MARCH 2010'S MYSTERY BIRD ANSWERS
There was a reduction to 26 entrants to this months 'head hurters', perhaps they were just too difficult? Either way, those who had a go gave it their best shot and what shots they were, despite some entrants calling me terrible names in the process ☺! Let's examine just what the hell they were and how you all got on.
Mystery Bird 5
An overwhelming 92% of all 26 entrants managed to correctly narrow this mystery bird down to atleast it being a wagtail of some description. This of course left the other 8%, with Northern Wheatear and Water Pipit, no doubt scratching their heads as to where they went wrong. To be fair there are several features for both which eliminate their chances of fitting our mystery bird but to cut down on my usual monthly waffle (yes, I appreciate I can get carried away with myself sometimes!) one word sums each up. For the former species it's 'primaries' (or complete lack of them as Northern Wheatear has long primaries exposed beyond the tertials) and for the latter species it's 'streaking' (or another complete lack of them as Water Pipit would show some conspicuous mantle streaking). So, wagtail it is then! Three species of wagtail were offered with 69% plumping for Yellow Wagtail, 19% for Citrine Wagtail and 4% for Pied Wagtail but as we know it's not always necessarily the majority who are right! As I see it, the following features are present in the photograph, a rather brownish hue on the mantle especially with a paler rump and hint of olive on the uppertail covert area, a conspicuous and broad pale creamy supercilium with an equally obvious blackish lateral crown stripe with rather solid brownish ear coverts and perhaps a conceivable hint of a malar stripe. These features assist us in narrowing our mystery bird down further to just either Citrine Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail, but can it be successfully narrowed down further again? Firstly and perhaps importantly, we should assess it's overall plumage and just what we've actually got. Many entrants were confused by it's appearance as it didn't fit their image of either species and that assisted in many an incorrect answer. The reason for that is simply because the bird's plumage with it's brownish colouration and strong facial features is unfortunately all too unfamiliar nowadays due to the fact that the mystery bird is a juvenile. Juveniles of Citrine and Yellow Wagtail however share atleast some of the distinctive features of their parents though and in this instance the rather solid brown ear coverts and supercilium restricted to above the eye only and clearly not extending all the way around the ear coverts points us in the right direction, towards Yellow Wagtail.
Well done to the 18 who managed the correct answer and to some of the other incorrect entrants, who seemingly had correctly assessed the right features and come to the correct conclusion yet, for what ever reason, went with a wrong answer, trust your instincts, they're usually right!
Juvenile Yellow Wagtail, Irlam Moss, July 2007 (Ian McKerchar)
Mystery Bird 6
All entrants correctly assessed this mystery bird as being a species of wheatear, which fortunately allows me to cut down somewhat on boring you with waffle again (though I do miss it!). Three species of wheatear made their way as entries. Desert, Isabelline and Northern Wheatear. Whilst Isabelline and Northern are clearly an often problematical duo to separate, Desert Wheatear and it's always patently pale edges remiges (wing feathers) can be safely ruled out from here on in. This leaves us with said problem pairing of Isabelline and Northern Wheatear but certain solid and dependable features exist that can help us in our assessment. Personally, I feel there is little to go on in the separation of the pair from the upperparts in the image as they match either so closely but focusing our concentration on the wing allows us to nail it's true identification. Isabelline Wheatear (of which I have payed close attention to hundreds over previous years) displays a considerably paler ground colour to the wing than Northern Wheatear. It can be difficult to assess if unfamiliar with the species or on a lone bird without comparison but comparing the wing to the colour of the tail often gives an idea of it's true hue. In our mystery bird I feel the wing is patently just too dark a hue of brown for Isabelline and it contrasts little with the tail colouration. Most importantly though, Isabelline Wheatear has very pale edged primary coverts which give rise to them appearing almost wholly pale and this in turn emphasises the blackness of the alula, making it prominently the darkest part of the wing. Our mystery bird clearly lacks this as all the remiges appear entirely uniform. This alone is enough to secure our identification as a Northern Wheatear, so well done to the seventeen correct entrants.
Female Northern Wheatear, Astley Moss East Pools, May 2009 (Ian McKerchar)
Compare the mystery bird with this Isabelline Wheatear below. Note that its wing feathers are paler and are much more obviously so than compared to the darkness of the tail. Typically, the primary coverts are very pale looking and enhance the blackness of the alula, making it strikingly obvious and the darkest part of the wing (except for a displaced greater covert in this image!). Note how the outer tail looks particularly all black and compare it in the similar pose with our mystery bird.
Isabelline Wheatear, Qatar, April 2010 (Ian McKerchar)
Another Fantastic effort all round saw twelve entrants secure a full house with both correct answers. Well done to Mike Cooper, Simon Warford, Tim (going for the unexotic) Wilcox, Caroline (puzzled) Clay, Nick (equally puzzled) Godden, Nick Hilton, Henry (book of excuses) Cook, John (Mr.Instinct) Tymon, Neil Calbrade, Paul Brown, Paul (full of hatred) Cliff and Dave Broome.
This round also saw two county ex-pats take the lead with six correct answers so far, last year's Orkney dwelling champ Paul Brown and ex-Piethorne finest, now East Anglian dwelling Neil Calbrade. Behind them is a chasing pack of six entrants with five correct answers though and equally behind them a full range of eager entrants snapping at their heals. See you all next month...