A Warbling We Will Go

It was a day of warblers at Cley Marshes. Just after lunch I was strolling along the footpath adjacent to the coast road when I movement in the reed scrub caught my eye. There for a second was a grasshopper warbler in full view a mere two metres from where I stood. Without thinking and like a well drilled infantryman I shouldered my camera and fired a few rounds. A seamless, silky movement that Eastwood, Stallone or Schwarzeneggar would have been proud of. Problem was I had set the exposure to +1 to compensate for earlier photography of a sedge warbler against the bright sky and despite making a mental note to alter the settings had failed to do so. My muttered curses were also something the aforementioned movie icons would have been equally proud of. No matter. Photoshop enabled me to darken one of the images sufficiently to get something useful.


Grasshopper Warbler

So called because its reeling song, usually delivered from within deep cover,
is likened to the chirrup of a grasshopper. in reality it more closely resembles
the sound made by the reeling of a fishing line. A close view like this is a privilege.

Whilst I was standing stock still waiting for the grasshopper warbler to reappear (it didn’t) I noticed a pair of whitethroats feeding their offspring in a nest placed deep in one of the rampant bramble growths, and within a minute a sedge warbler zipped into the dykeside tangle to feed its own young. To complete the set a reed warbler chuntered away from taller reeds bordering the catch water drain and a Cetti’s warbler blasted its short assault on the eardrums from the depths of a hawthorn. Five warbler species within a ten metre square of verdant roadside foliage. I found this quite interesting and speculated on the vast amount of invertebrate fodder that must be available all over the marsh to support this kind of density. Given the whole area was under several feet of salt water 18 months ago it seems to have recovered well.



There are several pairs utilising the scrubby areas fringing the coast road


I take this to be the male posing loud and proud

Not so the main scrapes on the reserve which appear to be suffering somewhat. There are far fewer avocets nesting there this year and waders in general have been very scarce (a situation echoed from many places I gather). The good news though is that the newly acquired marshes are full of birds. During the afternoon I led an impromptu taster session birding walk with Rachael a very pleasant and capable fellow volunteer and we were quite surprised at the number of avocets nesting on the area near the ‘Serpentine’. They are well spaced, but nonetheless the species is well represented. I think this is good news for just about everything in that 1). The avocets are not concentrated and will therefore not so easily attract the attention of the marsh harriers, and 2). Their wide spacing allows other birds the freedom to go about their business without being constantly harassed. Nature always sorts it out, albeit with the help of a very able NWT management team.

Earlier during my morning rounds I sat for an hour on the bench outside Bishop’s Hide. I find this to be a useful position from which to engage with members of the public who may otherwise be intimidated or inhibited by the aura of being in a hide. A bonus here was to have periodic close encounters with another highly vocal sedge warbler who was single mindedly attempting to attract a mate to his patch of marsh. During his frequent bursts of song I listened closely to his varied repertoire, delivered in a maniacal frenzy of jumbled whistles, cackles, trills and chatter. I was amused to be able to pick out the mimicked calls of lapwing, redshank, curlew, whimbrel, black-headed gull, house sparrow and corncrake from amidst the maelstrom of notes. No doubt some of these were picked up locally, but where else had this perky little bird been spending his short life and what wonderful things had it encountered? I’m sure a real birder would have been able to glean another dozen snippets which may well have included the calls of exotic foreign species. The lives of these tiny birds are fascinating and it is easy to dismiss them sometimes as just small brown jobs, but as with most wild creatures their outward appearance often masks a much more colourful existence.

Sedge Warbler

Our flamboyant songster, a lovely bird which provided great value.
With patience close views can be obtained. 

Sedge Warbler

Our hero also proclaimed his rights to a patch
of emergent reed.

Reed Bunting

Several males can be found singing alongside the boardwalks at Cley.
As the season progresses they become more tolerant of humans and can
sometimes allow close approach.