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Siberian Stonechat

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 27th September 2010 | Birding in Shetland

On those rare autumn days in Shetland when the weather conditions seemingly all fall into place (like this particular day), it’s the finding of a national rarity that for a rarity hunter is what autumn birding is all about, besides the sheer wonder of migration on the whole of course.

However work commitments unfortunately saw me frustratingly occupied throughout the day but I pinned my hopes on that last hour or so of birding light when I would be free. Just as predicted late afternoon saw the arrival of several Siberian rarities across the isles. My mind was set; as soon as I was finished I would head straight to one of my favourite birding sites at the eastern end of my home Island of Fetlar.

Driving there I found two Yellow-browed warblers from the car as I crossed the island, my enthusiasm was peaking. My gut feeling for the site came good – quite literally the first (and only) bird I saw was the Stonechat!

It’s very cold, clean white underparts, pale-peachy buff wash across breast, clean white throat and contrastingly streaked upper parts with distinct pale panel on the wing instantly screamed out ‘Sibe chat’ to me. Then after quite literally a second or two’s view it took flight showing off its clean unstreaked, contrastingly pale and buffish-pink rump showing an obvious and distinct contrast between the very dark (appearing blackish) tail and the streaked mantle – Bingo! I was in, it was indeed a ‘Siberian Stonechat’.

But like the majority of rarities you find, regardless of their status there is a process you should always try to go through (often much easier said than done!). I made sure I took my time to note the features needed to nail its ID – I even managed to secure these images through my binoculars with my mobile phone – hand held, hence the quality! It makes a world of difference to get that all important record shots! Unfortunately my trusted DSLR was not over my shoulder that day.

Although not regarded as a species in its own right, ‘sibe chat’s’ are the Siberian equivalent of our Stonechat. Like so many species the features which confirm identification can be subtle- especially for subspecies. Immatures (like this one) should show the following:

  • Pale and un-streaked rump, which can be and often is clean white. This one had a pale buffish-pink wash through it.
  • Underparts are clean, cold and whitish with a faint peachy wash across breast, usually a clean white throat which contrasts slightly with breast.
  • Upperparts contrast distinctly with underparts; usually sandy grey brown tones with obvious streaking, paler sandy greay nape with slightly darker crown and show a distinct pale wing panel.
  • The tail should contrast quite prominently with the bold and unstreaked rump and appear blackish with distinct pale/whitish tips to all tail feathers.
  • Head on the super appears quite distinct and prominent across fore crown where it joins but is actually quite hard to see on the side profile.
  • Also the auxiliaries are jet black, as opposed to the greyish tones on Stonechat. This feature is however very hard to see.