Monday, May 13, 2013

A Weakness for Grasshopper Warbler

Wildlife photography requires a certain amount of self-discipline, such as getting up at an unearthly hour to an alarm call when your head and body would rather stay in the comfort of your bed beneath the duvet. You need to set yourself goals and concentrate on particular species to which you dedicate your time and not become distracted. I nearly always set out from the house with a definite plan, on those days when you become distracted and decide to head elsewhere are usually when you come back with few or any photos at all.

At the start of this spring I told myself categorically that I was going to ignore Grasshopper Warbler (locally known as 'Groppers') given that I already have so many images of them. So I set out a couple of weeks back looking for some Blackcap not realising with this year's 'broken spring', which has played havoc with my mental calender, that the main influx of this migrant Sylvia warbler was yet to occur. As I looked around looking and listening for Blackcap I heard that all to familiar rapid ticking song of a Grasshopper warbler from a bramble patch. The warbler was keeping low out of the gusty wind and I just got a momentary glimpse of a very yellow looking bird. Many of you may not actually realise that Groppers come in two colour morphs with both brown and yellow variants. This was certainly the most yellow coloured one I had ever seen.

That brief sighting and sound of that reeling song was all it took for my weakness for Grasshopper warblers to kick in. When I got home I found myself suddenly checking the forecast looking for good Gropper weather! There was no turning back now, as I became fully consumed by the G-fever. The forecast showed that the relentless stiff cold wind was easing off in three days time, the temperature rising and some dawn sun was even predicted. It looked ideal.

Still conditions are important for Grasshopper warbler photography as the birds will only show themselves at the top of their bramble patches in light winds. Stronger winds see them content to sing from deep cover.  The other important factor is time of day as you need to be in position as the sun is just emerging or disappearing over the horizon. I have often seen photographer arriving as I am leaving who enquire if I have seen any Groppers, by which time the early morning performance is over. The window to photograph them is also very brief usually only a week or two, after they arrive while the birds establish territories and pair up for breeding. If you combine all these factors then they are relatively easy to see or photograph.

So the alarm was set for early o'clock to allow me to get ready and drive to be at the site just as the red glow of a new day started to tint the sky. Before the sun broke the horizon I could hear a few short bursts of the insect like warble from the brambles, the bird was warming up for its morning performance. As the first rays appeared up came the same very yellow bird, in the same place I had seen it a few days early, to broadcast its song.

This is the bird on its first appearance before the sunlight flooded across the bramble patch.
I thought for a change I would post a head crop of the above photo. I would like to point out that any image you see of a small bird's head in close up is always a large crop of the original unless the photographer as gone to extreme lengths with extenders and extension tubes attached to the lens. The reasons for showing this is are two fold. Firstly you lose a lot of detail when you reduce an image in size and to low res to post on the Internet. I always wished you could see the images that I do where you can count individual feather filaments, assuming you wanted to. Secondly I want you to look in to the eye where you can see the sun just  emerging above the horizon.

The first light of a sunny day is always a photographer;s best friend and bathes your subject in beautiful soft warm light. The performance by this Grasshopper Warbler from a photography point of view was outstanding as the bird would often pick the highest bramble arch in the low clump to perform. This allowed, with a bit of slow manoeuvring from me to achieve clean backgrounds to the photos which is always welcome for a bird that shows such an affinity for deep cover. It is always interesting when you obtain a series of images of the same bird over the period of the sun rising how much the changing colour of light affects the look of the bird.
So yes I am weak willed when it comes to these enigmatic little birds and managed to completely ignored my own advice to give them a wide berth this year, although in many ways I am glad I did :). Maybe next year I will be able to ignore them.....maybe.


NatureStop said...

Amazing captures and love the lighting it the last shots.Have a great day!


Kathie Brown said...

What a wonderful little bird! it looks like a cross between a wren and a sparrow. Great photography and birding tips too! I love the shape of the bird's tail and the way it perches on the branch.

I am a contributer to BiF and I just read your post on the capercaillie. So, I followed your link here. I loved that post! What an interesting bird with a tragic story. I hope it can be saved!


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