Saturday 26 August 2017

Yellow fever on Portland

The weather has again been changeable, unpredictable and anything like Summer. And just for good measure, the first Atlantic depression named Hurrican Gert hit Cornwall last weekend bringing with it a raft of unusual seabirds.  The highlights were two Fea's Petrels, one seen from a special pelagic boat trip out of Falmouth (Sunday 20th) and another on the same day from Chynhalls Point, Coverack.  A Wilson's Petrel was also seen from Coverack on the same day and another Wilson's was retrospectively identified from photo's.  On the Scilly Isles, the Wilson's Petrel, which breeds in the South Atlantic, has been recorded from special seabird pelagic trips a record 25 times on the bounce.  Thousands of Manx Shearwaters can be seen from most headlands as the numbers build up before finally migrating en masse south to Argentina.

The major attraction this week though has been England's first Amercan Yellow Warbler, found by Portland birder Duncan Walbidge at Culverwell, Portland Bill.  This bird hit the headlines and even featured in the local BBC news.  Not without good reason though.  Not only is this the first record for England, its also the first record on the British mainland and also the earliest ever North American passerine to find its way to these shores.  As expected, interest was naturally high and some 100 birders connected with it on the day it arrived (Mon 21st).  Sadly it departed overnight, much to the disappointment of the assembled 250 or so birders desperate for the tick next day.

Yellow Warbler is a common and widespread songbird in North America and Canada.  The species winters in northern South America and the southern states of North America.  The Portland bird no doubt was migrating south towards its wintering quarters and blown off course by hurricane Gert.  How it found its way to Portland will be open to discussion.  Of interest, a second Yellow Warbler was found on the same day in Ireland.

(article prepared for the Sunday Independent column).

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