coquet nature lover

Friday, 24 February 2017

Male Eastern black redstart looking for a mate

Coquetnaturelover off to the Cleveland coast

On a Saturday in the middle of February when it feels like spring... yet you've got to drive a hundred miles to work in Whitby, what could be better than a short detour to Skinningrove on the North Yorkshire coast to see where a rare Eastern black redstart has set up a winter territory. Well that's what happened to me last weekend and I wasn't disappointed!

In Continental Europe, black redstarts are quite a familiar garden bird however, after a period of easterly winds during the migration season last autumn, some black redstarts of a much more exotic origin appeared on the Cleveland coast! These were Eastern black redstarts, clearly distinguished by their bright orangey-red breasts and black throats. The grey head of this male bird indicates it belongs to subspecies phoenicuroides, which breeds in the Altai region of southern Russia, and neighbouring parts of central Asia including Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan, and the western Himalayas. Another subspecies, rufiventris, is similar but with a blacker head and back and breeds in China and the eastern Himalayas. Both are widespread in India during the winter but the small coastal town of Skinningrove, with its towering cliffs and sheltered bays, is where one of the birds has remained!

looking south towards Whitby from Skinningrove

I thought it might be quite difficult to find this lost migrant but amazingly, this majestic bird was happily singing from a sea wall just a few metres from me. I'm not sure though if he was defending his territory from the confused local robins, or perhaps attempting to attract a mate! It's a pity I didn't take a video for you as you could see his chest pumping in and out as he sang so sweetly. This unusual visitor certainly seemed very content and incredibly tame - not at all intimidated by the numerous families enjoying a coastal walk close to where the bird was perched!

According to RSPB there are around 100 breeding pairs of European birds in Britain, mostly in urban areas of our two largest cities, London and Birmingham, although they do also occur along the south coast. These birds belong to subspecies gibralteriensis. Unlike the colourful Eastern subspecies, European males have an all-black breast. The females of both races are a dull grey colour but all redstarts have a distinctive red tail.

With spring just around the corner, it is likely that this Eastern black redstart will be leaving very soon. Sadly, it's difficult to imagine how he can find his way back to central Asia although in theory, he'd only have to fly across to Europe, or perhaps move to Birmingham in order to find a mate! 

Yes, great views of a lovely little bird with a big personality 
 and well worth the detour! 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Flock of twite at Lindisfarne

Thought these photos might bring you a ray of sunshine to what's been a miserable weekend weatherwise in Northumberland! They were taken on the Lindisfarne coast a couple of weeks ago, not far from the causeway to Holy Island. It's the first time I've seen such a large flock of twite.
I counted at least eight on the tree tops!

large flock of twite
female twite perched on young Ash tree
pale bellied Brent geese wintering on coastal fields in Northumberland
looking across the saltmarsh
tide coming in over the saltmarsh
looking towards Holy Island

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Common ringed plover ring number 895838

Coquetnaturelover's search for migratory birds

Common ringed plovers are a familiar bird of the Northumberland coast. This species used to be more frequent inland, breeding on river shingle in Coquetdale and other valleys, but are now rare in these areas.  There is however a small population at Beadnell Bay where the National Trust manage a 'little tern' breeding colony with fencing to prevent disturbance to the breeding terns. The good news is that it is known that up to twelve pairs of common ringed plovers have bred in this protected area.

Anyhow, this blog post is about a well-travelled bird, bred in Iceland. I thought you might be interested to learn more about her and how the plumage and migration pattern differs to our resident population. 

Common ringed plover chick (Bodvar©)


Common ringed plover 895838 on the move

I first spotted the female common ringed plover, photographed below (ring number 895838) while on holiday in Portugal in 2014. As it had four coloured rings on its legs, I decided to try to find out more about this shorebird and to see if there was a track of its movements and life history.  Due to the fading colours of one of the rings, it took almost sixteen months to confirm its identity. In February 2016, I received an email from the South Iceland Research Centre, based at the University of Iceland, advising me that this borrelho (Portuguese for common ringed plover) was rung as a chick in Sandasandar, Iceland in May 2010! The project they manage monitors the migration of this species with some recordings as far south as Morocco! The report went on to say that the Icelandic population is estimated at 50,000 breeding pairs and is "well known for its leap-frog migration moving south to Portugal, Spain and West Africa" whereas the British population "is mostly sedentary". Thought that would make you smile!

foraging on the foreshore
Santa Luzia, Algarve (Oct 2016)

Although I had to wait quite some time for information, the data I finally received was very detailed, with numerous sightings of the bird I spotted, in both Iceland and Portugal.  There have also been sightings on the same shoreline in Santa Luzia in Oct 2013 and Oct 2014 as well as in Tavira (Oct 2015) which is very close by! Last Autumn (2016), I spotted her again in almost the same location in Santa Luzia. Now, how amazing is that? 

Yes, I'm back for the winter so get off my patch! (Oct 2016)

After wintering on the Algarve, this common ringed plover returns to Iceland in April for the breeding season and then departs sometime in September.  I am not sure how long the journey takes but it seems to be back in Portugal by early October. To see this small bird, in almost the identical spot as last time, to watch her bathe, feed and defend her territory, right in front of my very eyes was quite amazing.  Hopefully, I will see her again on the Ria Formosa this Autumn! 

My contact at the Research Centre regularly updates me with the new sightings and has kindly given me permission to post the following photos. In the second and fourth photo, you can see the summer plumage of the Icelandic breeding population (sub-species psammodroma). In the summer, their plumage looks very similar to that of the common ringed plover that reside in the UK (sub-species hiaticula) although they are relatively smaller in size. In the autumn and winter, they look very different with the Icelandic birds moulting into a much duller plumage, while the British birds keep their black rings throughout the year. According to Engelmoer, and Roselaar's Geographical Variation in Waders, the white patch above the bill is smaller in the Icelandic birds.

From egg to chick - what a beautiful sequence!

 The nest is no more than a shallow scrape in the ground - lined with pebbles
Clutch of four eggs (Bodvar©)
Incubation (Bodvar©)
Cute common ringed plover chick (Bodvar©)
All grown up!  (Bodvar©)
Yes, the bird in the snow in the pic above perhaps looks more slender than our more familiar British common ringed plovers?

Back to Beadnell

The photo of the common ringed plover below was taken in July last year at Beadnell Bay where the National Trust manage the 'little tern' breeding colony, known as the Long Nanny project. To see my post 'A walk at Beadnell Bay, Northumberland click here

  Common ringed plover with dunlin - Beadnell Bay - July 2016
(Common ringed plover: Fr-Bécasseau variable   D-Alpenstrandläufer)
(Dunlin: Fr-Grand gravelot   D-Sandregenpfeifer)

I find these small, dumpy birds very active and difficult to photograph. When feeding, they stand and watch for a moment, then run forwards very fast whilst pecking.  I will have to try to get a close up shot with the subject in the frame next time! Maybe our UK population don't cross borders but as an amateur photographer, I wouldn't describe them as 'sedentary'!

If any of my readers have a good photo of a common ringed plover taken in Northumberland, I would be delighted to add it to this post and credit you with the image source.

More photos of common ringed plover 895838 in Santa Luzia

Here are some snaps that I took on the Ria Formosa back in 2014 when I first saw this wader foraging on the seashore. 

Santa Luzia, Algarve - October 2014
Santa Luzia, Algarve - October 2014


Common ringed plover sightings since ringing date in May 2010

If you are interested, here are the records of this bird's migration pattern which the University of Iceland kindly sent me.  Click below to view data on 895838 as far back as May 2010: