Thursday, January 13, 2011

ID hell, episode three - putative eastern Lesser Whitethroat, St. Agnes, October 2010

Last autumn's excellent fortnight deliberately marooned on Agnes produced plenty of great birding, migrants of quality and quantity, hatfuls of scarcities and a handful of rarities, as well as a few near-misses and subspecific questions; of the latter, this Lesser Whitethroat was particularly interesting.

First located on the morning of the 10th, I refound it a few hours later nearby, at the seaward end of Barnaby Lane (around the gate onto Wingletang). In truth, hard to miss, being particularly bullish in character and needing no excuse to hassle the hell out of nearby Wrens and Robins.

The bird initially frequented the last (southernmost) Pittosporum hedge, before a little gentle pishing persuaded it over into the bracken- and bramble-covered dry stone wall at the end of the lane, and to within a few metres distance at times.

Aware of the possibility of halimodendri and other eastern races - especially with a perfect supporting cast (a mammoth fall of passerines including Black-headed Bunting, dozens of Ring Ouzels, Rosefinch, RB Flys, Wrynecks etc., and Black-eared and Pied Wheatears just across the water on Mary's) - I naturally spent a good while with it, taking plenty of notes and photographs. Location, timing and and prevailing conditions (south-easterlies, weather fronts, birds arriving in waves) hardly diminish the bird's credentials.

Thankfully a few of the record shots came out quite passably despite the poor light, and the interesting features are self-evident on the accompanying photos. Of these, the following were most noticeable:

> pale, sandy/rufous-brown upperparts, extending well up onto the nape
> extensive white in the outer-tail feathers
> much reduced dark 'mask', with contrast barely evident from most angles; only a small area of the lores noticeably darker
> entirely pale tertials, concolourous (or slightly paler) than the mantle

.... a suite of characters strongly supportive of an eastern origin, perhaps most likely halimodendri, and a cracking bird. Who needs Dendroicas?