Mystery Warbler on Linosa

It IS an acrocephalus warbler!

Thank for all the responses to this bit of a quiz bird. It was another acro to learn from. Found early on in the stay late one evening by intrepid Andrea and others, we wondered if it might just be an African Reed Warbler (potentially a first for Europe). The beautiful coloured underparts and strikingly open face pattern (including what looked like little black mascara mark just above the eye) at least suggested it was worth considering. Trouble was the views were virtually all of its underside looking vertically straight up- neck strain! Even when it appeared, views were fleeting suggesting something that looked really good.

my rough impressions:

‘Huge-looking’ broad based and long looking all bright orangey bill (obviously lower mandible only seen), underparts colour seemed extensive uniform rich chamois/ rich ochre buff- subtle colour for the lovely orangey bill – richest colour seemed undertail and flank sides
 Never seemed to show demarcated white throat- colour just merged into throat
 First views of face looked  beautifully bland and hippolais-like with clean unmarked lores, seemed not to have a pale eyering.  Beady black eye
rich ochre-buff tones extended from lores over top of eye becoming slightly paler thus forming short pale creamy supercilium extended over and immediately before and after eye only
 also seemed to show dark (black) mark just above the little super and line behind eye

Eventually Igor clambered up the tree to try to get some shots- below:

After no less than 3 days and several hours, Andrea and I independently got brief views of the upperside. Long primary projection, oily rich brown and lots of contrast said ‘Reed Warbler’. Wing surely too long for African Reed and upperparts very Reed Warbler- like. Well that’s where we settled then. I have considered Marsh Warbler since, with the very open face and the bill looking shorter and broader-based in the pics, but I end up going back to ‘odd Reed’ and I think I still do now: a  young, but intriguing Reed Warbler? Have a look for yourself:

The mighty Carab tree in Linosa’s little ‘town centre’. With its strong scent, lots of flowers it pulled in plenty of warblers. The interesting acro shared space with 15 Chiffchaffs, Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest and Sardinian Warbler.

Igor stakes the bird out to try and resolve the ID with the lens. All the good photos below, copyright Igor Maiorano








oops too hasty– I labelled the above the wrong way round. p3 is clearly emarginated, p4 looks like it may be too. Brian Small had a look through the pics and noted the visibility of what looks like there may be 2 emarginations. This would rule out Marsh (only one emargination). Sometimes Reed can have 2- though most especially in African Reed (I’m just saying!).

Took 3 days too see this view. Upperside gives it away. Look Reed Warbler-like and can’t really be an ‘African’.

Perhaps, had we seen it low down in a bush it would have been relatively straightforward? Part of the fun and challenge of birding. It ain’t always that simple!

Peter Kennerley and David Pearson (together with Brian Small) of the excellent Reed and Bush Warblers book kindly commented:


On what I can see I think this is a Reed Warbler, the graduated tail, fairly long primary projection, emargination only on p3, long undertail-coverts and longish, fine bill seem to eliminate other possibilities.

With the proximity of Linosa to N Africa I guess you are thinking along the lines of the Acros recently discovered in Libya and NW Egypt – African Reed and the avicenniae race of European Reed. The overall colouration and pale lower mandible is not what would be expected of western European Reed and point towards African but the primary projection may be too long – I couldn’t say either way based on the photos.”


“Hi Martin,

I agree with Peter’s species ID. But the wing projection seems to indicate a European-type bird rather than a short-winged bird of one of the Libyan resident forms.

Interesting that it doesn’t look freshly moulted as one might expect in December. Maybe an unmoulted first year bird though the palish leg colour doesn’t quite fit that!  Perhaps a NW African bird that moulted in Aug-Sept???”


5 thoughts on “Mystery Warbler on Linosa

  1. Andrea Corso

    Ciao Big Martin
    in late stay in Lampedusa I got brief views of another interesting Acro which looked the same…. and those 2 alongside with one some years agò which Hans Larsson, Ottavio Janni and me first ID as a Blyth’s then as an African then as a what a f***** ???? became interesting Acro-stuff from PELAGIE ISLANDS….
    having been again (22nd time) in TUNISIA this January on several wetlands in the desert area and having seen some 20 African Reed singing I could say that some have similarly looking primary projection, with UTC to WING TIP ratio similar, though most have dumetorum-like primary projection. Moult and abrasion is still intriguing me a lot as well as the face pattern and emargination…
    all in all, being not in NW Africa politically, but YES geographically and zoogeographically I would be very tempted in say that African Reed could occur in Pelagie islands…. but we need to catch one…FIRST and then be SURE about.
    however, a short summary for Pelagie would be male Tristram’s last year, male Atlas Fly, Allen’s Gallinule., Ubara, Red-necked Nightjar desertorum, several Moussier’s, several African Chaffinches, regular Rufous Bush Robins, regular Trumpeter Finch,. regular Olivaceous W., etc etc.

    So then ?


    Andrea C

  2. Paul French

    I don’t have any literature handy at the moment, but i’m intrigued as to why Marsh Warbler has been categorically ruled out on apparent emarginations. Not sure you can see an emargination on P4, plus the primary projection, legs, claws and bill all look pretty good for Marsh in my opinion.

    Any thoughts?

  3. Paul French

    Actually, i’ll answer my own question! Just remembered that the emargination on P3 of Marsh Warbler should be shorter and start further down the feather, and on this bird it starts preety much at the tip of the tertials. I’ll go with Reed Warbler.

    If you get a chance to look at the local breeding Reed Warblers in Eilat this spring, now they really are interesting. Tiny things with shorter wing chord than Blyth’s. Maybe the first ones will arrive during the festival?

  4. Finnish Birder

    I was in Marsh camp in the bird quiz, but it really looks more ‘odd’ 1w Reed in these new pics. The overall impression (e.g. colour of upperparts etc) fits better to reed. The variation of plumage in 1w reeds seems to be rather wide-ranging.


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