Winter Trip Report from Estonia (a short break with Highlands and Islands Birders)
Moltoni's Warbler in North Uist
The following is an account by one of the orignal observers:
Having spent an enjoyable day birding with SED (an ex Farnes colleague of SB) SB and WC arrived at Balranald hoping to photograph corncrakes in the early evening light. On arrival a fairly heavy shower kept us in the car in the small car park immediately in front of the visitor centre. Whilst sheltering SB noticed a small warbler flick up from dense vegetation onto the fence forming the southern boundary of the visitor centre garden. It quickly moved along the fence beside the centre and out of view. Shortly thereafter it returned and similar brief views prompted thoughts of lesser whitethroat (to the naked eye the bird appeared smoky greyish and showed pale outer tail feathers). On leaving the car WC re-found the bird on the floor behind the visitor centre. It flew up to the fence line once again and SB was finally able to view it through binoculars. Despite expecting to see a lesser whitethroat he immediately recognised the bird as an adult male subalpine warbler. WC and SB managed to secure some record shots and better views of the bird and alerted SED. ! SB was aware of the recent splitting of subalpine warbler but was not familiar with the various characters needed for Moltoni’s; concentrating instead on the need to secure views of the tail feathers and the extent of the colour along the flanks he felt were needed to separate eastern and western. Though struck by the pale salmon-pink tone to the underparts with no experience of western subalpine (and very little of eastern) SB and WC couldn't confirm the ID beyond ‘just’ subalpine. The bird was lost to view shortly before SED arrived but thankfully reappeared and showed well to all 3 observers on and off for 20-30 minutes during which time many photos were taken. It was first seen at c18.00 and last seen at c19.30 though it could go missing for short periods. In the field all 3 observers concluded that the bird shouldn’t be eastern subalpine warbler due to the extent of the flank colouring and the apparent lack of really strong contrast between the wash on the throat and the breast / flanks (views and pictures of the under tail being inconclusive). However, signifiant uncertainty remained and SED headed home to check his pictures. On reviewing them he considered the bird a good candidate for Moltoni’s and contacted Martin Garner for further comments. These were extremely positive and following overnight research and further comparison of all 3 observer’s photographs the next day we became increasingly convinced that Moltoni’s was the correct identification. All 3 observers returned to Balranald the next day but sadly the bird could not be re-found.
Decsription: General impression: A small sylvia warbler, reminiscent of lesser whitethroat but appearing slighter and rather more energetic and almost acrobatic at times, especially when making feeding sallies from fence wires into vegetation. Plumage: Noticeably pale above and below. The upperparts were a soft bluish grey and in the field could appear almost powder blue, being quite subtle in tone suggested, especially on the head. The crown, mantle and back often appeared uniform bluish grey in the field but in all the photographs it’s possible to see a brownish tinge to the mantle and back whilst the wing feathers show a brownish cast (most notable on the tertials). In the field the face, especially the lores, could appear darker than the rest of the upperparts, but this seemed to be angle dependent looking much more uniform sometimes. The tail was similar in colour to the rest of the upperparts but perhaps a shade darker. The outer tail feathers showed strikingly white outer webs but the full pattern could not be ascertained. The underparts were arguably the most striking feature being a lovely soft ‘salmon pink’. No hint of orange or red could be discerned in the field and the general impression was of a more or less uniform wash across the throat, upper breast and flanks with only a very slight darkening on the throat. The pink wash reached well along the body and wrapped round to the vent though the centre of the breast, a narrow wedge along the belly and the undertail coverts were white. One feature not noted in the field, but apparent in some of the attached photographs was the length and strength of the malar stripe. Comparing photographs of this to the plates in the Birding Frontiers Challenge Series Autumn the best fit seems to be with Moltoni’s warbler where the malar stripe is relatively broad and reaches at best to the back of the eye-ring. Bareparts: The bill appeared dark and fine, the legs quite a bright yellow-orange and the eye-ring was a bright red. Call: Sadly the bird was not heard to call (which I know would have been diagnostic). Despite this, having checked a number of references I feel that the combination of plumage characters given above strongly suggests that the bird was a Moltoni’s warbler, with the underparts colour and extent in particular seeming to rule out both eastern and western subalpine warbler due to its extent and the lack of red / orange tones anywhere in the plumage. All the attached photographs were taken on a Nikon D3200 with 70-300mm lens. I understand others by all 3 observers have also been submitted by SED.
This is the 2nd record for the Outer Hebrides following a bird taken on St. Kilda on 13th June 1894; which is incidentally the 1st British record.
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New Bee for the Outer Hebrides (by Wendy Carter)
After a great visit to Loch Aineort with Steve on a June morning, we returned there later that afternoon to soak up the atmosphere. We were heading back to the car when we spied a solitary bee on the ground beside the path. She went into her nest and, despite a half hour vigil, she'd clearly gone to bed for the day. The following afternoon we returned and were delighted to find three female Andrena bees regularly visiting their nests, provisioning their buried eggs with plenty of pollen for when they hatched.
We knew that the Uists only had one Andrena species - and this one didn't fit the description. It was only after we'd returned to the mainland that several of the UK's bee experts helped with the identification of the photos - very very worn Andrena clarkella. This is the first time the bees have been recorded on the Western Isles. June is really late for Andrena clarkella to still be flying but it was a very late spring and these poor girls were very worn indeed - you can see that most of their hairs have been worn off their thorax and the wings are very abraded at the tips. About three weeks previous, Andrena ruficrus had been discovered at Loch Aineort - another first for the Outer Hebrides. Have these two species been previously overlooked or have they recently made the journey to these beautiful islands?