and Identification of First Winters
by Martin G.
It’s a privilege to live at Flamborough near some very keen and capable birders. I was reminded of this last Tuesday morning. I arrived back from Shetland on the Monday evening (14th) and by tuesday lunchtime had seen Dusky Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler and this. An ‘Isabelline Shrike’ Found by Phil C. earlier in the am and only seen briefly it finally gave itself up ear he cliff top. So which type/taxa/species 🙂 is it?
2 types are recognised as having occurred in Western Europe. The Daurian Shrike ‘isabellinus’ and the Turkestan Shrike ‘phoenicuroides’.
All photos of Flamborough bird by Martin Garner, 15th October 2013
In a nutshell: this is a first winter bird. My gut reaction on seeing it was that it looked like a Daurian, albeit a darker example. Daurian is seemingly occurring much more regularly in Britain in recent years than Turkestan. Like Siberian Chiffchaffs and Pallid Swifts (and a host of others) seeing these shrikes in the right light conditions/ accurate photos is absolutely critical (and often not easy)
Key features on the Flamborough bird:
- Overall gingery wash to the brownish upperparts
- Gingery orange colouring prominent on the flanks but extending from rear flanks all way up to below ear coverts (hard to see latter). Centre of throat and central breast/ belly white.
- Tertials darker brown but not strong contrast with uppers. Mask slightly darker brown with gingery wash at some angles- not blackish brown
- Rump brighter orange with only very weak dark marks on some feathers tips
- Orange centred median coverts
First winter Turkestan should have cold earth brown/ grey brown uppers with darker (almost blackish) mask and flight feathers. Uppers contrasting strongly with mostly clean white underparts (marked with blacker bars/chevrons). More often retained juvenile feathers in rump and mantle/ scaps with white or black centres to median coverts (not orange!).
Here’s the Flamborough bird:
At close range and in flat light and lovely gingery tone warmed the upperparts. The ‘mask’ could vary from darker to paler depending on angle with, again a gingery tone washed through.
The flight feathers, especially tertials were not especially dark (sooty/blackish) and contrasty
All photos above of Flamborough bird by Martin Garner, 15th October 2013
What about intergrades?
This question was posed by some. This study by EN Panov (2009) demonstrated spatial isolation between phoenicuroides and isabellinus (speculigerus in Panov) in a potential contact zone. Furthermore a time difference in arrival of 2 months on breeding grounds between the 2 taxa was noted. Panov’s conclusion is that, while there are occasional examples of interbreeding the evidence presented suggests the 2 should be treated as independent species. One of the consequences for observers in Western Europe is that intergrades are arguable likely to be rarer than ‘pure’ birds. Perhaps we should approach identifying firsts winters (and the somewhat easier adults) with renewed confidence.
Variation not Intergrades. Seems to me learning about variation in young Daurian and Turkestan Shrikes (think of the variables of red/grey/brown seen in Red-backed Shrikes) is the key. Here’s a plainer first winter Daurian Shrike from this last week in Lincolnshire, still showing the same ‘themes’ as the Flamborough bird.
Adult male Daurian Shrike in Cornwall
Meanwhile, a fellow Shetland fan, Paul Bright-Thomas, emailed to say he found an ‘Orange on a Stick’ at Pendeen earlier this month. Superb! Paul’s photos below: