Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Citrine Wagtails: different strokes

By Steve Young

The first of the two Citrine Wagtails (photo: Pete Kinsella)
On the evening of Friday 28 August, Pete Kinsella found an odd-looking wagtail at Crosby Marina, next to Seaforth LWT reserve, Lancashire. Attracted by its Citrine-like call, his excitement increased when he saw the head pattern, but his was tempered by the bird’s thin wing-bars and the slight buff tones to its mantle. He took a few shots, half dismissing it as an aberrant wagtail of some sort, or possibly a hybrid. It was only seen briefly by one birder the next morning, and by Pete again briefly on the Sunday.

That same day, Gavin Thomas, Chris Gregson, Pete and I continued to look for the bird. We had no luck until Gavin went to search a different area, and a few minutes later rang to say he had heard it. We joined him and, sure enough, a wagtail flew past and landed briefly, calling loudly. I picked up my bins and saw two broad wing bars and a perfect Citrine head pattern. But Pete exclaimed: “That’s not my bird – it’s a different one, a juvenile Citrine Wagtail!”

The second Seaforth Citrine, clearly a juvenile (photo: Steve Young).

The ear-covert surround is less well defined on this bird (photo: Steve Young).
Unbelievably, it was a 'real' Citrine, found while looking for the original bird! The latter wagtail was never seen again, but images were circulated and some of the responses lean towards a moulting female or first-year Citrine. Interestingly, the ear-covert surround looks to be more pronounced on that bird than on the second Citrine, which is clearly a juvenile.

Juvenile Citrine typically has bold wing-bars and head pattern (photo: Steve Young).

Compare the above Seaforth juvenile to this YouTube footage of another classic individual, taken by ethering at Marazion Marsh, Cornwall, on 2 September 2009 (check out more of ethering's bird videos here):

And here's a recording of a Citrine Wagtail call - noticeably more shrill and rasping than the classic Yellow Wagtail equivalent (though some flava wagtails from eastern Europe and the Balkans eastwards have a more grating call note):

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