White Wagtail in Austin 2020-02-09

On Saturday, 2/8/2020, Janet Davis and Jeff Osborne found a White Wagtail on the Colorado river in Roy Guerrero Park in southeast Austin. This species had never been found in Texas before, and as the word got out to the birding community, birders raced to the location to try and see the wagtail for themselves.

I was able to chase this bird late Saturday afternoon 2/9/2020. Almost as exciting as seeing the bird was experiencing the camaraderie of fellow birders also trying to see it. Figuring out where to park was easy: an area along the trail was full of cars with a few people standing around with binoculars, cameras, and tripods. They told me the bird was being seen from a spot about a mile down the trail, so I set off at a fast pace in the direction they indicated. It was a little after 4 PM on a wet and unseasonably warm overcast day. Luckily rain had subsided for the afternoon.

As I walked I met a couple people on their way back who reassured me I was on the right path. A little before 4:30 I found the group watching the bird. I smiled and took a couple iPhone photos:

Group watching White Wagtail

Group watching White Wagtail

I joined them and within 3 or 4 minutes I was seeing a White Wagtail in my spotting scope. A lifer without having to leave Austin! To me, the bird looked like and acted like a big fancy American Pipit, bobbing its longer black and white tail as it walked around on a rocky island in the riverbed. Indeed, this species is related to our local pipits and two were foraging with it on the rocks. It was so far away and blended in with the rocks so well that finding the bird was difficult. We were constantly helping each other locate it via describing land marks. And those with spotting scopes shared them often.

A tall, lean, heavily bearded young man called me by name and introduced himself as Christian Walker, a fellow central Texas birder I hadn't seen since he was a teenager. Now he was in his late 20s! After watching the bird and enjoying the group of birders for about 30 minutes I started preparing to leave when Austin-area birder Wendy Harte showed up. I started trying to find the wagtail for her when Christian almost casually mentioned it had left with the two pipits. We first thought he was joking but Christian was the only one alert enough to observe the wagtail and two pipits fly off downriver. He even heard their flight call notes. I started the walk back to my car, and Christian and Wendy went off to try and find the wagtail again.

Because of the long distance to the bird and poor light that day, my photos were terrible. The best turned out to be this digiscoped photo taken with my iPhone through my spotting scope:

White Wagtail - 1 - 2

You can at least see its black bib.

Attached is my iNaturalist observation with a couple more equally poor photos, and my eBird list is here.

Here are a few more photos on Flickr.

Posted by mikaelb mikaelb, February 16, 2020 18:05

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

White Wagtail Motacilla alba

Observer

mikaelb

Date

February 9, 2020 04:34 PM CST

Description

On 2/8/2020, Janet Davis and Jeff Osborne found a White Wagtail on the Colorado River in Roy Gurerro park in southeast Austin. This bird had never been recorded before in Texas, and hundreds of birders descended on the scene! I was able to chase this bird a couple days later on 2/10 in the afternoon.

The bird was too far away for decent photos. But a few turned out to be at least identifiable.

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