Greenland Wheatear

and the annual spring marvel

 

Yesterday a walk around the patch produced a good 12 plus Wheatears in a small area of cliff top. A Dunlin and Redshank also flushed from a tasty looking cliff top pool, newly dug. This is on the Northern side of Flamborough, the same kind of place revved up Scandinavian Rock pipits assemble as they await ideal weather in March. These Wheatears too had stopped just long enough to refuel. However the combination of characters on most individuals said Greenland, Iceland or NE Canada was their destination. Making them one of only 2 passerines (small perching bird) which routinely cross an ocean between wintering and breeding grounds. (Do you know the other one?). I find watching such smart looking birds with quite unfathomable flight plans and subtle subspecies difference to work out- one of birding’s treasures.

Male Wheatear with extensive pastel orange underparts, brown patch on upperparts, still some brown in black ear covert patch and upright gestalt befitting a leucorhoa

Male Wheatear with extensive pastel orange underparts, brown patch on upperparts, still some brown in black ear covert patch and upright gestalt befitting a leucorhoa

dun brown in mid back and brown marks in ear coverts seemingly typical of male 'Greenland Wheatear on spring migration

dun brown in mid back and brown marks in ear coverts seemingly typical of male Greenland Wheatear on spring migration

 

Some of the males had the combination of more extensive soft pastel orange below, weak brown patch (not all grey) between the shoulders and brown flecks in the black mask typical of leucorhoa (Greenland Wheatears). They stood more upright, taller looking, a whole different gestalt to nominate European/ British breeders.  I don’t know of counting primaries really works (6+ for nominate oenanthe, 7-8 for leucorhoa). If I can see 7 primary tips I am happy.

. greenland wheatear 4 .   greenland wheatear 3

Females look more grey- brown and peachy than nominate feamles. And why come along the east coast- surely better to leave Africa and head straight to the west of Ireland. But then if you are heading to Arctic Canada from sub-Saharan Africa- what’s a few hundred extra kilometres between friends?!

 

Do you have other/different thoughts on identifying NW bound (‘Greenland-type’) Wheatears in spring?

 

Marvel?- I do. Every spring!

 

and this field full of Cowslips was nearby to inviting a short stop and enjoyed too:

cowslips

4 thoughts on “Greenland Wheatear

  1. Mick Cunningham

    Hi Martin – we’ve talked of these before 😉 Here on York’s Pennine tops we get flocks of these at this time – especially if blown over the Pennine ridge from a western route. I see all the characters you do but lost confidence in the number of primary tips viewable a while back, in that some some March nominate birds pale, silvery backs, reduced orange bib below and dinky looking had 6 on show whereas I was told they should only show 5. Still, it seems peverse not to claim the biggest multicoloured birds that do show 7 (!) tips as Greenlanders.

    I often wonder where the birds hopping on the drystone wall in front of my house have been and where they’ll end up.

    Reply
    1. Brett Richards

      Is there now evidence that Canadian birds pass through the British Isles? Peter Clement, writing in Birdwatch April 2004 (page 20) & April 2010 (page 26) suggests that these birds, and some Greenland birds, cross directly from Spain.

      Reply
  2. Chris Mills

    Mmm….. interesting Martin. I have been looking at migrant Wheatears for many Springs now in Norfolk. I have swung one way then the other with using plumage clouds for id of Greenland types. Breeding nominate Wheatears in Spain right now are very grey, almost blindingly monotone, black and white affairs, I see them most Springs, and also on mountains in Highlands in May then again on Outer Hebs in June they also seem this way. I tend to think by mid-late April that Wheatears this late in Norfolk are certainly not Uk final destination birds as ours are all well in territory by then. There are some buts though on plumage, as I have also seen some early breeders (males) in UK one year in Wales looking much warmer. Have discussed this with Nick Moran as well, and wonder if another possibility/factor of is wear, do some of these birds appear warm then wear to a much more monotone appearance later on, appearing much paler at their breeding grounds?? Anyway saw 8+ today and yes reckon most of them are bound further North of here. I also think that there maybe some sort of clinal variation as we move north of our nominate birds across into Iceland, Greenland, Canada – any thoughts on this? Whatever, like you I find them extra remarkable birds!

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