RE: Rare Birds on Cocos; Macronyx Yellow Wagtail

To: "Mike Carter" <>, "Edwin Vella" <>, "BIRDING-AUS" <>
Subject: RE: Rare Birds on Cocos; Macronyx Yellow Wagtail
From: "Walter Boles" <>
Date: Sun, 21 May 2006 14:38:28 +1000
In addition to Alström and Mild (2003), Pavlova et al. (2003) used DNA 
sequences to confirm that Motacilla flava as conventionally delimited is not 
monophyletic.  There are at least three species-level taxa involved: nominate 
flava, tschutschensis and taivana.

Schodde and Mason (1999), in the Directory, noted that there appear to be three 
plumage types recorded in this country and several forms could occur here as 
vagrants.  They also remarked that identifications of none of the records 
(including specimens) is satisfactorily confirmed.  So, which forms of flava 
occur as vagrants in Australia?  The eastern forms recorded from Indonesia and 
New Guinea, and likely to occur in Australia, are not part of the lineage 
containing the nominate flava.  Instead, these represent either, or both, of 
two species, M. tschutschensis and M. taivana. 

If anyone has good observations/photographs of these birds, then it would be 
very useful to have this information, together with a good critical discussion 
of the characters and records, get into the primary literature.  I know folks 
have firm ideas of which forms they have seen.  Now get it into print!

Pavlova, A., Zink, R.M., Drovetski, S.V., Red'kin, Y. and Rohwer, S. 2003. 
Phylogeographic patterns in Motacilla flava and Motacilla citreola: Species 
limits and population history. Auk 120: 744-758

Walter Boles


From: Mike Carter 
Sent: Monday, 15 May 2006 9:51 PM
To: Edwin Vella; BIRDING-AUS
Cc: BAXTER, RICHARD; David James; Tony Palliser; Alan Morris; Walter Boles; 
John Darnell; Sean Dooley; Bill Ramsay; Frank O'Connor
Subject: Rare Birds on Cocos; Macronyx Yellow Wagtail

Following the report of the observation by Richard Baxter on Cocos (Keeling) 
Island, Edwin Vella asked 'Is the macronyx Yellow Wagtail a full species? If it 
is, what other species of Yellow Wagtail have been split?"

Well as always, it depends on the taxonomy you choose to follow. Even the 
recent Pipits & Wagtails, the ultimate reference by Alstrom & Mild, (2003) 
Helm, wasn't definitive. It treated the Yellow Wagtail as a single species 
with, if I can count, 13 subspecies, some with various forms, but then said 
molecular data suggest they should be split into two groups, 'Western' and 
'Eastern' forms, OR into nine or more species! So far as Australia is concerned 
only the three subspecies comprising the Eastern group have so far been claimed 
or recorded. These are tschutschensis (which absorbs simillima), taivana, and 
macronyx. Alternatively these could be regarded as three separate species. So 
we await the next Christidis & Boles.

Unfortunately, macronyx resembles thunbergi (of the 'Western' group) so closely 
that it 'is not diagnosable by plumage, morphometrics or voice' (A & M page 285 
and elsewhere) but DNA data says it is different! Either or both could occur in 
Australia. Since thunbergi has a more northerly breeding distribution, I think 
it a more likely vagrant to Australia especially for an occurrence in May as 
they migrate later. However, Schodde & Mason (1999) CSIRO, followed Mees 
(1982), in accepting macronyx from central Asia as the more likely taxon, so 
changed the initial identification of a Yellow Wagtail seen at Richmond (NSW I 
suppose) (Australian Birds 1979). Both winter in the Oriental region and 
according to Alstrom & Mild, thunbergi breeds not only further north but also 
further east than macronyx. S & M considered thunbergi a northwest Eurasian 
form and therefore of unlikely provenance. Not so apparently. 

Fortunately, Richard has numerous excellent photos of this beast. 
Unfortunately, I dipped! BUT GOT HIS CHINESE POND HERON now believed to have 
gone. I'd seen it within 29 hours of Richard's gratefully received call to my 
home in Victoria!

Mike Carter
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mt Eliza    VIC     3930
Ph:  (03) 9787 7136

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