Friday 31 October 2014

Eastern promise

I was on holiday on the Isles of Scilly when Britain's first Eastern Crowned Warbler was found in Co Durham in 2009, and was disinclined to follow the example of one well known twitcher who left the islands immediately to see it. The second record for the country was identified after the event a few years later, having been pulled out a ringer's net in Hertfordshire and released, never to be seen again.
Eastern Crowned Warbler: the crown stripe can just about be seen here
A rare clear shot in the low canopy favoured by the warbler
So when the third record for Britain was discovered in Cleveland yesterday, on the last day of my week off, this presented something of a dilemma: I was in Cornwall with family and friends - pretty much the wrong end of the country to twitch Cleveland. Against all expectations, permission to go was granted, and when a few phone calls failed to find any willing lift-sharers, I decided to gamble on the bird staying overnight and go alone.
This shot shows a relatively strong greater covert bar and a shorter, paler median covert bar
Another view of the wingbars and a prominent supercilium over a dark eye-stripe
The journey was uneventful, but very long. I stopped at Donnington Park services for a break at 0730 and decided to wait for news before pressing on. But news came through confirming the bird was still present almost immediately so I cracked on. Another positive message half an hour later chivvied me along, but then, with about half an hour to go, the dreaded 'no further sign' message came on the pager. This caused a major adrenaline crash as I contemplated the possibility of retracing my steps empty-handed.
A close up showing the pale median crown stripe
Also a very prominent bill with all orange lower mandible
Fortunately, the news went positive again as I arrived on site, providing the shot in the arm necessary to force my way into the scrum of birders looking for the elusive warbler in a small woodland next to a gold course. Initial views were inconclusive but it eventually showed well and even posed for photos if you were lucky enough to be able to see it when it decided to sit still, as it did for surprisingly long periods between feeding forays. This behaviour reminded me very much of an Arctic Warbler I saw in Norfolk a few years back.
Pale yellow undertail coverts are another feature of the species
Also visible in this shot, contrasting with white under-parts
The jaunt to Cleveland was also an opportunity to initiate my new car into the twitching scene. It performed well and, best of all, frugally, being 'A' rated for efficiency. This not only means that I pay no car tax, and can go into the London Congestion Charge Zone for free, but that I can do Cornwall to Cleveland for less than a mortgage and with so few carbon emissions that I am basically doing the environment a favour by driving it there. OK not quite but you get the point. It also has a DAB radio so I had an unlimited choice of stations all playing 'Thriller' or 'Ghostbusters' in their Halloween specials the entire length of the journey there and back. After success with the Warbler, it has already earned the status of my 'lucky car', and I hope it gets to spirit me to another tick some time soon.
Not many key features visible in this shot - but I like it anyway
Eastern Crowned Warbler: 3rd record for Britain

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