Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Langford Spoonbill

On Sunday 4th May, me and Rob decided we'd have a proper look around RSPB's newest reserve - Langford Lowfields; Rob has been volunteering at the site through the autumn and spring and I must say I do envy him, it's quite a site.

Lying just north of Newark-on-Trent and a little outside the village of Langford, the new rspb site is made up of a mosaic of habitats. Woodland, farmland, mature hedgerows, wet ditches, reed bed, open water, wet and dry grassland, scrub-land all this dissected by the picturesque Trent running alongside the reserve. Originally working gravel pits, major restoration work has gone on over the past 25 years and finally the end is in sight. The official opening for Langford is coming up, but public access is already available and I urge people to take a look at it. In just a few hours on Sunday morning we recorded 70 Species of bird. We also enjoyed fantastic views of Foxes and Hares.

Highlights of the morning were Common Tern, Cuckoo, Whimbrel, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Kingfisher, Grasshopper Warbler, Garden Warbler and a surprise in the form of a Spoonbill that dropped in briefly onto phase one pit in front of the beach hut. The bird was in view for less than 5 minutes 06:35-06:40 before being flushed by a resident Coot. The bird flew onto another nearby pool before the resident mutes scared it once more. The Spoonbill was lost to view at around 06:45, though seemed to remain on site within a heavily reeded area.

With relatively poor light and the a flighty Spoonbill to deal with myself and Rob reeled off some record shots, Rob using a handheld camera and me phone-scoping without any adapters. The results surprisingly good and we are therefore able to age the bird properly.

Below are a couple of shots from myself and Rob of the Langford bird, followed by a brief look at aging second and third calendar year birds against adults. 

2nd Calendar year Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia. Photo: Rob Werran.
2nd Calendar year Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia. Photo: Craig Brookes.

The below pictures were nabbed off the interweb and used here after I annotated them.

A look at second calendar years then. The pictures below show defining factors in which the age of these birds can be clinched. The first shot shows clearly the dark edging on the outer webs of all primary feathers with particularly noticeable dark wedges to P7, extending more on P8 and further to an almost entirely dark P9. Notice here that the birds outer primary coverts are also fringed dark, these markings are juvenile and will be lost in the birds second summer, therefore absent on third calendar years. Dark markings can also be seen tipping all of the secondary flight feathers here. In second cal's, head plumes are absent in most instances, though early brooded birds may show some signs of growth, a little tuft reminiscent of adults in winter may appear; though combining the head plumes with wing patterns, aging should be doable.
2nd calendar year bird in Spring.
 The yellow breast band of adults is absent in second calendar years'. This is moulted through in the second summer and continues developing during the third calendar year moult also; where the birds begin to develop their full breeding plumage. The tri-coloured throat patch is also absent in second years', becoming more conspicuous in the third calendar year as birds reach sexual maturity. Second year birds show little or no breast band and normally have a mucky appearance to the neck, the lores and head are clean white. The picture below shows the extent of dark on the under-wing, this can clearly be picked out in flight given good views.
2nd Calendar year bird in Spring.
Spoonbill second summer moult is rather variable, though some factors seem more or less consistent. This is the moult where all remaining juvenile features should be lost and the elaborate breeding plumage begins to appear. The most noticeable change here is the loss of conspicuous dark wedges on the outer wing (through P7-P9). Dark tips do remain though they can be very hard to detect. The breast band begins to appear in the autumn (after moult) for a second calendar year and so is a good indicator of age. The tri-coloured throat patch may also be evident here, though this varies betweens individuals. Secondaries at this stage (on the majority of birds) have lost their dark tips, giving an almost adult appearance. Head plumes should be evident, though not extensive as in breeding adults.

3rd Calendar year Spoonbill in Spring.
 The transition is completed in the third calendar year during the autumn moult, dark tips to all flight feathers are lost, elaborate head plumes are acquired, a stunning creamy-yellow breast band appear and the throat patch gains magnificent colour. The bill's bi-colour appearance is finalised as clear yellow running straight into black. The eye at this stage is also blood red. See below.

Adult Spoonbill in spring.

Adult Spoonbill in spring.

 To briefly conclude, the Spoonbill which flew through Langford on Sunday was a second calendar year bird. An extensive search of the site throughout the morning showed no sign of the Spoonbill and with a bird flying through Long Eaton at 8am or just after, it seems likely that this was our bird. It would be great to hear from the Long Eaton finders as to whether the age of their bird was noted. There was one further sighting of the Spoonbill at Langford on Sunday, in the afternoon, by one observer, I believe. A little odd given the amount of coverage at the site throughout the day. I must also give thanks to the unwitting photographers whose pictures have been grabbed off google and a source couldn't be found. Also, thanks to Rob Werran for his flight shot of the Langford bird, without this pic none of this would be possible.

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