A clear and bright morning with a light & cold NE wind, clear and still overnight.
blythi type Lesser Whitethroat.
A bird perhaps genuinely scarce away from the Northern Isles and east coast, this is the first autumn I have seen them on Beachy Head, with two in quick succession. It appears to have been an above average year for them nationally.
After the discovery of a skulking noncooperative blythi Lesser Whitethroat on Long Down last week, a second bite of the cherry came yesterday at Birling Gap. I approached two fellas watching a Lesser Whitethroat (sorry I didn’t catch your names) near the National Trust buildings and before clapping eyes on it, commented to them it was well worth checking for “Siberian” Lesser Whitethroat. Sure enough the bird was a classic looking blythi type. Unlike last weeks bird, this one allowed excellent views in the field and photo’s to be taken this morning. Call was a clear “tack” sound. Thanks to Mark Mallalieu and Robert Edgar for ageing comments and providing some literature.
The following features on this bird seem to sync nicely with current thinking.
- The brown infusing into the nape and hind crown
- Consequent lack of appreciable contrast between mantle and head
- Pale brown upper parts
- Contrasting white throat and buff flanks (although faint in this bird)
- Subtle brown tones in the ear coverts
- T6 pattern showing a large amount of white with prominent dark feather shaft and dark markings on inner web, in keeping with blythi as outlined in literature.
They are believed to breed as near as the Komi district (west of Ural’s in European Russia) right across the forests of Asia, blythi appears to be a scarce annual migrant to the UK. I’m unsure with what frequency they are recorded in Sussex.
Sadly this bird appeared to have injured, malformed feet although seeming active and feeding well.
Possibly the most important feature in the absence of trapping the bird or DNA analysis is the tail pattern. T6 displaying a pattern in keeping with blythi for a 1CY aged bird (iris colour denotes age). Lots of white in the whole feather, a dark shaft and restricted dark markings on the inner web. A similar aged curruca “British” bird should show an all dark feather with white restricted to the extreme outer edge only. I referenced Garner, M. 2014. Challenge Series: Autumn. Birding Frontiers whilst deliberating over this bird.
Most of the morning was spent watching the Lesser Whitethroat, although 2 Brambling, 2 Fieldfare, c18 Swallow, 4 Siskin passed over east with a few small flocks of Linnet and Goldfinch.
Below is a tweet from Mark Thomas containing very similar birds trapped in Yorkshire earlier this month.