Monday 23 September 2013

Wilson's Warbler Dursey Island 21st September 2013

It's like the stuff of dreams this one. I must have read through Keith Pellow's finder's account umpteen times and seen that gripping photo (those old fuzzy ones really are the best!) every time I've thumbed through Vinnicombe and Cotteridge. Wilson's Warbler Rame Head, Cornwall October 13th 1985. The sole Western Pal record - 'the rock' has yet to get a sniff.

So once again on Friday night, I boarded the Ryanair Stansted to Shannon 7pm flight, this time with Josh J, intent on giving Achill Island a good bash what with the odd AGP, Pec, Baird's and Lesserlegs all fresh in on the Atlantic coast the past 24 hours or so. Business as usual commenced with the customary Papa Johns in Shannon town, before heading north up into Galway. Chatting the usual nonsense just south of Gort, I check the phone and it's the mega text so, opening it up just expecting another (presumed) Fea's to have gone past somewhere, it's proper adrenalin time. MEGA Co.Cork WILSON'S WBLR male Dursey Island at west end in Scott's garden tho elusive. Thrusting my phone to Josh, while the usual nonsense comes out of my mouth, the car is spun round and it's off to the badlands of deepest, darkest Cork and The Beara peninsular. Rock and roll time, here we go.

With a bit of Spin SW and Ferry Corsten churning out the tunes, punctuated by a Tesco stop in Limerick, we hit Eyeries on The Beara at 2am where we bedded down for a night in the car. Thankfully, although mega mild, it was nice and overcast and feeling pumped for the morning, life was good.

Waking up just shy of 7am, we gave a nice looking beach and outflow nearby a look but there was no rare there so headed west the half hour to Dursey Sound where Josh and I became numbers 11 and 12 in the queue respectively. The first Brits to invade the party. An hour or so wait for the cable car to open was perked up by the usual craic from the likes of Vic, Aidan K, John M, Conor F, Seamus E, Jimmy D and the king of West Cork Kieran G - the man who we've to thank for smoothing things over on this one.

No phone reception, we were all oblivious to the bird still being present until we got half way across Dursey Sound. The Dom Joly of 21st century twitching, Dan P, had kindly let me know the bird was still about. So in the gloom, things were big time cheery. Once on Dursey, three of the birders on our cable car got a lift while the couple of us that couldn't be squeezed in had to partake in the calorie crunching hour long walk to near the west end of the island. Still shrouded in mist, and with the weather quite fresh, it was pleasant enough but we'd have preferred to have got there a bit quicker given the circumstances...

After walking across the island, there'd been little in the way of real cover until we reached Derek Scott's garden. A veritable feast for any lost yank fresh in. Walking down into his place though was entering something almost unreal - a jungle of trees, purposefully planted by a birder to attract migrants on their first stop in or last stop out. This guy was a true gent, lovely and thankfully content with the behaviour of the small crowd that had descended. Giving us the lowdown, he welcomed us in and took a place looking over willows, conifers and an isolated sycamore. Just 10 minutes or so I'd arrived, the bird had been seen but had disappeared as they do. Within half an hour though, with a little bit of anxiousness in the interim, a bright yellow bird flitted up in the nearby willows, but before you could get your bins fully on it the bird disappeared down into cover. Obviously the Wilson's Warbler (doing what they typically do when I've seen them in the US), a short while later it flew up into the sycamore and I got a look of its rear end, wings and mantle though not ideally its face was covered by leaves - but within an instant it was off again.
Wilson's Warbler Dursey Island, County Cork
The crowd continued to behave really well, with just low level noise and the odd bit of moving around when someone had a sniff of it. Once we realised that the bird was doing a bit of a circuit, people thinned out a bit to search and the Wilson's Warbler then became seen more often. It wasn't particularly vocal, unlike a number of yank warblers I've seen either in Britain and Ireland or on the rock, but with patience the views ended up being more than ample. That yellow glow, black cap, beedy eye, greenish mantle, long tail and flesh legs made up a bit of a stunner of a bird. Moving its way through the pittisporum, feeding on craneflies, it for once felt like one of those days that you live for. Whatever you think of the whole twitching malarkey, this was really one of those days you'll take to the grave.

Everyone who tried to get on did in the end. Despite the rigidity of the Cork Council cable car initially (where locals are allowed to jump the queue!), later shuttles til 7pm were laid on as well as an enterprising boat-owning sheep farmer who ferried a few Brits over too. Most of all, Derek Scott - the gentleman that he is - needs to be sincerely thanked for his generosity, and openness to the whole event. If anyone's reading this and would like to thank him personally, email me as Derek gave me his email.

Proper old school twitch, and despite loving a bit of searching for my own stuff these days, you really can't beat something like this. The seconds are better than the firsts. Nice and chilled out too given our fortunate positioning. You just can't beat a good yank!

Unfortunately the bird wasn't about on Sunday, and I genuinely feel for those that made the effort. Nobody deserves that, not least some of the good lads that I know went.


  1. Well done Rich. A truly gripping read. Not your fault at all, but it hurts just a little bit more now that I've read this!

  2. Wish you'd have got it - it was Alan and yourself that I felt most gutted didn't see it. At least this one may still be alive though; no wind turbines this time around!

  3. Nothing good or bad to say about the two carloads of Cork birders who made the pilgrimage? Probably for the best...
    Smashing bird, bird of the year for me even if the Lesser Sandplover gave much better views.