I needed to go somewhere today after two weeks without any meaningful birding action. So although I found some welcome motivation for gardening in the morning, I checked RBA at intervals. At around 1pm there was a third report of Barred Warbler in Bedfordshire. This bird is not a lifer, as I self-found one in Cyprus in April 2012, but if seen it would be number 299 on my British list. Moreover the species is mostly recorded on autumn passage on the east coast beyond my preferred range, whilst Dunstable is just over 40 miles from Oxford. This was just the short excursion that I fancied to restore my well-being after a hectic working week.
The last time I visited Dunstable was to have my Opticron scope repaired. Today I quickly recalled just how tortuous the non-motorway route from Oxford is. Things weren’t helped by having to divert around a road accident. But on arrival at Blow’s Downs my pessimism was quickly dispelled. There were several parked cars at this SSSI’s entrance and one occupant who said the bird was showing well, pointing towards a group of birders on the hillside.
This Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trusts reserve is an area of unimproved chalk grassland with managed Hawthorn scrub. Within minutes of my joining the other observers, the bird emerged from cover. I remember thinking in Cyprus that the species resembled a small Wryneck, and the first impression of today’s juvenile was how large and pale it is for a Warbler. Those characteristics were re-affirmed each time this bird relocated on the hillside.
Eventually it settled into a large expanse of the type of cover that scarce Warblers always seem to favour. The picture below is the best I could do for a record shot with my camera at that range. So what will my British 300th be? A modest total I know, but I have never been birding anywhere in Scotland or the Scillies and can only afford shorter distance twitches.