Thursday, October 23, 2014

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) at the cape today

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) [Pt.: Petinha-silvestre; D.: Waldpieper] near the cape of Sagres ("Cabranosa") today. The bird has been found by Thijs Valkenburg on Tuesday. Could not find the also reported Yellow Browed Warbler - instead I heard a Richard's Pipit (Anthus richardi) flying over and calling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pallid Harrier

Guiding a group of birders from Germany around Sagres on the 3rd of October, we walked along a track through the fields and the Garigue, watching Whinchats, Tawny Pipits, many Northern Wheatears and also two Little Bustards, when we picked up a juvenile Harrier hunting in "Vale Santo"-area at around 10 a.m.
While "jizz" and structure layed somehow in between Hen- and Montagu's Harrier, the bright orange body plumage and the lack of any streaking on neck and breast plus the contrasting head markings excluded a Hen Harrier. Also primary-tips, as far as I could see, looked good for a juvenile Pallid Harrier! But without having achieved closer observations nor reasonable photos - I called it a probable Pallid Harrier Circus macrouros at this point.
About two hours later we had arrived at the observation-point, a small hill side with a geodetic mark near a Pine-forest overlooking the open, heathland-like Garigue in western direction. Around 20 observers were on- or near the watchpoint, when the same bird approached the hill from the west and passed along side it at about 100 m distance, first in southern- and then back in northerly direction.
While most observers soon called it a Pallid- or probable Pallid, at least one observer, experienced with the species, stated it would be clearly too "heavy" and could impossible be a Pallid - rather a Hen Harrier. Well, since members of the Portuguese rarities comittee were also present this moment, this opinion was soon overruled. However, something about the bird remains slightly "atypical" -  or not?

Foto by Ramona Strempel

Foto by Ramona Strempel

I have sent a few photos I took of the bird (the first three) - record shots, basically - to Dick Forsman, who is considered the leading expert in the field of raptor-identification in Europe and the WP and share here, what he kindly comented on the bird:

Hi Georg,
Thanks for your mail.
It is an interesting bird you have, and it is a pity that there has been so much heat haze, that the images are slightly blurred. This prevents us from seeing the important small details of the underbody and wing-tip.
I agree the bird looks a bit on the heavy side with rather broad-looking wings, but if it is a young female (should have a dark iris), then it is still within the limits for a Pallid. Also the wing-tip looks a bit broad and rounded, but I cannot see that the crucial p6 (the fifth feather counting inwards from the outermost primary) is either too long or clearly emarginated, as it should on a hybrid Hen x Pallid. Also the dark trailing edge of the hand looks a bit too distinct, but also some juv Pallids have this feature, and as you say, it tends to vary with the angle of the light.

Despite the few oddities I think this bird can be accepted as a big and heavy female Pallid. However, if it was a young male (yellow iris), then things are different and the identification is in need of reconsideration. I would be interested in seeing more images of this bird in case it stays around.

best regards,