Welcome to the latest edition of the Birdwords e-mail update. In this edition you will find:
- My latest book out now – only £12.99!
- Birdwatching in March
- Competition Result
- Reduced prices in spring for Birdwords subscribers
- Do you live in Dorset or South Hampshire? Wednesday spring mornings.
- Belarus 2013
- Recent trip reports
My Latest Book “A Patch Made in Heaven” is now out!
Ideal for spring and summer reading! Currently available from me (signed) at just £12.99 + £2 postage.
Birdwatching in March
March is a curious month. As far as birds are concerned, it is a phony spring and a phony winter – neither one nor the other. Many birders rejoice when the first of the true summer migrants arrive, such as Wheatears, Sandwich Terns, Chiffchaffs and Sand Martins, but really these birds are only the vanguard and they can sometimes be seen when snow is falling. At the same time, while some winter birds certainly depart – both Brent Geese and Starlings return towards Russia, for example – many have not been ushered back to their breeding grounds even at month’s end. Birds such as Sanderlings and Knots often hang around in Britain until April and May, aware instinctively that their breeding areas in the Arctic are still under ice and snow.
One thing that certainly has changed is the bird song. March is as good a month to learn bird song as any, with the residents in full voice and the first migrants here only in sparse numbers. I have said many times that you should never try to learn bird songs one a dawn chorus walk, any more that you can learn French on a busy trading floor – too much jumble and too many voices at once. Instead, the spirited but simpler chorus of March makes for a much better learning environment.
With the trees not yet in full leaf, there are certain species that show particularly well this month. Look out for woodpeckers everywhere – even Lesser Spots. Little Owls will be vocal on March evenings and easier to see than normal. Treecreepers, too, are classic March birds – noisy (for them), busy and less hidden than normal. And although Redwings and Siskins are “winter” birds, both species have an early spring habit of gathering in flocks and indulging in what could be described as community singing.
A few birds have already begun breeding, and indeed Rooks, Herons and Tawny Owls may already have eggs in the nest. As I write a pair of Blackbirds are nest-building in our hedge, and these, along with Robins and pigeons, often start breeding very early when mild conditions persist.
March, therefore, is a bit of spring and a bit of winter. For some, that’s too little spring and too much winter. For others, it’s two for the price of one!
As ever, this e-mail contains a money-saving offer just to Birdwords subscribers, in advance of my main mailing which will be out soon.
This summer, you can attend one of my ever-popular Raptor Rapture days for just £20 per person, instead of the usual £25 (maximum 12 people). Dates: Friday July 13th or Thursday July 19th.
Do You Live in Dorset or Hampshire? Wednesday Spring Mornings
This spring I am running some two-hour spring morning sessions (10am-12pm) in the East Dorset/South-west Hampshire area. These will be run on a pro-rata basis, £7 per session per person, payable in advance, with seven trips altogether. The dates and locations are:
April 18th – Longham Lakes
April 25th – Hengistbury Head
May 9th – Arne
May 16th – Stanpit Marsh
May 23rd – Radipole Lake, Weymouth
May 30th – White Sheet Plantation, Holt
June 13th – Fritham, New Forest
Last year the Birdwords competition was to come up with an original memory aid to help people learn bird songs. Having set the competition, it proved pretty difficult to judge, but in the end I went for one that I had never heard before. David and Ann Head say:
This piece of pigeon appreciation earns them a free copy of the double CD set Teach Yourself Bird Sounds worth £14.95. Well done. Look out for the next competition soon.
This year’s intended trip to Belarus never took off – a number of you said that you would have been interested, but had already arranged to go elsewhere. Well, now I’m intending to get in early so that we can hopefully nail a trip for next year. I have pencilled in with Ecotours Wildlife Holidays to go from 27 April-6 May 2013 (10 days). The price from this year was £1400, including flights (single room supplement £135), so it will be in that range.
Please could you let me know if you are interested (no commitment)? To remind you, the sort of birds we would expect to see include Azure Tit, Great Grey Owl, Ruffs in breeding finery, White-backed Woodpecker, Hazel Grouse and Spotted Eagle.
The first trip of 2012 was to West Wittering on 20th January, an overflow from last autumn. Happily, the Snow Buntings remembered that they were on contract, and we had excellent views of them as we had last year, phew! Sanderlings made quite a spectacle at East Head, with no less than 61 of them on the beach on the seaward side (after zero last year). There was a Slavonian Grebe offshore and the usual Brent Geese showed well, while wader numbers were average except for avery large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits (200+), which seemed very high for here. We also saw a Common Seal. East Head car park seems to have a winter resident Mediterranean Gull with an unhealthy attachment to human activity. It flies around a few feet above people and cars and gives incredible views.
In late January we made our first ever visit to a site that has been attracting a lot of attention in the last 18 months – The Burgh in West Sussex, a hillock within sight of Arundel Castle. The local area is managed for conservation, and along with good numbers of farmland birds it has recently attracted a veritable army of raptors. Our first visit was on January 24th, a day that begin with hours and hours of driving rain – hardly ideal for bird of prey watching. It was so bad that we relocated to Arundel WWT at first, not seeing a lot, but in the early afternoon it cleared to give us a brief window on the downs. Our short walk started well with 30+ Bewick’s Swans on the meadows below the village of Burpham, and we were soon impressed by the numbers of farmland birds hereabouts, which included plenty of Yellowhammers and a few Corn Buntings, the latter never common these days. A Kestrel soon appeared, and within minutes a Merlin shot by and began chasing a Skylark right in front of our eyes. Soon after a female Hen Harrier appeared down in the valley below, while plenty of Common Buzzard and a poorly seen Red Kite were riding the breeze on the slope on the opposite side. This was certainly raptor city. In the next couple of hours we had four more sightings of Merlin, at least five more sightings of Hen Harrier, including males, and a Peregrine also treated us to a fly-by; there were also several Brown Hares around. We missed the hoped for Rough-legged Buzzard and Short-eared Owl, but given the earlier conditions we were pretty satisfied with what we had seen. As we walked back in the gathering gloom, we had a sore-throated concert from some frolicking Grey Partridges. What a place!
The return trip on 27th proved that, even in the same place in the same week, every field visit is different. This one began in glorious sunny weather, for a start. There were Common Buzzards everywhere and it was perhaps not surprising that the Burgh’s by now famous wintering Rough-legged Buzzard appeared. It tended to be distant and it was a little disappointing that it didn’t look more distinctive, but the white tail-base was clear enough and it spent noticeably more time hovering than any other of the Common Buzzards nearby. After such a start and with fine conditions you might then have expected the birds, especially raptors, to come thick and fast. However, the middle of the day was pretty quiet and nothing much happened until about 2pm, when we enjoyed great views of a flock of some 30 Corn Buntings. Then a male Hen Harrier appeared close by and we were able to enjoy simply outstanding views for an unbroken 10 minutes – glorious. Not to be outdone, a Short-eared Owl then took pity on us and performed equally spectacularly, both hunting and perching in the evening sunshine. On our walk back to the cars the weather broke and we were drenched in a torrential hailstorm.
Blashford Lakes on 31st January was never going to compete with that, but the Woodland Hide at this site near Ringwood, Hampshire is undoubtedly one of the best of its kind in Britain. It was busy, too, with a wide variety of birds coming to the feeders and giving incredible views, not least the Lesser Redpolls, some of which were showing off their raspberry-pink plumage. Together with dozens of Goldfinches, Siskins and the odd Great Spotted Woodpecker, the range of birds made a colourful spectacle. On the nearby lakes we enjoyed seeing the Goldeneyes, but water birds weren’t on our side, and we could find no trace of the Smew, Ferruginous Duck or Great Egret. The Bittern showed magnificently from the Ivy North Hide, but unfortunately not when we were there! However, the swan herd nearby at Harbridge did contain a single Whooper Swan and Bewick’s Swan, which was decent compensation.