The Tyrrhenian Flycatcher

Birders, and most people in general, often think that to find and enjoy a nice bird species or an interesting animal, we need to move far from our cities, or even far from our home countries.

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Andrea Corso watching the Tyrrhenian Spotted Flycatcher with hisLeica Ultravid HD Plus 10×42 (Photo: J.J.Jansen)

But big cities can reveal big surprises. In July I cycled along the Tevere riverbanks around Rome, the crowded, densely populated, polluted capital of Italy – of course with my Leica 10×42 HD Plus bino in the bag. Close to the historic and beautiful “Ponte Milvio” there is a little woodland and a varied patch of vegetation (trees, reedbeds, bushes, banks). I stopped to watch Short-toed Treecrepers, Firecrests, Robins, Black Birds, Common Starlings, Collared Doves, Ring-necked Parakeets, Monk Parakeets, Italian Sparrows and many other breeding birds.

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A Tyrrhenian Spotted Flycatcher from Sardinia. Note the warmer brown and general darker colour of this species compared to striata, also shorter wing, less defined dark streaking on forehead (photo by Michele Viganò)

Suddenly I heard a very high-pitched, soft call, easily identifiable as a “Spotted Flycatcher”, but when I spotted the Spotted (pun intended) I suddenly realised that it was not a widespread and well-distributed Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata striata), but the Tyrrhenian Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa tyrrhenica tyrrhenica). This bird is one of the least known designations in Europe, largely forgotten for more than hundred years after its description by Schiebel in 1910.

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The Tevere River with the Cupola San Pietro and the river banks.

Since then, very few birders and ornithologists gave any attention to this distinctive and interesting bird, at the time considered a subspecies of striata. Only recently, two different research teams (one a French team, the other being Michele Viganò and myself), started to study it again and more in depth.

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Wing formula of Spotted Flycatcher – above and Tyrrhenian Spotted Flycatcher – below. Note the shorter second primary feather (P2) on the latter compared to the former (drawings by Lorenzo Starnini)

We simultaneously came to the conclusion that it is in fact, both morphologically and genetically distinct enough to be considered a separate species in its own right (Viganò & Corso, 2015; Pons, et al. 2015). At first glance, they both look very similar. The Tyrrhenian Flycatcher, however, is generally darker, with the dark streaking on its head and breast/flanks less defined, duller and rustier (Fig.2 and 3).

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A juvenile Tyrrhenian Spotted Flycatcher from Sardinia (Michele Viganò)

The Spotted Flycatcher striata is a greyer bird, paler, with visibly more striking and marked dark streaking over its paler head and over its cleaner, whiter breast and belly.  In the hand, during ringing, the wing formulae readily identify the species, as the length of the P2 (the second primary) is shorter in Tyrrhenian than in Spotted (Fig.1). A detailed identification paper will follow in due course for the birding magazine Dutch Birding.

References
– Viganò M. & Corso A. 2015. Morphological differences between two subspecies of Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata (Pallas, 1764) (Passeriformes Muscicapidae). Proceedings of the 2nd International Congress “Speciation and Taxonomy”, May 16th-18th 2014, Cefalù-Castelbuono (Italy). Biodiversity Journal 6: 271-284
http://www.biodiversityjournal.com/pdf/6(1)_271-284.pdf
– Viganò, M., Corso, A. & Starnini, L. in prep. Field identification of the spotted flycatchers in Europe. Dutch Birding
Pons, J.-M., Thibault, J.-C., Aymí, R., Grussu, M., Muntaner, J., Olioso, G., Sunyer, J. R., Touihri, M. & Fuchs, J. (2015). The role of western Mediterranean islands in the evolutionary diversification of the Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata), a long-distance migratory passerine species. Journal of Avian Biology

 

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