Friday, 25 March 2022

Pipits & Wagtails

Not too much time for birding these last few days, what with all this lovely sunshine and the need to make hay. But I did manage a short session in Rockit Land on Wednesday morning. Again I really struggled to find some. Two or three at most, and so-so photos of just one. I can't find a good match among the birds photographed so far, and reckon it's probably a new one...

I wonder why I'm struggling to find them in any numbers all of a sudden? Have they got a new favourite hang-out? Somewhere I'm not looking? Or, have some of them moved on? maybe? Anyway, I'm not done with them yet, so will keep at it.

After work yesterday I called in at a local spot with some water, hoping for a Sand Martin or two. It was a peaceful evening, and I watched the setting sun turn a beautiful red as it bowed out of the day. No Sand Martins, but there were several Pied Wagtails to pick through instead.

I always enjoy hunting for White Wagtails among the Pied in spring, but it looked like I had drawn a blank this time. It was 18:15, and the light dimming fast, and then one bird finally did catch my eye. Not in the usual way, i.e. because of an obviously pale mantle, but rather because its white bits were so clean and bright. Its mantle, in fact, seemed to be a surprisingly dark shade of grey...

I never saw the rump, but the somewhat limited (and pale) grey wash on the flanks is a good sign

The solid black nape suggests a male but, as I learned in the paper 'White Wagtail and Pied Wagtail: a new look' by Adriaens, Bosman & Elst (Dutch Birding 2010), only a fool is dogmatic about alba Wags. Here is yesterday's bird compared with a West Bex peach from 2nd April last year...

Yesterday's bird (top row and middle right) and West Bex White Wagtail (bottom two and middle left)

Let me share a gem from that Dutch Birding paper.

Mantle shade (on Kodak Grey Scale): yarrellii (10-18), alba (7-12)

And scapular shade: yarrellii (10-18), alba (7-11)

The paper defines 11 as 'dark grey' and 12 as 'very dark grey', and certainly a quick glance at a Kodak Grey Scale supports those definitions. The point is, of course, that there is overlap between the two races. So, purely on the basis of mantle/scaps colour, my bird yesterday might be a pale Pied or a dark White. I'm going for White. And I might even be correct.

Really though, the bird's actual identity is immaterial. Yet again, a common species has given me a lot of fun. And that'll do nicely.

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