Friday 29 September 2023

A Patch Lifer - Barred Warbler on Colyford Common!

I had just booted up and set off on a four mile walk with Jess over Golden Cap when my phone rang, it was Tim C. As soon as I answered I could hear excitement plus a touch of panic in his voice...

"Steve can you take a look at the photo I have just sent to you, think I might have a Barred Warbler on Colyford Common...."

A few phone taps later and sure enough - a nice photo of a Barred Warbler! A superb record for the Axe patch, only the second following a brief bird on Beer Head in the late 00's only seen by the finder. Am sure it is one of those species we've probably missed a few of over the years, we have a lot of suitable habitat and they are such a skulky and often silent warbler - which makes this find even more brilliant in my view.

From then on in during our walk I was remarkably calm considering a patch tick was in the offing!  I can only presume it was because all my previous experiences of Barred Warblers have shown they are never really in a rush to go anywhere - and knowing the stock of berries on Colyford Common at the moment and the amount of Blackcaps feeding on them, I was certain it would at the very least stay the day, if not a week or two! So we enjoyed the wonderful walk in stunning weather, giving us plenty of views like this...

Looking towards a patch Barred Warbler from Golden Cap

We even stopped off on the way home for a pub lunch at Hunters Lodge!  Playing it cool had reached a whole new level - especially when I also ordered a dessert!  Well how could I skip the chance of a Toffee Apple Crumble Pie?

I finally sauntered down to Colyford Common at 13:30, with the bird last seen around 11am.  The lack of news since then became obvious when I turned up - there was no one looking for it!  I spoke to Tim over the phone for a bit more gen, then found my spot and just sat and waited...

The hedgeline where it was seen was mostly very quiet, but then out of nowhere Blackcaps would pop up and feed - up to 12 in all. But then a few minutes later all would be quiet again.  It is a thick hedge with some big trees - I lost count of how many times I raised my bins for movement only to miss the cause completely.  

At 14:10 a movement much closer to me caught my eye, about ten metres away. Thankfully the cause of it stayed put just long enough - it was the Barred Warbler!  

The view was brief, lasting no more than five seconds before it ghosted deep into a huge holly bush, but the imprint of the bird will be on my mind forever.  It was a perfect field guide worthy view - undertail coverts facing me, tail up and then it even turn its head to the left - which is when I think it saw me and made a hasty retreat! It is a really pale eyed bird, making me wonder if it is actually an adult?  I think a first-winter male a more likely explanation, I just can't recall seeing an autumn bird so pale-eyed before.  

Here are some of Tim's photo of it, which he has kindly allowed me to share here...

Love this photo of it (c) Tim Clark

This was the first show he sent me, look at that eye! (c) Tim Clark

The best part of an autumn Barred Warbler (c) Tim Clark

A video-still (c) Tim Clark


I stayed until 14:55 but no more views.  Would have loved to get a picture myself, but in this case the picture is very much in my mind.  Thanks again Tim for a top top bird! 

Just to catch up with other bird news, I have a few sightings to mention off the back of Storm Agnes.  I didn't manage much on the sea, a possible and extremely brief Sooty Shearwater was frustrating, I did see a couple of closer Balearic Shearwaters, four Ringed Plovers west plus Gannets and Kittiwakes have clearly increased in numbers and seem to be feeding offshore.  My sea based highlight were two Arctic Skuas lingering off Spot On yesterday afternoon, chasing gulls for food.  Always a delight to watch - probably not so much fun for the gulls though!

The day before (the 27th - the day of the storm and my birthday!) a two hour late afternoon look about didn't show anything new on the Estuary, Colyford Common or over the sea, but on Black Hole Marsh I was surprised to see a whopping 12 Curlew Sandpipers!  There were two with the Ringed Plover flock right next to Island Hide, plus a flock of ten with Dunlin that looked like a freshly arrived tight flock.  They were flighty and never looked that settled, but here's seven of them...

Also two Dunlin and two Ringed Plover in shot

And to close this post, how could I not include a photo of this...

Thankfully it didn't cost me a patch tick!

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