01/04 : Lesser Moorhen -- to be or not to be?

Late yesterday afternooon (31/03) I received an e-mail from Stephen Powell who lives in Frigiliana (Málaga) along with two photos (shown here by kind permission of Steve) and along with them the challenge to identify the bird.

The photographs had been taken that self-same afternoon at the Charca de Suárez, Motril (Granada) which is a very neat little peri-urban reserve and just made for rails and such like species. Steve, like me, hadn't much of an idea what it was (and bear in mind he'd seen and photographed both Spotted and Baillon's Crakes there that same afternoon.
It was about the same size as the other two species, he described it as a large starling size to me this morning, and its movements were typically rail-like and typically skulking, giving only very brief views. The conclusion that he had come to, not unnaturally, I think, was that it was a Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata.
I put the photos out on fororoa and also sent them to selected friends who could be relied upon to spread the news. Reactions varied from 'it's only a Moorhen', one offering that it was a second
year bird, through to others which were firmly in favour of it being the species claimed.

So this morning, and thanks to the help of Jesús Diez with directions, I set off on the 120+km run for Motril, met Jesús and also Steve who had ventured down from his mountain. Of course, a Sunday morning is not the best time and day of the week to go birding and although we did see a Spotted Crake, nothing resembling this bird as there was too much in the way of noise. I was at least able to question Steve, which in fairness was when the information about the starling-like size came out.
Also, by the simple expedient of asking around, Señorita Pilar Muñoz, a young lady who obviously knew more about crakes than I, volunteered the information that she had seen it on Saturday morning and described it as being about the size of a Spotted Crake, ashy grey on head, neck and mantle with a bluish tinge, a dark underbody and white under the tail. Good, corroborative information. She was sure it was a crake of some sort but had no idea what.

All of these details can be seen on Steve's two shots so there, My Lords, I rest the case. And you, dear reader, having read the evidence and seen the photos and the details therein, can decide for yourselves.
Was it? Wasn't it? And if not, why not? All answers written on high denomination bank notes will be published.
Or is it another of those odd things that birding throws up from time to time and for which there is never a satisfactory solution.
I should add that I believe that the odds are in favour of it being one, probably an immature bird from the bill colouration, but insufficient for an acceptance by the Spanish Rarities Committee (to whom I shall be sending a Spanish version of this).

NOTE: To 'anonymous', if you had put your name to your comment, I would have published it. I think that I and readers have a right to know who is sending the comment. All please note.

6 comentarios:

Andy Paterson dijo...

Lesser Moorhen? I have no experience of this species but I have consulted the accounts in HBW, Birds of West Africa and the SASOL Guide to birds of Southern Africa. The clincher would seem to be size: the Lesser Moorhen is 22–26cm long and the Common Moorhen is 30–36cm. The latter is also twice the weight of the former. The Lesser Moorhen is apparently much more skulking than the Common Moorhen. The bird in question is not in immature plumage and the dorsal feathering is very worn. The legs lack the red garter at the top (as does the Lesser Moorhen). The bill colour should be useful but is ambiguous. The overall colour is yellowish (good for Lesser Moorhen) and the culmen is dark but not red. The frontal shield is yellowish with a red margin – inconclusive for either species – although it seems small for a Common Moorhen; but is it pointed enough for Lesser Moorhen? In short, it would be helpful to have more pictures, especially one of this bird alongside a Common Moorhen. As things stand, I can see that it may well be a Lesser Moorhen but, on available evidence, I cannot rule out a youngish Common Moorhen whose bill colour has not yet developed fully. Ernest Garcia.

Andy Paterson dijo...

Surely the size differences, as pointed out in the blogs, would rule out the Moorhen identity, unless it's a runt bird and I don't believe much in those.

murciabirder dijo...

I take it that the date of publication of the blog has no bearing on this record? (1st April, April Fool's day!)

Richard Howard

Andy Paterson dijo...

It has absolutely no connection with April Fool's Day and was seen on 31 March. One doesn't joke about things like this, just regret having put the news out!

Anónimo dijo...

Clutching at straws here but anyway... that bent over brown tipped stem in the first photo looks fairly distinctive, I have no idea of the size of this wetland but if that stem could be located and measured it could then be used to calculate the length of the bird from the photos, thus proving this one way or another, which would be very neat. Not the most exciting idea for a day out I've ever had, but you never know what you might find whilst searching for the stem!

I won't comment on the ID because I know no more than anyone else with google and a few books, and I've never seen a Lesser.

Simon Mahood

Andy Paterson dijo...

Hi Simon:
Idea is good, my dearl Holmes, but it means going through a screen, round in front of the hide, rummaging around and as the reserve is well guarded, I rather suspect that one would end up being escorted by either the Guaradia Civil or the local police.