Answer to Mystery Stonechat

or at least further exploration!

by Martin G.

Thanks to those who responded to the Mystery Stonechat question. It’s an intriguing bird. I picked up in flight from the car and called it as a ‘Caspian’ on account of thinking I saw white in tail and large pale rump. However on landing it was too dark overall, looking at times very European Stonechat- like and Sander Bot and I, together with Mick Cunningham quickly decided it looked better for a Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’. The rump was big and pale and somewhat peachy but no white was visible in the tail as it flew about. I was still bothered that I thought I had glimpsed some white so persevered with photos- and sure enough: a small area of white at base of tail feathers is just visible. Certainly a good bird to work with and learn from.

all photos below are of the same bird: Beit She’an Valley, N Israel, 13th November 2013 by MG

stonechat israel nov 13 b

Looking rather like a male European Stonechat. Makes you wonder if adult male Siberian Stonechat are overlooked in NW Europe – passed off as the Common cousin?

stonechat israel nov 13 f

Tending to look a tad paler and ”cleaner’ at times than European Stonechat with glimpses of large all pale rump. the primary projection -while subtle – does not look long enough to me for the Caspian taxa. Longer on Northern (hemprichii) and even longer on Southern (variegatus – ex armenicus), which has been suggested as an ID for this bird.


stonechat israel nov 13 e

stonechat israel nov 13 g

Large plain rump and black inner underwing coverts mean it can’t be European rubicola- even when it tried to look like one.


stonechat israel nov 13 dand there it is: the little patches of white, just visible on a spread tail shot and the base of the outer tail feathers. For me this seems like its’ OK for Siberian Stonechat ‘maurus’


stonechat israel nov 13 a

White patches again visible at base of tail feathers from the underside- as detected by some folk. White at tail base of stonechats is easier to see on underside than upperside.


stonechat israel nov 13 cand back to a perched view.

So what is it?

I think it’s an adult male, though aging can be tricky. I think it’s a  Siberian Stonechat maurus and not a Southern Caspian Stonechat ‘variegatus‘ (ex armenicus). Why?  

1) Too much colour below. Both Caspian Stonechats, with some variation, show the most vivid stonechat plumage. An isolated orangey ‘blood spot stands out on the breast with lots of white or pale below. This bird has orangeyness 🙂 over most of the underparts. A normal feature of some adult male Siberian ‘maurus‘ in autumn.

2) Subtle, but to me primary projection looks too short. South Caspian Stonechat should have longest primary projection and seems to usually appear longer than it does on this bird.

3) Siberian maurus passing through southern Kazakhstan apparently have some white at the base of the tail sometime to similar extent as on this individual bird. Again from limited research- I think an adult male Southern Caspian would actually have more white than is visible in these 2 photos.

Your Turn!

This is another cusp of learning on the stonechats, so if you disagree or can add something to the discussion. Welcome!





One thought on “Answer to Mystery Stonechat

  1. Brian Small

    Hi Martin

    I know you are playing the agent provocateur to some extent, but having examined the specimens at Tring, I find it hard to equate this bird with maurus. In my opinion, on the specimens at Tring any bird showing white visible alongside the longest uppertail covert would be assignable as amenicus. Though maurus can show hite at the base of the tail, on specimens this is well hidden and is not so extensive to be seen easily on a fanned tail. I will send you some photos of the tails, but in the mean time, here are maurus tails. The last image appears to show white, but I beliwve this is an artefact of the uppertail coverts fanning with the tail – you can see very thin black shaft streaks on the left side.

    What does Yoav think?

    Cheers, B


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