Grey is the new sandy!
By Martin G. and Anthony McGeehan
What do you think? They invite tireless fascination don’t they? With an estimated 65 in the U.K in January 2013 (per Birding Word) often in urban sites including birders gardens (see below), Siberian Chiffchaffs are both available and accessible. Appreciating their remarkable journey while learning the vagaries of their appearance are part of their appeal.
Inishbofin. December 2012 – January 2013
Found by Dermot Breen before Christmas, Anthony McGeehan watched this individual over 3 days on the island off Ireland’s west coast and (below) explores the issues of ‘plumage morphing’.
“Light exerts an influence on vision and plumage tints vary depending upon the light. Tilt a Mallard wing and the speculum switches from deep purple to blue; watch a drake Tufted Duck twist its head from side-to-side and the lustre changes from green to blue. Few get excited about such variation. In other situations the ambient light of surroundings exerts influence. Lapwing breeding plumage comes alive when sunlit but can appear close to monotone in total overcast. Hence angle of light, background ’lighting context’ and tilt of plumage can, separately or collectively, combine.
Sometimes the cocktail has an effect on the assessment of field marks. In Ireland, where some Coal Tits are more yellowish-cheeked than others, the strength of the yellowishness is emphasised when the bird faces obliquely away. In a flash – or burst of images from a DSLR – the rear cheek goes from cream to buttery-yellow. Quite what is going on is beyond my ability to explain but factors such as angle of light and the ‘nap’ of plumage are probably key elements in the process.
On several species, loral patterns vary between dark and pale. Once again, angles are important and are complicated by the fact that loral plumage more-or-less runs in a different direction to that surrounding it and that this part of the head is slightly concave.
More straightforward to comprehend is the ‘bounce’ of colour derived from surrounding vegetation. A Blyth’s Reed Warbler will look brownish-olive across its upperparts in sunshine but the olive component disappears in dull light. Depending on the angle of the bird’s torso, its folded wings will glint bronze in some positions but not others. Not surprisingly, such subtle cameleon nuances can become important when identification hinges on a whether a specific colour is detected.
The truth is, plumage contours, light and background vegetation are all at work. For this reason Siberian Chiffchaffs can exude greyness or brownness. Background light is the main determinant in their ‘global’ colour but, at a ‘micro’ scale, a switch in body alignment will, by itself, oomph up the green cast from remiges that, a moment before, looked uniform with overall brownish (or greyish!) wings. There is nothing unusual in the light-registering ability of Siberian Chiffchaff plumage. Grey is the new sandy!”
Chiffchaffing in Poole, Dorset. January 2013
Coined by Tormod A. somewhere between Oxford and Kent (via Dorset) during the ‘Pushing the Boundaries Tour, ‘Chiffchaffing’ seemed to suitably described the engrossed observations of a group of tiny but super hardy little leaf warblers. With 15 Common Chiffchaffs having been ringed there this winter already, the drain (like a canal) at the back of PC World in Poole, Dorset holds plenty. Amoung them are 3 ‘others’. Marcus Lawson was our guide having found a veritable Siberian Chiffchaff on his Footit challenge and a second (intriguingly ringed) bird which also might pass muster as a ‘tristis’. We came across a new tristis and saw both of the original birds alongside c 8 Common Chiffchaffs:
(above 4 photos) Possible Siberian Chiffchaff, Poole, Dorset, January 2013 by Martin Garner. This, Bird Two is the ringed bird. With extra olive above and yellow below its not straightforward though watching it live it certainly gave off a Siberian air’; an individual worthy of further careful study and recording.
(above) Siberian Chiffchaff, Poole, Dorset, January 2013 by Martin Garner. This is Bird Three, found on the Pushing the Boundaries Tour. It exuded Siberian-ness. It was also heard to give the classic ‘peep’ call.
Me? I can’t get enough of them.
So……what about your experiences of Siberian and other Chiffchaffs?