Discovering the apparent Pale-legged leaf Warbler.

If you put any serious amount of time into looking for scarce or rare birds you, like me, probably daydream about the circumstances that may surround encountering one. Will it be half way down a windswept cliff on Fair Isle, flit across in front of you whilst walking a quiet lane on Scillies, or perhaps a just reward on your local patch. I often muse upon all the above scenarios but what happened on the 21st October 2016 has never been one of them. That is being handed a dead Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler whilst holding a cornish pasty in the other. Either way, DNA testing will make it the first proven record for not only the UK but the entire Western Palearctic region.


Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

 Around midday I was scoffing a pasty outside the St Agnes lighthouse, with house mate Jamie Partridge when owner Fran Hicks came over for a chat. We all bemoaned the poor bird situation on the island. In parting he commented that one of the Yellow-browed Warblers, which had been frequenting the garden, had sadly struck his conservatory window and died earlier that morning. As he turned away I hesitated in asking to see it but managed to blurt out the request before he disappeared back into the garden. He quickly reappeared with the Warbler, holding it by the leg and placed it into the palm of my left hand. Immediately I realised the bird was not a Yellow browed and my thoughts turned to Greenish/Arctic Warbler. I quickly dismissed Greenish and thoughts turned to Arctic Warbler but something wasn’t right. I couldn’t reconcile the primary projection and the bill seemed odd but admittedly I was over looking some obvious plumage features. I was concerned that birds (especially smaller ones) can look very different in the hand than in the field. Something was limiting my thought process and at this point Pale-legged & Sakhalin Leaf Warbler were not names I was thinking of. I decided to circulate images hastily tweeting the photo’s with “Arctic Warbler?” as a marker in the sand. Almost immediate several people responded (notably James Gilroy, Chris Batty, Andrew Holden and many others) with very different suggestions! Andrew was both on site and clued up enough to check wing formula and go through some other features to confirm Pale legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.  DNA testing will make the  final call between between the two.
This clearly isn’t a conventional “bird find” more so a cooperative effort by the wider birding community and I thank those involved. All the same, it was a unique event to be involved in and I wonder how close the bird went to going unnoticed.
The breeding range of both candidates are between 7500km – 9000km from Scilly.
Showing the length of the first primary feather.
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A tame Bluethroat on Fair Isle.

A few shots of a ridiculously tame Bluethroat at Shirva.





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Fair Isle 2016. A big day out.

A very successful 10 days on Fair Isle this year with a truly unforgettable day on the 2nd October where there seemed to be a new bird turning up every 30 minutes. A relentless SW wind had given way to relatively settled conditions allowing for, what some Fair Isle stalwarts claimed, the most amazing days birding they’d had on the island.


A shy skulking Lanceolated Warbler at Midway. This shot taken as the bird momentarily sat on a windowsill.

The fall of birds on 2nd October included my 2nd Lanceolated Warbler of the trip, Pechora Pipit, Red-flanked Bluetail, Radde’s Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Red breasted Flycatcher, 1/2 Barred Warbler, Bluethroat and a supporting cast of some 72 Yellow browed Warblers.


A Yellow-browed in classic Fair Isle cover!


Red breasted Flycatcher at Stackoull.


Typically lazy looking Barred Warbler at Burkle.


A Red flanked Bluetail dwarfed in the huge black canyon of Dog Geo. Fred Fearn and I had this bird to ourselves, laying face down, watching it flick about in the geo below. At 6pm I thought this was a perfect end to an unreal day, not realising we’d be watching a newly discovered Lanceolated Warbler as the sun went down 30 minutes later.


Another completely out of habitat bird. Pechora Pipit trading the damp Russian tundra for the outcrops of Kroga Geo on Fair Isle. This shot taken on the 5th after the bird had settled.

Other Standout birds of the trip included Great Snipe and a Paddyfield Warbler found by Paul Cook and I on the 28th September.


A couple of poor shots of the Paddyfield Warbler.

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23rd September 2016 Goodbye Beachy



Since Monday, I had made several visits to various far flung corners of Beachy Head but failed to produce anything more scarce the Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers and groups of Wheatear. Although the overhead movement of birds (mostly hirundines and Meadow Pipit) is always a spectacle to enjoy against the beautiful back drop of the Sussex coast. There were however two Honey Buzzard and another Wryneck seen by luckier birders this week.

Last post for a while, I’m away on Fair Isle from tomorrow followed by a stint on St. Agnes, Scilly until the 23rd October.


A Grasshopper Warbler underneath Belle Tout taken on the 18th.


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19th Sept 2016 – Yellow-browed Warbler

Whilst fruitlessly looking for yesterdays reported “Harrier sp. probably Pallid” redemption came as the autumns first Yellow browed Warbler announced it’s arrival, calling from cover 800m east of Cornish Farm. I believe it’s both a seasonal first for the county and the south coast.






There was also HUGE passage overhead between 06.30 & 09.30. Some 2000+ Hirundines (probably an underestimate) 450+ Meadow Pipit, 3 Tree Pipit, c45 Yellow Wagtail headed east into a light NE airflow. An immature Marsh Harrier headed out to sea early on. Chiffchaffs were very numerous with somewhere upwards of 60+ present. Also 4 Whinchat and 3 Wheatear.

It seems to have been quite a day for Chiffchaff with Bob Edgar, who was ringing in the Hollow, estimated the area hosted c400! There was also a Red breasted Flycatcher in a private garden at Hodcomb on the 18th.


A Wheatear up at Cornish Farm.


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Marsh Harrier tag no.3X

This Juvenile Marsh Harrier appeared near the pub, coming in from the west and proceeded to gain height. Lost to view as it headed out to sea. It was wing tagged and through various filters in photoshop I managed to get a legible image of the numbers on the lime green tag which were 3X. Phil Littler kindly contacted me with a life history and it is always pleasing to see a story behind a migrant bird. She was a Norfolk born lass who had an eye on being somewhere warmer for the winter.


Marsh Harrier 3X over Beachy Head pub.


Tags just visible on the upper wing.

Sexed as a female the bird was ringed & tagged in the nest at Fakenham, Norfolk on 25th June 2016 and was one of three, her two siblings being male. She was at Cley NNT reserve on 10th August and today appeared to be leaving the country for sunnier, winter climbs. Further info on the Harrier project can be found here.


Above “3X” getting her tags put on. Photo by Andy Thompson.

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15th Sept 2016 – A lively morning.

Settled warm conditions continued, a light wind meandered from east to south. Again fine calm conditions provided birds!_mg_6859

Yellow Wagtails.

The main feature this morning was a strong overhead, easterly passage. Notably Swallow and House Martin with 1200+ birds moving in the 1.5 hours I was on site. I find the highest point of the cliffs around the pub often best for seeing the most impressive concentration of birds first thing. Other numbers as follows, Yellow Wagtail (c50) with smaller numbers on the deck mainly around the cattle, 45 Meadow Pipit, 2 Tree Pipit, 3 Alba Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail. In terms of warblers there was a scattering of the usual suspects but a fall of 40+ Chiffchaff was most apparent with not a Single Willow Warbler seen! There was also a Reed Warbler singing this morning! There were also an additional 30+ Chiffchaff and a single Sedge Warbler around Belle tout wood at dusk. 4 Wheatear were also seen. A wing tagged Marsh Harrier also passed through which I’ll put details up about shortly.

So many of the Chiffchaff appear to be juveniles each with it’s own wheezing version of the adult contact call, like adolescents with breaking voices. I don’t notice such a variation amongst the Willow Warblers that proceed them.



Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit and Lesser Whitethroat were new additions for the garden too.

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