Spectacled Warbler – Clearbrook, Devon

I had started working for Neil Cullum at the South Dorset office in Poole on Thursday 27th May. One of my concerns was that now I was Office based I would lose the flexibility which had ensured I could get to see some major rarities mid week. Selling LloydsLink had been the most enjoyable job I had done so far and after nearly five years I had started applying for other jobs. This was a career decision as I would otherwise have happily continued with LloydsLink.

After completing my first full week Sara and I had decided to spend some time working in the garden. We were thinking about having a conservatory built on the back of the house and so we were moving some overgrown bushes from underneath the kitchen window. I had my pager with me so that I could keep an eye on local messages in between cups of tea. At about 10am I received a Mega Alert! A Spectacled Warbler in Devon, this would be the 3rd confirmed record for Britain after individuals in Yorkshire (’92) and Suffolk (’97). Over the next few minutes the pager reports revealed that the warbler had originally been found on Thursday evening four miles north of Plymouth. A small sylvia warbler was glimpsed and heard singing in gorse bushes on the southern edge of Dartmoor, just south west of Clearbrook village. Although not certain of the identification but suspecting Spectacled the finder met with Stan Christophers the next morning and over the course of many hours managed enough fleeting glimpses as it skulked in the bushes to be sure of the identification. They informed two other birders that evening and the four of them met in the drizzle on Saturday morning. The Spectacled Warbler was relocated at 7:45am and finally about two hours later the news was released, it was nearly 10am and I stood in my marigolds, spade in hand, considering my options.

The next few pager reports suggested that the bird had not been seen for a while in wet and windy conditions, I decided to carry on working. About an hour later it was clear that the bird was being seen regularly, albeit not showing well. After a quick lunch I headed off, it was about 12pm. It took me three hours and at just after 3pm I got out of the car and joined the assembled group of about 50 people, the drizzle had stopped, the sun had broken through and the wind had dropped. Unfortunately, however, the Spectacled Warbler was not showing and had stopped singing. I began to get a little anxious as a number of people around me had already seen it and weren’t really looking too hard, some others were leaving. Fairly soon there was some activity and it was clear that the bird had been seen in flight by another group of birders 50 yards in front of us. It seemed that the Spectacled Warbler had landed between us and was keeping low again. After what seemed like ages the bird was seen flying away again and back towards the road where the cars were parked, I still hadn’t seen it. Most of the group now moved back towards the cars and I followed.

After another long gap someone claimed to have seen it a little further down the road. Sure enough the warbler was re-found perched on top of the gorse before diving down into the dense bushes, it started singing again. Over the next hour or so I had some reasonable views, most of them brief although sufficient to get all of the key features. Small size, blackish lores, grey head, pinkish underparts and rufous greater coverts. I should have gone for the 1st British  record in Yorkshire but now it didn’t matter. The bird was last seen on Sunday.

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