Saturday, 16 November 2013

(Western) Orphean Warbler - St. Brides, Pembrokshire - 16th November 2013

Western Orphean Warbler - Paul Rowe -
Chris Bridge and I back to the old days!

Chris and I went down to see the Orphean Warbler in Pembs with Julian Hughes who drove down there for Friday morning. It seemed to take forever to get to the site after heading south through deepest darkest Wales, but I have successfully visited every county in the UK except for East Sussex (unless you also count Isle of White as its own county). Pembrokshire was beautiful!
The bird itself appeared after about 10 minutes on site, but I was just not able to get a decent view of it except a prolonged flight view as it headed behind the house away from the apple trees it favours. I noted a heavy bodied grey warbler with a darker head and very heavy bill.
After about 10-15 minutes, it appeared again and landed in its favourite apple tree with yellow apples and went out feeding actively on half an apple about 2-3ft off the ground. Getting my scope on the bird, I was occasionally rewarded with superb views of the bird right in the open. It was a great bird but almost came across as two different birds from the front and back with the front half being very pied with a very white throat and dark head with a pale grey eye and heavy dark bill. In contrast, the back of the bird was very brown and sandy with a worn appearence on its upperparts and a coffee stained belly, flanks and undertail coverts. When in the scope, I was occasionally rewarded with views of the bird pointing completely downwards revealing its undertail coverts with no dark centres to the feathers visible which would certainly help point towards Western. I managed about 4-5 prolonged excellent periods of viewing the bird over the course of the morning, until the pattern of the birds foraging changed somewhat and it flew across the garden. This meant that I got prolonged views of it right in front of the house, so managed some good views of the tail in flight. White was restricted to the outer tail feathers and it appeared like a plain stripe along the outer edge to the feathers with a blob like tip (no obvious extra pattern) again pointing to Western.
The bird disappeared for the next half and hour to 45 minutes with everyone waiting for it to come back to the apple tree. I wasn't convinced it would because it started behaving differently, so I turned around and watched the woodland it flew into. After about 10 minutes of disappointment when seeing movement and only seeing Goldcrests and tits, I noticed something a bit larger through the centre of a large birch. I got the bird in my bins and was annoyed to discover a female Blackcap. However, I then saw a bird about 2ft away from it which had leaves over its face so couldn't be sure what it was, but it just didn't look like a male Blackcap. It moved slightly and I noticed a white eye staring at me! It was the bird! I managed to get most people onto the bird, but it soon moved out of sight. Over the next ten minutes, we got occasional views of the bird but it was very elusive indeed.
Julian, Chris and I gave it another half hour, but then decided we weren't going to get much better views than what we'd already got, so we left very happy indeed! 
About 90 people estimated to have visited during the morning with peak numbers of about 50 people at a time. Good to see familiar faces such as David Campbell, Lee Evans and Steve Gantlett.
Many thanks to Julian for driving and many thanks to the owners of the house for allowing us birders to access their home. A great bird, a great place and a great twitch!

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