So, it seems that I fell into the pitfall I had warned from…
After posting this earlier on, I received some comments regarding the age of this bird. I made a mistake in ageing the bird – sadly reflecting how few Redstarts I have ringed since moving here three years ago (zero). I was pointed out that what I misinterpreted as moult limit in greater coverts (GC) is in fact normal pattern for adults, and that 1cy would normally sow a moult limit also in median coverts (MC). Additionally, all tertials have very neat, grey fringes – typical of adult feathers. Juvenile tertials have thinner buff fringes. See below some examples. In the bottom line, since this bird is an adult, it is NOT a strong sammamisicus candidate. I have corrected the post below with this new context.
Silas Olofson is one of the keenest birders on Faroe Islands. Silas has an amazing autumn for rarity finding, including Faroes first Parrot Crossbill and White-crowned Sparrow. Great stuff. On top of all those brilliant rarities, Silas found on October 4th at Sørvágur what in my eyes is the most interesting bird from an ID point of view. On the same morning he found Faroes first Parrot Crossbill and 4th OBP, Silas bumped into this eye-catching male Redstart with large white wing panel:
Unfortunately, the encounter was too brief. Silas managed to snap a few quick photos of the bird before it vanished. He never heard it, sadly. Obviously, when encountering such a bird, sammamisicus (Ehrenberg’s Redstart) jumps to mind. However, especially in far NW European context, identification needs to be very cautious.
First step in identification of this SE European (and further east into Asia) taxon in autumn is ageing it correctly. This individual shows what to crap birders like myself would look like a clear moult limit in GC, but in fact this is typical adult pattern, as explained above.
Check how proper moult limit looks like this 1cy male Ehrenberg’s Redstart – both in GC and MC. Check also the buff tertial fringes:
While an adult autumn Ehrenberg’s looks like this – much darker on the coverts, scapulars and even mantle:
These are a couple of 1cy male Common Redstarts from autumn, again showing a nice moult limit in GC and MC:
Another important ID feature of Ehrenberg’s Redstart, also in 1cy males, is the shape of the white of pale buff fringes of the tertial(s). In the Faroes individual, the fringes to the longest tertial appear slightly broader at the base; not quite broadened as the sammamisicus above, but not quite even all the way to the base. In phoenicurus, if there are any pale fringes, they are even-width all along the feather or broader towards the tip. This individual seems to fall in the ‘in-between’ category – not quite there for an unequivocal sammamisicus, but quite unusual for phoenicurus.
In general, Ehrenberg’s Redstart males are greyer and darker above than Common Redstarts. The Faroes individual is grey, but not too dark admittedly. In spring sammamisicus are really dark and pretty, with more black on neck sides and upper scapulars:
It is a pity Silas didn’t hear the bird and sound-record it. The flooty calls of Ehrenberg’s Redstart are completely different from the typical ‘huit-tek’ of Common Redstart. Does Ehrenberg’s merit a full species status? This interesting study shows no differences in mithochondrial DNA between the two taxa. However, in chats, mtDNA may not tell the ‘true’ species ‘story’. This fascinating study shows that Pied, Cyprus and Black-eared Wheatears are practically identical in their mtDNA.
I am not sure what is the status of Ehrenberg’s Redstart in NW Europe. There are several claims in the UK, but as far as I know none have been accepted yet. There are a few nominate birds, mainly in Scandinavia (?), that show an extended wing panel. What are they? I am not sure.
To my refreshed eyes, the Faroes individual does not look like the real deal. However, without sound recordings and more high-quality photos I am not sure we can understand what this bird is. In any case, this is a superb bird! Well done to Silas once again for his sharp eyes; hope next time it sticks around and ticks more boxes. Many thanks to Silas and Yosef for sharing their images with me.
Special thanks to Pepe, Björn and Yosef for feedback on this bird. Much appreciated!