View Full Version : Iberian Chiffchaff in the UK

January 5th, 2008, 06:12 PM
The following article has just been posted here (http://www.surfbirds.com/Features/ibechiffs/ibechiffs.html).

Please use this thread to reply with your observations and feedback, recordings and photos. Thanks!

Colin Key
January 5th, 2008, 09:13 PM
Brian's article is EXCELLENT, and I will read it again when I have more time to study the accompanying photos.

I am surrounded by Chiffs all year round; the most common warbler by a long chalk and unless the weather turns very cold (i.e. insect life disappears) they will build up in huge numbers in S Europe. Of course, at this time of year they are totally silent, but their plumage variation has to be seen to be believed. I have positively identified Ibericas on plumage but given the variation in lighting they are VERY difficult. We have then from brown to grey to green to almost yellow, and some with pink legs too!!

Not for the nervous :ohdear:


January 5th, 2008, 09:46 PM
Hi Colin, you're in the right part of the world for getting to know ibericus.

Roy Harvey
January 6th, 2008, 08:23 PM
In his article, Brian Small has referred to my film in the Surfbirds video section of the Colney (U.K.) Iberian Chiffchaff singing. With this clip being part of a montage of various U.K. rarities it only includes a short burst of song.
I have plenty more film of this bird singing and can make it available on Surfbirds in a longer clip, or elsewhere, if it helps in any way.


Brian S
January 6th, 2008, 09:15 PM

It would be great if you could post more footage of the Ibe Chiff at Colney. If you have any of it calling it would be good, but any would be very informative.


Josh Jones
January 6th, 2008, 10:18 PM
Great article Brian- will certainly be re-reading in more detail when I'm not struggling through biology coursework!

Roy Harvey
January 8th, 2008, 12:28 PM
I have now sent more video of the Colney bird to Andy so, hopefully, he will put it on the site soon.
It is clear that this individual was not always singing its full song. Sometimes just the first seven or eight notes can be heard.


Peter Hobbs
January 8th, 2008, 08:25 PM
Hi Everyone
Following Brian Smalls excellent & interesting article regarding Iberian Chiffchaffs and in particular the Lavenham Chiffchaff, I thought it would be a good idea to add some further dates and observations to the L.C. story. As Brian mentioned, the bird was discovered on 13/4/2007 but it was last seen on 1/8/07. It bred successfully with a common chiffchaff and four fledgelings were first noted on 10/7/07 (I managed to obtain a few pictures). The nest site was probably in a garden across the road, away from its normal patch(which it was still frequenting). I believe that a previous breeding attempt had been made in late May as our bird was seen food carrying during a cold and exceedingly wet Whitsun weekend. It was during this weekend incidentally that I was able to establish definitley that it was using a collybita call. It only (and rarely) appeared to call when in close proximity to other chiffchaffs, but increased its output in July, during the days following the young leaving the nest. We never at any time heard the Lavenham Chiffchaff use the classic 'seeoo' call of Ibericus as described by Brian.Thanks to Peter Evans we have extensive recordings of the L.C. including its call and these have been analysed by Martin Collinson (thanks again Martin) who has made various sonograms of its vocalisations and found definite Iberian elements (I almost forgot to mention that it was capable,during the latter part of its stay of, on a couple of occasions, rendering faultless collybita song!). Greg Conway at the B.T.O has pointed out that as far as he is able to discern from Bill Bastons flight picture, the primary measurements appear to correspond to an 'Iberian type' bird.
However, I'll leave you with a couple of lines from Jane Taylor who lived in Lavenham and who penned the immortal words...'Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.'

January 9th, 2008, 07:07 AM
Roy's terrific video is now in the Video section and you can see it here (http://surfbirds.com/video2/view_video.php?viewkey=34845c6be3a127a5aaca&page=1&viewtype=&category=mr). Best, Andy

Brian S
January 10th, 2008, 07:25 PM

Thanks for the additional info on the Lavenham bird. In my opinon the call of Iberian Chiffchaff is diagnostic, so if you categorically state that it called like a Common then I believe that is what it was.

That its song was so odd and seemed to have elements reminiscent of Iberian just goes to show that a cautious approach is necessary when faced with such a bird. I also note that a strangely singing chiffchaff in the Netherlands was not accepted because there was no recording of the call.

Brian S

January 11th, 2008, 10:17 PM
Very interesting article, thanks. At the same time as the Colney and Lavenham birds were present I was seeing another odd-singing Chiffchaff at Swanton Morley (Norfolk) that showed some vocal characters of Iberian Chiffchaff. If you're interested I have photos and a detailed description of the song (no recording I'm afraid) on my website (http://www.gobirding.eu/Photos/OddChiffchaff.php). I don't think it was an Iberian and presume it was just another one of these odd-singing Chiffchaffs - opinions would be welcome though.

Gavin Haig
January 12th, 2008, 12:44 AM
Were any sonograms produced from recordings of the Lavenham bird? The case for Iberian would be helped if the opening notes of each phrase peaked at no more than 6 kHz or so - collybita is more in the 8 kHz bracket. In April last year we had a suspected Ibe Chiff, for just one afternoon, singing from undercliff scrub on our E Devon coastal patch. The song was not really fully formed, but sonograms were kindly produced from recordings that we had made, by Martin Collinson and Magnus Robb. The pattern and frequency of the resultant squiggles persuaded us to submit the record! The bird called just twice - a down-slurred, plaintive 'tiu' - but this was another strong indicator of ibericus. I was hoping to attach a couple of mp3 files, but have just seen that I cannot...

EDIT.....but now I can! Cheers Admin. They are not mega loud (recorded on a camera) but not bad. These 3 are pretty typical of what the bird was doing. I've also attached a sonogram (produced by Magnus robb) of recording #5. I ought to mention that this record is still with the BBRC. Anyway, hope this is of interest.

January 12th, 2008, 08:37 AM
Hi Gavin, try attaching your mp3s now.

January 12th, 2008, 11:54 AM
If could be of any interest, not entering in the merit of those records for wich I did not checked neither consider myself enough experienced in Iberian CC, I think that some odd singing or mixed singing birds could be explained in a way I think I never heard or read before: I've seen some mixed flocks of Iberian and European CC for ex. in Southern Tunisia oasis (where even if extremely rare some Iberian do winter rarely) ... during mild and sunny winter some happy birds sing (they not necesserly have to sing just for breeding as many ornithologists seems to believe, otherwise why very often birds sing during stop-over on migration...???) ...some birds - chiefly "open minded" juveniles- learn other close by species songs... if in some species such as Acro, Sturnus, Alaudidae, Lanius etc. etc. mimicracy (is that the right English word??) is rather normal, other species also sometimes do it...

therefore, I've heard some Willow imitating Chiffchaff (looking exactly like a Willow and not an hybrid, at least phenotypically) ...why not Iberian imitating or mixing Chiffchaff's song and viceversa??

Just something to consider in the future and think about...


Andrea Corso

January 12th, 2008, 12:00 PM
Sorry, reading again my post I realised I was not clesar in my English traslation: when I say " something I never heard or read before..." I meant ... IN A FORUM ... of course this is reported in litterature or in some webpages ...

Peter Hobbs
January 14th, 2008, 08:34 PM
I think that rather than commit to a firm conclusion as to the true identity of the Lavenham Chiffchaff because of its apparent sole use of collybita call, it would be more appropriate to adopt Martin Collinsons appraisal that the bird ought to remain unidentified. Surely accepting identification using the call as a criteria could potentially involve falling into the same traps as have been discussed, i.e. the ambiguities pertaining to song, plumage, biometrics e.t.c.
Almost all of the birds song that was heard during the first three weeks of its arrival had no resemblance to collybita at all and it was never heard to issue a call during this period. Furthermore, I am certain that the additional "si..si ..sit" that was added to its "chinging" in June was copied from the local Greenfinch population. I had heard identical renditions of this phrase performed by Greenfinches in the immediate area. It perhaps could serve to demonstrate this Chiffchaff's ability at mimicry (an important point that I feel has been overlooked). The possibility that the bird was a hybrid is, I would have thought, a strong contender particularly when one considers the information relating to the overlap zone in N.E Spain / S.W France (Helbig et al 2001 / Bensch et al 2002).

Brian S
January 17th, 2008, 08:54 AM
Hi Pete

My rather forthright comments on the call were not meant to upset you, but were an expression of my personal opinion. I have been to Iberia many times in the past eight years, have heard many Iberian Chiffchaffs, but have never heard Iberian Chiffchaff give anything other than the classic 'seeoo' call. In my opinion, I suspect it is an extremely important element of Iberian Chiffchaff identification; likewise, I suspect that the chick-like 'heep' of Siberian Chiffchaff is an important character in its identification.

I have no experience of 'mimicry' amongst chiffchaffs, though the Portland Iberian Chiffchaff appeared to have learned the song of Common Chiffchaff towards the end of its stay, and I have heard what I would have regarded as a Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff hybrid at Hoist Covert - just as there was at Benacre last year (recordings of such birds are on the Dutch Birding website, linked in the article). Andrea suggests that Willow Warbler may learn the song of a Chiffchaff, but he is identifying them on plumage ('phenotypically').

If I listen carefully to those 'odd' songs recorded in Portugal, I believe that the individual notes are different to the notes in the Lavenham bird - they are of a different tone and are like the first three 'wheet' notes of 'typical' Iberian and not the 'chiff' notes of Common (and the Lavenham bird). Also, I believe that they are delivered at a more rapid rhythm than the rather sedate Common Chiffchaff rhythm of the Lavenham bird. Some might interpret the Lavenham bird as an Iberian CC having learned from Common CC, but I have heard nothing in the song that suggests the influence of Iberian.

I wonder about the 'ambiguity' of features in CC; you could replace that word with 'extremely subtle'. Finally, I would also be cautious about determining the variability of song and plumage from out-of-range birds, which is why I have tried to base my comments largely on the birds I have heard, and recordings of the different songs made, in Portugal.

The Lavenham bird was certainly something to learn from, though given my recent run of foot-in-mouth comments it is likely to turn up this year and sing like a proper Iberian!


January 17th, 2008, 06:55 PM
That's why I wrote at least... to mean just on plumage therefore not surely pure Willow but looking like on plumage and structure... then we need DNA to be sure of any gene mixing by CC with F1 or F2 hybridisation on those birds...

But this is fanta-birding as I'm not yet able to do DNA with my bin ;-)

Then I was just giving some possible argument of discussion as I specified ...in general... not on this proper case and on Iberian CC as not enough experienced on this regard (and to stimulate Brian comments as from this discussion on such forums I learn more than on many field guides' study because next time I know what to study and check in the field and museums :-)

so, thanks Brian and folk


March 15th, 2008, 04:15 PM
Good discussion.

May be of interest... Tim Melling and I have a paper in next month's British Birds that tackles this problem - including the Lavenham Chiffy, also the Skelmersdale and Dibbinsdale Birds, the 'original' Brent Resevoir 1972 bird and the 2000 Great Tew (Oxon.) bird. Nods to Colney and Beer birds too.


Brian S
March 17th, 2008, 09:49 AM
Hi Martin

Thanks for warning of paper in BB. Sonograms of the Lavenham bird show some odd Ibe-like elements, but I still feel the majority of notes were too high-pitched and the song rhythm too slow to be an oddly singing Ibe Chiff.

I have got another song sequence, which lasts non-stop for a minute. If you would like it, you know where I am.

Brian S