December 28th   Leave a comment

This morning I was walking along the footpath that cuts north-east through the fields from the main road starting just to the north of Kingsbarns. It passes through stubble and sheep fields that are good for winter flocks of buntings and finches, before ending up on the coastal path beyond the end of the Dunhill golf course. Halfway along I heard a Siberian chiffchaff. They have a very distinctive sad sounding single note call “szeep”, with a slight downflection in tone at the end – quite different from the disyllabic, two note “hooweet”, that goes up at the end. I saw the chiffchaff after a few  sconds of calling and I followed it as it moved along the footpath from small tree to tree before it flew down to feed out of sight on the ground in the adjacent turnip field (making me think of a willow warbler I watched doing the same in a cucumber field in Nigeria last month). It looked a very brown bird – much less distinctive than the greyish with greenish flights, Bonelli’s warbler-like “eastern” chiffchaff at Kilminning in October. I took some distant photos but enough to get the main plumage criteria to add to the call (which is pretty much a clincher anyway):

  1. No olive in the crown and mantle
  2. No yellow away from the underwing
  3. Pale brown hue in the upperparts
  4. Warm buff in the ear-coverts and a hint on the supercilium
  5. Buff at the breast-sides/flanks
  6. Black bill and legs

This is my second definite Siberian chiffchaff on the Crail patch. The first was about 8 years ago – Christmas time and at Kingsbarns as well, although in the woods at Cambo and a much more obvious grey bird, and with a slight wing bar on one side. Plumages seem quite variable and tricky (I would have not looked twice today if it had not called). As long as they call though, they are very easy.

Siberian chiffchaff at Kingsbarns this morning, showing most of the criteria (listed above) even in these distant photos. The light was flat, partially overcast so the photos accurately reflect the tones.

Posted December 28, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

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