News of an Eastern Crowned Warbler in Cleveland came as a great surprise to me. I had been on Scilly when the Trow Quarry bird turned up in 2009 and I had it in my mind that this was a bird I wouldn't catch up on, although a trapped bird in Hertfordshire 2 years later should have given me some hope. There were 2 problems; one, I wasn't free until Saturday and two, my husband Chris was still on Scilly and wouldn't be home until late Saturday. The Trow Quarry bird had only stayed 3 days and had gone by the Sunday, and as I would be gutted if I missed this one, I took the decision, much to his dismay, to go on Saturday.
Hence I found myself hitting the road shortly after 4am and tackling the dreaded A17 across Lincolnshire. Happily, at this time of day the A17 was pretty much clear apart from the odd lorry and tractor which were easy to overtake and I was pulling in for a short break at Wetherby services on the A1 for a quick break at 7.15. Five minutes later I received a text from a friend, James Walsh, on site to say the warbler was still there so it was a case of quickly slurping down my coffee and hitting the road again. Reaching Hunley I parked in the overflow car park kindly provided by the Golf Club. I had passed lots of parked cars but not seen a single birder so I made a quick call to James to find out where to go. He kindly met me on the road and updated me with the birds movements. It had been elusive, going missing for up to 25 minutes at a time and giving poor views in the tops of the tress. I prepared myself for a patient wait but walking in to the plantation it was obvious from the purposeful movement in one direction of birders in the wood that the warbler must have been located again. I followed, the crowd paused briefly, then moved on again around the back of a dense clump in the middle of the wood. Several birders were looking intently in the same direction, I joined them, spotted a movement, lifted my bins and there was the Eastern Crowned Warbler, just above eye level in the top of a young oak tree. It was side on to start with, then it turned to face me and dipped its head down almost as if to show off its central crown stripe before flitting back in to the thicket. I walked back around the clump and the warbler had been found again this time in a heavily leafed sycamore. Only a few birders could see it but I joined the group and scanned the tree. Almost immediately I found the bird neatly framed in a small gap in the leaves back on to me. It stayed in the same spot for what seemed like minutes during which time it turned to face me then turned back around once again. Well satisfied with my views James and I went to the Clubhouse for a reviving and celebratory cup of tea, enjoying the fantastic view from the veranda.h
Suitably refreshed, I returned to the wood and again birders were moving in determined fashion, the warbler had returned to what seemed to be its favoured location. Looking up, the warbler was almost above me displaying its lemon yellow undertail coverts contrasting with its silvery white belly. Then it moved out completely in to the open lit by a warm autumn sun. I thought I already had good views but these views were simply breathtaking. Its all pale lower mandible glowed almost orange and the bill had an almost upturned appearance like a minature Nuthatch. The broad Arctic Warbler like supercilium was further highlighted by a prominent dark eyestripe below and a dark smoky green crown with its pale central crown stripe above. The mantle and wings were a deep olive green, the feathers of the wing being fringed narrowly fresh green. This was a stunning bird!
It was time to head for home as the livestock needed checking before dark. Even the A17 despite 10 miles stuck behind 2 massive tractors, and the 20 miles stuck behind a tanker doing 40mph didn't seem so bad after all.