Aquatic Warblers in the swamps of Charente-Maritime, France

A quick stop before migrating to Africa

Each year, an extraordinary phenomenon occurs in some swamps in the south of Charente-Maritime, France. Flocks of aquatic warblers, Acrocephalus paludicola, stop for a few days to get a snack before continuing their migration to Africa.

Aquatic warbler in a swamp of Charente-Maritime, France.
Aquatic warbler in a swamp of Charente-Maritime, France

A very brave migratory bird

Every year in August, aquatic warblers come to France from Western Europe, including Poland, Belarus, Hungary, Russia, and Germany. They go there to breed during May, June and July. In August, they migrate to the Sahel, where they spend the winter. They weigh from 0.3 to 0.5 ounces, but they are able to cover thousands of miles in just a few days. These birds live on the edges of ponds and marshes. When they stop in Charente-Maritime, they eat enough food to carry them through the rest of their journey. Aquatic warblers feed on insects, spiders and small invertebrates. They stay in marshes with large open areas.

An endangered species

This passerine species is in great danger. The number of breeding pairs is estimated at about 10,000. Its decline is due to the increasing development of the wetlands where it breeds.

A difficult bird to photograph

For two years, we have spent several days each August photographing aquatic warblers in Charente-Maritime. It is difficult to get good pictures of them for a number of reasons. First, there are not very many birds to begin with. The probability of even seeing one is quite low. Second, there is no way to be sure exactly when the birds will arrive. We know that migration starts in August, but it is impossible to determine the exact date. Third, the marshes where they stay are very large, making it easy to miss the birds completely. Last, the weather has to be absolutely perfect. Every day, we consult weather sites to see if we will be able to take photos. For example, it is impossible to take good pictures if the day is too windy.

We use blinds to photograph this species, because they are very shy birds. Photographing them takes time and patience. Sometimes, we do not see any for several days. We have to wait until the migrating birds move into the area of the marshes where we are waiting.

We set up our blind in an open area of the marsh and hide the tripod with a net. Then, we wait. The best time to take pictures is in the morning, provided that the weather cooperates. We often wait for 3 or 4 hours, and nothing happens. Nevertheless, we have to stay focused and keep looking. When a bird lands in front of us, we have to focus our cameras and take our pictures quickly, because it does not stay long. It plunges down into the reeds in search of its prey.

We have to admit that photographing aquatic warblers is a difficult and tiring task, but it is always worth it. Taking a beautiful picture of this migratory bird is a real challenge. If you really want to understand the meaning of "wildlife photography", we encourage you to try and photograph one.

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