Saturday 4 May 2013

Grey-headed Wagtail in Leicestershire

Thornton Reservoir, Leicestershire
Photo by Adam Archer

Belated news of a scarce form of Western Yellow Wagtail filtered through from Leicestershire last night. A male Grey-headed Wagtail, the form thunbergi had been present around the horse paddocks along the eastern side of Thornton Reservoir for the past three days. As the village of Thornton is only half a hour car ride away from our new house and having not seen this subspecies before, I decided to try for it today. After speaking with Leicestershire's Johnny Hague regarding access to the site and the bird's habits, the consensus was that an afternoon visit would prove more productive.

After completing a few more 'moving in' tasks, Nadia and I headed east through rural Leicestershire and arrived on site at around 3.30pm. The bird had been reported on and off throughout the morning but as we arrived there was neither any sign of the bird or any other birders. A male British Yellow Wagtail (form flavissima) was a nice distraction but it was not what we were looking for. Just a few minutes later though another Western Yellow Wagtail was heard calling and suddenly the handsome Grey-headed Wagtail appeared out of nowhere to feed alongside one of the horses that was grazing the pasture.   

Grey-headed Wagtail (male of the race thunbergi)
Thornton Reservoir, Leicestershire - May 2013
Photo by Adam Archer

The bird continued to show well on and off as it risked life and limb picking off any insects that were disturbed by the horses hooves. Like any wagtail species though it would often fly off for no apparent reason only to reappear a short time later. It would also disappear over the brow of the hill at times but as the horses reappeared then so would the Grey-headed Wagtail along with at least 3 British Yellow Wagtails.  Other birds on site included 2 Common Buzzard, a Sparrowhawk, both singing Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat and around 20 Sand Martin.

Flat-headed Wagtail (male of the race squashbirdi)
Photo by Adam Archer

Grey-headed Wagtail or Dark-headed Wagtail as it is sometimes known breeds in central and northern parts of Scandinavia, eastwards across to north-west Siberia. It spends the winter in East Africa, the Indian subcontinent and across parts of South-east Asia. Just a few weeks ago it is quite possible that this Leicestershire bird was feeding at the feet of Zebra or Wildebeest out on the African plains. 

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