Monday, 30 September 2013

Sardinian Stunner

Alex and Scott survey the scenery at St.Abb's Head

A common bird around the Mediterranean basin, Sardinian Warbler is a tricky bird to catch up with in Britain. This rather sedentary species rarely strays this far north and the few individuals that do are often skulking and elusive. When a Sardinian Warbler was trapped and ringed in July my interest was piqued; this was the first record I of the species I could remember since I started birding seriously. Unfortunately the bird promptly disappeared however when it was retrapped last week and subsequently began to show, I could not resist the temptation. Thus, at some ungodly hour on Sunday morning, Scott, Alex, Zac and I began the long trek north from Stockport to Scotland, arriving on site just before 08.30. The brisk south-easterly breeze made for less than ideal conditions for seeing a skulking passerine but our doubts were assuaged when we were told the bird had been singing constantly. Buoyed we headed over towards the assembled crowd of twitchers staked out abover the Loch.

We were greeted with the news that the bird had flown off into a row of conifers ten minutes prior to our arrival, a situation that felt ominously familiar to us all. Undeterred we set up our scopes and began our vigil but a short while later we were distracted by the sound of a Yellow-browed Warbler "sooeeeting" urgently from a copse a short distance away. We headed over for a look but a fly -through Sparrowhawk quickly silenced the birds insistent calling. Alex and Scott, who ironically still needed YBW, soon gave up but Zac and I persisted and eventually lured the bird out using a Firecrest tape (for some reason they really take exception to Firecrest). The leaf sprite gave stunning views as it flicked around the copse, reminding me once again what little gems these birds really are. The Sparrowhawk then made a return, silencing the YBW and flushing a dark, chacking thrush that was almost certainly a Ring Ouzel.

We then returned to our wait for the Sardinian, entertaining ourselves with a bizarre flyover Redstart sp and an incredibly dusky juvenile Peregrine that was unlike anything I'd seen before. The visible migration here was pretty impressive with plenty of Meadow Pipits heading south along with Skylarks, Song Thrushes, Reed Buntings, Siskins and a couple of Bullfinches. Zac managed to capture a couple of shots of the odd Peregrine which are shown below.

Dusky juvenile Peregrine (c) Zac Hinchcliffe

After an hour or so the wait was beginning to drag on and I was starting to wonder whether the bird would ever reappear. It was at this point that Alex, the hero of the piece, saw a bird fly up into a bush away to our left and called Zac over to investigate. They soon heard a scratchy warble coming from the general area and urgently motioned to us that they had the bird. After a short wait the singing stopped and suddenly someone said "there it is". It was at this point that I experienced one of the holy shit moments characteristic of birding as I looked up and clapped eyes on a stonking adult male SARDINIAN WARBLER!!! The jet black head, red eye and dark mantle and tail combined to make the bird one of the most instantly recognisable species I've ever seen and easily the most striking. The bird initially flew straight at us then turned and hovered briefly, giving good views before dropping down into some gorse. This eventually turned out to be our best view and the only time I managed to get bins on the bird. Despite the brief views the rarity of the bird coupled with its striking appearance and overall holy shit factor make it  definite mega in my eyes and it goes straight down as one of my top 5 birds of all time! Despite its stunning appearance the bird was extremely elusive, showing only twice in the next hour, so at around 10.00 we decided to move on.

The rest of the day was much quieter and failed to match the excitement of the morning. We initially headed north but negative news on the previous day's Brown Shrike in Fife saw us turn south in the direction of a Little Bunting on Holy Island. Always a difficult bird, the Bunting had unfortunately disappeared into a huge weedy field 40 minutes prior to our arrival and was not subsequently relocated. Holy Island was still fairly productive however with 4 Yellow-browed Warbler and a yeartick in the form of a Merlin. After this we decided to head home, stopping to twitch the Horwich Glossy Ibises on route. Unfortunately poor directions and fading light conspired against us and despite checking a number of seemingly suitable fields, we dipped. Undeterred we headed for a celebratory pint in the Bob Smithy Inn and recounted a twitch that was destined to live long in the memory. Thanks to the guys for the great company and to Scott in particular for the driving. A great twitch and an absolutely stunning bird that will take something really special to remove it from my top 5. Yellow-throated Vireo anyone?

Better than 4 Glossy Ibis!

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