Radde’s and Barred Warblers on the north Norfolk coast – 15th Oct

Gaining another of the more regular autumn drift migrants was a very satisfying bird life list addition this weekend. There was a good sized fall of 22 Dusky and 11 Radde’s Warblers along England’s east coast through Friday and Saturday. So as Mike and myself drove up to Norfolk we picked out the first of four Radde’s to be reported in the county and headed for a spot just west of Wells-Next-the-Sea.

The previous two weeks had produced a birding purple patch in Blighty, due to high pressure settled on Scandinavia beneath which a strong easterly air flow deposited a veritable cornucopia of Siberian breeders at coastal sites from north Norfolk upwards. The trouble is most of this was so far from home, beyond my range. The outstanding areas were the Spurn peninsula, Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire. But getting there entails a gruelling 200+ mile motorway trek that I just would not regard as enjoyment.

Instead I interested Mike in a weekend expedition to Norfolk, where two lifers Olive-backed Pipit and Radde’s Warbler had been logged all week. When Saturday came I would have loved to go for Britain’s first mainland Siberian Accentor in Yorkshire, but neither of us could face that journey. Around 9:30 am we arrived at a muddy farm track called Garden Drove, off the A149 near Wells (TF944434). There, at a spot about half way to the coastal salt marsh, upwards of 20 birders were staking out a hedge in which was said to be the Radde’s Warbler.

All pictures in this post © and courtesy of Mike Kosniowski

It took a few calls from those around me to get on to this constantly moving little bird, but eventually its quite attractive diagnostics were plain enough to identify. Radde’s has a rather large-headed and bull-necked appearance with pale legs and a thicker, more tit-like bill than either Willow or Dusky Warbler. It is more colourful than the drab brown and buff latter, with the upperparts typically olive green and the underparts dull yellow. Radde’s also has a long, clear-cut supercilium and eye-stripe and dark yellow or orange-toned under tail coverts. I found it difficult enough keeping my binoculars on this bird, but Mike’s long lens on a monopod managed some images (above) that show all this to reasonable effect.

Up until this point my heart had been in East Yorkshire but my head in Norfolk. Now having gained an important lifer I felt very content with the day’s work so far. My one previous attempt at Radde’s, a few year’s back near Alton in Hampshire, had involved staring at a mass of vegetation for around three hours without seeing anything. We next moved on to Wells Wood, in various parts of which another potential lifer, Olive-backed Pipit had been reported throughout the preceding week.

From the beach car park in Wells (TF914454) we walked westward along the Peddar’s Way trail in search of a spot known as the drinking pool. There a Pallas’ Warbler had also been seen as well as the OBP, but in more than an hour on site we couldn’t be sure of having ID’d either bird. Most of the birders who had been here through the morning had given up and dispersed by the time we arrived. Two more OBP sightings in the vicinity were posted on RBA while we were there but who knows? The species, like Tree Pipit is often found in or around trees, and this is an awfully big wood in which to find one. I consoled myself that there will be easier to observe individuals at other sites in the future, whenever that might be.

There was still time to fit in my fourth Barred Warbler (pictured above). This species is more frequent in Britain than Dusky or Radde’s, averaging around 170 records a year, the great majority of which are first winter birds in autumn. Today’s Barred was at Burnham Overy Staithe at one end of the quay (TF845443). The large, pale Warbler would emerge at intervals from a mass of vegetation close by some houses, before relocating once again. A Dusky Warbler had earlier been reported further east along the sea wall, but people here who had looked for that bird were saying it had flown off. So the day’s tally was now two lifers out of a possible four for Mike, and one out of two for myself.

I am coming to regard my British bird list, now at 326 as a little less modest considering the range that I operate within. Soon after starting this journal just over two years ago I gained my 300th, and despite that aversion to long distance twitching I keep on chipping away. Of the autumn drift migrants Dusky, Booted and now Radde’s Warbler have all been added in the last 10 months, and so further names beckon like Greenish, Arctic and Paddyfield.

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