Thursday, 22 May 2014

That's just great

We're coming towards the end of the main period of spring migration when rarities can crop up anywhere. The problem is, they don't always do it within striking range or when you can get them. Today though, a great reed warbler did hit the brief. This is the big cousin of our common reed warbler, a giant of a bird with a distinctive, loud song. This one was first of all heard early morning then confirmed around 10.30. The location was one I'd not heard of before - Green Park near Reading - which was only up the M4.
So, I took a half day and left at lunch time. With a stop at home to get my gear and change clothes I got to Reading about 1.45. The weather was awful - rainy with thunder around. The location was actually not a park in the usual sense but one of those new office complexes, lots of large offices surrounding a series of lakes with reed bed margins. A birder was leaving and pointed me in the right direction, which was a small reed bed surrounded by about 10 other people.
Almost immediately I heard a loud burst of scratchy song, and two or three birds chasing each other through the reeds. One was clearly a "normal" reed warbler, the other looked huge in comparison. It was a dark almost chocolate colour from what you could see. Clearly this was the great reed warbler. We watched it for about an hour, with the rain being either drizzly or heavy.
I had to leave for a work phone call for about an hour and when this was over the weather had changed for the better. The crowd had grown a bit but the bird was very elusive. Over about two hours it was heard calling in the reeds but our views were normally fleeting and often you struggled to make out the shape in the reeds as either common or great reed. I did manage to grab a few record shots.

  These two show the size comparison against reed warbler, which is the top bird of the pair.  You can also make out the dark colour and the prominent eye stripe.

These photos, which wont win any prizes, show most of the relevant id features. The is a prominent eye-stripe, the beak is very stout, the colouration is richer and doesn't show as much white on the body. What I didn't capture was the call though, which is totally distinct and incredibly loud.
I finally left about 6, with a small crowd of after-workers starting to gather. A great bird, a lifer for me and it was good to spend so long studying it.