Saturday 4th July 2020 – Super (sodden) Saturday

Two weeks have elapsed since my last visit to SML as unseasonal wet and windy weather continues to prevent the use of mist nets. The only consolation is that the weather will have curbed the worst excesses of post-lockdown madness so evident when the sun was out! Unfortunately, it has also put a stop to the outstanding DIY jobs around the house and weed clearing on my allotment, which I have been occupying myself with over the last three months.

Consequently, I have turned my attention back to Chiffchaffs and Scandinavian Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita abietinus in particular. Some time ago Ottenby Bird Observatory in Sweden published a montage of head shots of Siberian Chiffchaffs P.c.tristis (reproduced below) and I scoured the internet, searching in Russian and various Scandinavian languages, to produce something similar for abietinus.

Phylloscopus collybita tristis, Siberian Chiffchaff, compilation – Ottenby Bird Observatory.

The Ottenby photos were all taken under controlled conditions with consistent lighting and background colour whilst those I have collated for abietinus are highly variable. I have only used images taken during the summer in the core breeding range from Moscow, west through the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Estonia to Finland, Northern Sweden and Norway. Images where the colours of the birds, vegetation or ringer’s hands are clearly off have been omitted.

Phylloscopus collybita abietinus, Scandinavian Chiffchaff, compilation – multiple sources

With a group of pictures like this a couple of things have become apparent. Firstly, just how similar abietinus can appear to collybita and on occasions tristis, even in an image, rather than with a mobile bird in the field. However, to my eyes at least, a couple of reasonably consistent features started to emerge. Most, although not all, show some yellow in the eyestripe, particularly above and in front of the eye and a good proportion have a little yellow on the cheeks, upper breast or sides of the breast.

These features eliminate confusion with a “classic” tristis but are no help when it comes to collybita. Assuming that the bird is in the hand and it is not long-winged enough to eliminate collybita that way, something else is required. Personally, I have a feeling that the photo montage suggests a band of greyness in many birds forming a subtle and narrow collar, running across the nape to the sides of the breast. This may be just wishful thinking on my part and I would welcome comments from other ringers. One thing I am very aware of is that, in the ringer’s grip, this subtle feature would be entirely obscured by the fingers.

Finally, for completeness and having spent hours tracking down suitable photos, I have posted a selection of the abietinus images, showing the whole bird, in a gallery here. https://earlywormringing.wordpress.com/wintering-chiffchaffs/

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