JUNE 2011'S MYSTERY BIRD ANSWERS
Mid-year already and perhaps that's the reason for slightly fewer entries this month, holidays, too much sun, dropping off birds a bit in this alleged quieter period? Either way those 30 who did enter are applauded once again and my sincere thanks go to you. As for the rest of you, you'll have to catch up next month and you know what? You might just have a chance too!
Mystery Bird 11
Ah! A black and white looking bird on water (flying away of course), must be an auks of some form then? Well, two out of thirty thought not and went for Tufted Duck but although there's what seems to be a very slight paler area on the mid wing on the left hand side of the bird, Tufted Duck has rather large and conspicuous full length wingbars which our mystery bird clearly does not. So Tufted Duck is out I'm afraid. That though does indeed leave us with the auks, three of them to be precise. Razorbill (13 votes), Puffin (11 votes) and Guillemot (4 votes). Now, on paper there's some distinct separating features about all of them but most simply can't be seen here of course. Guillemot is browner than the other two but quite often looks just as dark anyway so we've to be cautious of placing too much importance on that here, although it does look admittedly a little too consistency black for Guillemot to be honest. Both Guillemot and Razorbill have white trailing edges to the secondaries and whilst there does seem to be a particularly diffuse hint of such on the right wing, the left certainly seems to lack it. The apparent pale area on the mid wing on the left wing assists us with none of the species and is frankly just a photographic effect of some form or another I assume! So what are we going to use to enable us to come to our conclusion about this mystery birds true identity? Well, one feature and one alone well and truly nails it and despite many entrants mentioning its presence, many of those equally ignored it to boot! Some felt it could be some effect of the water but there was no denying that the birds legs (and certainly the left one we can see quite clearly) look orange. In the words of the infamous Rolf Harris 'can you tell what it is yet'? Only one auk has such coloured legs (well two if you count Tufted Puffin but that also has entirely black underparts too) and that is Atlantic Puffin, which is exactly what the bird is. Although no body actually commented on it, if you check your field guides out, the black on the rump and uppertail covert sides on Puffin usually appears rather straight edged and certainly not with our bird's obvious white patches on each side. So what's going on there then? Well, some things you won't find in field guides but see enough Puffins and you'll pick it up. Often when they're using their legs (either taking off from water as here or also when using them as rudders in flight etc), the white feathering around the legs is pushed up and into the uppertail feathers when the legs are out to the side slightly, which is what's happening here.
Anyway, eleven entrants managed to get this one correct and they all deserve a mention for it so well done to Iain Johnson, John Rayner, Joey Eccles, Henry Cook, Mark Rigby, Adam Jones, Chris Knight, Damian Young (first time, first correct species!), John Frankland, Ian Campbell and Pete Kinsella.
Check out those orange legs in detail! Puffin, Uist, June 2011 (Dennis Atherton)
Mystery Bird 12
And so onto our mystery raptor, yes everyone guessed it was at least that ☺. Five species seemed to fit the photo according to our thirty entrants, with two of them dominating proceedings with 87% of all the votes between them. The apparent bluish upperparts of the mystery bird gave rise to all five suggestions with Red-footed Falcon, Hobby, Merlin, Sparrowhawk and Lanner Falcon all displaying such in one sex or another. One however can be eliminated quite rapidly, as Lanner Falcon (which received one vote) isn't actually on the British List and so couldn't form part of the competition! As for the rest, I can and probably should get it down to our correct answer rather swiftly too. Is there a clue in there somewhere? Much of the trick is in the tail as they say and it certainly is when it comes down to this birds identification. So lets look at them. Merlin (male, received one vote) has a rather broad black terminal band on the tail and any other plumages/ages have a very regularly barred tail across both feather webs and more importantly those central tail feathers too. Our mystery bird does not. Red-footed Falcon (received two votes) goes the same way with adult females having a narrower (but still conspicuous) black terminal band and a conspicuously well barred tail across both feather webs, plus its upperparts are not uniform as in our mystery bird. Adult males of course have completely uniform tails but first summer birds do have plain central tail feathers with the rest of the rectrices barred. Even these second calendar year males show something of a darker terminal band though and the barring is far more conspicuous and paler than our mystery bird. Sparrowhawk was a popular choice (with thirteen votes) but in fact can be quickly discounted due to the fact that the barring on the tail of males is much wider spaced with only four or so bars at best, clearly unlike our mystery bird. And that, reasonably quickly (for me!) brings us round to our correct answer, that of our mystery bird being a nice Hobby. The tails of adult Hobbies are actually barred but only basically on the inner webs, with the outer webs and both webs of the central tail feathers remaining unbarred. This barring is faint at best and is rarely seen, perhaps contributing to the confusion in this mystery birds identity.
Thirteen entrants got it right by hook or by crook and well done you all; Dean MacDonald, Tim Wilcox, John Rayner, Henry Cook, Michel Rogg, Mark Rigby, Adam Jones, Paul Brown, John Tymon, Neville Wright, Helen Garwood, Pete Kinsella and Dave Broome.
Hobby, location withheld, June 2010 (Ian McKerchar)
What a difficult round this turned out to be. Only five entrants managed to correctly identify both species which seems apparently to have been quite a feat! Therefore those five deserve some credit indeed, so stand up and take a big bow John Rayner, Henry Cook, Mark Rigby, Adam Jones and Pete Kinsella.
The cat was well and truly thrown in amongst those pigeons in this round, with all four current leaders getting one or more of this months birds wrong! As it stands Pete Kinsella's double this month puts him back in with the front runners, Paul Brown and John Tymon who both dropped a point this month and all three now have eleven out of a possible twelve correct answers. Neil Calbrade and Nick Hilton are now a mere point behind them with the rest of the pack now hot on their heels. If this round proves anything though, it's that anyone can slip up which means you're always in with a chance.