My new headache

21 03 2012

“Recently separated as a local species rather than subspecies of Chiffchaff. Breeds on W Canary Islands in forest and copses with rich undergrowth. Resident.”

– Lars Svensson, Collins Bird Guide 2n Edition

As soon as I landed here, I felt safe from chiffchaff subspecies. I thought I would not be worried about abietinus, tristis, fulvescens and the rest of nonexistent taxons never more.  There are quite a lot willow warblers, iberian and common chiffchaffs those days and it can be hard to identify all the warblers since there is a huge variation in Canary Islands chiffchaff. This species is a potential pitfall for most of chiffchaff species, since most of them are surprisingly similar to Greenish warbler and others can recall Dusky, Willow, Iberian and of course Common. It is a sedentary species and extremely scarce in the eastern islands so the possibility of vagrancy outside the Canary Islands is unlikely, but birders coming there must be aware of what they will found.

There is not enough literature and the figure in the Collins Bird Guide 2nd edition only represents a low percentage of the individuals, so maybe a compilation of pictures of Canary Islands chiffchaff can exemplify the variation.

To start, let’s see what in my opinion is supposed to be a typical canariensis. From my point of view, the most distinctive thing is the structure. The bill is extremely long and a bit curved while primary projection is short. The general colouration is darker than common chiffchaffs and uses to show either brown or olive tinges in the mantle. Supercilium is well defined specially in front of the eye. That character can remind Iberian chiffchaff but note it’s always the same width, there is not an obvious widening between the bill and the eye, which creates a “patch” impression in Iberian. Lores are dark and there is also a dark stripe behind the eye, both contrasting with the paler rufous-tinged cheeks. The throat is even paler and there is a quite obvious frontier between cheeks and throat, almost always absent in Iberian.

The sides of the breast show traces of grey but the rest of the underparts are pale. Upperparts look uniform and concolorous with the tail.

Some other Canary Islands chiffchaff have a wider eyebrow. That fact can remind Iberian again, but note the closed-face appearence, mainly due to warm cheeks like those from Siberian chiffchaff. Upperparts have always something brown, darker than a common and fur from the lemon/green typical in an Iberian. Primaries look brown almost always. This is not because they are worn. The next picture shows a fresh individual and note it lacks the green edges characteristic of common chiffchaff subspecies.

An individual showing extremely yellow underparts. In that cases, the contrast between the brown upperparts and the yellow underparts is even more noticeable. This combination of colours is not present in the rest of european phylloscopus

And then, an individual with almost no green. It is completely brown/grey. The eyebrow is extremely large and it can create a dusky warbler or even an Acrocephalus impresion. Note the dark legs and the pale underparts. The primary projection is extremely short.

In flight, that species shows a contrast between tail and rump and the rest of the upperparts, the first being paler.

I’m sure there are still some other forms of Canary Islands chiffchaff that I have not seen yet and it would be interesting to keep on looking at them to see the evolution of the plumage as it gets worn.

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One response

22 03 2012
LAIN

Its legs are blacker than a cricket balls.

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