Birds on the Beach . . .some are clearly cold!

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by Rebecca Nason on November 18, 2010 · 6 comments

in Birding Western Palearctic

Birds on the Beach . . . .

This morning I have started to look through a large selection of Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) images, taken during October 2010 on Fair Isle, Shetland UK. Chiffchaff’s can come through the Island in good numbers during the Autumn & good views can often be obtained as these birds frantically feed up & rest before carrying on their migration routes. The Chiffchaff ssp.collybita, is an annual Summer visitor to Britain & Ireland & a common breeding bird, there are also increasing numbers overwintering in Britain in recent years. However other sub-species of Chiffchaff venture South into Britain each Autumn & Fair Isle is a classic location to see & try & get to grips with these other sub-species. An Autumn does not go by without good numbers of the Northern, Scandinavian Chiffchaff  ssp.Abietinus being a regular sight on these Northern Isles. The log call at FIBO (Fair Isle Bird Observatory) each evening in Autumn always attempts to note numbers of each sub-species seen, though as with the Redpoll’s, the various Chiffchaff’s can cause much debate & controversy! As well as the two sub-species mentioned above, there is another, scarcer sub-species of Chiffchaff which can be an annual visitor to the Isles, the Siberian Chiffchaff ssp.tristis, a much trickier bird to identify in the field (some regard this as a separate species). Much has been written on Chiffchaff ID & there is still much debate surrounding them. They are difficult in the field in Autumn & when vocalisations are perhaps not apparent or noted which would further help their identification. During my Autumn visit to Fair Isle a Blyth’s Reed Warbler was found on South Harbour beach. This bird stayed for several days & I visited the beach on several occasions, sitting still amongst the stinking tideline seaweed as the Blyth’s Reed Warbler feasted on a glut of tideline invertebrates. The weather had seen strong Northerly gales hit the Island but a break in this cold, windy blast, saw still, calm conditions & several little bays, including South Harbour were packed with storm-driven seaweed debris just heaving in insects & as a result many, many birds. I was soon not regarded as a threat to the beach feeding frenzy & the Blyth’s Reed, several Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Starling, Dunlin & Turnstone fed around me at very close range. After getting some pleasing shots of the Blyth’s Reed I decided to concentrate on the ‘various’ Chiffchaff’s which were feeding in loose groups of up to 20+. I obtained a number of images which can be seen below taken over a couple of days. As well as many collybita, there were clearly several abietinus & at least 2 of what I regarded as possible tristis types present. I am certainly no Eastern, pale Chiffchaff ID expert & thought it a good idea to photograph as many as possible, mostly under the same weather conditions & light. I’m hoping my images will help in my own future Chiffchaff ID & that they may possibly help others . . .I’d love to hear what you think of the Chiffchaff abietinus/tristis debate & what conclusions you draw from my images below! What do you think of these paler birds?

The Common Chiffchaff ssp. collybita

Chiffchaff – ssp. abietinus

Chiffchaff – ssp.tristis (?)

These birds seem to edge more towards ‘tristis’ perhaps as they have little trace of green or yellow, are a light buff on the head, esp supercilium & ear-coverts, neck & breast. V black legs & bill, overall grey/brown & pale. I am not sure of the last image, perhaps too much green on the mantle/back? maybe abietinus as above? . . . .

I hope you have enjoyed a sample of my Autumn ‘Chiffchaff’ images, fresh from the memory cards, I had better get back to sorting them all out 😉  the joy was certainly taking them, not sorting them all! Luckily the weather is so bad in Suffolk today that a day at the computer is not too stressful! Happy birding . . . .

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