Eastern Black Redstart

1st winter male phoenicuroides

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee

Sad but true. I have a photo of the wing formula on my phone. It’s the bird species/ subspecies/ taxon/ stunning eastern vagrant that I have most anticipated turning up in Britain. I think most of my last half-dozen talks have ended with. “I am looking for one of these” accompanied by James McCallum’s evocative ‘it must have been one’ painting of an apparent Eastern Black Redstart from East Hills, Norfolk in Nov. 2003.  To return from Linosa (cram-jammed with Western Black Redstarts) last weekend, pretty shattered, and then to be greeted by the photos of an obvious 1st winter male phoenicuroides in the furthest corner of Kent was both great news and gutting. Too far, no time, busy week ahead. Thank goodness a second bird was found last Wednesday (16th Nov) on Sharon’s new favourite destination: Holy Island. So we opted to head north via friends in Leeds on Saturday morning and stayed overnight on the island. Early Sunday (y’day) saw me alone on the beach in front of St Cuthbert’s Island. Thankfully 2 genned up north easterners showed up (with accents that made Alan Tilmouth sound like he speaks in Queen’s English) and pointed further up the beach.  Phew! Still there, and every bit the orange and black jewel.  I came back following a walk with Mrs G, expecting a couple of birders. Some 30—40 birders were now present. Best moment was watching it perched up with regular wing flicks revealing brilliant orange underwing coverts.  That moment captured is on Youtube. You might just be able to hear my appreciative noises on Tristan’s video:

Some observations and questions:

1) It’s  a brilliant looking bird and its very rare and has undertaken the remarkable (to me seemingly miraculous) feat of flying here from somewhere in Central Asia. What’s not to like?!

2) This one is a first winter male. It’s also a ‘paradoxus’ type 1st winter male (as are most of the West European records on both counts). In western populations ‘paradoxus’ refers to the small (c10-12%) of young males that have obvious  male plumage characters. the other c90% of young males look just like females.

So either:

a) eastern populations have much higher percentage of ‘paradoxus males’

b) the percentage is the same and we are massively overlooking  ‘female type’ plumages of Eastern Black Redstart

c) the percentage is th same and the paradoxus males have higher hormone induces urges to travel widely (linked to their more macho plumage!)

d) a mix of the above or some other explanation…

3) The lower belly (legs back) looked cream/ whitish in the field. You can also see it in the photos. Bothered me a little as hybrids an have quiet extensive white (A male Common Redstart character). However on checking pics of skins and live birds, it seems normal for young male phoenicuroides to have pale/ white patch in the nether regions!

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee. This is a 1st winter ‘paradoxus’ male  (just as the Kent bird earlier in November) showing obvious male characters in underparts colouring. Why are these the pre-eminent plumage type so far found in Western Europe?

I have seen a couple of these before in the UAE in mid winter. I have seen ochruros in Turkey. On Linosa earlier this month there were probably triple figures of Black Redstart on the island everyday. The commonest passerine migrant. They were scrutinized every day. I saw no Easterns, no red-bellieds, all very standard-looking.

Hybrids and identification.

While the spectre of hybrids (Redstart X Black Redstart) dogged past records, so did the presence of red-bellied Black Redstarts. At least one former British record of Eastern Black Redstart looks like  a red-bellied (western) Black Redstart (photo in old British Birds mag). I was surprised to see zero red-bellied birds amoung literally thousands of western Black Redstarts on Linosa. Remember these smart lookers with full discussions: here and here.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton. Check out that orange underwing!

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 19.11.2011 © Andy Deighton. Looks like 3 long primaries form the wing point. Just right.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid. The wing formula looks spot on for (Eastern) Black Redstart. Some hybrids Redstart X Black Redstart have wing formula closer to Common Redstart.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Tristan Reid

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Holy Island, Northumberland, 20.11.2011 © Stef McElwee.

Grateful thanks to Andy D (and the Sheffield lads), Stef and Tris and Alan T. for the updates

Postcard from Kent

I can bear to look at these now! Thanks to Mark Rayment who sent these shots of the Kent bird.

1st winter male Eastern Black Redstart, Margate, Kent, 16.11.2011 © Mark Rayment.

Advertisements

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
This entry was posted in Chats and Thrushes. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Eastern Black Redstart

    • Martin Garner says:

      Hi Steve

      Thanks for this. Can see looked an interesting bird. I wonder if the warm brownish tone to the underparts is a well marked example of the fresh brownish fringed feathers you see on some Black Redstarts at this time of year. It does look there are clues suggesting 1st winter male which looks like you have already figured on. Would need photos at different ages and better field views to be know more about what’s going on.

      Cheers Martin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s