Booted Warbler – Sidlesham, West Sussex

On Friday night Birdline had reported a Common Yellowthroat on Bardsey Island off the NW coast of Wales. Unfortunately the weather was bad enough for the boatmen to have already decided that there would be no crossings on Saturday or Sunday. There were no other good birds to go for and so I decided that I would stay in on Saturday and try Birdline on Saturday night. 

After a bit of gardening and a drawing lesson with Nicola I rang Birdline to hear that at Sidlesham in Sussex there was an unconfirmed report of an Olivaceous Warbler. There would still be time to see the bird before dark if I set off straight away, I decided, however, to wait until the bird’s identification had been confirmed. By late evening the bird had been re-identified as a probable Booted Warbler and then later as a definite Booted Warbler, this would still be a tick.

Olivaceous & Booted Warblers are from the same family with the former being much rarer and from the Mediterranean and the latter breeding in Russia. Several Booted Warblers had arrived in the strong easterly winds of mid to late September and it seemed likely that this individual had been in Sussex for several days. I rang Dad and we arranged to meet at the services at the end of the A36 at 7am the next morning. I got very little sleep overnight because of the howling wind and I felt very pessimistic about our chances of seeing the bird. The overcast conditions would probably mean that the warbler would not migrate overnight. The strong winds, however, would probably mean that it would keep well-hidden on Sunday morning.

We arrived at the visitors centre car park near the Ferry Pool at Sidlesham at about 7:45am. Once equipped we set off down the footpath, across the sluice and along the sea wall. We could see a group of 20 or so birders just up ahead. They were only loosely packed together and looking in different directions, things didn’t look good. As we approached, however, they all rushed together and started looking directly away from us; they were obviously watching the bird. This proved too much for me and I began to jog. 

As I joined the group one of the birders asked me whether I had seen the bird, he then moved me into position and gave directions “just up ahead on the narrow sandy track”. I had brief views of a strikingly pale grey warbler hopping on the path. It seemed fairly monotone washed out olive grey above and whitish below. The only buff tones were restricted to the rump, the outer tail and the edges to the primaries and secondaries. The head pattern was also striking with a strong eye stripe and a clear supercilium which was emphasised by a lateral crown stripe. As the warbler flitted around giving better and better views the most striking features were always, firstly the pale washed out colouration and secondly the strong facial pattern.

Although perhaps resembling a pale grey phylloscopus warbler this bird did show the pale lores and longish orangey bill which are characteristic of the Hippolais group. It seemed fairly surprising this bird should be so active in the gusting wind and rain, we weren’t complaining!

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