Myrtle/Yellow-rumped Warblers (Florida) © John N Murphy
At about lunchtime Friday the 5th October 2012 the phone began to hop. Hugh Delaney had just found an EASTERN KINGBIRD on Inishmore, the Aran Islands in Galway. As this was a first record for Ireland and the western Palearctic, I new that I would have to get out to Inishmore to see this MEGA rarity. I was in near by Connemeara but after talking with Dermot Breen I found out that the last flights out to the island were full. Also the last ferry that evening would not get me out within daylight hours to see the bird.
So without delay I phoned the Gerathy brothers at the Cliffs of Moher Cruises in Doolin, to see if I could charter and early morning boat to the islands the following morning. They quickly obliged and by the end of Friday night there were 65 bodies booked for the 7.00am departure from Doolin.
The slow boat to Aran was an agonising trip for all. As we approach the news was not good as the bird had not been seen since 18.20 of the previous day. What made it even tougher was the fact that the Belted Kingfisher in Lough Fee near Letterfrack, had just been relocate and positively identified. This was true torture for many of the twichers on boards, as they were now half way to the Arans and by the time they got back to Doolin after dipping on the KINGBIRD, they would have a 2 and a half hour drive to North Galway to try and tick off the Kingfisher. Fortunately enough I had seen one at home in Ballyvaughan, Clare 28 years previously. No need for me to rush off and I knew I was back in Leenaun during the week for some works so chances were that if the bird stuck around I might be able to catch up with it.
On our arrival at Kilronan, four 16 seater minibuses were there to meet us and whisk us all off the Kilmurvey at the far end of the island. Once at Kilmurvey people scattered about to try and relocate the KINGBIRD. A small group of us decided to check Gort na gCapaill, east of the spot where the KINGBIRD was last located. I was familiar with this area from previous trips where an old birding buddy Tony Mee and I way back in the late 1980’s, found Galway’s first Icterine and Garden Warblers in the willows of this part of Inishmore.
We did a quick scan of the little marsh before splitting up to search a few small gardens. At 10.28 Finbarr MacGabhann called me down to the marsh where he and Tony spotted some interesting bird flitting about in a nearby willow. I got glimpses of it and at first thought I saw the yellow wing flashes of a juvenile Goldfich. A little pish and the bird rose up along a willow stake to reveal his bright yellow rump and it immediately became obvious that it was a Myrtle or Yellow-rumped Warbler. I had seen one here before and hundreds in the US. So Tony, Finbarr, Barry Howell and watched the birds for a couple of minutes before I headed off to try and get a phone signal to release the news (a story for another day).
When I eventually got in touch with Kieran Grace he told me there was another bird found near Kilmurvey at 10.50. It later came to light that this bird was originally found at 10.26 by John Lovatt and Gerard Murray. Later that afternoon Chris Batty found another Myrtle Warbler in Kilronan village near the primary school. Of course this showed up just as we were all heading to catch the ferry home. Not much time was spent observing this bird. I got no shots of the Gort na gCapaill bird, and from looking at images of the Kilronan individual which looked like a bright first-winter male, I am convinced that the bird we had was duller with less yellow on the flanks more reminiscent of a first-winter female. Given that Hugh pulled out the islands second record of Blackpoll Warbler the following day, I would not be surprised if there were half a dozen Yellow-rumps on Inishmore throughout the weekend.
John N Murphy