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Saturday, 16 November 2013

ORPHEAN WARBLER in Pembrokeshire

After disguising itself as a 'Lesser Whitethroat' for four days, Ian Bennell questioned the identity of a Sylvia warbler surviving in the lusciously-vegetated garden of 'Orlandon Kilns' SSE of St Brides (Pembrokeshire), following the posting of images of the bird on the Pembrokeshire Birds website on Thursday. This was no Lesser 'throat but an ORPHEAN WARBLER of species - an incredibly rare bird for Britain, perhaps only the sixth record.

As a result, around 90 people gathered at the site from dawn on Friday (16 November), the bird showing quite well from around 0720 hours for about 20 minutes. It was feeding on a favoured apple tree in the front garden and returned here on at least four occasions up until 0900 hours. It then became more mobile and was clearly following a well-rehearsed feeding circuit - being located in the thickly vegetated coppice opposite, moving sluggishly through the Elms and ivy. Often in accompaniment of a female Blackcap, the two birds worked the circuit, commuting between the wood and the section of garden by the river, taking full advantage of the many insects on offer. At around 1100 hours, it became difficult and with the crowd swelling in number, it disappeared for the best part of two hours. It reappeared after for a spell of ten minutes but then not again, until two appearances at the apple tree late afternoon, seemingly roosting in a Laurel bush not long before dark (20 feet from the apple trees). I was fortunate enough in seeing the bird on numerous occasions and was struck by its heavily restricted dark hood (in fact more of a Lesser 'throat masking) and its pale sandy-brown minula-like upperpart colour. It was a particularly washed-out bird and did not particularly strike me as 'big' - but did have a striking pearly white iris, a long black tail and a strong bill. The legs were thick slaty-grey, the primary projection was quite long and there was much white in the outer tail feather (t6). Although much of the breast was gleaming white, the lower underparts and flanks were buffish, paling to white on the undertail coverts. I could not detect the presence of any dark centres on the undertail and the upperparts were distinctly and prominently pale sandy-brown. It was quite vocal, particularly for a time in the roadside hedgerow and in ivy, uttering a Lesser Whitethroat-like 'tukk' 'tukk' contact note. A lot seemed to point towards the bird being a first-winter male WESTERN ORPHEAN WARBLER (hortensis) but only in terms of the current literature, which more and more seems to be highly contradictory.

ACCESS DIRECTIONS: In conjunction with local birders, the owners of the house very kindly agreed to allow access to their garden on Friday and Saturday - Orlandon Kilns being situated on the minor road between Dale and St Brides at SM 813 088. A local farmer kindly offered his caravan holiday field for parking, this being situated on the Haverfordwest to Dale road (the B4327) not far from Dale (at SM 814 085). Walk from here back north along the lane for around 400 yards to the dip in the valley, the property being opposite the small coppice and sallow complex.

Orlandon Kilns and its landscaped garden (the apple trees are to the left of the property and out of view in this pic)

Note the uniformity and paleness of the upperparts and the long black tail

Particularly contrasting white throat and breast with buffish flanks and lower underparts

Very restricted blackish mask but somewhat greyish cast to crown

Note extensive white in outermost tail feathers

Characteristic whitish eye, stout bill and grey in crown, thick steel-grey leg colour and pinkish-buff sides and flanks

And one of Paul Rowe's shots from today as well as a further selection here -

Again, note the patterning on the outer tail feather - more indicative of Western