May 12th   Leave a comment

The first rare bird of the year turned up today. A marsh warbler in the Patch at Fife Ness. I got a text from John Anderson at lunchtime that it was around, having been found early this morning. I immediately biked down to Fife Ness and found a few people in the middle of the Patch staking out some gorse bushes and sycamores where it had just been seen – although briefly and not too well. It took a few minutes for me to find it. Luckily it was singing every few minutes so even though it was keeping to the dense vegetation and often very low down it was locatable and easily identifiable. Marsh warblers are very undistinguished birds – practically identical to reed warblers – and indeed a whole suite of even rarer warblers, but they have a fantastic and very distinctive song. They are famous mimics, throwing together lots of phrases of other species between the rhythmic churring phrases that characterise the whole group. Over 90 species have been picked out of marsh warbler songs, even including species that the marsh warblers spend their winter months with in places like Uganda or Tanzania. So even though I only had mostly brief glimpses through holes in the vegetation, it was a nice bird to encounter as it showed off its song. There were a couple of occasions when it flew up into the top of a sycamore and showed itself a little better. You could then just about make it its more olivey tones above and dirty white below, rather than the rufous and buffs of a reed warbler. But fairly technical and it would have been a stretch to identify without its song to help.

There was a lot of song at Fife Ness today. The willow warblers, whitethroats and sedge warblers seem to be trying to make for lost time. Out at sea I saw the first Arctic terns of the year passing. They are late as well but only by about a week. There was a steady stream of them heading north, on their final leg of their incredible migration from a winter spent in the Antarctic ocean.

Arctic Tern

Later I went out along the old railway track to Kingsbarns and then back along the main road looking for corn buntings. Another five singing birds to add to the list by the time I had finished although I suspect more – I picked up two initially just perched on low fences and then they barely sang. More repeat visits are needed. It’s not a bad thing though. It’s a nice route and on a day like today with everything else singing (especially the whitethroats) and the possibility of some more rare migrants hardly a chore.

More corn buntings today

Posted May 12, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

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