Thursday, May 31, 2012

Collared Flycatcher

A quick post with some pics and sketches of the collared flycatcher from Tory Island a few days back. Will do a full write up of the few days soon enough, need to catch up on some sleep for now!
Basically I was packed and ready to leave the island and decided to give the back of West town one last walk in the hope of a corncrake. I sat in a spot where I had watched a pair earlier in the morning and heard one calling close by as the alarm on my phone went reminding the boat was going. I turned towards the gate and a small passer flicked out and landed on the fence about 40 metres away. Had a spot fly in the same spot the day before but even with the naked eye there seemed to be some white on it. Raised the bins and couldn't believe what I was looking at, a pale grey flycather with a big obvious collar and primary base patch! It flew back into the bush and I moved a bit closer and sat down waiting for a few minutes. I was impatient with the boat due to leave in 5 mins and moved around trying to view into bush without getting too close. I peered round a gap in the wall and spotted it low down only 15 feet away, naked eye views confirmed what I had seen, I quickly blasted off several shots before it flitted down and out of view. Looking at the shots I tried to go through all the features in my head and tick them off, the bird seemed to fit a female collared but I was also thinking about the recent Cape Clear bird and the 'Atlas' in England. I knew Peter Philips was on his way out and left a message about the bird and its location. I stood back from the bush until he arrived and phoned Owen Foley hoping he could help go over the features with me and check online if needs be. Peter showed up quickly and after a few mins we got some great views, both rattling off dozens of shots. We went through what we knew, what Owen had told us to look for and things seemed to be very good for a first summer female. Peter suggested taking shots of the back of his camera with his smart phone and uploading them to the net to let others see it for themselves, while not a fan of the website I thought the earlier people see the shots the less likely the rumours would spread. I thought back to Cape Clear in August 2004 when during a fall of pieds, Steve Wing thought  me how to age and sex pied flies and figured it would be the same for collared. I thought that the black upper tail coverts meant it was a young male, but wondered why the mantle and head weren't black. With close views, dark spots on the mantle were visible but this may just have been down to the strong sun. Owen suggested that a retarted or abnormal male would make sense as the collar was so obvious.  I sat down and spent the day sketching and photographing the bird leaving only twice for coffee and once to meet birders at the pier as Peter left. It was great to be drip fed possitive feedback that the bird seemed to be getting on the net. 4 twitchers arrived on the evening ferry as well a few from a passing nature cruise that had docked in the bay all afternoon. The bird was still feeding upto 10pm atleast when I left it in the 'magic bush'.
My first shots of the fly seemed to confirm what I thought I saw on the first brief and distant views. But could a female type be done? The collar was far stronger than on any females I had seen before, it ghosted a males. The primary base patch was huge and certainly bigger than anything I had seen on a pied before. The forhead spots also seemed to big for pied, but didn't think it was a feature of females? The brown cast on the worn wings were put forward as identifying it as a 1st summer.
The black uppertail coverts made me think it was a young male, but couldn't explain why the upperparts weren't black. As pointed out in the forums this morning, the tail feathers are rounded, they should be pointed still in a 1st year. The pale lower back was also an obvious and striking feature thought the bird usually kept the wings folded tight over its back, only lowering them as its tail or shifted position.
The collar was just so striking from every angle and every light. I have seen the nape of pied look pale but usually only in certain lights and postures, never as sharp and striking as this.
The black upper tail coverts, large white forhead patch and some dark feathers showing through the mantle had me thinking it was a first year male all day. It was only after reading threads this morning and checking some of my own photos this evening that these features can be in an adult female also. The white on the outer tail feathers extended to the tip, looking at photos from Peter, the second outermost tail feathers showed white just over 3/4's of the way to the tip before wearing away.
The overall colder and greyer colour of the upperparts fitted collared but it was hard to judge with nothing to compare it to. No brown tones in the plumage seemed possitive.
I spent the entire day within the vicinity of the bird but never heard it call. Peter walked up the east end but had nothing of note, amazing to think this was the only migrant of the day!
These are shots I took in Hungary last year of two different females. The lower bird matches the Tory bird quite well with forhead spots, distinct collar, similar size and shaped primary base patch and dark upper-tail covs. The upper bird was a paler and plainer individual showing the variation in birds, these were only a few hundred metres apart!
This pied fly was on Hook head in co. Wexford a few years back in Spring, the brown tones in the upperparts are striking compared to the collareds above. A greyish cast over the nape is just the angle of light.

Many thanks to Peter for his help with the bird and for getting the shots out so quickly, and  to Owen for all the pointers on what to look and listen for aswell as relaying positive feedback!


  1. Now you get to do a first Irish painting for yourself! Considering how few managed to see it though, a good one could be very desirable on the buyers market! ;)

  2. What a gorgeous bird, and what a fantastic collection of field work! Congratulations on a very good find.

  3. Great work, Robert. I agree with Oivind. Regards