Greetings all SARBN subscribers,
While I have been reporting updates on the BROWN NODDY at The Strand over the last couple of days, a lot of detective work has been going on behind the scenes and consultation with various international experts on this bird has been taking place (and continues to happen as well). Those of you that were on site this morning at the bird may also have heard rumours of what is being discussed so, rather than letting these rumours run rife, I thought I would just quickly give you all an update on where we are with this bird…
Firstly, despite what some of you may have read on a couple of social media posts, I have discussed this bird in detail with a number of people and we are all confident that it is NOT a Lesser Noddy. Although, it was initially called a Brown Noddy from the first photos received, as soon as we actually saw the bird in the flesh, we were a little concerned about it and came home to do a bit more research. There is still further research to do on this before we can confidently put a name to the bird, but I just wanted to make everyone aware that we are also considering another option as well, “Atlantic” Black Noddy. For those of you that have actually seen the bird, you would have noticed how small it is and also the general shape, in particular the length of the tail.
I thought it best to let everyone know about this for now. Obviously, nothing is confirmed yet and it might still take a little while before we can conclusively say one way or the other, but I just didn’t want people sitting back and not considering twitching this bird because they’ve seen Brown Noddy in the subregion before and then only finding out too late that it might not have been a Brown Noddy after all.
Obviously, everyone is also entitled to do their own research based on what they have seen and I would like to encourage you to have a look at the following 3 websites to start with which have a nice selection of photos and text to work through on the various Noddies:
Brown Noddy - https://www.birdfinding.info/brown-noddy/
Lesser Noddy - https://www.birdfinding.info/lesser-noddy/
Atlantic Black Noddy - https://www.birdfinding.info/atlantic-black-noddy/
More info as and when we reach a point that is worth sharing but, for now, further updates on the bird will just be labelled as NODDY sp. until we have more confidence in the ID.
Please don’t take this email as any sort of confirmation of the ID – it is merely to make everyone aware of the possibility of another option. There is still more work to be done and it is certainly not a straightforward bird, so please forgive us for not being able to stay straight away what it is. Sometimes, we just have to be extra careful and do the necessary due diligence…
Thanks to everyone that has assisted in these discussions so far!
Greetings to all SARBN subscribers,
I cannot remember when last I have had a number of days of head-scratching like I’ve just been through (together with many of my friends and colleagues) in terms of trying to sort out a bird ID, but I think we are finally reaching a point where we believe we have done sufficient research to arrive at an ID that is supported by the available evidence.
I would like to thank a number of people who have been integral in these discussions (in no particular order) including Callan Cohen, John Graham, Cliff Dorse, Dominic Rollinson, Michael Mason, Garret Skead, Vince Ward, Rob Leslie, Justin Nicolau, Jonathan Rossouw, Peter Harrison, John Glendinning, David Hoddinott, Keith Barnes, Steve Howell, Thibaut Chansac, Mark Brown, Stuart Dunlop, Lisle Gwynn, Ken Behrens, Cameron Cox, Phil Choan, Rob Hutchinson and James Eaton by either providing useful input on the bird or providing reference material to consider. Also, the many of you that provided a good selection of photos of the bird in question as, without these photos to study, we might not have been able to work this out. And, finally, a big thank you to Theuns Kruger who originally found this bird and set all of this in motion which ended up being an extremely educational experience indeed!!
What I can say out of all of this is that I have realised just how little I actually knew about Noddy identification. You think you have a reasonable grasp of the basics of separating the Noddies until you are faced with a bird out of context and not in classic plumage and then you very quickly realise how much you still have to learn…! It has been a big learning curve for me (and many others too!) but, hopefully, it will serve us well in the future if we are ever faced with a bird like this again.
So, on to the actual bird… although it was announced as a Brown Noddy upfront, I think many of us reaslied soon after actually seeing the bird in the flesh that it was definitely not one. The bird was too small and short-tailed to start with and the bill shape and length, crown pattern and lack of very dark lores all seemed to exclude this species as an option.
The other option that was considered initially was Lesser Noddy, but the bill that was seemingly too short and the crown pattern and darkish lores seemed to exclude this species based on the available references we had at hand. We then also considered Atlantic Black Noddy and, at the outset, there was a superficial resemblance to this species and most things seemed to fit. However, once one started delving into the detail, the bird at the Strand didn’t seem quite right as it lacked the defined edge to the back of the white crown and didn’t have jet black lores. So, what was it then…?
We then took a step back and decided to look at the age of the bird first. What was clear on the bird was that it had a fresh set of primaries and secondaries which had clearly only recently been moulted in while the tail was still very tatty and worn and the rest of the body feathers also seemed to be old and worn. We looked at Noddy moult and found that juveniles go through a complete moult in their first year, but apparently start with the primaries first anywhere between 7 and 11 months old. With that being the case, it would mean that this bird has completed its flight feather moult, but has yet to start with the rest of the body (perhaps the remainder of the moult has been arrested for some or other reason?). In that case, it would make it just under a year old, so an immature bird. Lesser Noddies on The Seychelles apparently lay with a peak in early June and birds fledge between 90-105 days after that, so sometime in September. 8 months later would be around this time of year with the bird being around 10 months old which would probably tie in with a complete flight feather moult, although it does seem a little strange that, with a complete fresh set of flight feathers, the tail still appears as if it is all still old feathers (perhaps there’s still more to learn about this?). It all started to tie into timing and perhaps the seemingly shorter (and perhaps even marginally thicker) bill was also starting to make sense as it seems that it can take some time before the bills on these birds reach full adult length and shape. However, there were still a few plumage anomalies to resolve, not least of which was the darker lores on this bird.
Our bird seemed to be showing differences on either side of the face with the left hand side showing a dark sooty grey lore and the right hand side showing a much paler colour on the lore. I realise that this is probably as a result of wear or moult, but even the dark sooty grey lore is just not dark enough for an Atlantic Black Noddy which always seems to show jet black lores at all ages, based on the research we were able to do. Things were not making sense here as all the books and available references only spoke about pale grey lores on Lesser Noddies and never this dark sooty grey colour. And then, just when you thought we were going to be stuck forever with this, along came Mark Brown and Stuart Dunlop who provided a range of images of Lesser Noddy chicks from The Seychelles for us to have a look at. And, along with classic looking birds with pale grey crowns which extended down over the lores (like you would expect in adults), there were also some with pale grey crowns ending in a defined line above dark sooty grey lores! This was an exact match to the feature on our bird and something that none of us were really aware of could occur in young Lesser Noddies.
After all of that waffle, I think it is clear where we have gotten to with this bird – despite all my earlier comments on this forum on the ID (which were all clearly wrong, so I’m sorry about that!), this bird can only be an immature LESSER NODDY. I’m sorry that it has taken so long to reach this point, but it’s been a bit of a struggle to research this and get to a point where we have verifiable evidence to back up our ID, rather than just making a blanket call and not being able to tell you all why it is what we claim it to be.
I’ve also included below a couple of images from Stuart Dunlop of young Lesser Noddies from The Seychelles for you to see and have attached an excellent visual analysis prepared by Callan Cohen and Susie Cunningham which backs up the ID of the Strand bird as a Lesser Noddy. It’s certainly a fantastic resource and much easier to read and understand than all my waffle above…J
Thanks to everyone involved in getting to this point and thanks to all of you for bearing with us on this!
Obviously, the record still needs to be submitted and adjudicated by the BLSA Rarities Committee which will happen in time, so this is certainly not a formal acceptance by the committee, but rather just an opinion offered by some people on the ID of this bird who have spent some time looking at it.
Lesser Noddy chick on The Seychelles showing typical pale grey crown extending down over lores
© Stuart Dunlop
Lesser Noddy chick on The Seychelles showing pale crown offset against darker sooty grey lores (like the Strand bird)
© Stuart Dunlop