Monday, 7 June 2010

Welsh Warblers

It's been deadly quiet in Oxon of late: the floods on my local patch are drying up and nothing unusual has turned up anywhere else in the county that I know of. The only out-of-county trip I'd made had been a couple of weeks ago when en route to deepest darkest Kent for a party and as we were going right past it, I persuaded the family to stop off for half an hour at Walderslade to try for the Iberian chiffchaff. Despite it being described as a very easy twitch, the weather conspired against me with continuous heavy pouring rain and the bird kept silent and well out of sight.

Given all this lack of "hot birding action" I've understandably been getting a bit twitchy again and have accordingly been keeping my birding eye open for suitable opportunities. As regular readers may recall I tend to play a "percentage game" on the twitching front and favour high probability twitches. My ideal twitch involves a bird that looks settled in, is not too far away, (ideally two hours or less though I did make an exception for the pratincole) and preferably has some other interesting bird nearby as a back-up. When the Marmora's warbler turned up in Gwent looking, according to all accounts, very settled and the long staying Iberian chiffchaff at Wentwood Forest (also in Gwent) was also still being reported, this looked like the perfect set-up. The only problem was I had a serious weekend family reli-fest on Saturday (mother-in-law's 90th birthday) for which much preparation was required in the preceding days. In addition after a long day helping out at the party on Saturday, Sunday would be compulsory R&R and apparently travelling two hours to see "some bird" does not count as R&R. This meant that I wasn't going to be free until Monday. Therefore each day I waited to see if it was still being reported and after a wobble one day when it wasn't seen since early afternoon, both birds seemed to be sticking. This enforced delay did give me time to plan my trip which for me can involve a fair amount of work: since I don't have a sat. nav. and am usually on my own I need to know the route off by heart and this one was a bit more fiddly. However, I've discovered that Google Streetview is excellent for ironing out any problem areas so I felt confident I knew where I was going.

Come Monday I was up at 5:15 am and out the door just before six, arriving two hours later at the Marmy warb site without incident. Although the information services were suggesting that one parked at the radio masts and walked down to the lower car park I figured that for a weekday with the bird having been around for several days now it probably wouldn't be that crowded and so I drove down to the lower car park. It turned out that every other birder there (perhaps a dozen in total) had had the same idea but even so I managed to find a space ok. The bird was not showing initially but could occasionally be heard singing in the distance. In the mean time there was a cracking tree pipit singing its heart out just 50 metres from where we were stood. No big deal to many birders but as tripits no longer breed in the county I don't normally get to see them unless I happen to visit somewhere such as the New Forest so it was great to get such good views.

The very obliging tree pipit

Eventually the star of the show decided to put in an appearance and flew down into a clump of heather very close to the car park though unfortunatley hidden from view from where I was standing. It next moved to its favourite clump of holly where it sat quite happily for about 10 minutes singing away occasionally. I took some shots and video though its head was unfortunately obscured by a branch so its not a great photo.

The partially obscured Marmora's warbler, singing away

Video from the same viewpoint

After a while it flew off again and despite waiting for at least half an hour it didn't show again. Nevertheless there was a distant calling cuckoo, a stonechat and a few whinchats flitting about to watch while we waited. With a forecast of heavy rain for later in the day I decided that rather than wait for better views I would instead head over to Wentwood Forest to try for the Iberian chiffy before the weather deteriorated: I didn't want to be left standing in the rain with no singing Iberian chiffy for a second time! If I got that quickly I could always come back for more Marmy watching.

In travelling to the Wentwood Forest location I decided to opt for the easiest navigational route even though it might be slightly longer and accordingly it was little over half an hour later that I arrived at the Cadira Beeches car park. A couple of other birders had just arrived as I turned up at the clearing which was near the road just as the coniferous trees gave way to some dense scrub. They asked if I knew what the Iberian song was as they weren't sure what to look for and since I'd done some homework on youTube I was able to answer in the affirmative. In many of the accounts that I'd read, the Wentwood bird had been singing almost constantly and had been easy to find but there was no sound of it as we waited. There were plenty of other warblers about with a garden warbler singing away almost constantly as well as a distant willow warbler and a whitethroat. After about quarter of an hour I saw a phyllosc fly into the tree right next to where we were standing. It did seem to have quite a prominent yellow supercilium and lighter underparts than one would expect on a chiffy. I couldn't initially see it's primary projection but it did look a promising candidate. It then flew to a nearby tree and started singing, immediately confirming itself to be the Iberian chiffchaff. It stayed around for a couple of minutes giving excellent close views before flying off again.

The Iberian chiffchaff - a rather blurry videograb

The blurry video: it's never easy digiscoping warblers at the best of times. Unfortunately my camera hasn't captured the song properly but it was text-book stuff.

We waited around for some time, expecting it to return but there was no further sign of it. We did see a large flock of crossbills fly over, jypping away noisily but after a while my fellow birders decided that they were going back to the car park for a coffee and I decided to have a wander around as well. They said that they'd heard a wood warbler from the car park so I went off in search of that and soon found it a few yards down the main track off from the car park. It was flitting through the trees and singing constantly but fortunately very close to the main path so one could get excellent and prolonged views of it. In fact these were probably the best wood warbler views I've had to date. It was great to see it's whole body quiver as it got to the end of each "coin spin". I did wander further along the track and was pretty sure that I heard a redstart singing though wasn't able to see it in the dense scrub. I popped back to the clearing for one final try at the Ibe but it wasn't to be heard at all so after having a snack in the car park I headed back home, arriving back at around 2:30 pm, tired but very pleased with my morning's work.

As well as the two mega warblers, there were four other year ticks to include though the redstart was "heard only". I always like going to different habitats where one can encounter birds which can't be found locally and for this reason I enjoyed the tree pipit and wood warbler as much as I did the Marmy and Ibe.

National Year List 2010
172 tree pipit 07/06/2010 Blorenge, Gwent
173 MARMORA'S WARBLER 07/06/2010 Blorenge, Gwent
174 whinchat 07/06/2010 Blorenge, Gwent
175 IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF 07/06/2010 Wentwood, Gwent (LIFER)
176 wood warbler 07/06/2010 Wentwood, Gwent

177 common redstart 07/06/2010 Wentwood, Gwent


Steve said...

What was it you said in the Great Reed Warbler post - "I still don't really consider myself to be a proper twitcher (I'm obviously just in denial!)"
I don't think you can deny it much longer !!!
Steve Clarke

Adam Hartley (Gnome) said...

So I twitch a few birds. I can handle it and I can stop any time I want - I'm still in control! Just don't come between me and my pager.