The spring passage of Stonechat appears to be underway, according to my records 2 weeks earlier than last year when I found six birds at Cockersand on 4 March 2020. In the three days since 18 February, I have collected records of 32 Stonechats on the move, mostly Fylde coastal birds.
Many thanks to Dinesh Patel for the excellent header image of a female Stonechat at Cockersand on 17 February. A little gem, which prompts me to recall a mind-blowing event of 11 years ago....
The Stonechat is amongst one of the most complex of bird species, and although this amazing event has featured on B2B before, I'm once again airing the discovery and photographing of this bird by Brian Rafferty at Brockholes NR during the severe winter of 2010. This was the period around the time the Stonechats moved off Clougha Pike, hence deserting our recording areas stronghold after ten years plus of my monitoring this most enigmatic of chats.
The more I view these photographs - and dozens of times I've done so - the more I find it difficult to comprehend I'm looking at a Stonechat staring into an ice hole on a lake.
These photograph's are unique records of the Stonechat waging war against the elements thrown at it as an act of sheer survival. The prey item was Common Backswimmer Nononecta glauca.
In the UK Stonechats have been observed hovering over water and picking unidentified prey items off the surface, on one occasion actually dropping into the water, but I reckon this particular image is the most spectacular and unique of all. Not the plumage colour, but otherwise like watching an Eider duck taking a dive for it's next mussel....Breathtaking stuff!
Stonechats are opportunist feeders and will exploit a wide range of invertebrate species. OK we don't really have to go to Israel for examples of this opportunism, but two males were observed there in December 1993 in the Neger Desert to prey on and eat a Scorpion estimated at 17mm not including the tail. Another example, is of an African Stonechat in Zimbabwe, seen to dive into the water and secure a 3cm Green-headed Bream which it took back to its perch and swallowed whole.
On the subject of prey items, of interest, there is evidence of parent birds avoiding some insects with Ladybirds as a good example, a 3 hour observation revealed that none were brought to the young despite the availability of the prey in huge number.
Perhaps this isn't going to be the last time the Stonechat confounds us with it's complexities, but this is going to be a hard act to follow....So the next time you see a Stonechat, ponder this and be amazed.