Friday, 10 June 2016

Warbling in the marsh

We're heading towards the Summer doldrums as far as birding is concerned, but there are a few nice birds still to be found. One which I have dipped on twice is the marsh warbler (well, dipped once and saw another one which the powers that be decided wasn't kosher!). This is an  Acrocephalus warbler, closely related to our more common reed warbler. It looks VERY similar and is mainly only told apart by it's song, more of which later.
Anyway, I got up early and headed off to Suffolk to a new reserve for me, Hen Reed bed. It's sort of past Minsmere by about 10 miles on the coast and on first sight was just another marshy, reedy, tidal reserve. A walk of about 15 minutes along a river bank got me to a bend in the path by a hide. Already you could see a number of birds flying around in the reeds including this rather smart sedge warbler.

 From a weedy ditch though was coming a very loud song, scratchy and very varied. By walking round the ditch I could also see the bird sitting up on the reeds, which itself is unusual as they normally skulk.

On closer inspection it is an archetypal lbj - little or nothing stands out by way of plumage.

This last photo probably gives you all you need to know - it looks like a reed warbler, dark brown above, lighter below. There are subtle differences to do with length of primary projections but they overlap. The main thing is the song, which you can compare in the two clips below.

Video of marsh warbler

This first one is the marsh warbler. The song is very varied and unstructured with a mix of whistles, flutes and trills. They are notorious mimics and you can sometimes hear other birds calls mixed in.

Video of reed warbler

This second one is a "classic" reed warbler. Theres a lot of wind noise but you should be able to hear that the song is simpler and more predictable with repeated phrasing.

I spent about 30 minutes listening to it sing away with a steady stream of other birders coming and going, all happy and quite surprised about how easy it was to see.
With nothing else rare around I decided to spend the rest of my time at Dunwich heath. This is right next to Minsmere, which I spurned partly because Springwatch was there so I presumed they would be busy packing their gear up. I also wanted to try and see the Dartford warblers which are normally quite showy there. Some years ago their population was very low in the UK but with a combination  of habitat management and mild winters they are much more numerous in the south and east now. This turned out to be just the case, as about 20 photographers attested to. On each path there seemed to be a small group watching the heather! So, I found my little patch and waited. Initially all I could see were smart stonechats flitting around.

Gradually though I could hear the male Dartford's singing and occasionally see a bird flit across the heather. Finally, one decided to settle in a tree near me, then fly down to the heather nearby.
 It was a really smart male.

It proved to be quite confiding and I followed it across the heath where it was feeding vigorously and occasionally sitting up on a bush.

A nice day all-round. One lifer plus some of the best Dartford views I've had in a long time.