This was my third Barred Warbler and second in England. Pictures on RBA and elsewhere of a bird near Heathrow Airport suggested people were getting quite close to it. I had hoped to be working again this week but things got put off, prompting a mini-motivational crisis with the insect season having all but run its course. So trying to capture better images of one of the more frequent autumn drift migrants than a year ago at Dunstable (not a great ask – see here) would fill a day nicely.
Staines Moor SSSI (TQ035735) is one of England’s largest areas of neutral grassland that has never been agriculturally improved or extracted for gravel. Originally a clearing in the Forest of Windsor, this large alluvial meadow has remained unploughed for over 1000 years. It lies immediately east of the M25 between the Wraysbury and King George V reservoirs, just to the SW of Heathrow Terminal 5. The site that is crossed by the Colne and Wraysbury rivers, also features ponds, ditches, marsh, scrub and woodland, to which the large adjacent reservoirs help to attract bird life.
Having texted Ewan early in the day he replied after I had set off to say he and fellow Oxonbirder Clackers were on their way, so we agreed to meet on site. From half way round loop-shaped Hithermoor Road in the village Stanwick Moor a metalled path leads below the western edge of King George V reservoir. Here I came across four local birders watching two young Little Owls that were dozing on a large dung pile on the far side of a horse paddock. So I went back to the car to retrieve my digiscoping collar but the result (below) was not great.
Those birders told me the Barred Warbler was also showing well, as did others walking back between there and the spot itself. About 100 metres beyond the Owl field a track led off to the SW through a board-walked marshy area. Upon emerging from Willow scrub it was at once apparent what a magnet for over-flying passerines this open space must be, surrounded as it is by large water bodies, industry, housing and Heathrow Airport. But when I reached the BW’s favoured haunt the only remaining birder said the visitor had just flown from the large bush where it had been gorging on blackberries for more than a hour.
So if I hadn’t been distracted by the Owls I too would have seen the BW but not for very long. I waited for Ewan and Clackers to arrive then we began to search the area. A patch watcher pointed out the BW’s “favourite bush” so we hung around there while each wandering off in turn. Eventually I heard Ewan talking on his phone. The Clackmeister had relocated the bird, or perhaps it had found him, dropping suddenly into the next bush to where he was standing. We hurried over but the BW was out of view again. More birders arrived at this point then an anxious wait ensued.
After almost three hours on site myself, the young Barred Warbler re-appeared in the top of the bush where Clackers had first seen it. Lots of Whitethroat, Blackcap and other common species had been active in the interim but this large Sylvia warbler is unmistakeable. As before my own arrival, the BW fed intently on blackberries changing location little, and the assembled group of birders watched and photographed the bird for around 30 minutes. My companions, both of whom are much more experienced birders than myself, said they had not previously watched the species at such close quarters.
So today required more than a little working at but had a pleasing outcome as my objective of gaining reasonable images was achieved. On our walk back to the cars the Little Owls were still in the same spot though my efforts at photographing them, given the distance were no better than in the morning.