Jackson Bentley: What is it, Major Lawrence that attracts you personally to the desert?T.E. Lawrence: It’s clean. – Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
One of my main targets in Oman during our trip in November 2017 was to see many Isabelline/Turkestan Shrikes and to be able to study their plumage. With around 10 birds seen, I got the feeling this is far from being an easy subject. Only 2 were straightforward, whereas a handful others could probably identified even in a vagrancy context with high quality material and proper examination. A significant proportion, though, should probably be left unidentified. I thought it could be interesting for others to share my notes on some of the birds we saw.
Turkestan Shrike Lanius phoenicuroides. Khawr Dhurf, Oman, November 2017. 1stW. Classic individual, with black mask subtly extending into the lore, well-defined whitish supercilium, barred rufous crown and saturated brown back contrasting with a reddish tail. Scaly appearence below, probably in the overlap with isabellinus but somewhat purer white background colour. Just an almost imperceptible hint of white in the base of the primaries. Tertials and greater coverts strikingly boldly patterned, reminiscent of Red-backed Shrike. In this case, in my opinion it’s this latter species what can cause more problems in Europe. Worth-noting the plain back and darkish lore in that respect. No wing moult visible.
Turkestan Shrike Lanius phoenicuroides. Central Oman, November 2017. 1stW. Probably better left unidentified, although some features strongly points towards phoenicuroides: well-marked below and barred reddish crown contrasting with cold-toned back. However, just a hint of whitish supercilium and no so well-defined dark mask. This bird is worner than the one in the first photos, so the pattern in juvenile GCs is hard to judge. However, I tentatively think they were originally plainer than in the first bird, approaching Daurian. Wing moult restricted to median and lesser coverts.
Turkestan/Daurian Shrike Lanius phoenicuroides/isabellinus. Central Oman, November 2017. 1stW. Quite similar to the bird above, althought underparts less well-marked and browner facial mask. However, crown still marked and rufous, more extensive white in the supercilium and strong contrast between cold brown upperparts and purer white underparts. No wing moult visible.
Turkestan Shrike Lanius phoenicuroides. Central Oman, November 2017. 1stW. Another tricky individual, but the well-defined bars in the rufous crown (very striking in the field and visible in the top photo) and the scaly appearance of the underparts over a purer white background, together with a strong contrast between upperparts and underparts points towards Turkestan. Wing moult restricted to lesser and median coverts.
Daurian Shrike Lanius isabellinus. Shanawt Farms, Oman, November 2017. 1stW. Upperparts and underparts almost concolorous despite the backlit. Not so well-defined mask and almost plain sandy underparts, with just a subtle scaly on the breast. The supercilium is sandy too and there are no traces of rufous on the crown. Wing moult extensive to almost all the greater coverts, strongly contrasting with worn juvenile primary coverts. Photos by Marc Illa.