22 Apr 2014

22 April 14 - Photospot2: Desert Warblers

One of my first long distant twitches in the UK was for a Desert Warbler at Meols. I remember it was a great bird to see. I decided to blow part of my university grant on an overnight train there from Southampton, but hitching back South to save some money for what my student grant was meant to be used for. In those days, it was just a single species. However, about 10 years or so ago, the 2 subspecies were split into separate species: Asian Desert Warbler & African Desert Warbler. The former is still a very rare bird with only a dozen accepted records up to 2012 in the UK. This is a regular migrant as many leave their harsh, high altitude, desert habitats to winter in India & NE Africa and it's not too surprising that they occasionally end up in Western Europe as vagrants. The latter is at best a local migrant (perhaps moving in response to rain or the lack of it) in the North West African deserts & has never occurred in the UK. I've been luck to see & photograph both species this year. Therefore, it's an ideal opportunity to recycle some photos into another post, as well as posting some additional unseen photographs. But it is also an opportunity to look in more detail at two closely related species.
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14)
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14)
Asian Desert Warbler: Desert Coursers, Gujarat (17 Jan 14)
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14)
Most of the birds in the deserts in NW India are Winter visitors, but they were feeding in small parties & were moving around with a Desert Wheatear in each case. This is much the same behaviour as my local Dartford Warblers following their Stonechat friends on the local heathlands. I'm not sure what the Desert Wheatears & Stonechats get out of the relationship, but the Warblers get a good lookout which frequently perches up high. 
Desert Wheatear: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14). This was the lookout companion for the Asian Desert Wheatears
Asian Desert Warbler: Desert Coursers, Gujarat (17 Jan 14). They were feeding in small parties & were quite mobile in this arid habitat
Asian Desert Warbler: CEDO, Gujarat (20 Jan 14). There were feeding on the ground for a lot of the time & frequently flitted, close to the ground, between bushes
The African Desert Warblers were a lovely pale golden brown colouration, whereas the Asian Desert Warblers were a colder grey brown. African Desert Warblers have plain tertials & central tail feathers, in comparison to the dark centres to the tertials & central tail feathers on the Asian Desert Warblers. Of the two, the African Desert Warblers were easily the better looking bird, but both are great species to see. Their feeding habits were very similar, both feeding on or close to the ground & moving quietly between clumps of vegetation. I didn't hear calls from either species whilst I was watching them.
African Desert Warbler: Aoussard Road, Western Sahara (8 Feb 14)
African Desert Warbler: Aoussard Road, Western Sahara (8 Feb 14)
African Desert Warbler: Aoussard Road, Western Sahara (8 Feb 14). Like the Asian Desert Warblers, they are very well camouflaged to march their habitat
I was surprised to find that the more resident African Desert Warblers were feeding unobtrusively & didn't appear to have any Desert Wheatears around them. Perhaps there are more subtle habitat differences which separated these two species (where I saw them), as both appear to be resident in the Western Sahara.

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