I have a confession to make. Despite all my years of birding I still struggle to come to terms with the identification of the Greenland race of Wheatear. Tonight was a case in point. The tempestuous weather conditions today had dropped Arctic Terns, Little Gulls etc at lakes and pools across the Midlands. Despite this I wasn't too surprised to find nothing of the sort at Morton Bagot. The patch still awaits its first Tern of any species. Waders were represented by a single Green Sandpiper, three Redshanks, and two Little Ringed Plovers. Scanning across the flash field I noticed a male Wheatear. A little later I found a female, and then a really bright male. This bird had an intense orange throat and breast, with the orange extending in a more washed out form all the way to its vent. The face mask and and wings were black, and the mantle had a rather tawny wash compared to the pale grey crown. But it was the same size as the female.
So what am I looking at ? Greenland Wheatears are a little larger, longer-winged, longer-billed than Northern Wheatear, but who is to say that the accompanying female Wheatear was not also a Greenland. Greenland Wheatears are described as brighter plumaged than Northern Wheatears.This was certainly that, but how bright can a Northern be? How dull can a Greenland get? You only have to look at photos of the two subspecies to discover an apparently wide range of colour variation. The bird is miles away, in a grassy field, and keeps disappearing from view. I know I'm going to chicken out again, but I can't help suspecting that Greenland Wheatear is actually a lot commoner in the latter half of April than the records might suggest. Certainly there is a double peak in Wheatear numbers every spring, the obvious explanation being that the later birds are going a lot further north than the March arrivals. Ah well, it brightened up a dull evening.