Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Welwyn Warbler

An odd singing Phylloscopus warbler was found by Chris Beach at Sherardspark Wood on 25th April, photographed above by Mike Ilett.  The distinctive song initially led to thoughts of Iberian Chiffchaff but prolonged listening to the bird revealed variation.  The start of most song phrases sounded rather like an Iberian but the endings were variously Willow Warbler in quality.  The song was recorded and converted to a sonogram using Raven Lite to compare with Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff.  The image below (taken from The Sound Approach to Birding) shows sonograms for Chiffchaff and Iberian Chiffchaff.  

The top two sonograms below are from the Welwyn Warbler, with a Willow Warbler shown at the bottom.  The top sonogram is the most frequent song of the Welwyn Warbler, whilst the second is a longer song version with a Willow Warbler-ish ending. The Welwyn Warbler appears to lack the distinctive features of Iberian Chiffchaff shown above and is also notably higher in frequency (up to 8 kHz).   An interesting bird, perhaps most like a Willow Warbler with a sense of Spanish humour.

Below - Willow Warbler

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Planning for waders

Don’t you love it when a plan begins to come together?  In the past week I have visited two new sites in development and both look to be full of potential.  First up, Bowers Marsh in South Essex.  Four years into the development, the initial ballpoint pen sketch plan is coming to life on the ground.  This has a wetland design with a nod to the future.  A freshwater lagoon ‘reservoir’ is designed to provide wadery habitat as it feeds the nearby wet grassland areas. A regulated tidal exchange provides a mix of fresh and brackish habitat.  Black-winged Stilt was always a target bird here and the recent arrival of a pair may not be the birding highlight of the month but is another milestone for the site. The briefness of their stay probably reflects the still raw nature of the site.  However, the lagoon islands held 80+ Avocets, Redshank, Lapwing, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit during my visit, with the highest site count for B-t Godwit already up to a remarkable 1,500 birds.  At the moment this is still a gull-lovers paradise as thousands of birds drift down from the adjacent Pitsea tip to wash and brush up.  Remember the name ‘Bowers Marsh’ and look up how to get there, you will need to go.

The second site was Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire, where a re-design of the wetland habitat has been completed. The omens were good in November 2012 as we visited to check the ongoing works.  A White-rumped Sandpiper became the second species of wader on the ‘new’ scrape.  Although it promptly departed southwards over the county boundary to become a new bird for Warwickshire, it returned to hang around long enough for everyone to catch up with it.  The completed habitat will benefit from linkage to the adjacent river.  At times this will result in some inconvenient floods but overall this dynamic water regime should be beneficial in helping Middleton Lakes continue to develop into a major wader site for the midlands.

Above - Bowers Marsh; from sketch to reality (I didn't have a blue pen), below - Middleton Lakes ditto.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Fit for a King

In this modern era of digital photography any idiot can take a half decent photo, this blog occasionally proves that.  It is the snap first, ID later generation.  So with so many people interested in taking nature photos, should we provide more and better opportunities for the stunning shot?  The floating hide in Båtsfjord harbor operated by Ørjan Hansen (Arctic Touristdoes just that.  Flat on your stomach at water level, in a nice orange floatation suit, in temperatures of around -5 C, you are surrounded by King Eiders, Steller's Eiders, Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks.  But not only is this a great photography hide, this is close-up, exhilarating wildlife.