Monday 27 February 2012

The wheatears

Ten days ago I saw my first pied wheatear of the spring passage at Al Hayer. By last Thursday several more had arrived.

Apparently pied wheatear begins its passage early but is well-known to stop off for days and even weeks en route at suitable locations. It seems Al Hayer is one of those suitable locations.

pied wheatear

None of this week's pied wheatear were anything like as "burnt coloured" underneath as the single one last week. Indeed last week's was so yellow on the belly that I asked people on BirdForum if it could be a cyprus pied wheatear. The verdict was that it was within the natural variation of "normal" pied wheatear.

second view of pied wheatear

All the pied wheatear were in the same field which was a fairly recently sown and wet one.

It was popular with two other wheatears too.  Isabelline wheatear winters at Al Hayer in significant numbers but the numbers are swollen at the moment presumably with passage birds arriving from further south.

Isabelline wheatear

It's a similar situation with desert wheatear. They too were plentiful with additional numbers especially in the same field.

desert wheatear

There were only definitively three types of wheatear in the fields. Northern wheatear is well recorded as a passage bird but comes later. This is consistent with what I saw when birding in the past in Azerbaijan (directly north of here). The Isabelline wheatear always arrived in spring before northern wheatear.

unknown wheatear

There was one wheatear in the field which could conceivably have been a northern wheatear. It's picture is shown above. It's moult makes it difficult for me to hazard any sort of identification.

As for other wheatears, I have seen two different persian wheatear near-by,in more rocky areas, during the winter. There have been mourning wheatear close by but in drier places too. White crowned wheatear is a resident bird of drier areas such as Dirab which is only a few kilometres away. 

Three more wheatears I haven't seen which are recorded for central Arabia are black-eared wheatear, hooded wheatear and Finsch's wheatear. The first will almost certainly be seen on passage in the Al Hayer area in the next few weeks. Hooded wheatear is apparently a rare resident but I haven't found suitable habitat yet. Finsch's wheatear is a very rare wintering bird so I have probably missed my chance this winter.

Furthermore, Kurdish wheatear is feasible on passage though not recorded.

As you can see central Arabia has more than its fair share of wheatears. Its a great place to learn about them.

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