Where’s Wagtail?

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.

Original Post:

It’s been a bit of a mystery and a source of frustration for out of town birders—where the heck (or insert stronger words here if so desired) is that citrine wagtail? Being local, I’ve been able to drop in and check the usual site for the wagtail on a semi-regular basis. Often it would disappear for several days (usually when the weather is bad, the field is severely flooded, or there’s snow on the ground, and often when birders with a limited window of time are looking for the bird) and then reappear back in the original location.

Nathan Hentze discovered an alternate viewing site for the wagtail on December 30th when it wasn’t showing at the first field. Twitchers should take note of this second location, described in detail on Nathan’s blog post Citrine Wagtail Alternate Location. Note that this is a sensitive location in terms of access and birders should not enter the field or any of the other driveways that feed off of this lane under any circumstances. Parking is available across Comox Road at the Rotary Viewing Stand.

Citrine Wagtail - Alternate Location
The field and farm gate off of the lane access where Nathan Hentze located the Citrine Wagtail on December 30, 2012. Note that the field and the private driveways off of the lane are off limits.

That being said, I thought I would check out the lane again today to see if the bird was still making an appearance there (it was reported in the wet field beyond the metal gate on December 30, 31, and the morning of January 1. I met a Saltspring Island birder at the gate around noon and it looked like it hadn’t shown today or yesterday afternoon at either location. Perhaps there is a third location?!? We decided to check the original field again.

Walking out the farm lane, K. quickly spotted the bird in the mud and puddles near the slash piles. It was close enough to get a good look at with binoculars and a awesome view with K.’s spotting scope. We enjoyed watching the bird feed, preen, and bath in the puddles—it seemed quite comfortable with us on the road and was focused on feeding. Another birder joined us and got great looks as well. I watched for about 30 minutes before leaving, K. walked back to her car to get an attachment to connect a compact camera to her scope. By the time she returned, the bird had moved on, flying in the direction of the second site.

Birders Watching the Citrine Wagtail
A pair of birders getting excellent looks at the Citrine Wagtail during the 45 minutes or so that it was at the original site.

I no longer have a good telephoto lens (not that I was every really happy with my old Sigma 170-500mm), but managed a couple of shots with my 105mm on my new Nikon D600 – nice to have a bit of resolution to crop. Image quality decreases as I cropped in, but this series of images will give you an idea of what the area around the slash piles looks like and how the bird blends into its surroundings. Definitely need to save up for a 300 mm with a bit more reach!

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) #1
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) near the slash piles at the original location. Can you find it?
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) #2
Cropping a little closer, still a little challenging to see the Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola).
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) #3
Now it’s a bit easier to make the bird out alongside the gravel road – it spent most of its time feeding in these puddles.
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) #4
And there it is – the Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)!

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Getting There:

Out of town birders may want to consider the Best Western at the junction of Cliffe Avenue and 17th Street bridge (approximately 5 minutes from the viewing sites) or the Holiday Inn Express on Cliffe Avenue before the 17th Street bridge (approximately 10 minutes from the viewing sites). There are a number of budget hotels near the intersection of Cliffe and 17th Street as well.

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 last couple of times I’ve seen the bird at this location it has been near the slash piles at the far end of the road. If the road or fields are flooded you should check the alternate location.

The alternate location is a couple of minutes further along Comox Road. From the pump station, continue on Comox Road until you see a wildlife/bird viewing platform on the right hand side of the road (coming from Courtenay). Pull in and park here. Cross Comox Road on foot (look both ways!) and continue along the road until you see the gravel lane way beside a large pink stucco house with a blue shingle roof. It’s a short walk down to the gate shown in this post. Again – please be very respectful of private property in this area and under no circumstances enter the field (even if you see people walking their dogs on it) or any of the private driveways.