Western Yellow or Green-headed Wagtails in WA

To: "BIRDING-AUS" <>, "John Darnell" <>, "Frank O'Connor" <>
Subject: Western Yellow or Green-headed Wagtails in WA
From: "Mike Carter" <>
Date: Sat, 20 Feb 2010 14:36:52 +1100
John Darnell has sent me some poor photos of some Yellow Wagtails seen at Cranbrook in SW WA (north of Albany). Unusually far south for such birds. If I read the camera data correctly they were taken on 21 January 2010. It seems that several birds were present, some advancing into breeding plumage. I'm told that they were initially claimed as Grey Wagtails but this was corrected to Yellow Wagtail. They may still be there - are they Frank?. Now the claim is that they are Eastern Yellow Wagtails as one might reasonably expect. John agrees that some probably are that species but it is clear that some are not. Some have no white supercilium and John suspects that they are what today we would call Western Yellow Wagtails of the race thunbergi. He uses the name 'plexa' which was the name given to the far eastern forms of that taxon now subsumed into thunbergi. Western Yellow Wagtail is not yet on the Australian list but perhaps only because of the difficulty/impossibility of telling thunbergi apart from macronyx. Although intuitively wrong, macronyx is considered a subspecies of Green-headed Wagtail (taivana) which is on the Australian list because adults of the nominate race are annual but rare in NW WA and occasional in the NT. Occasionally those areas too get birds which look like these. Macronyx has been claimed (with and without photographs from both Christmas and Cocos Islands. These are very colourful birds with blue heads. It seems odd to me that we should get the Mongolian macronyx and Manchurian taivana rather than the Siberian thunbergi. Our usual Eastern Yellow Wagtails tschutschensis breed in the intervening region and further east. This situation of the more southerly breeding populations coming further south is contrary to the strategy adopted by other migrants. More northern birds usually leap-frog there southern counterparts. Anyway, you Western Australians, get behind John and the WA Museum and not call thunbergi/macronyx birds Eastern Yellow Wagtails. They are either Western Yellow Wagtails or Green-headed Wagtails even though you may not know which!

Mike Carter
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mount Eliza  VIC 3930
Tel  (03) 9787 7136


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