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 ON BROOK MEADOW - Dec 2014 - Feb 2015

This bird was first seen and photographed on Brook Meadow Emsworth by Malcolm Phillips on Dec 11 2014. It was not reconised at first as a Siberian Chiffchaff, but simply as a rather grey common Chiffchaff. However, the photos were seen by Peter Milinets-Raby who thought they suggested a Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis).
This is an eastern race of Chiffchaff which breeds in coniferous taiga forest from the Ural region eastwards. It winters mainly in India, though odd birds stray to Western Europe annually in autumn (end Sep-Oct). However, the best ID pointer is the bird's call, described in the Collins Guide as "a mournful piping, straight (or negligibly downslurred) 'viip'". Its song is faster and more varied than the
standard Chiffchaff. However, neither song nor call have been heard.
Most sightings were on the south meadow - Grid Ref: SU751059 - To reach Brook Meadow's south meadow you can park in Palmer's Road Car Park behind Tesco's Express. Take the path from the south eastern corner of the car park. Walk over the bridge and enter the Brook Meadow nature reserve on your left.
Here is the story of the various sightings of this unusual Chiffchaff and the gradual realisation of what it was. All photos were taken by Malcolm Phillips and we are very grateful for his diligence in getting them.

Diary of Siberian Chiffchaff sightings on Brook Meadow

in reverse chronological order

. . .


Siberian Chiffchaff
Ralph Hollins reports that Alan Kitson went to Coldwaltham Sewage Farm near Pulborough Brooks today and got a photo of a Siberian Chiffchaff showing very white underparts. See photo at . . .
Ralph assumed this was a bird acquiring spring plumage but when he went to find confirmation of that he found something more interesting.
"What I found was a webpage about 'colour morphing' suggesting that this species in particular can look very different depending on its environment. See . . .
This piece ends with two photos of the same bird in a Dorset garden - in one the body plumage has the 'normal' slightly brownish tinged underparts, in the other the underside looks pure white as in Alan Kitson's photo. Interestingly the Dorset photos were taken on Feb 5th in 2013 so maybe plumage change to spring colour has some part in the effect."

For more photos of a Siberian Chiffchaff go to . . .


Mystery Chiffchaffs
Malcolm Phillips went round Brook Meadow this morning and saw a Chiffchaff in the south meadow. He then walked up to the cleared area south of the S-bend in the river and saw another Chiffchaff. He is not sure which of the two is the Siberian Chiffchaff. Or maybe they both are Siberian Chiffchaffs! Malcolm has put the two shots together on one image to get a better comparison. The lower one was from the south meadow and the upper one from the S-bend. Note neither of them is ringed.

After about six hours of creeping around Brook Meadow today, Mike Wells finally spotted the Siberian Chiffchaff on the pile of wood chippings opposite where the trees have been cut down below the S-bend. Perseverance certainly pays off. Mike sent me two photos of the same bird, one taken in the shade and the other in bright sunlight. Good to compare plumages in different lights.

Malcolm Phillips also captured the Siberian Chiffchaff on the pile of wood chippings - that is clearly a good habitat to look out for it. Malcolm also included a photo of a common Chiffchaff for comparison. The Siberian Chiffchaff has now been on Brook Meadow for at least 3 weeks. Our first sighting was on Dec 11.


Malcolm a photo of what could be the Siberian Chiffchaff that we have been seeing on Brook Meadow since Dec 11. However, in view of the bird's rather bown plumage and the small tuft of yellow feathers on the wing, my guess is that it is more likely to be a regular Chiffchaff. The Siberian Chiffchaff has a much greyer and colder looking plumage than this.

Malcolm Phillips had a good morning on the meadow during which he got some good views of the Siberian Chiffchaff in Palmer's Road Copse. Malcolm's excellent photo shows well the main distinguishing features of the bird; grey-brown on crown, nape and mantle (no trace of green) and light rusty-buff on the supercilium, ear-coverts and neck and breast sides (no trace of yellow). Bill and legs are always black on this bird.

A cold and bleak midwinter's day indeed. I went over to Brook Meadow late morning and met Malcolm Phillips on the main river path, looking very cold. Malcolm had not seen the Siberian Chiffchaff, but a couple of visiting birders, one with an enormous lens on his camera, said they had seen it earlier. We went down to the south meadow and I played my song recording several times with no effect.
I went back home for lunch, but Malcolm stayed on and was rewarded with good views of what I assume is the Siberian Chiffchaff along the river bank in Palmer's Road Copse. That is the small woodland adjacent to Palmer's Road Car Park. Grid Ref: SU 751 058. It is quite close to the south meadow where the bird has frequently been seen.

I went over to Brook Meadow at about 12 noon today armed with a freshly recorded Siberian Chiffchaff song on my digital recorder. I headed for the south meadow where I played the recording at first with no obvious effect. It was not until Barry Collins and a couple of other birdwatchers turned up that the Chiffchaff made an appearance, seemingly coming across the bramble hedge from the garden of Gooseberry Cottage. The bird came really close to where we were all standing, fluttering its wings in apparent display. This was exactly the same behaviour that Peter Milinets-Raby and I witnessed on Dec 17 when Peter played the song on his phone. We could not have hoped for a better view of what I assume was the Siberian Chiffchaff.
Fortunately, Malcolm Phillips turned up in time to capture some images of the bird, though that was not easy with the bird against the sky for most of the time.


Barry reminded me that he and I had seen two Siberian Chiffchaffs many years ago at the Thornham Lane sewage works. I had forgotten this. Barry dug out the information from his files that two were there from 16th Jan to 1st Feb 2001 and one still there on 1st and 2nd March 2001.

Interestingly, as I was playing the recording of the Siberian Chiffchaff a Robin also appeared to have responded to the song, coming close to where we were standing, with a song of its own plus a bit of wing quivering. Presumably the Robin interpreted the recording as indicating the presence of another Robin in the vicinity, the two songs being not entirely dissimilar. I must admit this alerted me to the possibility that the bird responding initially to the recording might have been a common Chiffchaff rather than a Siberian Chiffchaff. Hmm.

Malcolm had actually been on the meadow for a couple of hours before I met up with him and had got a photo of a common Chiffchaff with what looks like a metal ring on its right leg, but the definition on the photo does not allow one to read any lettering that could identify the bird. This photo was taken near the S-bend in the river, which is about 100 metres north of where we had the Siberian Chiffchaff. The bird identified as a Siberian Chiffchaff does not have a ring. Nor does it have the yellow tinge to its plumage, which is indicative of a common Chiffchaff.

While I was on the meadow this morning, I met a local birder in the south meadow named Malcolm Greenwood who had come to look for the Siberian Chiffchaff. He told me he had only recently moved into the area and had made friends with Dick Senior, another local birder. We both saw a Chiffchaff of some sort flitting around in the trees, but against the sky it was impossible to determine if it was the Siberian. A tape lure is certainly the best solution. This afternoon, I printed off a couple of Malcolm's photos of the Siberian Chiffchaff and put them in the Lumley and south gate signcases.

I met up with Peter Milinets-Raby and Malcolm Phillips on Brook Meadow at 1.15pm to look for the unusually grey Chiffchaff that Malcolm photographed on Dec 11, Dec 15 and Dec 16 which Peter thought could be a Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis). We started off on the main river path near the S-bend in the river. However, despite a fairly thorough search of the area using Peter's special tristis song and call on his S4 mini mobile phone we found no sign of the bird or any other Chiffchaffs.
We were on the verge of giving up, when walking back through the south meadow, Peter decided to try the song again. Hey presto, along came what Peter was fairly sure was the Siberian Chiffchaff from its very cold grey plumage. It was clearly attracted by the song on the phone and flittered around in the trees above our heads, constantly flicking its wings in apparent display. Then, to our surprise another two Chiffchaffs appeared, all actively moving around in the trees, but Peter was fairly sure these were common Chiffchaffs from their browner plumage. South meadow Grid Ref: SU 751 059

Malcolm and Peter looking for the Siberian Chiffchaff on the south meadow of Brook Meadow

We watched the birds for about 20 minutes as they constantly moved through the trees and got fairly adept at picking out the Siberian one. Malcolm took some photos which came out reasonably well despite the overcast conditions. Even though we did not hear any call or song, Peter left saying he was 98% confident that this was a Siberian Chiffchaff and and has placed one of Malcolm's photos on the 'Going Birding' web site.

Here is Malcolm's best shot of the Siberian Chiffchaff from today

Malcolm Phillips has been on the meadow over the past few days in search of the very grey Chiffchaff that he photographed on Dec 11 and that Peter Milinets-Raby thinks could be a Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis).
Yesterday, Malcolm got a couple of photos of a Chiffchaff, near the S-bend in the river where the Water Rail hangs out, both of which shows a bird with similar cold grey plumage to the earlier one.

Here are Chiffchaffs taken on December 15th

On today's visit Malcolm again got a couple of photos of what was probably the same bird as yesterday, but a bit further upstream by the old gasholder. I have passed all these onto Peter to see what he makes of them.

Here are Chiffchaffs taken on December 15th

Peter Milinets-Raby comments: The 15th December bird is almost certainly the same individual, so like a possible Siberian Chiffchaff - based on those papers - interesting ID points are, more prominent supercilium, more prominent black alula, fine off-white wing bar along the edge of the scapulars and whitish panel in the closed wing.
The 16th December bird is more like a normal Chiffchaff with greenish tinges to the wings, olive colours in the mantle, though after reading those articles, it still could just be a trick of the light, BUT the 16th December bird does not have a indistinct wing bar!!!

Mystery Chiffchaff
Peter Milinets-Raby thinks the Chiffchaff that Malcolm Phillips photographed by the south bridge on Brook Meadow on Dec 11 is too grey for a regular Chiffchaff. Malcolm's photo shows a very grey, cold cast to the plumage and Peter considers the bird is potentially a Phylloscopus collybita tristis - Siberian Chiffchaff. This is an eastern race of Chiffchaff which breeds in coniferous taiga forest from the Ural region eastwards. It winters mainly in India, though odd birds stray to Western Europe annually in autumn (end Sep-Oct). Peter recommends visiting the following page to get an idea of recently photographed birds to understand why Malcolm's bird has potential as a Siberian Chiffchaff . . .
The best ID pointer is the bird's call, described in the Collins Guide as "a mournful piping, straight (or negligibly downslurred) 'viip'". Its song is faster and more varied than the standard Chiffchaff. However, Malcolm did not hear a call or song.

Malcolm Phillips spent most of the day going round the meadow trying to find a Water Vole, but without any success. More interesting were photos of two wintering warblers which Malcolm spotted on the meadow. The Chiffchaff by the south bridge was not all that surprising, as we have a regular wintering population on Brook Meadow, though it was the first I have had reported this winter. It was an unusually grey bird.