Marsh Warbler Stunning Rare Breeding Birds at the Floodplains

On the morning of 7th June (2021) local birder Szimi (WorldWaders on Twitter) found a singing, male, Marsh Warbler at the Floodplain forest nature reserve in Milton Keynes (usually referred to by me as the patch). There are only a handful of Bucks records for this bird, none in many decades. This was a major event! Typically I was at work.

Mad Evening Dash

Luckily for me the evenings are still pretty light, so after finishing work, coming home, and eating, I still had chance to head back down to the patch to try and see the bird.

Arriving on site, there were not too many people still about. The bird was easily picked up as it sang from the dead cow parsley, or deep within bushes as it moved around the area. Sightings were initially brief, but good, and the song is so distinctive.

Earlier in the day someone had reported seeing two “pale Acro’s” in the area, but little had been confirmed. As I stood watching the male fly around, it landed directly next to a second bird. Unfortunately at that moment I was the only one to see this. As the evening went on and after most people left (it was just myself and a friend; the Bedfordshire bird recorder, Steve Blain left) the male Marsh warbler popped up and sang beautifully. He was then joined by a second bird. The pair of them then performed what can only be described as courtship actions, as they chased each other around.

After this obvious sighting of potential breeding, news was kept from the masses. Although the local population of birders were aware in order to keep an eye on the area and birds themselves.

Visit 2 to the Marsh Warblers

It was not until the 9th that I managed to get back down myself (bloody work), but I was out early. before 04:30 if I am being precise, and the male bird showed beautifully, if a little distantly. Standing on the path, looking down the channel, keeping a distance from the birds, there was a clear favourite perch that the male popped onto and sang quite often.

Marsh warbler in early sun
Male Marsh Warbler at first light

I spent as much time as possible watching the bird/s and it was wonderful to see, the male was surprisingly easy to spot and tell apart from Reed Warblers, the pale legs, and very sandy, almost chiffchaff appearance, distinguishing it from the much darker, heavy set Reeds (although in the first few days there were no Reed Warblers in the same area, this did change later in the month)

Acrocephalus palustris
Marsh Warbler – a heavy crop sadly, as it kept at range

Subsequent visits to the Marsh Warbler

Subsequent visits, by myself and others, offered many more chances to see both birds. The male usually singing, the female quiet. And it was obvious the pair were settling in; with long periods of non singing, and only one bird on show for most of the time. Now as there are only a handful of breeding birds in the UK each year this is an amazing occurrence I’m sure you can agree.

Sadly it appears they didn’t raise young. More accurately, there were no confirmed sightings of any fledglings, so breeding cannot be fully confirmed. However there is always hope.

And who knows, potentially the could return next year.

Photos of the Marsh Warbler

Male Marsh Warbler
Male Marsh Warbler
Marsh Warbler in Song
Marsh Warbler in Song

Reed Warbler images

Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Reed Warbler

Probably Reed Warbler

Below are a few of images that confused me. Although I now think they are Reeds, they were in the exact location of the Marsh Warblers nest site. And at times around when I was watching the Marsh Warblers (the male was still singing). I’d love to hear your thoughts on them (please comment below).

Probable Reed
Probable Reed Warbler 1
Probable Reed Warbler
Probable Reed Warbler 2
Probable Reed Warbler
Also Probable Reed Warbler 3

Images 1 & 2 are the same bird.

While Image 3 is probably the same bird, as it flew in to where the 2nd bird came out, I cannot be 100% sure.

Marsh Warbler Video on YouTube

Exact locations not publicised for obvious reasons.

2022 Update

Sadly the birds did not return in 2022 (as seems to be the case often). But you can buy your own copies of some of the images on this page over on Urban Lake Photography

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