Category Archives: 18) Warblers, Crests, Wrens

GREENISH WARBLER: new for Beijing and the missing link?

The discovery of breeding GREENISH-type WARBLERS in Beijing could represent part of the missing link between the central Chinese form obscuratus and what is now known as TWO-BARRED (plumbeitarus) from NE China and Siberia  

All my life I have found nature fascinating, usually amazing and often surprising.  But every now and again something happens that just blows me away.

In July, when Paul Holt and I found a small population of Greenish-type Warblers (Phylloscopus trochiloides) at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, I had no idea that the discovery could represent a missing link in the distribution of what is thought be one of few examples of a “ring species”.

The Greenish Warblers are widespread leaf warblers whose breeding range extends from temperate northeastern Europe to subtropical continental Asia. They are strongly migratory and most winter from India east to Thailand.

According to a theory first put forward by Ticehurst in 1938, Greenish Warblers were once confined to the southern portion of their range and then expanded northward along two pathways, evolving differences as they pushed north. When the two expanding fronts met in central Siberia (W Europe’s viridanus and Siberia’s plumbeitarus), they were different enough not to interbreed.  Hence plumbeitarus is now considered a separate species – TWO-BARRED WARBLER.

This unusual situation has been termed a ‘circular overlap’ or ‘ring species’, of which there are very few known examples.

greenish warbler map

“Map of Asia showing the six subspecies of the greenish warbler described by Ticehurst in 1938. The crosshatched blue and red area in central Siberia shows the contact zone between viridanus and plumbeitarsus, which do not interbreed. Colours grade together where Ticehurst described gradual morphological change. The gap in northern China is most likely the result of habitat destruction.” (emphasis added)


As one might expect when looking at the map, in Beijing we are used to seeing TWO-BARRED WARBLERS (P.plumbeitarus) on migration as they make their way to and from their breeding grounds in NE China and Siberia.  However, until a few weeks ago, there were no records in the capital of any of the races of GREENISH (P. trochiloides).  Fast forward to 22 June 2015 and Paul Holt and I were in the middle of a 3-day trip to explore Beijing’s highest mountain – Lingshan.  We had already encountered the albocoeruleus form of RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL, until very recently thought to be confined to a handful of sites in Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, more than 1,000 km to the southwest.  In a relatively small piece of woodland on a northeastern facing slope Paul suddenly heard the distant song of a Greenish-type warbler.  Fortunately the path we were following led us towards the sound and, after walking a little further, we could soon hear, and later see, the songster.  It was clear that it wasn’t alone and, during the next couple of hours we encountered at least four singing birds.  Paul focused on recording the song (see below) as I tried to snatch a photo or two as it flitted almost non-stop amongst the thick foliage in the canopy of the birch trees.


GREENISH WARBLER, Lingshan, 22 June 2015.  The only decent photo I was able to capture!

Paul was confident that these birds were not TWO-BARRED WARBLERS and most likely belonged to the obscuratus form of GREENISH WARBLER.

At this point it’s worth outlining the key plumage differences between GREENISH and TWO-BARRED:

  • Two-barred is fractionally stronger billed than the viridanus Greenish we see in W. Europe but these figures probably don’t hold up too well when comparing it with the more poorly known obscuratus of Qinghai and Gansu.
  • A typical Two-barred should have a broader greater covert wing bar that extends on to more inner greater coverts than viridanus – a greater covert bar that doesn’t taper towards the inner wing as conspicuously as it does on viridanus.
  • Two-barred usually also has a second (median covert) wing-bar & this is often whitish or even white – this second bar is rare on viridanus (& when present is indistinct & typically not white).
  • A median covert wing-bar is commonly seen on obscuratus (Paul Holt, pers. obs).
  • Two-barred is also slightly darker above & whiter below than viridanus – but again that’s difficult/impossible to discern on a lone bird & in any case obscuratus has the darkest upperparts of any subspecies of Greenish Warbler (& is often contrastingly darker on the crown then inviting confusion with Large-billed Leaf Warbler P. magnirostris).
  • Two-barred often (‘but not always’ sic Svensson 1992) has a pale yellowish supercilium while obscuratus is ‘apparently on average’ whiter here.

A recording of the Lingshan Greenish Warbler is below.  Note that the interval between strophes has been shortened for convenience.


We thought that this newly discovered population was most likely the obscuratus form of GREENISH WARBLER rather than plumbeitarsus (TWO-BARRED WARBLER).  Or is it an intermediate form between obscuratus and plumbeitarus?

We are keen to hear the views of others with experience of these species.  If it is obscuratus, the find represents the first record for Beijing of GREENISH WARBLER.

Perhaps supporting the identification as obscuratus, it’s worth noting that there are two other species from Gansu/Qinghai that have recently been discovered breeding on mountains in or nearby Beijing  – “Gansu” Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanus albocoeruleus) at Haituoshan (a forested mountain in Hebei immediately to the north of Beijing) and Lingshan and Large-billed Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus magnirostris) at Wulingshan (a forested mountain in Hebei immediately to the northeast of the Chinese capital).  It seems likely that small pockets of forest on some of Beijing’s higher mountains are supporting small disjunct populations of these relatively high elevation species, helping to fill in the gap in the map above (attributed to habitat loss).

The finding begs the question: are there other species from the Gansu/Qinghai area that could yet be discovered in the capital?  Grey-headed Bullfinch, Chestnut Thrush and Chinese White-browed Rosefinch are possible candidates…  In any case the Lingshan Greenish-type Warblers provide yet more evidence that there is still so much to be discovered in Beijing, the most well-watched part of China, let alone the rest of this vast country.


Greenish or Green?

Warbler of course!

Keeping the story warm :)

You may remember the curious, rather bright looking, rather ‘Green’-looking phylloscopus warbler in Denmark in the spring (27th May). DNA results are awaited sometime in the next 2-3 months perhaps (per H. Knudsen). More info and photos HERE.

Meanwhile as the autumn Greenish have just begun to appear (bloomin Filey!) this subject needs to stay alive. Green Warbler can appear early too!

We were very fortunate where I live. Following our reporting of the Danish warbler- our own Mr. Andy Hood went and got woken up by a singing Greenish Warbler right outside his bedroom window at Flamborough, on 15th June. Though it made an interesting comparison with the Danish bird. Our bird sang- marvellous! It was also one of those Greenish (not too infrequent) in which the wing bar is entirely worn-off in spring.

Greenish Warbler, Flamborough, 15th June 2015

Grenish Warbler A hood 15th June 15 (1 of 1)

Greenish Warbler, Flamborough, East Yorks. 15th June 2015. Andy Hood

in full song


Green or Greenish Warbler, Blåvand, Denmark, 27th May 2015


warbler two (1 of 1)

Green or Greenish Warbler, Blåvand, Denmark, 27th May 2015. Henrik Knudsen


Green Warbler in Finland, May 2012

and for completion and comparison- don’t forget the accepted Green Warbler in Finland all written-up HERE.

Green Warbler

Green Warbler, Phylloscopus nitidus 20 May 2012 Lågskär, Kaukaasianuunilintu. First record for Finland. Mika Bruun.

Quizbird: Leaf Warbler with a wing bar.

Blåvand, Denmark, 27th May 2015

On the 27th of May this year Henrik Knudsen trapped a wing-barred phylloscopus warbler at Blåvand, Denmark. It wasn’t heard to call.

WP 3-4, 2nd=7 Wing 61.5 mm.

So what species is it? Feathers for DNA which have already been sent off and are awaiting results of their analysis.

I (Martin G) have expressed my opinion on the identification to Henrik (and I will share them). He also has thoughts. What do you think?

warbler two (1 of 1) warbler three (1 of 1) warbler one (1 of 1)


NEW BOOK uncovers Yorkshire First

“Birds of the Spurn Area”

Coming soon…

Just a quick post to champion Andy Roadhousespurn esw1 (1 of 1) and a much awaited Volume.

Spurn Bird Observatory, the migration bright light of Britain’s east coast awaits the publication of a modern comprehensive ‘Birds of the Spurn Area’. Due out this Year! You can be a part of the action. Each species is being sponsored.

The nature of  exhaustive research means new stuff  gets uncovered. How about this little nugget? Good old-fashioned detailed recording means that a Subalpine Warbler, found in May 1968 had every one of its tail feathers illustrated. Which means it’s fully identifiable, not just generically, but specifically as an Eastern Subalpine Warbler.


9th May 1968

The first for Yorkshire and first on mainland Britain

Most appropriate as this is also one of the BEST place in Britain to see Subalpine Warbler! Neck and neck with Fair Isle on the most species for one site in Britain, Spurn is a national birdwatching treasure and this book will be a must have.

spurn esw2 (1 of 1)


Be a part of the Book

Have you been to Spurn? Seen a rare bird or migrant spectacle at Spurn?  Visited the Migration festival?

You are invited to Come and be part of this book. It’s a not-for-profit production. Proceeds going to advance Spurn Bird Observatory. Publishing is being covered in part by sponsorship. More info? Just email Andy Roadhouse:  friendsofspurn ‘at’

What species would you sponsor?

Heres’ the species I might have sponsored but got beaten to it!

Roller Martin Garner Spurn 29 May 2012

So I went all ‘frontiers’ and will be sponsoring:




May 2011

This female Subalpine Warbler in May 2011 was also retrospectively confirmed as an Eastern, by its tail feather.

photo John Law

photo John Law




Green Warbler- 1st for Finland

20th May 2012 

Mika is celebrating as his Green Warbler has just been accepted by the Finnish Records Committee. It’s not news but certainly a winter heart warmer. Green Warbler, ‘nitidus’ of Transcaspia, Caucasus, NW Iran, NE Turkey etc remains extremely rare in NW Europe with just one British records (Isles of Scilly – Sept/Oct 1983) and a handful from other countries. So here’s a reminder of what one might look like… on my patch this spring :)

Green Warbler green_warbler_birdingfrontiers_MBR_6153

Green Warbler, Phylloscopus nitidus 20 May 2012 Lågskär, Kaukaasianuunilintu.  First record for Finland. Mika Bruun.

Mika Bruun

Lågskär is located at the southern end of the Åland archipelago, approximately 45 km south of Mariehamn. This traditional birding station has been active since the 1950’s, although nowadays its use has been decreasing because of the remote location and poor living conditions (no electricity). It has been the location for several rare bird observations for Finland. In total 13 new species for Finland been found here. The 1st was a Pine Bunting 1968, then Pechora Pipit 1972, Blyth´s Pipit and Swainson´s Thrush 1974, Masked Shrike 1982, last was a Crag Martin in 1988. I hoped to find a new species for the country myself as I disembarked for the island on the 17 of May with three of my friends. For one reason or another I bought a pricey “toasting” champagne to celebrate the new species I would find on the trip, as I jokingly suggested before arriving.


Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 12.29.35The Island of Lågskär, Finland in May 2012

On the third day of the trip, as the southeastern wind still blew warm, the morning began ominously: a Greenish Warbler song early in the morning, or at least so we supposed. I didn’t hear the bird and began looking for it on the other side of the island, because we felt most of the birds were heading that way.  I found some shelter and almost immediately heard a Greenish Warbler-like sound, at the same time slightly wondering the vagueness of it. Right away I found a bird with wing-bar and began taking photos. I only saw the bird trough the lens, and was pretty certain it was a Greenish Warbler as that was the bird I was looking for. However my first observation was of strongly yellow face, hmm. But the bird being extremely busy I had to put all of my effort for searching the bird with the view finder. The strong clear white wing-bar (I even saw two wing-bars briefly) also raised my suspicions at one point, but nevertheless I still focused on photographing. After a few encounters the bird vanished into the canopy and I couldn’t find it anymore. I checked through the photos but wasn’t satisfied with their quality, still supposing I was shooting a Greenish Warbler.


green_warbler_ 3MBR_6130

I forgot the bird almost immediately as I found something new to photograph. After some time I met the others. I told them about the yellow Greenish Warbler and it caused some wonder, but we didn’t look through the photos. That didn’t happen until the evening as we gathered together. Tapio Aalto raised the question concerning the Greenish Warbler and we instantly realized what we were looking at, a Green Warbler! A quick check from the books confirmed our assumptions. It became even clearer to me when I listened the call and the singing, and couldn’t understand how I didn’t grasp what it was at the time. I had, after all, seen hundreds of Greenish Warblers and dozens of Green Warblers. We headed back to the spot at once where the bird had later shown itself to Jari Helstola. He couldn’t identify the bird at that time either, and supposed it was a Greenish Warbler.

Green Warbler

Unfortunately we couldn’t find the bird no longer and neither the next morning despite hard efforts. During the night and early morning I was sending pictures to my friends. We quickly got some good help with the identifying and the bird was confirmed to be a Green Warbler. Fortunately, during my many trips through the jungle, I have formed the habit of first shooting the bird and only after that looking at it if time remains. In this case it was rewarded by a new species to the country.

Mika Bruun

P.S. a write up also appears in Birding World 25.6 with other photos.

Comparing spring Greenish and Green Warbler

all photos Mika Bruun

greenish_warbler_2birdingfrontiers_MBR_6996Green WarblerUpper two photos. Greenish Warbler above, Green warbler below. Both taken in May 2012 on Lågskär

and a bit closer….


green_warbler_birdingfrontiers_MBR_6153Upper two photos. Greenish Warbler above, Green Warbler below. Both taken in May 2012 on Lågskär.

Same May, different colourful species

While celebrating and reminiscing, that was the same May 2012 in which, just 9 days after Mika’s Green Warbler, this Bobby dazzler popped up in front of a couple of us at Spurn.



Bring on the Spring 2015!

More thoughts on ‘grey and white’ Chiffchaffs

from Alan Dean

Hello Martin and thanks for the response.

Below is a composite image showing

(a) a photo of the St Agnes, Scilly, Chiffchaff from October 2011 (the bird I have long featured in discussions as a classic example of a ‘grey and white’ Chiffchaff and with which you will be correspondingly familiar);

(b) a copy of the image by Anthony McGeehan of his suggested abietinus on Inishbofin in October 2014 (I trust Anthony is happy for me to repeat it here).

I do not suggest that either image is colour perfect nor that their appearance in the field would not vary somewhat from their depictions here. I do suggest that there is a close similarity between the two individuals in these photos and that they are ‘the same kind of beast’. I have selected an image of the St Agnes bird which has a somewhat comparable posture to the Inishbofin bird.

There are further images (and plenty of discussion!) of the St Agnes bird on my website: 

Regards, Alan


Siberian and Scandinavian Chiffchaffs

Be careful. More Questions still.

It’s become something of an enigma. Routinely recorded in old bird reports as abietinus (Scandinavian Chiffchaff), or sometimes ‘Eastern Chiffchaff’ as a catch-all for those uncertain tristis/abietinus. Birders are increasingly more savy and better informed. Siberian Chiffchaffs (tristis) are identifiable most of the time. And they are probably better classified as a full species…

Common Chiffchaff with characters of North-eastern or Scandinavian 'abietinus'. Inishbofin, Ireland, late October 2014. Anthony McGeehan

Common Chiffchaff with characters of North-eastern or Scandinavian ‘abietinus’. Inishbofin, Ireland, late October 2014. Anthony McGeehan

Common Chiffchaff- taken in Jerusalem on 19th October 2012 has similar plumage tones and themes to the Inishbofin bird above.  Martin Garner. Many/most? of the Common Chiffchaffs migrating though Israel will be abietinus.

Common Chiffchaff- taken in Jerusalem on 19th October 2012 has similar plumage tones and themes to the Inishbofin bird above. Martin Garner. Many/most? of the Common Chiffchaffs migrating though Israel will be abietinus.

We do still get birds with characters of more obvious abietinus and usually in conditions bringing other Scandinavian migrants (two memorable birds in mid October at Flamborough this year). Yet early studies showed all birds trapped in late autumn/ winter in the Netherlands and Britain and thought to be abietinus or tristis.…were all tristis.

Blessed with frustratingly good skills in photography and prose, Anthony McGeehan took these highly instructive comparative images of a stick-on Siberian and seeming Scandinavian Chiffchaffs on his haven on Inishbofin on Ireland’s west coast, in late October.

Do notice the differences- especially in ear coverts pattern and distribution of plumage tones.

The read on Siberian Chiffs is excellent- more on Anthony’s Facebook page is well worth a visit.


Topmost bird – a Common Chiffchaff with plumage tones typical of some (more obvious) Scandinavian ‘abietinus’. Many abietinus are indistinguishable form typical collybita (Magnus Hellström).

Lower 3 birds – All of the same Siberian Chiffchaff (tristis)

All photographs- Inishbofin, October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

Siberian Chiffchaff- tristis, Inishbofin, late October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan

Siberian Chiffchaff- tristis, Inishbofin, late October 2014 by Anthony McGeehan