Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
At first glance, the presence on the Weald Moors of a small, pale brown bird with few distinguishing features mightn’t seem especially noteworthy. Yet, the fact Reed Warbler, a species synonymous with wetland habitat, can still be found here at all says much for the area’s enduring, against-the-odds appeal to a range of specialist wildlife. Besides, a brush with these charismatic summer visitors may do much to persuade you of the maxim that looks can indeed be deceiving…
ID: with uniformly brown plumage and pale underparts, the Reed Warbler has few features to hang your hat on, so far as establishing its identity is concerned. However, its predilection for reedy, wet places is something it shares in common with its cousin the Sedge Warbler (A. schoenobaenus) and telling the two apart can often be the most profitable way of establishing their presence alongside a well-vegetated watercourse or pond. To be truly sure, though, you’ll need to use your ears as well as your eyes.
In the Field: physically, Reed Warblers are slimmer in appearance than Sedge Warblers, which have streakier plumage, a dark line through the eye and a distinctive creamy stripe above it (known as the supercilium). Both birds are well adapted to clambering around in the stems and blades of reeds and tall grasses, from which they glean insect food, but the prime role of foliage in the delivery of their songs is another useful way to tell them apart. Whereas Sedge Warblers often sing from the outside of a bush near to dense vegetation, Reed Warblers tend to issue theirs from above it — in a short songflight that typically concludes in a mad dash for cover.
Another equally telling contrast is the respective quality of their songs. While the Reed Warbler delivers a rhythmic series of repeated phrases at a constant tempo and tone, the Sedge Warbler’s is jerkier, rising and falling in an almost irritable fashion. In this respect, it is more akin in style to a Free Jazz saxophonist, with phrases introduced at random and never sung the same way twice! Finally, and if you should happen to catch a glimpse of either of these very active birds, don’t be surprised if they’re equally interested to see you because both species are naturally inquisitive.
On the Weald Moors: Reed and Sedge warblers are annual visitors to the Weald Moors: the restored wetlands at Wall Farm and former reservoirs near the Buttery are just two locations where they are regularly recorded. Reed Warbler nests are common targets for Cuckoos, which can sometimes be heard calling from the surrounding trees and bushes in the latter location as they plot their nefarious springtime egg-laying shenanigans! Reed warblers will sometimes utilise these drier areas of scrubland, too, and dusk and dawn are often the best times to see them hunting for food, when they take advantage of the slovenly antics of their late-rising and early-retiring insect prey.