Saturday, May 19, 2012

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.
Given that I have so many Grasshopper Warbler images now, I have told myself that in future years I will do my best to ignore them and look for other species. Whether I will be able to stick to this remains to be seen and no doubt in future years on hearing the song I will be drawn back in gripped by 'Gropper' fever once again.


Ben Porter said...

Super images as ever Rich. I find that these skulky little warblers often just pop out in front of me, and quite happily sit there as long as you don't make any sudden movements. I particularly like the second to last image

Friend of HK said...

I can almost hear them singing loudly~

Rich Steel said...

Many thanks for the comments which are appreciated as always.




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