Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Caspian Stonechat - Titchfield Haven 11th April (plus a brief visit to Pennington Marsh)

I had to pop to Christchurch today for a quick survey so got up early and headed to Pennington Marshes first. It was raining when I got up at 05:00 but I was optimistic that it would brighten up and I was at Pennington by 06:15. It was lashing down, I took shelter and scanned over the marsh of Lower Pennington Lane, 12 Dunlin, a Marsh Harrier and three Teal were the highlights. Stopping at the car park I listened to the news and waited, it was no good I had to go for it but it was pouring down but I do like the optimism that can be found when birding in the rain in the spring. I walked out to Efford Lagoon then out to the point at Butts Lagoon and along to Keyhaven Lagoon. I realised my jacket was no longer waterproof and I was soaked. There were relatively few birds, obviously avoiding the rain and far brighter than I, 150 Dunlin, 10 Grey Plover, a handful of Common Tern, Sandwich Tern and Little Tern, 20 Swift and 50 Sand Martin was all I had to show for my optimism. I nipped to Christchurch for my survey and was on the road back towards the office by 10:00.

Last night news broke of a first summer male 'Caspian Stonechat' at Titchfield Haven and given I was running ahead of schedule I decided to head for Titchfield as the bird was still showing this morning. As I approached the rain eased and there were around 30 birders present. I latched onto it quickly and the bird showed very well from the roadside feeding amongst the scrub and reed just to the west of the western entrance to the reserve. It was a fantastic bird, all pied like a Pied Flycatcher and somewhat hyperactive, presumably desperate to feed after a long journey.

Personally, I tend to follow the taxonomy defined by the HBW and Birdlife Illustrated Checklist rather than the numerous other taxonomic lists, to me the stability and gradual rather than seemingly constant splitting of species is more palatable. Currently, HBW/Birdlife consider variegatus (and Siberian Stonechat) a race of Common Stonechat. However, others consider variegatus a race of Siberian Stonechat S. maurus (which also includes armenicus, indicus, przewalskii and stejnegeri). And yet others split variegatus and armenicus as Caspian Stonechat. However, this is a simplification of a complex situation, a useful overview can be read here. A British Birds Article on Identification of Siberian Stonechat in spring and summer can be read here.

The bird can be identified as variegatus by very black and white appearance and in particular the extensive white rump and almost wheatear (most like Black-eared Wheatear) like tail pattern with extensive white bases to the tail feathers, particularly the outermost ones. This feature can be seen in my images below. Regardless of how this bird is treated taxonomically it is a fantastic bird and has undergone an amazing journey to get to Titchfield Haven.

Distribution of Stonechat sub-species from British Birds Vol. 104; May 2011 - 236–254. Variegatus occurs along the north-west shore of the Caspian Sea