28 Oct 2022

Blackburnian Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler has been seen three times before in the UK but none had been twitchable!

009 Sep 12 to Sep 14
Western Isles
3 days
Hirta, St Kilda, probably first-winter male, 12th to 14th September, photo.
1988 Oct 7
1 day
Fair Isle, first-winter male, 7th October.
1961 Oct 5
1 day
Skomer, age and sex uncertain, 5th October.

Courtesy Rare Bird Alert website.

Its one of those mythical birds that everyone wants to see. Surely it wouldn't be long before there was a long staying bird. News of one being found on Bryher by John Judge the day we left Fair Isle left me resigned to missing this bird as initial photos showed it looking distinctly knackered and I didn't expect it to survive the night. Survive it did though and it showed well the day we were flying home to Manchester from Sumburgh via Aberdeen.

In between flights Stuart Brown messaged me saying he was going down Friday afternoon and staying in Hayle that night before getting the early helicopter from Penzance Saturday morning was I coming? Of course I was. Thankfully my gorgeous wife is very understanding. After being away over a week I was now disappearing again after a brief stop off home to shower, change and pack an overnight bag. She wasn't going to be home but wished me luck!

Cliff Smith was also going and I messaged him to see if he could get us on the taxi he'd organised from St Mary's Airport down to the quay where he'd also put our names down on the list for the fast boat, Falcon, across to Bryher. All this organised in the space of twenty minutes sat on the plane on the tarmac at Aberdeen Airport waiting for new passengers to board before continuing our flight to Manchester. Any thoughts of trying to get some sleep on the 90 minute flight were shattered when I found myself sat in the middle of a drunken hen party who'd obviously hit the bars hard at Aberdeen airport and continued the theme with plastic bottles filled with tequila.

Saying goodbye to Jase at his place, where I'd left my car, I headed home, unpacked, showered, changed and waited until Stuart picked me up. An uneventful journey to my old stomping ground of Hayle was enlivened by catching up and chatting about previous trips we'd taken together to see such gems as Cedar Waxwing (here), Wilsons Warbler (here) & Black-billed Cuckoo (here). 

We didn't expect any news from Bryher before we arrived at St Mary's airport but it was a nervous group that boarded the Falcon for the fast but wet trip to Bryher. On arrival we set off for the spot where the Blackburnian Warbler had been seen. I didn't get the message but apparently, whilst we were yomping along, news came through that there was no sign..........

I didn't know this until much later so I was still full of confidence when we arrived at its preferred stand of find it had just been seen! 

For the next three hours we watched this little American wood warbler as it moved round like a clockwork caricature feeding on insects it searched for beneath leaves and in cracks in the bark.

An incredible little bird and one I'd always wanted to see in the UK. The excitement of seeing it was tempered with the thought that it'll probably never get back to N America and will perish this side of the Atlantic as is the fate of most of these small storm driven vagrants.

With a Wilsons Snipe being seen back on St Marys being  'lifer' for Stu we headed back to catch up with this cryptic species before enjoying a pint at the Mermaid  and catching up with old friends! Its a few years since I've seen Paul & Vicky Wren and it was nice to catch up with them over another rare American wood warbler having seen Northern Parula on Tiree (see here) and Wilsons Warbler on Lewis (see here).

A great day and many thanks to Stu for inviting me to join him and to Cliff for helping sort out logisitcs. The journey home to Cheshire flew by as we animatedly discussed the days events.

There's an interesting side story about the naming of Blackburnian  Warbler as shown below:

The Blackburnian Warbler is one of our most striking warblers with its fiery orange throat and bold black plumage above. This warbler is named after either Anna Blackburne (1726-1793) or her brother, Ashton Blackburne (1730-1780). Anna was an English naturalist. She never visited the New World but did have a strong interest in the birds of the New World. She maintained a collection of North American birds in her natural history museum in Orford in the north of England. Ashton moved to North America and lived in Hempstead, New York. He collected birds in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey that he sent to his sister for her museum. Among the specimens Ashton collected was a Blackburnian Warbler. Thomas Pennant, a naturalist from Orford, saw the specimen in Anne’s collection and prepared the first scientific description of the species. He gave it the name of Blackburnian Warbler but it is not clear if Pennant named the warbler for Ashton or Anne.

Orford is a suburb of Warrington in Cheshire. The county where I currently live. Not only have I seen a new species for my K list but I've learnt something about a naturalist in my adopted home county! 

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