I was mooching around at home one evening last week, having just put L our now three year old son to bed when I got a call from a car-less fellow birder asking if I was heading up to Otmoor and if so could he have a lift. As I'd not actually heard any news he had to fill me in that a marsh warbler had been discovered up on Otmoor by one of the most diligent of the regulars there. A quick consultation with my VLW (very lovely wife) and it was all systems go and we sped up towards the moor. A police diversion meant that we had to head for Noke rather than the usual car park entrance and we were most thankful that it was so close to the longest day and still light as we didn't arrive till about 9pm. With time being of the essence we elected to run the mile and a half or so from where we parked to the bird location which was mid way between the first and second screens. We arrived to find an assembly of a dozen or so local birders staring at the tops of some reeds looking a bit mournful. Soon after it was agreed that a bit of tape luring should be tried and this immediately induced the bird to start singing again. We were then treated to about an hour of wonderful song and mimicry in the gathering dark with the occasional hobby hawking over the reed bed. Unfortunately the bird did not show at all and in fact had only been seen by the finder himself, commuting between the edge of the reed bed where it was located and the adjacent hedgerow. Eventually we all had to leave and as my companion got a lift back from someone else, I had a wonderful walk back on my own towards Noke with a single curlew calling in flight and a distant hooting owl.
The next morning I awoke very early at around 4:30 and since I was wide awake I thought that it would be rude not to nip out to Otmoor to see if the marsh warbler was still there. It was a gorgeous dawn with mist rising off the moor and being lit up by the early morning sun. I arrived at the location to find one other birder there who'd not been there yesterday so I showed him where it had been singing. Fortunately it was still there and singing away and we soon saw a bird fly across into the hedge. However when we managed to see it we noted the tell-tale eye stripe of a sedge warbler. Shortly afterwards another bird flew across into the hedge and as soon as it started singing we could tell that it was the marsh warbler. It showed briefly in the hedge before flying back to the reeds and resuming its song. Shortly afterwards a few more birders turned up and were able to connect with it as well but I had to leave as my VLW needed some assistance with L who was "playing up". The bird continued to sing and show on and off for the whole day, a great find for Oxfordshire. In fact the bird has so far stayed for several days, allowing many people to connect with this rarity. I subsequently went back and managed to film some video footage of the bird singing for several minutes within the reed bed. As it was only filmed on a hand-held camcorder the quality is not particularly good but you get a good idea of the song at least.
The singing marsh warbler
Another tick which is of course a county life tick and it's also a personal lifer for me. Whilst I'm on the subject, I have been debating whether to include "heard only" birds on my county and national year list: apparently most birders tend to allow these though of course and actual sighting is always more preferable. For now I'm going to keep a separate heard-only list while I mull it over but I may well add these to the full year lists at some point.
Oxford Year List 2009
167: Marsh Warbler 24/06/2009 Otmoor (Ox Lifer)
National Year List 2009
202: Marsh Warbler 24/06/2009 Otmoor (Lifer)