Monday, October 17, 2016
Candidate Desert Lesser Whitethroat, Filey - Oct 2016
So here's how I spent much of my day... I hit the circuit late this morning, in fact 'enjoying' a lie-in til about 8 am (thus proving to both my wife and myself I have yet to turn 100% into a glassy-eyed psychopath - still hovering healthily around the 95% mark), and soon found myself on the clifftop, going through the larks and thrushes feeding in the open fields. Walking back along the field edge towards the Tip, I flushed a sandy-coloured warbler with strikingly white outer-tail feathers (alarm bell #1), which bolted into the nearest hawthorn.
Over the course of the next hour or so, I had regular, brief but good views of the bird at close range as it skulked in the hedge, occasionally responding to a little pishing and tacking, while putting a call out to the ringing contingent and awaiting their arrival. Late date, long-term easterlies and a barrage of far-flung Asian rarities swamping the east coast aside, this bird was clearly from a long way away. Thanks to the recent developments and reshuffles of the Lesser Whitethroat group, the features of potential eastern birds - including halimodendri - have increasingly been on the radar. But while I've had several of what I consider to be very strong candidate Siberian blythis before (including a striking, calling bird a couple of weeks ago), this bird was the proverbial sore thumb.
I'm thankfully in the habit of writing up field notes and sketches again these days, and so an uber-concise summary is as good as it gets on here for now, but a combination of the following would seem to raise a pretty convincing flag for Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat, S.c.halimodendri:
Warm, sandy brown upperparts, extending concolourusly onto nape and crown
Warm, pale brown underparts, contrasting strongly with white throat
Entirely white outer-tail feathers (t6) and extensive white on at least t5 and t4
Small-bodied, large-headed, apparently short-winged, 'cute' appearance
Long tail, often cocked
Habitat preference (initially found on the ground, in the open)
Long story short, three hours later and thanks to the strong wind, dogwalkers, other birders, bouncing twice and escaping once, our sandy little quarry had us beaten. Maybe tomorrow.