Red-eyed Vireo – 1995

Vireo olivaceusFireo Llygatgoch / Telor LlygatgochVagrant

As a regular visitor to Pembrokeshire for more years now than I care to remember, I have often pondered its potential for vagrants, were it to receive the same coverage as the Scilly Isles or south-west Cornwall.  But where did I go each October from the later 1970s? To the aforementioned Scilly or Cornwall of course!  So I had a lot to prove to myself last year when my wife and I at last made it to St Davids for a week in October.

At around 9am on the 18th October 1995, the two of us were in the car park at Porthclais.  We were not without expectation having found three Richard’s Pipits the previous day at Marloes Mere, and had just finished discussing with Colin, the local harbour-master, the problems he might have if we found another Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the same spot one had been in 1994. I am not the most patient of birders, stake-outs are definitely ‘out’ for me, and I had quickly ‘done’ the trees bordering the car park.  My wife, who is as patient as they come, was, as usual, about twenty metres behind, when she called to me to identify a bird that I had obviously walked past.

There it was, sat at the top of a small tree less than thirty metres away – a Red-eyed Vireo. Forty years I had been birding, man and boy, pretty seriously most of the time too, but my wife, whose birding life was only just beginning, had found the vireo, not me!  Desperately trying to save face, I remember mumbling that as she had seen one at Trevilly in Cornwall the previous week, she should have instantly named the bird herself, but the remark carried little conviction!

Roughly the size of a nearby Blackcap, it was basically greenish on the back with silky white underparts that had a buffish tinge to the flanks.  The head pattern drew most attention displaying a blue-grey crown, white supercilium accentuated by black stripes both above and below it, and a strong bill with a slightly curved upper mandible.  The iris appeared a reddish brown.  There was no obvious wear to the flight feathers, suggesting a first-year bird.

The bird soon disappeared and despite extensive searching we were unable to relocate it.  Despite the rash of records of this species in autumn ’95, I knew the bird remained a genuine rarity in Wales, with only one previous Pembrokeshire record and just one other in the whole of the Principality, so I decided to release the news to Birdline Wales late that morning, to give others the opportunity to search for the bird if they so wished.  It was seen that afternoon by several local birders and was well ‘twitched’ the following day, but could not be found on the morning of the 20th, though a stunning male Firecrest at the same spot was some consolation.

The moral of this story?  Save yourself heaps of money by giving Scilly a miss next October and find your own rarities in Pembrokeshire, or better still get your wife to find one for you!

Owen Roberts

Pembrokeshire Bird Report 1995

More about the Red-eyed Vireo in Pembrokeshire