Cool articles from the recent birding literature

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but will highlight important or useful identification articles or correspondence that comes to my attention.


Edward (Ned) S. Brinkley and Brian J. Patteson, (1998) Gadfly petrels in the western North Atlantic. Birding World 11(9): p341-354.

Review of the status of Black-capped, Bermuda, Trinidade, Fea's and Jamaica Petrel. Lots of high qualtiy photos by the authors (most in color) plus a new color painting by Peter Hayman which will appear in the forthcoming Beaman and Madge guide. Packed with fascinating information.

Edward (Ned) S. Brinkley and Brian J. Patteson, (1998) Seabirds of the southern Gulf Stream. Birding World 11(11): p421-429.

Review of year-round pelagic birding in the Gulf Stream. Again superb photos (especially juvenile Bridled Terns and Masked Booby) and fascinating text brimming with useful nuggets.

Ricard Gutierrez (1998) Flight Indentification of Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters. Dutch Birding 20(5): 216-225 First real discussion of the field identification of these two rather similar races of Cory's Shearwater. My impression from trying to match the photos with the new ID criteria is that more fieldwork is needed.

Richard Porter, Dick Newell, Tony Marr and Robin Jolliffe (1997) Identification of Cape Verde Shearwater. Birding World 10(6): p222-228.

The Cape Verde Shearwater was originally treated as a distinct species before being lumped as a race of Cory's Shearwater. There is now a strong move to restore this distinctive form to full species status. Should be looked for among Cory's Shearwaters along the Atlantic seaboard of North America and in Europe. Excellent collection of photos taken at sea off Senegal in West Africa.
Anthony McGeehan and Ricard Gutierrez (1997) Dark secrets Birdwatch 61: p26-30

Highly readable review of Mediterranean Sheawater ID, with a number of color photos.

Anthony McGeehan (1995) A little help Birdwatch 39: p38-42

Interesting review of Little Sheawater ID, with additional notes and sketches by Killian Mullarney.

Stephen Morrison (1998) All-dark petrels in the North Atlantic. British Birds91:540-560.

Detailed and comprehensive account of all dark Petrel and Storm-petrel records from both sides of the North Atlantic. Many refer to Bulwer's Petrel (10 confirmed records) and Swinhoe's Storm-petrel (14 records). Plenty of interesting information on identification as well as maps and histograms summarizing the records.

British Birds Rarity Committee Files (1997) The Chalice petrel. British Birds90:305-313.

Fascinating account of a controversial dark-rumped Storm-petrel seen during an organized pelagic aboard the MV Chalice to waters SW of the Isles of Scilly in August 1988. I am not sure the identification debate has been adequately resolved, opinions swinging between Markham's and Matsudaira's Storm Petrel. The two other strong candidates, Tristram's Storm-petrel (the initial identification) and Swinhoe's Storm-petrel seem to have been ruled out (see Young and King, 1997). This analysis, complied by R.A. Hume, chairman of the British Birds Rarity Committee, includes unedited extracts from the original submissions by seven of the twelve observers, including seabird authority Peter Harrison. Hume describes this record as 'perhaps the greatest 'one that got away' of all time.'

Steve A. Young and Jon R. King (1997) 'The Chalice petrel' revisited. British Birds90:329-335.

Detailed review of dark-rumped 'Oceanodroma' Storm-petrels and analysis of the Chalice record. Includes five black-and-white photos of the problem bird.

Michael Force (1997) Comments on 'The Chalice petrel'. British Birds90:339-342.

More review from an very experienced observer of Oceanodroma Storm-petrels at sea. He highlights the lack of knowledge regarding the visibility of white primary bases in the field. Force's recommendation is that the bird was either Markham's or Matsudaira's Storm Petrel and seems to lean towards the latter.

Steve N. Howell, Larry B. Spear and Peter Pyle (1994) Identification of Manx-type Sheawaters in the eastern Pacific.Western Birds 25(4): 169-177. Useful review of this group.


Richard Millington (1998) The Green-winged Teal. Birding World11(11):430-434.

Short review of separation of Eurasian and American Green-winged Teal. Illustrated with color photos.

R.W. Knapton (1997) Identification of female Common Eider subspecies in Canada. Birders Journal6(3):134-136.

A true challange! Color plate by David Beadle.


Hadoram Shirihai, Dick Forsman and David A. Christie, illustrated by John Gale (1998) Field Identification of large falcons in the West Palearctic. British Birds91:12-35.

Review of Eurasian forms of Gyr Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Peregrine, Saker and Lanner Falcon. My impression is that most North American birders do not fully appreciate the difficulties of identifying large falcons and rarely consider free-flying exotics or hybrids. This review should provide serious food for thought.


Andrea Corso (1998) Pintail Snipe in Sicily - a new European bird. Birding World 11(11): p435-437
Fascinating account of the discovery and identification of this much wanted species.

Ivan Lakin and Kevin Rylands (1997) The Semipalmated Plover in Devon: the second British record. Birding World 10(6): p212-216
Detailed description and discussion of separation from Common Ringed Plover.


Jon, R. King and Steve N. G. Howell (1999) Variation in iris color of adult Thayer's Gulls. Western Birds 30(1): 55-56

Identification texts often state that adult Thayer's show a dark eye. King and Howell test this 'truism' through field observations and question the utility of this feature as a field mark.

Lars Jonsson (1998) Yellow-legged Gulls and Yellow-legged Herring Gulls in the Baltic. Alula3(4):74-100

Massive analysis of these complicated gulls. Huge number of photos and paintings treating every age group. We all know Jonsson as a brilliant artist but it now appears he is an excellent camera man as well!

Lars Jonsson (1998) Baltic Lesser Black-backed GullLarus fuscus fuscus- moult, ageing and identification. Birding World 11(8): p295-317

Detailed review of the three forms of Lesser Black-backed Gull (graellsii, intermedius and fuscus) at all ages. Again, lots of informative color photos and paintings accompany this detailed review. Awesome!

Martin Garner, illustrated by David Quinn (1997) Identification of Yellow-legged Gulls in Britain. Part 1. British Birds90:25-62.

Required reading for gull enthusiasts. Extensive review of the Yellow-legged Gulls (cachinnans, michahellis, barbarensis, atlantis). Beautiful color plates and line drawings by David Quinn. Appendix discusses three other forms not recorded in Britain: the Portugese form, atlantis and barbarensis.

Martin Garner, David Quinn and Bob Glover (1997) Identification of Yellow-legged Gulls in Britain. Part 2. British Birds90:369-383.

Large number of color photographs of various Herring Gull races (argenteus, argentatus and smithsonianus), Yellow-legged Gulls (cachinnans, michahellis, barbarensis, atlantis) and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Detailed legends describe the salient points presented in the photos. Includes a color photo of an adult Lesser Black-backed x Herring Hybrid.

Bruce MacTavish (1995) Yellow-legged Gull in St. John's Newfoundland Birders Journal90:294-299.

Detailed description and a series of photographs chronical Newfoundland's second record

Martin Garner and Anthony McGeehan (1998) Identification of juvenile and first-winter Thayer's Gull.Birding World 11(3): p94-101

Useful collection of high quality photographs from British Columbia, Newfoundland, Connecticut and California. Discussion of separation from Glaucous-winged Gull (or hybrids thereof) and American Herring Gull. In this same issue (p86), there is an interesting photo by Bryan Thomas of a first-winter Kumlien's Gull standing alongside a presumed first-winter nominate Iceland Gull taken in the Isles of Scilly.

Anthony McGeehan and Richard Millington (1998) The adult Thayer's Gull in Donegal.Birding World 11(3): p94-101

Richard Millington and Martin Garner (1998) American Herring Gull: in another age.Birding World 11(3): p94-101

An annotated collection of photographs of the North American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus smithsonianus, here treated as a full species.

Philippe J. Dubois (1997) Identification of North American Herring Gull. British Birds90:314-324.

Focuses on first and second years with some information on the identification of older immatures and adult plumages. There are several photos, some taken in Quebec and Long Island. I didn't find this a particularly useful article. The subtle plumage differences are defined in vague terms and there is heavy emphasis on jizz differences - some of which do not agree with my own impressions. The photos tend to show extreme individuals rather than the rank-and-file smithsonianus Herring Gulls.

Howell, S. N. G. and King, J. R. (1998) Tail-pattern variation in first-year Herring Gulls. Western Birds 29(1)63-64.

Brief discussion of the variability of the wholly dark tail band pattern generally thought to be invariable hallmark of smithsonianus.

Martin Garner (1998) Gulls: another piece in the jigsaw. Birdwatch Issue 74 (Aug): p25-32

Short review of the 'Yellow-legged Gulls'. 14 color photos showing various forms and races.

Toni Eskelin and Jouni Pursianinen (1998) The status of 'Lesser Black-backed Gulls' of the heuglini, graellsii and intermedius type in Finland.Alula 4(2): p42-54

Extremely interesting paper concentrating on the identification of heuglini (sometimes known as Siberian Gull). This may be the most extensive collection of photos of this poorly known form.

Steve N. G. Howell and Bert McKee (1998) Variation in second-year Mew Gulls.Birders Journal 7(4): 210-213

Brief treatment of second-year Mew Gull (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) and separation from Common Gull (Larus canus canus) and Kamchatka Gull (Larus canus kamtschatschensis), focusing on variation in dark markings on the tail.

Anthony McGeehan (1997) Next Stop North America?Birders Journal 6(4): 186-199

Brief review of Mediterranean Gull, with a number of color pictures showing the main age classes. Details of the recent expansion in NW Europe.


Stuart Bearhop, Robert Furness and Bernard Zonfrillo (1998) Identification of Catharacta skuas: variability in juvenile Great Skuas. Birding World 11(9): p355-359

More difficult news for those interested in identifying Catharacta skua at sea. The paper argues that dark juvenile Great Skuas are more frequent that previously thought, complicating the identification of Brown and South Polar Skuas. Accompanied (p360) by an informative and thought-provoking response from Newell, Porter and Marr (authors of the paper below).

Dick Newell, Richard Porter and Tony Marr (1997) South Polar Skua - an overlooked bird in the eastern Atlantic. Birding World 10(6): p229-235

Collection of photos of Catharacta skuas taken at sea off Senegal, West Africa.

Anthony McGeehan (1998) Polar Explorations. Birdwatch Issue 75 (Sept): p28-32

Entertaining review of the status of South Polar Skua in the North Atlantic. Provides useful background to the current identification debate.


Guy McCaskie, and Michael A. Patten (1994) Status of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana) in the United States and Canada. Western Birds 25(3): 113-127.

Useful review of past records (to 1992), with notes on age determination and racial separation.

Peter Clement and Andreas Helbig. Illustrations by Brian Small (1998) Taxonomy and identification of chiffchaffs in the western Palearctic. British Birds 91(9): p361-376

Detailed review of the 'chiffchaff complex'. This groups has been subject to recent splitting based on song and genetic analysis. Lots of sonograms and a color plate.

Jorma Tenovuo and Juha Varrela (1998) Identification of the Great Grey Shrike complex in Europe. Alula 4(1): p2-11

Review of the races of Northern Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) and Southern Great Grey Shrike (L. meridionalis) recorded in Europe.

Jon L. Dunn and David Beadle (1998) Longspurs - Distribution and identification in basic plumage. Birders Journal 7(2): 68-93

Definitive review tackling the separation of all four species of Longspur in the relatively difficult basic plumages. Plenty of color photographs and a detailed color painting by David Beadle.

David A. Sibley and Steve N. G. Howell (1998) Identification of White and Black-backed Wagtails in basic plumage.Western Birds 29(3): 180-198
Very useful review with line drawings and a black-and-white painting.

Copyright © 1998 All rights reserved.Angus Wilson
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