Oenanthe oenanthe

[Northern Wheatear] (pp.183–184)

Selected new records


Earliest and latest since 2006 (last year covered in full by The Birds of Lundy): Earliest 24 Feb 2019 (one); Latest 11 Nov 2011 & 2018 (one).


Ringing evidence for occurence of Greenland Wheatears

Tony Taylor has recently reviewed ringing information and comments that: "Forty of the birds ringed between 1972 and 1999 were noted as Greenland Wheatears O. o. leucorhoa and there are others that were not recorded as such but which had wing-lengths well beyond the nominate range. There has been less chance of catching Greenland Wheatears in more recent years, with little ringing activity at the best times for them and Quarter Wall Trap out of action.” (received from Tony Taylor 31 October 2007).


Greenland Wheatear ringed

2 May – An immature male Greenland Wheatear O. o. leucorhoa was trapped and ringed.


Notable spring-passage count

27 Apr – A total of 200 was among the higher counts recorded during spring passage (the record being 300 on 2 May 2004).

Good breeding season

2010 appears to have been a bumper breeding season for Wheatears on Lundy. A survey of breeding landbirds during the first week of Jun resulted in an estimated 30-40 territories, located mainly along the South End and West Side. At least 24 recently fledged juveniles – most in loose family groups and still being fed by adults – were counted. Other adults were continuing to carry food to nest sites.


Notable spring-passage count

20 Apr – A count of 200 matched the high number recorded during late April 2010.

Greenland Wheatear ringed

26 Apr – A Greenland Wheatear O. o. leucorhoa was trapped and ringed.

New record set for the highest ever count during autumn passage

1 Oct – A fall of at least 400, during a period of unseasonably hot weather, with very warm southerly winds, was (at the time) by the far the highest count ever recorded on the island during either spring or autumn migrations, the previous autumn maximum being 300 on 15 Sep 1974. A higher count was made during spring passage in May 2012, but this remains the all-time record for autumn.

Late birds in autumn

There were unusually late (though not record-breaking) stragglers into Nov, with single birds on 4th, 6th and 11th.


New record set for the highest ever count during spring passage

27 Apr to 5 May – Significant falls brought 400 on 27th, 200 on 30th, 500 on 1 May and 150 on 2 & 5 May. The estimates made for both 27 Apr and 1 May established new records for the highest numbers ever recorded in spring (eclipsing the previous record of 300 on 2 May 2004).

Greenland Wheatears 

Greenland Wheatears O. o. leucorhoa were trapped and ringed on 28 Apr (one), and 30 Apr (three). Of 100 counted around Castle Hill on 1 May, nearly all appeared to be Greenland Wheatears, typical of this relatively late phase of spring migration, and most had moved on by the next day. Though numbers of Wheatears logged did not exceed 30 after the first week of May, continued passage through the island was demonstrated by the trapping and ringing of six more Greenland birds on 23rd & 24th. Tony Taylor commented: “These six birds were notable because their mean weight was 41.5g (range: 35.8-46.6g). This contrasts with the 29 other Wheatears (probably Lundy breeding birds) ringed in the same week, which had a mean weight of 25.1g (range: 22.4-29.0g). The Greenland birds were not only larger but were carrying much more fat than the local birds, and so were probably about to start a long flight north. They were all one-year-old birds, and would probably arrive on their breeding grounds later than more experienced adults.”

Breeding season

20 Jun – 42 adults and 50 juveniles were recorded during a perimeter walk of the island.


Colour-ringing project and breeding population estimate

As a result of a colour-ringing study being led by Tony Taylor & Richard Taylor, the island’s breeding population in 2013 was estimated at about 80 pairs – the highest ever recorded and likely to be attributable, at least in part, to the eradication of rats.


Colour-ringing project and breeding population estimate

Further research based on colour-ringing resulted in a breeding population estimate of 115 pairs; another new record. Full details can be found in a paper by Tony Taylor published in the 2014 Lundy Field Society Annual Report.


Photo: Male Wheatear, Quarter Wall, 25 Apr 2014 © Richard Campey


Birds singing in total darkness

29 May – Birds were singing in total darkness below Tibbetts at around 02.00 hrs and near Pondsbury at about 04.00 hrs (Richard & Rebecca Taylor).


Colour-ringing project and breeding population estimate

Tony Taylor and Richard Taylor continued their colour-ringing study, marking 48 new birds and logging sightings of 29 birds ringed in previous years. The survival rate from 2015 to 2016 among the colour-ringed birds was 44%. The all-island breeding population in 2016 was estimated at 110 pairs.

Greenland Wheatears

A female Greenland Wheatear O. o. leucorhoa on the west end of the Airfield on 5 Jun was caught and ringed (Richard & Rebecca Taylor). On 8 Sep, an adult female Greenland bird was caught by hand at 23:00hrs in the Old Light Manx Sheawater colony. Perhaps newly arrived, its weight was quite low, but after being kept overnight and ringed, it flew off strongly the following morning (Richard Taylor, Rosie Hall). The last bird of the year, on 27 Oct, was considered to be a first-winter male Greenland Wheatear (Chris Baillie).


Colour-ringing project and breeding population estimate

The colour-ringing project under the BTO Retrapping Adults for Survival scheme entered its fifth year. A further 51 birds were newly colour-ringed, whilst 48 birds marked in previous years (2013–2016) were resighted. One of the latter, ringed in 2015, was seen on Guernsey on 13 Mar (2017), then back on Lundy 11 days later. The breeding population within the main study area, from the Castle, along the south and west coast as far as Halfway Wall, was estimated at 53 pairs and for the island as a whole, 121 pairs – yet another new record for the island.


Colour-ringing project and breeding population estimate

The ongoing colour-ringing study of the island’s breeding population showed that at least 56% of the birds breeding in 2017 survived migration to and from their African winter quarters and bred on Lundy in 2018. The main study area (from the Castle, along the South End and West Side as far north as Halfway Wall) was estimated to have held 53 pairs in 2018, the same as in 2017, but the whole-island population estimate was down slightly at 114 pairs.

Late date in autumn

11 Nov – A single bird, in Lighthouse Field, equalled the latest date in autumn since publication of The Birds of Lundy (see also Nov 2011).


Exceptionally early arrival in spring

Dean Jones’s sighting of a male at Jenny’s Cove during the morning of 24 Feb was (by seven days) the earliest Lundy record for this species and one of the first seen in the whole of the UK in 2019.

Colour-ringing project and breeding population estimate

Summarising the continuing long-term BTO Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) colour-ringing study of Lundy’s Wheatears, Tony Taylor reports that 53% of the breeding birds recorded in 2018 survived their migration and returned to breed in 2019. This was slightly below the 2013-18 average return rate. Even so, there were a record 54 pairs in the study area (the south and west coasts between the Castle and Halfway Wall), and the population estimate for the whole island was 118 pairs. This is the second highest total recorded, after 121 in 2017. A colour-ringed male, holding territory on the sidelands just south of Quarter Wall Copse, was originally ringed on Lundy in 2012 (with colour-rings added in 2015).



Colour-ring sighting: A Wheatear ringed and colour-ringed as a breeding adult male on Lundy on 3 Jun 2015 (ring no. Z660128; colour-ring combination: left leg, pale blue over black; right leg, metal over stripe) was seen at Pulias, Guernsey, Channel Islands on 13 Mar 2017 (649 days; 244 km; SE 142°) then re-sighted on Lundy from 24 Mar to 4 Jun 2017. This is the first – and to date only – sighting of a Lundy colour-ringed Wheatear away from the island, from among the >200 individuals marked to the end of 2017.


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