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Thread: Phylloscopus spp id.

  1. #1
    Junior Member
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    Jan 2012

    Default Phylloscopus spp id.

    The following Phylloscopus-type warbler was photographed at Gambell, Alaska on October 1, 2011. Those who have examined the rather poor quality photos are divided between calling the bird a dull Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and a Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita ), presumably of the Siberian (tristis) race. The most frequent refrain is that the photos look good for Chiffchaff but do not convincingly exclude Willow Warbler.

    Please forward any comments to:

    The following comments are typical:

    "I am not sure if they are diagnostic, but I'd be really surprised if this bird is not a Chiffchaff, and Siberian Chiffchaff at that. It appears to have a really dull grayish-olive tone above and no real hint of yellowish in the supercilium or underparts. I do think the tips of the primaries are visible in a couple images including PA010614 and they seem very short. Between color, the primary extension, and the late date (Chiffchaffs should be on the move later than Willows), I think he's got a Chiffchaff there.
    I wouldn't be the one to make a conclusive case from these images though and I'm not sure anyone could. Better photos and audio (even a smart phone with no signal can get acceptable audio these days) might be needed."

    "As for the warbler, they're not great shots and I'm always wary of making judgements based on soft photos where details are open to interpretation but I can see nothing to suggest it's anything other than a Chiffchaff. The general demeanour looks spot on as does the primary projection. Molting adult Willow Warblers can show a disconcertingly short pri-proj but by now they would have finished their post breeding molt and have a long projection. The all dark bill also supports Chiffchaff."

    "Of course, what I see is a Phylloscopus Warbler with features of P. collybita / P. (collybita) tristis.

    The greyish nape and mantle in combination with greenish-edged wings and dark legs are features of "Siberian Chiffchaff" tristis ("splitted" from collybita by some authors).

    But the whitish-yellowish over-eye-stripe and the whitish breast aren't typical for tristis ( should be buffer and more brownish in colour)...these features are more typical for individuals of the collybita-complex.

    In result this bird shows features of P. collybita & P. tristis.

    But due to the low quality I cannot exclude other eastern palearctic Warblers, like species from the trochiloides- group."

    Thank you,

    Peter Scully
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2008


    I agree with what is said in the comments - this is a rather typical Chiffchaff on both structure and coloration. Additional support could be found in call and/or tail movement, but I would consider your id safe from your photos alone. This is not a trochiloides-member (cleaner coloration, different facial pattern etc.).

  3. #3
    Moderator Brian S's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Suffolk, UK



    I agree with Stenura on this being a Chiffchaff, the structure is typical - note the short primary projection visible, esp. on the last photo posted. However, whether I could ID it as a definite tristis, I am not so sure - in fact if the colours are true, then to my eyes they are most like abietinus.

    Brian S

  4. #4

  5. #5
    Senior Member darrenjhughes's Avatar
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    Oct 2008


    As I said in October I can not see any reason why this is not a Common Chiffchaff.Maybe people are looking to hard.

  6. #6
    Senior Member forktail's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007


    Are there any supporting notes, or anything of a field description that would help? It looks like a Chiffchaff, but photos of Chiffchaffs - even good ones - are notorious for not giving a true impression of actual tones in the field so if it were broadly agreed as a chiff, you would struggle to get further.

    I guess it just depends how 'sure' you need to be to be happy with the identification. It looks as though Chiffchaff would be a new record for Alaska (current checklist 2011) so the bar has to be set very high indeed.
    OBC John Peel Awesomeness
    The little things they make me so happy, all I want to do is live by the sea...

  7. #7
    Senior Member mafting's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009


    That primary projection has to rule out Willow Warbler. Can't really see why it would be very contentious based on that apparent wing structure, regardless of colour tones etc.

  8. #8
    Moderator Brian S's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Suffolk, UK


    To my eyes, there is a slight but distinct yellow wash on the untcs and maybe an ochreous one to the super.

    Brian S

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2009

    Default Willow Warbler: why?

    Is true that both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler become greyer and less yellow-green moving from northern Europe to North-eastern Siberia (where the Gambell individual most probably came from...). But this similar trend in "overall" coloration is not matched by the same kind of parallelism in morphological and structural features! In fact, the north-eastern yakutensis subspecies of Willow Warbler is described as uniformally more grey-brown and drabber than western nominate subspecies, while Siberian Chiffchaff tristis shows a full set of diagnostic features never shown by the previous species, including: a rather pure grey back, slight greenish tinge along the primary shaft, reddish cast on crown and along the rear end of supercilium, dark bill and legs, etc.

    Due to the fact that all this features are clearly shown by the Gambell individual, adding the shortness of primary projection and the compact look of the whole animal (other two features almost never shown by a W.W.), I think it could be considered a Siberian Chiffchaff tristis by a certain degree of sureness!

    Igor Festari, Italy

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