Red-eyed Vireo – Old Town Churchyard, St Mary’s, Scilly

Our first target having got onto the islands had been the Red-eyed Vireo which had been found in Old Town Churchyard on Tuesday 8th October. The problem with going to see a bird which has been around for a while already is that fewer birders may be looking for it, maybe only birders who had just arrived like us. We had walked down the track to the churchyard and as I feared there were very few birders on location. From chatting to people and from Bird Guide messages it appeared that the vireo was pretty mobile covering a large area. Unfortunately there was no sign in our two hour search.

We then left to see the Yellow-billed Cuckoo which had just been found again at the nearby Dump Clump. Having seen the Yellow-billed Cuckoo I noticed that quite a few birders were leaving and I wondered if they were heading to the vireo and so with the prospect of more people looking we headed back to the churchyard. Unfortunately we were the only people there and so when news came through of the Short-toed Lark south of Pungies Lane near Telegraph I decided to head off there.

There was also no sign of the Short-toed Lark and so I tried for the nearby White-rumped Sandpiper at Toll’s Porth. Having seen the American sandpiper I had decided that this was a good end to the day. However, at 4:30pm Bird Guides reported that the Red-eyed Vireo had been seen again in the churchyard at Old Town. I decided to head south as quickly I could and hope that there were some birders watching the vireo when I arrived. There wouldn’t be much time before the light started to fade.

I arrived pretty exhausted to hear that the vireo had been seen 10 minutes before. I moved to a slightly different area to try and get a better overall view of the trees and after five minutes or so I saw a fairly stocky warbler flick up towards the top of an elm tree. I saw its blue-grey legs and feet, its clean white underparts, its long wings and the greenish upperparts. The head was hidden by a branch but I knew that this was the bird and so I called it out and several birders converged on the area.

The bird appeared to have been moving through the trees back towards the church and so I headed in that direction. Soon afterwards another birder reported that it was now in the top of the sycamores on the boundary line between the churchyard and the fields to the south. I thanked him, shouted it out for the other birders and dashed up the track to view the sycamores.

Thankfully it was still there and I quickly got it in the scope and had great views particularly of the lovely blue crown, black eye stripe and white supercilium. This is the 4th Red-eyed Vireo I have seen in Britain (three on St Marys and one in Cot Valley). There have been around 200 Red-eyed Vireos in Britain.

This had been a really good first afternoon on Scilly with three yankee year ticks – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, White-rumped Sandpiper and Red-eyed Vireo taking me to 244 for the year.

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