• Vincent

Stormy weather

Sound track advice: Stormy weather - Billie Holiday

I’ve always considered myself a birder with a camera, rather than a bird photographer. What I do is functional, not aesthetic. I’m not particularly gifted in this department, nor am I interested in learning all about camera settings.

But once in a while even an amateur like me makes a decent picture: for the first time one of my shots made it to the cover of a magazine

Figure 1. Cover of Dutch Birding 41:5 with my European Storm-petrel picture

This European Storm-petrel was photographed on 12 August 2019 during one of Paul Connaughan’s Co. Cork pelagics. I planned to go out at the ocean four times, but nearly two weeks of continuous stormy weather saw my ambitions go up in smoke. One trip was all I got, but cracking views of Stormies washed away some of my disappointment.

In the Netherlands Stormies are rare: despite I live along the coast, I’ve only seen them on five days, the last time as long ago as 2010. And though I’ve seen some pretty well, it was nothing like this (a bit shaky, so don't get seasick):

European Storm-petrels, off Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland, 12 August 2019

I was curious to find out how to age these things. This bird is super fresh, crisp really. There’s no wear or moult whatsoever. The outer primary is rather pointed, not rounded. This all points towards a young bird.

Figure 2. European Storm-petrel, first calendar-year male, off Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland, 12 August 2019

I never knew you can also sex them. According to Baker (2016), males have extensive white on the underwing (with white medium coverts and white edges to the outer greaters), but apparently this only works for adults.

I also photographed this youngster that has less white on the underwing:

It makes me wonder if the more extreme birds could be males anyway. But sex: undertermined.

So did I make a decent photograph? I did! But still: functional!

References Demongin (2016) Baker (2016)

#ageing #sexing #EuropeanStormpetrel #DutchBirding

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Little Bunting
The most interesting thing about this chapter is the sexing of birds. This could be done on the basis of lateral crown stripe: a new feature for me. Because of overlap between adult females and young males, birds should first be aged. The authors emphasize that this is their vision, and not necessarily the final answer to this matter. I found one in the field in October (Figure 4-5) of which I took reasonable pictures. The very rounded tail feathers look adult, as do the tertials and large coverts. The lateral crown stripe appears to be jet black and is separated from other feathers, such as the greyer back of the head. The orange-red crown stripe really stands out. Conclusion: according to this book this must be an adult male! The deep brown-red cheek - a variable feature according to this book - also fits that. So it works then? Well… how useful this really is, remains the question: based on this book I would label two "females" in Shirihai & Svensson (p546 both top right and bottom right) as males! The caption of one of these even mentions "safely identified as a female" because it has a relatively dull plumage for an adult bird. But is also has a jet black, strongly separated lateral crown stripe! The bird at the bottom right even has a pretty deeply coloured cheek, which I would be happy to call a male. Is this due to different insights, and if so, who should I believe? Or am I not interpreting this correctly? In any case, it is fascinating!

© 2018 by Vincent van der Spek