Vittata Pied Wheatear, KM20, March 2012
On our last full day in Israël, Arjan van Egmond and I decided to check the palmtrees around KM20, north of Eilat, for Dead Sea Sparrow. A species we hadn’t find so far during our week holiday. On arrival we split up and I checked all the rows in the plantage if there were sparrows feeding on the ground. Not a single bird until I came across a Wheatear species standing 100+ meters inside the plantage, facing forward. It striked me as odd right away as it was all pale at it underparts, no black throath and breast, but it didn’t look good for the usual suspect Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, as it had a black line from the head connected with its black wings.
At that point it turned and, facing the other way and showing its upperparts, I was looking a 100% (Cyprus) Pied Wheatear…. But that species had a black throath and breast… It turned again and there was my prove thatI was not hallucinating – its underparts where all pale. Remembering that there was a ‘morph’ called vittata that was suposed to have these featuresI looked around to find out where Arjan was. Where is he when you need him? (and his telescope!).
Arjan was standing 150 meters away, waving his hand – he had found Dead Sea Sparrow… darn. A quick run to the place where he was standing revealed an empty bush, the sparrows where gone.
I updated Arjan what I had seen and we rushed back, with the telescope, to the place where I had left the Wheatear alone. Gone of course, so we split up again checking the rows for the bird. After a few minuted Arjan relocated the bird and could be seen in the same few as a ‘normal’ Pied type Wheatear. This looked good!
As we had no idea how rare this bird was, we decided to call back-up. I called some Dutch Birders around and Arjan called a local birder, Yoav Perlman whom we met during a Nubian Nightjar excursion. His words coming through the phone where quite clear: “Marc is not allowed to leave the area until he has photographed the bird, it is a first for Israël!” According to Hadoram Shirihai the Vittata Pied Wheatear is at least a subspieces and not a mere morph.
I needed no further encouragement, despite the wire fence, and I went in where the bird performed very well in the end.
A new bird for Israël on our last day – a perfect ending to a perfect birding week! More about the birds of Eilat soon.