Category Archives: 17) Chats and Thrushes

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


Yet another potential Stejneger’s Stonechat from Finland

By Magnus Hellström

“…during the examination Kari and Jarmo discovered that the bird showed a distinct and rather large dark marking in one of the birds’ uppertail-coverts. The marking was blackish and extended from the shaft out on the inner vane of the feather, perfectly matching the ‘class 2B markings’…” 


On October 4, Finlands second stejnegeri-candidate for the autumn was found at Kristiinankaupunki (the first one can be seen in a blogpost from Martin here). The bird was trapped by Kari Korhonen and Jarmo Pirhonen and was identified as a 1cy male. The width of bill at the proximal edge of the nostrils was measured to 4.5 mm which, according to Svensson (1992), place this bird outside the range of stejnegeri (4.7–5.7 mm, compared to 4.0–4.9 mm in maurus). However, during the examination Kari and Jarmo discovered that the bird showed a distinct and rather large dark marking in one of the birds’ uppertail-coverts. The marking was blackish and extended from the shaft out on the inner vane of the feather, perfectly matching the ‘class 2B markings’ shown and discussed in Hellström & Norevik (2014).

saxmau trut 8 (1 of 1)

Note the marked uppertail-covert. Photo: Jarmo Pirhonen

Similar markings are found on c. 40% of the 1cy male stejnegeri that passes through Beidaihe, E China, during the autumn migration, while such bold markings are, to present knowledge, not known to occur within maurus. The dark marking was found in one single uppertail-covert feather only, but such sparse/irregular distribution of the markings is regularly seen also in the E Chinese birds.

A feather was collected, and subsequent genetic analysis will show whether or not this bird qualify as a stejnegeri (as suggested by the overall appearance and the pattern of the uppertail-covert) or as maurus (as suggested by the width of the bill). As always, analysis of mitochondrial DNA will only give the genetic history of the mother, but both taxa are commonly distributed over huge areas in N Asia and there are some indications pointing to that hybridization may be less common than earlier believed. True or not, the likelihood of a purebred bird should exceed that of a hybrid by far.

saxmau 041015 trut 5 (1 of 1)

Ageing the bird: The primary coverts show a typical first-winter pattern with pale buffish edges, typically widening to a broader (and slightly diffusely set off) tip. In a folded wing, the broad pale tips almost blur into each other, hiding most of the darker parts of the feathers. In adult (2cy+) birds, the pale edges are typically whitish, narrower, more sharply set of against the black feather centre, and does not widen towards the tip. This character is applicable in most autumn individuals, but a few birds (especially females) may be harder to assess. Since this young bird have conducted a partial moult there are also moult contrasts to be found in the plumage. However, these contrasts are often hard to detect in photos, like here. Photo: Jarmo Pirhonen

saxmau 041015 trut 3 (1 of 1)

Sexing the bird: Rather straight forward, since black underwing-coverts are shown by males only. Photo: Jarmo Pirhonen

Another bird:

Another good looking bird was trapped at Haparanda-Sandskär Bird Observatory in the far north Baltic Sea, Sweden, a week ago. This bird, also a 1cy male, shows a similarly dark, but even more sturated, plumage. No dark markings in the uppertail-coverts were seen, and no measurement of the bill is available, but the overall impression suggest this one as a stejnegeri as well.


1cy male, Haparanda-Sandskär, Sweden, 2015-09-27, ringed and photographed by Magnus Karlefors & Ulf Öhman.


Svensson, L. 1992. Identification guide to European passerines. 4:th edition. Stockholm.

Hellström, M. & Norevik, G. 2014. The uppertail-covert pattern of ‘Stejneger’s Stonechat’. British Birds. 107:692-700.

Stejneger’s Stonechat already in the Western Palearctic..?

Shetland’s next birds..?

Blogging from a train bound for Shetland with Mrs G. and Mr Perlman. Rory and Will have re-found the Pechora out on the west side (THIS bird). And the PG Tips are Quendale was duff (Duff is a new word for Yoav – he didn’t get that one :). He did though notice Jari’s blog post.

Oof! Has a young female Stejneger’s Stonechat already made it to Finland by late September? Looks that way! And they have at least one if not two Blyth’s PIpit’s – only the second record for Finland in September. Wow. Read more on Jani Vastamäki’s BLOG here.

Maybe this is some of the flavour for Shetland in the next few days…

To me the plumage tones above and about the head pattern (there is some weird black staining above the eye and on crown) and especially the rump colour and very pro-Stejneger’s Stonechat and seems well away from typical maurus. I suspect it is a Stejneger’s as Yoav does and I bet Jani does.



and really early Blyth’s Pipit(s) to go with it…  Something interesting is going on for birders in Shetland me thinks. OO…that’s where we are going to be tonight! Sat in Riddington Towers supping single malt, ready for the assault tomorrow.

And can’t resist that the species are showcased in books in the Challenge Series. The Stejneger’s Stonechat in AUTUMN and the tricky Blyth’s Pipit in WINTER. Let’s hope they get further testing!



Blyth’s Pipit by Jani- very early and maybe some Shetland bound.

MORE  more on Jani Vastamäki’s BLOG here.


Red-throated Thrush

Identification of First Winter Females

What species is depicted in the photo below?


This bird was found at Hamina city, south-east Finland by Eero Hietanen on 21st January 2015 and was still there yesterday afternoon (1st February). Photo Mika Bruun.

I did a naughty straw poll with some Flamborough regulars last night. Their response to this photo to a man/ woman: A Black-throated Thrush. It is (of course) a bit more interesting than that :).

See the video >>>HERE<<<

Location of that thrush!

Location of that thrush!

The Challenge!

First winter female Red-throated Thrushes can be very similar in appearance to first winter female Black-throated Thrushes, unlike the other ages and stages which are more straightforward. Then there is the problem of hybrids and intergrades.

Thanks to Mika Bruun has been sharing discussion. I wonder if this is actually an OK first winter female Red-throated Thrush or at least if it is an intergrade/ hybrid, is at the Red-throated Thrush ‘ruficollis’ end of things?

Have a look why:

10968285_10202310548804933_1045849089_nSnow lit from below, it nevertheless appears to actually have deep cinnamon/ reddish/ brownish in the breast markings. It’s also seems overall very weakly marked for Black-throated on the head and breast pattern, more akin to the first impression of female Red-throated, with strange warm wash across the whole breast.


Then you see the tail pattern and the world changes! It’s got plenty of pale orangey going on. While it has been argued that some (male?) Black-throated Thrushes can have some reddish in the tail- is this really normal for first winter female Black-throated? Is it extensive enough for first winter female Red-throated? The tail pattern would seem to at least put it into Red-throated territory.
10960924_10202310548884935_682377968_oThe tail again. It also appears to have some reddishness going on in the rump/uppertial coverts.


So what is it? And I wonder what it calls like…

Specimens to compare

Thanks to Ian Lewington who dug out these slides from the Natural History Museum at Tring. These were used for an old and well known book which he illustrated.

Black-throated Thrush- atrogularis. First winter females. Ian Lewington. NHM Tring.

Black-throated Thrush- atrogularis. First winter females. Ian Lewington. NHM Tring.

Red-throated Thrush- ruficollis. First winter females. Ian Lewington. NHM Tring.

Red-throated Thrush- ruficollis. First winter females. Ian Lewington. NHM Tring.

Red-throated Thrush- ruficollis. First winter females. Ian Lewington. NHM Tring.

Red-throated Thrush- ruficollis. First winter females. Ian Lewington. NHM Tring.

I am more in the Red-throated(ish) Thrush camp, though it’s not as striking as some more obvious 1st winter female Red-throated. So then-  it’s a subject I certainly need to learn about.

What say you?

Thanks very much to Mika Bruun, Petri Vainio and Ian Lewington

That Redstart at Spurn

19th – 23rd November 2014

An unusually late Redstart attached attention on the Humber shoreline at Riverside, Kilnsea. See HERE.


On hearing about the bird, I was intrigued to see if it might be an Ehrenburg’s Redstart ‘samamisicus or even the tricky ID challenge which is a female Eastern Black Redstart- phoenicuroides– not yet recorded in such plumage in Britain. On first views it did seem surprisingly  dark smoky-brown above – was this just my lack of recent experience of female Common Redstart recently, in particularly dull light? The underparts were intriguing, being rather dappled looking brownish with an orangey wash. There was a little too much orange below for a female-type Eastern Black, and the wing formula, checked on the back of the camera looked like Common Redstart. The apparent whitish fringes to the secondaries were in life, not white but buff fringes.

I couldn’t personally say it was anything better than a female Common Redstart. I found the underparts still interesting but not enough features to claim a samamisicus– a vagrant of which would be surprisingly late for a taxon which is usually an early migrant. The poo sample might reveal more information.

There is more to be said on samamisicus:  females I have seen in early spring can be quite distinctive and the tristis-like call would definitely stand out in Britain.

For now here’s more pics of the Spurn bird (it had a slightly deformed bill):

red13 red4 red 1

red10red11 red9

See Garry T’s video:

Eastern Black Redstart, taxon: phoenicuroides

Names and Calls

Martin Garner

A quick follow up to the post on this beautiful bird:

Eastern Black Redstart Scarboro 1st Dec 2014 j



I have compared a few calls of ‘western’ gibraltariensis Black Redstarts with my recording of phoenicuroides Eastern Black Redstart at Scarborough, though ideally I need a better data set. Impressions in the field were that the Scarborough Eastern Black Redstart sounded similar but a bit different- kind of lower pitched or something and was discussed as such at the time. Subsequently spurred on  especially by Grahame Walbridge, there may be difference in pitch and possibly shape but I am not sure if variation in calls of both taxa render this obsolete or whether there really are useful differences. Need more time to look in to it!

If anyone has good quality recordings of Western and Eastern Black Redstarts, or thoughts on the subject- be great to hear from you.

Eastern Black Redstart Scarboro 1 dec 2014 sonagram


English Names 

1cy male Eastern Black Redstart. Stef McElwee, November 2011, Holy Island, Northumberland

1cy male ‘Eastern’ Black Redstart. Stef McElwee, November 2011, Holy Island, Northumberland

Another subject briefly raised was the suitable English name for phoenicuroides.

Eastern Black Redstart seems inappropriate and confusing as here are several taxa that fit this catch-all term. I was a bit hasty in writing as subsequently friends (particularly Paul French) reminded me that we’d had a light-hearted discussion a couple of years ago on a suitable name for Eastern Back Redstarts – following the two first winter males in 2011 (also see photo above). Here’s what we came up with:

Kashmir Redstart– as others have pointed out, and we concluded at the time- even though this is out there as a potential name, Kashmir is too far south of the core range.

More suitable options we toyed with were

Kyrgyzstan Redstart and Tajikistan Redstart

but most favoured was Tien Shan Redstart

Central Asian Black Redstart is one option but seems a bit ‘lowest common denominator’ and functional only. Furthermore a large area of Central Asia is NOT occupied by phoenicuroides.

Given the record in Kent in November 2011 whose identity was ratified by a sample of excrement collected at the site, I really liked ‘Kentish Crapstart’. But somehow I don’t think it will catch on…

An Exotic Robin in China

By Terry

When most birders think of exotic robins in China, it’s images of Blackthroat, Rufous-headed Robin or Siberian Rubythroat that come to mind.  However, at a 15th century World Heritage Site in the heart of Beijing, it’s a different species that has captured the imagination of local birders and photographers on an unprecedented scale.

On 10 November 2014 a local bird photographer posted onto a Chinese photography forum some photos he had taken in the Temple of Heaven Park.  It was a bird he had not seen before.  Sharp-eyed local birders Huang Hanchen and Li Xiaomai quickly spotted the images, posting them onto the Birding Beijing WeChat group, where they caused quite a stir.  It was a EUROPEAN ROBIN!  WOW!! (“BOOM” hasn’t yet caught on in Chinese birding circles).

The following day I was on site at dawn, together with 3 young Chinese birders.  The only directions we had were vague at best – “the northwest section“.  Temple of Heaven Park is a huge site and, after a 3-hour search, there was no sign of the exotic visitor.  My 3 companions decided to leave to look for a Brown-eared Bulbul (another Beijing rarity) that had been reported in Jingshan Park.  I decided to walk one more circuit around an area of shrubs that looked the most likely spot for a Robin.  Along the last line of shrubs I suddenly heard a call – one that I immediately recognised from home.  It was hard to believe, and I almost felt embarrassed, but my heart leapt!  Immediately afterwards, a blurred shape made a dart from a bush, across the path in front of me, deep into the base of another thick shrub.  It was a full 5 minutes before I was able to secure a clear view.  It was still here – a European Robin!!  I hurriedly sent out a message to the group and, just a few minutes later, the original 3 birders were back and we all enjoyed intermittent views of what was, at that time, a very elusive bird.

Little did we know what a fuss this bird would cause.  Over the next few days the local bird photographers flocked to the site and, on a single day that week, there were over 150 photographers present (see below).  It was a scene reminiscent of a “first for Britain” and, despite a similar but much smaller scale twitch two years ago for another robin – Japanese Robin – this was something I had not seen in China before….

Bird photographers at the Temple of Heaven Park a few days after the initial sighting.  Photo by China Youth Daily

Bird photographers at the Temple of Heaven Park a few days after the initial sighting. Photo by China Youth Daily

As is often the case in China (as well as large parts of Asia), some of the photographers immediately began putting out mealworms and created artificial perches for the bird to try to create the conditions for the most aesthetically pleasing photos possible.  It wasn’t long before the robin became habituated and performed spectacularly for the assembled masses.

And the interest in this bird has not dwindled.  As I write this, on 6 December, there are still many photographers on site, almost four weeks after the initial sighting.  Incredible.  It must be the most photographed EUROPEAN ROBIN ever.

6th December: still a good crowd of bird photographers almost 4 weeks after the Robin was first seen.

6th December: still a good crowd of bird photographers almost 4 weeks after the Robin was first seen.

During its stay, as well as bird photographers, this bird has attracted unprecedented attention from the Chinese media, with articles published in The China Daily (in English) and China Youth Daily (in Chinese), the latter reporting that this individual has come all the way from England!  There is no doubt that this vagrant – an ambassador for wild birds – has raised awareness among many people in Beijing about the importance of Beijing’s parks for wild birds and generated an appreciation for the birds that can be found in the capital.

A species that we take for granted in Europe, this bird’s presence is a reminder both that the European Robin is a stunningly beautiful bird and that watching rare birds is all relative.  In Europe birders dream of finding a SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT or visiting China to see the enigmatic BLACKTHROAT.  In Beijing, it’s a EUROPEAN ROBIN that gets the juices flowing….  and rightly so….!

The world's most photographed EUROPEAN ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula), Temple of Heaven Park, Beijing, 3 December 2014

The world’s most photographed EUROPEAN ROBIN (Erithacus rubecula), Temple of Heaven Park, Beijing, 3 December 2014

Status of EUROPEAN ROBIN in China.

The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) has recently been discovered as a regular winter visitor, in small numbers, to western Xinjiang, in the far northwest of China.  It is very rare further east, with just one previous record in Beijing, a bird that spent the winter in the grounds of Peking University in 2007-2008.