Valid or not?
Northdale, Unst, May 2013
(Above) male Red-backed Shrike. Easily a favourite ‘find’ on this springs Shetland guided holidays. Quite a few of the 10 or so we came across were first seen from the comfort of bums on van seats. This one sat in elder (unfortunately against the light) as we swung by the cottages at Northdale was one of 2 we found there. Immediately it was possible to see it as a little different to other males seen. Grey is more extensive down the mantle, reducing the area of rusty brown to thinner band across the back. While feathers are fluffed up, making plumage harder to read, grey seems to extend up the back beyond the tertials. The tertials themselves have thin pale/ whitish fringes instead of being gingery. These features are seemingly more often found in eastern birds, sometimes referred to as subspecies kobylini.
Red-backed Shrike, Spiggie. Another of the males we came across. This one show the more typical and expected plumage with rusty brown plumage over the entire mantle area extending into broad greater covert fringes. The tertials are similarly broadly fringed with similar/ slightly light colour along the same theme.
male Red-backed Shrike, Cunnisburgh, May 2013 (photo by Jim Nicholson). Taken in Jim’s village this male looks a little different with little more grey at the top and bottom ends of the rusty brown zone, though still wouldn’t draw particular attention.
Flamborough 5th October 2007
This was the first example I saw in Britain of different looking (kobylini-like) male Red-backed Shrike. In Holmes Gut it’s occurrence co-coincided with a Brown Flycatcher and Turkestan Shrike both also on Flambrough Head! Hi remember Jonny Mac ringing to encourage me to go and take a look. Indeed with rather pale more gingery band across upperparts which was thinner than normal with more grey. Tertial fringes a very pale gingery colour, white patch at primary bases and rather thin looking and strangely pale based bill (perhaps a factor in what seemed rather think bill base). It did seem odd.
Valid or Not?
The Flamborough bird, with eastern supporting cast certainly seemed to fit the kobylini profile. However, for a long time the validity of kobylini as a subspecies has been questioned. This is due to the presence of birds’ with the same character traits being found throughout the population of Red-backed Shrikes, though seemingly more common in the east. Is it a valid subspecies? Probably not necessarily though I like ‘variety’. It does seem to be a plumage variant (or morph) which seems rare in or uncommonly seen in Britain, most common in the east of the range and can spice up interest and learning. 🙂
Here’s another thanks to Tim Isherwood.
Grimston, East Yorkshire, 18th June, 2012
Found by Tim near Grimston churchyard, pics below of Shrike by Ade Johnson. More at Merebirders Blog
This one shows well the kobylini characters. It’s still upheld as a subspecies in some places. Though if it really is found in all population, plumage variant/morph is probably better.
Male Red-baked Shrike, Grimston, East Yorkshire, June 2012 (photos: Ade Johnson) and with thanks to Tim Isherwood. A different looking bird at least, perhaps best viewed as plumage morph, but one I have only seen a couple of times in Britain, where it seems scarce/rare.