Friday, 17 April 2015

A veritable warbler-fest

The Safari had a late meeting yesterday so didn’t have to be in work until lunchtime-ish which gave us the opportunity to have a morning wander round the nature reserve. Overnight conditions looked to be quite favourable for migration so we were hopeful of finding a couple or three new species for the year.
We arrived at the wetland at about 7.45 and immediately heard the Cetti’s Warbler fire up at the far end of the path. A scan of the ponds didn’t give us the Stonechats, they’ve probably moved on now, but there were a couple of male Reed Buntings. Walking along the path the Cetti’s Warbler got louder and louder and then we saw it all aquiver at the top of the Bramble and Japanese Knotweed patch almost in full view singing its heart out. We inched closer and got the camera ready, if we could get a few more steps it would be framed by Bramble stems but unobscured, another couple of inches were inched and the bird was getting even more excited – another, a female???, was much lower down in the thicket. We ever so gently raised the camera and were just about to get our Cetti’s shot of the century when an unleashed dog bounded past us and put the bird to flight – the owner was about 30 yards behind us – bl**dy brilliant – NOT!!!
Disappointed and frustrated we continued our walk and were soon back in high spirits when we heard our first Sedge Warbler (135, MMLNR #80) of the year scratting away from the Raspberry patch. It sounded as though it was only a couple of feet the other side of the fence but try as we might we couldn’t see it.
From the scrub ahead of us on both sides of the track we could hear Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs singing. Through the reserve’s main gate we scanned the recently cleared scrub area in the hope of a Redstart as we’ve offered a Snickers bar to the person who finds one there. TS came close-ish last night with one a short distance outside the far end of the reserve but close isn’t close enough so no cigar (or chocolate bar). There wasn’t one there but there was a Blackcap singing in the uncut area adjacent. From there we stood at the gate to the paddock to scan for Wheatears (we’ve offered a Mars bar for the finder of the first one here – the grass is growing quickly and we’ve a feeling that it remain unclaimed, AH was close last night with one on the recently scraped island but close isn’t a hit so no cigar or even Fun-sized Mars bar). We were rewarded with the repetitive song of a Reed Warbler (136, MMLNR #81) coming from (yes you’ve guessed it – the reeds at the water’s edge) There was a second one a bit further along too.
From the gate we went to the Viewing Platform, only to find the bench has been taken for a spring clean and repaint. Two Shelducks dropped in but only stayed a few minutes. 
I'm not staying here darling!
Low over the water swooped well over 100 hirundines, mostly Sand Martins perhaps as many as 75, half as many Swallows but no House Martins could be seen.
Retracing our steps we came across a few more Willow Warblers and another Blackcap, it was now obvious that there’d been a fall of Willow Warblers, their song was filling the air everywhere, just beautiful to hear. We stood outside the locked Panoramic Hide (It won’t be called that officially) and looked across the water mostly at the Canada and Grey Lag Geese, there wasn’t much else. A Little Grebe trilled and then we saw at least three House Martins (137, MMLNR #82) with the other hirundines.
There was no sign of the drake Common Scoter we didn’t see the other afternoon but which was still there yesterday. Lucky we caught up with the female in last month.
Back to the scrub and more Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Robins, too, were obvious and Wrens noisy. Overhead we’d noticed a steady trickle of Chaffinches all going a little east of north but other than that there wasn’t any hint of visible migration.
From the gap in the reeds we searched the back of the island scrapes for waders and Wheatears but there were neither just more loud Cetti’s Warblers and another Sedge Warbler somewhere in the rough reedy grassland behind us. We did get stupendous views of a Chiffchaff working its way through the reeds looking for food.
For a change we headed out of the reserve across the rough field and along the ancient hedgerow with its Blackthorn just coming in to flower, here we watched a Chiffchaff gathering nesting material which it took into the depths of the thorny thicket.
At the old road we watched a Jay fly into the roadside hedge and then saw a second in the tree nearer to us. They both flew down onto the road and started pecking at something – ants, beetles perhaps - we had as look when they’d gone but couldn’t see anything that might interest them, unless they’d eaten it all of course. 
Our reason for taking this detour was to try to connect with the Tree Sparrows that are regularly seen here but we’ve not managed to see yet. The big hedge was alive with Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits with some Goldfinches there too. At the garden the feeders and bird table were empty until a Great Tit flew across and then a Goldfinch but the third and fourth birds were the ones we wanted Tree Sparrows (MMLNR #83) on the patch list at last – would have been better if they were at the reserves feeding station but beggars can’t be choosers. We stayed an watched them for a couple of minutes before turning round to leave and seeing the ‘regular’ Buzzard sat atop the hedge only a few yards away. We turned our back on it and got the camera ready only to see it watching us intently and flapping lazily away when we raised the camera in its direction – how annoying!
Back on the reserve the channel reedbed was quiet apart from yet another Cetti’s Warbler. There were no Garganeys lurking in the reed margins or on the newly lowered eastern scrape – we’re always full of optimism at this time of year.
We met up with TS and while we were chatting a steady stream of Willow Warblers jumped the short gap between the trees on the caravan site and the scrub on the bank of the mere. In the hide the female Blackbird was sitting tight but giving high pitched calls from time to time. 
Looking out of the window all was pretty quiet, a few Coots fighting, Moorhens poking around at the back of the scrape but little else until a pair of noisy Oystercatchers flew in and started displaying to each other, they were joined by an interloper and then it all kicked off in a riot of ‘kleeping’.  
A Woodpigeon landed very hopefully on the long empty bird table, there won't be any food on there until the autumn now.
Continuing on our circuit we saw yet more Willow Warblers but their song was now dying off as they settled down to the important business of feeding. Seeing the patch of Snakeshead Fritillaries young AH had photographed last week had disappeared was annoying and serious saddening, we can only hope they were nibbled off by the local Rabbits and not picked by human hand although we didn’t want to go for a closer look for fear of treading on any of the remaining ones (there’s quite a few scattered about) we do think that the latter occurred and not the former due to the obviousness of the clump and the fact that they are the only ones missing.
More Willow Warblers flitted about but still no chance of a pic for us.
Back at the main gate we met up with LR and began another partial circuit in the time we had left before having to go to work. More overflying Chaffinches and more flitting Blackcaps and a soaring Sparrowhawk were the best on offer.
Lifting the hidden refugium gave us just a Toad and a small ground beetle. At the Panoramic Hide a Sedge Warbler chuntered its tuneless and grating ditty while a Cetti’s Warbler exploded from remains of the coppiced Willow scrub. Over the water there were now no hirundines they’d all upped and left continuing their journey to where-ever it is they’re going.
As ever we ran out of time and had to head back to the Land Rover but with 53 species, four patch birds of which three were year birds it wasn’t a bad morning’s safari at all…and we really don’t think we’ve ever seen so many Willow Warblers in one day here either – we put 30+ on the FBC website but it could easily have been double that or more, difficult to tell with them flitting about all over the place.
This morning our brief Patch 2 watch gave some more ticks for the spreadsheet in the form of two Whimbrels (138, P2 #46) coming in off the sea, a distant Swallow (P2 #47) and a Rock Pipit (P2 #48) passing overhead…not forgetting three Grey Seals and a dozen fishing Sandwich Terns too.
Where to next? More warblers please this weekend
In the meantime let us know who’s flitting from bush to bush in prodigious numbers in your outback


Warren Baker said...

I might have to come up and have a go at claiming that Snickers Bar Davyman LoL

cliff said...

Those Shelduck were a good find, can't remember when I last saw any at the mere.