Country Diary: Suddenly I Want to Hear a Willow Warbler | Birds
OOvernight showers call for an early morning rescue mission along the riverside path, before the rush of people trampling begins. Forefingers and thumbs squeeze the snails which slide to the right and launch them into a meadow where the reed and rush warblers sing. Snails tilting their eye stalks to the left are picked up and dropped on grass beds under the willows. Please don’t break. From the canopy above my hunched shoulders flows the song of blackcaps, garden warblers and warblers.
Something is missing from this chorus of warblers, if the names are to be believed. I don’t recall hearing a willow warbler among these thorny groves this year or another, although it is probably the most common warbler in Britain, and there are hundreds of willows here with welcoming branches . To the south, the sandy land on which the heathland lies seems to be the preferred nesting area for the Willow Warbler. The birch warbler might be a better name for this bird, as it thrives in the pioneer forests that arise once the conifer plantations are cleared.
I remember the first of the year at the RSPB reserve one morning in mid-April, I tuned in just when I encountered a couple walking the other way. “Can you hear that song falling?” I blurted out. “It’s a willow warbler and it just arrived from Africa.”
Today I find myself half-running towards the moor, eager to hear the warbler’s dying cadence again, perhaps to taste its melody one last time before the songbird’s spring comes. turn off. A French birding site calls the song of the willow warbler unmistakable (undoubted).
There, from a solitary birch tree overlooking the open moor, come those hesitant and stuttering first notes, similar to those of a chaffinch. And then the willow warbler’s USP: a keyboard stroke descending so rapidly in a liquid cascade that the repeated – or nearly repeated – notes are lost in what appears to be a musical free fall. He chants the phrase over and over again, with pauses of a few seconds in between. Repetition does not dull the appetite; every bit of somersault fades and I want more.
On the new moor, a denser stand of trees, the height of a giraffe’s ear, and one, two, four birds within earshot. Birch Warblers.