This bird caused a major internal stir, being the protagonist in a drama where I today managed to claim both a Radde's Warbler and a possible Booted Warbler in almost the same spot, both being exceptionally rare in Denmark. Worst was that both observations most likely referred to the same bird, a conclusion I wish I had reached before I included birder Denmark in my findings.
Sparing you the details, however, I'm sure this humiliating situation was unavoidable, being the result of a serious accumulation of hubris over the last months with many thoughts on birding, with a rather criticizing attitude toward the birding environment in general and some birders in particular, while emphasizing my own flawless and superior qualities in this context.
It is self-destructing stupidity of course when vanity and arrogance get a hold on you, why I'm grateful to have gotten this reminder before it evolved into more serious matters.
Doing a routine round in the morning at Kalvebod Fælled with dense fog floating over the landscape, I had stopped to try to get photos of a flock of Bramblings that was foraging on the ground along Svenskeholmvej close to Granatvej. While waiting for these birds to return to the ground, I saw this bird in the distance emerging from the vegetation below. Also routinely, I took a few shots, mostly as educational documentation, since I could see in the viewfinder that it was likely a reed warbler.
Being autumn, I'm very focused on sounds in these days, hoping to come across anything unusual, and actually while standing there I had heard this soft chep call coming from the direction of the ditch where the reed warbler later showed up. And it was a call I couldn't identify, and decided that after giving the bramblings two more minutes to come down (they were sitting right above my head in birches chirping away), I would try to find out who made the call.
I finally gave up on the bramblings, but there were now no signs neither of the reed warbler nor of the call sound. A few Chiffchaffs were all I could find. I accepted this without too much thought. It wasn't a big deal, and I decided to move on trying to find a Great Gray Shrike that several had reported lately, now being the time they pass through here. But before continuing I decided to take a look at the photos of the reed warbler, just to be sure that it really was a such. And when I scrolled through them, and particular when I saw photos 4 and 5 in this presentation, I thought the bird looked wrong for a reed warbler, or a Marsh Warbler for that matter. A very short and dark bill and a very short tail. It kind of reminded me of a Booted Warbler. But not more than I still decided to continue without trying to relocate the bird. I continued south toward Sydmøllevej, looking for birds while driving, or rather, listened, because the fog was still thick making visual birding irrelevant. But as I did so the warbler kept popping up in my mind, and I looked at the photos again, several times, and every time I got this feeling that it didn't look normal for an acrocephalus warbler, or at least not the two that we are used to in Denmark. I decided that I had to return home via the warbler spot, to see if I would have luck finding it again.
And so, an hour or more later, I decided to start along the continuation of the ditch where I had seen it, meaning along Granatvej south of Svenskeholmvej. Meanwhile the sun had finally burned off the fog and I guess the warming up made the birds more active, because there was a good activity now in many places, and especially along this ditch. And then I heard a non-familiar call from a bird down low in the vegetation. Clearly a warbler, but I didn't relate it to the mystery call from earlier. I thought it was something else. The bird moved around a lot, but all the time without showing well, and the few times it did, I tried to catch it with the camera but being too late every time, as it disappeared into hide long before the autofocus could do its job. And then suddenly it decided to fly away from this spot, but I was fortunate to stand exactly where it came out of the bush, and as it passed me I could see a brownish looking warbler with a clear pale eyebrow. It was larger than the chiffchaffs that were present, but still it looked like a phylloscopus warbler to me, And this was all I reached to see before it was gone and landed 20 meters away, still in the ditch.
At this moment I still didn't know what it was, but I was hoping it might be a Dusky Warbler, though the call didn't seem to fit well. It was too soft without the well-defined hard check sound that I have learned the species has. I moved down to where the bird had landed, and got the good idea to take out my recorder which I placed on the ground to try to capture something. I'm no sure if I heard it again at this point, but to my big frustration a school class including a very noisy teacher approached from the north, and I cursed them for the whole time until they finally were gone, only hoping that at least a single call had been captured, though more doubtfully so, when I found out that the microphone was drained for battery!
Fortunately the bird was still there and kept calling, but it continued to stay very low, impossible to see. I needed to find out what it was by sound, then, and now that Dusky Warbler seemed unlikely I had to try the next most expected species, which I thought had to be a Radde's Warbler. Perhaps also nudged in that direction by a report from Sweden this same morning of a bird they had captured near Stockholm. And when I played the call, it sounded exactly the same as what I heard from this bird. I really thought so, and while I kept working on finding the best way to get to see it, I couldn't help thinking about the bold intention I had proclaimed earlier this year that I wanted to find two rarities on Amager in 2021. Two species that had to be accepted by the rarity-committee. I had found zero until now, and suddenly I had two such species in play, a Booted and a Radde's Warbler. On the same day, and found with only a 100 meters apart. I was amazed: What an unexpected and awesome development. If I could confirm the two ids, it would be a story with potential to become a classic.
Now that I was sure of the species, I thought I could lure it out, and I went to the other side of the ditch, to have the sun in the back, and started playing the call in different places. And with this I got encouraged to think that I was really on the right track, because the bird seemed interested. Not too much, but sufficient to appear to come in closer and starting to call more often. But all the time out of sight.
Of course a bird like this has to be called out to people immediately, but I wanted to get to see it first (perhaps subconsciously I wasn't really a hundred percent sure of the id). Time was running out on me, though. I could see that my phone was about to die and I had an appointment with my doctor why I couldn't stay for long.
After five more minutes without success, I started to feel the pressure, and adding to it, another school class, hoards in their hundreds it seemed, decided to pass by on bikes, one by one, and all of them screaming and shouting as if they had just been released from a lunatic asylum - the teachers saying nothing. It was overwhelming, and probably too much for the bird too because after this audible tsunami had passed, there was no sign of it.
I then had to make a decision: Either I should report it now or if not, I should never do it. If I waited, and a recording could confirm the identification of the bird, I knew I would be slaughtered, if I reported such a bird with delay. And if I reported it now I would have to decide whether I should call it out as a positive or just a suspected bird.
Of course a wise person would never doubt whether it should be the one or the other. Call it out as a suspected only, and no-one can fairly call you a useless or horrible birder, not to say a liar, bragger or worse.
I decided to call it out as a positive, for reasons that can only be based on vanity, megalomaniac or simply reckless gambling. Probably blinded by the prospect of becoming famous for such an extraordinary double discovery.
I reported it and added to the message that my phone was about to die, and that I had to leave the place, something you normally don't do, until others have showed up to be able to take over the bird or the situation. But the appointment was real and I had no problems with leaving, and so I did.
This meant that my hope for this remarkable double would now rely only on the photos regarding the Booted and a possible recording regarding the Radde's.
It was stupid. Momentary insanity. Even though I mentioned in the alert that it was no longer to be found, of course people would come and try to see such a rare species, and even rarer in this part of the country.
After visiting my doctor I decided to go back, and a few birders were indeed searching, as expected. They had found nothing and nothing was found later on either. At this point I was still intoxicated by my vivid imagination, and couldn't help telling a few of the birders I know best about the possible Booted as well. It's always difficult to judge drab looking birds on the camera screen, but the reactions were unanimously questioning, seeing a Reed rather than a Booted. It didn't affect me much, though. I just saw it as a great opportunity to excel in front of these experienced birders when I later hopefully would be able to present the proving details.
In the evening I concentrated on the Raddes first because I actually got a good series of calls on the recording before the microphone died. This was a great relief, but there was something that didn't sound as it should. Both, I remembered the bird calling with a faster and more vivid call than the one on the recording, and when trying to find similar calls from Radde's online I couldn't, except for a very few that with some good will could be acceptable within the margin of natural variation. I spent all evening trying to find anything supportive of the bird I had recorded in fact being a Radde's, but the later it got, my doubt grew bigger.
At 23:30 I would rather have just closed down to go to sleep and continue the next morning, but I knew, I at least had to report the bird in the database, dofbasen, the same day, or it would look strange that a positive bird like this had not been reported. Everybody with a hot positive bird like this one would do it. So, I decided to make a brief description explaining the finding, and added that I still thought the call could support the species, but that something wasn't quite as it should be, inviting comments. And went to bed.
With more time in the evening, I would probably have reached the same conclusion as Thomas Hellesen, who the next morning commented that the call sounded better for an acrocephalus warbler (reed), because checking it, I could only agree.
Of course my wet fantasy from yesterday had already faded strongly when I heard the call being off from how it should sound, but going to bed, I still hoped it could be saved under the category of just being unusual. But not now. I had to accept that it was very likely that I had misidentified the bird. The fact that the bird sounded different in the field than what I could hear on the recording was not enough to convince anyone, less so the rarity committee, that I had found a super rare bird that did not show well, in the same spot where a Reed Warbler-sounding bird, also a skulker, was calling at the same time.
There was nothing to do. I had to accept that I had made a major identification error and exposed it to the entire birding community.
Some might say I could just have played it to the end, insisting on the bird I heard being a Radde's, and then even if the committee couldn't accept it, I would still be able to insist on not having made a mistake. But truth is essential to me, and it never crossed my mind to fake my way out of it.
And that is also why I have to swallow the humiliation related to the other observation, the possible Booted Warbler, because when I finally took a sober look at the photos there was nothing on the bird that didn't support it as being a Reed Warbler, or Marsh. Knowing well enough how deceitful photos can be, it's sad I didn't show a more critical approach before involving others.
When I decided to drive back to the scene of the crime, it was with the intention to find the bird I photographed, and it is very likely that I actually did so when I found the hoped-for Radde's. It is late for a Reed Warbler, or Marsh, and two different birds this close to each other sounds unlikely.
Adding an after thought: When rolling back the film and seeing the bird flying out of the bush just in front of me, it actually looked rather pointed and with a triangular shaped head, which is probably never seen on a phylloscopus. And the fact that the bird was very brown, should probably also have told me that the sulphuric cast to the color of the normally plumaged Radde's would have shown in the strong sun light. And the fact that the bird looked noticeably larger than the chiffchaffs around, should probably also be a warning that it was not a phylloscopus then; when saying that a Radde's Warbler is larger and strong build than a Chiffchaff, it is probably not something you would notice in the field, at least not the size difference I experienced. And lastly, the strong eyebrow I thought I saw, might have been anything from wishful thinking to and over interpretation in, the again, strong sun light.
So there I had it: The classic fall from the sky, with two fat chickens becoming two simple feathers in the blink of an eye.
One likely Reed Warbler present on Granatvej this, now, memorable October day!
In case you haven't tried to fail this way, I can tell you it hurts your pride in the moment, but to be honest not so much as I would have feared. And maybe I subconsciously wanted this experience to be able to just shrug it off, and stay relaxed and cool about it, accepting that the whole world now know about my imperfect nature.