Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Anti Atlas?

Atlas Flycatcher. The real deal.
Now you clicked on here and thought that was taken at Flamborough? Wrong, as if you have a close look it's a nice adult male Atlas Flycatcher looking how they should in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco - I took this in early May 2007, and saw the species again in the same area a couple of years ago too.
I haven't been to Flamborough for the flycatcher. Loads of people looking to others to see what they're doing and asking around on what the various information services are saying. Well, BirdGuides and RBA have got it bang on the money 'you cannot go any further than 'possible Atlas Flycatcher or hybrid' on current knowledge. And Birdline are going on what's in the available printed literature - it's a Collared/Pied hybrid. I wonder how many people would have travelled to Flamborough if that RBA message 'possible Atlas Flycatcher' had read 'possible ATLAS FLYCATCHER'? That's what today's birding world has come to.

Some folk have just slapped their shots on the web under the banner 'Atlas Fly' and had done with it - see the Surfbirds gallery. Yeah nice shots, but it ain't an Atlas Fly unless you're better than these perceived experts who joe birding public continually put on a pedestal. This is the problem with the UK these days, and not just birding; it's all about catering for the lowest common denominator... and this situation just exemplifies exactly that. But there is no point trying to educate the uneducated. Trust me, it's my day job.

I used to be right on for going for stuff like this like a fly on shit. The never-ending saga of stuff you kind of know has a whiff of the proverbial when you go for it - basically identifications that people are making up as they go along and general hearsay - and it never comes to anything. Caspian Reed Warbler at Filey, Common Merganser in Belfast are just a couple that immediately spring to mind. But DNA has changed all this... and within a week or two, those feathers that dropped out at Flamborough on Monday hold the key.

I now realise that Small and Etherington's original article, along with Nils Van Duivendijk, have oversimplified things on the greater coverts but what I still am yet to be convinced on is, bar the outer couple of greater coverts, surely the central and inner greater-coverts of Atlas Fly should be white based (or at least have an extremely marginal black base - say less than 5% of the feather). And this ain't good on the Flamborough bird.

I am looking forward to new literature on the Atlas Fly/Collared x Pied hybrid subject, but I would expect this to come from Morocco/Tunisia with a sufficient sample of birds in hand and of 2cys (perhaps 3cys?!) and adults. Conjecture and focusing on the minutae of Mediterranean vagrant apparent Atlas Flycatchers without the sufficient DNA evidence to prove anything beyond all reasonable doubt will not push this extremely tricky subject forward with any definitive conclusion. Call me cynical if you like.

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