Photographing Melodious Warblers in Charente-Maritime in France

I photographed my first melodious warblers, Hippolais polyglotta, in Charente-Maritime, France, while I was working on a wildlife photography project about migratory birds in the wetlands. It was pure chance that I took these pictures. At first, I thought that I had photographed common chiffchaffs. However, an amateur ornithologist, Serge Moulis, explained to me that they were melodious warblers. I was lucky, because that species falls within the parameters of my project.

A melodious warbler on a branch in a wetland of Charente-Maritime in France.
A melodious warbler on a branch in a wetland of Charente-Maritime in France.

A Photo Project that Began 3 Years Ago

For three years, I have been working on a wildlife photography project about migratory birds in the wetlands of France. The first species I photographed was the very rare aquatic warbler.

Each year, I choose three species and try to artistically photograph the birds in their natural environments. I only keep pictures that match my photographic vision.

This year, I selected the bluethroat, the streaked fantail warbler and the European goldfinch. Only three species in a year may seem like a very small goal, but wildlife photography takes a lot of time.

I often wait for hours or even days without taking a single photo. For example, when I was looking for aquatic warblers, I spent four hours a day for a week sitting in the mud in a reed bed before I took the beautiful photographs I wanted.

A Lucky Sighting

The previous year, I had explored the wetlands and found the areas where bluethroats nested. I knew that they would be back. While I was waiting in a blind near one of those areas, I was surprised to see two small yellow sparrows fly past. I did not photograph them immediately. Instead, I observed them for two days and tried to identify them and find out what they were doing.

I decided that I had seen a couple of common chiffchaffs. Their songs, their way of flying, and their habitat in the wetland all seemed to point to this species. I even consulted my ornithology books, which seemed to confirm my thoughts.

I was very pleased, even though I had not originally planned to photograph this species. Once I found the nest and observed the birds’ flight paths, I spent two days photographing them.

I thought that I was very lucky, and I was, but there was still had a surprise in store for me. What I had photographed was in fact a pair of melodious warblers.

Difficulty Identifying the Species

After I posted an article on my website where I told the story behind my photos, I received a message from an amateur ornithologist, Serge Moulis, who thought that the birds I had seen were melodious warblers.

Melodious warblers and common chiffchaffs look very similar. There are differences between the two species, but they are very subtle. Their bills are different lengths, and their legs are different colors. However, common chiffchaffs live in wetlands and melodious warblers live in dry areas. I consulted various ornithology books, but were unable to ascertain which species I had photographed. In the end, I brought the question up on an online ornithology forum, and got confirmation that I had, in fact, seen melodious warblers.

These birds got their name because they can imitate the songs of many other birds. The ones I had seen were imitating the chiffchaff’s call, which is why I misidentified them.

A melodious warbler on a branch in a wetland of Charente-Maritime in France.
A melodious warbler on a branch in a wetland of Charente-Maritime in France.

A Migratory Bird

The melodious warbler is a trans-Saharan migratory sparrow that comes to France in the spring to mate. It weighs from 0.35 to 0.5 ounces. As I found out, it can mimic the songs of many other birds, including the song thrush, the blackbird, and the sparrow. I can now add the common chiffchaff to this list.

I was very lucky to photograph melodious warblers in a wetland, because they typically live in dry areas.

A melodious warbler on a branch in a wetland of Charente-Maritime in France.
A melodious warbler on a branch in a wetland of Charente-Maritime in France.

I Learned a Lot From My Error

I have learned a lot from this error. Books are a great source of information, but they are not infallible. It is always best to ask an ornithologist about a doubtful case. I was also reminded that animals and birds do not always behave as I expect them to.

From now on, I will be more careful when I identify birds. However, the important thing is that I photographed a species which I did not expect to see. I hope that all my future mistakes will end this well.

 

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