Eastern Olivaceous Warbler – Farlington Marshes, Hampshire

I’d just left the Weymouth area having seen Lapland Bunting and Long-billed Dowitcher and before I had got to Osmington Mills a string of WhatsApp messages started reporting that a grey hippolais warbler had been seen at Farlington Marshes.

By the time I was nearly home it was being reported as an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and a potential first for Hampshire. I rang Sarah back to say I would need to detour and I travelled straight past the Totton junction heading onwards to Farlington.

There were around twenty birders on site when I arrived and I had bad views fairly quickly. It looked like a very pale grey Reed Warbler but I couldn’t say much more than that. Over the next hour the warbler was very mobile and gave occasional good views to several people and eventually I had brief but good views myself.

The bird had flown back to its favoured bushes and I was one of the first people in position, it was un-obscured for several seconds at the top of a bramble patch and I managed to get it in the scope. Again it was the pale grey colour that stood out initially, there appeared to be no green or yellow tones whatsoever and then the pulled out facial expression and the large bill were also obvious. The bird flew and landed close by dipping its tail regularly. A short pale supercilium ran in front of the eye (and not beyond) and was emphasised by a slightly darker line running above the supercilium.

Overall, the bird proved pretty elusive, possibly because it was newly arrived and probably because photographers were getting way too close. I managed a brief side on sketch but my views weren’t good enough or often enough to do much more.

The bird was still present on Sunday but in cool overcast conditions on Monday it became very difficult to see with many people dipping altogether. Good weather (and presumably lots of insects) on Tuesday had the bird performing really well and lots of messages reported how good the views were.

On Wednesday I had planned to either try for the Spotted Crake which had been seen again briefly on the Links Scrape at Hook-with-Warsash or spend the morning sketching in the hides at Titchfield Haven. I envisaged spending all morning staring at reeds without success and so decided on Titchfield Haven. However, just as I was leaving news came though that the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was still present at Farlington and so I decided to go there instead and hopefully enjoy much better prolonged views and improved sketches.

I arrived and joined around 15 birders almost all of them photographers and pretty soon the bird showed really well. I was struck by how relaxed everything was compared to Saturday. We all gave the bird much more room this time and it performed brilliantly well, usually on the sunny side of the various blackthorn and hawthorn bushes. It was mobile but there were enough of us to keep a track on where it was and we had great views, on and off, for 3 hours or more.

The warbler would move through the front of the bushes often in full view, jumping between perches, reaching for insects and all the while ‘tacking’ and tail pumping. On several occasions it preened in the sun on an exposed bramble branch. It seemed to be picking insects from blackberries and it would often go on very short vertical flights hovering briefly to catch insects on the wing. It was great to have such good views.

Eastern Olivaceous Warblers breed in south eastern Europe with Turkey being the nearest population and they winter in sub Saharan Africa. There have been nearly 30 records in Britain although a third of them have been on Shetland. This is the first mainland British record for seven years and is the first record for Hampshire.

I’ve seen Eastern Olivaceous Warbler once before and that was at Portland Bill in 1999. Three year ticks in one day gets my year list moving again and I’m now up to 237.

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