August 18th   Leave a comment

It has been an up and down day. The unidentified bird at Kilminning got identified twice. The first time as an extremely rare eastern olivaceous warbler, which was exciting and took a lot of painstaking observation of the difficult to see bird of Thursday. The second time was later in the day when some good photos were available to actually reveal the bird as a chiff-chaff. Sadly not a very rare species. A manky, moulting chiff-chaff lacking almost every feature that a chiff-chaff should have. Most importantly it was missing feathers around its bill so it had an atypically long and broad based bill making it look like a Hippolais warbler. These things happen. The second identification was a bit of a come down. I had put the identity of the mystery bird out on the birding grapevine as a definite olivaceous first thing in the morning after spending a painstaking 90 minutes accumulating all the relevant characters (bar one). I got out to Kilminning by 6:15 and found the mystery bird fairly quickly. It was in exactly the same place as on Thursday and gave occasional brief good views. I was joined an hour later by a couple of others and a consensus about its identity began to emerge. I decided to stick my neck out and report its identity as definite. The bird had also been seen late yesterday afternoon and several others thought it was a possible olivaceous warbler too, they then made the sighting public, but only as a “possible”. Even so many birders won’t come out until a sighting is confirmed, and sometimes that only happens when it is too late. These vagrants are only passing through and a few hours can make a difference in connecting with them or not.

Looking like an olivaceous warbler

About 50 or so people turned up to see the putative olivaceous warbler and most went away happy. But gradually some good photographs emerged and it became clear that the bird had yellow underwings and a tinge of yellow on the vent that rules out olivaceous. Then with a bit of lateral thinking, a chiff-chaff in a poor state of moult seemed likely. With missing and old feathers then many of its features could be blurred and similar to olivaceous. This with the lack of some feathers at the bill base to exaggerate the size of its bill made the common place seem plausibly exotic. Without the photos, given the relatively poor views of the bird feeding quickly in dense vegetation it would have been impossible to see the features that might suggest a chiff-chaff. Even so I was left with a feeling of kicking myself. Particularly because one key character for an olivaceous warbler is a regular dip of the tail when feeding – the mystery bird showed this feature. But this feature is shared by chiff-chaffs so this should have put them in my mind much earlier. Never mind, better to have loved and lost. I learnt more today about splitting Hippolais warblers – some of the hardest birds to identify as vagrants – than I have I have in last few years. And also about the pitfalls of moulting chiff-chaffs.

Looking like a manky, moulting chiff-chaff

There were other migrants about at Kilminning. A couple of spotted flycatchers, a pied flycatcher, a few garden warblers and lots of willow warblers. Some tree pipits and a flock of snipe passed over. It has been a good week for migrants in Crail all in all despite the disappointment of the mystery warbler.

I consoled myself later in the evening by connecting up, at last, with one of the many wood sandpipers that have been passing through Crail this week. There was a single bird in the Troustie House field pool. It was a beautiful evening and lovely light to see this wader from northern Europe on its way to West Africa. As I was down there I bumped into the owner of Troustie House who wanted to know if her house was on a twitchers’ map because she had noticed an increase in traffic down the usually pretty deserted farm roads over the last few days. I explained what a great habitat her house, with its marginal land and pools, presents to migrants in the inhospitable farmland surrounding it. Pretty much like the May Island stuck in the sea. I was preaching to the converted. I learnt that Troustie House is stuffed with nest boxes put out for the tree sparrows and a good chunk of the land is set aside for a nature reserve. I’m glad that we have such an enlightened person managing some land on the outskirts of Crail for the benefit of birds and other wildlife, and birders like me (although the last was probably not intended).

A wwod sandpiper, finally on my Crail list

The evening was finished perfectly watching the visible migration of swifts passing over Crail and the surrounding fields in the last of the warm evening sunshine. They were all heading to the southwest. They may have been thinking with some regret that now it was time to head south the Scottish weather was finally suiting them.

Posted August 19, 2012 by wildcrail in Sightings

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