Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Winter Warblers and Garden Goodies

It was back on 16th December I noted a rather drab-looking chiffchaff in Far Pasture car-park and without seeing it particularly well I assumed it was of the Scandinavian abietinus race and left it at that.
I saw it again last Tuesday (first time I'd been back since) when I noted two birds of the species, one certainly greenish and the other the drab grey/brown specimen again. The Birdman decided to take a look for his year-list and hinted it might be worth getting a better look to check if it's a Siberian race (tristis), so on rain-sodden Sunday we went and had another look (after the rain had stopped, obv.) and got better views as the skies brightened after mid-day, and having already swotted up on a few 'sibe' features we thought it an intriguing little bird, devoid of any green or yellow tones, which warranted further investigation.

So yesterday morning the Birdman used his photographic skills to get it on camera, and excellently so, capturing the diagnostic features to confirm it is indeed a Siberian race chiffchaff, which should really be wintering in India right now.

Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis
Steven Fryer
It ticks all the boxes for plumage ID as laid down by those who know these things; ie :

1. Absence of olive in the crown and mantle
2. Presence of a grey-brown or pale brown hue in the upperparts
3. Absence of yellow away from the underwing
4. Presence of warm buff in the supercilium and ear-coverts
5. Presence of buff at the breast-sides/flanks
6. Very black-looking bill and legs (at least in the field)

and it also has a very nice wing-bar (though not always present in this race) which isn't however particularly noticeable in the field on this bird. Plumage is variable in the tristis race and apparently the further east you go, the less yellow tones appear in the plumage, which would make this one very much an eastern bird.

Martin Garner (on Birding Frontiers) also has some in-depth research which suggests that my original assessment of it being an abietinus bird would be way off the mark, as study shows this to be an ultra-rare occurrence in Britain, (in fact winter birds of this race show much yellow on the underparts, it's the duller summer plumage which could get mistaken for tristis) and so basically any winter chiffchaff seen which isn't of the nominate race is likely to be a 'sibe' (though of course all this may change as more study is made into the extent of tristis/abietinus hybridisation ).
All this means the greyish bird which wintered at Far Pasture last year was most likely a 'sibe' as well, indeed maybe even the same bird.

Well if one winter warbler wasn't enough, I had a surprise visitor to the garden today in the form of a fine male Blackcap. Two fleeting visits was all, but I managed to get a typically shite photograph second time around as I now had my camera at the ready.

Blackcap (m) Sylvia atricapilla
Nice year tick . . . if I was keeping a list
He may have been attracted to the windfall apples still lying at the back of the garden, and I chopped up a fresh 'un and put it in the tray of my feeding station in hope of enticing him back, but to date no further sightings.
A second surprise came when I spied a Tree Sparrow on one of the shrubs, haven't seen one of these in the garden since the harsh winter of 2011, though I've noted a small group on occasions nearby.

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Second welcome surprise visitor of the morning
Also visiting the feeding station today 19xgoldfinch, 7xchaffinch, 4xsiskin, 2xblue tit, 3xblackbird, woodpigeon robin and dunnock.
One of the chaffinches however is looking a bit sorry for itself. He seems to have a fungal disease on his feet, getting progressively worse the last four days and now he isn't able to hop at all, just flutters around the ground. I was a bit worried it may be of risk to the other birds, but having looked it up it appears he is suffering from viral papilloma, a disease of the feet specific to chaffinches, and is only mildly contagious to them.

Looks like he's wearing white leg-warmers but is in fact
a fungal disease and not as nasty as it looks by all accounts.

It seemingly isn't fatal but he has great difficulty in gripping branches when he flies into the trees and I would think makes him particularly vulnerable to predators. He seems to always arrive with a female so I hope she can look after him, he has a healthy appetite anyway.

Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings . . .

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