• Vincent

The ID article on Eastern Black Redstart ID that I wrote with Nicolas Martinez has been published!

It was published in the latest Dutch Birding issue (40:3).

Check these samples:

Check out the article

Check it out here

FREE bonus material!

Bonus material can be found here (in English) and includes an Excel document with our sample, more pics of the birds that feature in the article, pics of analysed birds that did not make the final print and newly found hybrids that were not used for our analyses. More on hybrids in German: here

Big shout out to anyone who helped during the process of writing and publishing.

#EasternBlackRedstart #hybrids #hybridredstarts #phoenicuroides #redstartidentification

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  • Vincent

Early May I spent a week on the lovely island of Sardinia. I was of course keen to see Balearic Shrike, the endemic west Mediterranean island ssp (badius) of the Woodchat Shrike.

Now I'm learning by thinking out loud here, so comments are welcome.

The most important difference with the other 3 ssp. is - of course - the (near) lack of a visible white primary patch: about 2/3 of all birds have no white patch at all when perched, 1/3 shows a limited amount on the inner primaries only.

I think visible is a key word here. But first things first.

Here are some pics of the nominate ssp. senator, the default taxon in most parts of Europe. Note the obvious white patch on the primaries.

Woodchat Shrike ssp. senator, 2nd cy female, Rhodopi Mountains, Bulgaria, May 2009

Woodchat Shrike ssp. senator, 2nd cy male, Lesvos, Greece, May 2012 (note the large mask; aged i.e. by the brown juvenile lesser coverts)

Woodchat Shrike ssp. senator, 2nd cy (the unmoulted primary coverts give away this bird's age), Lesvos, Greece, May 2012

Other subtle differences include the colour of the cap (more orange red instead of chestnut in badius), the - on average - darker wing (due to narrower white fringes on the coverts) and the size of the black mask (smaller in badius) and bill (larger in badius). For ID details see Small & Walbridge (2005) or this summary on Surfbirds.

Woodchat Shrike ssp. senator, adult male, Sardinia, Italy, May 2018 (note the funky little detail in the outer tail feather!)

The first Woodchat Shrike I saw on Sardinia seemed to lack a white primary patch. Even though the cap was rather chestnut, the mask on the forehead wasn't very broad and the bill didn't look smallish. With what I saw, combined with the location, I thought I had a full bingo card. But I made the call too early!

When it took off (ok, I came too close), this is what I captured:

That's not a little white I missed, that's a massive wing bar! In hindsight the wing patch must have been obscured: 'overlaying' secondaries sometimes cause confusion.

So this bird was a migrating senator (ok, technically the Iberian ssp. rutilans could not be excluded) instead of the desired Balearic Shrike.

A few more Woodchats were present on the beautiful Capo Ferrato, like this 2nd cy male. The mask is small. The bill: not very deep perhaps, but the cap is orange red.

But look at the outer primaries. Though somewhat faint, there's still a fairly large amount of white visible. Another senator in disguise in badius territory that on a larger distance perhaps could have been misidentified!

And then there was this adult female. There's no white wing patch and the bill looks quite heavy. There are hardly any pale fringes on the coverts. All looked good for badius!

Then it took off. Hey, perhaps it's not that much, but there's certainly more white visible on the base of the primaries than I expected!

So is this acceptable for badius in flight? Well, I guess so...

I saw this individual on 3 days, from many angles and I never saw a wing patch when it was perched. Apparently the white is shorter than the primary coverts (and was therefore obscured when perched).

Boy, it's annoying that our national museum of natural history is closed for renovation for 2 yrs. I'd love to lift some primary coverts on badius, to see what's underneath.

In any case it was obvious that even within its range, a careful look was still needed to ID Balearic Shrike.

#BalearicShrike #badius #WoodchatShrike #Sardinia

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  • Vincent

I just spent a lovely week on Sardinia. The recently split Mediterranean Flycatcher (Muscicapa tyrrhenica tyrrhenica) is pleasantly common there.

It seems to occur in a much wider range of habitats than Spotted Fly in NW Europe. From macchia to hill forests and from quiet farmland with scattered trees to village gardens: they seemed to be everywhere below the tree line.    

They differ from Spotted on plumage, biometrics and genetics (see Viganò and Corso 2015). I indeed had the impression that on average they were paler and less spotted below, but note that some were more marked than others, while on the other hand less well-marked Spotted Flycatchers can be found in NW Europe.

For now I reckon we are still a long way off to identify a potential vagrant in NW Europe with certainty.

The "Spanish" Med island ssp. balearica seems to differ a tod more from Spotted, with a pale speckled crown. Check out Marc Illa's wonderful website for more details and an instructive pic.

The birds on Sardinia were very vocal:


A quick comparison with five recordings of Spotted Fly on xeno-canto slightly suggests that the calls I recorded are on average slightly higher pitched, though I have no clue about individual variation (and with high pitched calls the quality of the recordings certainly plays a role), so it might be nothing at all.  

My recording of the alarm call is rather poor, but I couldn't find any obvious differences. I never heard its song. 

Word is on the street that Viganò and Corso are about to finish a new piece on this taxon that includes calls. Something interesting to look forward to, cause I hope to learn a bit more about these birds! 

#MediterraneanFlycatcher #Sardinia #birdidentification

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