Over the winter this first bit of the year there have been several wintering Lesser Whitethroats in the UK. A couple of these have been DNA’d and the results have backed up the visual clues that pointed to an eastern origin to these birds. Possibly blythi?
This has left us in the position of having birds of a taxon blythi that is not recognised yet being confirmed by DNA and interestingly the latest research indicates this is more closely related to the halimodendri (Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat)/althaea (Hume’s Lesser Whitethroat) types than our curruca….. a future split… or not!
Anyway some photo’s emerged of a bird wintering on a private house’s bird table in southern Derbyshire, apparently feeding on christmas fruit cake! From the first photo I was happy the bird was of eastern origin but we knew we could not see it and respected that. Later it was seen that this bird was practically a dead ringer for one of the DNA’d birds in Tynemouth. Recently however I discovered a few people had seen the bird from a public footpath so we gave it a go. Its was one of those places you feel uncomfortable when birding being in a housing estate and looking over gardens. Not wanting to upset anyone we gave it a 30 minutes but didn’t see anything. This was a couple of weeks ago. On Friday the 21st March we gave it another go and this time saw the bird almost straight away!the bird was feeding in a blossom tree (Cherry?) and seemed to be either drinking nectar or picking insects off the flowers, indeed the pollen had turned the birds forehead yellow!
An odd looking bird, with a long tail and short looking wings, looking very sandy brown on the back and wings with little contrast between the head and mantle. The sandy tones ran up the nape and onto the crown. Even the ear coverts were toned brown and in some lights they were the same tones as the rest of the head… however in some light they did look a fraction darker. Indeed the grey tones were very restricted. The bird also showed a palish super (more pronounced than on the Lesser’s we usually see). There was a pale area over the lores. The white throat contrasted with the rather scruffy pale buff toned underparts, this was darkest on the lower flanks. There seemed to be a lot of white in the tail.
“Eastern” Lesser Whitethroat.
Interestingly the bird might have dropped the outer tertial on either side? However there was still a pale panel formed by the fringes of the secondaries. The one thing that did worry me slightly was the lores as they did look in some lights a bit darker than the Tynemouth birds, but in others they seemed fairly uniform, or even paler than the rest of the ear coverts and to my eyes didn’t look as dark as on curruca anyway? This was hard to judge as the forehead and lores were actually yellow a lot of the time due to the blossom pollen…. Our birds seem to mostly have the lores the darkest bit of the facial pattern.
The primaries looked rather short and bunched perhaps.
Edit… been looking at my video and I suspect there is something going on with the tail… it might be renewing some feathers having dropped a few, possibly the centre pair+? Not sure what Lesser Whitethroat molt is like. On the video you can make out the very large amounts of white on T6 but its not detailed enough to see T5.
“Eastern” Lesser Whitethroat.
The bird was perhaps not as completely different looking as the bird mooted as Desert Lesser Whitethroat at South Gare in the early 2000’s but it was sufficiently different looking to provoke the joke that were we absolutely sure it was a Lesser Whitethroat!
Incidentally I heard a call that sounded like recordings of eastern birds etc before we saw the bird but I couldn’t 100% connect it to the bird annoyingly.
After seeing the bird well we left and had a run up to Cromford Canal, via an excellent new Cafe on the bridge at Whatstandwell.