In Tuesday’s blog I told you all about the warblers that tend to be shy singers, more heard and not seen. In today’s blog I want to tell you about the extroverts out there. The Warblers who like sing from up on high!
One of the most abundant warblers at Newport Wetlands right now is the Chiffchaff. One of those convenient little birds that sings its own name! Have a listen on the RSPB Bird ID guide, and you will hear it is a simple repetitive “chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff”, rather unmistakable. You will normally see them perched on one of the highest branches of a tree; they are a small olive green coloured bird with a subtle eye stripe. They can easily be mistaken with the Willow Warbler, but there are subtle differences. The Willow Warblers’ call sounds more like “hu-wiit” repeated over and over again in shot three or four second bursts, they also have a more pronounced eye stripe, far paler than the Chiffchaff. I would imagine that the Willow Warbler/ Chiffchaff misidentification can be second only to the Goshawk/ Sparrowhawk mis-Id’s on most beginner birders lists.
Another bird that was visible in good numbers last spring was the Whitethroat. It picks a prominent branch from which it tries to attract a mate. As the name suggests, this small warbler has a pale ruff of feathers around the throat, adult birds have a distinct white eye ring within the grey head feathers. It’s scratchy, gruff song should alert you to its presence first, but Whitethroats have another trick in their repertoire to attract a female. Whilst on your walk, keep a look out for a bird making short hovering flights about a favourite shrub or tree. They will give a short burst of song during this flight and return to the perch. Whitethroat habitats can be shared with its slightly less common cousin the Lesser Whitethroat. Lesser Whitethroats have a more leaden grey coloured head, and the eye ring is more spectacled in shape. It’s always nice to spot one calling “tett-tett-tett” amongst the Whitethroats.
From Whitethroats we move our attention to Blackcaps. You may not even need to venture far to see this belligerent little bird, they are becoming more frequent garden visitors. You will normally know when you have one, as you will spot it bullying the other birds away from a feeder it has declared its own! Personally I prefer the female Blackcaps, as they have the most wonderful russet coloured crowns. Blackcaps are prominent branch singers rather than treetop warblers. Their song is one of the best in the business, almost flute like.
Finally we end this journey of the Sylviidae family of birds with perhaps the most famous, but quite rare warbler, the Dartford Warbler. Despite my best efforts, I have yet to add this stunning bird to my life list yet. I was once told Dartford Warblers have frequented the woods behind my house; I have watched the tops of the gorse bushes in vain with my scope, but all to no avail! There are Dartford Warblers around towards West Wales, but they are few in number, as their name suggests, you need to head to the Dorset heathlands for your best chance of seeing them. Their classic pose, as I said, is singing from the tops of yellow flowered gorse; its song, a short burst of rattled notes. It’s another one of those birders birds, and a wildlife photographer dream shot!
I hope you enjoyed this simple guide to some of the songsters you will be hearing over the coming months. It is only a month away from World Dawn Chorus Day 2012 (6th May), why not have a little listen to some of the songs on the links provided, and get yourself on one of the organised walks that will be taking place all over Wales at dawn on that day. I did it last year and it was one of my highlights of my “wildlife year”.
Another great blog Ant and very timely. Actually have Chiffchaff in the trees at the bottom of my garden - am sure they weren't there last year. Not terribly good at warblers. Really must get better at recognising birdsong.
Thanks for an excellent blog Ant! Really enjoyed it and learned a lot!
I have been in the Cardiff office for three days champing at the bit to get back home to North Wales to listen for Chiffchaffs! I think I heard Willow Warblers the day before I left so needing to listen for confirmation too.
The next big arrival here will be our Pied Flycatchers. I've put up new boxes this year and have all my fingers crossed they will like them!