Steve Young s Birdwatch logbook

 birding world

 On hearing news of an unusual wagtail sighting, Steve Young heads to his local reserve in the hope of a glimpse of the elusive bird, but instead, he makes a very rare discovery

There are times in the birding world when coincidence plays a strange part in the realm of identification; when one looked-for bird appears to turn into another, or when simply talking about a bird seemingly leads to it appearing. Such a sequence of strange events took place at my nearby patch at Seaforth Nature Reserve last August, and became known, to me and a group of local birders, as Tale of Two Wagtails’.

Britain has three common species of wagtail: pied, grey and yellow. The very rare citrine is an occasional visitor, sometimes appearing in spring but also in autumn. Juvenile citrine wagtails are quite difficult to tell apart from juveniles of pied, but the call is very different and there are obvious distinctions if the bird is seen well.

The tale began when one of the regular Seaforth birders discovered an odd-looking wagtail; it didnreally fit the identification criteria of pied but didnlook right for citrine either. Before a claim of a rarity, such as citrine, is made, everything really has to fit; to put out news and then to find out later that the supposed bird isnwhat it should have been is considered to be a bit of a birding world disaster!

The bird was still present the following day and was seen by another local, but I failed to see it on my visit there. So, the next day I set out early with a small group of like-minded souls, and we made a concerted effort to find the bird. A long walk around the entire reserve ensued as we searched every area it had been or could possibly be seen in, but still no luck; we only came across a few yellow and pied wagtails.

We regrouped and basically stood around moaning, but one birder walked away and checked a small area of marshy grass. There was sudden shout and then a ’call from a small bird that had landed about 20 yards away from me; I picked up my binoculars and saw a bird with large white wing bars, nice ear covert surround and lacking any brown tones —a pristine juvenile citrine wagtail! No sign of that odd wagtail in all that searching, but this was the real deal. Before I could swing my lens around from my shoulder it called again and flew away to the area where we had all been looking for it.

It then flew away over the main pool, again calling loudly, so I walked around to the hide on the other side in the vain hope that it would walk along the rocks in front of the hide, as a few of the pied wagtails sometimes did. As I expected, there was nothing apart from those few pied wagtails in front of the hide, but just outside it were a couple of yellow wagtails feeding on a smaller pool.

Again, they were into the sun, but I took a couple of photos anyway. Then, for some reason best known to itself, but for which I was extremely grateful, the citrine wagtail decide to fly in and land on the same pool. It was just a matter of waiting for it to walk the entire circuit of : the pool before it came reasonably close to the viewing area for me to photograph it. Even using my 500mm lens with a 1.4x converter, the bird was still quite small in the frame, plus I was also shooting into the sun. It was, however, the best chance I was going to get.

Eventually, the bird moved away from the hide and to the very far side of the pool and I didnsee it again, but I had the shots I was after and it had turned into a very good day. And as for that odd-looking bird that started all the fuss? It was never seen again, but wealways be grateful to it and the original spotter for setting the wheels in motion for a strange turn of events.

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