The last word?
I have always been fascinated by variety in birds, by migration, and the sheer wonder, even dare I say mini-miracles that can be encapsulated in a ‘bird’. The Flamborough Flycatcher is just such an example of intriguing variety, and a potentially interesting displacement. Is its plumage really just normal nominate Pied Flycatcher variation? (That’s’ an open, non rhetorical question!) Is it possible to identity example of vagrants from Iberia or North Africa? That they might occur as vagrants is a something to wonder about in itself, as with all such occurrences, tiny creatures weighing just a few grams and undertaking phenomenal travel. It’s beyond my comprehending when I stop to really think about it.
The last word on this flycatcher has not yet been said. Failing someone demonstrating this plumage can be fully replicated in a nominate Pied Flycatcher (which would be interesting in itself), the clues of the bird’s plumage and potential call note at least suggest the possibility of it having been an Iberian Pied Flycatcher, iberiae. The DNA isn’t necessarily unequivocal:
Qualifier to the DNA.
I have heard others who understand the issues involved in applying molecular biology to birds’ identification that DNA analysis is no silver bullet. I guess this advice needs to be heeded in this case. Helpful as ever, Martin Collinson explains the care and caveats need with handling the research done so far (and there is some more to be done with this bird’s DNA).
“Well I do wonder if, in spite of its rogue genes, it could still be iberiae or with some iberiae parentage. Given that we know it’s not Atlas, the clever money, given plumage and now call, would maybe have gone to iberiae. Now the genetic difference between iberiae and nominate hypoleuca appears consistent but pretty slight. For example, at the cytb gene, over 991 bases of sequence that I got in this round, the Flamborough bird is either identical to or 1 bp different from database sequences of nominate birds, 4 bp different from an iberiae, and 29-35 bp different from the other 3 species. At the ND6 gene, over 554 bp it’s identical to or 1 bp different from nominate sequences, and 2-4 bp different from iberiae, 14-24 bp different from the other 3 species. On current knowledge, having mtDNA sequences that are identical to nominate birds eliminates iberiae, but frankly it comes down to 1 or 2 bp in bits of sequence. Maybe with more work these differences would melt away, or, maybe some nominate mtDNA has sneaked into iberiae populations. Upshot is, if your birding instincts are pointing you to Iberian, don’t give up on that just because of the first wave of genetics.”
Martin C. will be doing another round of analysis, when the sequence is complete. May or may not help us. I still feel a good recording of the call note (field identification!) could have taken us a lot further…