Treecreeper to Dipper

Treecreeper Certhia familiaris

Treecreper comprises ten subspecies but only three are of relevance here. The subspecies brittanica occurs in Britain and Ireland, macrodactyla (‘Continental Treecreeper’) in central Europe and nominate familiaris (‘Northern Treecreeper’) in Scandinavia, eastern Europe and northern Russia as far east as western Siberia. The two continental subspecies listed here intergrade, and variation in nominate familiaris is clinal, with progressively paler/greyer/ whiter birds to the east (Cramp et al. 1993).

The subspecies brittanica (note that this spelling is currently being reviewed under IUZN rules) is an abundant resident in Britain. Nominate familiaris is also on the British List but its published status in the literature is somewhat contradictory. Witherby et al. (1940) listed only four records but it is described in the BOU 8th Checklist and in Kehoe (2006) as a scarce migrant. Cramp et al. (1993) described it as a rare vagrant in Britain and also noted its rarity in the Netherlands and on Heligoland, Germany. It appears to be a genuinely rare late autumn (and sometimes wintering) vagrant, occurring as part of occasional irruptions out of Scandinavia and with very few confirmed records from east coast migration ‘hotspots’. Only on Shetland are more occurrences documented but even here it is rare. The subspecies macrodactyla undertakes only limited movements and is not a particularly likely vagrant.

The identification of some nominate familiaris can be relatively straightforward. Its appearance varies but paler (and presumably more eastern) birds can be very striking. Observers should focus on the colour of the supercilium and underparts, the degree of white ’spotting’ in the crown, nape, mantle and scapulars, the colour of the pale areas in the flight feathers and the relative brightness of the rump. The subspecies macrodactyla is closer in appearance to brittanica and would be hard to detect in a vagrant context. Vocalisations offer no useful clues.

Claims of nominate familiaris (including historical records) are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs. A ringing recovery would provide additional evidence. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1993. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 7. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Garner, M. 2014. Challenge Series: Autumn. Privately published.

Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1996. Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Helm, London

Kehoe, C. 2006. Racial identification and assessment in Britain. British Birds 99: 618-645.

Stubbings, E. 2011. Northern Treecreeper in Norfolk. Norfolk Bird & Mammal Report 2010. Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

Witherby, H. F., Jourdain, F. C. R., Ticehurst, N. F. & Tucker, B. W. 1940. Handbook of British Birds. Witherby, London.

 

Starling Sturnus vulgaris

Starling comprises thirteen subspecies. Nominate vulgaris breeds across Europe and western Russia. To the east and south-east, it is replaced by a number of intergrading Asian subspecies (known collectively as ‘Asian Starling’) including tauricus, poltaratskyi, purpurascens, caucasicus, porphyronotus and nobilior. Two resident endemic subspecies occur in north-west Europe – zetlandicus (‘Shetland Starling’) in Shetland (and possibly the Outer Hebrides) and faroensis (‘Faeroes Starling’) in the Faeroe Islands (Cramp et al. 1994).

Nominate vulgaris is an abundant breeder and winter visitor in Britain, whilst zetlandicus is confined to northern Scotland. No other subspecies is on the British List although birds of Asian origin have occasionally been suspected here. However, the vagrancy potential of eastern subspecies is not well understood.

Identification of a vagrant subspecies is not straightforward, relying on the colour of plumage gloss in adults. Biometrics might offer limited additional evidence.

Claims of a vagrant subspecies are welcomed if accompanied by a ringing recovery. Acceptance to a subspecies group might be possible. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1994. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. 8. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

 

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus

Ring Ouzel comprises three subspecies. Nominate torquatus breeds in north-west France, Britain and Ireland, western and northern Scandinavia and north-west Russia, alpestris (‘Alpine Ring Ouzel’) breeds in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathians, the Balkans and western Turkey and amicorum (‘Caucasian Ring Ouzel’) breeds in breeds in north-east Turkey, the Caucasus, northern Iran and south-west Turkmenistan (Cramp et al. 1988).

Nominate torquatus is a relatively common summer visitor and passage migrant in Britain. The subspecies alpestris was formerly included on the British List with two accepted records. However, as part of the Hastings Rarities affair, these records were discredited and removed from the published record (Nicholson & Ferguson-Lees 1962). Subsequently, three records were accepted onto the British List as ‘alpestris or amicorum’. However, a BOURC review in 2012 removed these records from the British List (BOU 2012). The subspecies alpestris may be a potential vagrant to Britain but amicorum seems much less likely to occur here.

Both nominate torquatus and alpestris exhibit a little more variation than allowed in some of the literature (Stoddart 2015). The identification of vagrant subspecies is not straightforward and depends on an accurate assessment of the pattern of the undertail coverts, belly, flank and lower breast feathers. For alpestris, the minimum requirement is the ’classic’ pattern – a mainly white feather with a black subterminal fringe – on all these feather groups. In practice, only individuals at the paler end of the range of variation will be identifiable.

Claims of alpestris are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs. Examination in the hand is, however, desirable and any stray feathers should be retained for DNA analysis. A ringing recovery would provide additional evidence. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

BOU. 2012. Records Committee: 40th Report. Ibis 154: 212–215.

Clement, P., & Hathway, R. 2000. Thrushes. Christopher Helm, London.

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. 5. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Nicholson, E. M., & Ferguson-Lees, I. J. 1962. The Hastings Rarities. Brit. Birds 55: 299-384.

Stoddart, A. 2015. From the Rarities Committee’s files: Extralimital races of the Ring Ouzel in Britain. British Birds 108: 97-103.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

Witherby, H. F., Jourdain, F. C. R., Ticehurst, N. F., & Tucker, B. W. 1943. The Handbook of British Birds. Vol. 2. Witherby, London.

 

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica

Bluethroat taxonomy is complex, with eleven subspecies recognised, of which seven are relevant here. Nominate svecica (‘Red-spotted Bluethroat’) breeds in Scandinavia, northern Russia and western Alaska, cyanecula (‘White-spotted Bluethroat’) in central Europe from northern France to European Russia, namnetum (‘Atlantic Bluethroat’) in western France, azuricollis in montane central Spain, volgae in southern European Russia, pallidogularis from south-east European Russia to southern Siberia and magna (‘Caucasian Bluethroat’) in the Caucasus, eastern Turkey and Iran. This taxonomy masks significant variation in cyanecula, however, some adult males (so-called ‘wolfi’ variants) showing no white breast spot whilst a few show a pale orange breast spot inviting confusion with nominte svecica. Intergradation occurs at all subspecies boundaries (Cramp et al. 1988). The subspecies volgae is particularly variable though closest to pallidogularis.

Nominate svecica is a scarce late spring and autumn migrant and very rare breeder in Britain whilst cyanecula is a rare spring migrant and very rare breeder whose autumn status is unclear. No other subspecies is on the British List but at least namnetum, azuricollis, volgae and pallidogularis are potential vagrants.

The identification of vagrant subspecies is highly problematic and may only be possible with some adult males in spring. Biometrics may offer limited indicative evidence for most subspecies but are highly useful in namnetum.

Claims of spring adult males of vagrant subspecies are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs. Otherwise, claims should comprise a ringing recovery or, in the case of namnetum, biometrics. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

Chantler, P. 2007. Blue Bluethroats in Spain. Birding World 20: 156-158.

Clement, P. & Rose, C. 2015. Robins and Chats. Christopher Helm, London.

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. V. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

 

Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos

Nightingale comprises three subspecies. Nominate megarhynchos breeds in western and central Europe and north-west Africa, africana (‘Caucasian Nightingale’) in the Caucasus, eastern Turkey and Iran and golzii (‘Eastern Nightingale’) in Central Asia east to Mongolia (Cramp et al. 1988). The possibility of specific status for (at least) golzii has been raised (Duquet 2006).

Nominate megarhynchos is a summer visitor to Britain whilst golzii is also on the British List, with three accepted records to date. Previously recorded as ‘hafizi/africana’ (under the prevailing taxonomy), these have now been attributed specifically to golzii (=hafizi) (Rogers et al. 2001 and 2004). The subspecies africana is a potential vagrant.

The separation of golzii from megarhynchos can be relatively straightforward. Observers should focus on the colour of the upperparts and underparts, the face pattern, the degree of contrast with the tail and any pale tips or fringes in the wing feathers, particularly the wing coverts. The subspecies africana is more intermediate in appearance (though closer to nominate megarhynchos) and it is not clear how it might be identified in a vagrant context. Biometrics are useful, golzii in particular being very long-winged and long-tailed.

Claims of golzii are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and preferably by good photographs but a ringing recovery would provide more definitive evidence. Acceptance to the subspecies pair golzii/africana might also be possible. Claims of africana should be accompanied by a ringing recovery. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

Bradshaw, C. 1996. The Scilly eastern Nightingale. Birding World 9: 179-189.

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. V. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Dukes, P. 1996. A possible eastern Nightingale on Scilly. Birding World 9: 62.

Duquet, M. 2006. Eastern Nightingale – identifying a potential split. Birding World 19: 171-173.

King J. 1996. Identification of nightingales. Birding World 9: 179-189.

Knox, A. et al. 2008. 5th Report of the Taxonomic Subcommittee. Ibis 150: 834.

Rogers, M. J. & the Rarities Committee. 2001. Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2000. British Birds 94: 485-486.

Rogers, M. J. & the Rarities Committee. 2004. Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2003. British Birds 97: 595.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

 

Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca

Pied Flycatcher comprises three subspecies. Nominate hypoleuca breeds throughout northern Europe and western Russia. East of the Urals it is replaced by sibirica (‘Siberian Pied Flycatcher’) though the two subspecies intergrade and sibirica represents little more than the end of a cline. The subspecies iberiae (‘Iberian Pied Flycatcher’) breeds in Iberia (Cramp et al. 1993).

Nominate hypoleuca is a common summer visitor and passage migrant in Britain whilst sibirica is on the British List on the basis of a ringing recovery from Tomsk Oblast, Russia in Yorkshire in September 1996 (BOU 2011). It may, however, be occurring more commonly than we are currently able to detect. The subspecies iberiae is a potential vagrant.

The identification of sibirica is not straightforward. It differs from nominate hypoleuca mainly in its slightly longer wing and in its high proportion of grey/brown morph males. Problems also surround the identification of iberiae. Females would evade detection but even though males can be striking with large white primary and forehead patches and extensive white in the tertials and greater coverts, they would need to be distinguished not just from an extreme nominate hypoleuca but also from a hybrid Pied x Collared Flycatcher F. albicollis and a vagrant Atlas Flycatcher F. speculigera.

Claims of either vagrant subspecies are welcomed if accompanied by a ringing recovery. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

BOU. 2011. British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee 39th Report. Ibis 153: 227-232.

Cramp, S. et al. 1993. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 7. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

 

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochrurus

Black Redstart comprises five subspecies. The subspecies gibraltariensis (‘Western Black Redstart’) breeds in south-west, central and south-east Europe. A further grouping of four subspecies occurs to the east – semirufus in the Levant, nominate ochrurus in eastern Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran, phoenicuroides in northern Central Asia east to Mongolia and rufiventris in southern Central Asia and the Himalayas. These latter subspecies are known collectively as ‘Eastern Black Redstart’ (although nominate ochrurus occupies a somewhat intermediate position). Species status for ‘Eastern Black Redstart’ has been suggested (Steijn 2005).

The subspecies gibraltariensis is a passage migrant and scarce breeder in Britain. Four birds attributed to an eastern form were previously on the British list but were removed in 2002 as none fully excluded the possibility of a hybrid Redstart P. phoenicurus x ‘Western Black Redstart’ (BOU 2002). However, ‘Eastern Black Redstart’ (attributed to the subspecies pair phoenicuroides/rufiventris) has now been readmitted to the British List with a growing number of accepted records to date, one of which was confirmed by DNA analysis (Hudson et al. 2014, Stoddart 2016). A pattern of late autumn vagrancy by such birds to north-west Europe is now well established, with considerable influxes noted in late autumn 2011 (Hunt 2011) and again in 2016. To date, all accepted records have been of first-winter males and all have most closely resembled phoenicuroides, the longest distance migrant of the group and the most likely to occur as a vagrant.

The identification of adult males and those first-winter males showing adult-like plumage (the so-called ‘paradoxus’ type) can be relatively straightforward. The main confusion risk is with a hybrid Redstart x ‘Western Black Redstart’ though some male gibraltariensis can show limited rufous colouration in the underparts suggesting nominate ochrurus (Garner 2010). The identification of females and female-like first-winter males (the so-called ‘cairii’ type) is more problematic. These need to be distinguished not just from a hybrid but also from female Redstart. For all birds, especially those in the latter category, biometrics (notably the wing formula/primary spacing) provide confirmation of identity. This might be possible to photograph in the field.

Claims of vagrant subspecies are welcomed. Adult males and ‘paradoxus’ type first-winter males should be documented with detailed notes and preferably good photographs. Females and ‘cairii’ type first-winter males should be documented with good photographs and/or biometrics. A ringing recovery would provide additional evidence. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

BOU (2002). Records Committee: 28th Report. Ibis 144: 181-184.

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. V. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Garner, M. 2010. A red-bellied Black Redstart in Lincoln. Birding World 23: 61.

Hudson, N. & the Rarities Committee. 2014. Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2013. British Birds 107: 579-653.

Hunt, B. 2011. The Eastern Black Redstarts in Kent and Norfolk – the first confirmed British records. Birding World 24: 460-466.

Steijn, L. B. 2005. Eastern Black Redstarts at Ijmuiden, the Netherlands and on Guernsey, Channel Islands, in October 2000., and their identification, distribution and taxonomy. Dutch Birding 27: 171-194.

Stoddart, A. 2016. ‘Eastern Black Redstart’ – new to Britain. British Birds 109: 211-219.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

 

Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Redstart comprises two subspecies – nominate phoenicurus in Europe, north-west Africa and northern Asia east to Siberia and samamisicus (‘Ehrenberg’s Redstart’) in Crimea, the Caucasus, eastern and southern Turkey, the Levant and Iran (Cramp et al. 1988).

Nominate phoenicurus is a common summer visitor and passage migrant in Britain. The subspecies samamisicus was formerly on the British List but has now been removed (Hudson et al. 2011). Four records were previously accepted but their identification was considered to have been based on a flawed understanding of the variation in both samamisicus and nominate phoenicurus (Small 2009). However, samamisicus remains a potential vagrant.

The identification of adult males can be straightforward. Observers should take care to age any candidate and focus on the precise extent and shape of any white in the tertials, secondaries and primaries, the colour of the mantle and any extension of the throat patch onto the neck-sides. Some first-winter males may also be diagnosable with care but need careful separation from adult male nominate phoenicurus which can also show pale fringing in the wing feathers. On current knowledge females are not safely identifiable in a vagrant context. Moult stage evidence might also be useful, samamisicus exhibiting an earlier and more extensive autumn moult than nominate phoenicurus. Note also that Redstart x Black Redstart P. ochruros hybrids may resemble samamisicus.

Claims of male samamisicus are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and good photographs. A ringing recovery would provide additional evidence. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. V. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Hudson, N. & the Rarities Committee. 2011. Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2010. British Birds 104: 557-629.

Small, B. 2009. From the Rarities Committee’s files: The identification of male ‘Ehrenberg’s Redstart’, with comments on British claims. British Birds 102: 84-97.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

 

Stonechat Saxicola rubicola

European Stonechat comprises two subspecies – nominate rubicola (‘Continental Stonechat’) in central and southern Europe and north-west Africa and hibernans in Britain, Ireland, north-west France and the west coast of Iberia (and possibly also western Norway). However, the two forms intergrade on the near-continent (Cramp et al. 1988) and some authors (e.g. Urquhart 2002) argue that there is merely a cline of darker plumage to the north-west and brighter plumage to the south-east and that hibernans is therefore potentially invalid.

The susbpecies hibernans is a common breeder in Britian but rubicola is not on the British List. However, rubicola-like birds are recorded regularly in south-east England and occasionally elsewhere in Britain and birds with this appearance also form part of the breeding population in the South-east. It is therefore possible that rubicola is frequent in Britain or that the intergrade zone on the near-continent actually includes south-east England as well. A continued listing here is probably sensible until such time as the taxonomic questions are resolved and/or rubicola is added to the British List.

The identification of rubicola is problematic, confounded by variation within hibernans throughout its range and by the existence of intergrades. Female rubicola is on average a liitle paler but only males are likely to exhibit useful characters. Observers should focus on the colour and extent of the orange underparts, the extent of the white neck-sides, the colour of the fresh feather fringes in the upperparts, the extent of white in the rump and the colour of the underwing coverts. Bright males also invite confusion with Siberian Stonechat S. maurus or Stejneger’s Stonechat S. stejnegeri.

Claims of rubicola are welcomed if accompanied by a ringing recovery from the core or southern part of its range. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol. V. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Dally, A. 2001. Stonechats in Essex. Birding World 14: 305-306.

Sangster, G., Collinson, M, Knox, A., Parkin, D., Svensson, L. And Votier, S. 2011. Taxonomic recommendations for British birds: seventh report. Ibis 153: 883-892.

Shepherd, K. 2001. Continental Stonechats. Birding World 14: 305.

Siddle, J. 2001. Apparent Continental Stonechats on Scilly. Birding World 14: 389.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

Urquhart, E. & Bowley, A. 2002. Stonechats: A Guide to the GenusSaxicola. Helm, London.

Walker, D. 2001. Apparent Continental Stonechats in England. Birding World 14: 156-158.

Wink, M., Sauer-Gurth, H. & Gwinner, E. 2002. Evolutionary relationships of stonechats and related species inferred from mitochondrial-DNA seuqnces and genomic fingerprinting. British Birds 95: 349-355.

Zink, R.M., Pavlova, A., Drovetski, S., Wink, M., & Rohwer, S. 2009. Taxonomic status and evolutionary history of the Saxicola torquata complex. Molec. Phylogenet. Evol. 52: 769-773.

 

Dipper Cinclus cinclus

Dipper comprises fourteen subspecies but four are relevant here. Nominate cinclus (‘Black-bellied Dipper’) breeds across northern and parts of western Europe, aquaticus (‘Southern European Dipper’) in central and southern Europe, gularis (‘British Dipper’) in most of Britain and hibernicus (‘Irish Dipper’) in Ireland and western Scotland. However, Cramp et al. (1988) state that “racial distinctions between ‘chestnut-bellied’ and ‘black-bellied’ forms are specious” and that “geographical variation [is] highly complex, [with] some populations even varying within [the] same mountain range.”  There is even marked individual variation within populations in Britain (Tyler & Ormerod 1994, Forrester et al. 2007), while there are also some differences according to age and sex, with males and older birds being darker on average. The taxonomy of this species may therefore be open to revision.

The subspecies gularis and hibernicus are largely sedentary within their respective British ranges whilst nominate cinclus undertakes longer movements and is a rare winter visitor to Britain. There is strong evidence for the occurrence of nominate cinclus. Most of the birds seen in areas where the species is a vagrant, such as Shetland (over 50 records) and Norfolk (over 135 records) lack chestnut on the belly (Taylor et al. 1999, Pennington et al. 2004) and, more significantly, there are also two ringing recoveries. A bird ringed in Sweden in March 1985 was found in Fife in April 1987 (Forrester et al. 2007) and another ringed as a chick in Norway in May 2004 wintered on Mainland Shetland in 2005/06 (Shetland Bird Report 2005). The subspecies aquaticus undertakes only limited movements but is nevertheless perhaps a potential vagrant and its occurrence has been suspected here.

Subspecific identification is less than straightforward, especially as nominate cinclus may have some restricted chestnut on the belly and may therefore approach the appearance of hibernicus, gularis or aquaticus, while it appears that some birds within the presumed range of hibernicus in western Scotland (and potentially some gularis too) may lack any chestnut, therefore resembling nominate cinclus. The subspecies aquaticus is highly variable and it is not clear how a vagrant might be distinguished.

Claims of nominate cinclus are welcomed if accompanied by detailed notes and preferably by good photographs. For the moment, BBRC will take the pragmatic view that birds with little or no chestnut on the belly in eastern Britain (particularly in the Northern Isles and lowland south-east England away from the range of gularis) are likely to be nominate cinclus but other claims may have to await further investigations on the variation of plumage shown by all the races likely to occur in Britain. A ringing recovery would provide additional evidence. Claims of aquaticus are welcomed if accompanied by a ringing recovery. (updated Dec 2017 AMS).

References

Cramp, S. et al. 1988. The Birds of the Western Palearctic Vol 5. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Forrester, R. & Andrews, I. 2007. The Birds of Scotland. Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Edinburgh.

Hudson, N. & the Rarities Committee. 2008. Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2007. British Birds 101: 516-577.

Pennington, M., Harvey, P., Osborn, K., Riddington, R., Ellis, P., Heubeck, M. & Okill, D. 2004. The Birds of Shetland. Helm, London.

Svensson, L. 1992. Identification Guide to European Passerines. 4th edn. Privately published, Stockholm.

Taylor, M., Seago, M., Allard, P. & Dorling, D. 2007. The Birds of Norfolk. A & C Black, London.

Tyler, S. J. & Ormerod, S. J. 1988. The Dipper. Shire Publications.