Thursday, 29 June 2017

Reeling in the years

My company has been part of the recent ransomware attack. So, with my pc in lock down and the office out of bounds and all my emails sent on my phone I had some time on my hands. Only a bit of time though as the phone still required me to make a call at lunchtime so I had to work out what to do locally.
One possibility was a grasshopper warbler which has been seen for the past few days at Heartwood Forest. This is near St. Albans and was where we saw the wintering short-eared owls two years ago.
It only took about 20 minutes to get there, to find a car park full of dog walkers - never a good sign when looking for birds but they were all well behaved and kept to the paths.
The "gropper" was reported as being between the farm and round wood. I knew where the farm was but which one was the round wood was a bit of a guess. So, a 15 minute yomp got me to where I could see the farm but there were three possible woods and all looked quite, well, round! With no clues I carried on down the fence line. Near a stile, and close to a wood, was an area of low, scrubby bushes. This is perfect gropper habitat.
Elsewhere the fields were alive with birdsong - linnets, whitethroats, skylarks, goldfinches and lots of butterflies. More importantly I then heard a very loud and strange bird song, the characteristic reeling of the grasshopper warbler. The link below shows you why it is called reeling, being just like the sound of a fishing reel spooling out. This link is actually a bird I saw two years ago, but you get the point.

Grasshopper warbler calling

Now groppers are normally known as birds which you can hear but are hard to see. They both skulk and throw their voices. This one started off like that.

You could see it in a bush, but it was hard to really get onto it. It made it easier though as it was singing incessantly. Gradually with a bit of patience it started to become braver and come out into the open.

It is a typical lbj. No colour, no real distinguishing marks. Very streaked on top, plain off-white underneath. That round-tail is pretty characteristic though.
Finally, it came out onto a nearby branch and showed itself in all its glory. As it turned its head, where the call came from moved as it threw its voice around. When it looked straight toward me I could see right down its gape!

Quite surprisingly there were no other birders around so I had it all to myself. I stayed for probably 30 minutes, twice about to leave till it struck up its song again calling me back. I eventually dragged myself away though and went back home for a bit of phone-calling. Nice bird though!