Citrine Wagtail – Mega Twitch Dip Tick

Update: March 24, 2013

Last confirmed sighting of the Citrine Wagtail on eBird was Thursday, March 21. However, since that time, access to the farm lane has been restricted due to active farming and the lane is gated.

Update: March 6, 2013

Checked the original farm site on Wednesday, March 6 with Viktor Davare and had a really nice look at the wagtail. It was feeding with a group of robins at the far end of the farm road (beyond where the slash piles used to be – they were burned last week) where it crosses a wide ditch. This area has been recently plowed and there is some upturned mud. Of note, we saw the bird at 3:30 pm in this location, it was seen in the same place at the same time on Monday, March 4th as well.

Update:  February 16, 2013

Unbelievably, the Citrine Wagtail is not officially done! John Reiter sent me an email that he had seen the bird on February 5 and a couple of other times since early February. Since then it’s been sighted on February 11, 15 (briefly at the original farm site), and 16 (at the alternate site at Simpson Farm).

Update: January 20, 2013

I’m thinking that the Citrine Wagtail is officially done – I’ve checked off and on both sites over the last couple of weeks with no success. The last confirmed visual sighting was January 9, 2013 by Russ Namitz. Two birders reported hearing the bird on January 13. Since then, the bird has been unreported at any of the sites in the Comox Valley. Dave Routledge did a thorough check of all the fields in the area on January 17th and found nothing.

Update: January 2, 2013

Checked the alternate site for the wagtail today, Wednesday, January 2, 2013 and came up empty. Did find the bird back at the slash piles around 1:00 pm with a couple of other birders. Details and directions to alternate site available at my blog post Where’s Wagtail? 

Update: December 20, 2012

Checked for and saw the wagtail today, Thursday, December 20 at 3:15 pm after the last two days of snow, rain and wind. That makes 36 days and counting!

Previous Update:

The Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) is still in its original location in Comox as of Wednesday, November 21 at 9:30 am. Jocie popped over this morning to get a look. That makes 7 days and counting (not including who knows how long it was in the farm field before Dave and Adele Routledge found it)!

Reports on BCVIBirds Yahoo Group indicate that the wagtail was still present on Saturday, November 24.

Original Post: November 20, 2012

If you aren’t a birder the title of this post is probably meaningless to you. Read on…

First, a couple of definitions:

Mega –  n. A very rare bird generally a continental or national rarity, but can also be used to refer to state rarities also.

Twitch – v. To seek out a previously reported rare bird, generally traveling long distances to do so.

Dip – v. To travel to attempt to see a previously reported rare bird and fail to see it.

Tick – n. – A new bird added to one’s list.

The Birder Jargon Dictionary

On Wednesday, November 14, David and Adele Routledge discovered something quite remarkable in a non-descript field on the edge of an ordinary farm road in the Comox Valley. At the time they knew that they had found an unusual bird, but it took a couple of days to work through the possibilities and analyze the field marks. Once photographs of the bird were taken on November 17th, the identity of the bird was confirmed as a classic 1st winter Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola).

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) © Rick Reeves
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) – Photo © Rick Reeves

Never heard of it?

Not surprising. This is only the second confirmed record of this species in North America (the previous record was in Starkville, Mississippi between January 31 and February 1, 1992). The typical breeding range for the Citrine Wagtail is northern Russia and central and eastern Europe. At this time of year it should be wintering in India or southeast Asia. Hence, the “mega” designation.

A bird this rare is extremely seductive. Most birders keep several lists or records of birds they’ve seen. These lists can be classified in a number of different ways—a birder might have a Canada list, a North America list, a British Columbia list, a Life list and so on. Adding a non-North American bird to a North American list can be a big deal to some. And so, the twitch begins.

I have to admit I’ve been a little lax with my own lists. With two young kids I don’t get out too often and I don’t have the time or flexibility to chase down out of town rarities. Fortunately, this bird has been staying put less than a 5 minute drive from my house in downtown Courtenay—I didn’t have far to twitch!

I considered going out on the Saturday after the bird was confirmed, but family commitments intervened. More commitments loomed on Sunday morning. I emailed members of the Comox Valley Camera Club about the bird and talked to our next door neighbours across the street, knowing that their son would be keen to see such a rarity. J. returned a couple of hours later to tell me that they had stopped in at the site and he had gotten great looks at the bird.

I headed down around 1:00 pm on Sunday, November 18. By this time the weather was starting to deteriorate, but I was still optimistic. I ran into Comox Valley photographer Rick Reeves who was on the way out – he was pretty happy and had gotten some excellent photographs of the wagtail.

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) © Rick Reeves
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) – Photo © Rick Reeves

There looked to be quite a few birders still in a clump at the far end of the farm road near a couple of the brush piles mentioned in the location report. I recognized several people including Sandy McRuer from Port Alberni (licence plate “I Bird”) and Viktor Davare, another local photographer. A quick conversation and the possibility of a dip became more likely. The bird hadn’t been seen for a while (Sandy had gotten a quick, unsatisfactory look at it—he had dipped too) and it looked like most of the birders were heading out. They had already gotten good views of it earlier and had long drives or ferries to catch.

Did I mention the rain and the wind? I stuck it out for about an hour and a half getting thoroughly soaked in the process before giving up. A clear dip.

My only consolation was that I had only driven about 5 minutes to get to the field where the bird was seen. It would be pretty easy to check the following morning on my way into work.

Monday dawned cloudy, but no rain. I grabbed a quick breakfast, got the kids dressed, and then headed out the door. At the farm road around 8:00 am there were already at least a dozen birders with spotting scopes. After talking with Guy Monty and his wife Donna we headed toward the line of trees where the bird had been seen the previous day and bingo! There was the Citrine Wagtail, almost exactly where it had been originally located on the preceding days. One of the birders had spotted it flying across the field and we were quickly able to get a scope on it and some beautiful looks at the bird doing its distinctive tail wag. Fantastic! There was a definite buzz and a feeling of satisfaction in the group.

After the twitch and the dip, I finally was able to add this unlikely bird to my own lists. The fact that this mega rarity was in my own “backyard” made it even more special. Might even make me think about some long range twitching. Maybe not.


If you have a chance, make an effort to head out to the farm field and see the Citrine Wagtail even if you’re a non-birder. Talk to the folks out on the track—I met people from Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle this morning. If this bird sticks around, people from much further afield will be making their way to see Dave and Adele Routledge’s spectacular bird. Thanks to Rick Reeve for the generous use of his photographs of the Citrine Wagtail.

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Getting There:

From the Inland Island Highway take exit 117 onto the Comox Valley Parkway. Follow the parkway into Courtenay until you get to a T intersection (Cliffe Avenue). Turn left onto Cliffe Avenue and follow it until you reach 17th Street and the 17th Street Bridge. Turn right onto the bridge and stay in the right hand lane. Turn right onto the Dyke/Comox Road on the far side of the bridge (T intersection). On your right will be a large open paved area that is fenced. This is the old site of Field’s Sawmill. At the far end of the fenced area on the right hand side is a pump station. Park here (but don’t block access to the station)—there’s plenty of room to pull over safely.

The farm road is on the opposite side of the road. Walk along the road to the first line of trees and over the wire gate. The Citrine Wagtail has been seen regularly in the raw ground and grass edges on the other side of the tree line (look toward the left) as well as near the large brush slash piles further up the road.

Of course, if there are birders already there you should have a pretty clear idea if the bird is around.


Need to Know:

  • This is private land and the owner has generously allowed birders to access the property via the farm road. Permission has NOT been granted to access the fields on the left side of the road. Please be considerate and respectful when visiting the property.
  • Spotting scope definitely recommended although there’ll be plenty of folks there who will probably allow you a look.
  • Rubber boots a good idea, the track is a bit muddy and wet.