Articles - Blackpoll Warbler: Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 19-21 November 2011
Andrew Appleton - Posted on 07 Dec 2011
Last month’s Birdwatch landed on my door-mat with the words ‘Polls Apart' emblazoned across the front cover. I have not seen many redpolls in my road and quite honestly wasn’t really expecting to find Blackpoll Warbler anywhere in west Kent!
I had spent three hours doing a full circuit of Haysden, my local patch, on Saturday 19 November 2011, so I thought that perhaps I ought to do some chores at home and decided to start with the back gate. At about 2.45 pm I heard what sounded like a Grey Wagtail – this would be a ‘street tick’ so I dropped the screwdriver, picked up the optics and briefly got onto a bird that appeared to have some yellow on the underparts, but it quickly flew round and into the sun and was gone. I assumed it would be just another 'bird that got away'.
About 10 minutes later, at around 3 pm, I went to the garage and heard a call that didn’t quite sound right for Grey Wagtail, and it seemed to be coming from the trees. I strolled up the road to investigate, binoculars around my neck – you can never get too serious about DIY! It was further away than it seemed, but continued to call, reminding me of a sort of metallic Grey Wagtail, but I was surprised to come across what seemed to be a warbler species.
From underneath, it reminded me of Wood Warbler with a quite bright yellow-green throat and breast but, other than that, pure white underparts. However, it was November and this bird had some streaking to both sides of the throat. Then I saw that it had two wing-bars and Yellow-browed Warbler went through my mind; then, seeing that they didn’t have much colour, the idea of a Hume’s Warbler raced through my head. But this was about the size and shape of Chiffchaff, so it couldn’t be either of those.
As it moved closer, I could clearly see that it had quite large white wing-bars compared to any 'Phyllosc' that I have ever seen and it quickly became apparent that this must be an American wood-warbler. I saw the Blackpoll Warbler at Bewl Water, East Sussex, about 17 years ago and thought this fitted the bird, but I don't have any experience of related species. I phoned a friend, but they were more than an hour away. I was still watching the bird and was fairly sure it had to be Blackpoll – the olive green mantle and white streaks on the wings could now be seen clearly.
I had now been watching it for about three minutes and needed to get the news out, so I rang Birdline South-East. I discussed the bird – the above ingredients together with the bright orange legs and white undertail covets ruled out any of the rarer species – and news was broadcast.
I made more calls but despite my best attempts only two birders managed to connect that evening. About 100 birders turned up the following day but the Blackpoll Warbler refused to play ball. One birder saw it on Monday and the bird may have been around for another couple of days, but remained extremely elusive.
STATS & FACTS
First recorded: St Agnes, Scilly, 12-25 October 1968.
Last record: Fair Isle, Shetland, 15-16 October 2009.
Previous British records: 41
Previous Irish records: 7
Mega rating: ***
Anorak fact: Blackpoll Warbler is the last of the American warblers to migrate each season, and undertakes a 2,000-mile transatlantic crossing from Virginia, USA, to South America, often non-stop; this makes them one of the most frequent 'yank' passerines to occur here when the winds are right.
Our verdict: A particularly great inland find - the last was the above-mentioned Bewl Water bird, under 10 miles away.