Category Archives: 20) Shrikes to Babblers

Mystery Shrike from Inner Mongolia, China

By Terry

Every once in a while, a birder comes across something that baffles.. It happens to me more often than I’m happy to admit. During a recent trip to northern Hebei and southern Inner Mongolia in China to check out the breeding location of satellite-tagged Amur Falcons (more on that later), Paul Holt and I found an unusual shrike. We never saw it particularly well – it was very skittish – and, given time constraints, we had to leave the site before we could secure the views that we would have liked and the quality of photos that would have helped..

Nevertheless, given that we were puzzled by this bird, I am publishing here our photos and a short video in the hope that someone can help us ID this strange-looking creature.

Shrike sp. (Nanhaoqian reservoir near Shangyi, Nei Mongol)(2)

Shrike sp, near Shangyi, Inner Mongolia, 10 October 2014. Note the scaling on the underparts.  Photo by Paul Holt.

2014-10-09 shrike sp

Shrike sp, near Shangyi, Inner Mongolia, 10 October 2014. The dark wings and pale wing bar are consistent with Long-tailed Shrike.

A short video can be seen here – Shrike sp, Nei Mongol

The video is a little over-exposed, making the bird appear paler than it actually was. Neither the video nor our (few) photographs really do justice to the following:

– overall coffee brown colour, slightly ‘greyer’ on the back of the head and very subtly more rufous on the scapulars

– tail mostly and conspicuously black with white on the outer-tail feathers. When alighting rather small, white, crescentic tips to the bird’s three outermost tail feathers were clearly visible

– narrow and rather faint scaling on the underparts (just visible in Paul’s photo)

On the first, very brief view, I instinctively thought it was a Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius scach). The black tail and wing pattern fitted this species. However we soon had some issues with this ID.

First, the overall colouration seemed wrong. Second, the scaling of the underparts didn’t seem to fit this species. Third, the white in the tail didn’t fit either. And finally, the range of Long-tailed Shrike – this would almost certainly be the most northerly ever record of Long-tailed Shrike in China (it is still a rarity, albeit one that’s increasing, in Beijing but it does breed in southern Hebei).

Personally, I also thought that the bird wasn’t big enough for Long-tailed (it’s a large shrike) and the tail didn’t appear long enough either but, in the absence of a direct comparison, this view is subjective.

So we are baffled. Is it just an aberrant Long-tailed Shrike? We think not. A hybrid? Or something else? Answers on a postcard, please…

 

Nine of Eighteen

The Challenge Series: AUTUMN

One of the chapters covers two or three types of the Isabelline Shrikes that reach northern and western Europe in autumn. Daurian Shrike, Turkestan Shrike and that funny grey one from the north…

For more on the content and how to buy the book click HERE.

OUCH!!!

 

adult male Daurian Shrike, December Yosef. Kiat

adult male Daurian Shrike, December Yosef. Kiat

Indian Grey Shrike

The feedback from the images taken by Prasad Ganpule of an interesting looking presumed Asian Grey Shrike has been excellent.

See especially these comments by Brian Small and Graham Walbridge.

To compare. Typical lahtora showing amount of white in wings.

Asian Grey Shrike, ssp. lahtora. at Jamnagar, Gujarat, by S.P. Jadeja

Asian Grey Shrike, ssp. lahtora. at Jamnagar, Gujarat, by S.P. Jadeja

 

Prasad’s extra-white-in-the-wing lahtora type

Picture-16-2-2014 182

Asian Grey Shrike ID

A Letter From India

Prasad Ganpule

Hello Martin I read with great interest the various articles on grey shrikes on Birding Frontiers. They are very informative. I saw a shrike in February in Desert National Park, Rajasthan, India which we could not identify with certainty. I am attaching some images of this here. The white in wings is too much for lahtora or pallidirostris , the only two grey shrikes occurring in India. Could it be any form of Great Grey Shrike or something else ? Your help is very much appreciated. Thanking you, Prasad Ganpule

Prasad, clearly a sharp observer of birds,  previously wrote about taimyrensis like large white-headed gulls, with accompanying superb photos. We previously published these two photos here and there is a much fuller Birding Frontiers post on Desert and Asian Grey Shrikes. Picture-16-2-2014 169Picture-16-2-2014 182 Below more photos of the same bird. The bird is an adult and the general plumage pattern is like Asian Grey Shrike lahtora as might be expected from the location. However it definitely looks rather more pallid grey above than the darker grey of typically described for lahtora and the length of white at the base of the primaries and perhaps also the amount of white in the secondaries is even more than normally described for lahtora. Variation in lahtora or another explanation? Don’t forget there is the strange case of the lahtora Asian Grey Shrike in Norfolk, England (scroll down to end). Check out the expected pattern of white for lahtora via links below From Prasad:

Some links to illustrate the usually seen wing pattern in lahtora in India.
and HERE
.
The date / place is almost similar.

This one – though taken in October, is similar to the above bird.  

go HERE and

go HERE

other links for lahtora in flight are HERE and HERE

This was the reason the bird seen by me generated debate here.

With Best Regards, Prasad.   Picture-16-2-2014 181 Picture-16-2-2014 160 Picture-16-2-2014 159 Picture-16-2-2014 155 .

Mystery Grey Shrike

to be continued…

Here’s a couple of photos of a ‘Great/ Southern/Desert’ etc etc Grey Shrike photographed in February this year.

These are fascinating and quite beautiful birds. Certain individuals don’t always fit described forms, and the whole group has taxonomic uncertainty written over it all it. Surely these Grey Shrikes are a frontier?

For now please have a look and if you think you know what it is, that is what form or taxa it might be- please say. No I’m not saying where it was photographed :)

Picture-16-2-2014 169 Picture-16-2-2014 182

Five Bee-eaters and a Red-backed Shrike

at Flamborough

Of course lots more here and you may have already heard. We got some proper spring colour today on the East Yorkshire Coast:

More (nicer) photos and news on the Flamborough Bird Obs website

Come on cough it up! the hard bits of insects don't digest very well a and get regurgitated.

Come on cough it up! the hard bits of insects don’t digest very well a and get regurgitated.

male Red-backed Shrike added value to an already cool day

male Red-backed Shrike added value to an already cool day

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.