A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 18 April 2016

Iberian Chiffchaff in Telford, Shropshire!

With an Iberian Chiffchaff turning up in Lancashire towards the end of our two week trip to Florida, I was hopeful that this individual would stay the course and I’d be able to catch up with this Iberian speciality on my return. Unfortunately however, doubts were quickly raised about its identity – the song appeared untypical of Iberian Chiffchaff once sound recordings taken on site were analysed and it was quickly dismissed as an imposter – sadly, not making the grade.

Luckily however, the UK seems to be experiencing a spring influx of these delightful Mediterranean songsters at present, and after a year’s absence with no records during 2015, there have been a further three additional reports of Iberian Chiffchaffs this past week, with individuals in Coverack in Cornwall, Tresco on Scilly and of course, Telford in Shropshire.

First reported on the Sunday afternoon straight after our 8 hour flight back from Orlando and quickly confirmed as being the real deal, I had no chance of getting down to Shropshire until a week later, where thankfully this Mediterranean speciality had set up territory in a patch of woodland, often showing well and calling frequently.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
The Iberian Chiffchaff in Telford, Shropshire
After a leisurely lie-in on the Saturday morning, we made our way down to where the bird had set up territory just off Granville Road in Telford (TF2 7NB) for the early afternoon, wholly expecting it to be in full song when we arrived and showing well in the now glorious sunshine (it had apparently snowed that morning!). Sadly however, it didn’t pan out that way, and we endured a painstaking 2 hours staring at a group of trees in the freezing cold (the warmth of the sun had completely vanished to be replaced by menacing looking rainclouds and a chilling breeze) where the bird only called once distantly! Starting to worry, it was a relief therefore when we heard the distinctive call further around the corner, and heading over that way with the group of assembled birders following, Alex eventually tracked down this subtle warbler, calling just a few feet in front of us low down in the branches and showing well.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
For the next ten minutes or so we followed our target through the trees as it worked its way along the hedgerow, often perching in full view and treating us to blasts of now familiar song. Sounding the initial first notes of “chiff chiff chiff”, this was quickly followed by a warbling variation, much different to any of the Chiffchaffs or Willow Warblers that were also present on site that had been singing throughout the afternoon, and unlike several recent birds in West Sussex and Cambridgeshire a few years back (and possibly the Lancashire bird) it was also quite clear that this was not a mixed singer. While every time I pressed record on my camera to try and capture the call the Chiffchaff seemed to go mute (typical!), Alex managed to get an excellent video of the song, illustrated below:

Formerly treated as just a race of Common Chiffchaff in the past, Iberian Chiffchaffs were recognised as a separate species by the BOU 18 years ago due to a range of differences, including vocalisation, morphology and genetics. Indeed, as well as the call, there were slight variations in the plumage that while subtle, were still noticeable in the field at Telford. The bill was slightly longer than a Common Chiffchaff with a much paler lower mandible, while the legs were much lighter, appearing to be an intermediate shade somewhere in between Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. The plumage was also a brighter green than a Common Chiffchaff, often looking a grey-olive colour, while there was a yellowish wash to the head, cheeks and extensive supercilium, again more so than you would expect to see on a Common Chiffchaff. Studying the photos of the bird later at home, I could also clearly see the indistinct and broken eye-ring that is limited to just the lower edge of the eye – another pro Iberian Chiffchaff feature.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
The broken eye-ring on the lower edge of the eye is clearly visible, as is the yellowish colouration of the head and breast
With only 37 accepted records in Britain, this is a bird I have been wanting to catch up with in the UK for a while, having missed the last local bird in Blackpool back in May 2011. With the vast majority of records occurring in the last 10 years however (25 out of the accepted 37), Iberian Chiffchaff has fast turned from what was once a mega rarity in to a now nearly annual expected spring overshoot, with small influxes like this occurring in several of the past recent years.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
With the finer plumage details matching up and the call (which has been recorded and sonagramed) spot on for Iberian Chiffchaff, there is no doubting the ID in my opinion, with this individual being the real deal. It was great to enjoy hearing him sing prolifically and show so well for us – a great addition to my British list after seeing a pair in Spain two years ago and a fantastic bird to hear in person. 

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