Pallid Swift Identification

under pressure

by Martin G.

I think this is my first ever solo observer ‘rarity’ record. Of course it would go and involve a species that’s reckoned to be one of the trickiest identification challenges in British birding. A briefly seen fly by Pallid Swift claim. I am tempted just to hide away and say nothin’!
In short I took our dog Ebony for an evening walk, last Saturday evening (26th Oct.) near North Landing Flamborough. I wasn’t expecting to see much but my first Ring Ouzel of the autumn was very welcome. It was hard to see but having manged a couple of photos of it diving into a bush I approached for a closer view. I then noticed a swift sp. flying towards me. I literally thought ‘Oh No!” I knew this could be good, or torture.  I identified this  bird as Pallid for myself within about 15 seconds- structure really good, big pale face, pale brown ‘window’ from below (secondaries and inner primaries) and obvious brown tones glimpsed on upperparts. Not much though, and all a little subjective! Then it flew further away and into low harsh light and as it did I grabbed my camera and rattled off a few images, before putting news out. The whole encounter might have lasted about a minute (or less!) . Despite a good effort put in by friends the bird could not be located and wasn’t seen again.

Ring ouzel b Holmes gut 27.10.13Ring Ouzel diving into bush in Homes Gut. Just before a swift appeared…

The images are poor. The bird is flying into low evening light, at some distance from me, so they are heavily cropped. I was very curious to see what ‘evidence’ could be obtained in this brief fly by view. Of course I had my own field observation and impression… and these photos.

I have had some feedback on these photos from 3 friends. I will put these comments up later, but before then, given some interest in the challenges of Common and Pallid Swift ID (views, light, experience, pros and cons of photographs etc) I wondered if some might like to have a look at the images that I have had to wrestle with:

Pallid Swift d Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

Pallid Swift f Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

Pallid Swift j Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

Pallid Swift Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

Pallid Swift g Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

Pallid Swift h Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

Pallid Swift m Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

Pallid Swift n Flamboro 26 Oct 2013

and if you are bored with Pallid Swift stuff- then perhaps you can appreciate this ending to an email from Swedish birder, Hans Larsson I got a couple of days ago:

BTW, I went to our only prominent cliffs in my part of the province of Scania yesterday in hope for a Pallid. To my surprise I did found a Swift, but it turned out to be a White-rumped! Still in shock today…

Best wishes,


more photos here



About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
This entry was posted in Flamborough, Swifts. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Pallid Swift Identification

  1. alexandre says:

    I Martin,
    I’m an amateur birdwatcher living in France – with poor english skills … – but I know (at least I think so !) quite well pallid (and common) Swift, as we have several (sometimes mixed) colonies of the two species in south and south-west of the country. I admit that “your” bird is, by me, a perfect or so candidate for pallid, with such an impression of large “waist and hip-size” on your photos, plus – as you stated previously – pale windows on underwings and clear and large pale “face”. This constitue to me a very good “combo” of structural and coloring features, allowing to claim that this swift is a pallid. More subjective is the “not-so-sharp” impression gives by the wings of this bird…
    But I read and learn more about swift in autumn (thanks to some article, forum and your excellent website) and I realize now that this subject is far for simple… However and from pictures you have took, if I have seen a swift like yours – even in october – I will consider pallid and not comon.

    P.S. : thank you for your site, very interesting and full of excellent and original informations !


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