Category Archives: Bird Identification Aid

Wood Ducks on small pond in Brandenburg

BrautenteOn the reedy pond of a pumping station in southern Brandenburg, mist clouds rise above the water in the early autumn morning. A quick visit shows a surprise. It is a pair of Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) sitting on the rusty railing of a staircase. The male is in full breeding plumage. This was the first record of a pair for the Nuthe-Nieplitz-Niederung for me.

The primary breeding habitats of Wood Ducks are wooded sections of slow-flowing rivers and their oxbow lakes, as well as marshy lowlands interspersed with old trees. During the ice-free months, the Wood Ducks living in Europe mostly inhabit water bodies in urban settlement areas, especially tree-lined park ponds and/or those with half-tame water fowl.

The Wood Duck has been kept in German zoos and private facilities since the middle of the 19th century and is often bred in captivity. Observation reports show a focus in urban settlement areas or even in the middle of big cities. The focus seems to be more in the west of Germany. There were targeted settlements more than 100 years ago, in e.g. the Berlin Zoo. The pairs multiplied initially, but went out with the ceasing of additional feeding. Because of numerous breeding in captivity and mostly good reproduction rates, there are regularly field observations of individuals. The Wood Duck, however, is (still?) a non-established neozoon. One of the causes is said to be the high predation of the raccoon, which is actually quite common in the area.

With little or no inclination of local birds to migrate, it can be assumed that the same individuals stay in the territory throughout Continue reading Wood Ducks on small pond in Brandenburg

Little Terns breeding in Brandenburg

ZwergseeschwalbeThe gravel and sand pit opens up a view like over a prehistoric river landscape. Between shallow water areas, sandy areas, reeds the blue water sparkles. The edges of the pit are separated by heaped dams from the agricultural land. Suddenly a bird emerges at about the edge of the dam, which is characterized by a peculiar flight. Choppy wing movement is a feature. This is typical for the flight of the Little Tern (Sternula albifrons). The movement is easy and fast. In between, a sharp and shrill “ki-ki-kit” is heard again and again. Yes, the distinctive, penetrating calls of the Little Tern make it possible to identify and recognize them even at a distance. Sometimes the bird stops and hovers when hunting for fish at low altitude above the water surface. The Tern stands in the air until it has spotted a fish, circles into a dive, disappears with a lot of water splashes in the pebble lake, then (hopefully) catches a fish and rises again from the water under water splashes.

The Little Tern is a typical small tern. It is told apart from afar by its conspicuous flight, her size (if to assess) and especially the pale yellow beak with a small dark tip on. If you look closer, the white forehead (unlike the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) will stand in front of a black head cap. Like in the other Sterna-terns, the plumage Continue reading Little Terns breeding in Brandenburg

Pintail Snipe: ID for a WP vagrant

SpießbekassineThe genus Gallinago provides observers with difficulties in field identification, chiefly because of the rather similar general plumage patterns of snipes and their concealed lifestyle. Most views are of flushed birds flying away from the observer. Difficulties generally arise between large-looking Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) and Great Snipe (Gallinago media) but emphasis on these two species should not preclude the possibility of other Palearctic snipes, especially the Pintail Snipe (Gallinago stenura), occurring as vagrants in western Europe. The inclusion of the Pintail Snipe in a popular European field guide has attracted the attention of observers to the species, but the brief description given there is of little use in the field. The small Jacksnipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) should not be discussed here, as it looks different due to the short beak and acts significantly different and also differs greatly when flushed from a Gallinago snipe.

The Pintail Snipe breeds widely across Siberia, from the western foothills of the Urals east to Anadyrland. Field identification on the ground is not easy as the distinctions between the Snipe and the Pintail Snipe on the ground are not so obvious as in flight. If the two species are seen together, however, the Pintail Snipe can be picked out by the buff stripes along the Continue reading Pintail Snipe: ID for a WP vagrant

Common Barn-owl in Sri Lanka

The buoyant, slow, wavering flight of the Common Barn-owl (Tyto alba) with its legs dangling makes the owl appear ghost-like. Sometimes it can be seen as a fast, dark shadow in the evening sky. The nocturnal birds are a special challenge for bird photographers. They can only be photographed with a lot of knowledge of the right location, some time and normally a considerable use of technology. This individual to photograph on a perch just after sunset near a lake (they call it tank) in Tissamaharama, southern Sri Lanka, was only possible due to the intense knowledge of the local guide.

The Common Barn-owl owes its name to the pronounced heart-shaped face veil. The shape and bright color of the veil make it easy to distinguish it from other owls. The owl’s silent flight is famous. Because the body plumage is very soft and the outer wing feathers are serrated the barn owl can glide silently through the night. In contrast to one or the other domestic owl species, the barn owl is Continue reading Common Barn-owl in Sri Lanka

Eurasian Pygmy-Owls in Brandenburg

SperlingskauzWintertime is the best time to detect owls. And the Eurasian Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) is no exception to that pattern. The Rochauer Heide, an area of dense oak and pine forest some 60 km south of Berlin, lies in a monotonous peace in the wintry twilight. The oaks are bare and the pines and spruces give with their green the only change in the gray-brown of the forest. Then – about 5:30 p.m. – on this February evening, the monotonous, high-pitched call of the Eurasian Pygmy-Owl can be heard from a dense forest patch; not far from the well-developed dirt road. The slight east wind of the day has subsided; it is getting colder now at dusk. It should be around 0 ° C. Then even a second calling owl comes in. A second male feels addressed and also calls, but in a different, different pitch. First, the second caller is heard at a distance. But this Eurasian Pygmy-Owl feels provoked, flies along the forest path and finally sits right next to its rival. My location seems to be near the territorial border of the two male Eurasian Pygmy-Owls. Their encounter seems so shocking that both Eurasian Pygmy-Owls are now silent. The rival flies away again. Its silhouette is beautiful to be seen in front of the cloudless sky. Now the first – probably the territory owner – begins to sing in a higher pitch while the second Eurasian Pygmy-Owl male responds with a Continue reading Eurasian Pygmy-Owls in Brandenburg

Oriental Skylark versus Eurasian Skylark

Kleine FeldlercheThe Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula) is basically an “eastern” species.  Nonetheless, the species is a local migrant and winter visitor in Israel. The best places to observe them are the are alfalfa and lucerne fields in the valleys. During migration periods, these larks are regularly seen along the Mediterranean coast. The Lesser Skylark is often seen in small groups of about 3-5 birds, but sometimes in larger concentrations in winter. It is therefore quite possible that the Oriental Skylark will be encountered at some point in Western Europe. Therefore it is good to have the most important characteristics for species identification ready – especially in differentiation to the Eurasian Skylark.

Many observers familiar with the Lesser Skylark explain how strikingly different the structure of the Lesser Skylark is from its close relative, the Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis). Of course, the species is most likely to be confused with the Eurasian Skylark, especially with the smaller subspecies. However, when visibility is good, the attentive observer should not perceive the separation of the species as a serious problem.

A trip to Sri Lanka gave the chance to observe and photograph several individuials of the nominate subspecies gulgula in Bundala Nationalpark in southern Sri Lanka. Alauda gulgula gulgula is spread as a breeding bird over almost the whole India subcontinent, from Continue reading Oriental Skylark versus Eurasian Skylark

Singing Cisticola at Nyika National Park

Weißbrauen-CistensängerIn the foothills of the Nyika National Park in western Malawi, a singing Singing Cisticola (Cisticola cantans) of the subspecies muenzneri could be heard. A little later, the Singing Cisticola is hidden on an acacia branch. When the song of the Singing Cisticola is played from the tape, it does not keep the bird in cover and it comes very nicely exposed on a branch over a stream. The song is generally very important for Cisticolidae-birds. In particular, the members of the genus Cisticola produce a variety of note types, from hard, harsh, rasping tones and sweet trills to plaintive bleats and musical whistles. Their songs are almost always unique and often give the best indication of species determination. As they look quite the same in the genus, this is often the best clue to their identity. A curious visual feature that accompanies the song in many styles is a blackish palate that is well visible in the blog´s Continue reading Singing Cisticola at Nyika National Park

Collared Plover on a sandbar in the Pantanal

Azararegenpfeifer oder Schlankschnabel-RegenpfeiferA tiny white-gray-brown bird runs swiftly ahead of me on the sands of the Rio São Lourenço, which is called Rio Cuiabá as well. It is a Collared Plover (Charadrius collaris). I lie down on the sand and let the bird come. It walks here, sometimes there. But over time the wader gets closer and closer. I decide to take a few photos with the 4.0 / 500 on the monopod from the plover, but also from the other waders on the sandbanks. Who knows when to find them again?

In addition to the Pied Lapwings (Vanellus cayanus) I dedicate a lot of time especially to the Collared Plover. With their chestnut-brown neck, gray-brown mottled coat and pure white bottoms, they are very rich in contrast. There is also a black chest band. The male I photograph has a white forehead bounded by a black frontal strip and at the bottom by a black eyestripe. Strikingly are the long pinkisj legs. Collared Plovers differ from most similar species of plovers by the narrow black breast band.

Actually, I wanted to make my way back today via the Transpantaneira. A rain front is announced. If the road is soaked and I have to drive with snow chains, I must pull these down before each bridge, because otherwise I will irrevocably disassemble the bridge and my land cruisers, too. The chains get caught in no time in the fixing iron or in the protruding nails.

Other sympatric Charadrius plovers occurring in similar habitats look very similar. One of them is Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus), the American representative of our Kentish Plover (Charadrius Continue reading Collared Plover on a sandbar in the Pantanal

Little Bee-eaters and a bridal gift

ZwergspintWatching and photographing the colorful Bee-eater is always a great experience. The (European) Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), which also occurs in Germany, is only one representative of a whole family, which has its stronghold in the tropics, especially in Africa. A common representative in Kenya is the Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus), which occurs in a large part of sub-Saharan Africa. I was especially happy that I was able to photograph this Bee-eater on the approach of the branch and that it also took along its prey, a fat hoverfly. The courtship is a very special ritual between the Bee-eaters. The male brings his beloved a bride gift in the form of a fat wasp, bee or dragonfly. Bee-eaters, according to their name, like to present striped insects. At that moment in the Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Kenya in October she, the female, sits for a while next to or behind him and does not appear immediately interested. Perhaps as a bride, she is waiting for the male to offer her the wedding gift even more invitingly. She adorns herself, but Continue reading Little Bee-eaters and a bridal gift

Young Warbler as an ID-challenge in southern Brandenburg in Germany

SumpfrohrsängerIn the beginning of August I shot the image of a drab warbler near a pond in southern Brandenburg. I did not realize the bird at that moment, as the whole willow bush in a otherwise highly agricultural land was quite busy with migrating birds, e.g. Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) well. I think, I remember that “Marsh Warbler” was my first thinking? The slender appearance on one of the images would be a hint. But he greyish tinged legs, the shape and colour of the bill and especially the head pattern made me think of a Sylvia-Warbler. The brownish cap could be some pollution/ pollen, yes. But I thought this not very useful in August.  What really irritated me were the colour and the contrast in the tertial fringes, which was the reason I had the impression that the bird looks a hybrid between a Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) and a Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis). Looking at the images with 2 month in between, I was more in the direction of thinking of a young Blackcap due to the whitish eyering and the shape of the bill. Continue reading Young Warbler as an ID-challenge in southern Brandenburg in Germany

Red-footed Falcons in Berlin and Brandenburg

RotfußfalkeIn case of observations of Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) it is important to rule out other small falcons. The type of hovering of the Red-footed Falcon is often called useful for species identification. In a case of observation in the Lower Flaeming, 50km south of Berlin, this was very helpful. The gentle hilly landscape of the Lower Flaming south of the medieval town of Jueterbog is agriculturally used. Therefore irrigation systems and electricity pylons are almost the only landmarks. Red-footed Falcon can see you from afar. And you might realize Red-footed Falcon from a distance as well – if you are aware of their field marks. Two Red-footed Falcons were sitting on power lines in the hilly landscape of the Lower Flaming. One of the Red-footed Falcons flies off, sweeping over a harvested potato field at a remarkable speed, then rises and hovers. A little later the birds dives down to earth and comes up a little later with a big insect in the clutches.

Flight pattern was quite good to observe. The Red-footed Falcon in its graceful and agile flight behavior is generally located between the Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and the Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo) and may sometimes have traits of both Falcons. The Red-footed Falcon has a quick and agile cross-country flight on its Continue reading Red-footed Falcons in Berlin and Brandenburg

Eurasian Reed-Warbler in a jungle of reed

Reed seems a monotonous habitat. In early spring, the reeds of the previous years are uniform and stand close to each other; pale gray, sometimes brown. Peeling stalk layers of the reed already provide for the maximum of visual variety. Otherwise: a sea of ​​vertical stems. But like the right sea, the reed “sea” is inhabited. And this habitat is both species-rich and individual-rich. One of the inhabitants is the Eurasian Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus). Its plumage is as grayish-brownish as its surroundings. Like its habitat, this bird ist drab, this bird has no obvious features for the birder. A closer relative is Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinioides), which is colored brown, too. Like the Savi’s Warbler the tail of the Eurasian Reed-Warbler is slightly wedge-shaped, but not as strong and broad as in the Locustella- Warblers.

What is striking, though, are the song of the inhabitants of the sea of reed. This applies to the Reed-Warbler as well as for the Locustella- Warblers. Here is the Eurasian Reed-Warbler to advantage. Its song consists of a continuous, strongly rhythmic rarely accelerating performed scandals. As a rule, simple and short, relatively quiet and slowly recited elements are introduced; the louder body with constant pause lengths usually ends abruptly after different durations. Its singing can probably not be described as well-sounding. The singing is rather scratchy. But not so rough and deep compared to the Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), which also lives in extensive reeds. The bird sometimes sings in the cover of the reed; but also like to sing in dense bushes. In choral singing with neighbors, it does not keep the Eurasian Reed-Warbler Continue reading Eurasian Reed-Warbler in a jungle of reed