Stonechat is a passage migrant and winter visitor to Northamptonshire, also having bred on a handful of occasions. Although they are popular photographic subjects, the vast majority of these birds vary little in appearance, present no identification problems and rarely attract scrutiny as a result. Some, however, stand out as being obviously different and one such individual, found by Gary Pullan, was present briefly at Daventry Country Park last month. Gary has kindly provided details.
A male Stonechat was extremely obliging on the dam at Daventry CP on the morning of the 12th March. This bird was striking for two reasons, firstly, it is a genuinely scarce bird at this site and secondly, it showed an extensive white rump.
I suspected it may be a ‘rubicola-type’ bird, sometimes known as ‘Continental Stonechat’, the race which occurs in continental Europe but variabilities within our own race hibernans can blur the picture and make it difficult to be 100% positive.
This individual showed a vivid white, and mostly unstreaked, rump which can be seen in the poor phonescoped images. In flight this was very striking and when first glimpsed at distance, alarm bells rang and the thought of Siberian Stonechat briefly entered my head.
It is clearly not Siberian but supporting features that it may very well be rubicola are the large, white collar patches, the tone of the upperparts which lacked the deep rufescent tones, appearing quite grey-brown and the underwing appearing quite dark grey.
The weather conditions could also be a subjective supporting factor in its occurrence as we had just experienced our first, and most extreme, visit from the so-called ‘Beast from the East’. Unfortunately, the scrub the bird was frequenting was being cleared that very day and for that reason, it didn’t linger.
The two Stonechat races (or ‘forms’) intergrade on the near-continent (BWP) and it has been suggested that there is a cline of darker plumage to the north-west and brighter plumage to the south-east and that hibernans is possibly invalid.
‘Continental Stonechat’ rubicola is not officially on the British List. However, rubicola-like birds are recorded regularly in south-east England and occasionally elsewhere in Britain and birds with this appearance also form part of the breeding population in the south-east. It is therefore possible that rubicola is frequent in Britain or that the intergrade zone on the near-continent actually includes south-east England as well (BBRC).
This is the second record of a Stonechat ‘showing characteristics’ of rubicola in Northants. The first – also found by Gary – was at Boddington Reservoir on 2nd May 2013.