Category Archives: 17) Chats and Thrushes

Red-bellied Black Redstarts in 2014?

They are (still) out there

Any day now? we might get an early Black Redstart at Spurn, or Flamborough. I will be looking again in case we bump  into one with some red in the belly. Nat too common in thee  west but a slight mine filed ( and fascinating) in the Middle East.

n israelnov 12 b

This bird winters in N Israel last 3 years. It sort of fits the ‘ochruros’ label- or does it? I have seen ochruros  in Mountains in Western Turkey. They don’t have white in the wing. This one does. What does it all mean? Maybe one day we will know. Just intergrades and discrete populations?  Meanwhile lets keep looking and learning. :)


FROM MARCH 2011 and beyond…

Great day at Spurn on Saturday 19th March 2011 began at dawn with a Black Redstart flying past (underneath!) our caravan- it then perched up near the rubbish area and sang briefly. Looking female -like I assumed it was a first summer male. Male Black Redstarts have 2 plumage types in their first year plumage:

cairei = (about 90% of 1st yr males in dull female-like plumage)

paradoxus = (c10% of 1st yr males in brighter male-like plumage)

The day just got better and better. A pair of Velvet Scoter flew past the ‘van mid morning  and 9 Whooper Swans6 Pink-feet and a bunch of Brent Geese as well as Buzzard and Merlin all buzzed the airspace viewable from the caravan as the day headed towards afternoon. Last orders produced a 2nd w Yellow-legged Gull on the Humber shore- a rare bird here in March. The next morning peaked with the 1st summer male White-spotted Bluethroat. Paul Collins then radioed out a new (smart-looking) male Black Redstart at the Point (by cafe). For me, this bird was another piece in an old jigsaw I have been trying to piece together for years. Why? because it had red on the belly. Here it is:

Above 3 photos. A male Black Redstart with ‘red’ belly feathering. Can you see the contrast in the  2 types of coverts feathers? Shorter buff-tipped outer and longer white-tipped inner coverts ages as first winter (think that ages it?!). The black ‘face’ marks also look as you find them on 1st w paradoxus males). The central belly looked white when front-on but in the lower belly there is clearly orangey feathering.

re aging:  Magnus Hellström, who knows a lot more about aging passerines then I do wrote:

“Actually, I believe this is an adult (3CY+) male. The brown edges to the outer GC is a sign of relative freshness (not shown by all 
individuals). There is no moult contrast visible in the bird, and the 
age is further supported by the cold grey and fresh pc and primary 
tips. Note also the cold dark grey (nearly blackish) centra of the GC, 
which proves them as post-juv (or older). 2CY bird generally only 
moults a few inner GC, and if this would be a 2CY the post-juv moult 
would have included all GC which is very rare in this species (at 
least in Scandinavia). Most individuals moults only 2-3 GC.

Cheers  Magnus”

The red belly? It’s subtle, but it’s there. Have a look in your Collins Field Guide. Red-bellied = eastern bird. However a bird I saw wintering on Lincoln Cathedral in Feb. 2010 convinced me that some western Black Redstarts can have red on the belly. Here it is:

1st winter male Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros gibraltariensis of the ‘paradoxus-type’  Lincoln Cathedral 12 February 2010. This bird had obviously brownish old juvenile wings and even more extensive reddish belly feathering than the Spurn bird. One eminent commentator was sure it was ssp. ochruros. I have seen ochruros in Turkey and phoenicuroides/semirufus further east. They don’t have white in the wing like this (or the Spurn bird.)

Some more (amazing) images of red-bellied (western) Black Redstarts in Florence Italy by Daniele Occhiato:

Black Redstart  Phoenicurus ochruros is a widespead species, which can be roughly divided into 2 groupings according to BWP: (1) gibraltariensis group with gibraltariensis and aterrimus, occurring Europe and North Africa east to Crimea and (probably) western Turkey; (aterrimus being limited to central and southern Iberia) and (2) phoenicuroides group with phoenicuroides, rufiventris, semirufus and xerophilus, in central Asia, west to Turkmeniya, north-east Iran, and Levant. The eastern phoenicuroides group differs chiefly from the western gibraltariensis group in having extensive red over the belly in adult males. However the nominate form P. o. ochruros inhabiting Turkey, Caucasus and Iran, combines characters of both main groups, including variable amounts of red feathering on the belly. Situated geographically between the western and eastern groups, as well as being highly variable, it is postulated that its plumage characters are the result of secondary intergradation.

On “The evolutionary history of Eurasian Redstart”: (thanks to Alex Lees)

That PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲) at Lingshan!

Just so beautiful – this is Terry’ story I am just poaching

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014.

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014.

So with no apologies from (MG)- another pic of what is a new bird name for me. I posted my first Chinese characters too :) – and who doesn’t like REDSTARTS- especially Eastern ones?

Go directly to Terry Townshend’s site for MORE new photos!

……………………>>>> Beijing Birding <<<<



By Terry Townshend

Przevalski’s Redstart is endemic to China.  It breeds in Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia Provinces and is a very rare winter vagrant to eastern China

BOOM!  On Saturday 15 February I found a male Przevalski’s Redstart (Alashan Redstart, Phoenicurus alaschanicus) at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain.  This is the first record in Beijing for at least 20 years and is possibly only the second ever.

Przevalski's Redstart (Phoenicurus alaschanicus), Lingshan, Beijing, 15 February 2014.

Przevalski’s Redstart (Phoenicurus alaschanicus), Lingshan, Beijing, 15 February 2014.

GULDENSTADT'S REDSTART (left) chasing the PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART (right), Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

GULDENSTADT’S REDSTART (left) chasing the PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (right), Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

Przevalski’s (don’t ask me to pronounce it) is arguably the most attractive and one of the most sought-after redstarts in China.  It is a high-altitude specialist, breeding on rocky and scrub-covered slopes above 3,300 metres and descending to 2,000 metres in winter.  Lingshan in Beijing has a peak of 2,303 metres and the altitude of the current bird is around 1800 metres.  It’s in the company of several Guldenstadt’s Redstarts (White-winged Redstart, Phoenicurus erythrogastrus).

Full story here.  Anyone visiting Beijing and wanting to see it, please contact me for precise location details.


Silver-brown Scaly-backed Ground Thrush

in my garden

by Martin Garner

wacky b blacky 24.1.14

OK slightly over egged. But it is a bit of a looker don’t you think? Currently visiting my Flamborough Village garden is this bizarrely plumaged Blackbird. You get this silver ‘flash’ as it darts about over the grass. Turns out the same bird appeared nr the coastguard cottages last autumn (Phil Cunningham) and produced some head scratching. I can’t decide which plumage aberration it is having had a quick look through >>>THIS<<< paper.

In fact I am not totally sure what sex it is. First impression was that the bright orangey-yellow bill and obvious yellow orbital ring in combo made it a male. However seemingly some females can have such vivid bare parts. The undercurrent to the plumage has something more of a female feel to it. So any wisdom out there?

As to the name of the colour aberration, I suppose its a ‘brown’ or a ‘dilution’ (pastel or isabel). – you need to read the paper. Comments welcome!

brown blackbird flamb 23.1.14brown ef blackbird flamb 23.1.14wacky blacky 24.1.14

Presumed ‘brown’ or ‘diluted’ Blackbird, Flamborough, late January 2014. All photos taken through kitchen window! by MG

male c Blackbird Flamb 24.1.14male b Blackbird Flamb 24.1.14Normal male Blackbird to compare, through same window by same geezer.

female Blackyand a normal female Blackbird to complete the set – same window, same geezer.



Blackthroat, an Asian enigma resolved

José Luis Copete

The Blackthroat: Confirmation the species was still alive in 2004. First field photos in May 2011 (see below). Recent expeditions add information on calls, plumages, especially of almost unknown females and habitat preferences. DNA studies illumine taxonomy and assigned to latin genus Calliope not Luscinia. More:

One of the most enigmatic species from Asia is the Blackthroat (Calliope obscura, formerly considered inside the genus Luscinia). During decades it was unknown the breeding and wintering ranges, even to know whether it was a truly valid species and not a plumage variant of the Firethroat (C. pectardens). During many years there were only a couple of records, from the description of the species in the decade of 1890. A couple of birds collected between the end of XIX century and beginnings of XX century in the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, in C China. After that, a few records in Sichuan and Yunnan, in south China, and north Thailand. The latter regions, considered birds in the wintering range.

To get an idea how enigmatic is the species because so few records known, a look at the very big Threatened Birds of Asia, a huge work published in two volumes in 2001, present all the published or known records of all species with some category of conservation by the IUCN, reveals only half a page for the Blackthroat, when for the rest of species they invariably show several pages. It’s worth of mention that one of these few records concerns a female observed in Doi Inthanon, a few kms down of the first checkpoint, a place well known for most of birders visiting Thailand.

It was not until 2004 when was published a birdguide showing the bird species recorded in the markets of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan (Wang 2004 A photo guide of cage birds in Sichuan. Chengdu: Sichuan Science and Technology Press). In that book appears an image of a live male, in the hand, photographed before 2004, but surely not many years ago. So, it was a confirmation that the species was still alive.

The BOOM arrived in 2011, when two Chinese birders, Wei Qian and He Yi, obtained the first pictures in the field, a superb male in spring migration, on 2nd May, on the campus of Chengdu University (Qian & Yi 2011 First images in the wild of Blackthroat Luscinia obscura, Asia’s most enigmatic robin. BirdingASIA 15: 17-19). Some of the images presented in that note are available at the images database of Oriental Bird Club.

After that, an specific survey in the Qinling Mountains to try to find the breeding region of the species was developed, was successful. These expeditions, lead by Gang Song, Per Alström (who is working as invited professor in Beijing straight now), Yongwen Zhang and some others, obtained a good amount of information about vocalizations, plumage variations, including excellent descriptions and pictures of the female plumage, almost unknown, the specific habitat it occupies for breeding, as well as diverse data about its breeding biology, distribution and conservation status. All this info is now in press in Journal of Ornithology (Gong et in press Rediscovery of an enigmatic Chinese passerine, the Blackthroat Calliope obscura: plumage, vocalizations, distribution, habitat choice, nesting and conservation. J Ornithol DOI 10.1007/s10336-013-1009-5).

Thus, this species is nowadays ‘twitchable’ on specific trips, in the Changqing and Foping reserves, where several western birders already visited the region to try to tick the species, obtaining at the same time very good photographs, some of them already available at the OBC image database.

It breeds at altitudes betweeb 2100 and 2500 m, in pure bamboo extensions, or mixed with deciduous forest. It seems to be absent of the pure conifer forests. These observations suggest the species is not breeding in Sichuan and Yunnan.

Apart from the previous, the same team also published few weeks ago in the issue of Forktail, a confirmation of the validity of the species. It shows a divergence of 6,4% in mtDNA between obscura and pectardens, a similar distance shown by other Turdini species. The vocalizations are also different, adding arguments to consider obscura a good species on its own (Alström et al 2013 Taxonomic status of Blackthroat Calliope obscura and Firethroat C. pectardens. Forktail 29: 94-99). The change of genus, from Luscinia to Calliope, is a consequence of recent research which shows that the Turdini are not forming a monophyletic group, being obscura and pectardens inside the same branch that Luscinia calliope, now Calliope calliope (Sangster et al 2010 Multi-locus phylogenetic analysis of Old World chats and flycatchers reveals extensive paraphyly at family, subfamily and genus level (Aves: Muscicapidae). Mol Phyl Evol 57: 380-392; Zuccon & Ericson 2010 A multi-gene phylogeny disentangles the chat-flycatcher complex (Aves: Muscicapidae). Zool Scripta 39: 213-224).

The Blackthroat male found in 2011 in the Chengdu campus, Sichuan, China. Image obtained from Oriental Birds Images at  © Wu Jiawei/Oriental Bird Images

The Blackthroat male found in 2011 in the Chengdu campus, Sichuan, China. Image obtained from Oriental Birds Images at
© Wu Jiawei/Oriental Bird Images

Caspian Stonechat

Magical Moments 2013 #10

1cy female hemprichii Negev 8th Nov 2013 Martin garner 2g

What: female Caspian Stonechat, Saxicola hemprichii :)

Who: Yoav Perlman plus Meidad Goren and fellow ringers

Where: Negev desert, Israel

When: 8th November 2013

Why:  The male Caspian Stonechats are increasingly well know. The females are not. Can you identify them in the field? Are they being overlooked? Well I discovered lots about them this year. My favourite moment was finding and debating this one with Yoav and his triumph at proving me wrong :). More on this one to be told later in 2014.

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!