EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.
This week, it is chats
Chats are basically small thrushes. They are closely related to flycatchers and warblers and are small, (mainly) insect-eating birds, with thin bills. In the UK, our chats include the Robin, Wheatear, Stonechat, Whinchat, Redstart and Black Redstart and Nightingale. I think there is no real need to include Robin here, as it is one of our commonest, most familiar birds; but let’s look at the other chats on the list.
This is one of the larger chats, about halfway in size between a Robin and a Song Thrush. Famously getting its name from its ‘white arse’, the Wheatear does indeed have a very prominent white rump (lower back), as well as a white tail with a black T shape on the tip and centre. Other plumage features to note include (on the male), a pale blue head and back with a black mask and largely black wings, contrasting with peachy and white underparts. Females are browner, but share the white rump and black and white tail pattern. It is mainly a ground based chat, running around on short cropped grass; breeding mainly in the north and awest of the country, often in upland. They are summer visitors, passing through the country on passage in spring and autumn (when they are in fresh, buff plumage, regardless of gender or age).
Stonechats and Whinchats are similar small (roughly Robin-sized), large headed, short-tailed chats which like to perch high on small bushes and tall ‘weeds’ and fence lines overlooking areas where they can pounce down on caterpillars etc. Stonechats are less migratory than Whinchats, breeding in suitable habitat (Heaths, gorse areas, coastal sites etc) particularly in the western side of the country and wintering more widely, including the east coast. Stonechats are generally darker birds than Whinchats, especially males which have black heads and nearly black upperparts, including the wings and tail and orange breast, with patches of white around the side of the neck and near the shoulder. Females are similar but more toned down, in brown. They are named for their calls, which are like stones being ‘chacked’ together.
Similar to the Stonechat, the Whinchat is a summer visitor, arriving in late April/early may and leaving in September. In all plumages they are paler than Stonechats and have a bold white or pale buff supercilium (eyebrow) and white in the base of the tail. Spring males are very distinctive and pretty, while autumn birds are more toned down. Essentially an upland breeder, found more widely on migration.
Another chat with a western distribution, the Redstart is a Robin-sized and Robin-shaped bird of woodlands and hedgerows. All Redstarts have lovely reddish tails which they quiver delightfully when perched. Male Redstarts are very strikingly coloured, though more toned down in fresh autumn plumage. Females are duller, but with warm tones, and an orangey wash to the underparts.
The urban equivalent of the countryside’s Redstart, the Black Redstart is a common bird on the continent, but a rare breeder in the UK, localised to certain city and industrial sites. Males are black and grey, with a bit of white in the wing, but younger males and females are sooty brown. All have the same red, quivering tail.
An extremely elusive bird, the Nightingale is almost the size of a small thrush and is pretty plain brown in plumage, but has a full reddish brown tail. The buffish undertail coverts are long. Rarely seen, but if it emerges to feed, it hops on the ground like a small thrush.
All photos from Alamy