Rarity finders: Amur Wagtail in Shetland


It is a common sight to see Pied Wagtail and White Wagtails in spring and summer along the Ham burn on Foula. On the morning of 30 May, during our regular circuit of Ham, I spotted one along the burn which, oddly, looked too black and white. As I reached for my camera it was off – chance gone, I thought. Was it just an aberrant alba? It had looked interesting.

Later that afternoon I caught up with it briefly and this time managed some distant record shots before it disappeared once again.

On the evening of 2 June I transferred my camera memory card onto the laptop and came across the wagtail photos. I reached in the bookcase and pulled out Britain's Birds. There, in a small inset on the Pied Wagtail page, was a photograph of an Amur Wagtail (subspecies leucopsis) that matched our bird.

The male Amur Wagtail on Foula was only the second occurrence of this attractive Far Eastern subspecies of White Wagtail in Britain (Geoff Atherton).

The description in the book was a perfect fit: it had an isolated black bib, extensive white face and a large white wing patch. This Far Eastern form of White Wagtail wasn't even on our radar and we contacted a friend for confirmation.

The next morning we were up and out early to see if it was still there and hopefully obtain some better photos. It was still present, but was very shy and flew off as soon as it saw us, even at a distance. In flight it was even more strikingly contrasting.

Reluctantly I had to leave for work and left Donna still looking for the bird. Sadly, though, neither of us saw this extremely rare visitor again.

Written by: Donna & Geoff Atherton