Saturday, 13 June 2015

Black-eared Wheatear in Hampshire

Some days you wake up and it feels a bit rare. There's no smell, no taste - just a sense. And for some reason, today was like that. Damp, grey and feeling pretty close here in London I headed off out to Crossness mid-morning. Even here in Rotherhithe, there were the first Black-headed Gulls for a couple of weeks moving through plus a Common Gull. So some sense of bird movement.

On the way through Greenwich, I checked my phone and saw Gary Howard's tweet about having just found a Black-eared Wheatear in the New Forest. A brilliant find, and with less individuals that have been twitchable than Cretzschmar's Buntings in the last decade it's a pretty rare bird. Anyway, with a nice meal booked for 9pm it would be a tight turnaround - and having seen a couple before (a long time ago, 1993 and 2002) - I headed to Crossness. There'd been an obvious influx of Black-headed Gulls at the outfall, but nothing with them, and 14 Lapwing and 3 Teal were presumably non-breeders. A 1st-summer Yellow-legged Gull was NTGG ringed, but frustratingly too distant for digits to be read. So essentially the place was quiet, there was a good bird just a couple of hours away but I needed to be back in London late evening in order not to disappoint. So a check of the weather and realising clear skies tonight in Hants (with Black-eared Wheatears notoriously doing one overnight), the decision was made.
male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Acres Down, Hants 13th June 2015; note the extensive black bib going over the bill, well above the eye and extending towards the upper breast. Upperparts showed little trace of colour, with a buff wash to the breast.
Traffic was like a dream. Arriving at Acres Down, a quick walk from the car park to overlook a sunny field and there is was - a black-and-white beauty. With just a hint of colour on the upper breast, and having commented on the original photos previously, this was an obvious eastern race melanoleuca. Though I was a bit disappointed with the views, as I prefer to be up close and personal to birds these days, it was a smart looking thing. Another reason I was so keen to go was essentially that I'd (probably) not seen this race in Britain. A decent article on the separation of the two races can be found here, though it's not as clear cut as people thought a decade or so ago.

And I managed to get back to London in time for the evening too... so all in all, a very productive day.

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