A mostly cloudless day wind light from the south.
I had spent a few hours birdwatching on Beachy Head mostly centred around sky watching and entertaining the possibility of an interesting flyover. It being mid-June, passerine activity was limited to the few species that breed on the headland, Linnet, Common Whitethroat and Stonechat being the most obvious. I had decided to make my way home for lunch and headed back to where I had parked the car. It was at this moment I took an incoming call from my girlfriend. As I walked and talked my attention became drawn to an interesting song coming from a clump of bushes 10m west of the car park at Horseshoe plantation. It was so intriguing I could no longer concentrate on the call and had to make my excuses and concluded the conversation. Now my attention could be fully devoted to the singer. I should at this point interject and enlighten the reader that the time I had spent listening intently to both Marsh and Blyth’s Reed Warbler recordings online had been time well spent. Owing to that degree of diligent revision, I instantly realised I had either a Marsh or Blyth’s Reed on my hands. After listening a few moments longer I was confident the songster was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. It was initially very vocal for the first hour or so but becoming quieter as the day went on. Always tricky to see and only showing occasionally it did however perform particularly well around 16:30 for some.
It constitutes the first record for Beachy Head and the 3rd for Sussex. With the previous two having been suppressed, this gave a few county listers & Beachy Head stalwarts the opportunity to enjoy it throughout the afternoon.
Unfortunately I didn’t get ant decent images of the bird but thankfully Matt did! The pathway way to identifying this bird was wholly based on the song. The only significant notations I made whilst watching it (views were always brief and often obscured) was a colder overall tone in regards to Reed Warbler and a finer appearance to the bill giving it a weaker more spiky feel about the head. In this instance, it was pleasing to make an immediate judgment on the bird, as opposed to the deliberative process involved when encountering a silent autumn migrant. Total spontaneity!
When in full song it gave a pleasing and varied mix of musical and metallic phrases delivered in a confident, measured manner with each phrase repeated 2/3 times, giving it a composition and delivery reminiscent of Song Thrush. Occasionally it offered a “sub-song” where the structure was less defined and volume reduced. Mimicry was rife and liberally interspersed throughout the song. Species I could decipher emulated were excellent renditions of Chaffinch (both flight call and “chink” alarm call) Yellow Wagtail, Linnet, Goldfinch & a single phrase of Common Rosefinch. Along with pleasant musical elements were metallic clicking noises and softer “tuts” offered 3/4 times in rapid succession together with Blyth’s Reed’s characteristic 3/4 note whistles, descending in scale. It was completely different to the harsh, non-musical & repetitive song of Eurasian Reed Warbler (of which there had been 3 late, out of habitat, singers throughout the previous week). It did have some similarities to Marsh Warbler although it was much slower and lacked the neurotic excitable delivery of that species which to me is slightly reminiscent of Sedge Warbler.