Acrocephalus paludicola
North Denes 1987

by Ricky Fairhead

BACK IN 1987, THE BIRDING scene was very different from today's, with no pagers, no Birdlines and relatively few birdwatchers. Robert Wilton was only eight, Peter Ransome rode a motorcycle and Robert Wincup had only recently started birding.

Lowestoft's star bird of the year was undoubtedly an Aquatic Warbler, which spent the evening of August 26 feeding in the rather unlikely location of Links Road car park, at the north end of the North Denes Camp site. This individual was only the sixth record for Suffolk, and rather surprisingly, we are still waiting for the seventh. This is one of the few birds that the north has over the south of the County, and one that most birders need for their Suffolk list.

So, here follows a brief return to 1987, when Minsmere's visitor centre was a shed, Benacre Broad had waders and I was hoping for seabirds (some things never change!)

A spell of north-easterlies and heavy rain had produced ideal "fall" conditions for north Suffolk, with notable numbers of Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca, Redstarts Phoenicurus phoenicurus and a couple of Wrynecks Jynx torquilla. Norfolk scored with Great Snipe Gallinago media on Blakeney Point. At about 5:00 pm an exhausted Nicholas Blacker arrived at Peter Ransome's parents' house and in an excited state proclaimed "I've found an Aquatic Warbler at Gunton". Peter rang me instantly and minutes later the three of us arrived at the car park and started to search for the warbler. Despite some very heavy rain the Aquatic Warbler was soon re found skulking in the tiny bushes that used to border the car park. Brian Brown and Andrew Easton arrived next and all five of us enjoyed good views of this stripy vagrant. It was a textbook individual, with a creamy central crown stripe, creamy mantle tramlines and a rufous rump. The warbler was notably different from any juvenile Sedge Warbler  A. schoenobaenus that I have seen. The Aquatic Warbler continued to be seen intermittently until 7:00pm when fading light and heavy rain forced most people to leave. About ten observers saw the bird during the evening and all obtained good views of this "bedraggled" visitor. Quite literally an aqua-tick! I wonder what sort of crowd a Suffolk Aquatic Warbler would attract nowadays.

Aquatic Warblers are regular autumn migrants to Britain, although they mostly appear in the south-west, with favoured locations being Marazion Marsh in Cornwall, and Radipole Lake and Pool Harbour in Dorset. This species breeds in good numbers in Poland and eastern Germany. However, it has only a narrow autumn migration route and southern England is on the fringe of this 'corridor'. Spring Aquatic Warblers are amazingly rare in Britain with only two records to date.