Friday, 29 April 2016

On Gardening Leave

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows;
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.
Midsummer Nights Dream-Shakespeare

Since finding my first Sand Martins of the year over Killingworth Lake on 1st April I’ve been on what I choose to call gardening leave (no choice but to rest following minor surgery) so the birding joys of April have in the main passed me by.  I did go under the anaesthetic thinking of a birding activity, but I was soon brought back to reality when I awoke and realised that minor surgery didn’t mean minor pain afterwards.

So gardening leave has meant garden watching only for most of the month and it was during one of those balmy sun drenched days of early April that I saw my first butterfly of the year on 11th April in the form of Small Tortoiseshell.  As light faded that same day I noticed that the corvids returning to roost were no longer flying in large dark flocks as in winter, but very often in well defined pairs as they gracefully swooped and almost danced in the air in what seemed to be a ritual courtship.

On the 13th April as my mind cleared of painkillers (might as well be dramatic about it) I found my first Blackcap of the year just outside of the window.  I’m hoping that it will hang around and nest as it had done in 2015.

On 14th April I found what I thought was my first Willow Warbler of the year in the garden but on closer examination the dark legs, flicking tail and eventually the calling from higher in the trees informed me that it was a Chiffchaff, still a rare bird for the garden.  That same day the pair of Blue Tits was busy at the nest box and I watched as on one occasion the male bird flew to the top of the box and passed a small feather to the female which then entered the box to add the feather to the nest.  In recent years this species has begun to prospect the box very early in the year.  Great Tits, Coal Tits and 2 Long Tailed Tits were visiting the garden too that afternoon.

The Dunnocks have been very active for weeks now, although it always proves difficult to try to identify pairings of this species which has such a complicated system of breeding.  I managed to catch one female in the process of seemingly inviting mating as she fluttered her rear end feathers.  The male came and pecked at the cloaca before chasing off a rival for his mate’s attentions.

So watching the garden and listening to the birdsong has brought me back to some basics which isn’t such a bad thing.  On the 24th April I managed to get down to the lake.  It was great to be out in the fresh air again.  A bit late I know but I managed good sightings of my first Willow Warblers and Swallows of the year.  A male Reed Bunting was looking resplendent as it joined the Willow Warblers by the side of the smaller lake and Grey Heron was partially hidden in the reeds.  The lake was generally quiet, but the two pairs of Great Crested Grebe remain, three Oystercatchers were heard before being seen and there were a few Pochard about.  A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls caught the eye too.

The above sums up an uneventful April in terms of bird watching.  I’m hoping May see’s me back out in the field.  In fact tomorrow 30th April Sam and I lead the Dawn Chorus Walk at the Rising Sun, so it is a very early morning start for us.  The event is fully booked I believe  so I’m hoping it isn’t a production of singing in the rain or even worse hail and snow!

Sam has a blog up on the BTO Website which is all about his stay on the Isle of May and it’s certainly worth a read here at Sam