Foundation Voorne Bird Observatory - The Netherlands
Norman Deans van Swelm
Eastern and other
White Wagtails in Europe
Transbaicalian White Wagtail
MOTACILLA ALBA BAICALENSIS
Eastern and other Wagtails in Europe.
(text vs may 3, 2007)
On the 8th May 2001 I had a brief encounter with an odd-looking White Wagtail Motacilla alba on the Maasvlakte in the Port of Rotterdam. The bird showed a large amount of white on it's wing coverts . In spite of the strong wind I was able to make three pictures of this bird.
Only after reading the chapter on white wagtails in Alström et al's excellent identification guide (2003) I realized that the odd wagtail I had seen in 2001 could be of eastern origin.
As the bird had a white throat (see picture b) I concluded that the bird could belong to the eastern subspecies baicalensis. Alström et al say on baicalensis' (p.342): 'adult male summer resembles eastern populations of alba (shows extensive white on median and greater coverts, often forming a large white panel) but differs by having white upper throat.'
According to Alström et al northernmost breeders of alba, personata, baicalensis and ocularis arrive on the breeding grounds from mid-April to mid-May. A migrant white wagtail in May can be considered late in The Netherlands as local alba are already breeding and the peak of yarrellii 's migration (mid-March to mid-April) is over.
Alström et al say that: 'The taxa alba (including 'dukhunensis'), baicalensis, personata and ocularis intergrade where their ranges meet.
Their map on p.387 shows that alba and ocularis intergrade with alba in West central Siberia at ca 95E, with personata and baicalensis in central Asia.
I presented my pictures and conclusion that this bird must be M.a.baicalensis to Dr.Per Alström, Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, and he comments as follows:
'I would still like to see the entire throat; in theory, there could be a dark stripe or a some dark spots centrally. Yes, wing pattern indicates a bird of eastern origin. No point in trying to stretch it.'
If only I had been able to take a picture from the front of the bird! However, there is no doubt my bird is an 'eastern' White Wagtail and came from far. As such it is one of only a handfull eastern birds which have been observed in Europe and may be the first for Europe showing characters of M.a.baicalensis however several birds seen in spring in Sweden may be hybrids M.a.baicalensis x M.a.personata and or alba rather than hybrids between alba and yarrellii as has been suggested.
There have been occurrences of other eastern White Wagtails races in Western Europe:
In Britain three records (out of a possible four) of Chinese Black-backed Wagtail Motacilla (alba) leucopsis have been accepted by the UK400 Club -:
-An autumn adult at Salakee Farm, St Mary's (Scilly) on 19th October 1981 (Nigel Redman et al) (Isles of Scilly Bird Report 1981), Green Farm and Pelistry Lane, St Mary's (Scilly);
-17th-19th October 1986 (many observers; LGRE et al) and a summer-plumaged adult at Seaham (Durham); -5th-6th April 2005 (Steve Addinall et al).
In Norway a Motacilla alba personata stayed from November 2003 to April 2004.
In Sweden an adult male Motacilla alba personata was found on Òland on 29th April 2006.
Reference: Alström, Per & Krister Mild & Bill Zetterström.2003: Pipits & Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America. London. Helm Identification Guides.
Acknowledgement: I thank Dr. Per Alström, Lee G.R.Evans, Frode Falkenberg and Magnus Hellstrom for their interesting comments and or supplying more details on eastern White Wagtails.
I have added pictures of White Wagtails Motacilla a. alba and Pied Wagtails Motacilla a.yarrellii showing breeding, autumn, winter and or immature plumages. I have tried to determine sex and age which is not always easy as even Lars Svensson,1992, says: ´More research is required to establish the range of individual variation and any pitfalls.´ Therefore corrections are welcome.
Reference: Svensson, Lars.1992.Identification Guide to European Passerines, 4th ed. Stockholm.
motacilla alba baicalensis, maasvlakte rotterdam,
the netherlands - may 08-2001
you feel the need, please
all pictures copyright -norman deans van swelm-
RECAP: THE MYSTERIOUS WAYS OF
Under favourable weather
conditions Western Europe can expect influxes of a variety of
representatives of the Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
is described in great detail by Per Ahlström & Krister Mild in the monograph
Pipits & Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America (publ.by Christopher
In a good spring with
persistent SE winds between the middle of April and the middle of May large
numbers of Yellow wagtails arrive in the Rhine-Meuse delta, here in the SW
Netherlands where we live. The majority of the birds arriving in April are
nominate Blue-headed Wagtails Motacilla f. flava
whereas in May
northern Grey-headed Wagtails Motacilla f. thunbergi
over. In between these two others such as Yellow Wagtails
flavissima of which small numbers breed locally,as well as individual
Black-headed Wagtails Motacilla f. feldegg, Citrine Wagtails
Motacilla citreola, birds resembling Sykes' Wagtail
beema, and forms such as 'Dombrowski' and 'Superciliaris' appear on
Interestingly the groups of
migrants consist mainly of males as the females seem to arrive on an
individual ticket. May be this explains the paucity of published pictures of
females. In The Netherlands two races breed, the nominate being the
commonest while small numbers of flavissima
breed in the West of
the country in both cultivated areas and saltmarshes. No case of
hybridisation between flava and
flavissima has ever been
reported here and in any case would be very difficult to proof without the
help of colour-ringing individuals and close observation of pairs.
In Birding World (Vol) 20:
104-112 March 2007, Philippe Dubois describes the confusing situation on the
French side of the English Channel where he claims multiple hybridisation
between Blue-headed nominate and Yellow Wagtail which he calls 'Channel
Wagtail'; nominate x Spanish Wagtail M.f.iberiae: 'Middlewest'
Wagtail; Spanish Wagtail x Italian Wagtail M.f.cinereocapilla: 'Mediterranean'
Wagtail; and Italian Wagtail x nominate flava
which he calls 'Eastern
By means of this complex
hybridisation scheme he explains why some individuals look like f.i. Sykes
Wagtail Motacilla f. beema but are in fact according to him a cross
between flava and
flavissima so-called 'Channel Wagtail'.
This does not make recognising true eastern or southern vagrants which do
occur any easier. In fact, if you accept this view, to separate a real
vagrant from a Channel look-alike is impossible!