Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Reeling in the years

There are some birds which sing sweetly, some melodically, some with a catchy tune, and then there is the grasshopper warbler or gropper as it is known. This is a typical lbj, plain brown, skulks a lot, rarely seen but with a call unlike any other bird outside it's immediate family. More of what it sounds like later though.
The main thing was two at least were "singing", or reeling as it is referred to, at a place called Ellenbrook fields jut beyond St. Albans. They are not a major rarity, they breed in the country in small numbers and are one of those markers of Spring definitely being here. So, I took a half day off work and after dropping Judith at the tube I drove over there.
After parking at Notcutts garden centre I walked across the fields towards where the birds had been seen. Ellenbrook fields is actually part of the old Hatfield aerodrome and is a quite open area at one end with low bushes, trees and rougher grass at the other. As I walked over you could hear chiffchaffs, willow warblers and blackcaps all singing away. I also picked up both lesser and common whitethroat in the hedgerow, both year ticks.
Anyway, onto the main course. I got to a red and white gate and spotted two other birders staring at a patch of brambles. Then I caught the distinctive song. It is described as being like a fishing reel being pulled out. It is certainly distinctive and unmistakeable. It also goes on and on and on. The best thing is not to describe it but to show this short video!!

What normally happens though is that you hear the birds but don't see it. This one wanted to be seen though and over the next hour I suppose showed reasonably well 6 or 7 times!

This was a typical view, it always managed to get behind at least one branch but you could see it clearly. You could also see it throwing it's voice as it tilted it's head one way and the other and the sound moved with it.

As more birders started to arrive I left it still reeling away happily in an attempt to lure in a mate! As a bonus I also got my first cuckoo of the year there.
To cap off a good morning I very briefly stopped at Woodoaks farm on the way back to the house. There is a locally famous dung heap there that is a bit of a magnet for attracting migrants. Steve Carter had spotted a yellow wagtail there earlier, and when I got there 3 or more were flitting around the heaps and the field by the side, looking splendid in the Spring sunshine.

Unlike our pied and even grey wagtails, these are another migrant species marking out the start of Spring as they move up the country.
A good morning all round, lovely weather, good birds and I'm now back ahead of my brother-in-law Martin on the year list!!!