A Confusion of warblers

IMG_0898aA Confusion is the collective noun for warblers and never was a word so aptly chosen. The Bank Holiday weekend had some inconsistent weather but finished in glorious sun and head-scratching un-certainty over what I had managed to see.

Saturday was mostly wet but I did manage a brief sojourn to Lake Farm late afternoon / early evening and again on Sunday morning,  the overwhelming species on view were  Whitethroat (as per this posts banner image).  Sunday morning saw them everywhere.


Along with the noisy but reclusive Skylarks, the Whitethroats were dominating the birdsong all morning. Despite it being a brief visit there were more than a few other species putting in appearances too with Long Tailed, Great and Blue Tit numerous, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Jay, Song Thrush, Meadow Pipit, several Robins and a single Linnet all seen.

I managed around 2 hours at Cranford Park too and although photo opportunities were at a premium, birds seen included Blackcap, more Whitethroat, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker and the usual suspects.

With Monday being Bank Holiday, I made an early start and arrived at Otmoor around 7am.  It was quite surprising to see the car park so busy so early, however the reason why soon became clear.

A Barn Owl was seen hunting over the Car Park Field on Sunday (along with a Short Eared Owl too) and with the hazy sun of Bank Holiday Monday it was there again. The temperature was already rising and a reasonable crowd of dawn birders had gathered, some with their long lenses and scopes, along with some interested casual spotters too.

Although not exclusively a nocturnal hunter Barn Owls are mostly seen at the break of dawn and dusk. Catching one showing so well in sunlight was well worth the 5 am alarm.



I really don’t think the pictures do justice to the moment though. To see this pale and magnificent owl swooping and patrolling the field in what appeared to be a pre-planned routine has gone down as one of my personal highlights. I only hope I get another chance to see this on my next visit to Otmoor.

May at Otmoor is not just about owls though, as I moved into the reserve I was greeted by sound! A lot of it! From the trees on one side and reeds on another came the trills, calls and warbles of familiar spring / summer visitors. I’m still learning my calls but managed to pick out Grasshopper Warbler (named as such I believe due to their call sounding very much like the insect), Reed Warbler, Willlow Warbler and most clearly Sedge Warbler.

Song is the easiest way to identify warblers as they are far more heard than they are seen, especially in an environment such as Otmoor with the dense patches of reeds and long grass and plenty of green coverage. You strain your eyes into the reeds and manage to detect some movement and all too soon a small bird appears in your line of sight, only to flitter away again. The other problem with warblers is identification. Not only do they hide and move too fast for an instant confirmation, similarities between several of the species has birders seeking confirmation from more experienced colleagues on a regular basis. The frequent reply being “did you hear it’s song?” as the sure-fire way to i.d. them is their very distinctive calls.  However, the Sedge Warblers were almost obliging and seemed to enjoy the warm sun enough to let me catch a couple:



The noise was constant and was soon added to by a Cuckoo flying over then settling nearby and well, cuckoo-ing it’s familiar call and in a nearby farm, a cockerel greeting the day exactly as they do in cartoons and movies.  As I made my way down the path toward the first hide I was accompanied by the sound of Snipe drumming. I can only liken this to the sound of a kazoo being played briefly way above your head. This is the best version I could find on the net: https://soundcloud.com/hugh-harrop/snipe-drumming

The noise is made by the tail-feathers of the Snipe, flapping like a flag as it descends and is used to attract females.

I headed for the Wetlands Hide and just about managed to catch of a view of two Whimbrel through my scope, a first for me. Easier to see were the Little Egrets:


Also seen were at least one pair of male and female Wheatear (male shown here)


Reed Buntings and Redshank were also very active and noisy, the Reed Buntings especially were seen across the whole reserve and the Lapwing were very protective of their now established nests. Rising up in aerobatic displays to mob predatory Crows and Red Kites especially.

At least one Grey Heron has nested at Otmoor and the Common Terns have returned from last year. A raft has been set up at the second reed bed hide and I saw 2 Terns courting over it on Monday. The pics I took were lousy but I hope to return soon to catch them again.

More images on my Flickr page as always: http://www.flickr.com/photos/94900571@N05/

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