Menu Close

Beard of moustache?

For the last two months, most of my birding trips were a part of my local species project. There was plenty of stuff to see, and there will undoubtedly be even more to see in the next couple of months. But this week, I treated myself to a nice walk around my local birding reservoir. With the warm, soft weather, I hoped to spot some reed dwellers, high up in the reeds…

My hope was to find a Cetti’s warbler; a rare, secretive brown bird, that lives deep in the reed beds. I’ve heard them a couple of times before, but seeing one is a notoriously difficult task. Luckily, this bird has a simple, distinctive song, that can be heard from quite a distance. Because, this bird is loud. Like, really loud. I remember my first encounter with one, while I was searching for a great bittern from a hide. Out of nowhere, it started shouting out its song a few meters away from me, and I jumped up half a meter, because it scared the bejesus out of me. So much for a calm afternoon of bird watching.

This day I hoped I would be able to locate a Cetti’s warbler by sound, so I planned a route along a set of reed beds. The first couple of kilometers, however, passed pretty uneventful. Some reed buntings sang their song at a distance, and a water rail made a quick appearance, but no loud warbler song. On the nearby pond, two smews were enjoying the morning sun. These majestic wintering ducks are always a pleasure to see, even though they stayed at a considerable distance.

Further ahead, a group of reed buntings were closer to the path. Their simple songs gave away their location in the reed. Some of the male birds were already transitioning to their breeding plumage, with their heads slowly turning black again.

The walk was coming to a close, and I still had not seen or heard a Cetti’s warbler. I strolled along the last stretch of reeds, until I heard a bunch of different squeaks and noises coming from the reed bed. Clearly not the clear song of a Cetti’s warbler, but all the more interesting. Slowly I approached the edge of the reeds, in order to get a better view. Once I got the first good glimpse of them, I got very excited: bearded reedlings!

A group of at least twelve birds were busy foraging. Loudly calling, they jumped and climbed through the reeds, in order to gorge on the seeds. I hid myself in the edge of the reed bed, and enjoyed the show. The group continued to search for food, with some birds foraging just a couple of meters from me. Every now and then, one of the reedlings looked up at me for a moment, and then returned to feeding, clearly not bothered with my presence. When looking in my direction, it became obvious where these birds got their name from; their big black moustache

Remarkably, the female reedlings stayed further back in the reeds, but the male birds were closer and higher up. It was amazing to see them climb through the reeds so skillfully, using their long tails as counterweight.

Most of my previous encounters with bearded reedlings had been brief, or at a considerable distance. Luckily, this group changed that; for the first time I was able to spend about half an hour up close with these amazing creatures. In the end, they slowly moved further into the reeds, until I lost sight of them altogether. I finished my walk with a big smile on my face. What was I looking for again today? Some sort of loud warbler? Oh well, another time perhaps.