I managed to track down a classic tristis Chiffchaff today at Helston Sewage works, prompting me to offer/recycle a few thoughts on identifying this race (comments and corrections welcome). First-off they're not that cold grey. If you find a really cold steely grey one, it's probably an abietinus. Although the underparts on tristis are cold white, the upperparts are actually quite a warm buffy colour, especially around the ear coverts. The rear of the supercilium is also quite buffy and there's often a slightly buff wash to the sides of the neck. When seen in the field, they completely lack any olive-green tones (they have green tones only on the underwing). Abietinus tend to have quite a bit of olive green on the tertials and coverts. There's photos of classic abietinus here and here. Note the steely grey tones contrasting with the olive-green in the wings. Tristis on the otherhand looks like this or this. Tristis also often have a very black bill and legs. Our collybitas can vary a bit in colour, but are generally much warmer than abietinus, usually have some olive-green tones, and are not nearly as pale underneath as either tristis or abietinus. See here and here
The Helston bird was calling. Tristis sound quite different. They have a monosyllibic call. Both abietinus and collybita give either the classic hueeet call (listen here) or a slightly more confusing pweet call (listen here), sometimes mistaken for "eastern" chiffchaff, but readily given by our collybitas. Most people seem to attribute this to the call of juvenile birds during Autumn migration. Oddly, I heard several giving this call last April and May. Some abietinus sound a bit more disyllabic, or almost trisyllabic (listen here). I heard a bird in East Norfolk give a call like this last November. To me tristis is a bit more sad than the others. It reminds me a bit of a Bullfinch (listen to the second "Siberische Tjiftjaf" down here). They can be quite variable though. Compare the other recording of the same bird.
Of course, there's also the complication of 'fulvescens' and other integrades. There are some more useful sites, which go into a lot more detail here, here, here and here.
Saturday, 16 January 2010
My diligent sifting of the thrush flocks in the hope of something rarer paid dividents today, albeit not quite in the manner I'd wished - i.e. no Black-throated Thrush. However, to my utter astonishment, I stumbled across a slightly scruffy-looking, but to all intent and purposes, healthy Ring Ouzel. It was about here at Church Cove near Poldhu. A quick check of birdguides reveals it isn't actually quite as rare as I thought in January - i.e. four records in the UK already this year and about 2-3 most years. I wonder if it was an early migrant blown across in last night's strong southerlies, or perhaps more likely, an over-wintering bird mixed-up with all the other thrushes? Nevertheless, probably a blocker for at least a month or so on the patch yearlist. Other additions included a Merlin between Poldhu and Church Cove, a Black Redstart at Church Cove, and Hen Harrier and Stock Dove near Cury. On to 100 now, not too bad for four visits, but lots more effort required me thinks.
Update: photos of the bird here
Update: photos of the bird here
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
My third trip down to the Lizard and over half way there with the yearlist already. Somehow I think the second half will be harder. Despite the almost tropical weather by recent standards, still evidence of the former hard times. Some of the Redwing seem to have cleared out, but there were still several big flocks of Fieldfare, thankfully looking somewhat less desperate in their feeding efforts. Stacks of Snipe - at least 70 on Lizard Downs, including a single flock of 24 and another 40 or so at Windmill Farm, with a supporting cast of 1 Jack Snipe and 4 Woodcocks. The only other noteworthy birds were a large feeding flock of Kittiwakes and Gannets of Lizard Point, evidently blown north in yesterday's storm, the customary Choughs and a single Dunlin feeding in a flock of Goldies.
Monday, 11 January 2010
I decided to check out a few of the coves on the Lizard today in the vain hope that I might stumble across a Ross’s Gull. Needless to say, I didn’t. However, Perprean still threw up one or two surprises. A bed of rotting kelp was literally hopping with birds. In the half hour or so I watched it, no less than 50 Redwing, 20 Blackbirds, two dozen Robins, a dozen Song Thrushes, a Dunnock, 8 Rock Pipits, 7 Wrens, 2 Redshank, a Turnstone, a Collared Dove, 2 Chichaffs, a Blackcap, a Stonechat, a Lapwing, a Meadow Pipit and best of all, a Water Pipit took advantage of the glut of food. Something I’ve never witnessed before – it was almost like encountering a fall on Blakeney Point. Elsewhere, a Purple Sandpiper, a Med Gull and 6 Black-throats at Kennack Sands, another Med Gull at Poltesco, a Woodcock & a Dartford Warbler at Croft Pascoe and a Chiffchaff at Church Cove were the best hauls of the day. Thrushes and Plovers everywhere, including several Mistle Thrushes, actually my first on the Lizard.
Saturday, 9 January 2010
A thin dusting of snow on the Lizard Peninsula takes Cornish motorists by surprise
Ho, hum and Happy Hogmanay to one and all - welcome to the teenies. Apologies for the lack of updates of late. The snow and other frivalties prevented much birding in the last month. Anyhow, another year, another year-list. Actually, come to think of it, I didn't do one last year, but thought it would be fun to try one this year. This time a patch year list for the Lizard Peninsula, with three aims:
(1) to see c. 175 species
(2) to find a few decent birds
(3) to see a few decent birds without having to travel too far
To be kept fully up-to-date here: http://ilyabirding.webs.com/lizard2010yearlist.htm
Put in my first visit today (64 species) and what a corker it turned out to be. Walked down the Loe Valley from Helston Sewage Works to cover Loe Pool after a tip-off from fellow Lizard birder Andy. Freezing cold, blue skies, redwings, fieldfares, snipe & woodcock everywhere. Water Rails by the dozen skating on the ice and at least two Bitterns and a Red-crested Pochard. Divers offshore, Firecrests onshore and at least half a dozen chiffchaffs sitting on the sludge tanks picking-off virtually the only insects left in Britain.