Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Dartford Warblers. Now you see them, now you don’t.

There aren’t many small birds that get audible gasps from people when they see one. Apart from perhaps a kingfisher, it is usually the big ones that take that honour. A Bittern or a Crane, an Osprey or a Golden Eagle maybe, that kind of thing usually does it. There is one however that when seen gets people very excited. The Dartford Warbler. Not only is it a pretty and characterful little bird, it is also a very vulnerable bird and has suffered in the past from harsh weather – only a couple of pairs breeding in the 1960s to to severe winters.

Fortunately it is now having a small renaissance and can be found in a number of heathland breeding areas across the south and east of England.

I picked Dunwich Heath to look for them but the weather was poor. It was overcast and there was a strong on shore wind to deal with. Dartford Warblers prefer to keep low at the best of times and the wind factor just made seeing any quite difficult.

Coastguards Cottages, Dunwich Heath
I have only been to Dunwich Heath once before which is strange as I have been to Minsmere on countless occasions and to be honest, Dunwich Heath is just as good in my opinion. It’s quiet (people-wise) and whereas the quality and quantity of the birds may not match Minsmere the species are quite specialised. There are two main species that stand out. Dartford Warblers and I would say I counted at least 4 pairs on the heath. The air was also filled with the sound of the second, Woodlarks and I estimated about 4 different birds. Supporting species included a smart male Stonechat that rocked back and forth on the gorse and a Green Woodpecker, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps were also seen and heard. Overhead, a Marsh Harrier and a Little Egret passed through.

Finding the Dartford Warblers is quite easy. You just need to walk around the heath listening for that 40 fag a day wheezing that they make deep down in the heather or gorse. Once you hear this and locate the general position, you wait. You will see a dart of a small dark bird as it flies from one bush to another. If things go well, it will sit up for a few moments atop a gorse or heather strand before diving back down and disappearing. Now my problems really began. I wanted to digiscope the bird and this was proving difficult, even impossible because when you are faced by a sea of heather, it is tricky to focus a scope on a particular part (it all looks the same) By the time you do find the place the bird was, it’s gone. I was frustrated to say the least but decided to change my tactics and gamble on the observation that these birds are creatures of habit and one warbler had returned to a branch of dead heather or something a couple of times so I decided to set up for a return visit.

Sit and wait.....
The Dartford Warbler appeared a few times and it was tempting to move the scope but I resisted. Eventually I got the chance and had three shots off before it dived away and everything went quiet.

This was the last I saw of him. 
So three hours of walking, watching and waiting resulted in me getting just two photos of this wonderful warbler and I have no doubt if I had a standard DSLR with a chunky lens, I would have had hundreds of pictures. This is why these two are so special to me.

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