16 Oct 2020

The disappearing Tennessee Warbler - the highs and lows

Following on from my previous post and the excitement of seeing the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler this post is about the polar opposite feeling. 

We'd arrived on Shetland knowing there was no sign of the Tennessee Warbler but seeing one of the target birds was adequate compensation. To be honest if someone had given me the choice I'd have chosen the pallas's Grasshopper Warbler over the American wood warbler. 

After staying at the excellent Brae Hotel for the night we decided we'd go to Yell in the vain hope the Tennessee could be re-found. Whist enjoying a 'full Scottish' breakfast (like a full English but with square sausage we got news that there was an Arctic Warbler about five minutes from our hotel and on the way to the ferry terminal. With Steve still needing Arctic Warbler in the UK and refusing to travel for one as he'd ringed them in Hong Kong we called in and had great views of this little phylosc

Arriving on Yell decided to give the site at Burravoe a go for a couple of hours the day after we'd seen the locustella. No joy but it was nice to meet up with the finder, Dougie Preston, again and have a chat with him. 

Deciding to go back to Whalsay and revisit Jason's old patch we got the ferry across knowing that John had found a Red-flanked Bluetail - another formerly scarce Siberian vagrant that has now become more regular. As we arrived and drove up towards Skaw we saw John with has camera and stopped to find the Bluetail was in the Skaw plantation. Within minutes we saw it and then watched it for the next hour whilst if flitted back and to from the plantation to the quarry on the opposite side of the road.

I've seen a few of these beautiful little chats in the UK  - all have been 1st winter birds and the inly males I've seen was whilst working in Finland for a few months after leaving university. Still probably the best encounter with hte species was with the one we found and subsequently ringed on Hilbre. See here.

With Jason and Steve deciding to go and look round Jasons old patch I decided to go for another look at the Pallas's Grasshopper warbler so set off on foot. I hadn't got very far before I got a frantic call to say that, unbelievably, the Tennesee Warbler (or another) had been relocated right at the northern tip of Yell and was showing well in a thistle bed!

It would be almost dark before we'd got there and the journey involved getting the ferry off Whalsay and ten driving to the ferry terminal to get across to Yell but it was worth a try. Imagine the frustration to receive news that the bird had flown off high just as we were about to disembark on Yell. We drove to the site anyway and met up with Al, Malc & John who'd got there just in time and see the bird for around 30 seconds before it flew! 

Deciding there was a good chance  it had gone to roost we decided to come back the next morning and had an early night to ensure we got the first ferry back to Yell. Driving through Cullivoe we saw Bill Aspin pointing into a garden and stopped to hear the news that he'd seen the Tennesee Warbler five minutes ago in the garden but taken his eye off it and couldn't relocate it! Aghhhh. Despite searching the original site in the thistle bed three times in case it had flown back there and spending the remainder of our time on Shetland searching all the gardens and suitable habitat around it was never seen again. 

Our search was enlivened by a Merlin seen chasing a Lapland Bunting as I was walking the mile between the two sites and searching every garden a, ditch and  bush and a Hawfinch devouring the hips of rosa rugosa in one of the gardens in the same terrace that Bill had seen the Tennesee Warbler.

There had been an obvious influx of these large Finches overt he last couple of days with quite a few being reported. There had also been a major influx of Blue & Great Tits as well with a flock of six Blue Tits and a Great Tit in Cullivoe and several more being seen at other locations on the islands.

We were understandably despondent at having to leave but had time to call in quickly at Sumburgh head before we handed the hire car back to see a Shore Lark that had ben hanging around the lower carpark.

Even though we missed the Tennessee Warblemasde it very successful.r it was a great trip and for me personally the opportunity to finally see Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler 

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