Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Feast of Spring Warblers

Those of you who have been out and about in the UK during the last couple of weeks, will have found it difficult not to notice the bushes have become alive with the songs of recently arrived warblers. These range from the reeling cricket-like sounds of the Grasshopper Warbler to the hesitant scratchy song of the Whitethroat. I have a great fondness for warblers and always admire these tiny birds and the epic migration passage they have undertaken from Africa to reach our shores.

From a photography point of view these birds create quite a challenge due to their tendencies for skulking in dense undergrowth and often only giving fleeting appearances. The best opportunities usually occur when the birds first arrive and sing to establish their breeding territories. My main objective when trying to photograph these small birds is try and capture the birds on an uncluttered background when they visit the edge or tops of low bushes. However, this photography requires a good deal of patience and can be a frustrating business. Anyone who has tried photographing warblers will know what I mean when I say there always seems to be one small twig in the way! There is also a limit with what you can achieve with these birds as flight photographs are usually out of the question and therefore the best that can be achieved is a bird in full song.

For this post I have decided to post three images of five species from a series of recent short sessions. I will start off with the Chiffchaff which is usually one of the first to arrive and often a first sign of spring.

Chiffchaffs bear a very close resemblance to Willow Warblers but tend to have darker legs and less yellow - green colouration.

The main identifying feature however is their unmistakable rather monotonous song from which they derive their name.

The Whitethroat usually arrives in mid April and can easily be located from their rather angry sounding hesitant warbling song. They also tend to give their location away by the males going up in an occasional parachuting song flight.

From a photography point of view there are two features of the birds behaviour that can help with capturing images. Firstly once a male has set up a territory it will tend to use the same perches to sing from and secondly they seem to have an insatiable curiosity and usually will pop up out of a bush to take a look at you.

These are wonderful birds and always seem to be slightly 'angry'.

There seems to have been a big influx of Grasshopper Warbler into the UK this year. An early morning session is essential for these birds as often their insect like singing can be over by
These are a particularly skulking species and the best time to see them is usually after they have just arrived following migration when the birds will appear on top of brambles to burst in to song.

The whirring song can last for several minutes while the birds turn their heads to project the sound whilst their whole body vibrates. However, I am often surprised by the number of people who are unable to hear their high pitched song.

There are two colour morphs of this bird a yellow and a brown version although the differences are quite subtle and is probably best left to the warbler identification experts.

The Reed Warbler is a species I am hoping to spend more time on this year. It is a bird that can provide a rapid route to baldness as it can have you tearing your hair out with the frustrations of trying to get an unobstructed view.

They look quite a different colour under overcast skies or in this case before the sun had risen. Not the most colourful bird but they have looks that are appealing but difficult to define why.

I will finish off this rather long post with the Willow Warbler. A bird that bears a remarkable resemblance to the Chiffchaff.

The song is very distinct on these birds, as they flit around in the trees catching insects, which is a gentle warble of descending notes.

I know the song of these birds well as I had one singing continuously through the perpetual daylight of 'night' outside my bedroom window in Arctic Norway last summer.

There is plenty more time ahead for warbler photography as they seem to arrived early this year. They may not be the most colourful birds but certainly make up for this in character and I look forward to many more happy hours in their presence in the coming weeks.


Dennis Molenaar said...

Wondefull pictures of the Grasshopper Warbler! I would really like to photograph this species here in Holland. Recently I took some shot of a whitethroat too and recognzie you're description of their behaviour!

Gr. Dennis

Mary said...

I started to count down to see which were my favs and after number 6 down, they just kept on going, these are delightful in every way~

texwisgirl said...

this was a wonderful post! i loved how you told a bit about each bird and showed several poses of each type.

you're right. the reed warbler has such unremarkable plumage yet is so beautiful. of all the photos, that one made me stop and say "wow" out loud.

all of these photos are spectacular. thank you for sharing them with us!

Matt Latham said...

Top class as usual Richard - love the Whitethroats

Pat Ulrich said...

So many gorgeous shots in this post! Love to see the birds in song too!

RBr said...

Quality pics. Thanks for sharing them.


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