31 December 2016

Putative Eastern Stonechat at Richmond Park: 31 December

Rachel and I twitched the putative Eastern Stonechat at Richmond Park today. The bird was feeding and preening in bracken and grass near 'Hawthorn Valley' just east of Cambrian Gate (at approximately TQ 19133 74102). Some observers think this could be the eastern race of Eastern Stonechat, stejnegeri (Stejneger's Stonechat), rather than the western maura (Siberian Stonechat) and yesterday droppings were obtained for DNA analysis, so we might yet find out. I know very little about the sub-specific identification of stonechats and so this was a very educational few hours.

Presumably a female (whitish throat), the frosty pale grey colour was very striking in the overcast and dull conditions and only on the whitish unstreaked underparts was there a very slight hint of buff. Pale edges to the greater coverts form a whitish wing-bar, and whitish edges to the secondaries a pale wing panel. I managed a very poor flight shot that appears to show dark axillaries/underwing coverts, but the photo is very blurred and I cannot be certain. The pale grey rump appears to be very faintly spotted and the uppertail coverts are more obviously spotted (see right hand photo below). The supercilium is indistinct, and looking at the photos, the primaries do not look particularly long to me - about 1/3 of the length of the tertials (difficult to judge I know).

Other than being pale (and possibly having dark axillaries/underwing coverts), to my eyes this bird looks nothing like Eastern Stonechat of either race (but neither, for that matter, does the pale stonechat currently at Dungeness and recently confirmed as Stejneger's Stonechat by DNA analysis) and so perhaps this is an aberrant Common Stonechat or a colour phase? However, I have no experience of Eastern Stonechat and I haven't read much about their identification either.

Why is this bird so grey and lacking in any warm buff tones? The closest matches I've found on the Oriental Bird Images database in terms of general colouration are here, here and here (all three pics taken in India and so could be maura or stejnegeri), but most photos of females that I have seen show a pale buff ground colour and are a warmer tone all over, like here. Also, shouldn't the rump be unspotted with at least some orange or buff for either race of Eastern, like here? More reading required for me and I hope to try for better pics over the next few days.

Putative Eastern Stonechat, Richmond Park, 31 December 2016 (click to enlarge)

Putative Eastern Stonechat, Richmond Park, 31 December 2016

Also noted were 2(1m, 1f) Common Stonechat in the same area, 1 Green Woodpecker and a Little Owl at Holly Lodge.