Monday, 21 April 2014

Spring migration... at last!

Quite simply the most enjoyable morning's birding in the last 6 years. It was a morning full of surprises, with birds everywhere and really felt like spring. It began with the first singing Lesser Whitethroat since 2011(!), which graced the main hedgerow behind the village, along with singing Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. A Raven, the second of the year, flew over calling. Swallows skimmed the top of the winter wheat, all heading north:
I headed along the path to the north of the village. A Buzzard swooped down and tried to take a Red-legged Partridge from the wheat, which escaped by rapidly flying off downhill. I could hear the first Yellow Wagtails calling, fresh in from South Africa. I finally found one on the main fenceline. Perhaps they feel camouflaged out here?
Then the first big moment. A ball of orange and white zipped past at knee height some 10 metres from me, white wing patches flashing like a butterfly: a superb male Whinchat! The first ever spring record here and only the 4th ever, all the previous records are in August. Unfortunately my dreams of getting a decent image of this beautiful species disappeared as rapidly as the bird itself. It landed for a millisecond on the track...
 ... before flying to perch the best part of a kilometer away:
It is a great testament to modern camera equipment that at that distance it is still possible to get a record shot. It remained for 5 seconds and then flew strongly north:
Delighted with this find, I continued on, finding another Yellow Wagtail, a far more co-operative singing male:

And then, the second big moment of the morning. From the scrub at the bottom of the small valley to the north of the village came the unmistakable sound of a singing Grasshopper Warbler. Now this is a species I have local history with.  On 25th April 2010 I heard a one second burst of song from the hedgerow behind the village which I am 99.9% sure was a Grasshopper Warbler. But it never sang again and I never saw the bird. Not enough for a satisfactory identification. Every spring since I have searched in vain for another. Until this morning, when the reeling, insect-like song that gives the species it's name, came pouring from this bush:

Having waited 4 years to catch up with this species it was not going to escape me. Grasshopper Warblers are difficult to see, singing mainly from within cover. But I sat patiently and waited. And waited some more. Eventually I began to get glimpses of this notorious sulker:

It once came out into the sunshine... 

... but mostly remained hidden, singing from deep within the scrub:

Two new species for the Cuddesdon area in a mere 4 days, and the holy trinity of scarce passage migrants (Redstart, Whinchat and Wheatear) already recorded for the year. This has to be my most productive spring migration period yet in the Cuddesdon area.  And could the new species be more contrasting? One an exotic introduced duck, the other a sulking native breeding warbler, better know for it's song than it's looks. 

83 species for the year. 106 bird species (+2 escaped species) for the area since 2008

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