Probing the Puzzling Plumage Patterns of White Wagtails

Avian Hybrids

How can we explain plumage patterns in white wagtails subspecies?

Wagtail taxonomy is a mess. Numerous subspecies have been described based on morphological differences, but they are not supported by genetic data. A recent study in Journal of Evolutionary Biology took another look at several subspecies of the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba). Could they explain the mismatch between plumage and genetics?

Six Subspecies

Georgy Semenov and his colleagues sampled six of the nine recognized subspecies – alba, personata, baicalensis, ocularis, lugens and leucopsis – and sequenced 17 microsatellites. In line with previous studies, the genetic analyses revealed little population structure and weak divergence among the subspecies.

MotacillaAlbaDistribution.svg Distribution of White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) subspecies (from http://www.wikiwand.com/en/White_wagtail)

Puzzling Plumage Patterns

How can ornithologists explain this peculiar pattern of clear morphological differences without genetic differentiation? Recent genomic studies have shown that a small fraction of the genome…

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Indigo bunting one of summer’s common songbirds

Our Fine Feathered Friends

IMG_6700 Photo by Bryan Stevens • The male indigo bunting is a resplendent bird.

Two recent summer bird counts emphasized some of the more commonplace birds in the region. While American robins and European starlings were extremely abundant, these two birds are permanent residents and are present year-round. A few other summer songbirds also helped swell the ranks of some of the seasonally common birds. For instance, the Unicoi County Summer Bird Count found a total of 141 indigo buntings while the Elizabethton Summer Bird Count tallied 82 of these little blue beauties. Both of these Northeast Tennessee surveys are conducted by members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society.

The indigo bunting likes to reside in the boundary region where forests and woodlands meet fields and pastures. Personally, the indigo bunting has always been a bird that is suggestive of the long, hot days of summer…

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Important News Concerning all of us

Hermanus Bird Club

We have recently been notified that an application has been made to the Overstrand Municipality to build a whisky/gin distillery on the dirt road between the villages of Rooiels and Pringle Bay.  This is currently a pristine, highly sensitive ecological area, accessible only on foot (and by car on a dirt road to only a handful of small-holding owners).  It is a prime birding area, attracting many local and international birders, who come to see the Cape Rock Jumper and Ground Woodpecker, amongst others.

The application touts the merits of attracting vast numbers of tourists to the area to visit the distillery, and of course, service vehicles will be necessary for the operation of the distillery, as well as other impacts caused by an industrial activity.  Distilleries also represent very significant fire hazards.

This area is also a buffer zone for the 51st (Kogelberg) Biosphere.​

The Overstrand Municipality has invited…

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