Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Western Orphean Warbler, Hartlepool Headland

Tuesday 29th May 2012
A non-descript sunrise today, and even a hint that it might be a more autumnal day. With an easterly airflow and fine weather, there is no doubt that rare birds will be passing over the UK, lost on migration. But that's what most of them do, pass straight over without landing. But, throw in overcast conditions or preferably mist, fog or rain in the morning, and chances are that a few decent rarities will be found along the coast.

What I did not expect was for the pager to start wailing out a ***MEGA*** at half past 8 in the morning. Even less did I expect it to be news of an Orphean Warbler on Hartlepool Headland. There have only been 5 previous records in Britain and none at all since 1991. Only the oldest twitchers had this bird on their lists, the most recent twitchable bird being on the Scillies in 1981.

I hastily re-arranged my morning and made sure everything was in order on the farm. I offered a lift on the pager and less than an hour later I was picking up Gervaise from the outskirts of Spalding before heading off for Hartlepool. This was a replay of early June last year, when the twitching world had descended on exactly the same place to witness the presence of a White-throated Robin, another clawback from the past.

Now, life on the farm is busy but sedate. Driving to a mega is not sedate, though passengers may occasionally request sedatives!! We made the journey in under three hours. All along, the pager brought us news of the continued presence of the bird in a bush in the corner of the bowling green.

As we pulled the car up, unbelievably my old birding pal Mick pulled up behind us. Me from South Lincolnshire, him from Fife, and we arrived at the bird within half a minute of each other! We joined the hundred or so people already there lined up along one edge of the bowling green. The bird was ensconced in the middle of a bush and had not budged for about four hours. Almost impossible to see in the bush, a friend let me peer down his 'scope, where I saw the pale grey breast of a very bulky warbler. I was lucky enough to see it move its head, confirming that it was still alive (a prerequisite to putting a bird on one's list). I just glimpsed the huge bill (for a warbler) and charcoal grey head.


I then found myself a space at the other end of the bowling green and endeavoured to get my own view of the bird. Amazingly, I aimed my 'scope, looked through the viewfinder and there was the bird, very obscured but definitely there. I put the people around me onto it and then quietly invited Gervaise to view through my 'scope before there was a rush to our end of the green. For the next 10 minutes a procession of people looked through my telescope to get their first view of the bird.

Eventually the bird proved that it was not moribund and began moving through the bushes, occasionally giving very good views out in the open. Between times it moved clumsily though the privet and rosa rugosa bushes, occasionally resting out of view for minutes at a time.

This bird had not even been on my radar and was a very welcome addition to the list. It was good to catch up with many birding colleagues too. It's an amazing hobby where a single bird dictates where and when you next meet your mates.

The return home was much more relaxed and I learned a lot about the birding sites of Southern Lincolnshire from Gervaise. I was back home in time to give the animals their evening feed before sitting down to relax after a most eventful and unexpected day.

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