Q. I took these photos on 16 August at Portiragnes reserve close to Beziers in the south of France. There were four or five, which I took to be a family group, in scrub next to a brackish lagoon close to the coast. They had streaked backs, but without the obvious pale supercilium (eyebrow) you’d expect to see on a Sedge Warbler. At least some had a distinct pale crown stripe, which put me in mind of Aquatic Warbler, but having read Steve Wiltshire’s article in the September issue of Bird Watching that seems unlikely. The clearly red/pink legs were another distraction. I’d be grateful for your observations.
A. This bird is striking what is often thought of as the typical Aquatic warbler pose, and at first glance it does resemble that species. The Aquatic Warbler is an uncommon sight in Southern Europe except while on passage, and we would love this to be one. Unfortunately, close examination is telling us that this particular bird lacks some of the features we’d expect. The pink legs seem right, as does the general colouration, but the supercilium isn’t obvious enough, and we’re struggling to make out a hint of the pale crown stripe that is one of the best markers for Aquatic Warbler. The plain breast, although possible in an adult Aquatic Warbler, along with that white tipped tail, is telling us that this is the more common and widespread Zitting Cisticola.