Icelandic' birds were brought to my attention for the first time. These Snow Bunting in particular showed very well at times and one day I decided to spend a full day watching them to get some good shots of one of the bird which was a dark immature bird. At first all birds in the flock struck me as your average 'nivalis' bird's that we get from Scandinavia, but I was wrong.
This is the immature Snow Bunting (above) that I mentioned to you earlier which fits the bill for an 'Icelandic' type; features that I noted were how overly dark the bird was, brownish red to the mantle and wings, small black streaks flowing throughout the bird, rusty …