Caspian Stonechat in Scilly…

…and elsewhere

by Martin Garner

and there is a Mystery Quiz Bird at the end. And yes of course – it’s a mean, dirty, tricky one 😉

1cy male Caspian Stonechat ‘hemprichii’, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, 21st November 2013, by Ashley Fisher

A smart first winter male Caspian Stonechat found earlier this week on the Isles of Scilly raised unsurprising questions about the ID and taxonomy. Well done to finder Doug Page and to Ashley Fisher for clocking it as Caspian. Asked to comment on the bird and especially amount of white in tail, was timely for me at least, having just returned from birding in Israel, particularly in the North at the Agamon Park and Hula Valley area. Here it’s possible to see tens of Caspian Stonechats, many more European/ Continental Stonechats ‘rubicola‘ and a few Siberian Stonechats ‘maurus‘. I have also learnt much from stonechat king, Yoav Perlman and discussion with Brian Small and Lars Svensson.

Dave Boyle sent some lovely images which capture the key features:

Dave Boyle Scilly Nov 13
Dave Boyle b Scilly Nov 13
Dave Boyle c Scilly Nov 13

1cy male Caspian Stonechat ‘hemprichii’, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, November 2013, by Dave Boyle (all photos above)

Here’s the comment I sent in reply:
Great find – what a bird! 
 I have been through this ID process myself over the last 12 plus months. Just back from N Israel and watching loads of these. In a nutshell, lots of 1cy males look just like this on passage. For now I think this is fine for 1cy variegatus (though probably better referred to as hemprichii- Northern birds *). If the bird were trapped I think the amount of white would be 50% or more of the length of most of those tail feathers. Fine for hemprichii at that age and perhaps too much for 1cy armenicus (which we should now call variegatus- Southern birds).
 It seems might be a correlation between amount of advance moult (esp more obviously dark throat) and amount of white in tail with these. More white often goes with more advanced throat. Less white in tail (like this bird) less dark throat at this time of year.
 I think 1cy male armenicus (now variegatus) would have probably something looking like half that amount of white in tail. Adult males armenicus might just about have that much though I think it’s actually quite a lot  on this bird (50% plus in reality in the hand), maybe even too much for ad male armenicus (Southern)- and it’s not an adult male.
 There is still more to learn and a question for me is whether there is too much overlap between norther and southern Caspian Stonechats to warrant having them as 2 taxa- perhaps more of a cline in amount of white from N to S- but more to be done there.
 Often these have (versus young male maurus) a more obvious brick-red patch emerging (‘hiding’ under pale feather tips) on the breast, and contrasting with paler belly etc. You might notice that in the field.
 Hope that helps, Martin
*Svensson, Shirihai, Frahnert & Dickinson 2012. Taxonomy and nomenclature of the Stonechat complex Saxicola torquatus sensu lato in the Caspian region.Bull BOC 132(4): 260–269.

Images of stonechats from N. Israel:

Caspian Stonechat Hula Nov 12

hemp 1 2012 hula 1cy


and to compare a shot of the Scilly bird by Martin Goodey:


amen 3

photo 1

(above) 1cy male Caspian Stonechats ‘hemprichii’, Agamon Park, Hula Valley, November 2012

male hemprichii Hula 11 Nov 20131cy male hemprichii c Yoav's alfalfa 8th Nov 20131cy male hemprichii d Yoav's alfalfa 8th Nov 2013

(above) male Caspian Stonechats ‘hemprichii’, Israel, November 2013

Caspian Stonecha 1cy female 9.11.13 Israel

1cy female Caspian Stonechat ‘hemprichii’, Negev, Israel, November 2012 (tricky!)

1cy male European Stonechat b rubicola Negev, Israel 8 Nov 20131cy male European Stonechat ‘rubicola’, Negev, November 2012

female rubicola Hula Nov 2013female European Stonechat ‘rubicola’, Agamon Park, Hula Valley November 2012

1cy male maurus c Hula Nov 2013

1cy male Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’, Agamon Park, Hula Valley November 2012


Mystery Quiz Stonechat

Just for fun- what kinda stonechat is this? Photographed in Israel this month (November 2013 – where at least 3 stonechat taxa were seen.

male stonechat in Israel

 What do you think?








3 thoughts on “Caspian Stonechat in Scilly…

  1. Pingback: Mystery Stonechat | Birding Frontiers

  2. Brian Small

    Well, I was thinking along the lines of armenicus (old name) as I had watched two birds in Kuwait last year that were very much like this, but then Grahame chipped in. Now that the new image of the spread tail is posted I feel sure it is this is armenicus. Somewhere in my head is the idea that I have read a description of a trapped male Sibe Stonechat that was noted to have small amounts of white in the tail visible beyond the uppertail coverts, but as maurus, too, can show white I remember the exact extent. I would say that the white shown here is too prominent to be a maurus, as on this taxon it is so limited to the base as to not be only visible tight under the tail coverts.


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