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Oriental Pratincole  learning process

In 1989, the Dutch Birding birdline became semi-commercial, making news much more easily available. In 1991, the first pager groups were established to share news of rare birds instantly. By the end of 1993 almost 100 Dutch birders had already acquired a pager. About three years later I joined the fifth and last pager group. At about the same time, I bought my first mobile phone and set my first steps on the internet. Subsequent technological developments such as the introduction of smart phones have made the pager system redundant since 2009. One clear observation from this birding era: being able to go out birding, while keeping in touch with other birders and the latest news makes a big difference – you get to see a whole lot more birds!

An exciting series of pager messages was sent in early August 1997. On Friday 1 August around 17:00, Eddy Nieuwstraten and Mark Zekhuis found a pratincole at Workumerwaard, Friesland. The bird showed rufous underwing-coverts, suggesting it was most likely a Collared Pratincole and definitely not a Black-winged. However, the observers did not see a white trailing edge to the secondaries and noticed a short tail without long outer tail feathers. They believed it could be an Oriental Pratincole – a species new to the Dutch list – and so they alerted other birders. That evening, the identification as Oriental was confirmed and the following four days the bird attracted many admirers. I came to see it twice, on 2 and 4 August.

With the publication of a flight photograph (Dutch Birding 19: 211, plate 218, 1997) showing a narrow white trailing edge to the secondaries, some doubts arose concerning the identity. As a result, it was not accepted by the CDNA as Oriental but as Collared (Wiegant et al 1999). A record of an Oriental at Falsterbo, Skåne, Sweden, from July to October 2001 created new interest in the Dutch bird. Driessens & Svensson (2005) thoroughly reviewed the identification criteria. With new information at hand, the CDNA decided to have another look at the record and, after long debates, finally accepted it as Oriental (van der Vliet et al 2006). The bird was aged as a first-summer or older, based on the intensity of the red bill-base, throat-patch and tail pattern. Besides a few supportive characters, key features which pointed at Oriental were the shallow depth of the tail-fork, the long wing-projection, the small amount of black on the outer tail feathers and the uniformly coloured set of secondaries (Driessens & Zekhuis 2007).

Before 1981, when the first Oriental Pratincole for the Western Palearctic was found in England (Burns 1993), few birders had seriously considered this species as a potential vagrant, let alone studied its field characters. Learning is a process – a journey of discovery – clearly also in birding.
 

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We now know that many Oriental Pratincoles do show a pale trailing edge to the secondaries. Compared with Collared Pratincole, it is narrow and sharply demarcated (cf Driessens & Svensson 2005).  


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Published 30 March 2018