Rarity finders: Magnolia Warbler in Glamorgan


The morning of 24 September started like any other Sunday. I grabbed my bins and loaded my two Border Collies, Sam and Meg, into the car for quick walk down to Baglan Energy Park. This is a brownfield site on the grounds of the old BP petrochemical works at Baglan Bay – not the number one location for birding. The site comprises trees, bushes and overgrown areas of shrubs and brambles crisscrossed by tarmac roads and tracks.

Parking the car by the steel gate gave me two choices about which way to go: straight on and down towards the dunes and onto Aberavon beach, or turn right towards the trees and bushes. Being a bit tired from the night before I took the easy option towards the trees – a good choice in hindsight. Having only been out around five minutes, I saw lots of movement in the bushes, mainly consisting of Blue Tits, European Robins and a couple of Blackcaps. Then ... bang! Up popped what I initially thought was a pimped-up Blue Tit. I immediately realised it was a species of American warbler, but which one? Never having seen any before, I could only guess.

Gary's Magnolia Warbler, Britain's fourth, followed hot on the heels of Britain's third, found in Pembrokeshire just four days earlier (Ian Curran).

A quick text to the local NPT Birds WhatsApp group soon had my phone buzzing with questions and directions. With my voice trembling and hands shaking did my best to describe the bird. I noticed that it was olive-green on the back and yellow underneath, with a white eyering, two wing-bars and a fanned tail with white tail sides. Over the next two hours, a steady stream of birders – some local and few on their way back from Pembrokeshire – tried to connect with the warbler, but were left frustrated. The bird only provided brief views to a handful of birders and the identity remained unresolved.

Unfortunately, I left the area because I had promised to take my wife shopping. Only 20 minutes later shopping was hastily postponed and I was back on site. Someone had seen the bird well and called out a Magnolia Warbler! How relieved I was that someone else had managed to see it and identify it. I managed to get a couple more brief views before deciding to call it a day.

When I headed out that morning, little did I think that walking the dogs would have me finding Britain's fourth Magnolia Warbler. The third was only found a few days before – at St Govan's Head, Pembrokeshire, on 20 September. The next few days were overwhelming, with a steady stream of birders coming to see the warbler. Many good photos were taken. It just goes to show that you don't have to go to offshore islands or remote headlands to find a mega Yank, just spend time looking around your local industrial estate.

The Magnolia Warbler site at Baglan Energy Park (Sam Viles).

Written by: Gary Lewis

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