Sunday, 26 June 2016

Paddyfield Warbler

12th June 2016
At 4am the sky is still a deep blue-black, it's pretty chilly and I'm glad of my warm jacket. With lunch, notebook, manual and flask stuffed into my rucksack I hurry to catch up with Alan who was already on his way into the monitoring site. We are at the fantastic and very dramatic St. Abbs Head National Nature Reserve in the Scottish Borders with the sounds of gulls and other seabirds rankling the air and as we set up the equipment there's the faint tang of salt in the air; with everything ready we begin. This special ringing survey is part of the BTO's Constant Effort Site scheme which "provides valuable trend information on abundance of adults and juveniles, productivity and also adult survival rates for 24 species of common songbird." Alan has been monitoring this site in the same way every year for more than twenty years and is incredibly patient and deeply knowledgeable. He is also a BTO licensed ringing trainer and is my teacher and mentor.

Chiff-chaff and woodpigeon call nearby and down on the loch a little grebe trills. Up here on the wood edge we log gorgeous common scrub-land and woodland birds like whitethroat, goldcrest and song thrush. We also had several retraps of the little sedge warbler, a wonderful songster of scrub and reedbeds. These sedge warblers hatched and fledged here and then flew to Senegal (see this great blog) or thereabouts for the winter and have returned to breed again in the same reedbed in Scotland. These were all small marvels but expected. What we did not expect was a totally different bird altogether.

First off it this new bird seemed very plain in the dull light and with a large pale supercilium. It called quietly with a chirriping swallow-like chatter and was obviously feeding well and in good condition. We took a variety of detailed key biometrics including lengths of specific flight feathers and wing length and, after a bit of head scratching we saw that all the data pointed to one thing - this was a Paddyfield Warbler, and this bird is a long, long way from home!!

Paddyfield warblers breed in temperate central Asia in low vegetation such as long grass, reeds and rice and winters in Pakistan and India. So it is a rare vagrant to western Europe with small breeding populations along the western shores of the Black Sea around the border between Bulgaria and Romania. At the same time as our bird, a male turned up singing in Finland (see here). Here is video and sound recording of it's simple song, some pics and some more info from Birdlife International. Here is a close up of the bird - check out the different feather types especially those modified bristles at the gape of the beak.

And here is the marvellous Mire Loch.

Mal Grey

With kind permission of Mal Grey