Category Archives: 20) Shrikes to Babblers

Moulting Daurian Shrike ID in Autumn

Older Females

Martin Garner and Andrew Lassey

Texel, Netherlands and Kent, UK. October 2014

Autumn 2014 brought a fine collection of ‘red-tailed shrikes’. Several more obvious first winter Daurians (isabellinus) headlined. A trickier looking first winter Turkestan (phoenicuroides) in Cornwall gave rise to lively debate. The Dutch trapped a stunning looking first winter Turkestan Shrike at Castricum that seemed to tick all the boxes. And there were more…

including this bird….

female 'red-tailed shrike' (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

female ‘red-tailed shrike’ (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

In the Challenges Series chapter on Daurian and Isabelline Shrike we covered the expected first winters and adults. Fresh plumaged  (fully moulted) adult female Daurian Shrikes have been well recorded in e.g. the UK in recent years. We know them, don’t we?

Head scratching

This Texel bird stepped outside familiar boxes. It’s a worn and moutling female, probably in its 2nd calendar year (so a year and ++ half old). Which makes things a little trickier. Indeed the presenting appearance of cold greyish tones above, white looking below, apparently contrasting dark mask quickly gave rise to speculation that it could be  an example of the rarer Turkestan- keen Dutch birders woke-up!

Have another look at these excellent photos thanks to Maurits and Charles Martens



Rumination and discussion followed. While not definitive, the balance of opinion lies with the Texel (and Kent) bird being a worn and moulting female Daurian (isabellineus). With very grateful thanks to Nils van Duivendijk, Andrew Lassey, Grahame Walbridge, Arend Wassink.

Moult and Migration timing

As this bird is worn and moutling, it is helpful to look further at movement. Oscar Campbell updated understandings of Isabelline and Daurian Shrike movements in the U.A.E. as follows:

The status of Isabelline Shrike taxa in the United Arab Emirates by Oscar Campbell

“My data show that there is a clear distinction between phoenicuroides and isabellinus in terms of their occurrence in the UAE. The former [Turkestan- phoenicuroides] is almost exclusively a passage migrant, mainly between mid September and mid October, and again from early March until early May, with stragglers until mid May or even later.

Although not recorded by me, very small numbers of phoenicuroides are seen in the UAE in August, at least in some years, and mainly in the last week of the month (average of 3.6 bird-days each August, during 2007–11 in the country as a whole; T. Pedersen pers. comm.).

In contrast, [Daurian- ] isabellinus is generally present only from October to March, with very few records outside this period (and in August, only three bird-days in total in the five years 2007–11). It is often widespread in favoured habitats (fodder fields, desert edge and urban parks) throughout the winter, with many individuals departing by mid February and replaced by a strong wave of passage migrants that peaks in the first half of March.”

British Birds 105 • July 2012 • 417–42

In contrast to some literature (but not all), the considerable experience of A.W. and Nils van D. is that (on average, with overlap?) Daurian moult later than Turkestan. Thus:

Turkestan Shrike often complete moult before the autumn.

Daurian Shrike similarly complete or not complete before the autumn.

This maybe reflect the (much later) breeding season of Daurian and could also correspond with Oscar Campbell’s observation of movement and  through the U.A.E.


Andrew Lassey who has loads of experience with the Red-tailed Shrikes (and an understanding of ‘photo-artefacts’) brough as apposite comment on the images of the Texel bird:

“Hi Martin,

Thank you for letting me see the series of images.

Though many females and even more 1st winter ‘Red-tails’ can be a problem I eventually came to the opinion that this bird is not too bad. Initially I thought I was seeing mixed features but finally came to the view that everything points to Daurian. I believe the opinion is that the bird is a 2nd CY female and that seems reasonable. Looking at a few features I would comment as follows:

Tail – largely brown which is typical of most females, however the base of the tail and upper tail coverts are more cinnamon than red and this is consistent with most Daurian.

Supercilium – hardly present, Turkestan usually has a good whitish super, whereas Daurian is less well marked (buffish), this feature (or lack of) supports Daurian.

Crown – some images show a slight rufous or brownish tinge which might be seen as a Turkestan feature, it is however not unusual for Daurians to show this.

Mask – several images show it to be fairly prominent though it does look fairly slim and I believe the shape (lack of downturn and flairing at the rear) to be more typical of Daurian but not necessarily
ruling out Turkestan.

Upper parts – look pretty well fine for Daurian.

Underparts – Initially puzzled by the whitish appearance on most of the images which would be odd for Daurian and more typical of Turkestan. I wonder if the underparts in reality were less strikingly white and the crescent markings to be rufous/orange (or whatever) which supports Daurian as apposed to the colder brown of Turkestan.

I can see no signs of any Red-back features though most female hybrids are near impossible to tell from the genuine article. Intergrades between Daurian and Turkestan do occur but they are so rare as to hardly be an issue in extralimital birds.

Not the easiest individual but several features strongly suggest Daurian and I can’t find much to positively support Turkestan!

All the best, Andrew”

and then it went to Worth, Kent

A week late (16th October) Steve Ashton got some lovely close-ups. See Steve Ashton’s website- lots of smart photos! It’s the same bird.

It’s a sunny day- so beware! On plumage it starts to look warmer. The crescents aren’t so blackish, the forehead scales help ageing (more 2cy than adult) , the underparts are not really pure white and the white supercilium is un-white-  not striking as on easy Turkestan. There’s  a bit too much buffishness wash going on in cheeks and underparts… maybe (while heavily emphasising the great struggle of interpreting photos! Have a look:




and if you are following :)

Some of the others from autumn 2014

Turkestan Shrike –  apparent 1cy at Castricum, Netherlands in November

Turkestan Shrike-  apparent 1cy at Pendeen, Cornwall in November

Daurian Shrike- 1cy at Spurn, East Yorkshire in October

and this very interesting one found by John Edwards was on Mallorca on 30th October. It’s a an interesting looking one… More discoveries ahead!

lanius 1




Turkestan Shrike in the Netherlands

First Calendar Year at Castricum

There have already been several Isabelline Shrikes this autumn- some creating lively debate about whether there are one form or the other. We might look at a few of the others. First off this very interesting one.

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

OK I know it might be pushing it to put a definite name to it. This bird has caused some head scratching. There will hopefully be definitive DNA analysis and claiming it as a ‘definite’ Turkestan – well wouldn’t it just be better to keep you’re head down? To me it’s very similar to one of the individuals we feature in The Challenge Series: AUTUMN – here on Flamborough (at Buckton). That bird was also identified as a 1cy Turkestan.

Making mistakes. Trying and sometime getting it wrong- but still pushing the boat out and having a go. It’s what it’s all about!

So enter Hans Schekkerman, with photos from Cees de Vries  and Luc Knijnsberg (and thanks to them). I understand after more views they are mostly pro-Turkestan. Here’s what Hans wrote on the first day:

“Hi Martin,

Today (13th Nov) a 1st winter Isabelline shrike was trapped and ringed at Castricum, Netherlands.  A set of photo’s by Cees de Vries can be found at .

Here is a translation of the comment I posted with the record:

This species is as difficult in the hand as in the field! … First-winter with completely juvenile wing … In the sunlight it appeared to me more like Daurian, but in the shadow it reminded more strongly of Turkestan (Red-tailed).

Pro-phoenicuroides: (1) mask rather dark and contrasting (but with some gingery wash); (2) clear off-white supercilium (though extending well behind eye only on the right side), with some buffy wash only above the lore; (3) rather stronk dark barring on crown, rump, uppertail-cov and even some on lower mantle; (4) underparts mainly whitish, contrasting rather strongly with upperside.

Pro-isabellinus: (5) there was some clear buffish/orange wash on flanks (particularly on those feathers with brown chevrons) and also on the central belly; (6) this wash faintly continued up the breast-sides and onto the cheeks, that were not entirely white even directly under the mask; (7) tail fairly bright rufous with only a little bit darker centrals and not much darkening distally; (8) in sunlight, warmer ‘gingery’brown tinge to upperparts (almost invisible in shade).

 Centres of juv median coverts were neither whitish nor orange but dark brown, with even darker subterminal line and warm-brown edge.

 Any opinion on this bird would be greatly appreciated.

Best wishes, Hans Schekkerman”

So I say the DNA will make it a Turkestan- phoenicuroides- the rarer of the two regularly identified forms of ‘Isabelline Shrike’ which turn up in NW Europe. It’s not the easiest example and in some of the photos- brighter sunlight causes it to morph into something looking a little more akin to a Daurian Shrike. The Buckton bird did exactly the same - morphing in sunlight. I think the flat ‘overcast’ light depicts it more accurately.

Most of the features fit the details described and illustrated for Turkestan in The Challenge Series: AUTUMN.

What do you say it is? Place yer bets.

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg


1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Luc Knijnsberg

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 20114. Cees de Vries

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 20114. Cees de Vries

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Cees de Vries

1st winter Isabelline Shrike, Castricum, Netherlands, 13th November 2014. Cees de Vries

The variety of photos in different light shows how the plumage tones ‘morph’ to see degree. Overcast flat light is best.

Thanks especially to Grahame Walbridge for much excellent input on this and others Issy Shrikes.

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.



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


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