Eastern Black-eared and Pied Wheatear identification is notoriously difficult, even more so when a female type arrives in early September. About the right time for Black-eared Wheatear but a little out of season for Pied. The majority of Pied Wheatears seem to be found in late autumn (Oct-Nov).
A female, reported as an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, was discovered at Fluke Hall, near Pilling in Lancashire on 1st September. It was favouring the sea defence boulders along side a public footpath and showing well.
As there have been fewer records accepted of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, this female bird was rather special and would undoubtedly attract a lot of attention and an ID challenge.
It didn’t take long before the rumours of it being a Pied Wheatear crept out onto the networks and grapevines. The bird showed grey plumage tones and pale fringes to the mantle feathers, features supposedly unique to Pied Wheatear. However it did show a solid black loral line from the eye to the bill and also a slight hint of dark ear coverts, both features of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.
I went to see the wheatear on the 8th September and managed to take some decent images of the bird. By this time the bird was continually being reported on networks and social media as a female Eastern Black-eared or Pied Wheatear. There was a great deal of doubt and even some of the birds poo had been collected and sent away for DNA analysisI showed my images to several experienced European birders who commented on the fact that the plumage colour and the obvious pale fringes on the mantle were all good features of Pied Wheatear, however the length of the primaries appeared short and they should be longer in Pied.
The bird also shows an obvious pale throat, plain grey nape and very buff/orange colouration to the underparts, especially the breast. Along with darker brownish/orange at the edges near the wings. All these features are typical of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear and either very rare or even stated as “never” for Pied.
Then on the 11th September, some photos were posted onto the various social medias and birding networks and a sharp eyed individual noticed one or two of the mantle feathers showed white spotting and feather shaft streaking as the bird was preening. Not noticeable in the field. This is apparently a conclusive ID feature of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.
So there it is, an amazing ID process and a thorough learning curve. It does make me wonder though how on earth this bird would have been identified without modern day DSLR cameras and other high-tech imaging equipment. The modern day bird identification processes have certainly moved on. The following are a selection of images I took of this delightful bird.