Wednesday 9 March 2022

Azerbaijan regional bird subspecies

One of the most interesting aspects of the birding on our recent Azerbaijan trip (Ebird trip report HERE) was some of the local subspecies (and future potential 'splits'). Here's a selection of some of the more distinctive subspecies we saw. Taxonomy follows IOC 11.2 with English name suggestion either from Ebird, made up by me or suggestions by Joe Hobbs (pers comms). 

'Caucasian Dunnock' Prunella modularis obscura. (Photo by Vincent Legrand). Recent research suggests this is a good split, proposing that Dunnock is split into three species; Common, Iberian and Caucasian Dunnock. See Birdguides article HERE and full article HERE. Compared to other 'Dunnocks', Caucasian is browner around the head and the most distinct feature is the marbled underparts with pale tips to the dark grey underparts. Caucasian Dunnock more closely resembles Japanese Accentor (HERE) lacking the strongly contrasting grey of Common Dunnock. 

Male Pallid Merlins, Falco columbarius pallidus (Two photos above, bird one and photo below, bird two, photos by Vincent Legrand). The bird above is particularly pale with finely marked underparts with bird two presumably somewhere further along the cline towards the nominate but still paler and more finely marked underparts. Pallid Merlin is the palest and largest amongst Merlin subspecies. 

'Dusky Coal Tit', Periparus ater phaeonotus. This race is confined to SE Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan and differs from 'Caucasian Coal Tit' P.a. michalowskii (and other WP subspecies) in being darker brown on upperparts with no appreciable grey or bluish tinge. Also tend to be shorter tailed and more stouter billed.

'Menetries Buzzard', Buteo buteo menetriesi (two images above and one flight image below). Occurs from Eastern Turkey through Caucasus to Iran. This particular individual looked like a dark morph 'Steppe Buzzard' with uniform dark underparts but lacked the barred tail and structurally was not so compact. Ebird classify this race as a race pair Steppe Buzzard vulpinus/menestriesi. 

'Caucasian Lesser Spotted Woodpecker', Dryobates minor colchicus (Photo by Vincent Legrand). Appears buff on the underparts. 
Mountain Long-tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus alpinus (Photo by Vincent Legrand). Occurs from SE Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan. Greater Long-tailed Tit, A.c.major occurs in the rest of Caucasus to NE Turkey and also NW Iran. The black isolated bib of these regional 'Lotties' makes them highly distinctive. A faint breast band is also often present. The brown-tinged pale areas are also distinctive in this subspecies. Also notably short-tailed compared to other Long-tailed Tits. 
'Lenkoran Great Spotted Woodpecker', Dendrocopos major poelzami (Photo by Vincent Legrand). More buff on underparts than nominate and the call was weaker/thinner. Another subspecies confined to SE Azerbaijan, N Iran and SW Turkmenistan. This region is the only area of sub-tropical forest in the Western Palearctic and has a distinctive biodiversity with endemic trees, endemic bird subspecies and of course is also the range of the endemic Caspian Tit. Caspian Tit from this trip is featured on this blog HERE  
'Russian Great Grey Shrike', Lanius excubitor homeyeri (Photo Vincent Legrand). The white above the bill and the more extensive white in the wing distinguishes this race from nominate. 
'Caspian Stonechat', Soxicola maurus variegatus/hemprechii (Photo by Vincent Legrand). The status of variegatus is unclear in Azerbaijan. This bird showed extensive white at the tail base so is presumably hemprechii.
Barabensis-type Gull, Larus (fuscus) barabensis-type (above and below, photo by Vincent Legrand). With only one mirror on p10, a large dark subterminal band to p10, limited white tongues on the outer primaries and the dark upperparts and more rounded head, this bird was clearly not a Caspian Gull. Armenian Gull would be the prime suspect for this region but the tongue on p10 is extensive and the black on the outer web of the outer three primaries doesn't quite reach the primary coverts. The wing-tip pattern is a better fit for Steppe Gull (L(f) barabensis) but due to the complexity of gull identification in this part of the world, Barbensis-type is a safer classification. Thanks to Peter Adriaens for comments.  

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