Warbler Walks – 27th April and 1st May

Eleven people met by the footbridge for the first led walk of the year. The sun was shining brightly but the wind was quite strong, making it difficult to catch the strains of warbler song.

We started with the easy ones and soon Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were identified by song. Seeing them was another matter. A Willow Warbler did sit up nicely, but it was against a very bright sky and nearly a silhouette. Whitethroat was soon scratching out its song but, again, was difficult to see. We heard a lot of sub-song from Whitethroats and Blackcaps which were reminiscent of Garden Warbler and a useful lesson in the pitfalls of being too eager to identify a bird by song alone. The fluty notes of the Blackcap were, however, quite distinctive and so four warblers were identified between the steps and the causeway.

The causeway was buzzing with Reed and Sedge Warblers and I thought it would be an easy matter to point out the differences. The birds had other ideas and, before the group had assembled to listen, fell silent. After a while the Reed Warblers began to sing but they were deep in the reeds and impossible to see. I pointed out the rhythmic quality of their vocalisations and hoped that a Sedge Warbler would start to sing. Eventually one did but it was a rather half hearted singer and hidden in a bush. As we listened a Lesser Whitethroat sang its staccato ‘jug,jug,jug,jug’ and some managed to hear the quieter pre-emptive part of its song too. More Blackcaps were singing and then the quieter, dryer song of a Garden warbler was picked up. Unfortunately this was not heard to everyone’s’ satisfaction and we only counted it as a half warbler.

Whilst on the causeway most of the group managed to get a distant view of the splendid male Garganey that is currently staying with us. They were also introduced to the male Mute Swan that likes to ‘hang’ with us by the bench. He made quite an impression on one or two of the group. Unexpectedly the Cetti’s Warbler then rattled out its short but loud song and after a couple more performances most of the group had heard it enough to remember it, if and when they hear it again. At this end of the causeway the Sedge Warblers were singing more confidently and their distinctive ‘buzzy’ beginnings were easy to pick out. I then pointed out their mimicry and we noticed Yellow Wagtail notes in the song.

We walked to the railway bridge to see the Swallows and Sand Martins at their nests and then along the Deep Pit bank in the hope of hearing a Grasshopper Warbler, as two of the group had heard one there on their way to meet us. Unfortunately this was not to be but we did hear lots more Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warblers.

So we ended on a tally of eight and a half warblers and, as the group made their way off the site, I went for a last walk round. Unbelievably there were Lesser Whitethroats singing everywhere now and a Garden Warbler sang from the top of and ash sapling, giving me brilliant views. All ten warblers were heard, but sadly not by the entire group.

The second walk, on the Sunday, was not so well attended with only five people joining in. We did, however, manage nine warblers this time, but the Grasshopper Warblers kept schtum. The first warbler encounter was by the footbridge where the uneasy ‘teck – teck’ calls of a Blackcap and the ‘hweet – hweet’ contact calls of a Chiffchaff were pointed out.

We walked along Willow Walk and then turned along the Lower Path, towards the river. This path is sheltered by high banks on both sides but catches the sun all morning. This makes it very popular with insects, especially butterflies and we found a very early Small Copper sunning itself beside the path. There is lots of dense scrub and some tall trees and so it is ideal for a range of warblers. Soon the song of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Blackcap could be heard and some of the songsters were seen well. In the distance a Lesser Whitethroat was heard but several of the group had difficulty hearing this. Since Wednesday several more Garden Warblers had arrived and they were singing well further along the path. Two were singing quite close together and a Blackcap was singing close by. This gave us a chance to compare these two species and most people felt confident about identifying the two after a few minutes.

At the railway bridge there was not quite so much activity as on the previous visit so we walked along the River Path to see what was about. Soon there were two Sedge Warblers singing against each other and Whitethroats doing little song flights. As we walked along the path there were more Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers, with another Garden Warbler and a Blackcap. Suddenly the ‘zii – ti’ call of a Kingfisher was heard and a bird shot over our heads and towards the gravel pits. Unfortunately only one person was quick enough to see it.

As we walked along the outside of the boundary hedge more Sedge Warblers were heard on the other side and Garden Warbler and Blackcap were picked up again. We re-entered the site on the north east corner and walked towards the Large Gravel Pit.  Here we soon heard the rhythmically calm song of the Reed Warbler with the excited Sedge Warbler song for comparison. The hoped for Grasshopper Warblers were still keeping quiet so we made our way up the bank to the Deep Pit.

We walked south along the east bank, listening for more warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat was heard again but the strong wind made it difficult to hear. Soon the Cetti’s Warbler belted out its short song from the Deep Pit as we walked towards the Causeway. We walked along the Causeway, hearing more Reed, Sedge, Garden and Willow Warblers with Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaff and another Lesser Whitethroat and then looked for the Garganey on the Slurry Lagoon, finishing the walk by the bench. The final tally was nine warblers as the Grasshopper Warblers had stayed obstinately quiet.