10th May

Some of the most interesting days come when you least expect them, and today proved to be a case in point. A night of continual rain driven through on the beginnings of a westerly gale promised next to nothing on the land so it was a real surprise to find resilient migrants confounding expectations and arriving in some quantity. Spotted Flycatchers featured most conspicuously, including at least 40 at the Bill and 22 at Avalanche Road; with plenty of others dotted about it looked unlikely that the all-island total was any less than 100. The strength of the wind made it very difficult to get amongst many of the more unobtrusive arrivals, and the consistency with which the Obs garden mist-nets were catching hitherto unseen birds suggested there was a lot more about than met the eye; amongst the wide range of other typical late spring migrants making the tally singles of Cuckoo and Turtle Dove at the Bill, 2 Pied Flycatchers at Avalanche Road, another 2 Turtle Doves at Windmill Stables and another apparent Pied Flycatcher at Portland Castle were of particular note. The sea got a lot of coverage and returned totals that included 7 Great Skuas, 3 Arctic Skuas, 3 Roseate Terns, 2 Pomarine Skuas, a Great Northern Diver and a Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill. Waders settled or overhead at Ferrybridge included 12 Whimbrel and 9 Sanderling.

?Pied Flycatcher - Portland Castle, 10th May 2014 © Debby Saunders

...the uploading of Debby's long-range photo of a Pied Flycatcher prompted a rash of online speculation that this was most likely a female Collared Flycatcher. In the meanwhile the bird had been independently photographed - and seemingly correctly sexed as a 'brown' male - by Brett Spencer:

Not wanted to miss out on this piece of intrigue we beat a path to the Castle and our somewhat less satisfactory views, apart from enabling it to be aged as a first-summer, did nothing to overturn our earlier feeling that Debby's photo depicted a male Pied Flycatcher with a unusually large primary patch:

However, on returning home and examining our photos we realised we'd got a flight-shot - albeit from underneath - that appears to show the white primary bases extending out to p4 which would be really, really unusual for a Pied Flycatcher...and - although we're not sure whether it isn't just a trick of the light - there's even a suggestion of white along the whole of the outer web of the outer tail feather:

Closer examination of Brett's photos reveal that traces of white do indeed seem to bleed further out towards the edge of the wing than was apparent in the field - and certainly further out than would be expected on a Pied; also, there's clearly a white-tipped median covert visible on the left wing. So, goodness knows what all this means, and it probably doesn't matter anyway since our interpretation of the saga of the infamous 'Flamborough flycatcher' is that a) whatever it looks like it's going to be Pied, and b) however expensive your optics are they can't read DNA so you may as well not bother to look at birds like this in the field because you're never going to be able to learn any lessons that'll be any use to you in the future; quite likely only a feather or two would furnish us with the answer...