Any self-respecting wildlife photographer will always rank the welfare of their chosen subject above the importance of getting the best shot they can. In many situations, whether you have caused any disturbance is a matter that remains between you and your morals, but there are several UK species where this becomes a matter of law.
Dartford Warblers are one species offered legal protection. Under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to intentionally or recklessly disturb a bird while it is nest-building, is in, on, at or near the nest or whilst it has dependant young. The list of species covered by Schedule 1 is relatively long and varied, so there is little in the way of concrete guidelines relating to individual species – I feel this article by Birders Against Wildlife Crime gives a nice, clear and concise explanation though.
Given the protected status of this bird, I feel a little wary about sharing the following images. Given the time of year, and their behaviour it is quite likely that the birds have dependant young. However, given the behaviour they were exhibiting, and my actions, I ultimately feel totally confident that absolutely no disturbance was caused to the birds whatsoever.
I came across the birds totally by chance – I’d paused on a track along the edge of an area of well-grazed heath to rest for a while, as lugging a 500mm lens, camera and tripod around on a hot, humid day was taking its toll. While sitting, I noticed a few small birds bobbing between the heather and gorse shrubs collecting food. While small birds are not something I photograph often, I spent quite a lot of time photographing heath-land species last year, working at sites where Dartfords have been seen, and I did hope to get some photos of them, but unfortunately never saw so much as a glimpse of one. I was quite excited, when I focused the camera in on one of the birds, to see it was unmistakably a Dartford Warbler.
Given they seemed to be quite happily going about their duties, I decided to stay put for a while. Clearly totally unperturbed by my presence, the birds spent the entire time I was watching diving into the heather, often emerging with beakfuls of caterpillars and grubs which they would then fly away with.
The following were all taken at 700mm and have been subjected to varying amounts of cropping. All were taken from a clear track – I kept my movements to an absolutely minimum and never attempted to approach the birds. I have never, and will never, use recorded calls in any of my photography.