Tuesday 24 February 2015

An Interesting Skylark

Yesterday whilst working in Somerset on the River Parrett near Pawlett, I noticed two larks routing around in the tideline debris after a series of high tides. One of these birds was a 'normal' Skylark whilst the other bird was extremely pale. I was about 15 yards away and saw the birds naked eye and my first thought was Short-toed Lark as it appeared to be so sandy. Upon getting the scope on the bird it soon became apparent that the bird was an Alauda lark but markedly paler than a standard Skylark. At the time I knew nothing about other forms of Skylark but had a hunch this would perhaps be a middle eastern or Russian bird and managed to grab a couple of iphone scoped photos which are included below.

There were no brown tones in the fringes to the feathers giving it a much paler look and the primary projection appears very short. I posted these images on twitter and Martin Garner came back with:

So I quickly headed off to look at the relevant Lees and Ball (2011) paper in BB which describes a grey Skylark from Lincolnshire in 1988 which seemingly didnt fit dulcivox. I had a look at this and the Shirihai (1986) Oriental Skylark Paper. The latter was of interest due to the very short primary projection of the bird in question and this being a feature of Oriental Skylark.

Upon reading the RIACT statement and the Lees and Ball paper it became apparent that the primary difference between the various subspecies is the concentration of melanin in the feathers and thus a bird with paler feathers could be an aberrant bird rather than a vagrant from further east. Without trapping the bird and getting some DNA or isotope based fun it would seem it cant really be progressed anywhere.

Then Peter Stronach forwarded me his picture of the Whalsay bird from 2007 which was put forward as a potential dulcivox. The picture reminds me of how I initially saw the bird with the normal Skylark. I kicked myself for not getting both in the frame.

Whalsay Skylark, 5th October 2007 (Peter Stronach).
So what to make of it? In old money it seems to fit Alauda arvensis dulcivox for plumage but it could in theory be a pale standard Skylark with a deficiency of melanin. My gut feeling is it is from further east than Bridgwater. I didnt hear anything other than standard Skylark calls which would seem to point against it being Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula but I cant really work out why it had such a short primary projection. Overall a very interesting bird and one I have learnt plenty from without really resolving much. Any thoughts on its possible identity or point of origin would be gladly received. 

Saturday 21 February 2015

Lunchtime diversion

So I was working on Teesside yesterday and seeing precisely FA when I heard the GW Teal had relocated to Dorman's Pool. A 9 minute twitch was fully successful as it swam across the back of the pool with a trio of standard flavour birds. Then back to work...

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Patchwork Mayhem

I have been somewhat under the cosh in my spare time setting up the 2015 edition of Patchwork Challenge. This has eaten into my evenings, weekends and even sleep. We seem to be nearly there and with nearly 500 entrants and 300 with scores submitted it marks a massive expansion. Additionally I have been doing fieldwork all over the north with this Mountain Hare and a Viking Gull on various surveys.

Despite these exciting times I have managed a little birding with Red-necked Grebe at Barmston the highlight. On that same morning I had about 10,000 auks south - it was super busy! This was last Friday before I started work now I am able to work from home occasionally. On the Saturday I managed to connect with the Black-bellied Dipper at Harpham, a mere 2 miles from home. And so did Abby! My youngest accompanied me as we wandered along Kelk beck watching it and an accompanying Grey Wagtail.

On the Sunday we were messing about in Filey in the afternoon and as recompense I was allowed to get a quick view of the Surf Scoter that was hugging the Brigg. Sadly I was on top of Carr Naze...

Today after some dawn work we tried for the geese at Widdrington but I failed to connect with the Ross's/Barnacle or Tundra Beans. We did manage a walk at St Mary's which added Wigeon, Purple Sandpiper, Sanderling  and a few other odds and sods taking me to 45 species and 50 points there. A quick sojorn to Rising Sun failed to add any owls but I managed to pick up a Mediterranean Gull on Swallow Pond.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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