Monday, 16 April 2012

Armenicus Stonechats

Right then, back to work today after a restful break but still a load of stuff to go at from Egypt. And today's offering is some charming little Stonechats that had pitched up in the greenery at Lahami Bay. Before I go on about the birds, a word of advice to anyone staying at Wadi Lahami - just walk south along the bay to the next hotel, and you'll find well-watered gardens dripping with migrants if you're there in spring (and presumably worth a shot at any time of year). Get amongst it if you can.
male Caspian Stonechat ssp.armenicus
Right then, back to the job in hand - there were at least three Eastern Stonechats Saxicola maurus present on 6th April, all presumably armenicus Caspian Stonechats. The male was a sure fire armenicus candidate; nice black and white plumage with a decent, extensive pale nape and a nice orange hue confined to the breast. So what about the tail? Well, most of the time it seemed pretty much all dark: -
Back on view; this bird showed a nice whitish unstreaked rump and when in normal posture perched, just a hint that there may be some white on the outertail feather bases
But when it opened up its tail, it exhibited an amount of white at the tail feather bases (but always less than half), largely on the outer webs - nothing like what you would expect on a male variegatus (check here for some more photos of similar birds from Kuwait). Some of those boys that I've seen in Kuwait almost mirror Pied/Black-eared Wheatears in their tail patterns!
So what about the females? Well, to be honest they were probably Caspian Stonechats too, presumably armenicus, but you just can't do them in the field and this is coming from a man who likes to get his hands dirty with them - have a look here for some commentary and in hand shots from Israel. If what Yoav says holds true, then you can't exactly move the uppertail coverts aside in the field, but it doesn't seem like there is any white at the tail base on these Egyptian birds.

Also, I like Yoav's thoughts on what our 1st-winter birds could be in the autumn in Western Europe - perhaps categorising these 1cy birds into the maurus category is unsafe, plainly ignoring variegatus? So go and see a male Sibe Stonechat kidz. Just to play safe that your autumn Sdark-tailed Sibe unequivocally wasn't a Casp if you've only had autumn birds...

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