Wednesday 5 February 2020

A Serin Surprise

Well there's nothing like a nice little find to pump some life back into a hibernating blog...

Over the last couple of weeks I've decided to get off my backside and walk to work most mornings, it takes me about 40 minutes but it's a nice route.  During yesterday's walk - well almost at the end of it as I was two minutes from my place of work - I was stopped in my tracks by a bird call. Oh yes, birds, I remember them... 

It was a quiet call, but still sounded close, in fact it seemed to emanate from a couple of almost see-through buddleia's no more than 15 feet from me (I was stood on Riverside Way looking east).  I stopped and stared, couldn't see anything, but then heard it again a couple of times before seeing the back of a small silent bird fly away. Annoying.

The best way I can describe the call is that it was like a short Brambling, but much less harsh and dry, higher-pitched, with a Siskin-twang to it. Something like "tsswee'.  It's not the call of Serin I am used to, that delightful rapid trill, but for some reason it just sounded like a Serin to me - presumably uttering an alarm-type call.  Frustratingly due to the time I had to push on to work, but during the last few minutes of my walk I sent a quick message out on the local WhatsApp group...

"Just had a VERY probable Serin. It's on the old Racal site... blah blah blah... needs checking out"...

Gladly Ian, Kev and Gav must have seen something genuine in my message, as they all spent some time looking for it later that day. To no avail however.

That evening I gave Xeno-canto a few minutes, which made me even more convinced, so I put out another 'call to arms' plea on the WhatsApp group.  This encouraged a text from Gav saying he was going to try again in the morning, and let's roll on to this morning...

Gav kindly offered to pick me up a good half-hour before I was due into work, giving us ample time to wander around Riverside Way and discuss the things we always seem to discuss when we get together; Gulls, dodgy birders, 'phasing' and countless statements such as "I have always thought that ditch looks good for a [insert name of a rare bird here]".

I have to be honest and say in my gut I was sensing we were on the road to failure. It just didn't feel like anything was going to come of it.  But then a small bird flew over us, silent, but as it looked quite bouncy in flight we both felt it needed following.  Lucky for us it appeared to drop down not all that far away, and even luckier for us, when we approached the area up flew a small finch with a bright yellow rump! Our luck continued further as it didn't then continue to fly, but landed on a small bare tree right in front of us.  There sat a Serin. A proper Axe rarity. I think we were both a bit shocked!

I quickly fired a message off as Gav was snapping away, which alerted Kev and Clive who were unbeknown to us mooching around close by.  However at this point it then did decide to fly off, trilling just as a Serin should, as it flew back east.  It was at this point I also had to head off, and although there was no sign of it for several hours, eventually at around 1pm it was relocated in pretty much the same area where it showed off and on for about an hour.  This is when Dave Helliar managed to get these rather nice snaps of it...

A streaky thing of beauty (c) Dave Helliar

Look at that rump! (c) Dave Helliar

Am pretty confident we can conclude this is a first-winter female, which is the dullest of all Serin plumages - although still looks amazing to me!  That vivid yellow rump, beautiful feather edging and of course the characteristic stubby little bill.  And as I said a few paragraphs up, a proper Axe rare.  

This is only the second Axe record of Serin, the first flew past me during an Axe Cliff vis mig watch on 6th Nov 2007, so it could be said I have graciously unblocked this one for others... could...

It is actually really surprising how rare Serin is proving here, especially considering our location and vast array of habitats. I'm simply amazed we've not logged a few more fly-throughs over the years, or even a settled spring singing male or two, but it's just not happened... Which is why a mid-winter brown streaky one feeding on waste ground will do just fine :-)

Might even give you a second blog post this month if you're lucky....


  1. It was a pleasure to share such an excellent birdy moment Steve, and I'm really chuffed there was a happy outcome to your frustrating encounter yesterday. Good find matey! :-)

    1. Always much better sharing a birding experience such as this, so thank you. Well actually, if it wasn't for the lift I wouldn't have been there at all! So double thanks.

      And welcome back.

  2. It may not have been trilling but it certainly was thrilling. Which the Irish pronounce the same anyway!

    1. Haha! Gave us a trill eventually. Question is, where the hell is it now!?