Spring is definitely here! Some nice sunny days and some good birding too.
The month began with our third visit to Bramfield, and it brought us at least 40 species. Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, my first Jays of the year (incredibly) and more had been seen as we made our way out of Hertford and onto the lane that winds its way to Bramfield, and then we spotted a lone Yellowhammer in the top of a small tree. A quick scan around and we found a larger flock – probably around a dozen – with a Pheasant hiding in the long grasses. Those were our first Yellowhammers of the year, and very welcome they were too. Red Kites, Buzzards and a Kestrel were all seen on the way into the village, and we found an even larger flock of Yellowhammers congregating with Linnets and more Chaffinches. Several calling Nuthatches were also seen at close quarters. We also saw something that we simply couldn’t identify. It flew straight out of a hedge about 30 yards in front of us, across the road and off low across the fields until it went over the crest of the field and out of sight. It was large and sleek with a wide wingspan, but as we only saw it going away from us and at a low viewpoint, we couldn’t really see its body shape or head. The most striking thing is that it was pure white, like a Little Egret, but without the rounded wings, accented flappy wingbeats or trailing legs. The best guess we could come up with is an albino or leucistic Crow. We had lunch in the churchyard, but there were no Hawfinches this time (it was the chance of seeing our first Hawfinches that first brought us to Bramfield more than a year ago). Jem saw some smaller game-like birds near some pheasants and pointed them out to me just as they were flying up over the hedge and out of view, but they looked like partridges to me. After checking the books later, Jem realised they were Red-legged Partridges. On the way back we saw the Red Kites again – a third bird joining the usual pair – and four Buzzards circling together. We also got some very nice Treecreepers as we returned to Hertford. Another fine day out in Hertfordshire.
We’d only been to Rainham Marshes once so far this year, so now was definitely time to return. We normally get the train Rainham and then do the long walk down Ferry Lane to the riverside and then all the way along to the RSPB Visitor Centre, arriving in time for lunch. As we walked along the western boundary of the marshes we got a brief, but very good, view of a Cetti’s Warbler – my first of the year and one of many we heard throughout the day. We noticed an interesting raptor quartering along the stream at the western end of the Silt Lagoons, so we decided to go that way instead of the usual route to see what we could find. We had a couple of great close views of Kestrels, and then the raptor – a female Marsh Harrier – popped into view above the lagoons’ bank. Unfortunately I couldn’t get good photos as it would only appear for a couple of seconds at a time before dropping down behind the bank. As we continued along the road between the lagoons and the landfill site we also got some good close views of Linnets, and then as we reached the Serin Mound and took in the vista of the main part of the marsh we had a beautiful male Marsh Harrier hunting along a channel before being seen off by an angry corvid. After lunch in the Visitor Centre we heard a Grasshopper Warbler (still haven’t seen one) right outside, and then wandered around the reserve. The highlights as we went around the circuit were lots of good views of Reed Buntings and a Skylark taking a dustbath on the pathway. We stepped briefly into the hide with the Kingfisher bank and we were very lucky to witness the pair’s incubation change-over within seconds of our arrival. A pretty good end to a pretty good day’s birding.
The following day Jem and I decided to go for a Sunday evening walk around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park to look for owls. There was no sign of the Tawny Owls in their regular area, and initially no sign of the Little Owls either. We walked alongside the Long Water and Serpentine, getting our first Mandarins of the year, as well as plenty of Great Crested Grebes, Tufted Ducks (including some possible Scaup X Tufted hybrids) and various gulls. The light was fading fast but we swung by the Little Owl tree on the way out and thought we saw one fly into the tree and then disappear into the nesting hole. We watched and awaited at a distance and eventually the male poked his head out and glared at us for a few moments before we decided to leave them in peace.
The Easter weekend brought us a few more interesting species during a couple of interesting trips. We nearly got excited in Regent’s Park as we were on our way to London Zoo – a Smew appeared in front of us on one of the ponds. Then it was joined by a Garganey, and then various other exotic fowl, and so the possibility of an unexpected new life tick for both of us quickly evaporated. The zoo was good fun but not exactly the most bloggable of events, so I’ll leave it there. On the Saturday we decided to revisit Staines and Stanwell Moors to see what was around. On the way I read on Twitter that a Ring Ouzel and two Grasshopper Warblers were there, and there’d been quite a few hardcore birders visiting earlier in the day. By the time we arrived the Ouzel had moved on and we couldn’t find the Groppers either. There was an impressive, albeit brief, Red Kite overhead, lots of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and a few Linnets, plus my first Blackcaps and House Martins of the year. We got also Green Woodpeckers and a small wader which arrived just as we were leaving in the late afternoon – I couldn’t quite tell if it was a Snipe or a Redshank.
On Easter Monday, Jem and I decided to visit Wanstead Flats for the first time. We really should’ve been before, especially as Jem lives in South Woodford, but we’d always arranged other trips instead. It started well in nice warm sunshine, as we arrived at the western end from Leytonstone. Straight away we had Mallards overhead, a displaying Wren, a male Blackcap, and a nice Sparrowhawk which circled up out of a strip of woodland. We walked eastwards across playing fields and noticed a Whitethroat species in a bush, but couldn’t see whether it was a Common or Lesser. We then bumped into one of the local birders, Tim, who explained that he was counting the Whitethroats as he went around, and also told us to look out for Wheatears. We then saw our first Willow Warbler of the year, plus more Blackcaps and a few Robins. Green Woodpeckers were heard but not seen as we continued east across the Flats, and we also got yet more Blackcaps. We couldn’t find the Wheatears, but we did get lots of Skylarks, including a nice prolonged display-and-divebomb from one particular male. We ended up with a brief wander around the Alexandra Pond at the eastern end of the flats before getting the bus to Wanstead and the Tube back to Jem’s. After lunch we went for a short late-afternoon walk along the Roding near Jem’s house. Straight away we got a perched Kingfisher plus no fewer than four Little Egrets. We also got a pair of Chiffchaffs, several Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, a young fox curled up on the opposite bank, and finished off with two Mistle Thrushes attending a nest.
Today we finished off our April birding with a few hours at the London Wetland Centre. The weather wasn’t as bad as had been predicted, and we enjoyed watching a pair of Pied Wagtails attending a nest behind the large sundial on the main building. Robins, Great Tits, Chaffinches. Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits were seen, and we listened to a warbler in the reeds (we couldn’t quite tell if it was a Sedge or Reed Warbler – we need to work out the subtle differences on that), and then we saw a Cetti’s Warbler preening itself deep inside a thick bit of scrub. The Peacock Tower hide brought us several Redshanks and our first Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martins of the year. We also got a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler, several Jackdaws, plus another male Blackcap and some Dunnocks as we ended the visit with a walk around the Sheltered Lagoon, only stopping for a Kestrel overhead as we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and then home. Just outside the Wetland Centre we saw a small Wood Mouse in some leaf litter and then poking its head out of a tiny nest hole. Not a bad end to the month.
Little Ringed Plover