Tuesday, 29 December 2020

 The Siberian Chiffchaff in Ireland

Cahore marsh bird, 29th December 2020

Cahore marsh, December 29th 2020

When birding local patch in winter I am always on the lookout for chiffchaff. And not to forget listening out for them. Each winter I tend to find several siberian ‘tristis’ chiffers. There are several good wintering sites throughout the marsh for chiffchaff, mainly the common ‘collybita’ chiffchaff which is a common breeding bird in Ireland each year. There is an area of reedbed and scrub at the south end of the marsh that is a favorite for wintering chiffers. This and the long channels which are often filled with tiny flies which the birds are feeding on. Another large private garden at the back marsh also seems to attract lots of goldcrest which often hang around with these wintering chiffers. 

What is a Siberian chiffchaff?

The siberian chiffchaff was once thought to be a very rare vagrant to Ireland, though this has now been proven not to be the case. These small, elegant warblers visit Ireland each year from, yes you guessed it Siberia mainly and are recorded throughout the country on an annual basis. It is not recognised as a full species in Ireland to date and is a subspecies of the common chiffchaff. This will likely change some day, and perhaps sooner than we think. This is a subject I hope to carry out a lot more work on over the next few years. The call is also a very important feature of the identification process of 'tristis' to eliminate the chances of the bird being a pale 'collybita' or abietinus' which I will discuss in another identification post at some stage.

Siberian chiffchaff Cahore marsh, Wexford 29th December 2020 - Cian Cardiff 

This image was taken in strong late

 afternoon sunshine, but still shows the

 key identification features of a ‘tristis’.

 Key features: supercilium standing

 out more than the white eye ring, brownish,

 tobacco coloured ear-coverts, cold white/grey 

wash to the side of the chest, lacking yellow hints

 around the side of the breast and flanks which 

is a feature on most common ‘collybita’ types, cold 

grey/green upperparts. Quite eye catching

 compared to a classic winter common ‘collybita’ chiffchaf

Front on view of the same bird as above.

 This image gives the classic cold looking 

appearance of the grey/greenish crown,

 yellowish supercilium, brown tobacco ear-coverts.

 Dark black legs are also a strong characteristic

 of ‘tristis’ with the other combined features. 

An underwing shot, these little warblers just never stop moving and prove difficult to photograph. 

There's just so much to discover.

#winterbirding #chiffchaffs #warblers #vikingoptical #BirdGuides


  1. Brilliant photos, Cian. It's very rare to see photos of Sibe Chiff on Irishbirding.com. Hope you put them up there. Maybe you already have.

  2. Hi Coilin, many thanks. Yes, I have added them onto Irish Birding. Cheers Cian.

  3. Hi Coilin, many thanks. Yes, I have added them onto Irish Birding. Cheers Cian.


Ireland's first Juvenile Baltic gull?

  Ireland’s first juvenile Baltic Gull? Bray Harbour, September 2nd 2020 While on my lunch break from doing a garden tidy up for a client in...