Monday, 12 March 2012

Two more wheatears

There are 10 species of wheatear which have been recorded with some degree of regularity in the Riyadh area. All are possible in March either as wintering, passage or resident birds.

It's a big topic to talk about but if we restrict ourselves to on or close to the pivot fields the picture is a little bit simpler. 

Throughout the winter there were Isabelline wheatear and desert wheatear (and one or two other species near-by in small numbers). Two weeks ago they were joined by an influx of pied wheatear

 However the picture is constantly changing at the moment. Lou and I failed to see a single desert wheatear on Thursday (although I did see one a day later a few kilometres way).  The pied wheatear numbers were down slightly but there were more Isabelline wheatear than ever.

Two more wheatears have made an appearance close to the fields.

black-eared wheatear 

A single black-eared wheatear was seen by the river bank. Previous records show this is about 8 times rarer than pied wheatear in the spring passage. It was my first this season or indeed in Saudi Arabia. The chances are it is en route to Turkey or the southern Caucasus.

Isabelline wheatear

Isabelline wheatear numbers were much higher than in winter.

northern wheatear

Also near the river but adjacent to a pivot field was my first sighting of a northern wheatear this season. Unlike with black eared wheatear, I have seen one in the area before back in October.   The sighting of the northern wheatear is early. It was two days earlier than any before in the two main historical records.

male pied wheatear

As there have been so many pied wheatear around over the past two weeks, I am beginning to recognise the the more tricky females as well as the males.

"Siberian" stonechat

Another bird which gives me identification issues is stonechat. As I have said before a majority but not over-whelming majority of the wintering  stonechat in central Arabia are Siberian stonechat. The one above looked Siberian but it was only after seeing it from behind that I was sure. 

second view of  a Siberian stonechat

The white rump combined with the small amount of orange on the breast and the large collar together give me confidence.  Furthermore, I think it is possibly the maura sub species (nominate) as the orange patch is not very small and I can't see any white tail sides. 

female stonechat

I find some female stonechat impossible to separate. This one has no feature I can use to distinguish from the front. 

second view of female stonechat

The wing is quite long which points towards a Siberian stonechat but the rump doesn't look very pale which points to a European bird. So overall I really just can't tell.


  1. You are very lucky Rob - back here in Blighty (Midlands)i havent seen a Northern Wheatear yet but that might change with the high pressure forecast this week. Having said that, Portland still has'nt had one thus far.

    Cracking pictures, brightens up a dull day!

    Laurie -

  2. Laurie,

    Thanks for the compliments. I have got another picture of a wheatear coming up in the next few days. It's white crowned wheatear which allowed me very close and the quality is really good because of this. Actually its my favourite wheatear too.

    I'm not surprised you haven't seen any northern wheatear yet. I'm a lot further south than you!

    Thanks for reading