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Black-backed Wagtail
10 May 2003
Deep Springs College, Inyo County, CA

Chris Howard and Rosie Beach, Bishop, CA - On the morning of 10 May 2003 we found and photographed a Black-backed Wagtail at Deep Springs College, Inyo County.  We spent 1.5 hours observing, documenting, and photographing the bird.  Despite the best efforts of several other birders, the bird was not relocated later that day or the following day.  We initially id'ed it as either a Black-backed or the closely related White Wagtail because of seemingly conflicting marks exhibited by the bird (e.g. the upper surface of the primaries were mostly dark).  However, upon reading Howell's (1990) Western Birds article and other sources we concluded that this is a Black-backed Wagtail, possibly a female in first alternate plumage.  Howell reports that the wings of Black-backed Wagtail in their first year are mostly dark, very similar to those of White Wagtail, and it takes 2 years for the extensively white wing of most adult Black-backed to develop.  The main marks this bird showed that fit Black-backed was the pure white chin, completely white greater and median wing coverts, darker (almost-charcoal) back, black rump, and small specks of black in the back.

This is the first documented report for Inyo County, and perhaps the interior of North America.

Howell, S.N.G. (1990). Identification of White & Black-backed Wagtails in Alternate Plumage. Western Birds 21: 41-49.

Photos digiscoped by © Chris Howard and Rosie Beach