Wise Birding Holidays

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Marsh Warbler River Otter, Devon

Last month (Friday 29th May) local friend and wildlife photographer David White called me to say that he had heard a "strange" singing Reed Warbler alongside the River Otter. The other significant thing was the bird was singing from rank vegetation and not reeds. I have known Dave for a few years now and he is always very observant, so I knew that this was definitely worth checking out. In light of the unprecedented influx of Blyth's Reed Warblers into the UK this year, I was hopeful that lightning might just strike twice!? 

By the time, I received Dave's voicemail it was already mid morning and it was getting hot, so I quickly drove the 10 minutes to the spot he described in the hope that the bird would still be singing. Almost as soon as I got out of the car I could hear the distinct song of the bird which clearly was no Reed Warbler! As I listened to the song it seemed too fast and erratic for a BRW and I was sure I could hear some African Cisticola / Prinia calls within the numerous mimicry calls. The Marsh Warbler winters in South Africa so birds often mimic species from that region of the world. After a few minutes of listening, I was confident it was a Marsh Warbler as the song was very fast and animated with no obvious multiple repeated fluty notes. However, I took a sound recording just to be sure as I had only seen the bird very briefly. Once home, I listened to the recording and I was still happy on song alone, that the bird was a Marsh Warbler and I put the news out locally. I also reviewed a couple of Dave's photos that he had sent me (with appreciated input from Mike Langman) and these showed the strong pale primary tips of MW.

The bird was singing from prime breeding habitat with a mix of Nettles, Grasses, Hemlock Water Dropwort and Willows. Although the chances of a breeding attempt were low, the potential breeding habitat was just perfect! Due to the recent arrival of numerous Marsh Warblers into the UK this year, if there was going to be a breeding attempt, it would be this year! Therefore I thought it best to be cautious, so the news of the bird remained within the county. Interestingly, there was a historical record of a pair of Marsh Warblers summering on the River Otter from 1925! Despite my hopes, the bird remained for only four days from 29th May until the 1st June and it was the first accessible bird in Devon since 1990. 

I had the relatively easy job of  identifying the bird, so all credit to David White for recognising the bird was something different and for taking time to call me! Thanks Dave.

You can listen to my sound recording of the bird by clicking on the video link at the bottom of this post. Amongst other species being mimicked, there is some nice European Bee-eater from 32 seconds and also what I am pretty sure is one of the African Cisticolas (Red-faced Cisticola and/or Tawny-flanked Prinia) from 59 seconds.

Singing Marsh Warbler, River Otter May 2020

Singing Marsh Warbler, River Otter May 2020

Singing Marsh Warbler, River Otter May 2020

Singing Marsh Warbler, River Otter May 2020

The area the bird was singing from 




Singing Marsh Warbler, River Otter May 2020
Singing Marsh Warbler, River Otter May 2020


Marsh Warbler, River Otter Devon May 2020 from Chris Townend on Vimeo.

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