The first Collared Flycatcher in the UAE – and an adult male too
Oscar Campbell, Mark Smiles & Simon Lloyd
Black and white Ficedula flycatchers are as rare in the UAE as they are hard to identify. Semi-collared is the most regular with one or two seen most years on spring passage, almost invariably between late March to mid-April.
Black and white ficedula are almost non-existent in autumn, with just one record (and also one for Pied Flycatcher) at that season. For that reason, any autumn Pied-type Flycatcher in autumn here immediately demands attention. A bird glimpsed at Mamzar Park, north of Dubai on 3rd October 2015 just had to be worth tracking down. On 6th October this extremely flighty and slippery individual was relocated and eventually posed for a few photos. What transpired was stunning:
The first impression was that this just had to be the first Collared Flycatcher for the UAE (and there are no Omani records either!) The total lack of white tips on the median coverts pointed away from Semi-collared whilst the amount of white on the basis of the folded primaries was eye-catching and surely had to be beyond what was possible on any nominate or sibrica Pied Flycatcher.
The fairly obvious pale feather tips on the rump forming a ‘ghost’ patch, a rather large and obvious white forehead patch and a hint of a grey wash across the lower nape and neck (more evident in the field, despite fleeting views, than in the images) also seemed to be (softer) features more indicative of Collared. Although the best images obtained of the tertials are a little blurry, it seems likely that this bird is an adult male. The ‘stepped’ tertial tips of a 1w are not evident and the obviously blackish remiges, primary coverts, rectrices and uppertail coverts all contrast markedly with the female-type head and mantle. The Mamzar bird matches fairly well with the September bird from Shetland (featured here), although the white on the head is a little more muted and the extent of white on the primary bases is obviously less (falling well short of the tip of the middle tertial, as opposed to almost reaching it).
Too much white in tail?
One potential problem noted right from the start was the seemingly large amount of white in the tail. Getting any hard clinical details on this proved very difficult on this peculiarly elusive and recalcitrant bird in the field but on 9th October this was finally achieved:
© Simon Lloyd. 9th October 2015
Flight photographs showing the splayed rectrices revealed that the field impression of rather extensive white on the outer tail to be correct with three outer tail feathers exhibiting obvious white on their outer webs. On a spring male Collared Flycatcher this would be bad news and initially we thought we were in trouble. However, illustrations in Krister Mild’s seminal papers in Birding World from way back in 1994 indicated that the tail of male Collared Flycatcher differs in autumn compared to spring and that a narrow white outer web on t4 is actually quite normal in autumn.
The reason for this is yet another delicious layer of complexity in this confusing and perplexing enigmatic group of birds – the partial moult undertaken prior to spring migration actually includes all tail feathers and so replaces the feathers exhibited by our bird with rectrices having much more limited white, giving the typical (almost) all-black tail of an adult (and 2nd calendar year) male Collared Flycatcher. Semi-collared Flycatcher shows a similar strategy but, interestingly, the partial moult of Pied Flycatcher does not normally include any tail feathers. These spread tail shots are more than just ok for Collared; a male Semi-collared would be expected to show obvious white on the inner web of at least t6, whilst (the geographically highly unlikely) Atlas Flycatcher, as far as we can ascertain, seem invariably to have close to an all-black tail (well, at least in spring and summer…).
The spread wing also confirms the extent of the white on the primary bases, definitely reaching the outer web of p3 (and seemingly p2 as well) and this supports aging as an adult male (the majority of 1w Collared males in Mild’s sample show white from p4 or p5 inwards).
Given that is appears to be the first Collared Flycatcher for the UAE, the Emirates Bird Records Committee would be very interested to hear comments from anyone on both the identity and age of this bird. Thanks in advance!