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  • Wild Shetland Tours

Citrine Wagtail

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Whilst guiding a day-trip on 2nd September 2019, and after visiting Eshaness, we called in at Hillswick to look for Otters before heading back to Lerwick. The Otter family there was behaving impeccably, and whilst we were watching them from the beach I became aware of something calling behind us that sounded distinctly like a Citrine Wagtail. Hillswick is one of my favourite spots in Shetland for birding (even though it’s miles from home) as it has a nice variety of habitats, including an area of pools, wet marsh and ditches next to a small cemetery that I have always fancied for Citrine Wagtail, and this is where the call was coming from. I explained to my guests that I needed to see this bird, but after a quick search I couldn’t find anything remotely resembling a wagtail, the call had stopped, and I came to the sorry conclusion it had just headed over unseen. As time was getting on, we packed up our stuff to head back to Lerwick, although I persuaded everybody all to take the long route back to the minibus via the marshy area, just in case. And lo and behold, as we walked past the small cemetery, a wagtail exploded out of the roadside ditch, buzzing away like a Citrine Wagtail, and conveniently landed on a nearby wall. A quick look through binoculars seemed to confirm what it was, and I rattled off a few shots before finding it in the scope. The bird flew from the wall and landed quite close around the small pool. It fed actively, making occasional short flights and calling a lot – in amongst the ‘usual’ Citrine Wagtail calls it chucked in a couple that to my ear more closely resembled the call of a Western Yellow Wagtail, which threw me a little. The bird was now showing quite nicely, so I took some more photos and had to leave it at that as time was getting on.

The two photos above were amongst the first I took when the bird landed on the wall of the cemetery. They aren’t great, but it can be seen that it is typically ‘grey and white’, lacking any yellow tones, and has two big broad white wingbars and a broad whitish supercilium.

The above two photos were taken when the bird was showing much closer, and again show the typical ‘grey and white’ appearance. The head pattern can be seen well in these photos, and include a prominent pale supercilium flaring noticeably behind the eye, dirty grey ‘hollowed out’ ear coverts, pale ‘cheek surround’ (albeit not as obvious as in many Citrine’s, but it’s definitely there), and a thin blackish upper border to the supercilium extending from the front of the eye to about three-quarters of the way along the supercilium. In addition, the bill is all black. Other features apparent in these photos are the two big broad white wingbars and the lack of any yellowish tones on the underparts (including undertail).

The main aim of day-trips in Shetland is usually to visit some of Shetland's most iconic sites, and to watch and get good views of the 'traditional' wildlife of the islands such as Otters, Puffins, seabirds and so on. However, it is always nice to get a bonus rare bird thrown in as an added extra!

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