Thursday 16 February 2012

Which pied wheatear?

I went out birding a bit late today for domestic reasons and when I did get out  there was a strong, hot sandstorm blowing in from the south west. It made birding very difficult.

Nevertheless I am pleased I made the effort.

Much of the reason I was pleased was down to one bird I saw close to the new quarry lagoons near Al Hayer.

pied wheatear

I came across a pied wheatear. It is recorded as a common passage bird in the Riyadh area in spring but much rarer for an unknown reason in autumn. 

After last weekend's sightings I was expecting more passage birds today and I got a few of them including this one.

second view of the pied wheatear

The bird was clearly tired. It allowed very close approach. However it didn't look quite right to me as a typical "common" pied wheatear.

sideways view of the pied wheatear

The sooty grey area on the head is stronger and larger than my understanding of a typical pied wheatear. The buff area on the front is also substantially more than just on the breast area. This left me wondering if it could be a cyprus (pied) wheatear.
from the back

So I posted the pictures on Bird Forum in the bird identification group. So far the 3 respondents who have called it, have all said they think it is a cyprus (pied) wheatear!

Have a look at this link for pictures of the bird on Cyprus.

If it is a cyprus wheatear, its a big call. They are supposed to winter in Southern Sudan and Ethopia and travel north through Egypt.

However it's entirely possible people haven't birded south west Arabia looking out for it. I can't see any reason why they wouldn't winter in west Yemen and south west Saudi Arabia as well. However even if they do, this one would have to have been blown off course (on its way back north) by the strong south west winds we have been having. 

I am waiting on the view of one the world's experts on the related black-eared wheatear, pied wheatear and cyprus wheatear trio of birds.

Even if it turns out to be "just" a pied wheatear, it is a first for me in Saudi Arabia.

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