By Yoav Perlman
Silas Olofson, Faroe Island’s top birder, found this super-smart Yellow Wagtail at Viðareiði (northernmost village on the Faroes – how to pronounce this I have no clue) today, 27/11/16. Silas did the right thing and got many photos of it, but most importantly recorded the call on video. At first look, the initial response for this grey-and-white bird is surely ‘tschutchu!’. Also given the late date, and the incredible autumn Faroes and Silas have had, this is a reasonable assumption. But… After a closer inspection of the photos, and listening to the calls on the video, I am leaning towards Western Yellow Wagtail.
Let’s start with the calls:
There are two calls of the bird in this short video. Without doing sonograms, it sounds like a typical Western Yellow Wagtail call. No sign of the sharp Citrine-like call of tschutchunensis. I am not aware of tschutchunensis that call like westerns.
The overall impression of this bird is indeed very close to what you’d expect from a 1cy Eastern Yellow Wagtail, not dissimilar to the Scilly bird that featured recently on Birding Frontiers.
However, I think that when checking the fine plumage details of this bird, it appears to be an extremely cold-toned Western Yellow Wagtail, maybe flava? I am not sure.
The white wingbars and tertial fringes are rather limited in this bird:
I am aware of the fact that this observation takes place almost two months after the Scilly bird, so I am not sure how quickly these wingbars wear off. But still I think they are too narrow for eastern.
Light conditions were poor when Silas saw the bird, but even in the dull light, yellow tones to underparts, rather prominent yellowish fringes to secondaries, and green tones to mantle and scapulars can be seen:
Also note that ear coverts are not dark – there is quite a prominent pale area on the frontal ear coverts, below the eye.
A supporting feature is the length of the hind claw. This bird has a ‘normal-length’ hind claw, not the monstrous hind-claw of eastern. Of course this is very difficult to judge in the field, especially from photos only like I did, but my impression is of a normal hind claw.
Well done to Silas for finding this educational bird. And many thanks for sharing the photos and images with me. I know that I put my head on the chopping block here, but I will be happy to be proved wrong – if Silas gets yet another first for Faroes! Some ‘top guns’ have already commented that it’s an eastern…
Please comment. Learning time.