23 March 2014

Eastern Black-headed Wagtails again – Dhahran Hills

Mike Pope in Kuwait saw some Black-headed Wagtails a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that the majority were typical feldegg, but he did find (and a first for him) and single Eastern Black-headed Wagtail and was able to photograph both in similar poses for comparative purposes. I also found three of these Eastern Black-headed Yellow Wagtails in a group of typical feldegg on 16 March, as well as five on the 18 March and followed Mike’s example with the results the bottom compilation photo. These were also my first records of this sub-species in Saudi Arabia and it is interesting to see that the excellent Birds of Kuwait a comprehensive visual guide has their status as a common passage migrant with feldegg as a very common passage migrant and winter visitor. If this is the correct status of melanogrisea it is surprising both Mike and myself have not seen them before in our respective countries of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Mike mentioned that others in Kuwait have seen the subspecies more often than him and the status of common is fine and also mentioned the status may be seasonal with birds more abundant in some years than others. I will be keeping a close look out for this type of bird again to see if the status in Kuwait matches that in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The group of birds I saw on 18 March, all of which were around the edge of the settling pond as previously, totalled ten birds with five males all of which were melanogrisea.

Some individuals, more common in the eastern part of their range, show some white on sides of the throat (often also on upper throat) like the ones I saw. Melanogrisea is said to breed from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea south to northern Afghanistan and the Tian Shan, and east to Lake Balkhash, Tarbagatay and Dzungaria and winter mainly in India. Plumage wise it is close to feldegg but slightly brighter and paler green on the back, paler yellow below with the chin white instead of yellow and the yellow throat separated from the black ear-coverts by a more or less narrow white line lacking in feldegg. The hood also does not reach the back onto the mantle. These differences are not consistent according to Alstrom and Mild ‘Pipits & Wagtails’ and they do not think it is a valid subspecies saying birds showing characteristics of melanogrisea are uncommon spring migrants in East Africa and comprise 10% of the feldegg passing in spring in Israel and many birds in spring in India appear to be typical feldegg. Birds on the breeding grounds of melanogrisea also lack the white stripe and some birds in the European breeding range of feldegg also have a white stripe. As a result Alstrom & Mild regard melanogrisea as a plumage variant within feldegg that becomes clinally commoner in the eastern part of the breeding rang