Continental Coal Tit

which features work…

Brett Spencer

Continental Coal Tit, Portland, October 2015. Brett Spencer

Continental Coal Tit, Portland, October 2015. Brett Spencer

MG intro comment:

“I used to suppose the smart and distinctive Coal Tits of the continent could occasionally be detected on Yorkshires’ glorious east coast. I looked, and looked and looked. And any potential migrant Coal TIts look terribly olive on the upperparts and rather ‘British’. British Coal Tit is real and refers to the endemic form britannicus – ‘our Coal Tit’. If you have lived as we did in N. Ireland you even get a third taxon- whoo- hoo. Examples of the ‘Irish Coal tit’ – ssp. hibernicus with its variable yellow cheeks  most developed or present in the west of Ireland but detected elsewhere including our garden in Lisburn.

But hey- Continental Coal Tits DO occur in movements on the English south coast from the near continent. Dungeness and Portland being two observatories where they can be seen. A recent little influx bought several birds. Brett Spencer of the Portland/ Weymouth area takes up the cause. Others Continental birds have occurred in the last couple of weeks. It would be very interesting to know their distribution in the UK.

Where are Continental Coal Tits showing up on the coast and inland this autumn?”

over to Brett Spencer, Portland, Dorset

Portland has no resident Coal Tits and when they do turn up, they’re Continentals. After seeing one on Portland, I came back to Weymouth to an area, not a million miles from Portland and came across a Coal Tit, but this bird was a British one. Very weird how Continentals are very rare in Weymouth, but are the norm on Portland and of course the other way round for British birds, the norm in Weymouth, but rare on Portland.

The Dorset picture for Continental Coal Tit is that it is not an annual occurrence. This is an irruptive species and obviously this is a good year. I think the national picture is not fully understood in terms of numbers and distribution either.

All photos Brett Spencer unless stated:

Continental Coal Tit, Portland, October 2015. Brett Spencer

Continental Coal Tit, Portland, October 2015. Brett Spencer

Key Features of Continental Coal Tits

  • The obvious one are the cold steely blue grey uppers (mantle,back,scapulars) lacking warm olive colour of British birds (only fully applies in autumn not spring).
  • Other features include the more extensive black bib that extends onto upper breast and splays out at the bottom to join the shoulder
  • White cheek patches look slightly bigger too, which may enhance the bigger headed look.
  • More peaked crown, which when raised, produces tiny crest.*
  • The above two features give a bigger headed appearance. Along with the subtly less sullied underparts, they overall look more contrasty/cleaner.
  • Wider nape patch?
  • Tad larger size? (not much field use)

Calls. Subtle differences mooted. More exploring to be done.

 Bit more on the black bib:

A couple of things from my recent experience with these birds is the overlap in bib sizes. Some well marked male British birds probably overlap with poorly marked female Continental birds, but still think it can be used as a guide. Guide being the operative word. Well marked male Continentals are diagnostic I would say in this regard. Also, I think Continentals appear more bull necked than British birds. I do think they appear maybe bigger/bulkier in the field, but this needs to be tested first, as not had direct comparison between the two forms.

Comment: See also note comment added by Martin Vavřík below.

Copy of _MG_1737

Copy of _MG_1789

Continental Coal Tit, Portland, October 2015. Brett Spencer

Continental Coal Tit, Portland, October 2015. Brett Spencer

British Coal Tit – britannicus

To go with my earlier message, my good friend ©Chris Patrick/RNBWS took some photos of British Coal Tits from his garden today (30th Oct. 2015).

The reduced bib of British ‘britannicus’ is clearly evident in these photos and, though on well-marked individuals, it can splay out at the bottom, the black doesn’t reach the shoulders in the way it does on Continental Coal Tit.

IMG_4894

IMG_4972

Check out the black bib (below) on this British bird (below) versus the bib on the Continental bird (scroll up).IMG_5022

3 thoughts on “Continental Coal Tit

  1. Dave Foster

    Nice article and pics! Longer wings on some of use in direct comparison as is subtle. Some have no warm on unders and grey cast on flanks. I agree white on nape looks broader. Extent of bib is probably single best feature (so cheek looking surrounded) as ‘ours’ in ‘wrong’ light can appear grey above – good long close view in differing light conditions generally sorts that though. Have seen only two in NE inc 1 (with a ring on but it wasn’t caught here) a week ago. Dave.

    Reply
      1. Brett Spencer

        The bib size is only an indication and male British Coal Tits probably overlap with female Continental Coal Tits in this respect. As in any identification, a combination of features, not one single feature, should be used and as far as upperpart colouration, an account of the lighting conditions should be taken into account. One more thing is, I do think Continentals look more bull necked than British birds.

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