Wednesday 17 June 2015

Spring: truly the most wonderful time of the year and not Christmas as previously asserted!

The expectation of returning migrants was something that I missed in Brazil as although there was some seasonal movements, we did not suddenly find the forests to be filled with old friends singing that we had not heard for half a year, added to which we were not hankering after warm, sunny days following a dreary and cold winter, life just pretty much continued without noticeable change.

One Swallow... and all that. A sure sign that spring at least is here.

But here, in the UK, when the sun warms your back for the first time for months, there is surge of joy and optimism which is enhanced when you hear the first warbler song, probably a Common Chiff-Chaff or a Blackcap, both of which are early migrants, some even staying over winter.

Blackcap singing outside our window.

But it is not just the first migrants that lift your spirits, the early morning chortling of a Song Thrush or the mellifluous tunes of the Blackbird interspersed with the chattering Chaffinch song join the tuneful tootling of the omnipresent Robin.

Even the Starlings look extra special at this time of year, just like this handsome male at our feeders, look at the intricacies of the colours in the primaries and tertials; beautiful.

Birds in the garden start to display and mate, the trees and shrubs join the early blooming flowers and burst their buds washing the countryside with a lovely fresh green hue.

First green flush of spring complete with Chiff Chaff

But this has been a strange spring for us, it took us until the other week and a visit to Norfolk to hear and see our first Cuckoo.

Cuckoo at Snettisham in Norfolk.

The variety of warblers we witnessed around the house last year (Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler) did not materialise. That trip to Norfolk added a few more summer birds of course, one of which was Lesser Whitethroat chattering away in a hedge at Titchwell, but a noticeable absence of Turtle Doves is disconcerting to say the very least but we did enjoy the springtime spectacle of breeding plumage Dotterels in a field back from the coast.

Dotterel at some distance on the brow of a hill.

More locally we have had the House Martins return in quite good numbers with some birds nesting in and area that they missed last year. Our fears that they would not return we unfounded thankfully. The funny thing is that the biggest colony is in the housing estate we pass through to get to the cottage which is relatively new whereas some of the more traditional houses have been abandoned.

House Martins building their nests

The quintessential sound of summer is the screaming of Common Swifts, and the day they arrive in town is always a day when we wear smiles on our faces, the sight and sound of them rushing up the high street ignored by all except us, is a real treat.

Swifts bombing through the air. If I were a bird, I think I'd like to be a swift.

Breeding in our garden has met with varied success. The early Robins hatched their eggs in the upturned vase but the young disappeared falling prey to a predator of some kind we supposed.

Our Robin clearly feeding young before the predator raid robbed the nest.

The Blue Tits are nesting again in the tatty old box on the garage wall. They have nested there for many years according to our landlord, but the box is now so badly damaged they don't even bother to use the hole any more, just one of the gaping holes in the roof!

Blue Tit entering the tatty nest box through an unplanned hole.

Another upturned vase brought a surprise for us, it was utilised by a pair of Great Tits. This was not expected, we had hoped a Robin or a Wren might use it as the hole seems way too big for the Great Tits and the young could easily be seen from outside; however they did OK as at least three birds fledged to our relief.

One of our fledgling Great Tits gets a meal.

We have also been visited by the Great Spotted Woodpeckers who have brought their youngster with them. We remember all too well the fate of the young bird last year when it ended up as a meal for the local sparrowhawk. We have seen this youngster a few times, but always with just one parent, sometimes the female and sometimes the male. We are not sure if it is the same bird and the parents take turns to feed it or whether we have two pairs where the male form one and the female from the other have met some sort of mishap, like a sparrowhawk for example. We know we had at least two male Great Spots earlier in the year due to aberrant marking on one of them.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding the young fledgling.

Blackbirds have arrived with four spotty youngsters and a couple of young Robins have appeared despite our nest failing; the Starlings have brought their first brown fledglings with them.

Young Blackbird

Young Robin

Young Starling; look at the size of that cake-hole!

We have seen the returning migrants some of which are passing through such as the Common Ringed Plovers but the Little Ringed Plovers will hopefully breed.

Little Ringed and Common Ringed Plovers at Manor Farm.

Another returning migrant was the Common Sandpiper.

Common Sandpiper

Both Lapwings and Oystercatchers are again breeding locally which is good, but there are so few of them...

A Lapwing and an Oystercatcher dispute breeding rights on a small island at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve.

...and so many dangers it will be a lucky pair that fledge their young.

One of the dangers that ground nesting birds face.

We also managed time for a twitch or two and caught up with the long staying Hudsonian Godwit not a bird we have seen many of anywhere in the world and more recently another couple more "Yank" waders; Hudsonian Whimbrel and Greater Yellowlegs.

Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset (darker bird in the middle of the Black-tailed Godwits).

Greater Yellowlegs (the one with yellow legs among yet more Black-tailed Godwits) in Hampshire.
We also bumped into a trio of captive bred Cranes that had been roving the countryside earlier in the year.

Skye, Oakie and Cotton (not necessarily in that order) the three roving cranes at Gallows Bridge Farm.

Other garden highlights included the occasional visit from the local Jay.

Jay on the bird table

To finish this blog the Woodpigeons and Collared Doves have been making a racket with all their billing and cooing.

Collared love.