Thursday, 26 December 2013

Chiffchaff cabaret

For the last fortnight we have been entertained by a quartet of athletic chiffchaffs (phylloscopus collybita, pouillot véloce). The combination of soggy ground and (relatively) warm days has resulted in swarms of flies and other small insects rising from the grassland. Numbers of these find their way onto the wall of our kitchen, lounge and bedrooms, which faces northwest. The chiffchaffs spend the day target-spotting from perches in the cherry tree and the smaller trees that line the bank of the bief.

I've got my eye on you

They snatch insects out of the air, or rootle in the window boxes, or hop along the window sills, or hover at the top of the window, or even smash-and-grab flies from the glass with a loud thump. They show no fear of us. Several times one or other of us has come face to face with a small rotund olive-and-green bird, about a foot away, separated only by the double glazing. They are fast movers, but Tim managed to get some nice pictures.

who's got short primary projections then

Chiffchaffs are resident in this part of France, which probably means that "our" summer singing birds are now in Spain or North Africa, and "our" winter gang of athletes spent the summer in the forests of Scandinavia. They may be a group of siblings from this year's brood. They are certainly extremely fit and successful hunters.

The short tips to the primary wing feathers and dark legs distinguish a chiffchaff from its close relative, the willow warbler (phylloscopus trochilus, pouillot fitis), but the real distinction is its song. The chiffchaff goes "chiff-chaff chiff-chiff-chaff" and the willow warbler gives a monotonous descending "twee twee tweedle". The willow warbler is strictly a summer visitor to western Europe, and I've never heard one in the Aigronne valley. Ornithologist Tim Dixon tells of a bird ringing exercise near York in which a small olive-and-green warbler was definitely identified in the hand as a willow warbler. When released, it flew away singing "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff"...

2 comments:

GaynorB said...

Great colours and I love the identification tale at the end. Just when you think you know something....

Jim and Pauline said...

Usual quality pics...missed you two at xmas market