Category Archives: 20) Shrikes to Babblers

thumb

Desert and Asian Grey Shrikes

Explorations

Martin Garner

Shrikes, aka butcher birds are always pleasing to see. Recent molecular studies have forced (yet another) rethink about what used to be called ‘Great Grey Shrikes’ and how they might be related to one another. A division between ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ forms is already well-known. Here’s a look at the Southern Grey Shrikes where there is much more to discovered about identification, genetics, vocalisations and interbreeding of forms. A birding frontier! Furthermore an ‘Asian Grey Shrike’ in Norfolk in 1982 considered to be an escape might be worth revisiting.

A paper published in 2010 (see end) suggested different possible (new) taxonomic treatments, with an option being to treat the southern birds as 3 separate species. This position has been adopted by e.g. Dutch Birding:

Desert Grey Shrike Lanius elegans with taxa: elegans, koenigi and algeriensis

Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis

Asian Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora with taxa: lahtora, pallidirostris and aucheri

What’s confusing is that birds with the most similar plumages and in some case breeding closest to one another, are not necessarily the most closely related. So takes some getting your head around! Expressed simply a broad sweep from the Canaries to India reveals most of the southern taxa are dark smoky-grey looking shrikes. From koenigi in the Canaries, algeriensis of coastal North Africa, aucheri of the Middle East through to lahtora in India all look broadly very similar. Into that mix the Iberian meridionalis is similarly dark, often with pinkish caste to underparts. The outstandingly paler form is elegans spanning right across inland North Africa through to the Middle East while the different looking pallidirostris sits perched in the NE corner (Central Asia) of this range.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging deep extensive grey tones below, contrasting with white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. Dutch have it as 'Desert Grey Shrike' and a subspecies of elegans (with algeriensis as another ssp.). The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species 'Iberian Grey Shrike' by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Desert Grey Shrike formkoenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. This insular form is resident on the Canary Islands and is a dark grey above merging with deep extensive grey tones below with contrastingly white throat. Limited white in wing and large black mask with hardly any/ no white supercilium. The Iberian form meridonialis is viewed as a separate species ‘Iberian Grey Shrike’ by both Dutch Birding and the 2nd ed. Collins Guide.

Southern Grey Shrike 'koenigi',  Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Desert Grey Shrike ‘koenigi’, Lanzarote, Sept 2013. Martin Garner. Pattern of white in wing and tail provide key information when identifying all the grey shrikes.

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. A firts winter from nearby North Africa that seemed to fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal form,  algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans.

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Igor Maiorano. From nearby North Africa. Extensive white in the wing, with large white primarv patch and white outer webs in secondaries points to the paler elegans. Some aspects thought to indicate it fit dodsoni , usually viewed as intergrade form between darker plumaged, more coastal algeriensis and paler more inland form, elegans. Thankfully these are considered the same species in the new taxonomy! Bit more here

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

first winter Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans/ dodsoni, Linosa (Italy), November 2011. Ottavio Janni. Same bird as above, now in flight showing extensive white in wing

 

Southern/ Desert Grey Shrike adult form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri in Israel (and algeriensis in N. Africa). Lots white in wing and tail, bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with very limited black over bill.

Adult Desert Grey Shrike, form elegans, Negev, Israel, November 2012, Martin Garner. Paler grey above than co-occuring aucheri (Asian Grey Shrike) in Israel. Also with lots white in wing; large white primary patch and ‘linking’ white on secondary edges with bright white underparts, something of white supercilium with limited black on forehead/over top of bill base.

Southern Grey Shrike 2 aucheri Hula, Israel Nov 2012

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Billed as separate species from the paler elegans by the Dutch, aucheri is lumped with Asian Grey Shrike 'lahtora' and includes subspecies pallidirostris! This shrike is the commoner dark form in N Israel with darker grey upperparts, more black in mask and less white in wing than aucheri (e.g. see above).

2 photos above: First winter Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. You get 2 species to tick now in Israel!  the dark aucheri is lumped as Asian Grey Shrike with ‘lahtora’  from further east and includes central Asian subspecies pallidirostris, while elegans  is a Desert Grey Shrike. The more common form in N Israel is aucheri with darker grey upperparts, more extensive and darker grey in underparts,more black in mask and less white in wing than elegans (e.g. see above).

Southern Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. White in wing limited to primaries.

Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Hula, Israel Nov 2012. Martin Garner. White in wing essentially limited to primaries. Such a dark bird with limited white seems to fit more extreme end of aucheri, perhaps an example of taxon ‘theresae’ upheld by some authors

Southern Grey Shrike, , Beit She'an Valley,  Israel Nov 2013. In interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn't especially darker above and  with more white in wing than other easy 'aucheri'. This bird could be what is assumed to be an intergrade form between darker northern aucheri and paler southern elegans.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, form aucheri, Beit She’an Valley, Israel Nov 2013, Martin Garner. An interesting bird, Extensive black mask but wasn’t especially darker above and with more white in wing than other easy ‘aucheri’…

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it's appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She'an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many 'Asian Grey Shrikes' were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980's? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not be reproduced in any form.

Adult Asian Grey Shrike, Roger Tidman. A remarkable record from Norfolk! Found at Toftwood, (nr. Dereham) from August 23rd 1982 it was later found dead there ‘at the end of the year’. The specimen was apparently identified by the BTO and Tring as ‘of the Indian race’ lahtora. It was considered an escape at the time due to its tameness and residence in a built-up area. Characters pointing to lahtora include extensive black mask, darker grey upperparts but whiter underparts and more white in wing than e.g. aucheri. Intriguingly it’s appearance is not much different to the bird above photographed in Beit She’an Valley, Israel. This bird seems worthy of further investigation. It seems an unlikely vagrant whether aucheri or lahtora, though stranger things have happened. How many ‘Asian Grey Shrikes’ were kept in captivity in Western Europe in the early 1980′s? Isotope analysis of feathers from the specimen could be revealing. This photo © Roger Tidman not to be reproduced in any form.

 

Download the key paper which is bringing new taxonomic thinking:

 The Lanius excubitor conundrum

 

Grateful thanks to Roger Tidman, James McCallum, Chris Kehoe, Andy Stoddart, the MISC, Dani López-Velasco, Juan Sagardia and Yoav Perlman.

 

Daurian Shrike at Flamborough

and Identification of First Winters

by Martin G.

It’s a privilege to live at Flamborough near some very keen and capable birders. I was reminded of this last Tuesday morning. I arrived back from Shetland on the Monday evening (14th) and by tuesday lunchtime had seen Dusky Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler and this. An ‘Isabelline Shrike’ Found by Phil C. earlier in the am and only seen briefly it finally gave itself up ear he cliff top. So which type/taxa/species :) is it?

2 types are recognised as having occurred in Western Europe. The Daurian Shrike ‘isabellinus’ and the Turkestan Shrike ‘phoenicuroides’.

All photos of Flamborough bird by Martin Garner, 15th October 2013

Daurian Shrike 1cy m Flamborough 15.10.13

In a nutshell: this is a first winter bird. My gut reaction on seeing it was that it looked like a Daurian, albeit a darker example. Daurian is seemingly occurring much more regularly in Britain in recent years than Turkestan.  Like Siberian Chiffchaffs and Pallid Swifts (and a host of others) seeing these shrikes in the right light conditions/ accurate photos is absolutely critical (and often not easy)

Key features on the Flamborough bird:

  • Overall gingery wash to the brownish upperparts
  • Gingery orange colouring prominent on the flanks but extending from rear flanks all way up to below ear coverts (hard to see latter).  Centre of throat and central breast/ belly white.
  • Tertials darker brown but not strong contrast with uppers. Mask slightly darker brown with gingery wash at some angles- not blackish brown
  • Rump brighter orange with only very weak dark marks on some feathers tips
  • Orange centred median coverts

First winter Turkestan should have cold earth brown/ grey brown uppers with darker (almost blackish) mask and flight feathers. Uppers contrasting strongly with mostly clean white underparts (marked with blacker bars/chevrons). More often retained juvenile feathers in rump and mantle/ scaps with white or black centres to median coverts (not orange!).

Here’s the Flamborough bird:

Daurian Shrike 1cy b Flamborough 15.10.13

Daurian Shrike 1cy k Flamborough 15.10.13

At close range and in flat light and lovely gingery tone warmed the upperparts. The ‘mask’ could vary from darker to paler depending on angle with, again a gingery tone washed through.

Daurian Shrike 1cy h Flamborough 15.10.13

Daurian Shrike 1cy g Flamborough 15.10.13

The flight feathers, especially tertials were not especially dark (sooty/blackish) and contrasty

Daurian Shrike 1cy f Flamborough 15.10.13Orange/ gingery wash went from rear flanks to the pale area below mask (lower ear coverts). Underpart barring/chevrons more brown than black.

Daurian Shrike 1cy o Flamborough 15.10.13Like my favourite chocolates, the median coverts were orange centred (black or white centred in Turkestan). The small upper tertials and greater wing coverts almost had a subterminal orange band.

All photos above of Flamborough bird by Martin Garner, 15th October 2013

What about intergrades?

This question was posed by some. This study by EN Panov (2009) demonstrated spatial isolation between phoenicuroides and isabellinus (speculigerus in Panov) in a potential contact zone. Furthermore a time difference in arrival of 2 months on breeding grounds between the 2 taxa was noted. Panov’s conclusion is that, while there are occasional examples of interbreeding the evidence presented suggests the 2 should be treated as independent species. One of the consequences for observers in Western Europe is that intergrades are arguable likely to be rarer than ‘pure’ birds. Perhaps we should approach identifying firsts winters (and the somewhat easier adults) with renewed confidence.

Variation not Intergrades. Seems to me learning about variation in young Daurian and Turkestan Shrikes (think of the variables of red/grey/brown seen in Red-backed Shrikes) is the key. Here’s a plainer first winter Daurian Shrike from this last week in Lincolnshire, still showing the same ‘themes’ as the Flamborough bird.

Adult male Daurian Shrike in Cornwall

Meanwhile, a fellow Shetland fan, Paul Bright-Thomas, emailed to say he found an ‘Orange on a Stick’  at Pendeen earlier this month. Superb! Paul’s photos below:

DSCF4056_800x600

DSCF4080_800x600c.

Eastern Red-backed Shrike ssp. kobylini

Valid or not?

Northdale, Unst, May 2013

Red Backed Shrike kobylini like North Dale b Unst May 2013(Above) male Red-backed Shrike. Easily a favourite ‘find’ on this springs Shetland guided holidays. Quite a few of the 10 or so we came across were first seen from the comfort of bums on van seats. This one sat in elder (unfortunately against the light) as we swung by the cottages at Northdale was one of 2 we found there. Immediately it was possible to see it as a little different to other males seen. Grey is more extensive down the mantle, reducing the area of rusty brown to thinner band across the back. While feathers are fluffed up, making plumage harder to read, grey seems to extend up the back beyond the tertials. The tertials themselves have thin pale/ whitish fringes instead of being gingery. These features are seemingly more often found in eastern birds, sometimes referred to as subspecies kobylini.

to compare:

Red backed Shrike spiggieRed-backed Shrike, Spiggie. Another of the males we came across. This one show the more typical and expected plumage with rusty brown plumage over the entire mantle area extending into broad greater covert fringes. The tertials are similarly broadly fringed with similar/ slightly light colour along the same theme.

rbs1-jn2505male Red-backed Shrike, Cunnisburgh, May 2013 (photo by Jim Nicholson). Taken in Jim’s village this male looks a little different with little more grey at the top and bottom ends of the rusty brown zone, though still wouldn’t draw  particular attention.

Flamborough 5th October 2007 

This was the first example I saw in Britain of different looking (kobylini-like) male Red-backed Shrike. In Holmes Gut it’s occurrence co-coincided with a Brown Flycatcher and Turkestan Shrike both also on Flambrough Head! Hi remember Jonny Mac ringing to encourage me to go and take a look. Indeed with rather pale more gingery band across upperparts which was thinner than normal with more grey. Tertial fringes a very pale gingery colour, white patch at primary bases and rather thin looking and strangely pale based bill (perhaps a factor in what seemed rather think bill base). It did seem odd.

male Red-backed Shrike, Holmes Gut, Flamborough showing ‘kobylini characters’, 5th October 2007.

Valid or Not?

The Flamborough bird, with eastern supporting cast certainly seemed to fit the kobylini profile. However, for a long time the validity of kobylini as a subspecies has been questioned. This is due to the presence of birds’ with the same  character traits being found throughout the population of Red-backed Shrikes, though seemingly more common in the east. Is it a valid subspecies? Probably not necessarily though I like ‘variety’. It does  seem to be a plumage variant (or morph) which seems rare in or uncommonly seen in Britain, most common in the east of the range  and can spice up interest and learning. :)

Here’s another thanks to Tim Isherwood.

Grimston, East Yorkshire, 18th June, 2012

Found by Tim near Grimston churchyard, pics below of Shrike by Ade Johnson. More at Merebirders Blog

This one shows well the kobylini characters. It’s still upheld as a subspecies in some places. Though if it really is found in all population, plumage variant/morph is probably better.

p1020201

p1020215

p1020217

p1020176

p1020205Male Red-baked Shrike, Grimston, East Yorkshire, June 2012 (photos: Ade Johnson) and with thanks to Tim Isherwood. A different looking bird at least, perhaps best viewed as plumage morph, but one I have only seen a couple of times in Britain, where it seems scarce/rare. 

homeyeri Great Grey Shrike

in Hungary

by Martin

Bence and Szabolcs Kókay have been in touch about a Great Grey Shrike photographed by Szabolcs in Hungary (I think in Feb 2006).

It’s a smart looking bird. I have learnt since exploring the subject that some western and especially central European birds have been, in the past, defined as a separate taxon with tendency to show more white in wings and tail. However birds such as this one may be outside even that range. From what I know (with much to learn) this bird is  very homeyeri- like, especially the extent of white in the secondaries and long white edges on inner secondaries reaching to the feather tip. I have had a quick look through large skin collection at Tring but it overwhelmed me last time I tried!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With thanks to Bence and Szabolcs.
Szabolcs blog is: http://kokayart.blogspot.hu/
and his homepage: www.kokay.hu

Red-backed Shrike

Female

Further north (especially Holy Island, Northumberland) is scoring heavily in these NE winds, but a female Red-backed Shrike found by ‘Little Tern Warden’, Lizzie was timely find especially for Saturday visitors. The Golden Oriole perfomed regularly through the day too.

Mammals at Spurn

Are always great background wildlife. Took these two (Fox and Roe Deer) not far from my caravan.

and this African lake species is a good tick for Spurn regulars:

Great Grey Shrike and Red Kite Surprise

Ramsley Moor near Sheffield

Went out this morning with Sheffield’s ace insect (and other animals) expert, Paul Richards. Our little plan was to try to get an early Adder. Lack of real warming sunshine prevented that. However we scored! A Great Grey Shrike was a surprise find and a Red Kite skirting the edge of Leash Fen was my first ever in the Sheffield area being mobbed by a Buzzard. Other birds included flushed Woodcock, single Crossbill over, 3 Teal on Ramsley res., and a kettle of 5 Common Buzzards. c 10 Red Deer were distant on Big Moor.

Great Grey Shrike on Ramsley Moor. A regular spot for ‘em, always good value.

Check out the videos:

.

.

Red Kite over Leash Fen- whoop!

Viviparous Lizard- often referred to as Common Lizard, viviparous means gives birth to live young (no eggs to hatch). We watched the Shrike catch a lizard and later found this one trying to warm up (and maybe needing to avoid the Shrike). (photo: Paul Richards)

Excellent lesson in Centipedes and Millipedes from Paul included  2 Lithobius variegatus, ‘Striped Centipede’: see the alternate dark/light bands on the legs. (Paul Richards)

.

The very pretty lichen Cladonia christatella (‘Red Soldier’) was putting on a good show.

Great Grey Shrike

at Wroot

Went to see this bird y’day morning (7th Jan). Keen to see it as it has drawn some comment in the homeyeri genes’ debate (whether some Great Grey Shrikes reaching Britain have intergrade characters of the more southeastern form homeyeri). Finally found it along same fence-line as 2 Common Buzzard and 1 Kestrel ‘predator alley’. Pleased with my slowly improving efforts at digiscoping/ video (it was very windy!)

This 1st winter Great Grey is clearly the same bird ringed at Spurn on 7th November

1st winter Great Grey Shrike, Spurn 7th Nov. 2011 © Spurn Bird Obs. Sharp eyes and careful ‘forensic analysis’ have established: its the same! Fascinating to see part of this bird’s journey.

Nearby 2 Bewick’s Swans accompanied c 52 Whoopers and c 20 Mute Swan and as I left c 120 Pink-feet Geese flew over.