|The Magnolia Warbler twitch. I think the finder is in this photo, you can probably see the faint glow surrounding him.|
Well now. I did threaten it I suppose but I didn't actually think I would. I am a wait on news kind of guy, and with clear skies overnight I was certainly not going to risk that amount of time in the car and go on Friday to be in position. In other words I am a big wuss and hate dipping. So Saturday dawned with me up and out and on the patch happily counting Meadow Pipits. I think I'd got to about 40 when the "Magnolia Warber still present 285 miles away" message came though. Dammit. Of the two available scenarios this was not the one I had been hoping for. But I had said I would go on Friday, and so go I did.
I find getting in the car hardest part. Once I am actually in it, moving, with a bit of music on and something pleasing at the end of my route I tend to go into mission mode. Ten hours seems like a long time, but it is just a day, and the next morning it will be behind you. Remarkably this is just the second twitch I've been on in 2023, a year which has seen rare birds in numbers that are simply astonishing. For the most part I have simply ignored them and not felt any real angst about having done so. Why yesterday was different I have no idea. I think I just wanted a little bit of autumn action so that it didn't pass me by entirely. And also let's face it, Magnolia Warblers are ace even without this one having the rarity cachet of being the third for the UK.
I think I was somewhere past Reading when the news broke of Canada Warbler at the same place, St Govan's Head in South-west Wales. At first I thought it a reidentification of the Magnolia Warbler, but it soon became clear that this was different. When I stopped for the toilet somewhere near Cardiff I tweaked the Satnav - three minutes longer. Oh go on then, seeing as it's a first for the UK.
I arrived at just before 1pm and had to fight my way down the lane to the large spacious car park about three minutes from where the bird was. Why was that? Because of all the selfish bastard twitchers for whom being three minutes further away from a tick was simply unacceptable, and so they had simply dumped their cars on the verges, in passing places, in front of gates. I mean I expected nothing less, this is the UK twitching scene, but still. Three minutes. Three. I even got some grief about these cars from passers by as I was walking from the car park to the bird! With bins round my neck I was simply guilty by association. Honestly.
|Brought to you by the Birding Diversity Council of the UK|
|The bird seemed to spend most time well back in the darkest bit just above that bloke's ear.|
I joined the throng on the edge of the tangle, and by total good fortune happened to pick the left hand side which was where the bird showed briefly about fifteen minutes later. A good start! Somehow I was positioned exactly where a series of gaps aligned to form a clear path to it. Five seconds, no more, as it hopped along a vertical twig in the gloom and then up to the right and lost to view. Despite staying for another two hours I saw it just twice more, and less well each time. It was being seen regularly though, it was just one of those situations where viewing was so restricted that the guy next to me could be seeing it when I could not. As more and more people arrived I decided I'd had enough and headed off to try and get the bird I'd originally got in the car for before I or it ran out of time. All it takes is one Sparrowhawk after all....
The Magnolia Warbler twitch had just a handful of people and the bird showed amazingly within about two minutes of my arrival. Talk about good fortune. With the winds seemingly picking up it was sticking to the sheltered side, working quickly and methodically on the edge and fully in view. What a brilliant bird, an absolute belter. Even though I saw decent numbers in Ohio just recently, the setting and the sheer improbability of its occurence here made it very special, and I didn't even have the whole 80's blocker backstory, I've only just found it out. As a few others have pointed out, it is a great shame to think that this bird is essentially doomed, as are all the nearctic vagrants to have made landfall last week. And this is just the tiny fraction that made it across without running out of energy and drowning. It's a sad tale, and we should all recognise it for what it is, but at the same time I don't think this should be touted as a reason not to go see them - it's a miracle of survival. I just wonder where these birds end up? The urge to head south should still be there, that's what they were trying to do when they got picked up and tumbled across the Atlantic in double-quick time. So what next? My assumption is that they carry on, they're in the right hemisphere at least. I actually feel more sad for the confused Eastern birds that, incorrectly-wired, instead of heading south-east take a westerly trajectory. Do they eventually head out in the opposite direction from the American waifs, but with zero chance of survival rather than a tiny sliver of hope?
So that was my day in Wales. Given how little I do this kind of thing I am amazed it paid off, and for it to be a two tick day would be obscene were it not for the fact that some birders had a three tick day as they'd also booked a boat to Ramsey Island for the Bay-breasted Warbler. That is just pure filth! Amazingly I still recognised a few people despite my almost full retirement from the twitching scene, and it was genuinely nice having a bit of a chat with a couple of them. I imagine that most of the birders at St Govan's head probably see each other several times a year, and for many of them it is as much a social event as anything else. Let's face it, none of them probably get many invites to parties! Whereas I get loads and loads, oh yes.
But actually yours truly did have a social event yesterday evening, and so rather than go bash some different bushes in the hope a Dendroica might fall out I got back in the car and drove to Reading to see some friends in their new house. Mrs L and my youngest were already there having arrived in the afternoon, and I was right on time for dinner and then able to drive us all back to London. So - get this - I went on a massive twitch and ended the day with more brownie points than I started with. Now that's what I call a first for the UK!