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Saturday 21 October 2023

MEGA! WESTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER At Whalsay, Shetland – First For Britain!

Skibberhoull, Whalsay, Shetland
Found by John Lowrie Irvine


News of a Northern Treecreeper at Helendale Drive in Lerwick, got me very excited. I have not ever seen one! I joined a few local birders and it didn't take long before I was watching 2 Coal Tits, high up the pines above someone's house – there were four altogether! Coal Tits are very scarce here indeed. However, the Northern Treecreeper was not on show currently, so I started an enjoyable walk round to look for it. That was the end of that.

Coal Tit high up in pines at Helendale, Lerwick


Mega news took over the day with the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler at Whalsay now being caught, ringed and re-identified as a WESTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER! Which made this a FIRST FOR BRITAIN!!!

The stubborn side of me didn't fancy going on a ferry to see any bird in these dire weather conditions, but common sense soon took over (debatable?) and after ringing Jill and Rob, I arranged to meet with them at the Vidlin ferry. The weather was atrocious, wind, rain and poor light.

Firstly I went to the Laxo Ferry, but this was not where I supposed to be – long story. The ferry was leaving from Vidlin. With time to kill before the 2pm ferry, I stopped off on the edge of the road by a large copse of trees surrounding a field next to a small stone walled cemetery. This location is on the hill, just as you descend down the road to turn left to go to the Vidlin ferry. There was a really good selection of birds here and probably much more, but I only had so much time, but found lots of Goldcrests feeding in the trees and on the grass, Redwings, Blackbirds and best of all a big flock, maybe 20+ Redpolls landed in a distant trees and then a few seconds later a Waxwing landed on a branch above them! I really wanted to go and take a closer look at these redpolls, but I had to leave. I was surprised I didn't find any Coal Tits here to be honest, there were a real mix of different fir and pine trees here.

Met Jill and Rob at the Vidlin Ferry Terminal. Jumped out of my car into theirs, which was very kind of them and along with several other birders, we embarked on a 30 minute journey from hell! 🤮

Well, Jill and Rob were ok – I laid flat on the back seat and had to really concentrate, if not I would have been sick, no question. There were at least a couple of times, when waves crashed over the ferry, seriously! That 30 minutes, was 30 minutes too long. Anyway, after arriving on Whalsay, we drove to where the Western Olivaceous Warbler was.



When we all first arrived, which included Rebecca N., John and Dennis C., Chris (who was on Foula with us), Adrian K. and a few others, the finder John said it had gone missing for a short while....... Approximately 10 minutes later it reappeared and there we were watching a first for Britain! The first thing of note, was the massive size of its bill!!! WOW! The dire conditions made for pants photography – there were no end of shots and lovely poses that should have been pin sharp, but because of the atrocious weather, combined with the darkness in the pines where it favoured, I didn't get many keepers. The only pictures that were okish, were when it spent time in the fuscia bushes.



We left and drove back to the ferry terminal to catch the 5pm ferry. Whilst in the queue we wondered what was going on, when the ferry that came in, then started to leave and was moved to a different area. Staff then came and told us that it wasn't safe for this smaller ferry to return, so a larger one was coming and it would be leaving at 5.45pm instead. I was quite happy to wait another 45 minutes for a less sicky ride home!

The ferry back was just as bad as the one going out, but I made it without being sick. Back on land.... I gathered my wet gear up and left Jill and Rob and got back into my car and drove home. The drive home to Lerwick in darkness and rain seemed to take forever. Picked up fish 'n' chips or "Fish Supper" as it is called here and bumped into Catherine's (my lovely work colleague) mum in the queue – she was amused by my details of the rollercoaster ferry ride I'd had to Whalsay and she "you're not going back then?" My reply was "not until next Summer" 😉 🌞. I arrived home shattered at around 7pm. 😴

3rd November Update!

The DNA from the Western Olivaceous Warbler, confirms its identity and that this is a first for Britain!

1 comment:

  1. Great! Surprised though that this was the first sighting for Britain of this species.