I arrived in Rhiwderin, a village outside Newport I’d never visited before. Seeing a likely couple loading their car boot, I wound down the window and asked, “Is it still there?”.
“Yes,” they replied, unfazed by my directness, “do you know how to get there?”
“No, not really.”
“You literally go back along this road, across the stile, and up the hill. There’s a group of people surrounding some brambles.”
I did as I was told, going up a short, moderately steep slope. Near the top about thirty were arrayed around a patch of low brambles, telescopes all pointing inwards but unused. There had obviously been a long wait. After about ten minutes I caught sight of a small bird flying into another clump of brambles nearby, as someone shouted “there it is!”.
Most of us moved over to the bushes it had disappeared into, but a few others waited around the far side – presciently, as a few minutes later they saw it there. The rest of us followed. It flitted in and out of the bushes a couple of times, delighting some but leaving the rest of us asking, “where exactly did it appear? Sorry, which branches are you referring to?”.
Then a lady in front said, “there it is! On the grass, in front of the brambles, just left of the willow sapling” – and there it was, a small sparrow-sized bird, dark green on top and yellow throat clearly visible. After half a minute it flew onto the sapling and then back into the brambles. A little later it hopped along the ground behind the front line of the bushes, yellow throat and undertail clearly visible but the rest of it obscured. Then it disappeared, and we waited.
It’s only the tenth time a Common Yellowthroat has been seen in this country – being ‘common’ only in America. Vagrants are occasionally blown across the Atlantic in storms, flopping onto the nearest landfall in places like the Scillies or Pembrokeshire; but they can also hitch a ride on ships. Given the proximity to Newport and the Severn Estuary, I suspect this particular yellowthroat had come across on a container ship.
A guy in front was obviously a serious photographer, with a large lens and camouflage gear. Before long he left us: I thought he was giving up, but instead he positioned himself further uphill. The rest of us waited where we were; but the bird next showed exactly where he had anticipated. We followed, and were soon rewarded with another glimpse. Then the photographer moved again, round to the other side of the brambles. I thought, “I need to keep close to this guy, he knows about fieldcraft!”.
Thus it was when the yellowthroat emerged from the brambles and onto a nearby shrub, I too was well positioned, and had some great views: the bird’s yellow throat appearing bright in the sunlight, its broad black mask over its eyes clearly visible. It wasn’t long there, either, but for that brief half minute it showed well. Whatever the rigours of its journey to arrive here, it now seemed in prime condition, just right for finding a mate… had it been on the right continent.
I had to return to Hebron Hall shortly afterwards, where I’d been staying the weekend with a large group from Trinity. I later saw some picture of the yellowthroat taken that day by Richard Stonier, a wildlife photographer only in his spare time when he’s not an accountant. A quick search revealed that it was indeed he who had the uncanny understanding of where the yellowthroat would appear next: a skill that marked him out from most of the rest of us.