Category Archives: b) Wagtails

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


eIMG_5903a eIMG_5949a



Isn’t Evolution Brilliant?

By Terry

 “One of the most exciting discoveries I have been involved with” – Professor Per Alström  

This was how Per described the results of his latest research, released last week.

Coming from the man who, among other things, discovered the breeding grounds of the enigmatic Blackthroat in China, not to mention several species of bird new to science, this was quite a statement.

And so, unusually for me, I read a scientific report from front to back. And it reminded me – as if I needed reminding – just how brilliant are nature and evolution.

Per’s report – based on DNA analysis – reveals that two little-known forest-dwelling birds are actually members of the pipits and wagtails family, evolving very different appearance and behavior after colonizing tropical-forested islands.

The Madanga Madanga ruficollis, occurring exclusively on the island of Buru, Indonesia, is actually a pipit (Anthus) and the São Tomé Shorttail Amaurocichla bocagi is a wagtail (Motacilla). The strikingly different appearance of these birds, compared with their closest relatives, has totally obscured their true relationships.

Madanga ruficollis © Rob Hutchinson

The Madanga, formerly considered an aberrant-looking white-eye (!) is actually a pipit, displaying plumage not resembling any of the world’s 40 species of Anthus. Photo by Rob Hutchinson/Birdtour Asia

Tree Pipit Israel April © Göran Ekström

A more ‘traditional’ pipit – a Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis). Photo by Göran Ekström.



The Sao Tome Shorttail (Amaurocichla bocagi) is actually a wagtail. Photo by Fabio Olmos (

2014-04-06 White Wagtail ssp baicalensis2, Ma Chang

A more ‘traditional’ wagtail – a White Wagtail (ssp baicalensis).

As well as plumage, the Madanga and São Tomé Shorttail have different habitat choice and feeding style from pipits and wagtails. Both inhabit primary forest, where the former feeds like a nuthatch on epiphyte-covered branches and tree-trunks, while the latter feeds both on the ground and on tree trunks and branches. In contrast, nearly all pipits and wagtails occur in open habitats, and all forage exclusively on the ground.

The suggestion is that the radically different appearances of these birds were triggered by the fundamental shifts in habitat and feeding behaviour following their colonisation of forest-covered tropical islands. This is estimated to have happened around 4 and 3.3 million years ago, respectively.

The presumption is that the birds’ ancestors were long distance migratory species that landed on the islands and became established, despite the alien habitat.

These islands were probably totally covered by forest when these birds’ ancestors first arrived, which is a very unfamiliar habitat to pipits and wagtails,” Professor Alström said.

Two of the closest relatives to the Madanga are the European Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) and the Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni), which, although breeding in forested areas, nest and feed on the ground.

“Although the Madanga’s plumage is very different, interestingly, the structure of the bird is quite similar to the Tree Pipit and we believe that the ancestor of the Madanga was pre-adapted to this new niche it became established within.” – Professor Per Alström 


Tree Pipits are very good at creeping through dense vegetation on the ground. When they are startled and flushed from the vegetation, they often fly up into a tree and they will sit there or they are able to walk quite effortlessly along bigger branches. But they never feed up in the trees, so the hypothesis here is that the ancestor of the Madanga would come to the island of Buru, which was completely covered in forest, and it might have fed on the ground between the trees but then would fly up into the canopy when it was scared by something. It would have then discovered that there was plenty of food on these epiphyte-covered branches and, as it was pre-adapted to walking along branches and in thick ground cover, it could probably have managed fairly well in that new habitat.”

Prof Alström said that this would have meant that there was no evolutionary pressure for it to evolve a new structure.

For example, if you look at the bill, it is very similar to a Tree Pipit’s, and so are the legs and claws. This means the actual shape of the bird has not changed very much.”



For the full report, see: Alström P, Jønsson KA, Fjeldså J, Ödeen A, Ericson PGP, Irestedt M. 2015 Dramatic niche shifts and morphological change in two insular bird species.R. Soc. open sci.2: 140364. See URL:

And Per Alström’s research page can be accessed here.