Icterine Warbler – Colemore House, Hampshire

On Tuesday 18th June an Icterine Warbler was found in the trees around the church in Colemore. News came through the WhatsApp group at 9:21am. I couldn’t go immediately but was finally able to leave at around 12:45pm.

I arrived and parked next to the church at around 1:30pm, two birders were stood at their boot and I asked if they were arriving or leaving. They said they were leaving and that the bird had flown off! I couldn’t see any other birders and although I later met someone else along the footpath at the back of the church it was clear that everyone had seen it and had left.

I joined the other birder, apparently it was last seen at around 1pm flying off strongly north as the rain had started. It appeared to come down in a distant line of trees.

A few other birders arrived just after me and a group of four of us walked the footpath along the edge of the field in the direction that the bird had flown. The bird had been singing and so this would help us significantly if it was still in the area. Unfortunately, however, there was no sign and the bird was not seen again on Tuesday during an increasingly wet afternoon and evening.

I was amazed to see Bird Guides reporting that it had been seen again around the churchyard early Wednesday afternoon. It was now 1:09pm. I shared the news on the Hampshire Rarities WhatsApp group, I then jumped into the car and I was on my way by 1:15pm, 35 minutes later I was parking in exactly the same place as yesterday, joining a line of five cars and walking along the track to the east of the church. It started to drizzle and I then realised that I was the only birder here, my spirits dropped.

Someone confirmed on WhatsApp that the bird had indeed been singing at 1pm and as I was the only birder present I asked for directions. It had been seen in the tall beech trees in the front garden of Colemore House a huge private property next to the church. I actually knew the owner as he had been on one of my workshops and I had also helped him with Lightroom and Photoshop in his study. In fact Simon had arranged an Open Gardens day through the National Gardens Scheme and his guests were being greeted in his garden, they were the owners of the other cars I had parked next to (not birders).

Clay noticed me asking for directions on WhatsApp and so he rang me and described the three or four places that it had been singing from the previous day, it seemed that the bird was ranging widely although it had been fairly vocal and that would certainly help although it was now starting to rain heavily. I began to wonder if history would repeat itself. Bird seen at 1pm, I arrive at 1:30pm, starts raining heavily soon afterwards and bird not seen again…

Within a few minutes four more birders arrived and I suggested that we separate and check out the four places that Clay had described. I headed to the back of Simon’s garden to the tall beech trees where it had been singing yesterday. There was no sign. More birders arrived and then Simon came out from his garden and said that we could come into the garden for closer access to the various trees. He was amazed to see me. Martin Terry arrived soon afterwards. I played the song of the bird on my phone so that we were all familiar and we then headed into Simon’s vast back garden.

After about 10 minutes I thought I heard it singing but the birders ahead of me were closer to the singing and they didn’t react and I then wondered if they were playing the song on their phones. I joined them, they weren’t playing the song and I then heard a snatch of song again and soon afterwards I noticed a blackcap-sized bird flicking through the top of a smallish tree 50 yards in front us. It hadn’t given me good views but I felt that this could be the bird and my heart started racing. I wanted to be sure before I called out directions. The bird then came to the top of the tree briefly and burst into song. The underparts and throat were bright yellow and the head had a pinched out expression with a large orange lower mandible. I shouted out directions and soon everyone had seen the bird.

Fairly soon it flew into the tallest beech tree and continued to sing before flitting back across the garden towards the trees at the north end of the church. The song included sections which sounded just like a squeeky toy. We all followed and soon we had it again in the trees which bordered the churchyard. I managed to get excellent prolonged views in the telescope and was struck by the really noticeable pale wing panel formed by pale edges to the secondaries and tertials. The upper-parts were a greyish green-brown.

More and more birders began arriving although the bird then seemed to become gradually more elusive during the rest of the afternoon. In fact I’m not sure it was seen again after I left. I know of someone who spent four hours after work on both Tuesday and Wednesday and failed to see the bird in wet conditions. He then spent all day on Thursday in good weather but the bird had gone!

The breeding range of Icterine Warbler extends from northern France and Norway through most of northern and eastern Europe. It has bred in Scotland but is normally just a passage migrant in Britain often in the Northern Isles.

This is only the 11th record for Hampshire and they are becoming rarer. The last was in 2009 on Hayling Island and before that the previous was in 1996. The first eight records were all in the autumn and the last three have all been in the spring.

The only other Icterine Warbler I’ve seen in Britain previously was on Blakeney Point in August 1986. In contrast I’ve seen five Melodious Warblers including one at Farlington Marshes in Hampshire in August 1989.

Icterine Warbler takes me to 225 for the year.

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