A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Black-eared Wheatear and Hudsonian Whimbrel make for a mega Saturday!

Having to work on a Saturday for one of only around 3 times during the whole year, and with June having a habit of throwing up monster birds (Short-toed Eagle anyone) a mega was bound to turn up, and sure enough, news came out of only the 9th Hudsonian Whimbrel down in West Sussex on the Tuesday, swiftly followed by a Cretzschmar’s Bunting spotted at Bardsey bird observatory in Wales on the Wednesday! Nightmare! With a blank on Thursday, only a brief sighting of the bunting again at Friday lunchtime and with limited boats making the crossing, the Whimbrel seemed the best option – that is until a Black-eared Wheatear was discovered at Acres Down in the New Forest late on Saturday morning! Could this get any worse!!

Deciding the Wheatear was a more pressing matter due to the fact that the Whimbrel seemed settled and was already well in to its 5th day, we made the 3 and a bit hours drive down to the beautiful New Forest on Saturday afternoon. Arriving at the site and negotiating through the forest and heathland landscape, we immediately locked on to this gorgeous eastern vagrant at the opposite end of the field, flitting from tree trunk to fence post and back again, busily hovering and feeding on the clear abundance of insects present.
Black-eared Wheatear, Acres Down, New Forest - Hampshire
Record shot at distance of the Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear, Acres Down, New Forest - Hampshire
With beautiful contrasting black and white colouration, this was a completely different plumage to the Black-eared Wheatears we had seen in northern Spain last April, with a complete absence of any orange or russet tones to the breast and neck.
Black-eared Wheatear, Spain
The western race of Black-eared Wheatear that we saw in Spain
Even though there have been 58 accepted records of Black-eared Wheatears in Britain, this has been the first twitchable mainland record since the 2002 10 day bird in Cornwall, with significantly fewer records since the new millennium. Originating from the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey, this form is a potential future split, with the last record of an eastern race being a male on Scilly back in 2009.
Black-eared Wheatear, Acres Down, New Forest - Hampshire
Black-eared Wheatear, Acres Down, New Forest - Hampshire
The lack of a thick black tail band is obvious in flight
Looking extremely out of place from its more usual rocky habitats and busy feeding up through the evening, it came as no surprise when the reports came out of no sign the next morning, and with an eastern individual recorded in Holland as the 4th Dutch record just 4 days later, it is more than likely the same bird, miraculously re-found nearly 300 miles away!

With the Husonian Whimbrel only an hour away, we carried on towards West Sussex, and after finding the small car park at Church Norton near Pagham Harbour, we made our way through the churchyard and along the trail to the mudflats.
Pagham Harbour, West Sussex
The Hudsonian Whimbrel was (although distant) immediately on show, and thankfully flew closer towards us as soon as we got our scopes on it, demonstrating the cinnamon coloured underwings and the distinctive lack of a white wedge on the rump - the main features that distinguish this American race of Whimbrel from our own. 
Hudsonian Whimbrel - West Sussex
Record shot of the Hudsonian Whimbrel
Only very recently split by the BOU in 2011, this is only the second record in the five years since the decision was made, with another bird present on Shetland for 3 days back in 2013. Whilst there is some debate as to whether the two should indeed by separated (it is not recognised as distinct species by the IOC) and whether they will be lumped back together in the future, it was still great to observe the differences from our own European birds first hand in the field.
Hudsonian Whimbrel - West Sussex
Hudsonian Whimbrel - West Sussex
Feeding amongst the salt marsh grass, the longer bill and paler and more well defined head were both clear as it fed on various molluscs and crustaceans in the sand, the central crown stripe and supercilium standing out even at range. As the tide gradually crept higher and higher, we were treated to much better views as the rising water eventually became too much and the bird took flight – again giving away the diagnostic features of the darker underwing and plain brown rump.
Hudsonian Whimbrel - West Sussex
Record shots of the cinnamon coloured underwing
Hudsonian Whimbrel - West Sussex

Hudsonian Whimbrel - West Sussex
Clearly no white wedge on the rump
Still present and seeming settled, the bird may well choose to over-summer here now (like the Greater Yellowlegs seems to be doing at Titchfield Haven) and as the Walney Island bird did in 2007, which remarkably stayed from mid-June to the end of August. Huge thanks to Alex who did an absolutely mammoth drive back to Cheshire at 2am, and with both Hudsonian Godwit and Hudsonian Whimbrel seen this year, 2015 is shaping up to be a truly fantastic year!

Pagham Harbour, West Sussex

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