So worth seeing. Been a great learning curve. Surfbirds Jedi Master, Brian S. sent me an animated text t’other day: see these photos! Taken by Brett Richards at Flamborough Head I could tell the bird was not a ‘normal’ Pied Flycatcher and having already been musing on Pied X Collared hybrids, thought that at least a good starting point. However Brian had just come back from Sicily, guiding with Andrea C. and he was in the ‘Atlas Flycatcher zone‘, having (remarkably) seen 2 birds there. He was right. The Flamborough bird possessed more than a passing resemblance to a 2cy Atlas Flycatcher. Andrea C soon confirmed as he especially has wrestled with ‘speculigera‘ more than most.
Stunning looking bird with its deep velvet black uppers, extraordinary white in the wing and Atlas Flycatcher forehead patch. Tried to record the call. Nothing definitely heard and windy and cold conditions didn’t help.
Forget the minutiae for minute (look at the wood and not the trees!)
Most important thing? Much understanding on appearance of Atlas Flycatcher is seemingly based on far too small sample size- sometime less than 10 individuals. This takes no account of variation within this species. Iberian Pied may also come into that category.
So- 3 Simple things that struck me about the bird:
- Incredible deep velvety black above (you could see expensive jewellery off its upperparts).
- White forehead patch shape being (excuse the pun) ‘spot-on’ for Atlas. Some Iberian Pied Flycatchers show similar. NO idea of a Collared/ Pied hybrid could have same shaped patch and same similar plumage combo.
- Extra white in the wing. Most especially the tertials, with white on middle and innermost extending well onto inner web (usually black on inner web of these tertials in both Pied and Collared as far as I know). Seemingly very good for Atlas (and Iberian Pied), but with caveat, surely more to learn here.
Comments on other hotly debated bits of the bird
* White in greater coverts. This is funny one. While literature states adult male Atlas should have wholly white greater (secondary) coverts, most photos of presumed Atlas seem to show otherwise: a mix of white inners and degrees of black on outers. Guess this is due to limits of original sample sizes. Andrea C’s comments here are apposite. See pattern on greater coverts of Flamborough bird below.
* White in outer tail feathers. The bird had retained at least 2 juvenile outermost tail feathers with obvious white edges. I just wonder if all the other tail feathers are really adult feathers as has been suggested, or some are still retained juvenile. Looks like the T4 on left side has thin lick of white along the edge, and some v. thin white along edge/ base of T3?
* Innermost secondary. Feature mentioned by Krister Mild in excellent series in Birding World. White on outer web of innermost secondary extends further towards tip (up to 2/3 length) in Atlas and Collared. On Flamborough bird only extends to a little more than 1/3 length. Again don’t know if significant or not given small sample sizes.
* Other bits: Rump patch, primary patch, head pattern, any collared effect all very nice, not very ‘Pied Flycatcher’ and OK for Atlas but also other things too. There other bits and pieces about wing formula and stuff but I am not a birding CSI!
Video from Steph’:
Outer 2 tail feathers (T5 and T6) visible on right side are retained juvenile feathers with obvious white on outer webs.
Hmm…. Amoung other things you can see white along the fringe of (presumably T4 – the 3rd tail feather in) and a tad of white licking the edge of T3 at its base. Folk who ring a lot know about these things. My question: Is T4 really a replaced adult feather or retained juvenile? Look quiet brownish on outer web in several shots.
Thanks especially to Steph and Alan for excellent time together, to Brett- (Nice one!) for the in-hand pics and to Rich Baines and co. at Flamborough for making it such a pleasure to visit. Also thanks to Brian Small for quick intuitive response and always much shared learning and to Andrea Corso for his wonderful pioneering spirit and the Linosa guys e.g. Ottavio and Miki for showing me the washing line on which sat this 1st for Europe candidate. Cheers!