Sunday, March 17, 2013

Citrine Wagtail, YES!, Thursday, March 14

I arrived at 9:30 am at the farm road opposite the pumping station on Comox Road in Courtenay.  Guess what?  It was raining, so I put on my wet pants, my knee high rubber boots and my hooded rain jacket.  I kept my camera in the bag to protect it from the weather.  There were a lot of swans feeding in the grassy fields along Comox opposite the treatment plant.  I identified only Trumpeter Swans, but did not look carefully for Tundra Swans, because I have seen them in the east in Ohio this year.  It is nice to see wild non-released Trumpeter Swans.  We see Trumpeters in Ohio but they are either released birds or progeny of released birds.  I do not count these.  I walked out the road until I got beyond the first hedge row to the grassy field where the Citrine Wagtail was first seen.  The two brush piles along the road have been burned.  This field had Trumpeter Swans and puddle ducks feeding.  I walked slowly along this road scanning the field and the edges looking for the wagtail and continued to and beyond the last hedge row of trees at the far edge of this grassy field.  This last hedge row includes a water filled ditch or stream that flows under the farm road.  The next field beyond this last hedge row is a corn field, and there is a brush pile just beyond the ditch close to the road.  This corn field is near the very end of the farm road at least a mile or more from Comox Road.  The most recent previous reports of the wagtail were at this location.  I scanned this corn field carefully and slowly walked to the far edge of this field on the farm road almost to a fence around a grassy meadow.  There were more swans and waterfowl feeding in this grassy field, and flying around from field to field.  There was an adult Bald Eagle in the area that was flushing the ducks and swans.  I continued scanning and listening carefully for wagtail like call notes, but without success.  Beyond the last hedge row and ditch, there is also a corn field on the right side of the farm field walking away from Comox Road, and I scanned this field also.  I turned around and walked back toward the brush pile, scanning and listening.  I carried a telescope with me but did most of my scanning by binoculars.   As I approached the brush pile near the hedge row, I thought I heard wagtail-like call notes.  Shortly a calling wagtail appeared along hedge row, flying from left to right as I was facing Comox Road.  It was a wagtail due to its long and slender shape, particularly the long tail, and its distinctive undulating flight.  As it got closer, it gave a call similar to a Yellow Wagtail, but this wagtail was gray and white and with no visible darker colors from this first perspective.  It was the Citrine Wagtail!......, and landed not more than 40 feet away between the brush pile and the hedge row but in the corn field on the east side of the farm road.  Through binoculars, I could clearly see the two white wing bars and some yellow on the face near the lores/in front of the eye and some yellow on the sides/flanks.  The under-parts were mostly white except for the yellow as described.  The face had light grayish auricular (cheek patch) markings that helped define an eye ring.  There may have been black on the folded wings that I could not distinguish from the tail, because in the brief time the bird was on the ground, I focused on the seeing the yellow and the two white wing bars and the face and head.  The gray is a light gray and not very dark.  When the Citrine Wagtail flew away I could see the darker black in the center of the tail bordered by white on the outside viewing the tail from behind and the underside.  Because it is generally very light colored bird, it should be easily visible against the darker ground.  The emphasis is on should be!  However, this bird is not necessarily easy to see, because this is a very large area, and first of all, the bird is not that easy to find.  I got my camera out and prepared to take a picture, but the Citrine Wagtail took flight and circled up and over the hedge row, and then flew over the top of the hedge row toward the Superstore visible in the distance before disappearing behind the hedge row.   I immediately checked both sides of the hedge row, but the bird had disappeared as quickly as it first appeared.  The appearance and disappearance of the wagtail occurred over a minute or less time.  I missed a photo by 1-2 seconds, but at least I got a  very good look at this very rare bird in North America.  For a life bird, it is more important to get a good look and then worry about pictures.  You can tell I'm not a photographer at heart but a birder!  Out of frustration for not having my camera ready for fast action and much later after not finding the wagtail again, I took this picture of the spot where the Citrine Wagtail landed.  A recent photo can be found at this link,
I'm not sure where the bird was located before it flew in.  Beyond this hedge row, there is corn field on each side of the road.  The wagtail could have been feeding in the corn field to the right going out or in a grassy strip that borders this field near the hedge row.  There is a large water puddle on the right near the road and hedge row that could also be a place to find the Citrine Wagtail.  However, I had scanned the edges of this puddle but did not find the bird.  I suspect that the Citrine Wagtail flew in over the hedge row from a large almost bare earth potato field to the right heading out from Comox Road with a large distant sky pool where the waterfowl congregate.  This location  near the hedge row and brush pile is apparently a stopping point or a fly-over point on the wagtail's daily winter feeding circuit.  This area is very large with the farm fields extending several miles, so the wagtail is apparently spending time and feeding well off the road; thus, the difficulty in finding this bird.

I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.  WOW!  Another great rarity on this trip.  The Citrine Wagtail is bird number 792 for my ABA area list and a great new bird for the year.  I had only the birds present in this area with which to celebrate.  I decided to stay in the area the rest of the day and try for a photograph.  It was not to be.  During the rest of the morning and afternoon, I walked out to this location and back almost to Comox Road at least four times.   That's a lot of walking.  The hedge row is 1 to 1.5 miles from Comox Road.  I spent most of the time at the location of my sighting scanning and listening.  There were interesting birds to see in the area with a lot of movement.  The waterfowl included many Trumpeter Swans, Mallards, American Wigeon and some Green-winged Teal.  The local Bald Eagles kept the waterfowl stirred up.  I saw at least three different young Bald Eagles, distinguished by the pattern of white on their bodies and under wings.  The last one I saw close to 5:00 pm, had so much white on it it looked like a very large Osprey.  There was a very dark western Red-tailed Hawk in the area, Common Ravens, and I got a brief look at a medium sized falcon, but I did not pick it up soon enough to identify it.  There were Song Sparrows that are darker than our eastern race in Ohio, and I found one Fox Sparrow.

I enjoyed the Trumpeter Swans and the car horn quality of their calls  as they were flying around.  The call distinguishes them from Tundra Swans.  I am including a photo for this new year bird.
 At about 5:20 pm, I decided to call it quits and walked back to Comox Road to my rental vehicle.  Just before I left the area, the cloud cover rose exposing the mountains with snow cover.    See photo.  This was the first real sign of clear weather since I arrived in Seattle on Tuesday, March 12, and shows the beauty of this area.  As I drove south on 19 to Nanaimo to stay the night, the weather started to clear.  I have also included one photo of the fields from Comox road for perspective on the large size of this area.

Trumpeter Swan and Citrine Wagtail makes the total 176.  Tomorrow on my last day, I will try for Eurasian Skylark in the vicinity of the Victoria Airport.  I completed this blog entry at home in Cincinnati.

No comments:

Post a Comment