22 Apr 2011

An 80th Birthday and My First Sighting of a Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia
I have been up in Co.Donegal for the last few days. On Wednesday it was going to be my Fathers 80th Birthday. My sister and I went up on Monday to prepare for the day. It was fab weather and all around us we could hear the sounds of Spring, Willow warblers and Blackcaps singing all over the place. The recently returned Swallows preparing their nests. In the garden we had a pair of Treecreepers heading to their nest along with a pair of Mistle Thrushes who also breed in the garden every year. There were Chaffinches everywhere along with Coal, Blue and Great tits. There was as yet no sign of the Spotted Flycatcher that breed in the garden I suppose a wee bit early.

On Tuesday after my stint preparing food for the following day I walked to the edge of Lough Fern hoping to find Sedge and Reed warbler but was surprised to find no sign. I did see at least one pair of Lapwing protecting a nest against a passing Hooded Crow. There was also a Mute Swans nest on the edge of the Lough. On the water there were Mallard, Teal and a pair of Wigeon. There was also no sign or sound of Grasshopper warbler that breeds here every year.

On Wednesday my sister and I spent the day preparing my fathers 80th Birthday lunch for just over thirty friends which went really well. The weather smiled on us as we were eating outside in a marquee. A starter of Potted Shrimp with my mothers wheaten bread. A main of cold fillet of beef with  three salads, a tomato cumin coriander and red onion salad, New potato and peas with pesto dressing and a baby spinach, feta and asparagus salad. For pudding a chocolate cake made by my sister with a raspberry coulis. Here's the birthday boy :-)
My Father on his 80th Birthday

After the party I was heading to bed about 10.30 and my mother had just come down from the farm from feeding the dogs and said she could hear some Grasshopper Warblers reeling away. We went out and couldn't hear anything and then suddenly the unmistakeable sound was coming from the bottom of the garden. Happy days!! I went back into the house and fluttering against the window was an enormous moth which I let into the house and caught. It was a female Emperor Moth.

In the morning after a bit of post party tidying up I could hear the Grasshopper Warblers again and I decided to go and look for them. This up to now is a bird that I have only heard and never seen. I have heard them in Co.Down and many times in Donegal and on each occasion I have searched for them but have never seen them. They are very difficult to see due to their skulking behaviour and their love of low tangled ground cover particularly bramble patches. I have quite often seen photographs of them on Birdguides perched up on brambles,and been extremely envious, but until today this had never happened to me.

I crossed the road in front of the house to a boggy field and at first could not really determine where the sound was coming from. It seemed to be all around me. Then I thought it was behind me and then bingo there was this bird on a bramble branch. I looked through the binoculars and yes it was a Grasshopper Warbler. I reckoned there were at least three different birds singing in the area.
Grasshopper Warbler
I approached it slowly and it remained for a while before flying to the next patch of brambles where upon it started to sing. For those of you that have never heard it, it is quite unlike any other birdsong in that it sounds very similar to a fly reel being wound in. You can listen to it HERE
Grasshopper Warbler Singing
I watched the bird for about twenty minutes and it would disappear deep into cover and the only sign that it was there would be the odd twitch of a blade of grass before re-appearing.
Grasshopper Warbler Amongst The Brambles
 Sometimes it would sing low down in the bushes and at other times right out in the open. It would also fly low into the rushes and dive at the last minute into the base and again the only way to keep track was to watch the vegetation move. It appeared at times almost to jump between the clumps of rushes.
Male Grasshopper Warbler Singing From Gorse

Male Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia
I felt really lucky to witness this bird and hope that I will still be finding them when I am 80 and Father Many Happy Returns


Timothy Belmont said...

The birthday menu sounded wonderful - I'm sure your father and everyone else truly enjoyed it!

Is the potted shrimp recipe easy to do?


Száz Völgy Természetvédelmi Egyesület said...

Congratulations to your Dad's birthday. Nice to see you are all together. :)

Best, Szimi

Alan Dalton said...

Great Photos Craig, locustella'a are just brilliant, not easy to get shots like thses, well done...