It was a wrench to leave the site, but we needed to get back to the mainland for another try at the Canada Warbler. By now, we knew that this was a bird that was not showing well, and that many of the birders crammed into the willow scrub had not seen it, or had only fleeting glimpses.
We were amazing lucky. Within 15 minutes of arrival, the bird popped out in front of us, showing brilliantly for about five records (“Here’s me from behind, then looking over my shoulder… then side-on… then with head turned so you can see my lovely necklace… then my bum again, raising my tail so you can see my white under-tail coverts… and that’s it, everyone… I’m back to skulking”). No chance of a photo (I lacked room to even lift the camera) but what views! And what a day. The last time I saw three new British birds in a day was in north Norfolk in 1993: then I was with Joe Tobias, and we enjoyed Penduline Tit, Purple Heron and Great Egret, plus seconds of a sumptuous summer adult Sociable Lapwing. So it was fitting that the boy Joe was here again, sharing in the shock and awe, to enjoy an avian Triple Crown that is unlikely ever to be repeated.
Saturday 23 September is a day that will go down in (bird-)twitching lore. The day when it was possible to see a 1st for Britain, a 2nd for Britain (which was effectively a 1st given the first record was a one-observer, one-day bird, shrouded in scepticism), a 3rd for Britain (which was the first twitchable one since the 1st record, 42 years previously) and another 3rd for Britain (albeit of a species with two well-twitched records) – all within a small area of Pembrokeshire, in Wales. It was a pleasure to be part of it – even if we saw just three of the four, they were the right three.
I was due to go for the UK's third Magnolia Warbler at St Govan’s Head the night it was found, but – as I was going out the door – realised that my priority was to my ill wife rather than a new bird. For this sensible adult behaviour, I was to be amply rewarded. So Dave Andrews, Stuart White and I set off late on Friday night, and connected with the Magnolia Warbler after a nervy wait under clear skies and on almost frosty ground. The bird was a stunner, calling regularly, flaunting its largely white tail frequently, and performing well – albeit at greater range that my camera could cope with. I blew two chances to photograph the bird properly at close range, away from the crowds, but never mind, this was a proper mega. It alone would have clearly more than made the trip worthwhile.
Upon arrival there was a buoyant mood. We knew that the UK's 2nd (or 1st...) Bay-breasted Warbler had been showing well earlier in the day. By the time we got across, it was showing less well and my photos were shoddy – but was still a cracking bird, much brighter than anticipated.
But our enjoyment was interrupted when the phone beeped with the astonishing message that the UK's 1st Canada Warbler had just been found somewhere at the same site. “Where the hell’s Stack Rocks?” was the refrain as we sprinted towards the car. We followed those who knew better and were among the first cars to pull up. We were more than nervy, not just because CW was a new bird for Britain, but with the knowledge that we had to leave it within 45 minutes, to head to our pre-booked boat for the Ramsey Island Bay-breasted Warbler. ... Of the Canada Warbler there was no sign, though several of us heard an apparent American wood-warbler call twice in quick succession (identical to a Xeno-canto recording of Canada) that I initially dismissed as a Birdguides app message alert (which it wasn’t, as nobody nearby had received two messages in quick succession). So it was with a heavy heart, but still much adrenalin, that we headed north-west to St Justinians, near St David’s.