very late Blue-headed Wagtail

in Northumberland

Near to the recent Eastern Black Redstart, this Blue-headed Wagtail was found yesterday. I did get a call and I guess as the bird’s finder Gary did, thought surely the odds would favour an eastern bird. Blue-headed Wagtails are pretty darn rare anywhere on the east coast from October onwards. Furthermore eastern birds are not always just grey and white, indeed some in autumn can look similar to a male Blue-headed Wagtail. However this bird looks VERY like a Blue-headed Wagtail (northwestern/ nominate flava), and although call types seem to vary in eastern bird (including both raspy and sweet calls), this sees to have been heard only giving more western-like ‘sweet calls’. Not seen today AFAIK. I have some musings on aging but welcome any thoughts on that one! Quick post having received these wonderful images taken by Alan Curry.

Have a look:

Blue-headed Wagtail, Low Newton, Northumberland, 27 Nov. 2011  © Alan Curry

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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10 Responses to very late Blue-headed Wagtail

  1. Mark Grantham says:

    At a first glance looks like a first-winter bird having moulted no greater coverts and certainly no tertials…

  2. Ian Fisher says:

    Like Mark, I think this may be a first winter bird. I think the Greater coverts are a different generation to the newly looking moulted Median coverts, and surely the necklace is a sign of immaturity? Due to the greenish looking feathers on the left side of the crown and ear coverts with a hint of dirty fore supercillium I would guess that this is not a pure bird and an intergrade of some sort!

  3. thedrunkbirder says:

    Looking at this bird again and reading some of the comments it reminds me of an odd-looking Yellow Wag that I found back on Scilly in about 2000/2001 (I’d have to trawl my notebooks). It’s the necklace that made me think of it again… at the time I made a, rubbish, sketch and wasn’t really able to assign it to race though I was pretty confident it was a bright 1W.


    • Martin Garner says:

      Mark, Ian and John

      on the aging that was my instinct based on the feel of the coverts etc but its a tricky subject. if any of you have the inclination confidence to label one of the photos up and say precisely why you think it’s a first winter- and also explain why its so colourful at his age- it would be much appreciated and put on the blog… Some of Dave Bakewell’s ‘Dig Deep’ Malaysian birds look very obviously both colourful and first winter


  4. Out of interest Martin, how would you distinguish this from Eastern Yellow, tschutchensis race? Cf the rather similar-looking bird I photographed here:

    • Martin Garner says:


      Always good to hear from you! I don’t pretend to know for sure what the Northumberland bird is. It’s just that having heard initially I thought it stood a good chance of being eastern given time of year. However the only calls heard were reported to be much closer to ‘sweet’ North western flava type calls and then the photos with rather broad supercilium (not especially thinning out at one end or the other, which soemties seems to on ‘eastern’) and big white subocular spot, and the apparent blue tone of the crown I photos (though one said it was more thunbergi grey in life) looks very flava -like.

      Your bird at least does look greyer and ear coverts more filled in but that’s not a comments meant to indicate I know…

      How often do you hear a ‘sweet’ non raspy calls amoung your birds- sound recordings would be of course ideal

      Cheers Martin

  5. Mark Grantham says:

    It is a very bright bird, but the tertials are the main feature here. They are very worn and don’t have any of the broad buff edging you’d expect on a fresh, newly-moulted adult. OK, so this is a very late bird, but I don’t think you’d see this amount of wear so soon after a complete moult. It may be worth having a look through the ageing guide for Yellow Wags here:

    Click to access 316_YellowWagtailMflava.pdf

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