Saturday, 31 October 2015

Furrowed yellow brows

It's been a week of head-scratching and furrowed brows - yellow brows, specifically - looking for rare Phylloscopus warblers - ultimately successful in terms of seeing them, but a bit frustrating trying to photograph them! A report of a possible Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler in Weymouth yesterday, the rarer of a species pair with Yellow-browed Warbler, saw me heading there late morning. By the time I arrived the bird had already been identified as the commoner of the two by finder Joe Stockwell. A Hume's would have attracted considerable interest, but with so many Yellow-broweds around this autumn, no-one else seemed to have followed up the sighting. With no bird and no birders present, therefore, all I had to do was find it.
Yellow-browed Warbler (#233), Weymouth, 30th October - a washed out looking bird, you can see why Hume's was considered a possibility
Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler (#234), Durlston, 31st October - duller-grey green upperparts compared to Yellow-browed
I wandered up the Rodwell Trail, a wonderful green lung of Sycamores, sallows and brambles running through suburban Weymouth, and eventually heard the Yellow-browed calling about 100 yards from the original sighting. It had taken the best part of an hour to see it, and it took another couple to get some record shots for the photo yearlist.
The Weymouth Yellow-browed - note the double wing bar, pale feet and legs and pale base to the bill
The Durlston humei, note the single wing-bar... 
...and the dark bill, legs and feet - all indicative of Hume's
Today seemed like a case of Groundhog Day, with another late morning report of a Hume's at Durlston, scene of my mad dash for a Pallas's Warbler earlier in the week. The Hume's had been discovered by the finder of the Pallas's, Warren Clayton, clearly on a roll - or perhaps eating a roll as he was enjoying refreshments from Durlston Castle's restaurant balcony when he heard an unfamiliar call coming from the trees below.
The Weymouth Yellow-browed - very clean white underparts - interesting how the 2nd wingbar on the median coverts is much more subdued in this photo than the one above. Both species show a hint of a crown stripe
Another view of the Weymouth Yellow-browed
I arrived at Durlston around midday to join Warren and Steve Smith looking forlornly down into a large area of trees and scrub which offered plenty of hiding places for a tiny central Asian vagrant. With no sign or sound of the bird for over an hour we feared for the worst, but a faint call encouraged us to stick around. The calls became more frequent and strident - certainly more strident and lower pitched than the Yellow-browed I was hearing the previous day - and after the best part of 3 hours we got our first view of a small pale bird flitting distantly through the vegetation. A short while later a more extended view provided a brief window of opportunity to get some record shots, enough at least to confirm the key features.

A shame the Hume's didn't show as well as this Chiffchaff at Durlston
Another massive Purbeck twitch: from left, Joe and Jol, resurrecting the Mitchell curse (they left before the Hume's reappeared); Warren, Durlston's top rare Phyllosc-finder this autumn (sorry Hamish); and Steve 'Birding Poole Harbour and Beyond' Smith, taking a break from 'beyond' to grace us with his presence
So while my week off has hardly been rarity-packed, seeing Pallas's, Yellow-browed and Hume's Yellow-browed Warblers in consecutive days is certainly not to be sniffed at. Finding them would have been even better - so well done Warren and Joe.
A nice Short-eared Owl in the fading light at Portland Bill on 30th October
House Sparrow with the Old Lower Light at Portland Bill


  1. Love the House Sparrow picture purely on its photographic quality - nice shot
    Lots of different birds joining the sparrows in NYC as the winter draws in.

  2. So, starting to want to be the first finder now...its a sipperley slope my friend.... ;-)