(1) Photo of a print
The Stone Chat
I just wish that you could see this photo of a Stonechat in colour. If you would visualise a small bird 13cm (5ins) with a black head and bill, and white half collar, an orange-red breast, its back and wings and tail dark brown with a white belly and a greyish white rump, and black legs, then you will see what I see, a male Stonechat in its summer plumage
It is a gorgeous looking little bird that can be found all the year round, but the colours fade quite a bit during the winter months. They are very common in the countryside and can be seen perched on fences, hedges or as in this case on the top of a whin bush over Scoulag moor where there are at least three pairs which have fledglings. They can be approached quite easily without spooking them as they are more intent in protecting their area and will sit out in the open and chat away at you. Sometimes they will fly a short distance away then return to the previous spot so you will get a good view of them without causing them any hassle.
The fledglings, like all fledglings are fearless, completely ignoring all calls by their parents to behave and to take cover when danger approaches. You will be able to see them getting chastised at close quarters. Stonechat females are much less brighter but still have enough colours in them to be identified easily. Their voice is as their name suggests, a chatting sound which you will hear very quickly as you approach them. They are very annoyed with your presence and will keep complaining until you move on, so don't linger too long and hurt their feelings.
Similar species are the Whinchat. Not as bright as the stonechat and can be identified easily as the male has a bold white eyebrow and a white line below its eyes which gives the appearance of wearing a mask. The female also has a white eyebrow but none below its eye. The Whinchat is a summer visitor only, wintering in warmer climes. They are not as numerous as the Stonechat, but you should be able to see some if you keep your eyes peeled.
As their name suggests, look among the whins. Both species nest on the ground under a bush and have 5-7 pale blue lightly speckled eggs which are incubated only by the female while the males as usual do nothing. Obviously the females have to eat so I believe that the male catches and brings back food, and as incubation takes two weeks, it is a long time without food. The Stonechats can have up to three broods in a season and the Whinchat can have two. As the Stonechats are already here they have a head start on the Whinchats who have to travel thousands of miles and don't start breeding until a month later than the Stonechats. Altogether they are lovely little birds and it worth while seeking them.
First Published in the Buteman 19-07-2002.