Hume’s Warbler

Keen readers of the blog (you both know who you are) will have noticed the utter lack of any updates for over a month now. There’s a good reason for that – the complete lack of birds to talk about. I could tell you all about my week’s holiday birding the island from dawn to dusk with the rarity finding dream team of JLI and PS (that’d be the week that we saw 2 Yellow-browed warblers, 1 Barred Warbler, and 1 Little Bunting. Oh, and a white-winged lark…*) But that’d be boring. It was bobbins, we put the effort in and saw very little, we got soaked through on a daily basis by the constant south-westerly rain showers, we struggled to keep the faith. PS fled to Out Skerries, and having ditched his Jonahs found Richard’s Pipit and Siberian Stonechat, then went a little mad on the mainland finding White’s Thrush and Long-tailed Tit (the latter the rarest bird he’s ever found in a Shetland context!). JLI and I ground on, and still found nothing.

Last weekend I found myself on the pier checking the Eider flock for King Eider, and checking the Great Northerns for White-billed. Classic signs of winter birding activity.

But on Tuesday evening I got a phone call from a lady here on the island who knows a thing or two about birds, and enough to recognise a Yellow-browed Warbler when it turns up in her garden. Except this one was “dull” and she was suspicious enough to want a second opinion. Mindful of what had turned up on Unst at the weekend, I spent a tense Tuesday evening listening to Hume’s Warbler calls…

First light yesterday found me lurking uncomfortably in Cath’s garden like some sort of warbler pervert. Gave it an hour and a half, saw nothing apart from a couple of Chaffinches, and returned home to work from home for the rest of the day. It just wasn’t meant to be. Mid morning, and Cath phoned again – it had reappeared briefly. I was back at her house by lunchtime, and after checking the garden (no bird) she kindly let me keep an eye on the garden from inside her house, fortified with tea, chocolate biscuits and a pair of Waxwings feeding on glace cherries in her front garden. Birding comes no comfier than this.

Migrants were in short supply. Just a couple of Blackcaps feeding along the edge of the lawn, and the Waxwings didn’t linger having stuffed themselves with cherries. I gave it as long as I decently could before returning home to work. Just as I was getting to my feet to leave, Cath announced the bird was back. And there not 12 feet away was a dull greyish version of a Yellow-browed Warbler, initially doing that hovering thing before diving into a small larch and out of sight from the house. Shit.

I hurried outside, and could immediately hear it calling – a very different call to the rising sweet sound of a Yellow-browed (siuwEE)- this sounded a bit like a higher pitched House Sparrow, with a definite downward inflection at the end (swEEoo). Grabbed my laptop from the car and gave it a quick blast of Hume’s, and good as gold it came to the front of the larch to check me out. I returned the favour for a while before it buggered off down the garden when next door came out to hang out their laundry.

So, good news – Cath let me know about it, I eventually saw it, and nailed it – and it’s a first for the island. Bad news – BM away on holiday in Wales, and JLI in Norway landing fish. Worse news – no sign of it today in worsening weather conditions after a clear night last night.

On the whole, while I feel bad for them – I can’t help but be pleased with the bird itself. Thanks, Cath.

* the white-winged lark – just a Skylark with broad white secondaries. Get you going for a minute? It did us.