Like many birders, the big surprise of the year for me was a report and photo from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch of a Myrtle Warbler 'somewhere' in county Durham but not seen since. As usual reaction and speculation on Bird Forum ranged from hoax to suppression and few if any were aware of the behind the scenes work that local birders were undertaking to secure access. As it turned out, the site location was finally released late last weekend, enabling locals to get there and see the bird. Initially it was being seen in private gardens, appearing occasionally but once feeders were put out in a roadside hedge, the bird showed quite well, and being the 30th UK record and only the 4th on the mainland it attracted a lot of attention.
I knew some who went early in the week, but I had to wait until this weekend. The assumption was that we would travel up on Saturday, but the high winds all through Friday and into Saturday were rather off putting so we took the risk to delay until yesterday when the conditions would be much more settled. As it turned out it was a lovely sunny, and reasonably mild day. The journey up was rather fraught though, Colin overslept, there was a bit of trouble finding fuel with an almost empty tank, and we were pulled over by plod near Scotch Corner doing 70 and received a mild lecture.
By the time we arrived, nearly an hour later than expected, one or two parking spots were still available and we made our way to the hedge, passing the occasional happy birder. The Myrtle Warbler showed briefly as I reached the small crowd and then vanished for a bit. it then popped up into a nearby tree where I got some decent images before dropping down into the thicket. From time to time it would feed on the partly hidden coconuts and fat balls-good job I took the scope as the bird filled the eyepiece at 60x, my best ever views of an American passerine.
A lot of the time it was very active, flycatching from a small tree behind the hedge, and it often called at this time, sometimes getting up into the bigger trees and then dropping out of view for long periods. Getting images was rather frustrating as it was often obscured by small branches, it's inability to stay still and the difficulty in picking it up in the camera. Despite this I was happy with the results with the 300mm and 1.7x converter.
Ron Cousins was there, and he was planning on going for the Two Barred Crossbills in Derbyshire. The Black Grouse at Langdon Beck were not all that far away (I had completely forgotten about this and only realised after reading some blogs today) and we made the decision to return home via Middlesborough. A quick visit to North Gare was fruitless so we went to RSPB Saltholme for an hour or so. Not a bad place, though previous visits were before it actually opened so it was interesting to see how it was developing. Unfortunately there were few birds to see, with a distinct lack of waders and gulls. The Green Winged Teal was not seen (it was outside the reserve as we found out later) though two Red Breasted Mergansers on the fresh pools was novel. The feeders and hawthorns were full of small birds, and the best by far were the Tree Sparrows-something I missed last year.
The return home was thankfully uneventful.
There has been no sign of the Myrtle Warbler today.