Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Formby Point,
A report of a siberian chiffchaff at the Wicks Lane pond sounded interesting. I have no previous experience of this sub species so a bit of home work was in order. I dug out my Geoff Sample warbler recordings and checked out sibe chiffchaff. It certainly is distinctive and very different to chiffchaff. I set off this morning with the recording fresh in my head hoping to hear this Siberian chiffchaff. The first bird we seen in the willows on the south side was the sibe chiffchaff and almost immediately it gave its sad call. An even toned Seep with no upward deflection as in chiffchaffs hooweet. It eventually started to sing, not a confident loud song like several nearby chiffchaffs but a quiet song almost like a subsong performed in the middle of the willows not at the top of the tree. Its hard to describe it in words but it did sound very similar to the cd recording I listenened to this morning. So certainly on song it sounds like a siberian chiffchaff.
I would not say it was a grey plumaged bird like some of the pictures on the web and field guides but more of a dull buff bird not showing any yellow tones around the neck and flanks. The rump was olive green in the sunshine.Legs were black. The bill was black. I managed a few photos .Take a look and see what you think.


dawntoduskbirder said...

Genuine tristis Chiffs should be exactly as you describe - they shouldn't be grey with a wing bar rather they are brown, white and white with a sad call and more importantly a different song to our Chiffchaffs.

Steve Tomlinson said...

Hi Tim,
Thanks for the info.I'm pleased to hear that the plumage is correct for tristis.The song and call certainly fitted. I dont have any detailed papers or guides on tristis so have been comparing with other photos on the web.(not always a good idea)! The picture in collins certainly shows a greyish looking bird. Is the plumage different in Spring? If you know of any websites that discuss plumage details please let me know.
Thanks Steve

p.s. If you know the finder of the bird and if my photos will help with his records submission let me know and I will forward a copy to him.

Stephen Menzie said...


All these Chiffchaffs are a minefield. As Tim says, true tristis birds are brown, not grey. The grey birds that are often taken to be Sibe birds usually belong to the 'sub-tristis' group - extreme eastern Common Chiffchaffs at the greyest end of a cline. Most of the problem comes in not knowing the limit of each group. For example, how far west can you get (and hence how brown can you get) and the bird still be giving a tristis/sub-tristis type call & song?
A true tristis Siberian bird would be a mega rarity in the UK. 'sub-tristis' is a scarce winter visitor. There's a distinct lack of literature on the subject because of a) the lack of research on the birds in Siberia and b) the fact that most work done on vagrant birds has been done with eastern Common Chiffchaff and not with true tristis Siberian birds. As you rightly say, the bird shown in Collins as a Sibe Chiffchaff is very grey with a pale wing bar - more likely this is a sub-tristis eastern Common Chiffchaff, not a Sibe.
The other thing to bear in mind is those Iberian Chiffchaffs that turned up not so long ago - people were happy with those until they got them sonogrammed. Maybe that's part of the way to get to an answer with this bird...
If the bird is still about towards the end of next week I might go and have a look - it seems potentially quite interesting!
This is possibly useful - the Norwegians seem to have the right idea IDing their Chiffchaffs! http://www.fugler.no/id/200312_tristis.htm#tristegreier


Steve Tomlinson said...

Very interesting comments and a very helpful webpage.The bird at formby certainly looks like the tristis on the norwegian webpage in the field. I think they are mainly talking about birds in autumn which get mis-identified. I think the fact that this bird is singing and calling may help to id it. Do sub- tristis call and sing the same as genuine tristis or is thier song the same as collybita/ abietinus?
Maybe a song recording will help its credentials.