Challenging Chiffchaffs

The Dutch are more progressive when it comes to taxonomy – with an emphasis on splitting – then other Europeans. For instance we recognize about 6 species of ‘Yellow’ Wagtails (Gele kwikstaarten)and 3 species of Brent Geese (Rotganzen). A recent addition to the Dutch list is the ‘tristis’ (sub)species of Common Chiffchaff (Tjiftjaf), Siberian Chiffchaffs (Siberische tjiftjaf). This Siberian population of the Collybita superspecies has a call and song and some key features in its plumage that differentiate it from our nominate form of Chiffchaff.


Last Saturday Camilla and I decided to have a go at the two Siberian Chiffchaffs near Weesp, Noord-Holland. First however we tried one that was found that very morning at a cemetery just west of Amsterdam.

We looked for half an hour, but as we could only find a Common Chiffchaff (Tjiftjaf) we decided to continue to Weesp.


Upon arrival we immediately found a flock of about 6 Chiffchaffs that gave excellent close-up views at eyelevel. 2 Birds stood out from the rest because of the clean white underparts – and more importantly –  a clean white vent and grayish upperparts contrasting with olive-tinted primaries and tail. Both these birds showed a hint of a pale wingbar and had black legs and feet and a strikingly dark bill contrasting with a pale-grey face. To complete the identification both birds gave their strikingly ‘spring-chicken’ like calls.



Siberian Chiffchaff, note the clean white underparts and contrasting black legs and bill, by Camilla Dreef



And a Common Chiffchaff for Comparison… Note the lighter legs and yellowish tone to its plumage,

by Camilla Dreef



Siberian Chiffchaff, note the clean white vent and contrasting black legs, by Camilla Dreef



And a Common Chiffchaff for comparison, note the yellowish tone to the vent contrasting with the whitish belly,

by Camilla Dreef


After last week’s gull-fest this was Camilla’s second introduction to birding 2.0 and again she killed it 🙂 so we ended the day’s birding with a relaxing stroll through the Diemer Vijhoek where we found all 3 species of merganser  – Common Merganser (Grote zaagbek), Red-breasted Merganser (Middelste zaagbek) and Smew (Nonnetje) – foraging out on the IJ-river!


Happy Birding!

Arjan Dwarshuis
Arjan Dwarshuis