Rock Partridge – my last European bird?   Leave a comment

Over the years I have got to see almost all the birds of Europe (at least somewhere in the world) but one remained elusive – Rock Partridge. Because of its shyness and difficult to access habitat, Rock Partridge remains one of the least observed birds on the continent. The fact that it closely resembles the easy to see Chukar of the Middle East doesn’t add to its desirability for many, but for some years now its been my most wanted European bird. I tried at a site in Austria two years ago without success (see https://gryllosblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/july-5th-21st-austria-and-italy-with-short-visits-to-germany-hungary-and-san-marino/). Since then some reliable sites in Croatia and central Italy have come to my attention, but as we were in the Alps anyway for Margaret’s nephew’s wedding, I thought it made sense to check out some areas in the French Alps. I’ll include some photos of the French Alps in the next post and concentrate in this one on my claim that Rock Partridge is my last European bird, just to say that after a stiff climb I saw one well near St Christophe, south-east of Grenoble on 3rd May.

Rock_Partridge Martin Flack Croatia.4

Due to the circumstances I will outline in my next post, I was unable to photograph the Rock Partridge but I got a view almost as good as this. This is the nominate race which is found in the Balkans whilst I saw the race saxitalis which occurs in the Alps. A third race whitakeri occurs in Sicily. Photographed by Martin Flack in Croatia, taken from the Internet Bird Collection.

So is this my last regularly occurring European bird? Well firstly there are several species that breed in Europe that I have only seen outside of Europe, for example Black-winged Kite (breeds in Spain, seen Morocco and many other places), Little Buttonquail (has bred in Spain, seen in Cambodia) and Little Swift (breeds in Spain, seen many places in Africa) and several others, but I am talking about whether I have seen the species anywhere within its world range.

There is another European bird that I need to see: Moltoni’s Warbler, this is a recent split from Subalpine Warbler. The chances are that I have seen this bird already before I knew about the possibility of a split but I cannot be 100% sure. I tried to locate one in Piedmont in NW Italy on this trip without success, but we are going to Mallorca next spring for a few days and should be no problem there. See http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/categories/articleitem.asp?item=1022

Also my claim to have seen every European bird depends on your definition of Europe. Is it a geographical unit, an economic one or do we include all the countries which take part in the Eurovision Song Contest? (in which case that would include Israel – I have never understood how Israel can qualify as European by any definition.) What about Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Most definitions include Turkey west of the Bosphorus and Georgia and Azerbaijan north of the highest ridge of the Greater Caucasus mountains in Europe, thus including northernmost Georgia and Azerbaijan. So there is another bird I haven’t seen that might just be considered European; Caspian or Hycranian Tit. This is a recent split from Sombre Tit and occurs in northern Iran and in eastern Azerbaijan. I have yet to find out if it occurs on the northern slope of the Caucasus. Having already birded in Georgia and Armenia I will have to decide if I want to go back to that region for a bird that looks very like the Sombre Tits I have seen elsewhere.

And then there are birds that are split by the Dutch national checklist committee but not by the major world checklists, such as Sicilian Rock Partridge (yes, a Rock Partridge still occurs on the want list), Mediterranean Storm Petrel, Slender-billed Barn Owl and Madeira Barn Owl and Lilford’s Woodpecker (split from White-backed) but none of these have passed the seven point test as used in the new Illustrated Checklist see http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/birdlife-and-lynx-publish-first-ever-illustrated-world-bird-checklist. Also in this category are Hierro and Palma Blue Tits but of course the passerine volume of the Illustrated Checklist won’t be published until 2016 (a recent genetic paper has indicated that Palma Blue Tit, but not the Hierro one deserves full species status).

There are a few vagrants to Europe that I haven’t seen, although they don’t fall within the category of ‘regularly occurring’, these include – Tristan Albatross, Ascension Frigatebird*, Relict Gull, Aleutian Tern*, Horned Puffin*, Parakeet Auklet, Red-throated Thrush*, Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, African Desert Warbler and possibly Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (views the Portland bird did not exclude Pale-legged Leaf-warbler) and Pallas’ Rosefinch. The birds marked with an asterisk are birds on the British List that I have yet to see.

Also there are a few birds, that although I am confident that I have seen them, I would like better views, these include Spanish Imperial Eagle, Houbara Bustard and Balearic Warbler, in each case I thought I had seen the species concerned on previous trips only to later find out it had been split and perhaps I made less of an effort to secure better views as a result, although in at least one case it was just bad luck.

So the conclusion is – I might have seen the regularly occurring birds in Europe, but there are still enough loose ends to keep me busy for some time yet!

Caspian_Tit greyowliran

Caspian Tit, whether it occurs in Europe or not its still on the wanted list. Photographed by Greyowl in Iran. Taken from Bird Forum Opus.

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