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Yellow wagtail, southern Norway mid July (1 Viewer)

Redmist

Well-known member
Norway
Hi, I am not at all experienced with yellow wagtails and it looks like their ID can be a bit of a minefield so I am looking for some help. I attach some photos from last week in the mountains in southern Norway, possibly two birds I can't be sure. I see a blue/grey head and a white throat, but just a hint of a faint white supercilium. Are these M. flava (which ebird tells me is rare for this area) or something else? And what would be the typical subspecies expected in this area?

And does anyone have a suggestion for a good reference for ID of yellow wagtails? Thanks for the help.
 

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Alexander Stöhr

Well-known member
Hello Redmist,
I agree with Daniel, your bird(s) looks good for a male thunbergii by grey head with at least one of them showing a slightly darker (more blackish) mask behind eye (hard to write mask, as its not a contrasting patch) and lack of an supercilium. There are some white speckles and just the faintest stripe in the loral area in the second bird (if real, they must be two birds).
But I must admit, I wouldnt hesitate one second to note them as thunbergii when seeing them during the right time in Germany. This ssp is a regular migrant, so I got a picture in mind of a thunbergii and your bird is a good match (and a wrong one for ssp flava).

But I understand your hesitation, as you observed them in the zone of contact between flava and thunbergii according to literature and the appearance of your bird(s) can well be explained by some introgression from another ssp.
So: is your bird within acceptable appearance for thunbergii? As said above, I didnt thought much about this in the past, but this question is one for real experts.

I am not so sure about the whitish throat. Slight overexposure makes faint yellowish hues harder to see, but I think they are thre (leaving a faint whitish moustache? Or is this an artefact by enhancing contrast by the jpeg engine?). Regarding a possible ssp. cinereocapilla, there is an excellent paper in German by Jörg and Thomas Langenberg:
It comes with a transcript from the text, helping to cope with german language to foreign readers in times of translating programmes.
 

Redmist

Well-known member
Norway
Thanks Daniel and Alexander. Seems like some thunbergii is the right answer for this one, perhaps with some variation with white throat and moustache. Those, plus the small supercilium were the reasons I had questioned this being thunbergii and wondered about flava. Some of the photos I have seen of thunbergii show an overall brighter yellow and darker head, but perhaps exposure is not my friend here. Overall I can see some similarities with cinereocapilla examples, but to see two of these so far from their normal range in breeding season seems very unlikely. My reading so far suggests that yellow wagtails can be very variable indeed - what a tricky group.

I also found a map showing that thunbergii should be the typical subspecies in this area, perhaps further east into Sweden might expect a mix of thunbergii and flava. Distribution of Yellow Wagtail Forms Motacilla flava – Complex in the North of Western Siberia, Russia ~ Fulltext

Once again I have learnt a lot from this little ID challenge and answers. I actually photographed these from my car while stuck stationary waiting in traffic last week, so at least something positive came from that.
 

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