Saturday, May 21, 2011

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe )

There is only one species of wheatear that breeds in Britain and Ireland so identification is fairly straightforward.  Wheatears are a bit bigger than a Robin, have an upright stance and in flight show a conspicuous white rump and tail markings.  The males are striking with a black mask, black wings, grey back and pale underparts.  Females are not so bright and lack the black mask.

The first Wheatears can be seen at coastal localities in early March and by the end of March or early April good numbers are in the country. Exceptionally, Wheatears are recorded in late February.  The larger ‘Greenland’ race passes through slightly later.  Counts at Bird Observatories vary tremendously with the more westerly observatories generally recording higher numbers. There is some suggestion that Wheatears fly straight to their breeding grounds and that the ‘Greenland’ race tends to pause at coastal localities before starting their North Atlantic crossing to breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland.

Male at Ballycotton

Male in song at Malin Head

Male freshly in off the sea at Knockadoon Head, Co. Cork

Autumn migrant at Ballycotton

Autumn migrant at Cape Clear.

Fantastic birds that take on a mammoth migration and certainly welcome here every spring.

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