Birdwatch: High pitched tinkle in search of a mate audible in the wild

A grasshopper warbler.  Pic: Jeff Cox
A grasshopper warbler. Pic: Jeff Cox
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GRASSHOPPER WARBLERS are back in Yorkshire after spending the winter in West Africa.

They get their name not from leaping about but from their song which sounds rather like the fiddle music of a grasshopper.

The song is also compared to the sustained winding of an angler’s reel or the tinkling of the alarm bell on a rundown clock.

To older people it can be impossible to hear because it is so high pitched. I had an excellent view of one last week, perched at the top of a bush, head thrown back and clearly singing, but failed to hear a single note unlike my two companions.

Even for those who can hear the song it seems to rise and fall in volume or come from one place or another, caused by the bird turning its head from side to side as it sings.

Grasshopper warblers are small olive brown birds, heavily streaked on the back and the next few weeks are the best time to look for them as the males sing from the tops of bushes or posts to attract a female.

Once they have found a mate they are more likely to sing from deep in the undergrowth so are much harder to see.

They were once considered to be birds of the marshland fringes and many are still found in such places with six this week on the Blacktoft Sands reserve. But they are now also found in drier places with plenty of low vegetation in which they can both nest and look for food beneath.

Other sightings over the week have included a drake lesser scaup at Wintersett reservoir near Wakefield. It has a red-orange nasal saddle which carries a code and which was fitted after the duck was caught at the Soa Jacinto Nature Reserve in Portugal in December 2013. It was present at Llangorse Lake in South Wales from October until February this year.

A red-rumped swallow, a spring overshoot from southern Europe, was present for several days this week over the lake at East Park, Hull while an Alpine swift was reported last Friday over Hutton Buscel, North Yorkshire.

The pair of Montagu’s harriers are still showing well at Blacktoft Sands with the male passing food in mid air to the female. There have also been several hobbys on the reserve, an immature spoonbill, and singing Cetti’s warblers.

A summer plumaged red-necked grebe has continued to be seen on Hornsea Mere, firecrests at Kilnsea and one singing in pines near the tea rooms at Ravenscar, a dotterel also at Kilnsea, a female hen harrier at Spurn and Grimston, and black redstart in a garden at Flamborough.

Pairs of garganey ducks were reported from several sites including two pairs at Blacktoft Sands.

Several little gulls and the first black terns of the year were also seen at several sites across the region.

Michael Flowers will be leading a walk looking for turtle doves and cuckoos a few miles east of Hull at 10am tomorrow and Saturday, May 16 for £5. To book a place, call Ian on 07973 909 026.