Sunday 29 January 2023

Isabelline Wheatear at Kelsey Head, Holywell, Cornwall January 2023

 Graham May was walking the coast path on the Kelseys on Sunday 22nd January when he found a wheatear species. In poor weather, a few record shots were taken and then posted to the Society. To be fair, the dull and damp weather played its part and typically rendered the images very dark.  This affect made the bird look very much like a Northern. Two days later, national bird information services were posting Isabelline Wheatear, presumably using artificial ID techniques. Graham Lawlor visited the area on Tuesday 24th and managed to confirm the identity. It was still present on 11th March.

This is Cornwall's third record. The previous two occurrences were one-day sightings.

The first record was on the 29th October 1996 at Church Cove, Lizard (at the same time as the Little Bustard) and found by John Martin. Despite searching, it could not be refound.

The second record was found by Paul Freestone on Godrevy Head. Many locals connected in the early evening sunshine but it moved on overnight.

Nationally there are 52 records but Autumn 2022 saw several Isabelline Wheatears appear including the second for Ireland. Another was found in Wales.  Another Isabelline Wheatear appeared in East Devon (2nd Devon record) in December and remained until 8th January. It looked weak during its last days and most likely succumbed. Photo analysis shows the Devon and Cornwall birds are different. The Cornwall bird shows one retained juvenile tertial feather, enough evidence to differentiate the two. (See image below).  These two January records are the first for Europe (eBird analysis mentioned on Birdforum). The Cornish bird remained on site until at least 21st March.

The species breeds in the Eastern Mediterranean, eastwards towards southern Russia and Asia and Northern Pakistan.  The species winters in East Africa  and North West India. (see the eBird distribution map below).

Isabelline Wheatear, Kelsey Head, Cornwall, Jan 2023, picture courtesy M J McKee.

Photo analysis of the Cornwall and Devon birds, by Mashuq Ahmad.

Isabelline Wheatear range map, pic courtesy eBird.

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