Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 18 April 2015

'Nettlecreeper' back on patch.

The first summer migrants are always eagerly listened and looked for in April and one particular species I always go goose-pimply for is the Whitethroat, or 'Nettlecreeper' as it is known colloquially.
This morning I walked along Great Cressingham road at Little Cressingham with Whitethroat as my target species for the day.  At the Watton Brook bridge I was checking the large paddocks for migrants when I heard a short burst of a very familiar song.  Walking a little further north along the road I sat and waited and at about 0820 I heard "ved ved ved" the agitated call of my first Whitethroat of this year.  I didn't have to wait long before the bird entered into sub-song within cover, this suggesting this Whitethroat was newly arrived.  As the month draws on and birds settle down, they will enter into full song, with the Whitethroat this is a conspicuous affair as he will sit on a high perch in a hedge, or patch of scrub, delivering his loud scrathy song.  The song of the Whitethroat is often accompanied by a song-flight above its territory, I refer to this as a dance as it bounces along as if on a puppet string.
My Whitethroat today generally remained in cover, however, I did see it pass occasionally between hedges on either side of the road.
Whitethroat at Great Cressingham, Norfolk April 2014
Whitethroats arrive back in Britain from their African wintering grounds usually during the second or third week of April.  My personal earliest was seen on 12th April.  Untidy hedgerows and scrubby habitats such as Bramble scrub are favoured breeding sites of Whitethroats.

The Sahel in Africa.
The Sahel is a belt of land lying along the southern boundary of the Sahara Desert.  This region is some 620 miles wide and spans the continent east to west for some 3,360 miles.  The climate of the Sahel is semi-arid.
The Whitethroat I found this morning, as indeed with all Whitethroats and some other migratory species, winter in the Sahel before making their way north to spend the summer months with us.  In 1969 the Sahel suffered a significant drought problem, this severely impacted upon the numbers of Whitethroats returning to Britain the following spring.  It has taken until now for Whitethroats to recover in numbers, however, I do not think they are at the numbers of the pre-1969 Sahel drought.
I noticed this morning Shepherds checking their flock in nearby paddocks while I was watching the Whitethroat, it came upon me that this bird would have been close to and possibly seen by the nomadic farmers who live in the Sahel.  Not only does this little Warbler cross continents and experience various man-made and natural hazzards whilst undertaking the journey, it also passes through various cultures and climates......the miracle that is migration. 

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