The Joy of 'Groppers'
I seem to have a strange affinity with the Grasshopper Warbler which has allowed me over the last few years to build a good library of images. It strange as a bird photographer how you have great success with some species and seem to completely fail with others. Every bird photographer has a few 'bogey birds' for which they struggle to get images. For example, Dottrel that are relatively easy to photograph due to their very confiding nature I have never managed yet to put in front of the lens.
This is a highly skulking bird that loves to keep deep within low vegetation and a species which many have only heard but not seen. I think the key to my numerous prolonged encounters with these birds has been mainly due to timing. The window for photography is a narrow one and only seems to last two or three weeks from when the birds first arrive back from Africa and until they have secured a mate for the breeding season. During this brief time the birds, that will have taken up residence in low clumps of brambles and scrub will frequently move up to the highest perch in the early morning to burst into their unusual insect like song allowing great opportunities for the photographer.
As insect grasshoppers are not usually singing at the time when these warblers are, if you hear the characteristic fast clicking sound in the mid-spring its a good chance it is one of these birds.
Homing in on the birds' locations can sometimes be difficult as during the song they rotate their heard to broadcast the sound giving it ventriloquist properties with it seemingly coming from somewhere else. It can be heard from a surprising long distance, as long as you and not too old to have had your high frequency hearing dulled. I think the song has some sort of hypnotic influence on me, as despite telling myself to concentrated on photographing other species, each time I hear it I find myself drawn in towards the bird. One thing I do know that is a hour or so in early morning light at close quarters to a 'Gropper', as they are known locally, is an unforgettable wildlife encounter.
Once a singing Grasshopper Warbler is located their photography is relatively straight forward as they are fairly unconcerned by your presence (as long as you do not move) and it is quite predictable where they are going to sing from. As with many warblers they have preferred song perches. Its really just a question of having some patience and waiting for the bird to occasionally pop up from the brambles on to one of its perches and start its 'reeling' song.