Category Archives: 17) Chats and Thrushes

Stejneger’s Stonechat in Falsterbo

By Yoav Perlman

This stunning (putative) Stejneger’s Stonechat was ringed at the migration hotspot of Falsterbo Bird Observatory in southern Sweden on September 20th. The bird was caught in the reedbed area north of Falsterbo lighthouse. Björn Malmhagen from Falsterbo participated in the recent and hugely successful Spurn Migfest and had a great time it seems. Björn was also involved in the identification of a stonechat at Spurn a few days ago, first thought to be stejneger’s but later identified as European Stonechat. It’s great to see the partnership formed between Spurn Bird Observatory, Falsterbo BO and Cape May BO.

Björn sent me these educational images, comparing the Falsterbo bird, 1cy female, with an almost identical bird he had ringed in China exactly a year earlier. Incredible. Feathers of the Falsterbo bird were sent for DNA analysis by Martin Stervander at Lund University, Sweden. So hopefully ID will be confirmed soon.

Of the maurus group, stejnegeri is the eastermost form, and not the easiest to identify, especially from European Stonechat. But in recent years more focus has been given to this taxon after several western European records (see previous posts on Birding Frontiers here and here).

Distribution map of stonechats, from Hellström and Wærn (2011). British Birds 104: 236-254

Distribution map of stonechats, from Hellström and Wærn (2011). British Birds 104: 236-254

In these excellent composite images by Björn, the key features can be seen. This is what Björn wrote to me about his impression of the bird in the field: “The bird gave an overall dark impression with a deep rusty rump and uppertail-coverts lacking any dark markings. The underpart was light orange – in colours closest to a western bird – in contrast to a whitish throat.”

The strong bill is also evident here. Width of bill of the Falsterbo bird at the proximal edge of the nostrils was measured to 5.2 mm which, according to Svensson (1992), places this bird outside the range of maurus (4.7–5.7 mm in stejnegeri, compared to 4.0–4.9 mm in maurus). Compared to other Siberian Stonechats, primary projection is not that long – wing measurement was 69 mm.

Composite of Stejneger's Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

Composite of Stejneger’s Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

The pattern of rump and uppertail coverts is crucial for ID. Note the richly toned rump, unlike that buff-whitish rump of other maurus. Also, note the dark centers to longest uppertail coverts – typical for stejnegeri (more than half of individuals were found to have such a pattern – see another excellent article by Magnus Hellström and Gabriel Norevik in BB (2014)):

Composite of Stejneger's Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

Composite of Stejneger’s Stonechats from China and Sweden. Photos by Björn Malmhagen

Many thanks to Björn and his brilliant team from Falsterbo BO for sharing this with us.

Red-throated Thrush taxonomy

Identification and fascinating taxonomy

I will try to say this simply. I think we looked at some of Terry’s images before. Some may be new. They illustrate the issue. These are normally seen as 4 separate specs.

It would be a twitcher’s dream to se ALL FOUR SPECIES in Britain. They are East Asian megas! Well BOOM! I have seen 3 of the 4. I didn’t get for the Dusky Thrush. Hey.

Are they four separate specs? Birds showing the full set of characters seem ok? Sure. They might not be sure at all- indeed every time they might not be sure. That’s OK.

A bird that looks like a Dusky Thrush might be a Red-throated Thrush X Naumann’s with tad of Dusky.

Truth man. Truth.

Something amazing and complex goes on. Why? So they can survive.

What you see… is NOT what you get. how to go birding? Love it. Enjoy it. Hold it lightly.

What if Hooded Crows are entirely black in some areas and some Carion Crows are pied in plumage in others areas… but are still essentially Carrion Crows- adapting to survive.


Dark throated bbnnn (1 of 1) Dark throated bbnnn b (1 of 1) Dark throated bbnnn bn (1 of 1) Dark throated diff a (1 of 1)


and then … thsi type seems less common. A male with blackish feathers intersperssed in the red breast patch. Seemingly a visible indication of what is going on underneath. But bear in mind the bird above may be even less ‘pure’.

So ABOVE- pure looking

Below. not so PURE LOOKING

Dark throated hybird c (1 of 1) Dark throated hybird d (1 of 1) Dark throated hybird e (1 of 1) thrush 2 (1 of 1) thrush 3 (1 of 1) 2015-03-01 Red-throated x Black-throated intergrade adult male



if the is ‘Red-throated Thrush’ in this Naumann’s?

thrush 1 (1 of 1)


Naumann’s looking all wrong 🙂

Sooo – this one demonstrates some of the issues:


 I don’t know the details, but this bird seemed to have for a large part the DNA-signature of a Naumann’s Thrush.  Major point of discussion was that there was plenty of orangy/reddish going on in e.g. the wing and tail of this bird:


Hooded Wheatears in the UAE

Elusive and Enigmatic

Oscar Campbell


One of harder resident species to find in the UAE is Hooded Wheatear, arguably the king of a superbly evocative genus. Stunning good looks (male) or a subtle palette of plumage shades (female), stupidly long wings (leading directly to a habit of floating, Hoopoe-like, over the wadi walls whilst attempting to flycatch its next meal), an affinity for the most sweepingly vast of montane landscapes and, not least, a simultaneously frustrating and delightful will-o-the-wisp unpredictability (you just never know when – or if – you are about to bump into one) all add up to tremendous allure.


In the UAE, as seemingly across almost all its limited range from Sinai to southern Pakistan, the species is very local and uncommon. Most visitors, if they haven’t been lucky enough to see one on a previous trip to Israel, generally haven’t seen one anywhere. And often they won’t see one in the UAE either, for birds come and go erratically and temporarily reliable spots suddenly and abruptly go quiet for months or longer.

For that reason, whilst guiding three fortunate UK and South African birders on an insufferably humid and sweaty mid-September morning earlier this year, I was delighted to find a young male at the migrant hotspot of Wamm Farms, on the UAE’s east coast. This site is one of most birded in the country and has a superb track record for both vagrants and large numbers of common migrants. However, despite this, and despite the fact that it’s overlooked by the towering Hajar mountains (with several known – if not especially reliable – sites for the species within 30 or 40 km) this was the first ever record of Hooded Wheatear at the food-rich farm. The ‘normal for autumn’ regular and intensive coverage (well, ok, in the UAE this means a few birders each weekend…) failed to relocate the bird until, in mid-November, there I was again and so was he, in pretty much exactly the same spot, feeding from the sprinkler heads on the edge of a stony, barren field. As is typical for the species here in the UAE, when you do manage to locate one, views were stunning as Hooded Wheatears are often fearless and very approachable; this one was audibly snapping for insects at ranges down to 2 metres! Watching and digiscoping this sensational bird for over 30 minutes at point-blank range was easily the highlight of my morning, and, on a day that produced Pallid Harrier, Amur Falcon and seven species of pipits, that is saying quite something.


Movements of Hooded Wheatear are poorly understood, although appear to be very limited. Of 291 records in the UAE bird database between 1992 and 2014, just eight, totaling four individuals, have been recorded away from potential breeding locations.

Tellingly however, all these come from sites on the coastal lowlands of the Persian Gulf, 350km or more west of the nearest known breeding sites in the UAE. One individual over-wintered December to March and the other three were all logged between mid-February to early April. The mountains of southern Iran are barely any further away across the Gulf that UAE breeding sites and are very likely the point of origin for these coastal birds.

Mike Jennings’ wonderful and very readable tour-de-force, the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia, details older records from Das Island and Bahrain, supporting the contention of at least some movement south across the Gulf and the same book shows scattered records from Kuwait and the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, again likely referable to migrants and winterers.

Shirihai’s Birds of Israel notes limited movements, mainly for females and 1st calendar-years dispersing from breeding grounds in early autumn and the species has (rarely) reached Cyprus, Turkey and even Greece. Of course, none of this brings the origins of the Wamm bird beyond mere speculation, although records from Masirah Island, off the central Omani coast, show that the species may move a long way along the Gulf of Oman coastline as well.

It will be interesting to see if the Wamm individual remains for the winter although, not entirely atypically, on my last visit several days ago there was, of course, no sign of it!



Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes

Beautiful. And the New Taxonomies Beckon.

What do I mean? I have touched on this with some of these photos before. Talking with Terry again they reignited the issues.

Bottom line is Taxonomy- the way we ‘order’ or organise animal life so we can make sense of it. All very well if it comes reasonably close to what is really happening. But what if it is way off? Whats if our chosen approach- say phenotype- i.e. the way they look is just ridiculously way off.

So much so the birds are laughing. I don’t understand all the disciplines but some I have seen indicate

the birds are laughing

One such is this group… (and ticking in Britain is about the most unhelpful way to be lead in making taxonomic decisions. It just is.) I saw the Chingford Naumann’s. Awesome bird. Just loved it. Is it a different ‘tick’ from the recent Kent Dusky? Very likely NOT. BUT it IS different. And beautiful. And that will have to be enough. Classifying the differences- and similarities is well worth while.

Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes and intermediates. Or possibly all intermediates. All photos by Terry Townshend.


Dusky Thrush or near as

Dusky Thrush or near as

Dusky Thrush- seemingly...

Dusky Thrush- seemingly…

OK thi one is different. Orangeyness on back and rump mmmm that's more than Ducky.

OK thi one is different. Orangeyness on back and rump mmmm that’s more than Ducky.

adding Naumann’s pics shortly

A trickier Redwing?

darker nominate iliacus Redwing?

For connoisseurs. I think Peter’s account and assessment stand alone and are spot-on. Crickey he knows the subject well enough. Fascinating to consider, that this location at least you can build a clear picture that so many of the Redwing occurring are nominate birds.

So the Northern Isles and NW locations remain premium for Icelandic birds. BUT we can still look and find the odd coburni in ‘the south’. We just gonna have to work at it!

Have a read:

Redwing- billed as slightly darker/ streakier example of the nominate form iliacus. Peter Alker, Greater Manchester, 31st October 2015.

Redwing- billed as slightly darker/ streakier example of the nominate form iliacus. Peter Alker, Greater Manchester, 31st October 2015.

Hi Martin,

I caught another 68 Redwings this morning (31st Oct) and have now ringed 860 this autumn. No more coburni’s, I think, but I did catch one that was a near contender this morning. It had a wing of 124mm and was a heavily marked bird but not quite dark chocolaty enough. The legs were quite brown but not as dark as the recent coburni. It is the sort of bird that needs its identity confirmed via DNA or having been ringed on the breeding grounds. If it is iliacus, which is what I think it is, it shows how well marked they can be and is the sort of bird that could pose a problem and just possibly overlaps with some coburni. It has quite well marked undertail coverts and I have been keeping my eye on the undertail coverts of all the iliacus just to see how much variation there is.

Best Wishes, Peter Alker


Redwing, (presumed nominate iliacus), 31st October,  Peter Alker

Bardsey Bird Obs.

One of those west coast locations that gets Icelandic coburni is the marvellous Bardsey Bird Observatory. Here a coburni trapped a couple of days ago (7th Nov).

Icelandic Redwing 4 (1 of 1)

Icelandic Redwing 5 (1 of 1)I see a dark swarthy plumaged bird above, bit more yellowishness in the pale underpart plumage, broad dark feather centres to underparts that spread and  to fill in the middle of the breast. My favourite. feature, the undertail coverts are less useful on this individual. But it helps us learn.

Icelandic Redwing 2 (1 of 1)



Back to a couple of my shots of nominate iliacus- to try to grasp/ process the differences. Love the big white lower breast and belly on these. Dead giveaway 🙂

Redwing 6a 8th oct norwick nominate (1 of 1)Redwing 6c 8th oct norwick nominate (1 of 1)Redwing 3 8th oct norwick nominate (1 of 1)

.Redwing 5 8th oct norwick nominate (1 of 1)

Icelandic Redwings are arriving

Check that Undertail!

I have personally been really keen on this subject. Why? I think Icelandic Redwings ssp. coburni are overlooked. I have features I am keen to test. What can be learned about this curious insular population of NW Europe? Identification was covered/ explored in a chapter the Challenge Series: WINTER. Now time to test it.

Peter Alker is based at Orell, near Wigan, Greater Manchester. Here his ringing and bird study is carried out with precision. Visit Two in a Bush to see!

Redwing 6d 8th oct norwick nominate (1 of 1)

Mid October, Norwick, Unst

Some of my last perambulations involved watching Redwings arriving at Norwick, Unst and managing a few photos. All the birds seen fit the ‘Scandinavian’ or better nominate iliacus profile. One of those is photographed above. Most notable feature to me being the nice white open breast area and lots of gaps of white among dark streaking.

27th October, nr Wigan, Greater Manchester

Icelandic Redwing- discovered in the mist net after some 750+ nominate iliacus Redwing had passed through. Peter Alker, Greater Manchester, 27th October 2015

Icelandic Redwing- discovered in the mist net after some 750+ nominate iliacus Redwing had passed through. Peter Alker, Greater Manchester, 27th October 2015

“Bird of the day and the main reason for this post was a Redwing that I considered to be of the Icelandic race ‘coburni’. When I saw it at the far end of 18m net I knew it was likely to be one, assuming I am correct of course. It was darker than any of the other Redwings, was more heavily marked, had striking undertail coverts and even felt bigger when extracted and was in the hand.”

That’s Peter Alker speaking having rung some 750 Redwings- all seemingly nominate iliacus.

Here’s a rough overview of the features from Challenge Series: WINTER Compare these directly with Peter’s photos. Are the features there? Here’s a small selection of his photos but you will need to go to Two in a Bush to get the full picture!

  • Subtle darker plumage sometimes obviously darker crown and ear coverts
  • More often yellow wash to  head and breast
  • Broader dark feather centres over underparts- white breast centre more ‘filled in (clearer in photo above)
  • Dark legs not pale legs
  • Undertail coverts feathers extensively or sometimes wholly dark – possibly diagnostic on extreme birds
  • Wing length.  Any redwing with a wing length up and beyond 124++ mm should attract attention (coburni have on average the longest wings)

coburni iliacus c rs

X3 undertail col rs

coburni Redwing

coburni Redwing

Siberian Stonechats – maurus in Britain

a young male and young female

It’s become a very exciting find. Always was. Now there is a little more to play for. To go all nostalgic- back in the 1980’s, Siberian Stonechats were a little more common than they have been in recent years. But we didn’t fully engage with the other taxa that were ‘on the cards’.

Now they are rarer, and the commonest form- maurus, while the obvious first choice might not always be the right answer.

The Stejneger’s Stonechat (we had a little role in championing the name in case you were wondering – following a discussion I had with the lovely Prof Martin Collinson) – the more easterly counterpart of maurus is out there. The Caspian Stonechats too- especially the females can quite easily go unnoticed. Really! (ask Yoav :).

So two birds to talk about. So chuffed for Lee J. who found this baby just down the road from my house. And we have an amazing community of birders at Flamborough. So my new limited mobility meant Brett Richards rallied and gave a good hour hogging his ‘scope while I watched this bird and lovely Great Grey Shrike. The wonder of human kindness.. don’t get me started!

Here’s the Flamborough bird- still present today (17th Oct).

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat - maurus - Flamborough, October 2015 Lee Johnson

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat – maurus – Flamborough, October 2015.  Lee Johnson

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat - maurus - Flamborough, October 2015 Andy Hood

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat – maurus – Flamborough, October 2015.  Andy Hood

I have poached photos from Lee and Andy.

Here you can see what was mostly evident in the field. The rich peachy colours, plain and extensive rump and beautiful clean flanks. The supercilium looks less Striking in the photos, I thought it stood out a little more in the field. However in both field and photos it feels maurus. For Stejneger’s think half way to a European Stonechat with deeper more saturated plumage (and other features).

More obvious than in the field the photos show some individual black feathers, so it seems, just behind and under the eye especially. These say a male to me. Ageing we have covered in-depth before- and is in Book One of the Challenge Series: Autumn. So looking first winter male. Justin Carr also caught some underwing action which while caution needed seems to say black for male rather than grey for female.

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat - maurus - Flamborough, October 2015. Justin Carr

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat – maurus – Flamborough, October 2015. Justin Carr

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat - maurus - Flamborough, October 2015. Justin Carr

First winter (male) Siberian Stonechat – maurus – Flamborough, October 2015. Justin Carr

First winter female

Trapped and ringed at Orfordness, Suffolk (Mike Marsh)  on 10th October (one week ago), it’s wonderful to add to the mix of learning. trapped means a really proper view of the underwing– see below- and it’s all grey. All males are all black whatever the age, and all females are all grey. It’s female and can be aged as a 1cy, a first calendar year female. The plumage tones are not dissimilar to the Flambrough bird, extent of rump etc. The emerging white on the rump compared with rump tone is more maurus-like. The supercilium is a little more obvious, certainly in the hand and overall I think the feel is very strongly for another Siberian- maurus. Not enough to stir up a Stejneger’s claim. Loose feathers obtained during trapping may reveal more..

Very grateful thanks to Mike Marsh, key person ringing and collecting data here and Will Brame who so often comes up exploring great stuff from that area of the country. Also to Dave Crawshaw whose lovely and informative photos these are. Bloomin’ marvellous!

unnamed unnamed 2 unnamed 3 unnamed 4 unnamed 5