On the phone to Terry about a birding photographic trip to Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire we casually discussed the appearance of a Great Reed Warbler at a place called Green Park in nearby Reading. I suggested we go and have a look for it that afternoon but Terry deferred so I was on my own.
We had also discussed going to see a Baillon's Crake, a true mega, that was singing and showing itself every so often at Oare Marshes in Faversham Kent and decided we would go for it on Friday, weather permitting. Later the pager said the crake was no longer in evidence so another conversation with Terry ensued and we decided instead to go to Bempton on Friday. Later Terry rang to say the forecast for Friday was not good and we put the trip off until Monday and Terry made the decision he would after all come and see the Great Reed Warbler this very afternoon.
Shortly after a text came through from Andy. A Calandra Lark, a mega of megas had been found on Fair Isle. An OMG moment. The long staying male Caspian Stonechat, yet another mega was still on Fair Isle and to combine a tilt at these two in a day trip would be sensational. I rang Colin who organises twitcher's charter flights on light aircraft but there were no planes available due to the coming weekend being Goodwood Race Festival and all his friends planes were committed to that event. He said he would do what he could and I am currently on standby should a twitchers charter plane become available and more importantly the Calandra Lark stays put.
Praying the pager would now remain silent and no more emotional dilemnas would be presented to me I headed for Terry in Oxford. The weather turned decidedly nasty and torrential rain was soon the order of the day. The forecast however advised it would clear northwards and indeed it did, raining all the way to Reading and then clearing to sunshine as we arrived.
Green Park was not the municipal park I expected but a huge landscaped and very expensive looking business park with many household names in the high tech sector occupying the vast modern buildings. Around these buildings were manicured stretches of land bisected by water and grassy walkways no doubt to soothe the fevered brows of the hard working and stressed inhabitants of the buildings. There were many narrow reed beds fringing the stretches of water and in one of these was the Great Reed Warbler.
After some confusion about where to park- we 'borrowed' a space in one of the companies car parks - we could see half a dozen birders ranged along a grassy bank under some willows looking at a reed bed a little way in the distance. Tripping lightly down the tastefully landscaped walkway we soon joined them. The Great Reed Warbler was singing loudly, there was no mistaking it, the volume was mightily impressive, great guttural bursts of notes and grating calls drowning out the more demure scratchy notes of normal Reed Warblers which also inhabited the reeds.
We could certainly hear the Great Reed Warbler but seeing it took us to another level. It was deep in the reeds but every so often a fleeting movement of a brown warbler would alert us and we would do our best to discern if it was a Reed Warbler or the Great Reed. We were reasonably certain we saw it on one occasion but the view was so brief that we were still in that zone of uncertainty and it definitely required a more extensive and definitive view before we could be satisfied we had truly seen it.
It moved through the reeds betraying its presence by its song and we followed but it was never visible. Then it all went quiet. We waited and we waited and yes - we waited. We moved our position to view that part of the reed bed where it was last heard. Nothing. Great Tits and Blue Tits flying to and from the reeds collecting food for their young regularly set our pulses racing. Even Reed Warblers flitting between the reeds finally showed themselves but of the Great Reed Warbler there was no sight or sound. Others went to check nearby stretches of reeds. We stayed put.
Then a staccato burst of unmistakeable notes betrayed its presence back where we originally had been standing so we retraced our steps and looked at the favoured stand of reeds directly opposite us. An occasional loud burst of notes came from the reeds and then suddenly it appeared at the edge of the reeds in the open. Terry fired off a volley of camera shots.
The bird itself was unmistakeable now. Bulky with a heavy bill and striking white supercilium and dark eye stripe. The upperparts rich brown and the underparts dull white with a noticeably white throat. It clung to the reeds picking off insects and then after a minute was gone back into cover. We waited a bit longer and I got the occasional scope view of it sitting in the top of the reeds before it disappeared down into the depths of the reeds to recommence singing.
Not wanting to wait any longer we called it a day. A very pleasant interlude in somewhat incongruous surroundings
Many thanks to Terry for the pictures