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Orphean Warbler Twitch

On Sunday 10th November Peter and I noticed an unusual bird feeding in an apple tree in our garden. It looked like a Lesser Whitethroat, a summer visitor which is not uncommon but usually quite skulking and difficult to see, and rarely seen this late in the year. We posted a message about it on the Pembs. bird blog and it was suggested we tried to get a picture to try and find out which race it was. Monday weather was dreadful and we did not see the bird. Tuesday was really nice so we went out for the day. Wednesday dawned and amazingly the bird was still there but it was gloomy and although Peter got a few pictures they were not very good. Thursday dawned sunny and bright and now Peter took some good pictures through the bedroom window. We posted these on the bird blog and after a short delay, suddenly all hell broke loose! Rich, the Skokholm warden, and Mike Young-Powell simultaneously suggested that this bird was an Orphean Warbler, a bird which breeds well south of the UK and which should now be in Africa or India or somewhere else hot. It is very rare in the UK - this would be only the 6th record, and only the second in 32 years.

On Thursday evening (14th) we had a phone call from Birdguides, an organisation which sends out information about rarities, asking if we were prepared to host a major “twitch” in our back garden. Well, about 20 phone calls later, organising car parking and helpers, we were as prepared as we could be and went to bed, though I can’t say we slept much! We were up at 6:15 to put out notices and by 6:45 in the pitch dark there was a queue of people lined up outside by the postbox! By 7:15 at first light there were 45 people at the top of the garden and, thankfully, at 7:20 the bird appeared. It was around all day but not very easy to see and it chose to eat apples that were more-or-less out of sight for many of the birders, but in the end they all had reasonable views. More people kept coming during the day and we probably had at least 100 people in total, including a couple who arrived as it was almost dark and actually had very good views of the bird as it had its last meal before going to roost.

Breathing a sigh of relief as it got dark and the throngs departed we were greeted with the news that tomorrow was Saturday and it was possible that several hundred people would turn up. How on earth would we organise this? Luckily for us, a team of local birders volunteered to marshall and organise the hordes and so far (9:00 am) Saturday it is all running like clockwork (only 40 in the garden at a time, a queueing system, marshaled car parking etc). And the bird is still here and people are seeing it and photographing it with gigantic lenses.

Many thanks to Yvonne and Russell Evans for providing car parking, Dave Astins and Mike Young-Powell and their team for such professional organisation and all the visiting birders who have, so far, behaved impeccably.

Sunday evening - an update: Well it all continued to go very well with fantastic organisation from Dave and his team, who put in many hours of time. The visiting birders (probably about 400 in total) all seemed very good humoured and happy (well, they did see the bird and the weather was very benign) and what is more they contributed nearly £750 to the Skokholm restoration appeal! The “twitch” is now closed so hopefully we can get back to a more normal life - it will be nice to be able to use the back door!

Update on Sunday 24th November: Well, the bird is still here and we had another viewing session today - we were not expecting large numbers but in the event 130 turned up and the bird behaved very well. We have now raised over £1200.

Footnote: On Dec 5th, the bird was still feeding on the very few remaining apples but was not seen on Dec 6th. The night of the 5th was clear with a light W breeze, so it may well have taken the opportunity to move on - but to where? Who knows!

For the detailed story, have a look at www.orlandon.co.uk/The%20Orphean%20Story.pdf