Category Archives: b) Wagtails

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

Mixed Yellow Wagtails

Israel in spring is a great place to study Yellow Wagtail subspecies. There is a good mix of western and eastern forms, and the males are obviously very good looking in spring. Among the more distinct forms, such as nominate flava or the almost-full-species feldegg (ask the Dutch), there are some interesting ‘mixed’ birds. In late March, quite a few males that look similar to feldegg but have a supercilium are seen. Some have nice clean white supercilium:

Male ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2011

Male ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2011

Note also the prominent lower eye-ring. This bird is what I would expect a mix between feldegg and flava to look like. These birds normally give a sweet ‘western-type’ call. I would expect the female to look like this:

Female ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, Israel, March 2008

Female ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, Israel, March 2008

I call these birds ‘superciliaris‘ with quotation marks because the consensus is that it is not a real subspecies, but rather a ‘fluid’ mix from E of the Balkans.

During the recent Champions of the Flyway race day in late March, I found this stunning bird at Neot Smadar sewage farm. This tiny gem of a site in the desert held a couple hundred Yellow Wagtails, mainly feldegg and flava. I had very little time so couldn’t study it properly and just fired off a few images. I did hear it call – it gave a western call. But it looks very much like what I would expect from ‘xanthophrys‘ – another dodgy mix thing. This bird has a vivid yellow supercilium and dark green – blackish crown and ear coverts.

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

‘xanthophrys‘ / ‘superciliaris‘ Yellow Wagtail, Neot Smadar, S Negev, Israel, March 2016

It superficially resembles taivana, which belongs to the Eastern Yellow Wagtail group, but is separated by having too much black on the crown and ear coverts (taivana is greener) and also mantle is too dark green. taivana has a vivid green-yellow mantle, and lacks a prominent lower white eyering. Check stunning images here. And of course the call of the Eastern Yellow Wagtail group is distinctive, closer to Citrine Wagtail – check here.

This individual was seen by other birders as well and did attract some attention, because xanthophrys types are not commonly seen in Israel. I was slightly disappointed to hear its western call. xanthophrys should have rasping eastern calls, similar to feldegg and lutea that are the supposed ancestors of this mix. So what is this bird? I am not sure, probably superciliaris too. But because both forms superciliaris and xanthophrys are mixed anyway, I am not sure whether there is a real distinction between them or are they just two ends of a cline between birds with white supercilium in the west and yellow supercilium in the east?

Another mix-type that is seen in Israel in pretty good numbers is dombrowski that breeds in Romania. dombrowski is another type of mix between flava and feldegg or beema and feldegg:

‘dombrowski’ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2012

‘dombrowski’ Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, March 2012

It looks more like a very dark flava, rather than an eye-browed feldegg. Some individuals can be slightly paler and bluer than this, but they typically are dark and dull on the head and lack a pale ear coverts patch.

And here are some of the ancestors. Male Black-headed Yellow Wagtails are really unmistakable, and cracking too…

Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Yotvata,Israel, March 2016

Black-headed Yellow Wagtails (feldegg), Yotvata,Israel, March 2016

Female feldegg typically have a short yellow or sometimes whitish supercilium behind the eye:

female feldegg Yellow Wagtail, Bet Kama, N Negev, Israel, September 2013

female feldegg Yellow Wagtail, Bet Kama, N Negev, Israel, September 2013

flava Yellow Wagtails are pretty variable in Israel. Some are rather dark, deep blue-headed like this one and lack almost any pale on the ear coverts:

flava yellow Wagtail, Arava Valley, March 2013

flava yellow Wagtail, Arava Valley, March 2013

Some are a bit drabber, paler-headed with more pale on the ear coverts. This is a young male (2cy) – check the obvious moult contrast in the greater coverts:

flava Yellow Wagtail, 2cy male, Neot Smadar, May 2012

flava Yellow Wagtail, 2cy male, Neot Smadar, May 2012

beema Yellow wagtails are very pale headed, and typically have a large pale patch on the ear coverts. They have an eastern call.

beema Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, April 2014

beema Yellow Wagtail, Eilat, April 2014

lutea is a striking bird. Not dissimilar to the British Yellow Wagtails. Some have slightly greener ear coverts and crown. They have an eastern call as well. They are uncommon in Israel, but they are one of the dominant forms seen in East Africa in winter.

lutea Yellow Wagtail, Chem-Chem Lake, Kenya, December 2010

lutea Yellow Wagtail, Chem-Chem Lake, Kenya, December 2010

More on taivana Wagtails in Middle East

and ‘xanthophrys’  –  feldegg (Black-headed Wagtail) intergrade/hybrids 

Following Mike Watson’s images, Ian Boustead has flagged up another…  so revisiting these stunning yellow and black Wagtails has had the very helpful input of Oscar Campbell. Grahame Walbridge and others have v helpfully chipped in (see comments box on the recent post).

I have added a bit on calls at the end  (MG).


“Here are some images of a flava wagtail, photographed at the pivot fields in Dubai in December 2009.” Ian Boustead

Oscar Campbell replies The bird Ian refers in the comment box is featured at in the UAE photo galleries ; one or more such individuals wintered at Dubai Pivot Fields from 2008 to 2012 at least. None of the images featured there are as good as the ones Ian has just emailed…

Anyway, consensus at the time amongst UAE birders was that the Pivots bird(s) fitted best as ‘xanthophrys’, which Alstrom & Mild in Pipits and Wagtails regard as an intergrade between feldegg and lutea…   cont’d below


image002 image006

all photos above by Ian Boustead, Pivot fields, Dubai, Dec. 2009

Same place, one year earlier.

Several examples seen in the Dubai Pivot fields in other years. This one photographed on 14th November 2008 – same area

feldegg hybird nick moran (1 of 1)

Photo above poached- take by sage-like BTO staff member Nick Moran :), Dubai Pivot Fields, 14th Nov 2008.

For more images of these bird(s)in Dubai Pivot Fields click HERE


… response cont’d from Oscar Campbell

The blackish blotches on crown and nape (also evident in Ian’s images) seem to indicate feldegg and the yellowish blotches on the cheek patches (more obvious in the UAE images than in the Oman bird) could be taken as indicative of lutea. Obviously, here in the UAE we would welcome any futher comment on this bird with regard to its identity.

One issue worth considering, and something I’d like to be enlightened on, is just how dark the ear coverts on taivana can get. HBW-Alive indicates that they can be pretty dark (darker then the image linked to by Jan). The only taivana I have seen (part of an enchanting flock of migrant Eastern Yellow Wagtails, mainly tschutschensis but also two taivana) in coastal fields in eastern Tawian, April 2012) went down in my notebook as having ‘thick, plain olive mask from lore through ear coverts to nape’. I also noted that the supercilium was ‘very broad, deep yellow; ending deeply and bluntly behind eye’. The supercilium on the UAE bird(s) is long and obviously curves downwards behind the ear coverts, in a manner rather similar to the pronounced effect on the Oman bird. This has the effect of cutting the mask off from the nape to some extent and giving a somewhat Citrine-like effect; again I am not sure this is a good feature for a true taivana. Finally, the rather obvious grey cast on the back of the bird(s) from the UAE (and especially evident in Ian’s images) is presumably at odds with taivana (?) – although I not sure it is compatible with either feldegg or lutea parentage either!



As ever Hanne and Jens Eriksen have some lovely summer time images of taivana HERE and for Oriental Bird Club images pages provides a very useful collection of ‘taivana’ photos to compare and contrast. Well worth  a visit here and remember to scroll through- lots more than just one photo! Click HERE

Calls and Sonagrams

MG – the bird below photographed in Turkey in August is going to have nice black mask and be classifiable a feldegg variant. The sonagram below is from call recorded same location. It’s clearly the ‘feldegg sonagram’ shape and not eastern taxa/ Citrine. Hopefully recordings  of birds in Dubai will be as revealing and why I am so keen on call recording 🙂

Turkey August 2009 466 ad male feldegg variant


feldegg wagtail turkey 19th Aug 2009 MGarner

Above photo and recording from Black-headed Wagtail variant. (Martin Garner)

Green-backed Wagtail heads west?

can you ID vagrants?

Mike Watson

The eastern most of the eastern flava wagtail clade is a stunner. Do they reach west? Claims have come from the Indian sub-continent of taivana. Odd similar birds have been reported as far west as France. The latter look like ‘sports’. Just odd variants of our western Yellow Wagtails.

Mike takes stunning photos anyhow so they are always worth showcasing. This wagtail was photographed at Khor Rori, Oman on 2 November 2015. It does look superficially good for taivana – the Green-backed Wagtail, with the ear coverts, breadth of the supercilium and the green mantle and nape. But sharp Oman birders have wondered about the extent of the yellow around the ear coverts thinking about the possibility of a hybrid with Citrine? Is it too extensive? Other features look OK such as concolorous mantle and nape but what about the breast (looks like a faded band there). It appears to have a vestigial breast band. Then there are some little yellow sub-ocular spots. hmmm ? What age then? 1cy?


So over to Birding Frontiers readers.

What say you?

Huge thanks to Mike Watson– his photos below


Wagtail taivana type Oman (1 of 1) Wagtail taivana type Oman 2 (1 of 1)

flava wagtail looking like a Green-backed taivana Khor Rori, Oman on 2 November 2015. Mike Watson.

First-winter White Wagtails

Details of wing and rump and tail

Sometimes a single image just does it!

Justin Carr, our keen pioneering digiscoper  – Mr. ‘in-fight’ shot – has taken a cracker (and it’s not in flight!).  Two first-winter White Wagtails on a recent trip to Turkey.


In the next couple of weeks first-winter White Wagtail pass through Britain- often undetected. They are tricky. We have covered the subject here in some detail in the past. Have another look HERE.

Or just have a look more closely at Justin’s image. Critically the rump tones of grey are well captured, but also all that detail in the outer tail pattern (average differences from Pied), and in the wings.

South Landing beach at Flamborough has a whole bunch of young alba wagtails feeding there right now and the babies from the hybrid Pied X White pairing near my house must be somewhere nearby. Time to go do some learning…

White wagtail justin carr (1 of 1)


Two first-winter White Wagtails showing off all their more subtle ID features. Turkey, August 2015. Justin Carr.

Spanish Wagtail X Blue-headed Wagtail

“Central Atlantique” Yellow Wagtails – flava x iberiae

by Eugene Archer

Yellow Wagtail_3241

Hi Martin,

Hope all are well there ?

Regarding the Filey wagtail I find it a bit difficult to judge exactly the colour of the upperparts, especially around the head so I don’t know if this will be of much use but here’s something else to muddle up the possibilities:
In western France (essentially from the Gironde up the Loire valleys) there is a fairly stable population (maybe 30% in some areas) of intergrade Yellow Wagtails showing plumage characters of both Blue-headed flava and Spanish iberiae. These bird are usually referred to as “Central atlantique” Yellow Wagtails locally.

Yellow Wagtail_1330Classic examples look basically like a normal flava but with a pure white throat. The blue-grey crown and nape are sometimes a little darker and often there is a prominent white sub-ocular crescent. It has also been suggested that 2CY birds may be more prone to exhibiting a full white throat. I’ve seen individuals with slightly contrastingly darker ear-coverts but not quite the full mid-grey and dark-grey head pattern of typical iberiae as it were. They give raspy calls too, like a lot of the birds around here, but I don’t have any recordings of them unfortunately.

Philippe Dubois wrote an interesting article on Yellow Wagtails in France in Ornithos, vol 8-2: 44-73 (2001) which covers the various intergrades including those on the Mediterranean coast (iberiae x cinereocapilla) which apparently can show the full range of mixed characters !

A few photos attached to show various birds from the Loire estuary region , some with variable amounts of yellow suffusions on the lower throat, some with more or less prominent supercilliums, etc. etc. ! Complicated, eh 😉

All the best,


yellow wagtail_5080yellow wagtail_5096yellow wagtail_8138yellow wagtail_5074Yellow Wagtail_1332


all photos above by Eugene Archer

Spanish Wagtail: iberiae

What they look like…

Trevor Charlton has taken these images in Morocco and Western Sahara in recent years. Most look like straight iberiae – ‘Spanish Wagtail‘. They give a good idea of the appearance and some of the variety to be found. The Filey bird looks very similar. Trevor describes the call as “To my ears, the call is rasping, often loud, sometimes uttered aggressively and repeatedly.

Have a look at these lovely images:

spanish 1 (1 of 1) spanish 3 (1 of 1) spanish 4 (1 of 1) spanish 5 (1 of 1) spanish 6 (1 of 1)

Here’s the Filey bird again:

spanish 8 (1 of 1) spanish 9 (1 of 1)

This next one taken in NW Africa by trevor is a little paler headed, at least in the photo:spanish 7 (1 of 1)


and this next one may be a cinereocapilla– Ashy-headed Wagtail.spanish 2 (1 of 1)

Spanish Wagtail

iberiae or no?

This afternoon Mark Pearson, busy writing ‘in the field’ had this flava wagtail drop in front of him. Speaking to him about it and then seeing the photos- yikes! I would be pretty pumped up to find one such. The plumage- crisp white throat with no ‘bleed’ of yellow on lower border, skinny white supercilium and Mark’s call description sound appealingly good. Please may it be seen again and sound recording obtained!

Mark writes:

“A brief but close encounter with this little beauty at a small wetland near the Dams here in Filey this afternoon. With conditions, time of the season and the glut of southern European overshoots further south, I’ve been hammering the patch accordingly – to no avail, until this afternoon. As well what seems like a very promising suite of characters, the bird also delivered an interestingly un-flava-like call several times….


More photos on Mark’s Blog


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