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ID forum & curiosities

The Middle East is a hotbed of identification conundra. Unlike in the northern breeding areas (save for zones of sympatry and intergradation) hybrids and over-lapping racial forms constitute a significant proportion of birds seen.

In Qatar, this provides an acute test of established identification criteria - and of field identification skills. We hope to draw attention to some of the issues that are either overlooked or skimmed over in the standard texts, and which birdwatchers are likely to encounter in Qatar.

'vittata' Pied Wheatear

The 'textbooks' describe vittata-type Wheatears as rare. This form is widely assumed to be the result of hybridization between Eastern Black-eared and Pied Wheatears. OSME suggests "White-throated 'vittata' occurs only in a few eastern populations, at a very low and unpredictable density (Panov 2005), probably via recessive genes". Whatever the origin, the result is some very handsome looking spring males, and an identification nightmare in the autumn. The question of separating out vittata Wheatears from among female and non-adult Eastern Black-eared and Pied Wheatears, and their hybrids, is worthy of more discussion.

 
1. Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanke - normal male for comparison
20 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
 
2. Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanke 'vittata'
23 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
     
 
3a. Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanke 'vittata'
03 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
 
3a. Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanke 'vittata'
03 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)

Hybrid shrikes

There is significant hybridization between Red-backed and Turkestan Shrikes, and such hybrids are not uncommon during the spring migration.

 
1a. Red-backed x Turkestan Shrike Lanius collurio x phoenicuroides
30 April 2010 (© John Thompson)
 
1b. Red-backed x Turkestan Shrike Lanius collurio x phoenicuroides
30 April 2010 (© John Thompson)
     
 
2. Red-backed x Turkestan Shrike Lanius collurio x phoenicuroides
28 April 2010 (© Neil G Morris)
 
3. Red-backed x Turkestan Shrike Lanius collurio x phoenicuroides
29 April 2010 (© Neil G Morris)

(Lesser) Whitethroats

 
1. Hume's Whitethroat Sylvia althaea
25 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
 
2. Hume's Whitethroat Sylvia althaea
22 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
     
 
3. Lesser Whitethroat - possibly S. c. halimodendri
20 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
 
4. Lesser Whitethroat - possibly S. c. halimodendri
06 April 2013 (© Neil G Morris)

Stonechats

Four species of Stonechat have been recorded in Qatar: Whinchat, Pied Stonechat, Siberian (aka Eastern) Stonechat and European Stonechat. The first two species are easily diagnosable, while the latter two comprise four challenging taxa that, with care, are often (but not always) distinguishable in the field:

  1. European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola rubicola, the nominate form of European Stonechat
  2. Western Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus maurus, the nominate form of Siberian Stonechat
  3. North Caspian Stonechat Saxicola maurus hemprichii, a form of Siberian Stonechat (former scientific name S. m. variegatus)
  4. South Caspian Stonechat Saxicola maurus variegatus, a form of Siberian Stonechat, also known as Byzantine Stonechat (former scientific name S. m. armenica )

Examples of each of these forms are shown below:

 
1. European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola rubicola
Male, 14 November 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
 
2. Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus maurus
Female, 11 November 2012 (© Neil G Morris)
     
 
3. North Caspian Stonechat Saxicola m. hemprichii
Male, 19 February 2013 (© Neil G Morris)
 
4. South Caspian Stonechat Saxicola m. variegatus
Male, 27 March 2013 (© Neil G Morris)

Sandplovers

tba

Supported by
OSME   QNHG