Tuesday 3 June 2014


Burnham Overy Marshes, Norfolk.
Photo by Adam Archer

A couple of trips were required for this southern European sylvia warbler. It was not because I dipped in the first instance though, it was purely down to sheer greediness. On the initial trip, Phil Andrews and I sped over to Norfolk after work. It was a pretty nerve jangling few hours though bearing in mind the bird had flown off a couple of times over the course of the day and infrequent reports were coming through that it was becoming rather elusive.

Anyway we need not of worried. As we undertook the long stroll down to the dunes we bumped into Leicestershire birder Colin Green who instantly put our mind at ease. The rarity had been showing well on and off whilst he was there earlier. It certainly put a bit of spring back into our step for the final part of our hike.

Birders at Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk
Photo by Adam Archer

After a short wait in the early evening sunshine out popped a male SPECTACLED WARBLER from amongst the scrub. Although quite mobile it would often sit stationary for long periods while it belted out its scratchy song. The dozen or so birders on site were extremely well behaved and made sure the bird was given enough space to go about its business in trying to attract a female. Considering there have only been seven previous British records of this species I do not really fancy its chances! 

Whilst studying the bird and making a note of all the relevant identification features Phil announced that there was a singing BLYTH'S REED WARBLER across at Cley village. Having never heard this species in song before we decided to spend a while longer at Burnham Overy before heading the few miles further east. As we walked back to the car the air was filled with the song of Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Sedge Warbler and I also spotted my first Painted Lady butterfly of the year along the track. It is very hard to tear yourself away from the north Norfolk coast at this time of year but with daylight running out we unfortunately had no alternative.

Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.
Photo by Adam Archer

After a short drive we found ourselves just west of Cley-next-the-Sea perched above the A149 peering into a few roadside willows. We were all concentrating so hard in attempt to pick up a slight bit of movement within the undergrowth that nobody in the crowd detected a BLACK STORK flying behind us. It had somehow drifted by as it made its way across from Thornham to Kelling. At that point we lost a portion of the crowd as they chased a potential addition to their Norfolk list but Phil and I decided to stay put.

After a patient wait we eventually had a couple of brief views of a skulking, washed out looking Acrocephalus warbler. It  had to be the BLYTH'S REED WARBLER however there was no way a certain identification could be clinched before it disappeared again. A few moments later though, as the sun began to go down the bird began to sing just a few yards away. Unfortunately the bird remained hidden at all times with only the tantalising movement of a grass stem giving away its presence. 

The song itself was like nothing I had heard before but was very distinctive indeed. It was a mostly a pretty relaxed evenly paced series of repeated notes and phrases, a lot less hectic than that of Marsh Warbler. Like that species however the song did contain the odd bit of mimicry with Swallow, Blackbird, Goldfinch and even Quail detected. It really was one of those songs you could listen to all night even with the constant traffic streaming past. It was a fantastic end to another memorable trip to Norfolk.

Here is an excellent recording of a singing male BLYTH'S REED WARBLER from Poland:

Please see MEGA ALERT: The SPECTACLED WARBLER in Norfolk - Part Two for some stunning photographs of the bird by Dave Hutton.

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