Category Archives: Mystery Birds

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!





Mystery Stonechat

It’s a male.

by Martin G.

Which is not much of a clue. It’s not easy, but interesting I hope :).

I watched this bird with Sander Bot and Mick Cunningham in the Beit She’an Valley in Israel a couple of weeks ago. Israel hosts at least 3 stonechat taxa and probably up to 5. So it’s a great place to learn the stonechats.

Only one person was bold enough to put  a name to it (Portland’s Grahame Walbridge) when a photo was first put up here, so I have now added 3 more photos in the hope that it will at least pique some more curiosity. Whaddya think?

Which one is it?

stonechat israel nov 13 b

stonechat israel nov 13 c

stonechat israel nov 13 a


Winner of 2013 Birding Frontiers Challenge

Mystery Bird Quiz

The Play-off mystery birds were:

1cy male Caspian Stonechat (ssp. hemprichii – variegatus in old money)

 2cy Steppe Buzzard – vulpinus

 2cy Cape Gull – vetula

The last one a bit of a stinker but not impossible (and a potential vagrant in that plumage)- hence an ID frontier. Chris Batty came closest first time around, being the only one to get  all 10 species correct, but didn’t give a trinomial (subspecies) for the coutelli Water Pipit (which is identifiable as such).

In the play-off , Chris, Jon Holt and Mark Lawlor all pitched about right for the stonechat and buzzard but only Nick Moran got all 3 correct and is the overall winner. Congratulations Nick!

Thanks to all those who took part. Hope you enjoyed it and learnt something too- as I certainly did. Full answers and more on each mystery bird to come.

Cheers Martin

Birding Frontiers: Mystery Quiz Results

Congratulations to:

Chris Batty, Jon Holt, Mark Lawlor, Nick Moran 

Each scored 9 correct answers out of the 10 mystery birds.

As a finale to the competition, they have agreed to go into a ‘play-off’. 3 birds in 3 photos, same rules (to lowest taxonomic level deemed possible). All info here. All to be identified by 9:00 pm on Wednesday 14th August (tomorrow). If there is no outright winner then prizes will be divided up by ‘picking from hat’.

Here are the answers to main round:

First off: Thank You to all who had a go. Quiet a few European countries were represented as well as entries from Britain. No-one disgraced themselves. These were a tricky bunch of photos. Many came close! Ian Lewington, Nils van Duivendijk and Tristan Reid looked over them at the start, with no prior knowledge  and there was agreement that they were identifiable. Some more easily than others. I will cover more fully the identification of each mystery bird, together with more instructive photos of each individual. For now here’s a summary of the correct answers:

1. Band-rumped Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro… (probably of form ‘Grant’s’ but more on that to come). If you said ‘Madeiran Petrel’ that would have been OK.

2. male Cyprus (Pied) Wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca

3. female Steller’s Eider Polysticta stelleri

4. female Ehrenberg’s Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus samamisicus

5. Coues’s Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni exilipes

6. female Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis

7. Caucasian Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta coutelli (‘coutelli’ would do)

8. 1st winter Armenian Gull Larus armenicus

9. Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca (photo is of a bird showing full set of characters of Desert / Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat ssp. halimodendri). More on the bird and the call to come. For the quiz, ‘Lesser Whitethroat’ would do.

10. Brünnich’s Guillemot Uria lomvia

Here are the play-off 3

(for Chris, Jon, Mark and Nick)

Mystery Extra 1

Above: Play-Off Mystery Bird One (photographed in November)

mystery extra 2

Above: Play-Off Mystery Bird Two (photographed in March)

mystery 3

Above: Play-Off Mystery Bird Three (photographed in June)

Happy 3rd Birthday

Birding Frontiers weblog is 3 years old

August 11th 2010 the first post appeared. That’s 3 years ago today. You can see some of what was posted (one or two photos missing) by going here.

Just to say a big thank you to the Birding Frontiers team, to those who follow us regularly, those who contribute, comment, agree and disagree! We passed 1,000,000 views at the end of July and currently receive between 12,000 and 17,000 visitors per month. We are having fun and as ever, always learning ;). There is a bit more to say on what matters to us, how we do things and what the future might hold. But for now-

a BIG THANKS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY little blog!

Another Mystery Bird Quiz Prize:

and if you are following the Birdfair, Mystery Bird Quiz. Another prize has been added to the list (with thanks to Neil Glenn):



Final Countdown to Mystery Bird Quiz.

Birdfair 2013: Birding Frontiers Challenge

The deadline for entries is coming! Monday 12th August at Midnight. Well done to those who have already entered by emailing (here), and thanks for the comments on how much it has been both challenging and enjoyable. For those not yet entered, all TEN mystery birds can be seen HERE. Rules and prizes below (scroll down).

The challenge provides a back-drop to our Birdfair talk on Friday 16th at 4:00pm.

Birdfair promo PB Tour small


Thanks to friends and partners we also have a few wee prizes:

  • A full weekend pass to Britain’s first Migration Festival at Spurn.
  • RSPB British Birds of Prey book by Marianne Taylor and other bits
  • Some goodies from Shetland Nature
  • Swarovski Optik watch and baseball cap
  • Petrels: Night and Day. book by the Sound Approach
  • Presentation map of Flamborough from Yorkshire Coast Nature.

How to play

Every day from the 1st to the 10th of August 2013 a new bird of some sort will appear on the Birding Frontiers blog: a photo and/or a  sound recording. Some will be a bit more obvious and  there might be one or two ‘stinkers’ thrown in.


  • N.B. There is no need to respond straight away
  • All 10 answers can be submitted after the 10th bird has been posted
  • All answers must be in by midnight (British Summer Time) Monday 12th August

Two ways to send in answers:

  • Either by putting your answer on the blog in the comments section on/after 10th August.
  • Or email me here

Other rules

  1. If there is only one outright winner they get all the prizes!
  2. If there is a tie/more than one winner, the prizes will be distributed and if necessary by means of picking names from a hat.
  3. Birds must be identified usually to the lowest taxonomic level e.g. sub-species UNLESS the bird was never deemed as identifiable to a lowest level.  For example if a photo of a Greater Sand Plover appears, there are 3 sub-species of Greater Sand Plover.  If the bird is deemed identifiable to a sub-specific level then that (e.g. ‘Greater Sand Plover’ of subspecies crassirostris) is the correct answer.  If however the bird is only deemed identifiable as a Greater Sand Plover and not to sub-specific level, then that (i.e. ‘Greater Sand Plover’)  is the correct answer. Don’t worry though – if you take a punt/guess on a sub-species and it’s not deemed identifiable to that level you won’t lose any points.

I think that’s everything. GOOD LUCK and hope you enjoy it!

Oh and P.S.  YOU ARE INVITED. Tormod and I would love you to come along to our talk if you’re at the Birdfair on Friday at 4:00 pm.  Most of the quiz birds will feature there.  Details below!


Big nod to these guys for the prizes:





Mystery Bird Number Ten

Ten of Ten

Open to all. More info here:

What is this bird on the water?

mystery 10 b

Click on image for larger size. Full details, rules and useful info on this pre-Birdfair mystery bird quiz are here: Birding Frontiers Challenge

Don’t forget- no need to make your vote now on the bird’s identity. Just wait until all 10 have been posted, then vote all at once.


Thanks to some special folk, winners’ prizes include a beautiful canvas presentation map of Flamborough (from Yorkshire Coast Nature) and T-shirt/ Cap/ Goody bag (from Shetland Nature).

Shetland Nature.indd