Sykes’s Warbler wintering in Sri Lanka?

SteppenspötterDuring a stay at the western coast of Sri Lanka, shot images of an alleged Acrocephalus-Warbler in Briefs Garden, an ornamental garden near the west coast. Immediately I was thinking of a Blyth’s Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum) but could not really confirm ID not at least because the habitat – a garden hedge – was quite strange for the species. I asked for ID-advice from the experts in Some agreed with BRW (as Blyth’s Reed-Warbler is abbreviated) others voted for a Sykes’s Warbler (Iduna rama) due to the proportions, the long, unrounded tail, the general hue of the plumage, the colour of the legs. Sykes’s Warbler is sometimes regarded as a subspecies of the Booted Warbler (Iduna or Hippolais caligata rama) is a plain brown warbler with pale legs. The bird breeds in Central Asia and winters primarily in India but also as far south as Sri Lanka. The close relative of Booted Warbler prefers trees with sparse canopy in open, dry habitat. Both time when observed in dense Mangrove-like bushes in Sri Lanka, the first thinking of this brown bird with a pointed forehead was of an Acrocephalus – warbler.

And in deed, this small Hippolais – Warbler with its quite long, thin, pointed bill, flat forehead and crown, and rather long tail enhanced by short primary projection often resembles an Acrocephalus – Warbler.

But sometime, it may recall a drab Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) or other Phylloscopus warbler, too. The Sykes’s Warbler can be told from Blyth’s Reed-Warbler by its Leaf-warbler-like behavior and longer tail, and from Booted Warbler by its less compact appearance; flatter stance; longer pale bill (mostly without a dark tip); longer, more loosely attached tail; more pointed forehead; harder call. The call is a dry, hard, fast, continuous arrhythmic “thk…thk, thk, thk.” more like a hard call from a Sylvia – Warbler. Other ornithologists describe it as a similar call with the Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica).

It is said to have a preference for canopy tops but it occurs also in mangroves as well, at least when tamarisks and similar tall bushes or trees at edge of mangroves are present. This would have fit with the circumstances of observation in January 2020 in Sri Lankas south. In the end the community in majority agreed again for a Blyth’s Reed-Warbler. The community admitted, that this was a more difficult bird than it first appeared to be. The plumage looked rather pale brown and the bill long with a pale, ummarked lower mandible, but they thought this could be misleading. You could not see the wing structure in the images – the flight feathers look uncharacteristically “messy” for Blyth’s Reed-Warbler, but that could just be wing moult – and the tail looks alternately short and spiky or quite long and straight-edged. The undertail-coverts don’t look that full, but it’s hard to be sure. The iris is reddish-brown, however – on Iduna, the eye looks all-dark unless you get a really close view in very good light. Overall it would said, that there is not much to rule out Blyth’s Reed-Warbler. Furthermore, it would have expected a Sykes’s Warbler to turn up in the north, e.g. the Jaffna Peninsula, or perhaps on the islands and not so far down in Sri Lanka.

The last time, encountered this species, this was on the northern shore of the Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan, where the image of the blog is from.

In the western Palearctic, Sykes’s Warbler is a rare vagrant (much more than a Blyth’s Reed-Warbler) with only a few records for the UK and only 1 record (dated back to late September 2003) from the Kurpark on Heligoland, this only off-shore island of Germany.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the species of the Palearctic, Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds not only in the western Palearctic. Trips around the home range or to remote places to capture images were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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