I'm sure that every birding who is even remotely plugged into birding news knows by now about the unprecedented fall of American passerines over the last few days. The internet is awash with articles and blog posts about how the unique combination of weather systems at peak migration time has lead to a whole heap of them being dumped on the west side of the country. Magnolia Warbler, Canada Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Bobolink, plus numerous Red-eyed Vireos, the list just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Wales in particular got a good helping both on the mainland and on the scattered islands along the south west coast of the country.
Now, I'd been watching all this with interested. Of course all these birds would be lifers for me (I even need Red-eyed Vireo still - that's how paltry my Yank passerine list is). However, the St Govan Mag would be nearly 4 hours away - beyond my normal comfortable twitching distance. So I watched from afar, thinking that this unprecedented opportunity would pass me by. However, a second Magnolia Warbler was found at Baglan (between PorthTalbot and Swansea) and at only two and a half hours away, it was certainly within my twitching range. However, this bird seemed much more elusive and indeed took several hours from first being seen until it even was able to be identified properly. However, from accounts within a twitching WhatsApp group it seemed possible to get reasonable views so when it was reported as still present the next day (Monday) I decided to go. However I had a few work things to sort out first so it wasn't until after 9 am that I was able to set off. The journey was uneventful and it was a little before midday that I pulled up in the rather unusual location of a dead-end side road in the Baglan Energy business park. I quickly tooled up and headed off the short distance to the patch of wasteland just off the road.
|The unassuming twitch location. The bird generally frequented the tree line at the back|
I met a departing birder who said that he'd only seen it briefly twice in the two hours that he'd been there and that it hadn't been seen for half an hour. Hmmm, that wasn't sounding too great. However, I was there now and resolved to see how things played out. There were about 80 or so birders around, all staring intently into the dense wooded border to the wasteland plot at various points in the south west corner. A youngish birder seemed to know what was going on so I asked for details and he told me that the clump of Silver Birch and Sallows nearby was a good area to watch as it had been seen there earlier. He was watching it intently and low and behold, suddenly someone nearby called out the bird from that very clump. After a few moments I got a glimpse of something moving at the back.
The crowd followed it as it worked its way to the right and I happened to be positioned in the right spot as it crossed a bit of a gap. Suddenly it was right out on a branch, side on and completely unobscured and I got a perfect view of it. It was only for a split second but it was enough to secure my tick.The main impression was of a Robin sized bird with a slate grey back with two white wing bars and a striking white eye ring and yellow underparts with some darker streaking. I looked at the time. I'd been there for less than 10 minutes, so that was a very fast conversion!
|There was no hope of a photo so here is the St Govan bird courtesy of Ewan Urquhart. |
The Baglan bird had a more uniform grey back than this one.
Magnolia Warblers are usually to be found in the north east corner of the USA and Canda where it inhabits densely packed coniferous forests. They migrate south to southeastern Mexico, Panama and parts of the Caribbean. They are fairly common in this area and so their conservation status is "least concern". Of course, one can't help but think of the fate of this poor bird. Having been swept across the Atlantic by a weather system there was little hope of it getting back to where it was supposed to be. It always strikes me as a cruel irony that a birder's best birds are the ones which are most likely to perish.
|Another of the St Govan Mag, courtesy of Ewan Urquhart|
There was a rather comical moment quite soon after I'd first seen the bird when we were all focused on one particular spot and one chap said he could see it. He gave particular instructions and said that it was sitting still on a branch. However no body else could see it and I seemed to be at the wrong angle. Eventually it was worked out that he was looking at a leaf! Apart from that, the bird then showed well on and off for the next half an hour or so, on one occasion coming out at the front of a Sallow I was watching again so I get another really good view plus plenty of glimpses. However, eventually something seemed to chase it off and it was gone and everything went quiet.
|Peering into the undergrowth. The Silver Birch clump is just to the left of this|
This lack of further sightings set off a gradual exodus. The large numbers melted away and those who were left started chatting or staring aimlessly around. It always amazes me how many passive or "zombie" twitchers there are at things like this. People who just stand around in one spot, not even looking for the bird but waiting for someone else to find it and point it out to them. I would have ideally preferred to have spent more time watching this bird so, along with a few other people, I did my best, wandering around and trying to find it. However, I couldn't even find the tit flock that it was associating with. It had all gone very quiet.
Late arrivals were turning up for the twitch so I knew that numbers of keener twitchers would eventually reach the necessary critial mass needed to relocate the bird but as this could take some time and as I'd already seen it well and had a bit of a journey still ahead of me I decided not to linger. Instead I headed back to the Gnome-mobile and set off for home. Having come down the A40/M5 route on the way there, this time the Sat Nav was saying M40,A420 so it would make a bit of a change from this morning. The journey back was uneventual and back at Casa Gnome I celebrated with my usual cup of tea, basking in the warm glow of a shiny new tick.
Addendum: Twitcher's Details
For those who might be interested in going, below is a map of the twitch area.
Park along the blue line
The bird's circuit is along the red line
The best viewing is the yellow circle of Silver Birch and Sallows