October 6th   Leave a comment

The spectacular week continues. It was obviously so quiet during most of September to prepare us for this week. I went to the Patch at Fife Ness first thing to resume a search for a mystery warbler that was seen there mid-afternoon. It had features of a booted warbler and features of a reed type warbler. I tried for an hour before dark but left just before it reappeared and was photographed. Later we all agreed the photos identified it as a Blyth’s reed warbler: another new bird for my Crail list so a big incentive for me to refind it this morning. Sadly, some of the birds from yesterday had moved on overnight including this one. There were fewer yellow-brows and blackcaps in the patch today and the red-breasted flycatcher at Seaview Cottage had also moved on. Nevertheless, it was well worth searching the Patch and after thirty minutes I heard the distinctive “chirrup chirrup” of a Radde’s warbler. I identified it immediately and then it called again – my criteria when identifying a bird by call is to identify the call and then hear it clearly repeated to be sure. I rushed to get the others and tried some playback. My last Radde’s in the Patch responded so vigorously to playback that it practically sat on the speaker. Not this one. None of us got eyes on it and it disappeared into the dense vegetation of the Patch. A shame, they are striking warblers with a lot of personality. I haven’t given up hope that I will see it; as the day unfolded it became clear that a lot of birds can escape detection in the Patch.

As I searched more widely a flock of barnacle geese flew over with a single duck leading them. A male scaup. Another good bird for the Crail list. There was a lot else to distract me. The redstart was still present, a big flock of tree sparrows was doing their autumn usual of circling around the Ness daring each other to migrate, a flock of house martins stopped off overhead, and lots of redpolls and a few siskin and brambling went over. Work beckoned so I went back to Crail via the big stubble field between the Balcomie Caravan Park and the north side of the airfield. I was again hoping for Lapland buntings. Instead I put up a flock of eight snow buntings among the many skylarks. They headed off strongly towards Wormiston.

I was teaching again in the afternoon when my phone went off with a message. I dutifully ignored it, but it kept on pinging. I had to look. A picture of an arctic warbler fresh from a net in the patch with a query to help in identification! I made my apologies to my understanding Masters student (thank you Tom) and was down at the Patch again, somewhat breathlessly, 9 minutes later. My time is improving, but so are the incentives. We were waiting for a few more of the local birders to arrive when I heard the distinctive sad “peeuu” of a Siberian chiffchaff. There was one sitting in a sycamore just above the ringing hut. I was able to see the complete lack of greenish or yellow on the bird and brownish ear coverts. Three convincing characters on another local patch rarity: the eastern theme continues. And then from the warmup act to the star. An absolutely cracking arctic warbler right in front of me. We had not found this earlier as we searched the patch for the other warblers, but thankfully there were nets up today. I realised I hadn’t seen an arctic warbler for 20 years – my last one was singing in a tiny bush in the tundra at Barrow, Alaska, on a day where I had watched a pomarine skua hunting an American golden plover, sanderlings making a scrape and I had worried about whether there were polar bears hiding out on the nearby sea ice. Another fantastic migrant connection. Regardless of the memories it brought back, it was a stunning bird. Well to a birder at least. It is in the willow warbler type vein but with everything exaggerated. It is larger, with a much bigger and stouter bill, with an added wing bar or two, and the most severe and exaggerated eyestripe and supercilium going, almost vireo like. When it flew off after being ringed it gave its characteristic dipper like short, metallic call. They are a completely different bird from a greenish warbler – that also turned up in a net in the Patch this autumn – the bill length and structure, along with the very long thin supercilium gives an arctic warbler an elongated, flat headed look, whereas greenish warblers look compact and almost dumpy (see August 17th, 2020).

Later the artic warbler was relocated in one of the big sycamores, feeding alongside a yellow-browed warbler, chiffchaffs and goldcrests – a lovely range of stripes and sizes. It also gave a nice series of calls, again very dipper like and very distinctive. Another great day bookended by two great warbler species, and one more for the Crail patch list, number 234. And speaking of lists, I realised today that this week has taken my year list up spectacularly to only two short of my record. I am up to 166 species within 10 km of my house already this year.

Big bill, long thin supercilium, one obvious wing bar and the hint of a second, freckled ear coverts – an arctic warbler!
No supercilium to speak of above the bill, yellow legs
Today’s star – an arctic warbler caught mid-afternoon in the patch and still there in the big sycamore closest to the old telephone pole this evening. Thanks to Chris Broome for ringing today and giving us all twenty minutes to get to the patch before processing the bird.

Posted October 6, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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