Helgoland, October 2012
I have never been a garden lister, but I was always fascinated by the book of John Holloway: Fair Isle’s Garden Birds, published back in 1984. He recorded in 5 years 177 species in his garden, including some major rarities.
When I moved to Helgoland this spring, I thought, this must be the time to start a promising garden list. I count everything what is sitting in the garden, flying over or can be seen/heard from the garden. My list started not too bad with a Short-toed Treecreeper (only the 17th Helgoland record), continued with a spring Olive-backed Pipit (only the 3rd spring record for Germany), several Greenish Warblers and Common Rosefinches, a Woodchat Shrike, a Rosy Starling and a Barred Warbler (while having lunch – me and also the Warbler). On Monday (2 days ago) we trapped a Radde’s Warbler in the bird observatory, which is directly beside my garden.
Yesterday in the lunch break, I flushed it in my garden. What a great admission to my garden list, I thought! However, this was only a taster for what should come 2 hours later. Eckhard Moeller, one of many birders spotted a strange warbler in my garden (from the outside of the garden). He phoned me and suspected an Eastern Crowned Warbler. I immediately left my desk and could see the warbler for 10 seconds – that was really something very good: White underparts, one and a half wingbars, shape like an Arctic Warbler and a head-pattern of Arctic Warbler (supercilium) and dull Pallas’s Warbler (crown). It was indeed an Eastern Crowned Warbler. Soon the news spread and the many birders present on the island (100-200) could connect with the bird.
My garden list stands now at 117 species in 6 months – not too bad. However, although I can seawatch from my balcony, I never actually did, so there are still many common species like Red-throated Divers missing on the list. And if I’m not working, I’m usually out birding and not sitting in my living room watching the garden. Perhaps I should change that? It seems to be the place on the island at the moment, although there are also Olive-backed Pipit, Black-throated Thrush, Rosy Starling and Isabelline Shrike on the island.
Hoswick, Shetland, October 2012
Stunning bird and one that has become much rarer in Britain. Only 2 British records in 2011! I saw this one 3 times and all of our 2 groups got it. It raised some question for me too:
a) Most are assumed to be West Siberian ‘maurus‘. However recently East Siberian ‘stejengeri’ was found to be in broad terms genetically distinct. It is also a potential vagrant. So ‘Stejneger’s Stonechat’, a potential new species and hidden West Europe Vagrant?
b) This Hoswick bird is clearly a male (black underwing coverts and black feather bases on throat etc.) But how easy is it to age? Adult or first winter?
Especially Roger R and I thought first winter but not easy so also checked with Magnus Hellström (see his comments in red italics below):
Yes Martin, you are right. This is indeed a first winter male. Unfortunately the photos does not show any moult contrast to back this up (at least, I can’t find any), but in my view the ageing of this individual is still safe for the reasons outlined below.
Juvenile maurus has partial moult during late summer. This moult seems to be on average more restricted than in rubicola (and also than in stejnegeri) and, apart from the body feathers, many individuals apparently include no more than the lesser coverts. Hence, in many birds the moult contrast is very hard to spot in the field. Perhaps your individual fits this pattern, but to be sure we would need an in-hand examination.
Still, there are other age-related characters assessable in the photos. Firstly, the primary coverts show a typical first-winter pattern with pale buffish edges, typically widening to a broader (and slightly diffusely set off) tip. In a folded wing, the broad pale tips almost blur into each other, hiding most of the darker parts of the feathers. In adult (2cy+) birds, the pale edges are typically whitish, narrower, more sharply set of against the black feather centre, and does not widen towards the tip. This character is applicable in most autumn individuals, but a few birds may be somewhat harder to assess. The Shetland bird looks typically first-year in this respect. Secondly, 2cy+ maurus shows a more (usually much more) well developed head pattern than first winter birds. The situation is rather comparable to autumn males Common Redstart, with adult birds showing a quite well developed black throat bib and, more importantly, jet-black lores. First winter males are extremely variable, showing anything from a completely female-like throat and face pattern (including pale feather bases) to a rather adult male-like one, but still dominantly or partly covered by pale fringes. Intriguingly, many first winter birds show a patchily developed pattern with only parts of the ear-coverts or throat having black feather bases, while other parts having pale bases. The Shetland-bird clearly shows a first-winter pattern, and my guess would be that a thorough examination would prove this as a patchily developed individual.
The separation from rubicola is straight-forward in the Shetland bird, they key characters being jet-black axillars and underwing coverts (the former with fresh pale fringes) and upper tail-coverts lacking dark rubicola-spotting. It should also be noted that in rubicola, first winter males are generally harder to separate from 2cy+ males, since (contrary to maurus) first winter plumage shows a better developed throat and face pattern.
1st cy male Siberian Stonechat, apparently ssp. maurus.Hoswick, Shetland, October 2012.
Safe separation from east Siberian stejnegeri is trickier, and is generally not possible in single individuals. On average, stejnegeri in fresh plumage is a somewhat darker bird with a warmer colour scale, less developed neck patches and a smaller white/ochrous rump pattern. The Shetland bird does look typical maurus-like, and imo gives no actual reason for suspecting stejnegeri.
In contrast to first winter birds, 2cy+ males (here illustrated by a stejnegeri) typically show jet-black lores and primary coverts with distinct, thin and white edges that does not widen towards the tip.
Guide-lines to the Identification of the two British Copper Underwings.
There are occasions when it is seemingly impossible to identify a moth from a physical appearance. When faced with this situation, the scientific decision-making processes “kick-in” and a choice has to be made:-
1) Record the specimen as e.g. Common Rustic aug or Copper Underwing aug
2) Check out the Genitalia of the insect (that is the examination of its bits!!)
Option two is not everyone’s cup of tea! nor skill factor, nor inclination to undertake the processes involved. I for one have no real desire to do this, although it must be very interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the science behind the processes but I am sure that there must be features on difficult moth species that are there, waiting to be discovered, we just simply haven’t found them YET, now that’s a thought!!
There has been much debate over the identification of the two British Copper Underwings and even to-day, much work is being carried out on these two species. However there are a number of reliable theories and features that together should help to separate the two with reasonable accuracy. Certainly a combination of all the features together would achieve a reliable result. The latest moth identification guides all seem to make consistent reference to the features listed below. Some are well known and some are fairly new discoveries. So let’s take a look then at these two well known species that can be difficult to identify:-
Copper Underwing – Amphipyra pyramidea The underside of the hindwing’s discal area is a pale straw yellow and this contrasts with both the orange-copper terminal area and the blackish-brown curved streak along the leading edge. Svensson’s Copper Underwing – Amphipyra berbera svenssoni The underside of the hindwing’s discal area is suffered orange-copper with a lack of any contrast to the discal and terminal area.
Photos – Simon Roddis
Copper Underwing – Amphipyra pyramidea (below left) The cross-line just before the middle of the forewing has four projections along it which are all typically the same length.
Svensson’s Copper Underwing – Amphipyra berbera svenssoni (below right)
The projections are similar to Copper but the two nearest to the trailing edge of the forewing protrude further out and are more pointed.
Photos -Tony Davison & Simon Roddis.
Copper Underwing – Amphipyra pyramidea (below left) The upward pointing palps are completely pale
Svensson’s Copper Underwing – Amphipyra berbera svenssoni (below right) The palps are dark with a pale tip
Photos – Tony Davison & Simon Roddis.
Copper Underwing – Amphipyra pyramidea (below left) The upper parts are brighter and more sharply defined. There is a contrasting broken post median line but a duller and darker brown cross-band towards the trailing edge of the forewing. Svensson’s Copper Underwing – Amphipyra berbera svenssoni (below right) The upper-parts are duller by comparison with Copper. There is a less contrasting post median line and a pale creamy cross-band.
Photos – Tony Davison & Simon Roddis.
Copper Underwing – Amphipyra pyramidea (below left) The copper marking is minimal on the under hind-wing and the black & white colouring of the abdomen sides seems to be more intense Svensson’s Copper Underwing – Amphipyra berbera svenssoni (below right) The copper markings on the under hind-wing run the full length of the wing and the black & white markings on the abdomen sides are dull and less intense.
Acknowledgements – Montgomery Moths. Simon Roddis for his superb collection of photographs.
References – British Moths and Butterflies – Chris Manley; Moths of Great Britain & Ireland – Sean Clancy, Morten Top-Jensen,Michael Fibiger; Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain & Ireland – Waring, Townsend & Lewington. Herts & Essex Moths.
Couldn’t resist a quick post on this, having seen Scotland’s first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker yesterday. Found in Scalloway (Shetland’s ‘second city’) by Rob Fray yesterday afternoon, it showed exceptionally well near the health centre yesterday evening – pics below thanks to Rebecca Nason, who was standing next to me at the time.
Interesting to compare it with the pics from Varanger featured on this blog earlier in the year (click here).
The Shetland bird didn’t really look like the Varanger one. The underparts were distinctly grubby white, maybe more so in the field than is apparent in the pics, with thin, well-defined dark streaks; and it had distinctly buffy grey forehead and ear-coverts. The one thing that did strike me was that it was larger than I’d expected, maybe 20% bigger than House Sparrow (and nominate minor is larger – longer-winged and heavier – than British comminutus – which by the way is the only form on the British List at the moment). Maybe it’s too long since I saw a Lesser Spot sitting next to a sparrow (maybe I never have) – but it wasn’t quite as diddy as I was expecting. It must surely be a continental bird though? Be interested in any comments from anyone lucky enough to watch Lesser Spots on a regular basis in the UK.
As far as I can tell, this is how a yakutensis Willow Warbler should look like. Totally grey, very long-winged, nice prominent supercilium. Ringed it this morning at Ashdod among many trochilus and acredula.
SOME NOTES ON IRANIAN SHIKRA IDENTIFICATION
Andrea Corso – MISC
Very scarce information are available on the identification of Iranian Shikra Accipiter badius in the Western Palearctic with nothing reported neither on the main raptors’ book for this area, the Forsman (1999), nor in the main birds identification guides such as Collins Bird Guide (Svensson et al. 2009) and Jonsson (1992). In other field guides and handbooks there are some limited information but in most cases, incredibly, the species is wrongly illustrated with plates showing misleading characters, as is the case in all the editions of the Birds of the Middle East (Porter et al.1992, 2001, 2010). This is partially because, for the former references, the species was an extreme vagrant (and still is, albeit less, a true rarity) into the limits of the Western Palearctic (but some border areas such as Kuwait) outside of the limited breeding grounds (N Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Caucasus) while for the latter, the one with wrongly depicted plumages, it is due to the illustration of other race than the ssp. cenchorides which occur into WP (hereafter Iranian Shikra) and which is paler, less marked and less contrasted than most of the other races, lacking indeed the dark wing-tip often shown in colour plates of many field guides. Illustration (mostly wrong at all or some points) and relevant text discussing its identification are reported for example by Beaman & Madge (1998), Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) and Gènsbol (2005) and most recently by Naoroji (2006) while very few articles on biding magazines dealing with its identification are available such as Clark & Parslow (1991), Labinger et al. (1991), Yosef et al. (2001), Yosef et al. (2002) but those mainly discussing in hand characters. In the field identification is reported though briefly by Dernjatin & Vattulainen (2004). Corso However, still a brief and easy to read yet lengthwise summary is lacking on birding magazines as well, and even more, on the web. After the recent claim of a putative Iranian Shikra at Batumi, which posed several identification problems also to highly skilled raptor watchers and birders, I think it could be of some interested to propose here a brief overview and summary of the main identification problems, based on museum studied of several tens skins (mostly the British Museum, Tring, Malmo and Wien Musem) and on field observation, mostly in Kazakhstan. Of course, the main likely species to distinguish is the similar Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes.
1. WING-TIP: in most field guides, Iranian Shikra is shown showing a dark wing-tip as much as Levant or only slightly paler, with almost only Clark (1999) correctly reporting an adult female with pale wing-tip. Indeed most of the African taxa of A.badius have a quite dark and contrasting wing-tip, but the taxon occurring into WP, the ssp. cenchroides, has almost always a paler wing-tip, with only the more adult and marked males showing outermost primary dull or dark grayish-led. In these birds, the dark is limited to the very distal part of 2 to 3 (4) outer most primary (P10-P9, P10-P8 or P10-P7) wile on Levant adult male it is more solidly black or blackish and wider in both extension along the feather and in number of dark primaries. Also, in adult male Iranian Shikra usually there are several dark bars along the primary while in typical Levant the “hand” show a very contrasting dark fingered area with pale, almost unmarked base (lacking any dark barring or showing only an hint in most birds) and often even a dark trailing edge along the wing which is always missing in Iranian Shikra. In adult female Iranian Shikra, as contrary, the wing-tip is always pale with several dark bars all along the length (up to 9) while in adult female Levant the dark wing-tip is also rather dark, less than on male but yet visibly darker than on any adult female Iranian Shikra. NB: Some rare variant of (younger) adult female Levant could, mostly when abraded and sun-bleached, show a paler wing-tip with only fractionally dull outer “fingers”. In that case we should focus on the other field marks.
2. WING-FORMULA: all in all only the number of visibly “fingered” outer primary is an helpful character under field condition, but on photographs the complete wing-formula is a clinching character which deserve the highest attention being a key feature – Iranian Shikra has the 5th primary (P6) rather long and well projecting past the 6th (P5), this is as long as the 4th (P7) and almost as long as the 3rd (P8) so the wing-formula would be : wing-tip P8-P6 = , 5 fingered primary. In Levant instead, the P6 is shorter, often under good views visibly so, so the fingered primary are only 4 giving the Falcon-like jizz that we all know. The wing-formula will be: wing-tip P8-7= or P7 longest; P6 short, only slightly longer than P5 and shorter than P7. In hand, or very close up photos, the emargination in Iranian Shikra would be : very deep on inner web on P9-8-7, also rather deep on outer web of P6; in Levant inner web emargination only on P9-8, P7 not emarginated as well outer web of P6 not emarginated. The different wing-formula result in quite different jizz in the field (see under this).
3. PRIMARY-PROJECTION: On perched birds in the field, the primary projection on all the adults (as well as though less in juvenile), would be a rather good if not clinching character also of birds not facing the observer (where the iris colour and the underbody colour and pattern would be not visible) – in Iranian Shikra the PP is very short, broad and blunt, while on Levant is always much longer, narrower and more pointed. Also from above, the exposed primaries in Iranian Shikra are always paler while are black or blackish (male) or darker (female) in Levant.
4. UNDERWING: the underwing of adults female is in most Iranian Shikra less patterned, paler and showing only limited narrow rusty-orangish or tawny barring and/or spotting while is in most adult female Levant more densely and markedly patterned, with rather thick and wide barring on axillaries for example. On adult males the barring could be similar or same and is therefore of little relevance. Secondary of adult male are unbarred or almost so in Levant while show more defined and conspicuous barring in Iranian Shikra, while in female of the former there are usually 3 or 4 dark bars while there are up to 5 dark bars on female Iranian Shikra (same on juveniles), but there is a lot a variation on this and also it is hard to judge as highly depending on wing position/posture.
5. UNDERPARTS: in Iranian Shikra paler and less densely and broadly barred than in Levant, adult and chiefly 1st adult female Iranian Shikra have more extensively and visibly barred underparts than their adult male but the bars are wider and more defined and marked in adult female Levant; most importantly, the thigh-feathers of Iranian Shikra is unmarked or lightly barred by narrow bars while is densely and visibly barred in most Levant, on the latter very often also the lower vent and belly is barred and barring often extend to the undertail coverts, while those areas are clean white in Iranian Shikra.
6. UPPERPARTS: Usually of a colder and paler bluish-cerulean grey in Iranian Shikra, while are darker, warmer and more blue-led grey on Levant, with female more brownish or rusty tinged. Many 1st adult female Iranian Shikra could also be rather dark brown-tinged.
7. IRIS COLOUR: in Iranian Shikra range from deep yellow to yellowish-brown in adult female, in some of them (chiefly adult) could be also orange tinged or orange, while it is ranging from orange to red-orange bright in adult males. In Levant is always darker, less red or orange tinged, with only some younger adult female (occasionally only few males) showing paler iris that could appear, once reached by strong direct sun-light, orange tinged.
8. TAIL: according to Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) and many other sources Iranian Shikra would have a shorter tail than Levant; However, at least for the Iranian Shikra that is not true according to my museums measurements and direct personal field observation, with on average a longer tail – 179mm (20♀♀ ) e 155mm (8 ♂♂) against 166mm (30 ♀♀) e 153mm (13 ♂♂) of Accipiter brevipes. Therefore this result in a longer tail looking in the field, this even more emphasized by the shorter and rounder wing, with also, when perced, the visibly shorter primary projection (PP).
9. JIZZ: of really heavy relevance, being a clinching feature, is the jizz which with experience could be easily spotted on; due to the differences in the wing-formula, wing-length, tail length etc the two species appear different in the field in flight – Iranian Shikra appear to have a rounder and broader wing-tip, very similar to that of Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus although on this the “hand” is larger, wider and less pointed. The “hand” is more pointed and narrower in Levant, and the lower wing profile, the trailing edge, is straighter, more parallel, while in Iranian Shikra the secondary are more bulging, appearing more convex with therefore a less parallel wing with a less straight lower profile. The tail appear longer, sometimes obviously so, in Iranian Shikra while is shorter in Levant, with length shorter often than the width of the wing-base. Indeed, the longer tail is also stressed by the shorter wing of Iranian Shikra, with Levant indeed having always a longer wing-chord and length (Vaurie, 1961) and by the wider “hand” appearance. The 5 fingered primary against the Falcon-like 4 of Levant is also often a rather obvious difference in the field. Differences in the bill structure and toe length and structure are helpful mostly in birds in the hands.
Juvenile Levant show a paler wing-tip than adults, therefore this important field character is of no use. Juvenile male Levant usually show limited or no barring on the proximal part of the outer most primary, while these are obviously and markedly barred on juv. male; in Iranian Shikra, though the dark bars are narrower and less marked in male, there is an extensive number of bars in both sexes. The tail of juveniles is longer so the differences are slighter and less visible. However, differences on the length of P6 and on the wing-formula are already relevant and a key character, so that also the jizz is different also in juvenile. Regarding plumage, the main differences are:
1. UNDERWING: in most juvenile (but few palest male) Levant the underwing coverts are densely and obviously dark spotted/barred/blotched appearing in the field as dark and as patterned as the body, while in Iranian Shikra those are lightly marked, with narrower and lighter and sparser dark markings, appearing therefore paler (often wholly pale) than the body (more patterned though in juv. female).
2. UNDERPARTS: as for the underwing coverts, the body is below less densely patterned, with dark markings narrower, chiefly on belly and lower flanks, with thigh-feathers and undertail coverts only sparsely barred or almost unmarked white. In Levant, chiefly on female, the barring on thighs and undertail coverts is always more extensive, wider, darker and more visible in the field. NB: note that juv. female are often (always?) more densely patterned, with broader and more extensive dark markings. They are also darker above and with wider barring on tail and wings.
3. UPPERPARTS: usually paler and colder in Iranian Shikra, chiefly on juv. males, but of limited use.
I wish to thanks a lot as usual the whole staff of Tring, Natural History Museum for the assistance during all my visits for skins’ studies and for the photos; for having given photos I thanks warmly my good friends Arend Wassink http://birdsofkazakhstan.com/ and Gabriele Grilli http://www.pbase.com/gabriele_grilli
Thanks also to my great friend Rène Pop for his great Shikra Photos.