Wednesday, 20 March 2013


 Greetings from West Farleigh!
Yes, we finally moved to our new house on thursday 7th March. I've been a bit busy since then and the weather, as i'm sure you've noticed has been appallingly wet, dismal and depressing. But on tuesday, the twin curses of cabin fever and DIY drove me  back to New Hythe lakes, my old stomping ground, still only twenty minutes away. As it turned out, the weather wasn't too bad, and neither was the bird watching.

 I was pleased to see Terry's car in the car park and after a quick phone call we met up alongside Bucket Wood Creek, where once again I failed to find those elusive Grey Wagtails. Terry had already checked out the river from the woods and with nothing much to report we headed straight off around the sunken marsh.
 We noticed straight away that the Cetti's Warblers were very vocal and we even managed to catch a glimpse of one as we picked our way carefully through the ankle deep mud.

 We stopped for a few moments to watch the skies over the marsh in the hope of an early Sand Martin but I think they have seen sense and stayed a bit further south for the time being.

 A bit further up the path we could hear what sounded like two Cetti's shouting at each other and as we rounded the corner there they were. In the open, on the outer edge of a bush, the two of them were seemingly having a right old slanging match. 

 We watched amazed for a couple of minutes while they sat, never more than about a foot apart, calling constantly to each other. 

Always staying close, each bird lifted a single flickering wing to the other, before folding it back and then raising the other one with great excitement, almost seeming to mimic each others movements.
Still these notoriously shy, skulking birds took absolutely no notice of us and we eventually moved to within about four to five metres of them, still seemingly invisible.

We were both astonished at the intensity of their behaviour and speculated as to what it was all about. Given that it was mid March it had to be male territorial aggression or some kind of courtship ritual.

It doesn't help that males and females of this species are difficult to distinguish but my feeling at the time was that this was courtship behaviour as there didn't seem to be any aggression in their actions.

But I was wrong. After watching them for a good few minutes, maybe as much as seven or eight, both birds suddenly and violently locked claws and spiralled downwards, tumbling and calling loudly until we could no longer see them. 

Then there was absolute silence and we stood there amazed, wondering what was going on out of sight in the bottom of the bush.

After a couple of minutes a single bird flew out and away into the marsh, then the second bird followed in the same direction and that was the last we saw of them.

Yesterday, Terry called me to say that he had looked up this species in his copy of the Birds of the Western Palearctic and found an account of this behaviour in Cetti's Warblers.It matched to the letter exactly what we had seen and attributed it to male territorial aggression and suggested that the final two minute silent struggle can be quite violent. So the first bird out of the bush was the vanquished and the second the victor, who no doubt returned to the spot to claim the spoils. 

Maybe this is quite commonly seen by other bird watchers but neither Terry or myself have witnessed it before and I for one wouldn't be surprised if I don't see it again.


Warren Baker said...

Hi Phil,
I watched two Long Tailed Tits fight like that, they locked claws and fell to the ground with a thud ( as much as a 6 gram LTT can thud!)

Marianne said...

Yay, so pleased you've moved into the new place! Must be a big relief. And what amazing photos of the Cetti's. I'd have thought that very few people have witnessed something like that - it's rare enough to get a clear view of just one on its own!

ShySongbird said...

Congrats on finally moving in Phil, I hope you and Carol will both be very happy there.

Well, what an encounter that was!! I'm ashamed to say I've never seen a Cetti's Warbler :-( My first thought was courting behaviour but I was clearly wrong. It must have been quite something to witness especially with them being so secretive. You captured a great sequence!

Greenie said...

Phil ,
Summed up , you and Terry , standing , watching two birds having a dog fight . I'm sure the pair of you could be arrested for that !
What an incredible , once in a lifetime encounter , and to get some great shots too .
Didn't take you long to start trespassing !

Jason K said...

A great bit of Cetti's argy bargy there Phil!

Good to see you back posting mate

Lou Mary said...

Wow what a great encounter! I doubt many people have seen that! Very envious! If anyone ever says to me that little brown birds are boring, I shall direct them to this post and then see what they think!!


Mike Attwood said...

What a show Phil. Its five years since I have seen one let alone two.

Ken. said...

Seems like you just keep away from New Hythe, not that I blame you, it has a lot to offer.
If you are going to regularly return why not treat yourself to a new bucket?
Great account of the Cettis behavour.
Looking forward to reading blog reports from your new patch.Nice photo's by the waqy.

Chris said...

Excellent obs Phil, i'seen that this week end but with two young white tailed eagle, yet they were too far away for good pictures. Nice shots mate.