Wednesday 3 July 2019

Two beema or not two beema - that is the question!

Two beema, or not two beema, that is the question: not to forget those head scratching ones that are the Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtail intergrades!

I don't know if Shakespeare was a birder, but if he had visited Cyprus in late March / early April he would have marvelled at the wonderful 'Yellow' Wagtails moving through. The grasslands at Paphos Headland, and links-like short grass cover found at Cape Drepanum, Timi Beach and Mandria held, at times, many feeding feldeggs. Their call edging towards that of Citrine Wagtail but not quite there.

Given the numbers, sometimes 200+ in a wandering flock, what else could be found amongst a wave of Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtails? Several elusive Blue-headed, one or two Grey-headed and many variable Black-headed 'intergrades' were often present, but how about Sykes's Yellow Wagtail?

A starting point to identification, namely looking at the plate showing the head patterns of male 'Yellow' Wagtails in the 'Collins Guide', together with my 'basic' interpretation -

  • Feldegg (Black-headed Wagtail) - uniform black head appearing to extend onto the nape, full yellow throat.
  • Flava (Blue-headed Wagtail) - blue head with a white supercilium, yellow throat with a hint of a white submoustachial stripe.
  • Thunbergi (Grey-headed Wagtail) - very dark blue/grey head with slightly darker ear coverts, and a hint of a white submoustachial stripe against a yellow throat.
  • Dombrowskii ('Black-headed intergrade') - dark blue/grey head with a striking white supercilium, yellow throat and a white chin.
  • Superciliaris ('Black-headed intergrade') - black headed with a striking white supercilium appearing broader behind the eye, and a yellow throat.
  • But is it that simple when it comes to intergrades? What about Xanthrophys ('Black-headed intergrade') - not shown in the 'Collins Guide' but from a web search, characterised with a yellow supercilium?
  • Beema (Sykes's Yellow Wagtail) - pale blue head with a white supercilium, extensive white on the ear coverts, white throat merging without a clear demarcation into yellow underparts.

Can all of the following photographed in Spring in Cyprus be identified to type?


Are these two wagtails examples of beema (Sykes's Yellow Wagtails)?

Wagtail #1, Timi Beach, Cyprus, April 2019 (x2)

                                       Wagtail #2, Akrotiri, Cyprus, April 2019 (x2)

Dombrowskii / Superciliaris / Xanthrophys 

Is it possible to separate the intergrades, or are the ones shown below best left as Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtail intergrades?

                                                 Wagtail #3, Cape Drepanum, Cyprus, April 2016 (x5)

                                   Wagtail #4, Cape Drepanum, Cyprus, April 2016 (x1)

                                            Wagtail #5, Akrotiri, Cyprus, April 2019 (x1)

                                               Wagtail #6, Cyprus, March 2018 (x2)


Sadly the only photo I have of this type.

Grey-headed Wagtail, Timi Beach, Cyprus, April 2019 (x1)


A stunning taxon.

Black-headed Wagtail, Cyprus, April 2016 (x1)

                                  Black-headed Wagtail, Paphos Headland, Cyprus, April 2019 (x2)