It was top time for warblers when I visited Otmoor, the RSPB reserve in Oxfordshire, on 7 May. I saw or heard nine species, but was sorry not to hear a grasshopper warbler.

As I walked the bridleway past the reeds I could hear reed warblers (listen here), and briefly saw one, deep down in the vegetation, while sedge warblers popped up and sang from the bushes (listen here). Blackcaps, whitethroats and chiffchaffs were singing in the trees and scrub. Everything was very green.

The bridleway looking west towards Noke. Reed and sedge warblers were singing noisily

There were plenty of young coots and geese

Greylag geese and young

I was amazed to see a Cetti’s warbler displaying noisily in a tree, for long enough to allow a photo.

Cetti’s warbler

But the best moment was towards the end of my walk. As I stood on the bridge near the pumping station facing south

I could hear a garden warbler on my right (listen here).

Garden warbler’s spot

and a lesser whitethroat deep in the brambles on my left.

Lesser whitethroat’s spot

I have only once before knowingly heard a lesser whitethroat (2016 at Otmoor). I was able to get good views of this one as it obligingly perched in a nearby tree. You can listen to it singing here and calling here.

Lesser whitethroat

At that moment too I had a happy, chance meeting with Marian Spain, chief executive of Natural England, and Alastair Driver, director of Rewilding Britain.

Marian Spain (right) and me

I have known Marian since her Countryside Commission days, and as a former fellow-trustee of the Campaign for National Parks. Alastair was introducing Marian to Otmoor. He previously worked for the Environment Agency and played an important part in creating Otmoor as a nature reserve 20 years ago. It is such a success story, as witnessed by its popularity even on a week day (yet you can be alone in its vastness).

So all in all it was a very satisfactory day, and particularly enjoyable because I could spend as long as I wanted tracking down singing birds in the vegetation. I was there for nearly six hours and didn’t walk all that far!

To conclude with the warblers, I saw blackcap, chiffchaff, garden warbler, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, reed warbler, sedge warbler and Cetti’s warbler, and heard willow warbler. I shall return a bit later in the hope of hearing, if not seeing, the elusive grasshopper warbler.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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3 Responses to Warblerfest

  1. Hi Kate I just can’t get to grips with the willow warblers’ and the whitethroats and garden warblers’ song and find it really hard to settle my binoculars on them as they are usually hidden in dense vegetation. I think you’re brave to walk alone but I’m sure you see and hear more that way. I enjoy your blogs. Thanks so much.

  2. Hi Norma, I’m so glad you like my blogs. The three you mention are pretty different (worth listening to recordings on RSPB site), willow warbler goes down the scale and drifts off (unlike chaffinch which goes down the scale and ends with a flourish), whitethroats are scratchy, and garden warblers mellifluous. I can easily mix blackcaps (also a little scratchy) with garden warblers. Where do you live? If not too far away I’d be happy to walk with you.

    • Hi Kate I’m in Winchester so a bit far for you but I appreciate your offer. I will have another few goes listening to the recordings you suggest. I could record what I hear when I’m out and then compare.

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