Some musings on the Stonechat complex

Following the views I had of the presumed Stejgener's Stonechat at Landguard on Friday I've been doing some reading and reviewing of old photographs I've taken down the years.

Firstly, on the subject of the Landguard 'Stejgener's' - it was more or less what I expected to see. Amost like a halfway house between a classic maura Siberian and a Common Stonechat. It had a reasonably distinct supercilium, a marked white throat and upperparts that lacked the 'frosty' look of an autumn maura and looked darker and much more hibernans/rubicola-like. The rump was a warm rusty orange with some central feathers whitish giving quite a pale-rumped look in flight. In the hand pictures clearly show a broad-based bill which is another pro-Stejgener's feauture. Behavoir-wise it was very strange for a stonechat being shy, wary, very flighty and wide-ranging and never perching on the top of the bushes, always preferring to keep low down at the bases of bushes or utilising low weeds on the beach. DNA samples were taken so we shouldn't have to wait too long to know!

There is an excellent and thought-provoking chapter in the Birding Frontier Challenge Series autumn volume on the whole stonechat complex which I'd urge anyone interested to read. This prompted me to review a series of photographs I've taken in the past in spring in Kuwait and a few of these are shown below. Kuwait is ideally positioned to attract maura birds from the east, rubicola birds from the west and also variegatus birds from the Caspian Sea area.          

A classic spring male maura Siberian Stonechat, Kuwait, April. Note the pale peachy, almost white rump and the broad collar.

Another spring male maura, Kuwait, April

This is an interesting bird which I'd originally labelled as maura but the dark plainness of the head means this is probably a female rubicola (aka Continental Stonechat). Kuwait, April 

Male maura or possibly rubicola, Kuwait, April

Male rubicola, note the dark mantle and extensive orange underparts. Kuwait, April

Female maura, an especially pale individual. Kuwait, April

Male maura, Kuwait, April

Spring male variegatus (aka Caspian Stonechat), note the extensive white in the tail base. Even noticable on the closed tail.  

Female maura, note the very pale rump. Kuwait, April

Classic 'peachy' 1w male maura, autumn. Norfolk, October

 Same bird as above - note the pale streaked mantle

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