Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hell in Paradise

The recent split of Asian Paradise Flycatcher into three species caught me and a fair few others unawares and has sent us scurrying off to figure out if we have seen all three, which are:

Amur Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei (monotypic)

Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone affinis 
(includes burmae, indochinensis, affinis, nicobarica, madzoedi, australis, borneensis, procera, insularis, sumbaensis, and floris)

Indian Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi 
(includes leucogaster, paradisi, ceylonensis, and saturatior)

I was fortunate to be aware that most of the Paradise Flycatchers that I see passing through Bangkok are incei (= Amur), but had also seen a indonchinensis (= Blyth's) there in winter 2014/15, with another in Feb 2016.  It seems that saturatior Indian Paradise Flycatcher winters in southern Thailand (Round, 2008), although there is some debate about whether saturatior should be considered to be part of the Blyth's group, rather than Indian.   My interpretation is therefore that in Bangkok Amur is an autumn passage migrant, whilst Blyth's is the common Paradise Flycatcher in Thai forests year-round, with mid-winter wanderings further afield, eg.into Bangkok.  Saturatior (Indian?) needs to be looked for in peninsular Thailand in winter and on passage.

adult female Amur Paradise Flycatcher, Sept 2008
adult female Amur Paradise Flycatcher (same individual as above)

The bird in the two images above was the first Paradise Flycatcher I saw when I started working my patch, eight years ago.  At the time Phil Round commented: "The blackish throat contrasting with the grey breast and belly tells you that this is the migrant race, incei. Clearly bluish bill and orbital indicates an adult (greyish, bill flesh-based in 1Y), so presumably a female."

2nd Calendar Year Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher, Feb 2016

The Blyth's Paradise Flycatcher above is a 2nd calendar year (ie, 1st winter), aged by its flesh-coloured base to the bill. The grey throat, with black limited to the crown identifies it as indochinensis.

It is important to note at this point that the upperpart colouration is pretty similar in both these birds, but in adult males, Amur is distinctly brighter than Blyth's.

From memory, I have never seen a Paradise Flycatcher in Bangkok on spring passage, and if I were to do so I would examine it very carefully as it seems that this is by far the best time of year to find Japanese Paradise Flycatcher -  a scarce migrant in eastern Thailand, and pretty much a vagrant elsewhere in the country. Round (2008) notes that (at that time) Japanese Paradise Flycatcher was "only known from one record in the Bangkok area, and relatively few others nationwide" and called it "a very rare spring and autumn passage migrant", furthermore noting  that many claims of Japanese might be erroneous. Recent migration studies on Koh Man Nai have demonstrated that Japanese Paradise Flycatcher is actually a more regular spring bird than thought back in 2008, but I am only aware of one more Bangkok record (also in spring).

So, I was happy with having determined that both Amur and Blyth's Paradise Flycatchers occur on my patch, and that I'd need to look carefully at any spring Paradise Flycatcher to see if I could snag myself a Japanese scarcity.

Then on 19th September last year I photographed the bird below.  It was the second of two sightings I had of Paradise Flycatchers in the park that morning, but both were very brief encounters, with this bird offering itself for these images and then promptly disappearing.

At the time I figured: September  = Amur and thought no more about it.  However a few months later Dave Sargeant was reviewing his and other images of Paradise Flycatchers to try to work out which ones he has seen, and contacted me to ask if I thought this bird might be a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher because he considered it to be rather dull.  To my mind the ID criteria of 1st winters was that Japanese should have significantly duller upperparts than Amur or Blyths, and whiter under parts, but knowing that this was a tough bird to claim I was extremely cautious. In due course I posted the images on a couple of forums, where other well-respected birders, including Andy Pierce and Dave Bakewell were supportive of a Japanese diagnosis, though one experienced ringer was less convinced.  However, with ringers on Koh Man Nai having handled more JPFs this spring there is now a unanimous consensus that this is indeed a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, based upon the combination of non-rufous upper tail and what can clearly be seen to be uniform sooty blackish primary coverts (compare the primary coverts with the Amur at the top of this post).

Needless to say, I will be looking extremely carefully at all the (spring, autumn, mid-winter) Paradise Flycatchers I see in future!


Tom Willetts said...

Sorry to bother you, but I'm after some advice, we will be visiting Bangkok in August and have a free day (19th) and would like to do some birding. I have tried contacting a couple of sites that supposedly do day trips but have had no response. Can you recommend anyone or something that we could do ourselves. Many thanks. Tom Willetts

David Gandy said...

Sorry for the late reply, Tom.

The best people to contact would be Nick Upton or Peter Ericsson I think. Another option would be to go whale watching (which can be good for birding) with

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