Sunday, November 29, 2009

Israel - puzzling Redstart - March 19th 2004

redstart sp. phoenicurus sp. Grofit fields, Chevel Eilot, Israel. 19th March 2004.

This female Redstart has always bothered me. It bothered me when I found it feeding in the fields of Kibbutz Grofit, Southern Arava, and it still bothers me now. After three hours of watching and photographing it I came away feeling very unsatisfied that I hadn't been able to identify the bird with any level of certainty. On range it could only be a Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus or a Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochuros, with Eversmann's Redstart Phoenicurus erythronotus occurring just once in Israel as a vagrant in November 1988.

It always looked large, pale and somewhat wheatear-like as it foraged around the manure piles. The bird's behavior was much closer to Black Redstart than Common Redstart and it fed exclusively in open areas, only retiring to the edge of a date plantation when flushed. The 'pallid' feel to the bird was apparent in the field and reflected in the images. The bird had cold blue-gray upperparts and a very faint panel could be seen on the closed wing, perhaps suggesting a female Common Redstart of the form samamisicus (Ehrenberg's Redstart). At least four forms of Black Redstart have also been recorded in Israel and the females of some of these forms can apparently approach Common Redstart in overall appearance.

I'd be very interested in receiving some feedback on this bird and whether or not it can identified with certainty. Thanks very much indeed!

Update: December 3rd, 2009. I asked for opinion on this bird on the Surfbirds identification forum and received responses from Peter Adriaens, Brian Small and Lee Evans. They were all in favor of a female Common Redstart
Phoenicurus phoenicurus, albeit a bit washed out and pale, but a Common Redstart all the same. Apparently females of the nominate and samamicus can be so similar in appearance they are not safely assigned to subspecies. Thanks to everyone for viewing the images and to those who responded with comments.


Hilke Breder said...

Looks like a female Common Redstart to me. Usually they are a little darker, but the overall picture fits.

James P. Smith said...

Thanks Hilke. I'm sure you're right and your opinion matches that of several European experts.