Grey Catbird – Treeve Moor, Land’s End, Cornwall

A Grey Catbird was found at Treeve Moor near Land’s End on Monday 15th October. It was only the 2nd ever recorded in Britain after a two day stayer on Anglesey in October 2001.

Grey Catbirds migrate from Canada and North America south to Florida, Mexico and Central America. During this migration some of them take a short cut by flying out over the Atlantic rather than down the eastern seaboard. This bird obviously got caught in one of the recent storms whilst out over the Atlantic and managed to survive the 4,000 mile non-stop flight, no doubt many other less fortunate birds ditched into the sea.

I was slightly surprised when it was still present the next day and I began to wonder if it would still to be present on Thursday when I would be travelling down to Porthcurno to run my West Cornwall workshop. The guesthouse would be only 2.5 miles from the bird!! The Catbird showed throughout Tuesday and in the end I decided that if the bird was still present on the Wednesday morning I would head west a day early.

The bird was seen again Wednesday morning and I headed off at 9:15am, this was as early as I could go without leaving the dogs on their own for too long before Sarah’s return after work. Although the RBA messages didn’t hint at its elusiveness it did prove to be an extremely skulking bird. I arrived at 1:20pm and joined a long line of birders, the bird hadn’t shown for over an hour but almost immediately I saw it fly across in front of us and called out directions.

I didn’t realise it at the time but this moment was captured by a local BBC film crew and I ended up on BBC Spotlight that evening and prime time national BBC Breakfast News and lunchtime news the next day!

In flight I could see the lovely blue grey colour, long tail and chestnut undertail coverts. It landed in a dense bramble bush and wasn’t seen again for nearly 2 hours. I hoped this flight view wouldn’t be my only view and made a mental note to look for the black cap if I saw the bird again. At just after 3pm I found it again perched towards the top of the brambles.

I called out directions and managed to get it in the scope when the large black beady eye and striking black cap were obvious. It also gave it’s amazing wheezing kitten like mewing call. I made a few brief sketches and after a few seconds it flew back the other way, dropping into some Ivy and Willow Scrub and wasn’t seen again for another 2.5 hours.

The final views of the day were as the sun was dropping. The Grey Catbird perched up in the Ivy for a minute or so allowing a few more sketches before flying back in our direction and into the large bank of brambles again. I felt that this would be its roost location and decided to head back to the car to warm up and then back to the guest house.

The bird was seen again the next morning and so after breakfast I called in for another 5 hours seeing the bird well on 3 occasions. I improved and added to a few of my sketches and in the end was happy with the poses I managed to capture although I had spent 9 hours on location to get them! If all birds were as difficult as this one I’d think about a different hobby!

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