Rarity finders: Aquatic Warbler in Suffolk


Having spent the morning of Wednesday 30 August birding at Landguard NR without too many migrant birds seen, I turned my attention to the lepidoptera on site. As there were numerous 'whites' flying over the seaward side of The Butts, I did what I've tried for a few years now and searched them for any candidate Southern Small Whites.

A perched white species caught my attention enough to take a few photographs before it was flushed off by another individual. Despite searching for half an hour there was no further sign of it. It was then that duties at home beckoned – I would have to return in the afternoon if I wanted to continue searching through the whites, and that's exactly what I did.

The white butterfly that Will was trying to identify (Will Brame).

Walking slowly southward along the seaward side of The Butts, checking white after white without any success, I eventually reached the furthest point. I was about to turn around and return. At this point, the only migrant I'd seen what solitary Northern Wheatear. I wasn't hopeful of finding anything unusual – be it bird or butterfly – until a warbler species flew out of a bramble some 10 m ahead of me.

It landed fully out in the open on another bramble and, upon raising my binoculars and focusing on the mystery bird, I coughed and spluttered out "it's a flipping Aquatic Warbler" – or words to that effect!

Will's photos show the bright yellowish-buff colouration, unstreaked breast and pale lores and 'tiger-striped' upperparts of a juvenile Aquatic Warbler (Will Brame).

I knew I had a Suffolk mega on my hands – and indeed a very rare bird anywhere in Britain these days, especially 'in the field' as opposed to in a mistnet. As it sat still I grabbed my bridge camera and excitedly fired off some hurried shots, hoping I could get something unblurred before the bird flew off. A check at the back of the camera confirmed a lovely juvenile Aquatic Warbler looking back at me – a striking bird, and only my second in Britain after I saw one in the Isles of Scilly in 1994.

This prompted me to put the news out on local WhatsApp groups and I awaited the arrival of the first birders. The warbler would go on to perform fairly well throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, though it was often elusive. There was no sign the following day.

The last twitchable Aquatic Warbler in Britain was at Lytchett Fields RSPB, Dorset, in 2016. The last Suffolk record (or anywhere in East Anglia) was a bird trapped at Orford Ness NNR in 2015.

The bird was well-twitched in the hours following its discovery before moving on overnight (Jonathan Farooqi).

Written by: Will Brame

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