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Monday 28 October 2013

Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler in Millcombe 28 October

In the last hour of a 10-day stay on the island, Tim Davis and I were lucky enough to find a Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler in Millcombe this morning. Back home this evening and this is the write-up we have done for Steve Waite, the Devon County Bird Recorder, and as a basis for a British Birds Rarities Committee submission. This is the first British record since 2003. Sorry that it goes on a bit, but hopefully of interest. Certainly a memorable day for us.

"After a 10-day birding trip on Lundy and with just 50 minutes to go before they had to report for their helicopter flight back to the mainland, Tim Davis (TJD) and Tim Jones (TAJ) decided to have one last look in Millcombe, the sheltered east-facing valley in the south-east of the island. The whole stay had been dominated by strong, mainly south-westerly winds, which reached gale force, gusting higher, during the morning and early afternoon of 27 October. The media-dubbed “St Jude’s Day Storm” passed over South West England in the early hours of 28th, having moved rapidly across the Atlantic from the eastern seaboard of the USA. Given this meteorological set-up, and knowing that a Ruby-crowned Kinglet had been trapped and ringed on Cape Clear on 27th, TJD and TAJ were keenly aware of the possibility of Nearctic landbirds arriving in western Britain, hopefully including Lundy…

We were walking slowly down the northern side of the valley, through an area of trees and scrub sheltered from the still-strong WNW wind, bringing with it hefty showers and sunny intervals. TAJ saw a passerine fly in and perch on a small branch over the path about 8-9m away. Recognizing it immediately from previous experience of the species in North America, TAJ exclaimed to TJD “Yellow-rumped Warbler!”. The bird flew a short distance to the left (north side) of the path, where a series of robust wooden tree-guards protect young (planted) trees. The bird was using these structures as a series of perches from which to forage, both by sallying and periodically dropping into vegetation. The bird flitted from shelter to shelter, gradually moving up the slope. It then alighted on the trunk of a Turkey Oak, working its way up the tree in a series of hops and short flights. It continued upwards onto the main branches of the tree, before dropping back down onto the ground vegetation and tree shelters once more and from there into a pine tree at the top of the slope, pursued by a Robin. At this point TAJ left to try and alert other visiting birders. TJD walked slowly up the slope to stay with the bird.

The bird dropped down from the pine and landed in low vegetation, temporarily disappearing from view. As TJD slowly continued along a small path towards the bird, it appeared sitting on a plant stem holding in its bill a large bluebottle-type fly, which it took some 15 seconds to consume. During this period, the bird was fully side on, giving excellent views at a range of approximately 4-5m. As soon as it had finished eating the fly, the bird flew in front of and away from TJD, over a low hill and down towards the valley bottom, where it was lost from view.

Size, structure and behaviour: Size approximately similar to a Blackcap. Relatively plump-bodied and long-tailed. Moved by series of short hops and sallies when foraging. Direct flight when moving across valley. Considering its trans-Atlantic origins, the bird appeared in remarkable physical shape, with its plumage in excellent condition and its movements agile. It was clearly feeding well.

Plumage: Bright yellow rump, most obvious in flight. Duller yellow wash to sides of upper breast. Head and mantle with obvious brown cast. Mantle heavily dark-streaked. Contrasting head pattern with brownish crown/nape, darker cheeks and prominent whitish, broken eye-ring or “eye lids”. Pale throat extending onto sides of neck. Underparts pale, heavily flecked/streaked brownish, especially on flanks and upper breast. Wings darker than mantle. Prominent whitish wing bar on greater coverts. Less distinct off-white wing-bar on median coverts. Corners of tail with large whitish patches, really noticeable in flight.

Bare parts: Bill and legs appeared blackish.

Voice: The bird was heard to call at fairly regular intervals – a characteristic sharp “chup”, that both TJD and TAJ recognized.

Both TJD and TAJ viewed the bird through 10 x 42 Zeiss Victory FL binoculars. Total viewing time was about 8-10 minutes.

Both TJD and TAJ have seen hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers in North America (particularly in Quebec) and in both spring and fall plumages. Both are 100% confident of the identification.

At around 11.40 another visiting birder, Chris Baillie (CB), that we had managed to get a message to, had a brief view of the bird in flight as it crossed to trees on the southern slope of the valley. CB is also very familiar with the species, having lived for some years within the Caribbean wintering area. CB left on the same flight as TJD and TAJ."

Update 1 November: Not seen since we left on 28th October, according to the latest information (mid-afternoon, 1st November) from Lundy Warden Beccy MacDonald. Another Yellow-rumped Warbler was reported on 29th in County Galway, Republic of Ireland, while further North American arrivals at west-coast UK sites from Scilly to Rùm have included American Robin, Mourning Dove (first seen 28th) and Hermit Thrush – all presumably associated with the same weather system that brought the Yellow-rumped Warbler to Lundy.

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