World Experts Weigh In On Tankatara Warbler
Following on the heels of a Little Ringed Plover (Southern Africa’s second record), and a Citrine Wagtail. Tankatara Salt Pans in the Eastern Cape saw birders quickly making plans to return, just days after having returned from their previous twitches. This scramble back to Tankatara was prompted by the discovery of an unknown Warbler, discovered mere meters from where the Little Ringed Plover was seen.
Initial thoughts were that the bird may have been an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, with a call put out by Trevor Hardaker on social media, asking for birders who are more familiar with the potential species to provide their thoughts on what the bird could be. It wasn’t long before Eastern Olivaceous took a back seat to the prospect of Upcher’s being the most likely candidate. Neither EOW nor Upcher’s Warbler have been recorded in the sub-region, and would be a massive bird for Southern Africa.
The bird was subsequently then seen, photographed, videoed and even audio recorded by a number of people over a 4 day period (including myself). These images and clips were then provided to social media, in the hopes that they may assist in the identification. As photographs and videos flooded Facebook, more and more of the northern birders found themselves in the Upcher’s camp. An audio recording proved useful in hearing a raspy, deeper call than would be expected with Eastern Olivaceous. Furthermore, video footage showing the tail movement, seemed to further support the now growing consensus on Upcher’s.
A massive spanner was thrown into the works, however, when one of the authority figures on Warblers Hadoram Shirihai put forward a list of 10 reasons why he thought the bird was not an Upcher’s nor EOW. Instead, he put forward the notion that the Tankatara bird was an Olive-Tree Warbler.
H. Shirihai is considered an expert on the topic, and in fact, wrote or contributed to much of the literature that was being read by local birders upon the first discovery of the bird.
Despite a well-earned respect for Shirihai, by many birders across the world, other individuals who also boast extensive knowledge of Hippolais, have disagreed with Hadoram’s analysis, and maintain that the bird is more than likely an Upcher’s Warbler.
Some local birders with extensive field experience in Olive-Tree Warbler have also put forward their opinions, most suggesting that Olive-Tree Warbler is not an accurate ID. While few of the local guides have any real experience with Upcher’s, the Olive-Tree Warbler occurs readily in the northern parts of Southern Africa, and is a familiar bird for many of these guides.
There was also the topic of trapping brought up, as it would be the most likely way to get a definitive ID on the bird, however, morals and ethics aside; the bird itself has not been seen since Saturday. This means that should the bird not be relocated, we may have to rely on the material that was acquired by those who had seen the bird during its short visit. Thankfully, however, there seems to be more documentation acquired, than one typically sees from many twitchers. We have a collection of thousands of images, several videos and high quality audio recordings as well.
Upcher’s vs Olive-Tree
It is certainly worth following the discussions taking place on Facebook, as the debate continues on this bird. As it stands, there is a large number of individuals in the Upcher’s camp, while Hadoram seems to be on the other side of the fence. However, it is always worth paying attention to the thoughts of anyone with the amount of experience in these birds that Hadoram has.
From my personal time with the bird, if I were to weight in on a rookie opinion, it would be that the size didn’t seem right for what is expressed in literature for the Olive-Tree Warbler. The Tankatara Warbler by no means felt like an excessively bulky bird… More so than some other tree warblers, but certainly not by what I’d expect for Olive-Tree Warbler. This sentiment seems to be shared by a lot of locals with OTW experience. The Tankatara bird simply didn’t fit the giss.
As it stands, at the time of publication; Upcher’s Warbler carries a lot of support from both local and international birders, many of whom are considered experts. While in the same breath, I think many are waiting for Hadoram Shirihai to address the issues such as size difference and certain structural differences that are brought up with this bird.
An album has been put together, collecting various images of the individual from different contributors who managed to connect with it: https://www.facebook.com/michaelisbirding/media_set?set=a.854934161321677.100004153021340&type=3