As of 10 November 2015, a total of 430 species have been recorded this year

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Monday, 21 November 2011

BLACKPOLL WARBLER in Kent - first county record and 44th for Britain


Short description
I was outside attempting to mend the back gate when I heard a strange call and decided to go and investigate - good job I did as it was a Blackpoll Warbler.

Full story
I dropped my son of in Speldhurst at 2pm and decided to pop back to Haysden. However after about 15 or 20 minutes I thought of the list of jobs I had to sort at home and as I had done Haysden for three hours in the morning decided to head back to Tunbridge Wells.

And so it was - I was outside the house attempting to mend the back gate on Saturday 19 November 2011 when at about 2.45pm I heard and saw what I assumed to be a Grey Wagtail fly over - it veered round and flew low into the sun and I lost it. I moved a few yards but couldn’t see that it had gone down so assumed it had carried on.

It was sunny, and not that cold. I went back to the job in hand and then popped to the garage for a hammer. Locating the hammer I came out of the garage and heard a strange call - it appeared to be coming from the trees but surely this wasn’t Grey Wagtail. I suppose you could have described the call as resembling a metallic Grey Wagtail.

I dropped the afore-mentioned hammer and wandered up the road to investigate (fortunately with my binoculars which I had with me in case!). About 50 yards up the road I came across the trees where the sound was coming from, looked up and almost immediately found what appeared to be a warbler species.

From the underneath my first reaction was Wood Warbler due to the fairly bright yellowy green throat and breast and pure white underparts from there down, but I quickly realised it was November and the faint streaking in the sides on the breast didn’t work for Wood Warbler.

I then glimpsed two wing-bars and immediately thought Yellow-browed Warbler, but there was no hint of yellow in them and thoughts turned to Hume’s Yellow-browed Warbler but it was roughly the size of Chiffchaff with a seemingly longer slim bill so that really didn’t make sense.

And those wing-bars - they were white and far larger than any phyllosc I had ever seen! This was surely an American warbler - and Blackpoll Warbler sprang to mind...

If it was Blackpoll Warbler it was a first for Kent, if it wasn’t it was even rarer, much rarer in fact - I started shaking! I decided to think carefully for a minute: not much of a supercilium, bright orange legs, olive-green mantle, grey wings, white tertial stripes (in addition to the two white wing-bars) - time to get someone else here...

…so a couple of minutes or so after 3pm I rang Miles Wheeler, as he lives just the other side of Tunbridge Wells - he was at Worthing; I was horrified. By now I was fairly sure it was Blackpoll Warbler. Next up, I tried Jerry Warne, partly to check the identification and eliminate other similar American warblers and partly to get the news out.

This telephone call confirmed that the gleaming white underparts and under-tail coverts eliminated Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler and Bay-breasted Warbler (shame, not that I’m complaining really) and within minutes put the news out.

I managed to get a brief email out to quite a few Kent birders at 3.11pm and then rang Chris Gibbard who was just drawing up at Chiddingstone - about 20 minutes later he was just drawing up in Pennine Walk and within five minutes he had re-found the bird which had gone missing - quite a relief.

At 3.16pm my ‘mega alert’ went off. Shortly after Chris had re-found it Barry Wright turned up and also managed to see the bird - phew!

CG noted its yellow feet, which I hadn’t noticed and will also hopefully put together a description, maybe.

It was last seen at about 4pm, and disappointingly could not be located the next day despite the best efforts of about 100 birders.

Andrew Appleton

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