Eastern Subalpine Twitch at Portland Bill, Dorset on 1 May 2017

What I love most in my life is world birding. I love the thrill of hardcore birding every day for 4 to 6 weeks, looking for targeted birds each day or place. Knowing that if you miss any of your endemic targets, that will be it, you may not get another chance on that trip or maybe never again if you never get to return.  That’s a tough feeling, dipping like that. On the plus, seeing a new bird that you have never seen in the world before, is an unbelievable feeling. Taking in its features and colours, so that it sticks in your brain forever.
The second best birding experience is seeing a new bird in the UK that you have not seen anywhere else in the world before. It’s only one bird in the day, not say twenty, but a new world bird (even if not counted yet by the IOC).

On Monday 1st May 2017, we travelled down to Portland Bill on the South coast and finally managed to see a very rare Eastern Subalpine Warbler.

We had tried on Saturday, but I had gone ringing in the morning and so we did not get there until 4 pm.  When we arrived, right on the coast, it was really windy so although we heard the birds singing, we didn’t see it. We waited until 6.30 pm but it was so breezy there was no way any bird was going to pop out from the heather and bracken, so we decided to go home.

On Sunday, it was the Chew Valley Cider and Cheese Fair where I was running the car parking with my friends. That was fun; especially telling complaining people that they had to pay me a whole £1 or go home because there was nowhere else to park! Miles and Luca who organised the event let my friends and me get in for free to see the bands in the evening, which was loads of fun. They had Stone Foundation, Sophie Ellis-Baxter and Jo Whiley who were all amazing.

The next day I was exhausted and Dad was a bit hungover, so we didn’t leave home until 11 am, not getting to Portland Bill until 1 pm. It was a much nicer day and when we got to the bird, we heard that it had been “seen a couple of minutes before”. I think when people tell you that they think they are being kind. If it’s been seen just before then that’s a good sign because it will probably be seen again quite soon. However, for me, that gets me feeling despondent. If it was just seen, it means that it might not be seen again for ages or not at all. That’s how I was feeling until eventually, it started singing and then carried on.

Young Birder Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig at Eastern Subalpine Warbler twitch at Portland Bill
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

After a while, a couple saw the bird again ‘briefly”, but did not get anyone else onto it. They then stuck around rather than going home celebrating. That’s when I start having thoughts about whether they were stringing it. I know that’s mean, but I suppose that’s how the stress of twitching gets you thinking. If they are reading this, I apologise profusely for my suspicious and terrible thoughts. I needn’t have worried, as after a while we heard the male singing again. We were then able to get onto the stunning male which showed itself pretty well. I also got a few photos whilst it was perched out in the open. Fantastic!

Eastern Subalpine Warbler at Portland Bill
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig
Young Birder Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig at Eastern Subalpine Warbler twitch at Portland Bill
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Ian Lewington, the famous and brilliant bird artist from Oxford was also there. We had a little chat with him, which was lovely as I hadn’t seen him since 2010 when we were on the Isles of Scilly. He said that he was working on a new North America Field Guide, which will take over from Sibley. I’m looking forward to that come out in a few years. It was my 469th bird in the UK (on my UK400 list). I’m hoping to see my 470th this spring, as then it will be a countdown to 500, which I am sure will still take a few more years. Sylvia  Cantillans is not yet split on the IOC list from Sylvia inormata but is split from Moltoni’s Warbler, Sylvia Subalpina.

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