Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013
by Tim Allwood and Andy Kane
I recall a few posts of yours on eastern and plexa wags and thought you might like a look at a bird we had in October in Norfolk.
I was birding my local patch at Eccles, East Norfolk when I heard a strange call in high winds and rain. I initially thought it may have been Richard’s Pipit but the conditions were not conducive to hearing the call with any clarity and I also thought it had some wagtail-like quality. Despite tramping around for a while I couldn’t locate the bird, but Andy Kane found it next morning and on flushing thought it was going to be a Citrine due to its greyness, clear wingbars in flight and sharp, almost buzzy call. However, on the deck views showed it defo wasn’t Citrine (no clear ear covert surround, slight yellow wash on undertail etc). It’s clearly an interesting bird, the call was often sharp and pipit-like with a fizzy or buzzy quality (a sort of “tsseeep!”) and the appearance is highly unusual – we’ve never seen anything like it aside from Phil Heath who saw a similar bird on Shetland many Octobers ago. Despite attempts to record the call a few times on my phone I never got anything satisfactory as it was always windy and despite making recordings they were all too noisy. We were also going to attempt to trap the bird on the first available weekend but were again beaten by conditions and ultimately the departure of the bird!
The appearance of the bird changed markedly with the prevailing light and cloud cover etc. At times a pale grey and at others a darker grey. Some could see a faint olive tinge on the lower mantle in optimum conditions. The undertail wash also varied in intensity in a similar fashion. I wondered if there may be some thunbergi influence (?) due to the yellowish wash on the undertail and rear flanks, but the head pattern and particularly supercilium, lores and dark supa-loral were very striking, much more so than expected for thunbergi… and the rest of the underparts were very pale off-white to white. Similar looking birds (with a yellow undertail wash can be found wintering in India
Andy Kane heard the bird the same day and also thought the calls distinctive and thought them pipit or even lark-like. It could occasionally give softer versions of the call, but the loud and striking explosive “tsseeeep” surprised us and wasn’t something we’d heard from a wagtail.
I have read as much as I can find on wagtail systematics and taxonomy recently, and frankly it’s a minefield as I guess you are well aware! Is there an area where tschutschensis is known to intergrade with thunbergi as suggested by the map in Alstrom et al, so birds could have yellowish wash on undertail but otherwise appear basically grey/white and have eastern-type calls? The bird was present Oct 13th to Oct 23rd and arrived during the weather that brought a Red-flanked bluetail only a mile to the north at Happisburgh and similar vagrants to the rest of the Norfolk coast. However, the area where the bird was is a series of sheep fields that were in use at the time (the sheep were attracting the wagtail in). Although we have negotiated access for a very few of us, the farmer was still not particularly happy with more than a couple of us being in the fields. This fact, combined with wide ditches and wet ground, and the fact that the bird could go missing for long periods made observation difficult.
Tim Allwood (and Andy Kane)
Apparent Eastern flava wagtail, perhaps tschutschensis, Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013. Tim Allwood.
above 2 photos. Apparent Eastern flava wagtail, perhaps tschutschensis, Eccles, Norfolk, October 2013 by Andy Kane
More grey and white flavas
by Martin G
Tory Island, October 2013
The story is not over yet on this next bird. A similar bird to the Eccles, Norfolk individual was present on Tory Island, co. Donegal, also in October 2013. It has been discussed elsewhere and I agree with sentiments that it really looks the business for an eastern bird, similar to many tschutschensis Eastern Yellow Wagtails. Strikingly the upperpart grey tone looks saturated mostly cold almost blueish grey, the white supercilium while fading towards the bill base is off set by blackish lores (at certain angles). However the only calls which were heard and recorded seem to be ‘sweet’ sounding like western birds, and not raspy like Eastern birds. Some eastern types have been recorded giving both ‘sweet’ and rasping’ calls elsewhere in Europe, so…. The final aspect of this one’s ID may come from DNA if it can be sequenced from the poo samples sent off…
Grey and white flava showing characters of eastern taxa, perhaps tschutschensis, Tory Island, Co Donegal, October 2013 by Aidan Kelly (thanks Aidan!)
by way of comparison
Here are 3 other grey and white looking flava wagtails. Western birds do throw out young grey and white looking birds. However all I have come across seem to usually have warm slight brownish wash to upperparts (not so cold and blueish looking) with less striking wing bars and lack blacker lores and subcoronal marks bordering the upperside of the supercilia- found to varying degrees on seeming eastern birds. The birds below just don’t look rare enough! And when they call, they inevitable give very typical nice ‘sweet’ western calls.