Saturday 10 April 2021

The light of Spring

     At last, at long last, spring has finally sprung. It felt like we were in for an early spring this year - my first singing Chiffchaff in January, UK Wheatears reported by mid February and the first butterflies (Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshells) of 2021 all seen on a lovely warm weekend in late Feb. It's fair to say that after a horrible winter, one that got to me in a bad way more than I wish it did with an ankle injury and just all round consistent bad luck most of the time, the light of spring was what I was clinging on to. I always hit this same spell every year in February, where the winter takes its toll and I lose interest in just about everything for a short while. And every year I get a weekend which acts like a turning point, where I suddenly feel refreshed, as if a switch inside of me has turned on again. It took longer this year than previous years, but the weekend of the 27th-28th March felt like a switch, which was strengthened by Easter Sunday. Even if another cold spell, following the small one in March, has kept us waiting, woodlands and reedbeds are coming alive again, and slowly, so am I...

Little Egret


    With warmer weather and gentle south-westerly winds, Saturday the 27th March was shaping up to be a promising day for migration. For once, having seen my first Sand Martins of the year on the 25th, easily my earliest ever, I was even optimistic. So after sleeping better than usual for once, a clear initial sign that the darker times were getting closer to being behind me, I felt more positive, and was up and out at 8am, with news from patch being that Wheatears were present, as predicted (I'd promised Zach they'd be there, I'm so glad they were - I'm in sublime predicting form at the moment!) 



1w/2cy Yellow-legged Gull vs corvids

     Walking down was pleasant in itself - I stopped in Beddington Park for a short while to watch one of the tame Little Egrets, which has spent all winter along the Wandle. All the while, Nuthatches were singing and a Treecreeper burst into song briefly, before calling loudly nearby. It was nice to add this to my Beddington year list, as it was audible from the woodland entrance to Beddington Farmlands. Another bird offering quality views was a single Lesser Redpoll near the same entrance. Given how hard they can be to locate on the deck in the local area, I made the most of the photographic opportunities on offer before leaving it to feed away. My best views to date of the species.

Lesser Redpoll

     Continuing on, scans of the mound from some distance produced no Wheatears, even if Water Rail (now all departed,) Cetti's Warblers and Teal were vocal. Alongside a singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap, I was pleased to pick up a bird I'd long wanted to find at Beddington. Confirmation of its ID, after hearing a series of shorter calls, came when this stunning male Firecrest burst into song in a small patch of woodland and shrubbery near the old entrance to the farm. Once again, being comfortable with ID by sound really helped me here, as it meant that I could call the other birders on site before I'd actually got any views. Instead, I spent some time recording it as it sang away whilst feeding, waiting for the others to turn up. Since it's moved on since, it's safe to say it was most likely a passage bird rather than migrant, meaning news of it could be shared. Two record shots and sound recording attached 

m Firecrest recordshots

m Firecrest

    The exciting start to the day was followed by finally seeing my first (lonely) Little Ringed Plover of the year on the wet grassland. One of my personal highlights of the day however came thanks to Nick Gardiner, who within seconds of arriving at the grassland hide, found us 3 Wheatears hopping around the edge of the banks of the grassland, including 2 males. Wheatears are in my top 3 favourite British birds, alongside Stonechats and Swifts. Whilst also being one of the first birding signs of Spring, they're just all round smart, charismatic birds. Seeing so many locally last Spring was awesome (17 seen in 2 weeks at Little Woodcote in April) but I couldn't have asked for much better than those from Beddington on Saturday. The two males (no words to describe them) had my attention for the large part, even if the female on the whole showed even better, often within 10m in front of the hide. Spending time watching and photographing them without a doubt topped off an already excellent morning.

f Wheatear

    Raptors were also on the move throughout, as were hirundines. Local Kestrels and Peregrines were joined by 5 Common Buzzard passing through. To add to the joy of Wheatears and Firecrest, I saw my earliest ever, first March Swallow, with 3 seen across the morning, having seen my earliest ever Sand Martins a few days prior. All in all, I had absolutely no complaints by 1pm when I started to prepare to leave. Just before I did, one of the many overwintering Water Pipits rocked up on the grassland, a pinkish bird (moving into summer plumage) to boot. It showed superbly fairly close in to the hide, pleasing everyone present even more than we already were!

Water Pipit

    The Saturday was one of my favourite ever days spent at Beddington. 68 species, with no Sparrowhawk or Jay, in 5 and a half hours was a decent effort, and one that I thought I could definitely beat in the coming weeks. However, after getting enough work done in the morning, I decided to nip down again in the afternoon of the Sunday again. Though less productive (unsurprisingly,) missing the morning's Black-tailed Godwit, my first Willow Warbler of the year was easily a massive highlight. Willow Warblers may be common but in my opinion are easily one of the best, most cheerful songsters in the UK.

male Wheatear - what a smart bird

Black and White image

       Following a little hirundine burst of 34 Sand Martin and 2 more Swallow, as well as our distinctive 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull which seemed to take out a crow(!) I spent quite some time watching the lonely LRP, which continued to wander around the grassland, affording close views in from the hide. Another species I'd never seen as well as I did then, meaning I ended the weekend on a high


LRP and Pied Wagtail

    April Fools Day - a difficult day for me - was spent in the best possible way, birding outside the local area for the first time in 6 months. With my dad working nearby, I was able to visit the RSPB Otmoor with legends Luke Marriner and Isaac West on April Fools Day, two good mates I've been lucky enough to get to know more due to lockdown. It was a massive relief that they were there, not just because of all the hype I'd heard about the site - Isaac had been in fine form, finding a pair of Garganey. There were many highlights of the 80sp seen by 1230pm, including UK lifer Glossy Ibis, my first ever booming Bittern, as well as 15 other year ticks such as Spotted Redshank (a sleeping bird in winter plumage) and singing Sedge Warblers, Redshank, Curlew etc. The trip to Otmoor for the social side was rewarding as much as the birding, although I look forward to revisiting soon to a site that definitely lived up to expectations...
A Mandarin pair along the Thames towpath at Chertsey, Surrey while on route home from Otmoor. A calling Redshank over towards Queen Mary's Reservoir was also lovely to hear

RSPB Otmoor

pair of Garganey

    After Otmoor, a few days of work was followed in turn by a return to Beddington on Easter Sunday. The initial bitingly cold start, due to the returning northwesterly winds, eventually gave way to bright, clear skies, with the sun warming us all up. However, even if cold, the day started well with 2 Willow Warblers singing in Beddington Park. Having never seen them here before, hearing their upliftingly melodic notes echoing around the pub gardens was a pretty blissful start to the day. Nuthatches were as loud as ever as well. I settled to vismig with 4 of the other local patch birders from 9am to 1215pm, a decision I'm glad I made. Alongside the constant chorus of warblers, with double figures of Chiffchaff and Blackcap, the morning made for a good laugh alongside some quality birds. The 3 year ticks, bringing me to 100 species locally this year, were House Martin (which moved through with several Sand martin and Swallow,) Yellow Wagtail (calling as it moved through north) and a Sedge Warbler, which briefly indulged us with some chatter from the reedbeds before falling silent again. Even with these, 5 species of raptor, 8 Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe, Raven etc. all helped me reach my highest ever day total for the Farm, 72 species by 2pm. With some common birds like Egyptian Goose missed once again, reaching 80 on a good, spring day is a real possibility...
Willow Warbler in Beddington Park - a nice pale bird compared to several others. If not singing, I would've been less sure with the ID, and more carefully considered subspecies acredula


Red Kite (1 of 2,) Peregrine (also 1/2.) Also 12 Buzzard seen

Willow Warbler - recording here

Black and White Chiffchaff


    With lockdown restrictions slowly beginning to cease, I was thrilled to catch up with Sam Levy and Calum Mckellar on the 6th, another two mates I'd not seen in 6 and 9 months respectively. After introducing them to Zach at 930ish, the walk started nicely with a few Yellow Wagtail flying through. Despite the freezing cold, warblers continued to be in fine voice throughout. The only year tick of the day was a welcome early Whitethroat in quiet subsong at the northern end. Of the 72 species managed once again by 14:30, there were many clear highlights. Finding another new 1st winter Caspian Gull (in addition to another 1w Caspian, as well as 1w and adult Yellow-legged Gull) left me chuffed especially as it was easily the best bird I'd ever found - even if I grandly messed up pictures. However, alongside Little Ringed Plover, 2 Green Sandpipers and a smart White Wagtail, 3 Yellow Wagtails were strutting around the edges of the wet grassland, showing superbly (one was ringed.) With all 3 birds in pristine plumage, as bright as they come, it made for another excellent half day on patch, where a further return to social birding was most welcome. It's always a little sad seeing close mates I've made from the nature community - I've not seen some of them for 14 months now. Seeing 3 people together again was enough to really lift my spirits, and remind me how much I love and in fact need social birding with those my age, a little sense 

new 1st winter Caspian Gull record shots

as with the photo above, where the paler underwings are visible, this bird had a strikingly long bill, white head, isolated eye, long primary projection, long legs, perfectly thumbnailed tertials, grey shawl etc. 

'White Wagtail' - though I only managed this before it flew, it still shows the cleaner, pale mantle, part of the pale-grey rump and cleaner flanks

One of the adult Yellow Wagtails - this bird was ringed

Second Yellow Wagtail

Third Yellow Wagtail

adult Yellow-legged Gull - darker mantle, red eye-ring etc. Yellow legs were also seen

    All in all, the past 10 days have been exciting, nicely bridging the gap between late winter and spring. I'm looking forward to the next month or two now more than ever - cricket, birding, it's all coming back, and I feel much more alive because of it. Fingers crossed for a much better warmer season than the last...