The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 667/Recent Additions to the British Avifauna

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Recent Additions to the British Avifauna (1897)
by Henry Eeles Dresser
4029339Recent Additions to the British Avifauna1897Henry Eeles Dresser


By H.E. Dresser, F.L.S., F.Z.S., &c.

Quite recently a specimen of Pallas's Willow Warbler, Phylloscopus proregulus (Pall.), was forwarded to me for examination by Mr. Thomas Southwell, of Norwich, and I exhibited it on his behalf at the meeting of the Zoological Society held on Tuesday, Dec. 1st. This bird, which was obtained at Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, on Oct. 31st last, affords another instance of the fact that most of the recent additions to our British avifauna are visitants from the East, chiefly from Northern Asia. It is only quite recently that another Asiatic species occurred for the first time on record in our island, viz. the Greenish Willow Warbler, P. viridanus, Blyth, a specimen of which was obtained at North Cotes, Lincolnshire, on Sept. 5th last; and only a short time ago a specimen of the small race of our Chiffchaff, which I have only hitherto seen from Eastern or Southeastern Europe, and which was obtained at Easington by Mr. Witherby, was sent to me for determination. This form, which is nothing but a diminutive race of our Chiffchaff, was described by Homeyer (Erinn. a.d. Samml. Deutschl. Ornith. 1870, p. 48) as distinct, under the name of Phylloscopus brehmi, but I do not consider it worthy of specific rank.

The Yellow-browed Warbler, P. superciliosus (L.F. Gmel.), is another Asiatic Warbler which has occurred here on several occasions, and it is worthy of note that Asiatic species which occur on Heligoland generally find their way here sooner or later. Thus the Yellow-browed Warbler has occurred frequently on that island, the Greenish Willow Warbler three times, and Pallas's Willow Warbler once or twice; and we may therefore look for the Siberian Chiffchaff, P. tristis, Blyth, Eversmann's Warbler, P. borealis, Blasius, the Bright-green Willow Warbler, P. nitidus, Blyth, here, as all these Warblers have been obtained on Heligoland. It is very possible that one or more have visited our island and have been overlooked, as at the first glance they may be passed over as belonging to one of the common species, for it must not be forgotten that the migrants do not have to undergo so close a scrutiny here as is the case on Heligoland, where every man is a birdcatcher, and will at once recognize a new or unrecorded species to that island.

It is somewhat strange that the Siberian Meadow Bunting, Emberiza cioides, which is one of the recent additions to our British avifauna, has not yet been recorded from Heligoland. On the other hand, the following species of Asiatic Buntings have occurred on Heligoland, but have not yet been noticed in Great Britain, viz. the Yellow-breasted Bunting, E. aureola, Pall.; the Pine Bunting, E. leucocephala, Gmel.; Cretzschmar's Bunting, E. cæsia, Cretz., any of which may be looked for here; and Strickland's Bunting, E. cinerea, Strickl., is stated to have been seen, but not obtained on Heligoland.

There are many instances of the gradual extension westward of Asiatic birds, as, for instance, that of the Shore Lark, Otocorys alpestris (Lin.), which a century ago was but an occasional and rare visitant to Europe proper, and was not known to breed in Scandinavia until about 1835; whereas now it breeds commonly in Lapland, and is frequently met with in considerable numbers during the seasons of migration as far west as the British Islands; and, according to Mr. Gätke, hundreds of thousands pass Heligoland each autumn. Again, we have the case of the Scarlet Grosbeak, Carpodacus erythrinus (Pall.), which in 1856, when, as a lad, I first visited Finland, was but a rare species; and I well recollect my delight in finding that it had nested in the Botanical Gardens at Helsingfors. Now, however, it is quite a common species in some parts of Finland, and nests regularly near Helsingfors.

To return, however, to Pallas's Willow Warbler. This interesting little bird was first described in 1811 by Pallas (Zoogr. Ross. As. i. p. 199), but Gould figured and redescribed it in 1837 (B. of Europe, ii. pl. 149), and gave it the name of Dalmatian Regulus, Regulus modestus. Subsequent writers have to a large extent confused the Yellow-browed Warbler and Pallas's Willow Warbler, and the first specimen of the Yellow-browed Warbler obtained in Great Britain was recorded under the name of Regulus modestus, Gould.

Pallas's Willow Warbler has recently been found almost every year during migration on the western slopes of the Ural range, but has only once been obtained on Heligoland, and once seen, though not secured; thus it is still an extremely rare straggler in Europe west of the Ural. The British-killed specimen was shot by a son-in-law of Mr. H.N. Pashley, who has obtained so many rarities at Cley-next-the Sea, where the last one procured was the Aquatic Warbler. Mr. Gätke holds that Pallas's Willow Warbler may be separated into two subspecies, the Siberian form, the true P. proregulus of Pallas, being greener and brighter in tinge of colour on the upper parts, the under parts being pure white with a lemon tinge, the second quill being equal to the eighth; whereas in the Himalayan or southern form, which he proposes ('Ibis,' 1889, p. 578) to call Phylloscopus newtoni, the second quill is equal to the tenth, the plumage is dull brownish yellow in tone of colour, and the under parts are not so white. I cannot, however, endorse this view, as in a series I have found both the tone of colour and the relative length of the quills very variable; but I may remark that, were it possible to recognize these two subspecies, the British-killed specimen must be referred, as might be expected, to the Siberian and not to the Himalayan form.

With regard to Phylloscopus viridanus, this Warbler has been obtained on Heligoland on three occasions. It inhabits Central Asia, but how far north it ranges I have not been able to ascertain. It is common in the Himalayas, and winters in India as far south as Ceylon. That it breeds in Europe there can be no doubt, as I received a young bird barely able to fly from Tjubuk, in the Southern Ural. This specimen I referred to Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus, Swinh., when in 1878 I wrote the article in the 'Birds of Europe,' but subsequently discovered and corrected my error.

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