Saturday, 2 November 2013

Dusky Delights

It's been three weeks now since I got back from Cornwall, a decently long enough period without any major excursions. I've been checking out the Patch each day and of course there was the quick dash down to Farmoor yesterday to see the Red-necked Grebe but in general I've been keeping my head down and accruing Brownie Points to make up for the ones that I spent on my Cornish trip. Naturally after such a length of time my twitching urges have re-surfaced once more so by the middle of this week I was casting around for something within striking distance to go and see. I had been thinking about a trip over to Kent for the Parrot and Two-barred Crossbills but the Great Storm of last week seems to have blown them all away as there have been no consistent reports since then. Thus it was that on Friday afternoon when a Dusky Warbler was found in the West Midlands at Marsh Lane NR (only about an hour's drive from Oxford) I keenly marked it down as a possible trip. Looking at the weather forecast for the following few days it was going to get rather dodgy by Saturday afternoon with rain and strong winds so somehow I managed to blag a Saturday morning excursion rather than the usual supermarket visit for the family food shop. Thus it was that after dropping my VLW and our son off for his Saturday morning tennis at around 9am I pointed the Gnome-mobile north and headed up the M40. 

In a little over an hour I pulled up at the rather full car park at Marsh Lane NR, paid my £4 to the gatekeeper for non-member's access to the reserve and hurried up the road to join the assembled throng of birders who were all lined up in one corner of a rather small neighbouring field. It turned out that the bird had been showing on and off all morning in one general location but apparently views were often very fleeting. I was treated to an example of this almost immediately when it soon flitted around one a pair of pollarded Willows that it seemed to favour. One could see something moving but it would have been hard to ID it as a Dusky Warbler without prior knowledge. Shortly after that it went rather quiet for about three quarters of an hour. All around me the hum of conversation grew progressively louder as people who had already got decent views turned their attention to chatting rather that staking out the undergrowth. I must admit that I found myself getting rather wound up by the noise as I couldn't really hear whether the bird was calling. A few Siskins were flying about and Skylarks would pass over periodically. The odd Chaffinch and Goldfinch were also knocking about in the hedgerow. I watched and waited quietly for the bird to reappear. Fortunately after a while the chatterers mostly left and then the bird called a few times briefly below one of the neighbouring Willows. Shortly after that I got a brief view of it flying across a gap - a definite view of the size and colour and that coupled with the distinctive call was much closer to a definitive ID. It showed very briefly and called a few more times as it worked its way along the hedge and then seemed to disappear in the end hedge for a while.

After a period I thought that I heard it calling again in the other corner of the field and made my way over there. Another birder was heading there at the same time and I presumed that he'd heard it too but it turned out that he was just going over on spec. It didn't call again and I started to wander off only for the other chap to start staring intently through his bins and I hurried back over again. It turned out that the Dusky Warbler had re-appeared and was finally showing well in a couple of sheltered pollarded Willows. Indeed it remained within these two small trees for a good ten minutes giving excellent views for almost the entire time. As I'd been nearby at the time I was right at the front of the hurriedly assembled twitch phalanx and got great views of the bird less than twenty yards away. It was a gorgeous little thing with its dark brown upper parts, strong pale supercilium and rather greyish underparts. It regularly flicked its wings as it hunted around in the trees, often concentrating on the "knuckle" of the pollarded area. As it was constantly moving I was content to spend my time just watching it rather than trying to photograph it.

A Twitch Shot, all lined up in the corner watching the Dusky Warbler

A superb shot of the bird taken by Chris Bromley (c)

After a while it was getting time for me to head back to the car as I'd promised my VLW that I'd be back for lunch so as the first few drops of rain started to fall I hurried back to the car and pointed the Gnome-mobile towards home. As I raced back down the M40 I savoured the warm glow of a successful twitch - it had been great to get such good views of what is normally a very skulking species, definitely four hours well spent!

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