Blog

Sat 11th June 2011

Posted on June 25, 2011 at 8:00 AM

birds : Just when I thought that Spring had finished and I could relax a bit more on the birding, I get the message on Friday - Subalpine Warbler at Pleinmont! This was only the second record for Guernsey - surprisingly under-recorded - and so it was a definite one to twitch. So after school I quickly got my stuff and headed for the headland.

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When I arrived at the furthest car park, it had just recently been seen but had dived into the dense Blackthorn which carpets this part of Pleinmont. After a half-hour-ish, I saw the bird fly out of the bushes away from me and disappear again. And then a short while later, I saw it fly across the path in front of me very briefly. And then a short while after that it flew again away from me. And that was all I got on it! If I hadn't seen one before it would definitely not have been 'tickable'.

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I couldn't go down this morning to look but I was pleased to hear it was still present and Mark Guppy managed a photo. Although the observers yesterday were pretty sure it was a Western Subalp due to extensive colour on the underparts, Mark's photo (below) suggested to me that it might be an Eastern race bird.

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On this photo the bird appears to have a red throat contrasting with non-red breast, belly and flanks, which is a feature of Eastern Subalp. The reason that this is important is that it is very likely that these two races of Subalpine Warbler may be split into two species very soon like has been done with other similarly-ranged warblers. So I didn't know either way and was none the wiser after spending another two hours searching this afternoon when the bird had become displeasingly elusive.

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Discussing the ID with Chris Mourant on the phone, I was telling him of my uncertaincies and asked whether he thought it would be an easy job to catch it, so we could have a proper look at it to be sure of the race. He said he could have a go and this evening I raced down to Pleinmont again, to see it in the hand.

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male Subalpine Warbler - Pleinmont, 11 Jun 2011

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Even studying the bird so close it was not very clear, but I guess the bird did have orangey colouration along the flanks, albeit paler than one would expect - probably a bit faded as it is getting late in the spring.

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The white moustachial stripe was not very broad and the orange rather than brick red colouration below were pointers to Western. There was quite a lot of white on the belly though, which points more towards Eastern.

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The clincher though was the wing-length, which at 57mm is too short for the longer-winged Eastern race. So my judgement of the photo was wrong, and the people who had the field views were correct. Shows that "record shots" are no substitute for proper field views and whenever possible one should try and get good, clinching views before snapping with the camera.

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Categories: Other Rarities, 2011 Summer