That November evening I spotted this Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica) in my garden among dry branches of a fallen tree hunting for insects. I used a late evening light to capture this bird at close quarters using my Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L II IS USM and Canon EF 2X III Extender. The Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica) is a small passerine bird in the flycatcher family Muscicapidae. This is an insectivorous species which breeds in Japan, eastern Siberia and the Himalayas. It is migratory and winters in tropical southern Asia from southern India and Sri Lanka east to Indonesia.
This species is 13 cm long, including the tail. The dark bill is relatively large and broad-based. This is a small passerine with an upright stance. The flycatcher is clearly larger than the warbler, perhaps by one-third. It has the upright stance when perched. The bill is neither noticeably long nor short, appearing proportionate for a passerine of this size. It was relatively narrow in the vertical plane but, as is typical of this group, is broad at its base in the horizontal plane. Small dark rictal bristles were noted in the field. At rest, the wings reached to beyond the base of the tail.
On size, structure and general plumage, there are three flycatchers which are similar looking. Asian Brown Muscicapa dauurica, grey-streaked Muscicapa griseisticta (which is not present in Indian Subcontinent) or dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica. Although typical individuals of each species are relatively straightforward to identify, individual variation means that dark and well-marked Asian Brown Flycatchers can appear superficially similar to less well-marked dark-sided and grey-streaked Flycatchers. Asian Brown Flycatchers have a proportionally longer bill than either the dark-sided or grey-streaked Flycatcher (Svensson 1992). Photographs in Alström & hirschfeld (1991) demonstrate that the exposed bill length is significantly less than the distance between the base of the exposed bill and the eye for both the dark-sided and grey-streaked Flycatcher, whereas for the Asian Brown Flycatcher it is similar. Estimates taken from these images are ~110% for Asian Brown Flycatcher, ~60% for dark-sided Flycatcher and ~65% for grey-streaked Flycatcher. Comparison of photographs of these three species in Kanouchi et al. (1998), Iozawa et al. (2000) and HongKong Bird Watching Society (2004) attest to this distinction.
Each of these three species of flycatcher can have a pale base to the lower mandible, but only in the Asian Brown Flycatcher is this extensive and pale. Only in this species does the pale base of the lower mandible reach anteriorly beyond a point level with the nares (Alström & hirschfeld 1991; Svensson 1992). The lores in the Asian Brown Flycatcher are conspicuously pale and unmarked, whereas both dark-sided and grey-streaked Flycatchers display less prominent lores that are often washed with brown and are frequently dark along the lower edge, such that a small dark wedge is present between each eye and the bill (Alström & hirschfeld 1991). Asian Brown Flycatchers have a distinctly shorter primary projection than either dark-sided or grey-streaked Flycatchers. In the Asian Brown Flycatcher the primary projection is less than the tertial projection, whereas in the other two species, the tertial projection is equal to or greater than the primary projection. Alström & hirschfeld (1991) estimated that in the Asian Brown Flycatcher the primary projection was usually 80–90% of exposed tertials, whereas the other two species have a primary projection equal to or distinctly greater than that of the tertial projection, typically ~15–20% longer. According to Alström & hirschfeld (1991), Asian Brown and grey-streaked Flycatchers have unmarked, white undertail-coverts whereas dark-sided Flycatchers have dark centres to the undertail-coverts. However, Bradshaw et al. (1991) stated that the undertail-coverts of grey-streaked and Asian Brown Flycatchers are ‘white’ whereas those of dark-sided Flycatchers are ‘white, occasionally with dark crescents’. Thus it would seem that although the presence of dark streaks on the undertail-coverts is diagnostic of the dark-sided Flycatcher, their absence has no significance.
The grey-streaked Flycatcher has longer wings than dark-sided or Asian Brown Flycatchers (HongKong Bird Watching Society 2007). According to Bradshaw et al. (1991: p. 534), the wing of the grey-streaked Flycatcher extends almost to the tip of the tail and in the dark-sided Flycatcher extends ‘at least three-quarters of the way along the tail, and sometimes reaches the tip—whereas on Brown the wing does not extend more than halfway along the tail’. Photographs in Bradshaw et al. (1991) and elsewhere show that in the grey-streaked Flycatcher the wings extend well beyond the tips of the undertail-coverts. Asian Brown and grey-streaked Flycatchers show pale fringes to the tertials and greater coverts that are ‘cold’ off-white to pale cream whereas these fringes are typically a ‘warm’ buff tone in dark-sided Flycatchers (Alström & hirschfeld 1991). Slightly worn greater coverts with some evidence of abraded pale tips, and prominent pale fringes to the tertials, identify this bird as a first-winter individual, since Asian Brown Flycatchers undergo a partial post-juvenile moult on the breeding grounds before the southward migration (Cramp & Perrins 1993). First-winter birds are thus similar in appearance to adults except that juvenile greater coverts and tertials are retained (Alström & hirschfeld 1991; harvey 1992). Occasional juvenile scapular and uppertail-coverts are also retained into first-winter plumage.
The adult has grey-brown upperparts, which become greyer as the plumage ages, and whitish underparts with brown-tinged flanks. Young birds have scaly brown upperparts, head and breast. Asian Brown Flycatcher is a common bird found in open woodland and cultivated areas. It nests in a hole in a tree, laying four eggs which are incubated by the female.