23 April 2015

Karelini type shrike? – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 17 April with Phil Roberts and Mike Jennings I saw an interesting shrike that I put the others onto and managed to grab a single photo before it flew off and was lost to sight.  The shrike was an unusual Turkestan Shrike type but had a ‘grey’ mantle and crown colour, rather than the browner colour of classic Turkestan Shrikes. This bird fitted a 'karelini' type bird which I mentioned to the others. I was convinced of its nature but asked Alan Dean his opinion and he kindly replied saying the following “The underparts are catching the light but if they were truly as white as they appear in the photo (which they were in the field) then, in conjunction with the rather grey upperparts and no rufous in crown (thus crown matching mantle) then, yes, it's a karelini type. A classic karelini as depicted in Bogdanov's painting of the 'type' and has purer grey upperpartss - almost like a 'grey shrike' - but birds like yours are usually labelled as karelini (e.g. Tim Worfolk's painting in his Dutch Birding paper is like this). There are some thoughts that karelini may be a colour morph of Turkestan Shrike whilst others think it is a hybrid of Turkestan Shrike phoenicuroides and Red-backed Shrike collurio (Panov, Sandgrouse 31, 2009). Classic karelini birds normally have a uniformly pale grey crown and pure grey upper-parts resembelling a ‘grey shrike’ with the mantle of such individuals being like neither Red-backed Shrike nor typical Turkestan Shrike, nor is it intermediate between them. Karelini is a shrike with a ‘grey shrike’ hue (in quite fresh plumage) which in combination with clean white under-parts, with perhaps a pink/peach suffusion confined to upper and rear flanks, results is an appearance which is very distinctive, as much so as in any of the other forms. These classic type karelini add credence to the possibility they are colour morphs of Turkestan Shrike and not hybrids. Wear and bleaching of typical Daurian Shrikes also needs to be taken into account if faced with a grey looking karelini type shrike. The problem with this type is that many people appear to assign to karelini any Turkestan Shrike type which lacks a contrastingly rufous crown. Yet many of these individuals are in almost all other respects quite ‘typical’ phoenicuroides, with an evident brown component in the mantle colour any of which may be hybrids such as those identified by Panov? Evegeniy Panov regards karelini as a relatively stable hybrid form (The True Shrikes of the World, published by Pensoft) and includes two series of specimens to back up his argument. The first series has the first bird as a classic male Red-backed Shrike and the last a classic male Turkestan Shrike with the other eight various hybrid forms including karelini, showing karelini fits into this series of hybrid forms in his opinion. The second series contains 20 specimens which he claims illustrate a gradual transition between specimen 1, a classic male Turkestan Shrike and specimen 20, which he claims is ‘indistinguishable from the type specimen of karelini’. Although there is an increasing greyness to the upper-parts, the key feature appears to be a ‘decreasing rufous tinge to the head’. He also mentions that karelini occurs most frequently (though by no means exclusively) where the ranges of Turkestan Shrike and Red-backed Shrike approach or overlap. Whether karelini is a morph of Turkestan Shrike or a relatively stable hybrid form is certainly a controversial question currently.

NOTE: There have been some comments by very experienced birders suggesting this bird may in fact be an Isabelline Shrike and not a Karalini. Alan originally suggested this to me as the underparts are underexposed on the photo but I am as sure as I can be that they were white. It is certainly and interesting bird and if it is an Isabelline Shrike would be a late record for the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia where they have all passed through by the first week of April. I have a lot to learn about a lot of things including shrikes.