• Vincent

Smart lockdown birding

It would be odd not to mention the current global crisis.

I know people who have lost relatives, I know underpaid health care workers that run a serious risk of getting infected, and I know people that are on the verge of losing their pub. But when Covid-19 hasn’t hit you personally it’s fair to say that, on the whole, the Dutch have been lucky. We have a functioning government, relatively few people got infected and economically we can take bigger blows than most other countries.

And then there was our so-called smart lockdown. We did not get locked up in our houses. Protected areas and parks are still open to the public, as long as you stick to the rules of social distancing. Which means we can still go out birding: a major difference compared to birders in several other countries I spoke to. And out I went nearly every day.

I had a record number of encounters with Ring Ouzels. Short-eared Owls seemed to be everywhere I went. Asio species are my favourite owls!

One even flew over my house!

And well, I even illegally twitched a Black-headed Wagtail (illegal since it could be considered a gathering). Since it was within my birding territory I just couldn't restrain myself - though perhaps I should have.

Some nice raptors included a few White-tailed Eagles (also with one over my house!)

And sightings of another spring delight: both kite species, like this Red.

There were singing Wood Warblers and a Serin, a Purple Heron and a Caspian Tern, and studying non-breeding wagtail forms is always sweet. That kind of stuff.

The latest addition to the long list of scarcer-but-not-rare-birds was this Golden Oriole.

But despite being out a lot, enjoying returning migrants, and seeing all those smart birds it was my slowest spring to date when it comes to truly unexpected encounters.

Was I getting slow? Are the years starting to count?

Perhaps not! This hybrid House x Tree Sparrow was unexpected.

By finding it I at least proved to myself that I was still keen to some degree. And you know what: it's actually more interesting than many rarities!

I have a thing for hybrids, and I've always wanted to see one of these. I devoted a page to record it properly.

Stay safe and healthy everybody. And who know what late spring has in stock!

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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