A week ago I was at my survey site close to home not too far from the River Wyre. I had full cloud cover, with mist at first, and a moderate southwesterly breeze. People cite lots of examples of first signs of Spring; frog spawn, Blackthorn blossom, queen Bumblebees, the first Chiffchaff etc, but for me one of the first signs of Spring is the return of Shelducks to inland breeding sites after spending the winter on the coast. And this morning was just one of those occasions when I recorded four birds in suitable habitat.
The Rookery was busy as usual with somewhere in the region of 20-25 pairs, with several pairs sitting on their nests. I had a first for the site this morning in the form of a calling Water Rail from a former meander of a rivulet that would have once upon a time fed into the main river. I have no doubt that this would have been a migrant along with the singing Chiffchaff and calling Fieldfare that I had.
Whilst I was walking towards the Rookery a female Sparrowhawk, and she was a large lass, flew along the woodland edge and perched on the edge of the Rookery. As you can imagine the Rooks went ballistic, but what did surprise me was how quickly they settled down again even though the Sparrowhawk remained. It's as if they knew where she was, so she wasn't a threat. A Buzzard flew out of the wood and was escorted off the premises, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Coal Tits and two Song Thrushes were 'best of the rest'!
On Sunday just gone, Gail and I headed to our nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley to carry out our annual maintenance visit on the boxes. The woodland has changed hands recently and we met the new owner and he was extremely keen for us to carry on. He is a keen conservationist and he invited us to have a look at his farm on the Fylde to see if there was any ringing potential there, so that was great. In fact that's perhaps two new ringing sites that might come on stream later this year, but that's for another time.
The nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley
We replaced four boxes and put an extra one up, making it forty boxes in total all ready to provide homes for Pied Flycatchers this year. When I was checking one of the boxes I noticed a large dollop of frog spawn on it. How on earth had that got there was my thought. Most of it looked viable, so I found a plastic bag in my rucksack, poured some water into it from my water bottle and deposited the frog spawn in the bag. I knew of two ponds on site, so on our way out I placed the frog spawn in one of the ponds.
Frog spawn on a nest box lid!
A friend in Northumberland, Stewart, thought that the most likely explanation was that the frog in question was probably being carried off by a predator, such as a Corvid or Grey Heron, and the frog shed it's spawn, and the rest is history as they say. And I agree with Stewart's theory.
Monday saw me carrying out the penultimate wintering bird survey at my northwest Cumbrian survey site. I had clear skies with a 15 mph northwesterly wind. It was a pleasant day, but one of my quietest surveys here, particularly on the sea.
Even though it was quiet the Coltsfoot (above) and Primrose (below),
brightened up the morning!
One of the first things we had was a flock of 38 Whooper Swans at sea heading towards the Mull of Galloway, and it made me think that perhaps it was going to be an interesting morning. As I sated before the sea was very quiet with just a single Common Scoter and an Auk sp. recorded. There was very little vis, other than a handful of Meadow Pipits north, and the only grounded migrant was a single Goldcrest.
The breeding bird flag was flown by a pair of Ravens, two pairs of Stonechats and 44 Fulmars on the cliffs to the south.
Yesterday I was at my survey site in Cheshire and I was surprised to find a ground frost on arrival at 6:00 am. A few Tree Sparrows were calling from the hedgerows as I walked round and I had eight in total. Other farmland birds included fifty Linnets, a female Yellowhammer, three Skylarks, nine Lapwings and two Song Thrushes.
Sunrise in Cheshire
A Brambling was noteworthy, and the only raptors I had were two Buzzards. The Snipe were still roosting in the maize stubble and I had 34 in total. This was my last visit to this site, and as I have completed breeding bird surveys here as well, I have got to know the site and grown to like it.
Tomorrow is an early alarm call, and depending on how brave or stupid I'm feeling when I go to bed, it will be a 2:45 am alarm call at the earliest and 3:45 am at the latest! Ouch!