19 November 2013

The Orphean Warbler Story

photo Dave Astins

Just when you think the Autumn is winding down along comes something very very special and its turmoil (but good turmoil). The narrative begins on Sunday 10th November when local stalwarts Peter and Rosemary Royle posted on the Pembs Blog that they had seen a Lesser Whitethroat in their now famous garden at St Brides. Being mindful of the possibility of an eastern bird (halmondieri/blythi?) so late in the year, I emailed them asking them, if possible, to photograph the bird. The bird hung on and Peter eventually managed some really good quality shots which were posted on the Pembs Blog late morning on the following Thursday. 

I was preparing food, early evening when I checked the Blog an homed in on the photos. There followed a sense of confusion more than anything. I knew from ringing days that the complete white ring around the iris wasn't right for Lesser Whitethroat and that bill! What a stonker! Realising, with a start, that it wasn't a Lesser Whitethroat, I dived for 'Svensson', and anything else on the shelves in a bit of a panicky, headless chicken sort of way (allowing the food to almost burn and so annoying Kathy in the process). I was trying to keep logical and be thorough but Orphean Warbler just kept orbitting round an round in my head, it just seemed to be ticking the boxes.

photo Peter Royle

Kathy made me take a break and eat, and I also checked emails. There was one from Robin Hemming referring to the photos and suggesting I checked them out since the eye wasn't right unless it was a photographic effect. Funny enough this gave me loads of confidence. I wasn't going mad if someone else had noticed something wrong. I emailed local birders Dave Astins and Paul Grennard drawing attention to the photos and laying out my suspicions that it was an Orphean and was steeling myself to email the Royles and Blog the bird  (thinking all the time of the consequences of getting it wrong) when the phone went. It was Rich Brown, Warden of Skokholm and all round good bloke. I just knew what he was going to say and blurted out something like 'It's the eye and the bill isn't it? etc etc in a bit of a gabble. As the conversation became a little more coherent he added in the primary projection and mentioned the race (soon to be species?) thinking Eastern could be possible, though the consensus has swung towards Western as I write this account. The upshot was that it had to be Orphean and I put it out on the Pembrokeshire Blog as such, knowing that in minutes it would be picked up nationally. It was a huge call but it was done with a cool mind now. Rich phoned at 7:09 the news went out at 7:16 and the rest is a bit of a blur.

photo Dave Astins

 The Royles have been brilliant, allowing birders access to their garden and virtually everyone who wanted to see the bird has done so. It's been stressful but also very very enjoyable.