Friday, 7 October 2011

Flava of the month

The rather grey flava wagtail at Kelling Water Meadows - note the yellowish tinge on the undertail coverts.
I had to spend the day in Norfolk yesterday, not birding unfortunately, but I did manage to make time to call in for half an hour at Kelling Water Meadows. The Jack Snipe and Lapland Buntings of recent days weren't on show, but a juvenile Little Stint and this interesting flava wagtail were both notable.

Front-on, the bird appears more strikingly monochrome, though with a slight pinkish tinge on the breast.
The wagtail was feeding among cattle, in typical flava fashion, and stood out immediately as unusually monochrome for a flavissima Yellow Wagtail. It certainly wasn't entirely grey, black and white, as the putative and now-split Eastern Yellow Wagtails that reach Western Europe seem to be - note the yellowish tinge on the undertail coverts - but it was different enough to warrant attention.

Plumage, date and location suggest a continental origin for this bird, but its subspecific ID remains unconfirmed.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely to be identified to subspecies with any certainty, although local speculation has focused on the possibility of Blue-headed (nominate flava) or Grey-headed (ssp thunbergi) Wagtails. According to the bible on this family, Alström and Mild's Pipits and Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America, such mainly grey-and-white birds are most likely to be first-winter females, but the majority of individuals at this age "are not safely identifiable to subspecies, owing to even larger overlap between the different taxa in plumage characters than in adult female winter plumage". Local birder Malcolm Davies reports that up to three such individuals have been seen in recent days at Kelling, and the calls are typical Yellow Wagtail-type calls (though this bird didn't vocalise while I was watching it).

So no firm conclusions on current knowledge, but an interesting bird nonetheless.

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