December 20, 2014

Bohemian Rhapsody

text & photos by ABu

1. Can you identify this bird?
UB, October 2014

2. What about this one? Any idea?
UB, October 2014

3. Another bird, another try!
UB, October 2014

OK, OK, I must admit that it is not really challenging to identify all the birds above as Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus. But what about sexing and aging them?

Even for the most basic science projects, like counting birds, one needs to identify the birds that got to be counted. More sophisticated scientific approaches surely could and would largely benefit from more elevated skills. It is possible to monitor the breeding success of species that breed in area with low observation pressure. All high arctic geese species are monitored on their wintering grounds, because it is easy to tell adults from juveniles. By doing so the data collected become also very valuable for conservationists. Aging and sexing is not possible in many songbirds but in Bohemian Waxwing it is straightforward.

All the information about sexing and aging of Bohemian Waxwing can be found in various publications (see below) and I simply have compiled this info here. The pictures show the Asian subspecies centralasiae which does not differ much from nominate. They had been taken on 25 October 2014 below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Ulaanbaatar, where c. 250 waxwings were busily foraging in the trees.

So let’s start with task of aging. All you need to do is checking the primary tips. There are 6 to 7 exposed primary tips to be checked. Juvenile primaries, which are moulted about one year after fledging, differ obviously from older generations of primaries. If the bird in question has the yellow fringe at the tip only on the outer web then it still has juvenile primaries and hence is in its first winter. On the folded wing these pale yellow streaks seemingly fuse to a single line. Adults show also some yellow along the feather tip on the inner web which creates a clear yellow angle. This is most pronounced in males. Females usually show only very weak yellow fringes on the inner web which can be completely lacking on some primaries. But even so, there never will be just a single line down the primaries. Furthermore the yellow is yellower in adults, especially on the inner 3 to 4 of the exposed primaries.

Once aging is completed one could continue with sexing. For sexing you should check all of the several field marks to reach the safe side. In general, and this applies to all ages, males show a wider yellow tip to the tail feathers. Unfortunately there is a little overlap making this feature not totally foolproof. This means that only extremes can be sexed by using solely this character.

Next to be controlled is the size and number of the waxy tips of the tertials (and some secondaries). Please note, that some adults, and it is again more often seen in males, can show these waxy tips also to the tail feathers. Adults have not only the bigger waxy tips but also more (on average only, so be careful with this as well!) and males have not only bigger ones but also more compared to females of the same age. Because of the overlap in numbers again only extreme examples can be sexed. In young birds those with no or only a single waxy tip are female and those with 8 are male. In adults males have 6 to 8 and females 5 to 7. In field it will be impossible to count the waxy tips accurately enough, so forget it and take good pictures and count the waxy tips on your screen.

Although some think the final character to be checked is not an easy one to pin down in the field, it can be checked on photographs. The lower border of the throat-patch is sharply demarcated in males and is diffuse in females.

In the field it will look like this:

Adult male

Pictures 4 to 6 show the same adult male. Note that this one has only 5 but quite large waxy tips (they can break off! On the other wing it has 7 waxy tips) but it shows both, a very broad yellow tail tip and very broad angles to the primary tips (picture 5). Also, its throat-patch shows a sharp border (picture 6).

The second adult male, featured in pictures 7 to 9, also has a reduced number of waxy tips. But the remaining ones are quite large (long). It has angles to the tips of the primaries, a well defined throat-patch (picture 9) but this one’s tail band is not that broad (picture 8).


4. Adult male Bohemian Waxwing
UB, October 2014

5. Details of tail and wing of the bird in picture 4
UB, October 2014

6. Head of the same bird as in pictures 4 and 5,
UB, October 2014

7. Adult male Bohemian Waxwing
UB, October 2014

8. Details of tail and wing of the bird in picture 7
UB, October 2014

9. Head of the same bird as in pictures 7 and 8,
UB, October 2014


Adult female

Adult females are next. The one in pictures 10 to 12 can easily be aged by its angles on the primary tips (but not on the two longest primaries!). However, they are quite narrow as is the yellow on tail tip. Its 6 waxy tips are rather large (picture 11). In picture 2 it can just be seen that the border of the throat-patch is diffuse.

Another adult female is shown in pictures 13 and 14. Note the narrow angles and its narrow yellow tail-band. It has also 6 rather long waxy tips.


10. Adult female  Bohemian Waxwing
UB, October 2014

11. Details of tail and wing of the bird in picture 10
UB, October 2014

12. Head of the same bird as in pictures 10 and 11,
UB, October 2014

13. Adult female Bohemian Waxwing
UB, October 2014

14. Details of tail and wing of the bird in picture 13
UB, October 2014


First winter male

In the following 4 pictures (13 to 16) you can see how easy it can be if you can look closely enough.

Note that there are no angles on the primaries. It has a very broad yellow tail-band, 6 rather large for a bird of this age waxy tips (picture 14) and shows a very well demarcated throat-patch (pictures 15 and 16).


15. First winter male Bohemian Waxwing
UB, October 2014

Details of tail and wing of the bird in picture 15
16. UB, October 2014


17. Head of the same bird as in pictures 15 and 16,
UB, October 2014

18. Another view of the head of the same bird as in pics 15 to 17,
UB, October 2014


First winter female

The first winter female in the pictures 19 to 21 can be aged by the lack of the primary angles and sexed by the narrow tail band and its diffuse border to the throat-patch.


19. First winter female Bohemian Waxwing
UB, October 2014

20. Details of tail and wing of the bird in picture 19
UB, October 2014

21. Head of the same bird as in pictures 19 and 20,
UB, October 2014


That’s it. Not quite. Test yourself with the following 12 pictures.



Bohemian Waxwing (first winter female)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing (adult male)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing (adult female)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing
(first winter female, aging not possible from this picture)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing
(adult male, same as in pictures 4 to 6)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing (first winter female)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing (adult female)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing (adult female)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing
(first winter female, same as in the next picture)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing
(first winter female, same as in the picture above)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing
(first winter male, same as in the next picture)
UB, October 2014

Bohemian Waxwing
(first winter male, same as in the picture above)
UB, October 2014



First three photos, solution:

Pictures 1 and 2 show an adult male.
Picture 3 shows a first winter male.


Recommended reading

Svensson, L. 1992: Identification Guide to European Passerines. Stockholm.

Svensson, L., K. Mullarney & D. Zetterström 2009: Collins Bird Guide. London.

Graf, O. & R. Martin 2005: Alters- und Geschlechtskennzeichen des Seidenschwanzes Bombycilla garrulus. Limicola 19: 233-239.


I hope that this post will help you in the field.
So go after them!

December 15, 2014

Pechora Pipit:
first photographs from Mongolia

text & photos by Purevsuren Tsolmonjav

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

On 9 September 2014 I was driving to the Galba Gobi IBA (PDF here) from the Oyu Tolgoi mine site to carry out some field work. On the way, I stopped at a small pond which is on the dry river bed of the Undai near Javkhlant Village in Khanbogd Soum, Umnugobi (South Gobi) Province. The pond is surrounded by some old Siberian Elm Ulmus pumila trees. Quite often birds come here for drinking and I intended to check what was around. I saw and photographed a migrating Eurasian Teal and a few Grey Wagtails. Suddenly, a single small pipit Anthus landed on shore of the pond to drink. I took several photos and identified it as Tree Pipit. Later, I checked my photographs and compared them with images of Tree Pipit I found on the internet. But the dark and white stripes on mantle were wrong for this species. Then, I checked the Red List of Mongolian Birds to see which other similar pipits we have in Mongolia. After having done that, Pechora Pipit seemed to be the most likely candidate and I checked online images of this species and thought that it indeed could be Pechora Pipit. In October 2014 I went for a birding trip with Abu of Birding Mongolia and the members of Mongolian Bird Watching Club. I told Abu that I might have seen Pechora Pipit in the Gobi but that I wasn’t sure. He agreed to check my pictures later and I sent him some of them. Abu immediately confirmed it is a Pechora Pipit. The Pechora Pipit was there by itself and it came down to water from the elm trees nearby. After drinking for about a minute it flew back into the trees. Then, I had to leave that place and continued my journey.

Puujee


Comment by Birding Mongolia

Traditionally three subspecies of Pechora Pipit are recognized: nominate gustavi, stejnegeri and menzbieri. They are all superficially similar and can probably not safely be separated in the field except by voice (although there hints that gustavi and menzbieri are in fact possibly separable in the field: see Moores 2004). Furthermore, it seems possible that the vocal differences are big enough to warrant specific status for menzbieri (see, for example, Drovetski & Fadeev 2010). “Menzbier’s Pipitmenzbieri breeds in the Russian Far East (middle Amur Valley, southern Ussuriland, over 500 km east of eastern Mongolia) and extreme north-eastern China (eastern Heilongjiang); its wintering area is unknown. Nominate gustavi (in which stejnegeri of the Commander Islands is sometimes included) breeds in northern Russia from north-west of the Urals (west of the Pechora River) east to the Chukotsk Peninsula, south to the middle Yenisey River, middle Lena and Kamchatka; it migrates to the Philippines, northern Borneo and to Wallacea. So both could conceivably turn up in Mongolia as migrants, although an occurrence of menzbieri seems much less likely. There have been several reports of Pechora Pipit from Mongolia before, though none has been validated (to our knowledge) by photographs, sound recordings or by collected specimen. Furthermore, some published records, for example of birds flying up and perching on telephone wires, seem very unlikely given the typical skulking behaviour of the species. If you have any information on the occurrence of Pechora Pipit from Mongolia we would be grateful to hear from you!

The pictures presented here are, to our knowledge, the first of this species Mongolia! Well done, Puujee!


Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, southern Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

ID note by Abu: Pechora Pipit is not so difficult to identify but due to its very skulking behavior the biggest challenge is to find one. It belongs to the smaller pipits and the most striking features are the two off-white tramlines running down its back and the bold white wingbar, created by the broad white tips of the black median wing coverts. The only real confusion species is Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus with which it shares not only the tramlines (although weaker in Red-throated Pipit) but also the full streaks on the flanks. Apart from the different call, Red-throated Pipit differs in a thinner bill and the total lack of primary projection. In Pechora Pipit the primaries are exposed because of the short tertials.


References

Drovetski & Fadeev 2010. Mitochondrial DNA suggests independent evolutionary history and population decline of the Menzbir’s pipit (Anthus [gustavi] menzbieri). Conservation Genetics 11(6): 2419-2423. abstract link

Moores, N. 2004. Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi in South Korea: some pieces in the menzbieri / gustavi puzzle? Birds Korea: article link

December 11, 2014

A Siberian day in Mongolia

text & photos by Abu



Lichen-covered branches in the taiga forest
Ulaanbaatar (UB), October 2014

Since more than 10 years I have some unfinished business with Siberian Tit (called Gray-headed Chickadee by our American friends). I spent many hours birding in the forest, not only near Ulaanbaatar but also in the Khentii Mts, the Khövsgöl region and elsewhere. My frustration grew with every Poecile tit I checked. They always turned out to be either Willow Tit (in most cases) or (Eastern) Marsh Tit. Over the years I visited many sites where Siberian Tit had been seen previously by others. When I was there: nothing! The culmination point was in June 2014 when the Swamprunners where birdwatching at Terelj National Park. They saw it while I had parted from the group and did NOT see it. Damned!

Bird density in boreal forest is quite low, especially in winter. But I knew that it would be just a matter of time until the tit would come across me. Therefore I was very happy to go out birding on 26 October 2014 with a bunch of excellent local birdwatchers. We visited the upper Gachuurt valley which is just an hour drive from the city centre. There you can drive up to the pass and start walking through almost pristine northern forest.

For a photographer the downside of this quite dense forest is that there is never enough light. We had acceptable conditions at the beginning only. Later a thick overcast moved in from the south-west.


Male Three-toed Woodpecker
UB, October 2014

Male Goldcrest in flight
UB, October 2014


Hovering male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014

 
Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014

 
Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014


Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014

 
Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014


Bird list (23 species)

Hazel Grouse - 2 busily singing males which were heard only
Eurasian Black Vulture - 1
Grey-headed Woodpecker - 1
White-backed Woodpecker - 1
Three-toed Woodpecker 1
Red-flanked Bluetail - 1 male at the pass, quite late in the season
Goldcrest - 3


(Eastern) Marsh Tit
UB, October 2014

Siberian Tit
UB, October 2014

Siberian Tit
UB, October 2014

Coal Tit - common and extremely tame around the cone collector sites
Marsh Tit - 6
Willow Tit - c.20
SIBERIAN TIT - c.7
Eurasian Nuthatch - c.6
Eurasian Treecreeper - c.5
Northern Grey Shrike Lanius borealis sibiricus - 2
Eurasian Jay - 5
Siberian Jay - c.7
Spotted Nutcracker - common, maybe 15 seen
Common Raven - 5
Brambling - 1
Mealy Redpoll - several larger flocks on the move
Eurasian Siskin - 1
Eurasian Bullfinch ssp pyrrhula - 3
Grey Bullfinch Pyrrhula (pyrrhula) cineracea - 1
Pine Grosbeak - 3
Red Crossbill - common, but always nervous


Siberian Jay
UB, October 2014

Siberian Jay
UB, October 2014

Siberian Jay
UB, October 2014

Now I can concentrate on my other unfinished businesses. And there are many!