03 September 2013

Citrine Wagtails

After a number of brief encounters with a Wryneck on the Butterfly Bank above the Youth Hostel, I headed for the Lleithyr horse field where there had been a Yellow Wagtail with 6-10 Pieds on a couple of days previously. I was glad to see a couple of Pieds but then did a double take. All of a sudden they looked more like Yellow Wagtails with no gorgets; looking smaller and neater than Pieds but completely lacking any brown in the upperparts which were clear grey with a blackish, relatively short, tail. Clean white underparts completely lacked any yellow including on the undertail coverts. I took a few distant photos (85 metres away) with a compact zoom camera and set off to get nearer. However as I turned to take the path along the hedge, the birds flew up and over my head calling at least 5 or 6 times. The call was very distinctive, an explosive 'tshrreeep', completely unlike 'Alba' wagtails and also very different to normal Yellow Wagtails. It was similar to the call made by the Black-headed Wagtail at Marloes Mere in the spring but perhaps more emphatic and richer. I've not heard Citrine Wagtail for years but it sounded as I remember. In flight the birds were relatively short-tailed and quite full in the body.

On the deck I was struck by the clear white, grey and black plumage tones. The wing-bars were strong and clear white, standing out very obviously. The head pattern was difficult to see in detail at such a distance, however the Supercilium stood out very prominently and the lores gave an impression of lightness but it was difficult to be precise and the pale 'wraparound' to the ear coverts could not be seen - it was just too far away though can it be seen on a photo?

The plumage and call clearly rule out 'Alba' and 'normal' Yellow Wagtails. However the problem of eastern Yellow Wagtails which can apparently, in extreme cases, lack yellow tones and have a similar call to Citrine is more of a challenge. I would expect these birds to have a less distinct head pattern though, including a narrower supercilium, not showing such overall contrast as these birds.

In context, I would think that the number of Citrine Wagtails in the country recently would be an argument in favour of Citrine, the likelihood of two striking Eastern Yellows together, on the west coast, on such an early date must be pretty distant I would imagine. Eastern Yellows are usually late-autumn migrants. The pictures below are terrible I know but they give a little feel for the birds.