Britain’s most twitched Bluethroat? Willow Tree Fen, Lincolnshire. 19th February 2017.

About a week ago a surprise in the form of a 1st winter Bluethroat turned up in Lincolnshire. A Bluethroat in February! Whether this is a bird that has made a mistake in returning early or is one that has spent the winter this far north here or at another site is unclear, but he now seems settled in a small strip of reeds adjoining the track through the reserve.

We were driven ever so slightly mad on the journey over to Lincolnshire, we seemed to end up behind every Sunday driver out for their 30mph stroll. The journey to the reserve near Spalding took longer than it normally takes us to North Norfolk! We found the area is typical of what I associate with the Fens, flat lands crisscrossed with dykes and drainage ditches of varying sizes, all under a huge skyscape. Typically we arrived to find the small car park full and ended up carefully parking on the road side next to the drain. The track up to the reserve was amazingly busy with birders coming and going. The path bisected some flooded fields and marshy areas along with some pools. One of the first birds we saw was a flying Little Egret in the distance, soon followed by at least one more that rose out of the reeds and flopped along a short distance before dropping back into the dark reedy landscape which had caused the gleaming white bird to appear to glow.

About 600yards or so along the path we came upon the small crowd that was gathered on the left side of the track, all focused on the reeds on the right. It was here that the Bluethroat had set up temporary home.

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I managed to cut out all the birders in this shot!

As we arrived a pair of Stonechats were feeding off a fence a little way into the field behind the reeds and showed quite well. Dropping up and down off the fence line in typical fashion they offered a splash of colour against the greens and browns.


Mr and Mrs Stonechat.


The bird was not on show so it was waiting time. Behind us the sound of Teal and Wigeon was constant, a large group of Shovelers, including many splendid males with their orange flanks and bottle green heads were feeding on a distant pool. A group of Gadwall floated past, the males resplendent in their vermiculated grey plumage.

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Every so often wildfowl would be put to flight over the flat landscape by a single Marsh Harrier quartering lazily on the look out for the unwary. A distinctive whistling whirring and whiffling sound heralded the arrival of a herd of Mute Swans, presumably flighting in from the surrounding fields to wash and bathe.

Suddenly there was a stirring in the crowd, and there was the Bluethroat on the edge of the reeds, right in front of me, less than six feet away. Always jaunty and lively the little chap dropped onto the grassy verge and began to pick ad food items on the floor. Even though the sun had faded away as the afternoon had drawn on, the incomplete blue gorget of his lower throat gleamed like enamel jewelry. As to whether this bird is Red or White Spotted Bluethroat is open to argument, but I feel given the look of the red areas it could be the red-spotted form.

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As always watch the video in HD…

He bounced around on the track for a while then dashed back into the reeds. We waited again… after about half an hour he bounced out again onto the sandy track. Here the clear flat surface it just exaggerated the leggy look and upright jizz of the species. Another short show and he was gone again into the reedy dyke. Bluethroats seem to be getting scarcer on passage in the UK, at least to me. I haven’t really seen that many in the last few years. I remember days in Norfolk when you could see several along Blakeney Point. I remember crippling views of birds at Spurn, Flamborough and Filey too.

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The landscape took on a moody look as we walked away to return to the car. I feel this is a reserve that would deserve a longer visit and we determined to visit again, probably in the spring.

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As we drove away along side the drain, a ghostly form drifted over the road in front of us, we drew up along side as a fine Barn Owl kept pace with us just yards away, with its slightly bouncy light flight keeping it above the grassy verge, a sudden stall and drop took it away over the drain to the far side and we lost it to view as the road took us on our way home.


This entry was posted in 2017, Bluethroat, Lincolnshire, Uncategorized, Willow Tree Fen. Bookmark the permalink.

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