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Spotted Flycatcher Seasonality


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This slideshow uses the data from the Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) to show how Spotted Flycathers arrive and depart from southern Africa

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Spotted Flycatcher Seasonality

  1. 1. Animal Demography Unit Department of Biological Sciences University of Cape Town Caitlin Smith and Les Underhill June 2017Figure 1. Spotted Flycatcher, near Boschkop, Northern Cape. Photographer © AM Archer. Record 5332 in the BirdPix section of the ADU Virtual Museum. Full details at
  2. 2. Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata  Spotted Flycatchers breed in woodlands in Eurasia where they are the commonest flycatcher, with nearly 8 million breeding pairs. They breed all the way from Portugal to Russia, east of the Ural Mountains in Asia.  Twice a year, they migrate across the Sahara Desert.  They spend the non-breeding season in woodland throughout equatorial and southern Africa; in arid regions they occur along tree-lined rivers, and even in gardens with trees around farmhouses.  Spotted Flycatchers from throughout the breeding range have been recorded in South Africa.  This slideshow explores their seasonal occurrence.
  3. 3. Feeding and moulting  In both the north and the south, Spotted Flycatchers hunt insects from perches, which provide vantage points surrounded by open space. Any insect that flies into this space is at risk.  The flycatcher launches from its perch, and snaps its beak shut on the insect, catching them in flight.  Almost all small birds replace their flight feathers every year, systematically from the innermost to the outermost. The Spotted Flycatcher is the only species known to moult in the “wrong” direction, from the outside towards the inside. This moult takes place in Africa, during the non-breeding season.
  4. 4. SABAP2 distribution map for the Spotted Flycatcher, downloaded 6 June 2017. Pentads with four or more checklists are either shaded white, species not recorded, or in colour, with shades based on reporting rate. Reporting rates are highest in pentads shaded blue, and lowest in those shaded yellow. Pentads with less than four checklists are either shaded grey, species present, or have a white dot, not recorded.
  5. 5. Overall, Spotted Flycatchers are most abundant in the savanna biome, northwestern South Africa. Here the distribution ought to be almost continuous. There are scattered records along the coast and in central South Africa, many of which are at isolated patches of trees.
  6. 6. Migration in southern Africa  Spotted Flycatchers start arriving in South Africa during October, with majority of the migrants arriving late October to early November.  They depart during March and April.  The maps that follow show this in detail. Figure 2. Spotted Flycatcher, Mlawula Nature Reserve, Swaziland. Photographer © K Braun. Record 30471 in the BirdPix section of the ADU Virtual Museum. Full details at
  7. 7. October October sees the arrival of the first Spotted Flycatchers, particularly the northern part of southern Africa. These might be adults which lost their nests early in the breeding season, and started to migrate early.
  8. 8. November November is the month of bulk arrival in southern Africa. There are few records from the Western Cape.
  9. 9. December–February The distributions in the summer months, December, January and February are almost identical. We combined them into this single map. Spotted Flycatchers are mostly in northeastern South Africa. The scattered records elsewhere show that this species can pop up anywhere in South Africa where there is suitable habitat.
  10. 10. December–February Pentads shaded the background turquoise in this map do not have a full protocol checklist for any of the months December, January and February. Lots more fieldwork is needed in mid- summer to complete this distribution map, which ought to be almost continuous in the savanna biome.
  11. 11. March Departure back to the breeding grounds results in the distribution map for March showing only scattered presence.
  12. 12. April There are not many Spotted Flycatchers in the region in April. The bulk of the population is already on its northward migration.
  13. 13. May–September During the winter months the Spotted Flycatcher migrates to the Northern Hemisphere. It was recorded in few, scattered areas of South Africa, mainly in the northern regions.
  14. 14. Action points for atlasers 1. In the monthly maps, pentads are shown in colour if there are four checklists for the month. It is amazing how many pentads have at least four checklists per month. Well done, Team SABAP2. 2. Here is a new target, a new challenge. Try to get four full- protocol checklists per pentad per MONTH! 3. But we still need just one checklist per month in many pentads. 4. Every checklist helps towards every plot. This includes both those with Spotted Flycatchers recorded and those without Spotted Flycatchers recorded. 5. Summer checklists establish distribution, autumn and spring checklists describes patterns of departure and arrival, and winter checklists confirm absence.
  15. 15. Other things you can do … 1. You can read the text for Spotted Flycatcher which was in the first bird atlas (SABAP1) by going to 2. You can upload photos of Spotted Flycatchers to the BirdPix section of the ADU Virtual Museum from anywhere in Africa. Here are the instructions how to do it. 3. You can look at the African distribution map from BirdPix for the Spotted Flycatcher – lots of information still needed!