Flamborough 7th April 2013

Exciting and peculiar start to ‘spring’

Winds dropping from the persistent cold northerlies made way for a rash of birds. Not however the expected summer visitors to Britain. No, the day was marked by backed up returnees heading north and east to Scandinavia. Heading out on my early walk with Ebony, our family collie, a Goldcrest was calling outside the front door. A migrant! 60 Blackbirds in migrant habitat and an an obvious continental Robin gave more October than April feel.

These early morning suggestions of movement soon gave way to rash of good birding indeed quite a ball! Loads of thrushes (counts just quick add ups from shared info) 250 Blackbirds, 105 Redwing 20 Goldcrests and 7 Robins, 2 Waxwing (over my house) a Bittern, a Great Grey Shrike, Woodlark, Crane, 3 Red Kites and more Buzzards. See more from Mark at nearby Filey. Click here.

My first full overnight of sound recording last night (Flamborough village) inc plenty Blackbirds and Redwing, Wigeon, Curlew and some intriguing un- ID’s. To be explored further…

A Bue-crowned Bittern

Not a new species. Mega rare with only 2 previous records east of Danes Dyke. Found by day visitor to Bempton RSPB, who saw it in fight dropping in to Buckton Pond as they drove past. Peculiar to this bird though was a soft pastel blue-grey tone to the feathers on the crown (and even down the nape) and to less extent but still present  in the malar regions. These are normally blackish (adults) or sometimes browner in younger birds. But not blue. 

Can’t find any reference on a quick check to blue-grey tones on Eurasian Bittern head patterns. Any suggestions?

Bittern b Buckton Pond 7.4.13

Bittern d Buckton Pond 7.4.13

black redstart1st Black Redstart of the year, a bird at North Landing. On arriving Carolyn B. asked for a little help with the ID off the bird she was watching. before seeing it she described perfectly a Black Redstart- a new bird for her. Nice one!

white wing argenteusThis fella has been around for a few years (per Brett Richards). An adult argenteus Herring Gull with normal left wing and white patterned right wing. With the gulls by Danes Dyke.


About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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13 Responses to Flamborough 7th April 2013

  1. James McCallum says:

    I’ve seen a couple of wintering Bitterns that appeared similar to this. In addition one memorable observation concerned a ‘text book plumaged-bird’ which, having spent several minutes preening under one wing, raised a very floury head – presumably covered in powder down. It was reminiscent of the bird you’ve photographed here and perhaps provides an explanation??

    • Martin Garner says:

      Thanks James- very useful to know there have been similar observations. I think I know what you mean but can you explain ‘powder down’ a little more? Sounds like a plausible explanation I certainly hadn’t thought of

      Thanks Martin

  2. Alfano Vincenzo says:

    Sono anche i riflessi e la luce dell ambienta a dare quel colore particolare, io penso che quello è piu un grigio, un nero molto spento reso ” blu” dal cielo sopra o comunque dalle luci, dai riflessi

    • Alfano Vincenzo says:

      or an old Bittern with grey hair!?!? We have “the possibility of age”??? i’m sorry for my horrible english…!

      • Martin Garner says:

        Alfano- yes indeed a good question. Actually my gut reaction was- and maybe it’s apparent from the photos- a rather pale bird overall less heavily marked and pigmented suggesting a 2cy. However it’s just presumptive guesswork, I haven’t taken the aging any further. It’s not a subject I know about in Bitterns

        Thanks agin


  3. James McCallum says:

    Powder Down – I looked this up shortly after observing it and was amazed to find out just what happens. Anyhow if my memory serves me this is basically what I read – perhaps somebody else will explain it more clearly –
    Bitterns + Herons and some other bird species have patches on their bodies where this powder down is produced. I think that these are patches of specialised down feathers that are not moulted and grow continuously and disintegrate at their tips to form fine powder. Bitterns have two pairs on the breast sides and thighs and these presumably help the birds clean themselves from fish slime…etc. The Bittern I saw ‘powdering’ itself looked rather similar to your photos and it remained looking like this for an hour or so until I lost sight of it in the reeds. Of course if the bird you saw continues to look like this throughout the day then you can quickly dismiss the idea – It was just a thought!
    (Found a dead Little Egret and it was quite easy to locate them – they looked quite horrible but are clearly useful!)
    I also found some sketches of two different wintering Bitterns which both have dull grey-blue crowns, I’d put these down as young birds but am not 100%

    • Martin Garner says:

      Wow thank James. I have never heard of Powder Down before- so fascinating to me. Sounds at last a plausible explanation. the bird was only present for less than one day so hard to monitor if a permanent or temporary ‘condition’. thanks for taking the time


      • James McCallum says:

        And I thought you were a feather man! I found the subject fascinating – connected and equally interesting is the preening comb present on the inner edge of the middle toe. I once found a dead Bittern and was amazed to see theses beautifully formed combs – I really like these adaptations but they are frustratingly hard to see in the field

      • Norman McCanch says:

        Hi Martin,
        just found this note; I have a photo of the powder down patches on a dead bittern recovered from my local patch last year which I will email separately for info

  4. Robbe says:


    This Bittern I photographed in Belgium on Feb 8th has ‘powder’ even on the base of the bill.

  5. Martin Garner says:

    James, Norman and Robbe

    Thanks very much. I for one have really learnt something new. Will follow up with a photo from Norman his comments. Martin

  6. Pingback: Bitterns and Powder Down | Birding Frontiers

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