When news of a Citrine Wagtail (together with Terek Sandpiper, my biggest bogey bird) broke in Teesside it joined a corking cast of two Whiskered Terns, 5 Spoonbills, Garganey and Black Terns. Surely worth a mini evening twitch?! We were supposed to be on a hot air balloon but that had been cancelled -perhaps that would be fortuitous! The afternoon flew by and I got Tom on to the post work twitch gang, and following a quick pint to say good bye to a colleague, I shot home on the bike through the rain. Checking the news I was disappointed to see that the Citrine had not been seen for a couple of hours....doh! Tom shortly arrived and within a millisecond dismissed the idea of calling off the trip as we both felt that the bird must surely be around somewhere! At the very worst, we would still hopefully see some of the supporting cast which would make the trip worthwhile. So, through the rain we headed north. By Thirsk the rain stopped leaving a kind of gloomy overcastness with light but chilly northeasterlies blowing in off the murky sea.
On to Teesside, and I realised we would drive past Saltholme to get to Seaton Carew so it would be worth a quick stop to check out the Whiskered Terns. With some help from a couple of friendly locals we were soon on to the birds loafing on some posts out in the lagoon. Great stuff! The Spoonbills were out the back somewhere but were largely obscured so we thought we would press on, despite the locals telling us there was still no sign of the wag.
Down the Zinc Works Road, we parked up and tried to find the flooded field. With the help of James Robson's tweeted map we soon found the spot though the lack of a large pen nib made me doubt we had found the right location.
We spotted a few birders who seemed a little bit animated and I sensed perhaps the bird had turned up. A short walk later and I bumped into Mark and Nige - fellow York birders- who told me that sure enough, the Wag had just been seen again, sitting in the base of the solitary stunted sallow in the middle of the field. Unfortunately it wasn't there now! But it must be here somewhere, surely! A few tense minutes past and the assembled half dozen grilled the field with scopes. Suddenly Mark shouted 'it's back in the tree'! All scopes simultaneously switched to the sallow and there in the roots was the citrus headed beauty - my first British Citrine Wagtail! Like a cross between a White Wagtail and a Yellow Wagtail, this was a lovely female, with bright yellow supercilia flowing conspicuously around the rear of her ear coverts and joining up with the yellow below the ear covers on the side of her neck, the classic Citrine feature. The lemon wash extended on to her throat and down her breast, giving way to whitish underparts. The upperparts were grey and black with two broad white wingbars and tertial edges. After ten minutes or so of preening and tail wagging, she flew a short distance into the flooded field and started feeding with a male Yellow Wagtail. She was a little more furtive than the Yellow which was very showy although this may have been due to her more subdued plumage. After some great views, the birders drifted off. We were the last to leave and as we headed back to the car, the call of a Yellow Wag made me look up and the male Yellow was departing high towards the works to the southwest, closely followed by a second bird which called, a distinctly different, more rasping note - the Citrine Wag! The two birds disappeared into the gathering dusk.
You lemon-faced beauty!
Back we went and we stopped in again by the roadside overlooking Saltholme where a feeding frenzy was taking place over the lagoon as flies hatched from the water. A big gang of Black-headed Gulls was mixed with Common Terns and to our delight the two Whiskered Terns and three or four Black Terns - fantastic! They gave amazing views in the fading light within 20 metres or so. I tried some phonescoped shots down my scope, but the lack of light pretty much prevented much success.
One of the Whiskered Terns. The best I could do in near-dark with my phone down my scope!