This blog is about my birding exploits, which mainly take place in the Weymouth/Portland area, in Dorset. Will also include stuff from elsewhere, plus some other critters too. Hope you enjoy. All photographs are © Brett Spencer, unless indicated otherwise. The above image is of a Siberian Rubythroat, taken in Holland in 2016.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Male Black-eared Wheatears

On 13th June, I, along with many others, took the opportunity to look at a stunning male Black-eared Wheatear at Acres Down, in the New Forest.


This absolute scorcher of a bird is easily identified to form by the extent of black on the face. Note the extent of black feathering above the bill base, above the eye and the extent of black beyond the rear of the ear coverts. The black of the bib also reaches the upper breast. This combined with it's piebald appearance confirms that this is an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear O.h.melanoleuca. 

From other photos of the above bird online, it can be seen to have a long primary projection, equal in distance to that of the tertials. Also, the black of the scapulars looks extensive, with Western Black-eareds apparently showing slightly less black in the scaps.

To compare with the above, here is a male Western Black-eared Wheatear O.h.hispanica I saw in Extremadura, Spain on 30th May 2006. Westerns can look surprisingly pale, but note the extent of black on the face. No black above the bill base, no or very little black above the eye, no or very little black beyond the ear coverts and the black of the bib doesn't reach the upper breast.

Anyways, comparing the two black throated birds above, got me reminiscing about the Upton Heath bird of June 2000. This bird, that was found on 25th June 2000, stayed till the following day, allowing many observers to see it.

The bird was accepted by BBRC as an Eastern O.h.melanoleuca (See the British Birds magazine Rare Bird Report for 2000 http://www.bbrc.org.uk/download/2000BBRCReport.pdf)
In it, it says photographs clearly shows the black above the bill base that O.h.hispanica lacks. This comment isn't entirely accurate as some well mark Westerns can show alittle black above the bill base.

Lets take a fresh look at the Upton Heath bird and see if you agree with my conclusion.

The Upton Heath Black-eared Wheatear. This is a white throated male. The brown feathers in the wing of this bird ages it as a 1st-summer. Note the lack of black above the bill and the eye and also the very limited amount of black beyond the ear coverts. Also, the black scapulars don't look particularly extensive. © P. & C. Leigh http://www.firecrest-wildlife-photography.co.uk/

Here's a closer look at the head. I see no obvious black above the bill base. Note the white uppermost scapulars too. © P. & C. Leigh http://www.firecrest-wildlife-photography.co.uk/

In other photos I've seen of this bird, it also appears to show a primary projection that's slightly shorter than the length of the tertials. The amount of black on the face and scapulars and primary projection tell me the Upton Heath bird is in fact a Western Black-eared Wheatear O.h.hispanica. If not, it is at best unassignable to form. It should be remembered that the age of the bird shouldn't affect the amount of black showing at this time of year. Also, though looking very piebald in the field, this doesn't rule out Western, as worn 1st-summer male Westerns can look very black and white.

Here are some links to the two forms. Look at the extent of black in the face and scapulars and also primary projections. Note, I think there is overlap between the two forms as regards black in the scapulars and also Westerns can have a primary projection equal in length to that of Easterns.

Western Black-eared Wheatears







Eastern Black-eared Wheatears







Thankyou to Carole Leigh for letting me use the photos of the Upton Heath Black-eared Wheatear, as it was crucial to this post.

Comments are very much welcome on my thoughts here.

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