Sunday, 10 September 2017

A great start to the autumn

I genuinely cannot remember how many years the thought 'will this be the year we get an American Redstart?' has come up in conversation. For birders of my generation, brought up on books like Rare Birds by Cottridge and Vinicombe, it has been a very long time coming since those fabled American Redstart sightings at Kenidjack, Cornwall in 1983 and Galley, Cork in 1985. To a decent extent, it is these 'old school' birds that feel better than firsts as they're what you've been brought up on.

American Redstart nearly happened for me in September 2008 when one was found late one afternoon in southwestern Ireland at Mizen Head, County Cork. Getting there early next morning, in sunlit skies and a light wind, it was evident that that bird had done an overnight bunk. I did manage to see one mid-Atlantic, high up in the treetops and looming darkness of Ribeira da Ponte, Corvo in October 2015, but when another magic Bruce Taylor find developed on Thursday evening it was game on again for that all important British and Irish perspective...

Friday loomed pretty wet, but I was still in London due to critical child protection commitments, but when it was confirmed (rather unsurprisingly given the overnight conditions), I made arrangements to travel up on Saturday. And thankfully that 'unprofessional' day delay didn't have repercussions and the bird was still about. So by early afternoon yesterday, we'd had an enjoyable landing on the famous beach airport at Barra, a quick taxi drive up to the church at Eoligarry and this...
American Redstart Eoligarry, Barra, Outer Hebrides 9th September 2017
I always say this, but I can't think of a species it doesn't apply for - you really cannot go wrong with yank passerines, particularly their warblers. Give me 6 weeks of westerlies over 6 weeks of easterlies any day, as the real big ones like this travel alone. Transatlantic passerine vagrancy is the best we get in Britain and Ireland - these little birds, a matter of grams, manage to do that ocean crossing, every year. Presumably only the strongest make it, which makes the birds you actually see that bit more impressive. Those Sibes have it easy!
site of the American Redstart on Barra
And it's often the location too. Albeit usually a real pain to get to, particularly in the past decade where the shift away from Scilly has continued, these mega yanks can be in some quality places. Just thinking off the top of my head about the big ones I've seen this millenium - Blue-winged Warbler, Hermit Thrush and Northern Waterthrush Cape Clear, Canada Warbler Loop Head, Purple Martin Butt of Lewis Scarlet Tanager Garinish Point, Alder Flycatcher Nanjizal, Ovenbird St. Mary's, Northern Parula Tiree, Yellow Warbler and now American Redstart Barra. Admittedly the Acadian and Alder Flycatchers at Dungeness and Blakeney had a slightly different feel, as east coast yanks do, as did the overwintering Northern Oriole in Oxfordshire.

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