Saturday, 28 April 2012

A slow start to spring

Despite the tantalizing period of exceptionally early spring warmth, it has been something of a slow start to the season. There have been some early nests, with young Robins, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds evident in many gardens across the county, but other individuals were held up by the returning cold conditions. Now, however, it feels as if the pace is quickening.

We have seen a succession of arrivals, as returning summer migrants have been quick to settle on favoured breeding territories and deliver song. The Chiffchaffs were the first of these to be noticed here, around the brecks, followed by Woodlark, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and, most recently, Whitethroat. Early Reed and Sedge Warblers appeared late-month, with numbers of these reed- and sedge-bed songsters now increasing. The hirundines (swallows and martins) were slow to return in numbers and my first sightings of these summer visitors were behind those of recent years.

We have also had a smattering of passage migrants, in particular a good arrival of Ring Ouzels. These striking thrushes resemble a large Blackbird but with beautiful sculptured plumage markings and, in adult males, a white crescent around the throat. We have also seen some less common visitors in the shape of at least two Hoopoes, continental breeders that have overshot their breeding grounds off the back of southerly winds. They won’t linger, however, and will soon reorientate to return south. One of the most fascinating aspects of the unfolding migration has been the return of the Cuckoos, fitted with satellite tags by the BTO. Regular updates on their progress continue to appear on the BTO website ( The five tagged last summer, were all captured in East Anglia and it will be interesting to see if they return to the same sites.

The pattern of activity seen in our birds has been mirrored in the county’s butterflies, with a good number of early reports of species that overwinter in the adult form, followed by several lean weeks in which few sightings were forthcoming. Other species are now being reported on the wing, including Orange Tip and Holly Blue, so it does feel as if the butterfly season is now properly underway. Other insects have been taking advantage of early season nectar, with good numbers of bumblebees foraging in my garden and quite a number of hoverflies as well. The changeable weather that we see at this time of the year does deliver something of a stop-start feel and while it can appear that spring is here to stay one morning, the next can suggest a return to winter. It is a great time of the year to be out and about though as each new sighting delivers a thrill.

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