22nd – 26th October – Durlston and Portland   1 comment

This week has proven to be a remarkable week for Dorset birding, although I wasn’t at the heart of the action most of the time.

On the 22nd I had a medical appointment early on. Shaun and Mick were ringing at Durlston and I intended to join them later. Shaun texted to say that although they caught a few thrushes at dawn it had soon gone dead and not to bother, so I contented myself with a short local walk and updating this blog with the news from Scilly. Little did I know of the drama that was unfolding at Portland, but more of that later.

On the 23rd Mick and I arrived at Durlston in the dark, with the intention of getting the nets up pre-dawn in the hope of getting some thrushes. We were enveloped in murk, a low cloud / fog but no wind. We could hear masses of Redwing and Song Thrushes moving just above us and at dawn we trapped four of the former and six of the latter. As it got light they continued to move in their hundreds, if not thousands, but much higher up. We were sufficiently busy with the birds we had trapped to stop and count them. it was immediately apparent that there had been a huge arrival of Blackbirds, perhaps over 500 flew through the garden that morning, I cannot even guess how many were seen over the whole park. Unlike the Redwings/ Song Thrushes, the Blackbirds were flying at ten – twenty feet, ie just missing the nets, however we ringed 20 and would have caught many more had many not ‘bounced’. There was also a large arrival of Robins and we trapped a further 19 of them.

Redwing. British wintering and migrant Redwings arrive from both Scandinavia / Russia and Iceland.

The distinctive underwing that gives the Redwing its name.

In contrast the Song Thrush has an orange underwing, these differences are often obvious in flight.

The ‘official’ way to age a Redwing is on the shape and extent of white tips to the tertials but I was struck by the buffy cast to the supercillium of this first year bird ….

… compared to the pure white supercillium of this adult. we were surprised by just how many adult thrushes we trapped, much more than the 1:10 or lower ratio that we see for most autumn passerines.

As I left I heard I heard that a ‘Daurian’ Shrike had been seen at Portland. I immediately headed there and saw the bird from the roadside on arrival. As I had been ringing I didn’t have my SLR camera (or even my scope) with me but Brrett Spencer has kindly allowed to me using a photo posted on his blog.

Adult male ‘Daurian’ Shrike. Photo by Brett Spencer. A link to his blog is provided below.

The nomenclature, both scientific and vernacular of the Isabelline Shrike complex is complex. I described the bird I saw on Shetland as Isabelline Shrike, as, being a first year, the rarer form phoenicuroides or Turkestan Shrike, could not be excluded. However as a nice adult male, the Portland bird was clearly the eastern nominate form, Daurian Shrike. Many treat the two as separate species, but the BOU still treat them as one and a whole range of vernacular names are used for the two forms (individually or combined). I was asked by so many birders at the twitch to explain the current situation that I prepared the following for the local e-mail group.

First, ignore any classification and names used prior to about 2000. I won’t go into details as it muddies the water, but for sound nomenclatural reasons the name speculigerus had to be dropped and the name isabellinus transferred from one race to another. So best to ignore the name speculigerus.
Four races are now recognised,
1) Nominate isabellinus breeds from the Mongolian Altai to N central China, winters central Africa east to India. This is the form most regularly seen as a vagrant to Europe in spite of the fact that it breeds further away than phoenicuroides (a bit of a LB vs SB Dowitcher situation here)
2&3) arenarius and tsaidamensis breed in NW and N central China and winter from Iran to NW India. These races have not been recorded in Europe. They have been proposed as a separate species, Chinese Shrike Lanius  arenarius but I don’t know of anyone who follows this proposal so I will say no more about them.
4) phoenicuroides breeds Iran, Afghanistan Kazakstan, Pakistan and extreme western China. Winters in the Middle East and east Africa and does occur as a vagrant in Europe.
Now to the vernacular (English) names.
A) Clements lump all 4 races together as Lanius isabellinus and uses the vernacular name Rufous-tailed Shrike.
B) The BOU do likewise but use the name Isabelline Shrike, .
The BOU state that currently only the race L. i. phoenicuroides  is on the British List in spite that birders seem to refer most records to L i isabellinus !
C) Birding World used to split the two forms that occur as vagrants to Europe, but as not all young birds are identifiable in the field, they have lumped them again (as if that was a relevant taxonomic criteria). They use the term Isabelline Shrike for both forms combined (senso lato) and use Daurian Shrike for isabellinus (senso stricto). They use the name Turkestan Shrike for phoenicuroides.
D) The IOC treats phoenicuroides as a separate monotypic species and uses the vernacular name Red-tailed Shrike. The other three race are combined in L isabellinus using the vernacular name of Isabelline Shrike
E) Lars Svensson in the Collins Guide also splits off phoenicuroides using the name Turkestan Shrike. Isabelline Shrike is used for isabellinus
F) The Dutch CSNA also splits off phoenicuroides using the name Red-tailed Shrike. Daurian Shrike is used for isabellinus.
So as you can see it’s quite a mess.
Turkestan Shrike and Red-tailed Shrike always refers to phoenicuroides
Daurian Shrike always refers to isabellinus (senso stricto)
Isabelline Shrike can refer to isabellinus (senso stricto) or to all races lumped (senso lato)
Rufous-tailed Shrike refers to all races when lumped
Of the previous Dorset records (according to Georges book)
10/9/59   Portland – not identified to race (possibly isabellinus)
14/10/78 Winspit –  probable adult female phoenicuroides
15/9/85   Portland – probable 1st winter isabellinus
12/10/88 Durlston – probable 1st winter isabellinus

It was clear that Portland had also had a fall of thrushes and Robins, indeed the overnight passage, lit by the lights of the moth traps was awesome. As I result I contacted Mick Cook and we agreed to ring at Durlston again on Wednesday morning. It was much windier and although we caught similar numbers of Redwing and Song Thrush to the previous day, Blackbird and Robin numbers were at about 40%.

During the evening we were just about to pick up John and Anita and join Gio, Jessica and Tim at the folk evening on Poole Quay when I received a birding bombshell. A Pale Legged / Sakhalin Leaf Warbler had been seen at Portland on Monday (22nd) and this was the first I knew about it. I spent some time on the phone to several (angry) friends before in a shell-shocked state (as much in incredulity over the record as because I hadn’t seen it) we arrived at the pub.

Further details emerged that evening, the bird was in a private garden and the locals concerned had already had grief from neighbours over a previous rare bird on their property and they had decided to only allow local/regular Portland birders in. I can fully understand why they did it (who would want several thousand birders passing through your lounge, as could occur for bird that was a first for the whole of Europe) but things would have been so much better if the news had been released on the Tuesday as soon as it was clear the bird had gone, rather than sit on it for a further day and half, whilst the rumour mill gathered momentum and all manner of conspiracy theories were being concocted. Subsequent allegations and accusations were most unpleasant and unfounded and this brought out the very worst in birding and birders.

For photos and account of the occurrence see the Portland website at http://www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk/aa_latestnews.htm and for another account and more photos see Brett Spencer’s blog at http://bretteeblahblahblah.blogspot.co.uk/ but beware, in his own inimitable style, Brett uses some strong language.

I haven’t yet explained why this record created so much fuss, it was simply the most easterly passerine vagrant to the UK yet, totally off most people’s radar. Again I prepared some notes for the local e-mail group, expressing amazement that a passerine could fly from Ussuriland/Amurland  (in the case of PLLW) or Sakhalin/northern Japan (in the case of SLW) suggested that certain rejected records should be reassessed in the light of this occurence and posted a long list of other Asian migrants that we should not automatically dismiss as escapes without another thought.

On the 25th Amber phoned to say she had missed the school bus and pleaded for a lift to Wareham. Margaret tells me I’m too soft with the girls, as I acquiesced and ran her to school. Afterwards I toyed with the idea of going to Portland again, a Long-eared Owl and Siberian Stonechat had been found but I had seen both recently so ended up spending a few hours around the nearby Swineham pits.

A further surprise occurred on the 26th. The Siberian Stonechat on Portland was now rumoured to be the far eastern race stejnegeri, which breeds a bit closer than PLLW but not by much. Apparently Asian birding experts examining the photos of the PLLW/SLW had also seen photos of this bird and had agreed on its ID. ‘Stejnegeri’s’ Stonechat is genetically (if not morphologically) very distinct and is treated as a full species by the IOC and the BOU indicate that they will split it once the affinities of another race from China is established.

For once I was at the right place at the right time. I arrived just as Martin appeared with the bird in a bag. he had been able to catch it using a spring trap. After he processed it, he showed it to those on the patio before returning it to the Culverwell area. I spent the rest of the very cold and windy afternoon getting field views of the stonechat, trying and failing to get repeat views of the Daurian Shrike and looking for a Subalpine Warbler that had been seen in Weston. Also present that day (but not seen by me) were a Barred Warbler, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls, one or two Wrynecks and single observers had fleeting glimpses of what may have been Olive-backed and Pechora Pipits, talk about a purple patch!

Siberian Stonechat possibly of the race/species ‘stejnegerii’ Photo by Brett Spencer. See above for the link to his blog.

The darker plumage, wider base to the bill, amount of white on the rump and a host of other small features point to, but to not conclusively identify this bird as Stejneger’s Stonechat, however some poo collected during processing should prove conclusive genetically.

Will field identification of vagrant stejnegeri ever be possible?

Posted October 28, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

One response to “22nd – 26th October – Durlston and Portland

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