A feast of warblers

Today I was working again at Radley College, as I had done back in March, and I had always planned to spend the morning at the Otmoor RSPB reserve and have a little more time there than I had last time.

I managed a good three hours at the reserve, and only got soaked once, escaping the first of two downpours in the shelter of a hide! This really is an exciting reserve – a large area of meadow and wetland, with wooded fringes. In the car park I met a couple of RSPB staff who were there to survey curlew nests. They mentioned that there were currently ten species of warblers on the reserve: A bit of a challenge!

I got off to a good start with plenty of chiffchaffs to be heard, and good views of both male and female blackcaps. There were also several Cetti’s calling. Once into the areas with reeds there really were a good number of both sedge and reed warblers and I heard and saw several whitethroats. Six out of ten!

Of the other four I strangely didn’t see or hear a single willow warbler, and also didn’t manage a grasshopper warbler. That left two – garden warbler and lesser whitethroat – both of which would be new for 2023. I haven’t actually ever seen that many garden warblers – the last being in 2017. They’re a little nondescript but have a lovely song. Today it was the song I heard first. I was pretty sure what it was but the Merlin app was able to confirm it, and soon after I managed to see the bird well for several minutes.

A little while later, after the second downpour, I had the app out again to check a call that this time I was very unsure about – warbler-ish but also reminiscent in some ways of a chaffinch. Up it flashed in Merlin – lesser whitethroat. This is a bird I have only ever recorded in my early birding years and have never managed to properly identify in recent times…most probably because I couldn’t recognise the song! Today I only managed a brief couple of glimpses, but the song did confirm the identification, so it goes on my list. Eight out of ten warblers – not bad!

Lucky spot of the day today was a cuckoo on a fence post. Distant but clearly recognisable, and a species it’s very easy to hear and not see.

common cuckoo (photo taken 2018)

Brenda writes: “There were fewer moths in the trap today but I could immediately tell by its size & stance that a mainly brown moth with a longer body was a swordgrass – and it turned out to be a dark swordgrass.”

dark swordgrass

New species for May 9th:
Birds: cuckoo, garden warbler, lesser whitethroat
Moths: dark swordgrass, common swift