Even in the Mediterranean region, some European Stonechats can look very similar to Siberian Stonechats.
A much whiter Stonechat was briefly seen in northern Morocco while walking through dense shrubs on 4 April 2016. We both spotted the bird because of its whitish appearance, and all the following characteristics were seen in the field:
- Much white on uppertail coverts and rump,
- Large white wing patch,
- Flanks are mush whiter,
- White neck collar (appeared) mush larger.
Rachid secured two – mostly similar – distant photos before the bird flew away. Although we followed the bird, it was difficult to see it well or take good photos because of the shrubs and the bird’s restlessness. We didn’t see the bird from the front and the under-wing coverts.
At home, we did some Google search about the Siberian Stonechats (Saxicola maurus) and quickly found the landmark paper on the subject by Hellström & Wærn (2011). We read some sections of the paper and made the following remarks on the bird we saw:
- The white rump patch is much larger than in other Europenan Stonechats (Saxicola rubicola) breeding in the area (many were seen during the same day).
- Our bird has mush white on the uppertail coverts/rump compared to other birds with maurus-like appearance shown in plates 117 and 118 in Hellström & Wærn (2011) and in Corso (2001) including the bird photographed at Oued Massa, Morocco (plate 196).
- Our bird appeared to have much less rufous (almost white) on the flanks than the maurus-like birds in both papers (e.g. plates 117 and 118 in Hellström & Wærn (2011) and plate 193 in Corso 2001).
We went back to the site and found at least 5 birds (in 3 days) more or less similar to the first bird (unlike our previous observations of this common species, this time we were more focused to see all the features).
The plumage of the birds seen in later days was intermediate and some looked like Siberian Stonechats at first glance, but the birds were breeding so we easily studied there plumage.
After reading again the papers, we saw where the mistakes can be made when a potential Siberian Stonechat was not observed and/or photographed very well. We conclude from these short observations that these maurus-like birds are more common than usually thought.
Corso, A. 2001. Plumages of Common Stonechats in Sicily, and comparison with vagrant ‘Siberian Stonechats. British Birds 94: 315-318.
Hellström, M. & Wærn, M. 2011. Field identification and ageing of Siberian Stonechats in spring and summer. British Birds 104: 236- 254.
Mohamed & Rachid