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Bird Watching (UK) - - Id Challenge -


The first im­pres­sion this bird gives is of a small, dark, streaky in­sect-eater. It looks small, partly be­cause it is perch­ing non­cha­lantly at the top of a dried stem of per­haps an um­bel­lifer, and its head looks large rel­a­tive to the rest of its body (which is a gen­eral in­di­ca­tor of small size). The thin bill sug­gests an in­sect diet. It is a chunky lit­tle thing, with a short tail and quite long, sturdy legs. The struc­ture, com­pact shape and gen­eral colour all point to this be­ing one of the Saxi­cola chats, rather than a Wren, pipit or a streaked war­bler. So, is it a Stonechat or a Whin­chat? The wholly dark tail, lack­ing a white base rules out Whin­chat, as does the pale throat and not par­tic­u­larly dis­tinct su­per­cil­ium (‘eye­brow’). This is a fe­male-type Stonechat.

KEY FEA­TURES †Com­pact, large-headed, short-tailed, thin-billed †Streaked brown above, plain or­ange-brown be­low †Pale throat and slight su­per­cil­ium (‘eye­brow’) †Short, wholly dark tail (no white at base)


The first im­pres­sion this LBJ gives is that it looks a bit like a fe­male House Spar­row. It is of medium build with a medium-long tail and a medium length seedeater’s bill. But House Spar­rows are streakier, par­tic­u­larly on the back. The bill shape and spar­row-like struc­ture should be steer­ing you to­wards this be­ing a finch. The lack of streaks rules out many species (such as the small red­polls, Lin­net and Twite). What else have we got to go on? A dark crown and paler cheeks and eye­brow, as well as un­der­parts; a green­ish rump just show­ing through and a hint of white outer tail feath­ers on the tail. And the clincher, per­haps, is that white wing bar, with an­other shorter stripe com­ing across al­most per­pen­dic­u­larly. This is a fe­male Chaffinch.

KEY FEA­TURES †Spar­row-like shape and colours †Medium-strong, seedeater’s bill †Lacks streak­ing †Dis­tinc­tive wing pat­tern


Many peo­ple are con­fused by war­blers, and this ap­pears to be one. The plain brown plumage and thin bill and thin legs all point to this be­ing part of the war­bler fam­ily. The first thing to con­sider when faced with a war­bler is which of the gen­era it be­longs to. The plain brown plumage and high steep fore­head should have you think­ing of the Acro­cephalus war­blers or per­haps the Hip­po­lais war­blers. The lat­ter are rare in the UK, and don’t have such a warm brown colour. Sylvia war­blers can also have high, steep fore­heads, but they are gen­er­ally more boldly coloured or chunkier in shape. This has the look of a typ­i­cal Acro­cephalus or reed war­bler, as fit­ting the reed habi­tat. The plain, warm plumage with min­i­mum fea­tures points to Reed War­bler.

KEY FEA­TURES †War­bler shaped, plain, warm brown bird †Steep fore­head †Pale ey­e­r­ing and very short su­per­cil­ium †White throat

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