Posted by: lensweb | May 11, 2016

Warbling in Willington


Mon May 9,  Willington Gravel Pits Warbler Walk

Improve your birdsong recognition. Up to ten species of warbler could be singing! Good paths, but could be very wet after heavy rain.

Meet 6.30pm at Meadow Lane, Willington, just off the B5008 before the river as you drive towards Repton.

Grid ref   SK 295 280                     Postcode (nearby)  DE65 6YB

Leader:  Richard James of Derbyshire Ornithological Society

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s Willington Gravel Pits reserve is a former sand and gravel quarry providing a haven for wildlife in the Trent Valley.

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In the mood, sporting binoculars all we really need are our ocular facilities as led by Richard’s ears, we wander down a green lane. Song thrush, blackbird, Robin and the ‘blessed chiffchaff’ form a curtain of sound which we must penetrate, pull aside to focus on an invisible ‘little brown job’ with a swelling throat which is possibly the most mellifluous birdsong on the planet, the warbler.

Keeping very quiet we heard flutes of so many song thrushes! As the stony track crunched under our heavy tread a wren scolded.  A sudden and explosive outburst, a Cetti introduction, Listen! What’s my name? Cetti-Cetti-Cetti-that’s it. Only the males sing in most warblers but there seem to be more Cetti’s as both sexes sing. This enigmatic little bird has 10 tail feathers not the more usual 12, separating it from other warblers. In winter short eared owls float across the owl field and a long eared owl has made an occasional appearance. In one very cold winter there were 4 bitterns, Richard loves this place and visits most days. Oyster catchers piped overhead. Looking up at the blue sky we are amazed by a colourful upside down rainbow in bright sunshine. It was a circumzenithal arc.

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Evening time, so bad tempered reed warblers are a bit slow to work up to their usual constant rhythm, metronome like, one which your grandmother could knit to. Dave Pinney even got his binoculars on one and could see the creamy white supercilium (word supplied by David James).  We had to tolerate the chiffchaff which has largely replaced the melodious willow warbler as bird populations move northwards due to climate change. A chaffinch reminded us that if we had come at 6 am instead of pm we would have heard the poor man’s chaffinch, the lesser whitethroat. A blackcap, the first of many, entertained us with his cheerful song, surprisingly like a blackbird. Flocks of black headed gulls passed overhead! They never say very much.

The super animated sedge warbler is a chatterbox bird compared to the reed warbler, a child with a lot of toy instruments slung together trying to make a sort of tune, this was the first bird we heard which was actually resident in the conservation area, as a lot of the land still belongs to the quarry company and some to Derby County Angling Club. Gazing over willow and hawthorn scrub interspersed with yellow broom. Several reed buntings call, 3 notes sometimes 4. One distant willow warbler, the grasshopper warblers have moved on. A bullfinch dived across the track into the bushes. Under a dark arch ears were tested, some beyond the limit, as goldcrests tinkled above. Cuckoo, we had no problem with that one, the first many had heard for years.

We alert to a garden warbler’ s cultured notes, becoming fruitier, drunken slurring with no pure notes, like a blackcap with a bit of a lisp, it sings in chords not single notes. Not easily distinguished it tends to sing for longer periods. All now drowned out by the chiffchaff, the cross we have to bear. Mute swans whomped overhead as we gazed at a distant heronry, beyond the limit of the reserve.

You will be impressed that so far I haven’t mentioned that a great reed warbler on site was causing a major twitch, that is a mass movement of birdwatchers in the direction of a particular bunch of reeds conveniently placed directly in front of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust hide. One of the bird watchers had spun off to excitedly update David and showed THE PHOTOGRAPH, the wind had blown a parting in the reeds for the shot of the day.

reed warbler meme

It was worth climbing to a viewpoint for a chance to see the snakes head fritillary, several flowers had showed from an original planting, but it had disappeared under the brutal sunshine. Instead we were whipped along the path by the Cettis, enjoying the ground ivy, thyme leaved speedwell and of course the cuckoo flower. The lane filled with satisfied smiling twitchers, the bird hide was emptying, young and old fully satiated by the most excellent views and calls of the great reed warbler.

Finally we ourselves were in the hide looking out over the water, admiring little ring plover, oyster catchers, tufted duck, Canada geese, great crested  grebe and a black swan serenely sailing in front of the hide. A reed warbler perched on the reeds in front of the hide, but it was the larger, thrush sized long billed shadowy bird working along the back of the reeds which was the big tick, the great reed warbler, a national rarity first spotted by Richard this morning. Richard is a twitcher, he has been to Orkney to twitch Sandhill crane, he has twitched Pallid harrier and Rufous dove on the Scillies. His best ever local twitch was a Broad billed sandpiper at Aston on Trent in the nineties. Is it catching? Is there a cure? Probably not, as Richard still has birds he must get on his list. The bird that most owes him is the slender billed gull he keeps just missing.

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The sun set blood red on an intensely satisfying warbling walk. To be honest, the only warblers most of us actually saw were the reed warbler and the great reed warbler (this being only the second confirmed sighting of the bird in Derbyshire) as they worked up down and along the reeds in front of the hide but our auricular faculties were much enhanced. Have you been counting? Nine warbler’s warbles were quite enough for twitcher ears in training. Where were the whitethroats and lesser whitethroats?  – They knock off early, don’t they?

A fisherman arrived to fish for trout at dusk, but for birders, this place with it’s special atmosphere, really comes alive in the morning.

Marion Bryce May 2016



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