Greenland Wheatears

The following observations are consistent with some of those made elsewhere. On 23/04/12 just before the exceptional ‘fall’ of Northern Wheatears in the Midlands I saw several at Draycote Water including 2 males which were extremely dark grey on the mantle (the shade of grey being more slaty than the typically blue grey of the nominate) and a dark orange on the underparts (the shade of which was more ‘brick dust’ than the typically ‘peachy’ colouration of the nominate) which extended right down to the vent, which was also orange washed. The dark colouration resulted in reduced contrast in the plumage. The birds were large, chunky with long legs, long bills and long wings.

 

On 04/05/12 I found several wheatears at three locations in the Upper Leam Valley which all appeared to be similar in size and structure to those seen at Draycote, being large with long legs, bills and wings. Martin Garner has speculated that leucorhoa may sometimes show more exposed primary tips than oenanthe the suggested range being 6-7 in oenanthe and 7-8 in lecorhoa. Of the 2 birds I managed to photograph well enough on 04/05 one male had 8 primary tips visible.

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The other, a female had 7 primary tips visible though the wings still appeared long.

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Eric Simms refers to a ‘Greenland Wheatear’ perching in trees and Jane Turner makes the observation that Greenland types are more often found in trees than the nominate form and points out that all the birds she has trapped in reed-beds were leucohora.   I saw 3 of the 5 individuals present on 04/05 in trees, a female at a height of c. 12 feet and 2 males in a mature Willow at a height of c.30 feet and even more peculiarly, inside the tree canopy.

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It is often suggested that the earliest Greenland types to appear in the UK have plumage resembling oenanthe and that these birds are from the Icelandic population which are somewhat intermediate between the extremes of the two forms.   It is interesting therefore that the first two birds I saw in 2012 had the most distinctive plumage of any of the males involved whereas the later ones, were not so dark or extensively orange washed on the underparts.   Plumage variation in leucohora appears to be such that structural characteristics are the most reliable pointers to identification.

An excellent article by Alan Dean on the status of Greenland Wheatear in the West Midlands can be found in the 2010 report of the West Midland Bird Club (Annual Report No.77).

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