A yellow wagtail that is not a yellow wagtail

With the dry weather the lagoon at RSPB Conwy is drying up. This has produced an area of shallow pools and mud which was being frequented by a wood sandpiper, a great bird to see on a day when I expected theWesterlywinds to have stopped new arrivals. Whilst watching the bird I had a conversation with a photographer, who was enjoying the bird with me, about the small number of people around and the relatively small number of birds turning up, speculating on a causal relationship! With that I looked left and scanned the islands and muddy patches. My eye was caught by a passerine flitting in front of Benarth hide (about the furthest bit of shore). This was clearly a wagtail and had an obvious yellow head and breast. I commented on this yellow wagtail, another fairly scarce migrant at this site, and started to describe where it was. As I was describing its position I was thinking that this was not quite right for a usual yellow wagtail and started to consider if it was one of the scarcer races. The bird then turned side on and I noted a black collar. I quickly scanned the bird and noted the head was a completely yellow golf ball, the black collar did not extend onto the face, the upperparts were grey with no green tones and the underparts were yellow. This promted me to swear! I was almost shaking as I shouted  ‘citrine wagtail’ and urged the photographer to get onto it. After a few seconds he succeeded, and managed to get a single shot off, at which point the bird flew and I lost it. I swore again!!

There was only one thing on my mind now; spread the word and get people looking. I still was not sure if I had seen it well enough to submit the record, but the best chance of rectifying that was to get everyone looking. I ran to the coffee shop and shouted the news, then shouted into the visitors centre with the same message. Back at the boardwalk I scanned the mud again. There it was!! Right where the wood sandpiper was feeding. At one point I had the wagtail and wood sandpiper in view at the same time. I followed the bird, putting two other people onto it, until it disappeared behind some reeds. It was moving in the direction of the coffee shop, so I once again headed back there to tell all that I had relocated it. As I walked in they said ‘we’ve got it’. My immediate response was relief. I was desperate for others to share this bird.

The bird was on the nearest mud, working its way along the water’s edge, again feeding. This allowed me to confirm the features I had already seen and see far more detail to cofirm the identification. Further photographs were also obtained to corroborate the sighting.

For the next hour I was jittery. I could hardly sit still and was jibbering like an impatient child. I now felt no apprehension about the identification being challenged, knowing there was sufficient evidence to prove the record. I was also genuinly pleased for others to be seeing ‘my’ bird.

The bird stayed for most of the afternoon, allowing a number of twitchers to see it. After walking around the reserve I again saw it later in the afternoon when it was again in front of Benarth hide, performing to a group of birders. Everyone I met, including the staff, had a smile on their face. This one bird, as a result of getting disorientated, had made numerous people’s day better. It was not only hardened twitchers who were pleased. Families, both parents and children, were all stunned both by the appearance of this adult male breeding plumage bird, as well as the understanding of its rarity and the journey it had made. There was frequently a look of disbelief when they were informed that this bird probably should have been inRussia. Children’s faces lit up as they spotted it. All that is left now is for me to submit the record to the British Birds Records Committee and complete my claim as the finder.

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