Sunday, January 16, 2011

WARBLERS at Moore NR: what, when and where...

During the spring at Moore NR it’s quite possible to get NINE species of warblers in a day and you’d be unlucky NOT to get SEVEN! Of these species, SIX appear annually in double figures (20-30+ pairs) and are spread across the reserve (Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler); ONE occurs annually in low numbers along the northern edge of the reserve (Grasshopper Warbler); TWO occur almost annually as single birds/pairs but tend to be very localised, most often west of Lapwing Lane (Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat) and the one to watch out for of late is Cetti’s Warber as it seems to be turning up somewhere on or near the patch at some point during the past 3 years and has bred recently at the nearby Oxmoor LNR.

SO, here we go... dates above photos are the Cheshire 10 year averages for first arrival and last departure dates for our summer visitors from the 2009 Cheshire Bird Report (link HERE). So keep your eyes and ears peeled and let me know when things arrive!!!

Chiffchaff Phylloscpus collybita

County Status: Common summer visitor, widely distributed. Very scarce winter visitor. All non-collybita races (e.g. ‘Scandinavian’ abietinus, ‘ Siberian’ trisitis) are County Rarities.

Overwintering Chiffchaffs are occasionally seen in Jan and Feb on the reserve but the most I’ve had in a single year has been two and I’m not convinced they’re annual. Of course, they can be a bit on the quiet side outside of the breeding season, so you never know and it’s always worth checking everything flitting about during the winter months. Migrants arrive mid-March and start setting up territories across the reserve. These are the first warblers to arrive and once they’re here, you can hear them singing pretty much anywhere, but they’re especially easy to get along the paths that run along the south bit of Lapwing Lake towards Hillcrest Quarry and Bob’s Bridge. They like the tall trees along the paths for singing and areas of rank vegetation (grasses and bramble bushes) for nesting.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

County Status: Common summer visitor, widely distributed. Scarce winter visitor.

Funny that, from a patch perspective they’re much scarcer than Chiffchaff during the winter and are certainly not annual. I guess their somewhat better county status at this time of year is the result of their penchant for gardens... don’t get many Chiffchaff on the old nut bags! My hunch would be that if they’re about, they’ll be hanging around near the Feeding Station. Migrants start to arrive about the end of March but aren’t really in full numbers until April. Sit in any hide or walk any path at this time of year where there’s a well developed understorey (they like thick bushes and brambles for nesting) and you’ll get Blackcap singing from the treetops.

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Mar 25th - October 5th

County Status: Very common summer visitor, widely distributed. BoCC Amber-listed species.

These certainly don’t overwinter and are the first of our proper Trans-Saharan migrants to arrive as far as warblers are concerned (Blackcaps and Chiffchaff tend to winter in Europe). They hit Cheshire usually in the last week of March but seem to me to generally take longer to get to Moore. I’ve not really tested the idea rigorously, but my gut feeling is that this holds true for most of our summer migrants – first dates are 1-2 weeks later than say, on the Wirral. I usually pick up my first birds in the first week of April at Moore NR and they quickly spread out and can be heard everywhere, particularly along paths that coincide with woodland edge. They tend to go quiet in June and have started on their return trip to Africa by the end of September.

Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia
April 9th - September 3rd

County Status: Scarce summer visitor, thinly distributed. BoCC Red-listed species.

These arrive about the 2nd week of April and are instantly recognisable from their reeling song. Scarce, from a county perspective, means between 11-100 pairs annually, so we’re quite lucky because we typically have between 7-11 reeling males on site during their peak. Their distribution though is rather skewed towards the scrubby areas of Upper Moss Side and the Capped Tip (see also Whitethroat) and so it is along the tracks that run close to these areas that you stand the best chance to hear one or two reeling. The best spot on the Moore NR reserve itself is probably along the short grassy path behind the Feeding Station that runs from Tinker’s Bridge (by the two metal gates along the south edge of the Capped Tip to the little wooden bridge that joins Lapwing Lane again near where the road heads out on to Upper Moss Side. Up to 5 males have been reeling from the Capped Tip in past years, so there’s a pretty good chance of hearing one on warm still days from tis path, especially the west end. If you have no luck there, walk along the track onto Upper Moss Side (click HERE for photo guide). Stop at the picnic tables, face the Snipe Fields and listen. If you’ve still not had any luck, keep walking past the White House and stop opposite the little wooden bridge that takes you to Norton Marsh and look out over the Phrag Field. They like that area too and it’s often the first place they turn up. Failing that, you need to follow the paths out towards the Tree Sparrow Field, enter the Balloon Hut Field (there’s often one reeling from the back of the field in there) or Daisy Field (there’s usually one in there too). I’d be amazed if you don’t get Gropper on the patch in April! Tip: go early in the season if possible as they don’t seem to sing for that long and avoid windy days – they don’t seem to like them one bit!

Whitethroat Sylvia communis
April 10th - September 30th

 County Status: Common summer visitor, widely distributed. BoCC Amber-listed species.

Whitethroat (along with the other species listed below) start to arrive in mid-April and sing into July. They prefer the scrubbier parts of the reserve and although they’re very widespread are most easily heard along the northern paths bordering the Capped Tip and Upper Moss Side (where numbers are particularly high) as well as the areas around Hillcrest Quarry and between there and the Manchester Ship Canal. They too leave by the end of September and you can often track them heading west (presumably to then follow the coast south) along the scrubby tracks to Halfway House from their churring alarm calls.

Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
April 13th - October 11th

County Status: Uncommon summer visitor, thinly distributed.

Always feels to me like spring has really sprung once the Reed Warblers start up. They arrive from mid-April and tend to be centred on the reedy margins of Lapwing Lake and at the Eastern Reedbed where I’ve had up to 7 chunnering away deep within the reeds. They also seem quite happy though with any smallish stands of reeds along drainage ditches or fringing some of the smaller ponds, so keep your ears peeled for their slow, rhythmic, crunching song. They are a guaranteed bird at Moore during the spring.

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
April 10th - September 30th

County Status: Fairly common summer visitor, thinly distributed.

As a rule we get more Reed Warblers at Moore than Sedge Warblers. That’s not to say that Sedgies are uncommon, but I always find them marginally ‘harder’ work than Reed. They arrive about the same time as the Reedies, but favour the scrubby areas away from the reed beds and tend to be commonest in the damper areas of the habitat used by Whitethroat (see that species) i.e. paths that traverse the, northern and southern rims, of the reserve. If you walk the entire loop of Lapwing Lane from the Car Park, north, then out onto Upper Moss Side to Bob’s Bridge and back down to the Car Park past Hillcrest Quarry , you should get Sedge Warbler. If that fails, there’s always the ship canal path to Halfway House from the black and yellow metal gate at the west end of the reserve, or the path along the south side of Shipton’s Meadow. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
April 15th - September 30th

County Status: Uncommon summer visitor, thinly distributed

One of two species at Moore (the other being Garden Warbler – see below) that require luck and/or effort and/or striking whilst the iron is hot if one is posted on the Moore sightings page, their Facebook page or this blog. Just 1-2 records annually is typical and it’s quite common for birds not to settle. Last year we were treated to a ‘stayer’. One set up shop in the gorse near the Raptor Viewpoint and could be heard singing into June from the bench overlooking the west end of Lapwing Lake. Usually though they seem to pass through mid-April (often appearing first on Upper Moss Side) and are ‘around’ for 2-3 days before moving on. Either way, you have to know the song as you always hear them long before you can track them down as they flit along the hedgerows.

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
April 17th - September 24th

 County Status: Fairly common summer visitor, thinly distributed.

This is typically the last of our warblers to arrive (late Apri) and is another that needs to be nabbed as quicky as possible as it is certainly not a common summer visitor on the patch. We get 1 or 2 records a year at Moore, but at least these seem to stay more often than the previous species. Of late, they’ve been annual west of Lapwing Lake and a good starting point to have a listen is probably by the south hide there and then walk the high path along the northern edge of Hillcrest Quarry to Bob’s Bridge and then back along the track to the Car Park. If you have no luck, then you’re on your own... but beware Blackcap!

Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti

County Status. Vagrant. County Rarity.

Now this could change. Looks like these little beauties are gaining a toe-hold in the north-west. This year one was singing near Halfway House in October. Last year one was heard from the same spot singing on the other side of the Manchester Ship Canal in mid-March and later that year they bred at Oxmoor LNR and raised three young. This was the first record of breeding for Cheshire & Wirral. The year before that (2008) we had a male singing at the Eastern Reedbed from 21st April – 12th May, so they’re definitely spreading out. Only a question of time I think before we can add them to our own breeding warbler list. Fingers crossed and watch this space!!!

PS I haven't had time to go through old Cheshire Bird Reports for definitive sightngs of rare warblers on the patch so if anybody knows of any off hand, please let me know!

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