Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vocal Mimicry in the Whinchat

In early June 2009 I made a sound recording of a Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) in Glen Brerachan in Perthshire, Scotland. It was early morning (0540h), misty and a light drizzle was threatening to become heavier. Within a ten minute period this male surprised me with its vocal mimicry as it sang from a silver birch slope overlooking a juncus rush marsh. I recognised at least 15 avian species plus the sound of a distant lamb (of which there were several grazing nearby) and quite probably a frog (also abundant in the area). Several other phrases may have been from unknown species picked up in the wintering quarters in Africa. The Corn Bunting/Corncrake combination suggests that this bird may have been reared, or spent a previous breeding season, in either the Inner Hebrides or even Eastern Europe (if Thrush Nightingale is indeed what is replicated below). However, Scottish-ringed birds have been recovered on migration in Morocco, Iberia and France (BTO/The Birds of Scotland, 2007) and first-year birds may learn from other species in these areas. The rain put paid to further recording and I did not manage to find time to revisit the area later in the week. I tried to locate this bird again in 2010 but did not find it.

The following sonograms are from a single male Whinchat mimicking at least 15 avian species (plus lamb & frog!) in a 10 minute period.


Mike Weedon said...

That is truly amazing, Fraser. I had no idea that Whinchats were the Marsh Warblers of the chat world. One query was with the Mistle Thrush plus Blackbird one: I was wondering whether the Blackbird bit sounds rather like Mistle Thrush song and how it compares sonogram-wise with that.

Mike W

Fraser Simpson said...

Hi Mike, I think you could be right. I labelled it two years ago as Blackbird but have recently thought otherwise. Structurally its like MT but it is higher pitched than both species. I'll have a more detailed look at the whole recording over the weekend.

Nicole MacP said...

Awesome! Really enjoy these recordings, and that is quite the vocal range!