Birdwatch: Unmistakable notes of a wintering warbler

A Cetti's warbler, pictured by Michael Flowers.
A Cetti's warbler, pictured by Michael Flowers.
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Of the five warbler species found regularly in our reedbeds four leave us each autumn to spend the winter in Africa.

The fifth, the Cetti’s warbler, pictured, stays put and will continue to sing intermittently throughout the autumn and winter and this week’s unseasonably warm weather has encouraged them to be vocal again with singing males at Blacktoft Sands, Potteric Carr, St Aidan’s, Leeds and three at Wintersett reservoir.

The song is unmistakable, a very loud ‘weechoo weechoo weechoo’ delivered from deep within the reeds and noisier than that produced by any other small British bird.

Hearing a Cetti’s warbler is therefore quite easy but seeing one is quite another matter as they are notorious for their skulking habits.

With great patience there might be a glimpse of a rufous brown bird with a long rounded tail and small white eyestripe before it quickly disappears again. The best chance of obtaining a good view is in spring when a singing male can occasionally come out on to waterside bushes.

The Cetti’s warbler is named after an 18th century ornithologist and used to be a bird mainly found around the Mediterranean. But, along with a number of other species from southern Europe it has been expanding northwards and first bred in Kent in 1972.

Yorkshire’s first pair successfully reared three young on the Tophill Low reserve in East Yorkshire in 2006 and now they are found around lakes and marshes in many parts of England with some 2,000 pairs nesting each year. For warblers there are some risks involved in spending the winter here and Cetti’s along with another recent arrival, the Dartford warbler, are very vulnerable to spells of severe weather.

After first becoming established in Kent in the 1970s a succession of two hard winters in the early 1980s almost wiped them out there.

But enough of them survived to rebuild numbers and expand and a run of milder winters since then means the UK population is now at an all-time high.

Birders have been taking the opportunity of seeing an Arctic warbler which, after being caught and ringed last week, has remained in bushes surrounding the car park at the Crown and Anchor pub at Kilnsea. They breed in the far north of Scandinavia and have one of the longest migrations of any insectivorous bird with the entire population wintering in south east Asia.

In the same area, a Slavonian grebe was still being reported on the Kilnsea Wetland and a juvenile rose-coloured starling at Easington.

Yellow-browed warblers were still being seen along the coast and a Siberian chiffchaff at Filey.

A great grey shrike was back at Bridestones in Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire while nearby an osprey was still present on the Papermills Pond at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Ellerburn Bank reserve.

The first short-eared owl of the autumn was reported back at the St Aidan’s site, Leeds.