Saturday 1 February 2014

The HUME'S WARBLER in Warwickshire

Edison Road Outflow
Photo by Adam Archer

Last Saturday morning I was sitting down, practising my deep breathing and relaxation exercises when a text message came through from the self proclaimed 'Voice of the Tame Valley' Tom Perrins. It clearly stated that Warwickshire's photographic genius and dear friend Dave Hutton had found a presumed 'Hume's Leaf Warbler' just fifteen minutes from where I live. Luckily I was perched on the toilet when I read it otherwise things may have got messy! I pulled up my pants, obviously washed my hands and raced upstairs to tell Nadia. I stormed into the steamy bathroom and peered into the shower cubicle like an ornithological Norman Bates. "Quick, hurry up, Dave's found a Yellow-browed Warbler and it might be a Hume's!" I yelled.

After what seemed like three months but was probably in reality more like twenty minutes, Nadia was ready at long last. Within another twenty minutes we were on site at the edge of Hams Hall Industrial Estate near Coleshill. One of the marvellous aspects of British birding is that it takes you to some of the most picturesque corners of this incredible country of ours. Occasionally though it can also take you to some right old shite holes. South Gare, Seaforth and Spurn spring to mind. This noisy, stinking, rubbish-strewn, graffiti-daubed, muddy corner of North Warwickshire make all the aforementioned iconic birding locations seem like the Seychelles however. 

The salubrious surroundings of Hams Hall Industrial Estate.
Photo by Adam Archer

We quickly located Dave Hutton and Bob Duckhouse, the only birders present so far. There was no sign of the critter so I quickly whipped out my iPad to play Dave the calls of both Yellow-browed Warbler and Hume's Warbler from my 'Calls of Eastern Vagrants' CD. He screwed up his rosy cheeks as I went through the various calls of the much commoner Yellow-browed Warbler. His expression changed however as I played him the slightly harsher, lower pitched, disyllabic 'dsu-weet' of Hume's Warbler. "That's it!" he calmly announced. His initial suspicions were confirmed, there was a bloody HUME'S WARBLER in Warwickshire. What the hell was this delicate waif doing flitting around Shakespeare's County when it should be picking off insects around southern Afghanistan or the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent?

Within a few minutes the distinctive call was heard once again and suddenly there it was feeding amongst the leafless branches of the roadside trees. The bird was highly mobile and elusive but it did show quite well with a little patience, sometimes fly-catching in the midday sunshine. In appearance it had slightly more pallid upper parts than those of Yellow-browed Warbler. There was also a broad, buffish wing bar over the greater coverts and rather indistinct second wing bar over the median coverts. In addition the supercilium was more distinct behind the eye than between the bill and the eye and the bill looked darker and slightly spikier overall.

Eager to obtain some more views of the bird I returned to the area again this morning. Despite the cool breeze the sun was out, which is always a good sign for bringing out an elusive Phylloscopus warbler. This time the bird performed incredibly well for a while however it was not as vocal as the previous weekend. This proved a problem when the bird went missing as it was more difficult to relocate. Further distant views were also had it fed on the opposite side of the River Tame.

HUME'S WARBLER - Near Coleshill, Warwickshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Fortunately Dave Hutton at last managed to obtain an excellent shot of his once-in-a-lifetime County find as it moved through the roadside vegetation. As the day progressed though, the strength of the wind increased and typically the bird went to ground and disappeared for nearly four hours this afternoon. For those of you who are considering paying this eastern beauty a visit, learn the vocalisations of Hume's Warbler, keep quiet and listen hard. It will save you traipsing around aimlessly in the quagmire if you just stand still and pick it up the call. Oh and make sure you take your wellies too.

On the opposite side of the road bridge there are at least 6 Common Chiffchaff around the outfall and a Green Sandpiper favours the area pictured at the top of this post. Also keep a look out for a Firecrest or a Siberian Chiffchaff both of which have graced the area with their presence over the past few years.

Please do not be put off by the dodgy surroundings!
Photo by Adam Archer

HUME'S WARBLER in Great Britain

This species Phylloscopus humei breeds in the Altai mountain region to western Mongolia, south through Tien Shan and Pamirs to north-east Afghanistan, the north-west Himalayas and the mountains of north-west China. As touched on above they usually spend the winter in southern Afghanistan across to Pakistan, northern India and Bangladesh. Another race, mandellii, breeds in central China from Shanxi to southern Yunnan, west to the lower slopes of the Tibetan plateau.

Following the analysis of the mitochondrial DNA sequences, a substantial divergence between Hume's Warbler (P. h. humei and P. h. mandellii) and Yellow-browed Warber (P. inornatus) was evident. Playback experiments also concluded that neither humei or mandellii reacted to the song of inornatus.  The BOURC therefore announced in 1997 that they would be treated as separate species.

By the end of 2012 there had been 125 accepted records of this species in Britain. The first was in 1966 when a bird was present at Beachy Head, Sussex from the 13th to the 17th November. The majority of sightings have been around coastal locations along the eastern counties of Britain. The only previous accepted inland record comes from the neighbouring County of Staffordshire when a bird was found at Westport Lake, Stoke-on-Trent on 20th December 1994. There has however been another inland Hume's Warbler this winter at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire. This bird stayed faithful to the same private area from the 7th until the 24th December at least. Could this Warwickshire individual be the Northamptonshire bird?

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