Thursday, 7 April 2016

Chiffchaffs & Sand Martins arrive, Fieldfares depart, Lapwing landscapes and other choice waders

Been a bit stop start but Spring is now well underway and even up here in Yorkshire we have plenty of early returning migrants including Sand Martins, Chiffchaff, Wheatear, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover and Ospreys all recorded in good numbers over the past week or so.

I've not been lucky enough to see an Osprey but I usually manage at least 1 every spring so here's hoping I get a decent pic sometime soon. The most obvious of course has to be the humble Chiffchaff - no mistaking their rather monotonous 'squeaky wheelbarrow' song click here if you've never heard one but now is the time for pics with hardly any leaves on the trees.

Chiffchaff, Givendale 30/03/16
This was my first photo opportunity - up on Givendale last week in the teeth of a howling gale he wasn't singing much!

I say 'he' because its generally the males that return a good 2 or 3 weeks before the females to set up territories.

My second opportunity was in altogether different circumstances, a day later in warm sunshine at Askham Bog and he was 'chiff chaffing' with much enthusiasm as you can plainly see!

Singing Chiffchaff, Askham Bog, 31/03/16

Singing Chiffchaff, Askham Bog, 31/03/16

Less than a week later they're now fairly widespread and with well over 2 million individuals in the UK every summer you can be sure that there'll be one in a wood near you by now.

Fieldfares, Fangfoss, 31/03/16

In contrast, Fieldfares and Redwings are departing, most have gone, heading for breeding grounds in Northern Europe, but some are still here. I had a small flock of Redwings in flooded fields today (4th April) and these Fieldfares the other evening looked like they were massing and ready to go. Not brilliant pics - last rays of the evening sun, but quite atmospheric!

Fieldfares, Fangfoss, 31/03/16

Fieldfares, Fangfoss, 31/03/16

...and another one hits the long road north!
Fieldfare, Fangfoss, 31/03/16

When I was a kid I remember hanging about on the edge of our housing estate in suburban York and seeing scores of Lapwings in the fields and sometimes stumbling across eggs; the memory plays tricks of course but I know there were more than I could count. Nowadays, with breeding pairs down by 60% since the mid 80s, the Spring sky dance of the 'Peewhit' across our fields is much less witnessed. There's maybe 6 pairs currently displaying around my immediate patch here in Fangfoss and just as with many of our iconic ground nesting birds such as Skylarks and Grey Partridge, they'll be lucky to rear young in the face of ever more intensive farming methods and increasingly 'dogs off leads' during the breeding season.

Lapwing aerial display, Fangfoss, 30/03/16
Common Snipe, Fangfoss, 30/03/16

Its not often these days that I get a new bird on my local list but this one had been coming. Been 18 months since I've resided at Fangfoss Park and never seen a Common Snipe! On the same good weather for migration day I photographed my first Chiffchaffs I flushed not 1 but 9 of the things out of flooded field nr the Spittal Beck. Not great pics but at least I got em!

Common Snipe, Fangfoss, 30/03/16
Common Snipe, Fangfoss, 30/03/16

Sand Martin, Tophill Low, 05/04/16
I bagged my first few Sand Martins (c10) of the year at North Cave Wetlands on the 29th along with Little Ringed Plover (2), a single Ruff and Avocet (28). A week later at Tophill Low the sky was positively full of Sand Martins with maybe up to 100 over the various lagoons and reservoirs there. They move so quick that unless one has the very best camera equipment they're a real challenge to snap them in flight but I had a go...

Sand Martin, Tophill Low, 05/04/16

Sand Martin, Tophill Low, 05/04/16

Little Ringed Plover, Tophill Low, 05/04/16
2 newly arrived Little Ringed Plovers conveniently right in front of South Marsh hide were rather easier to photograph. Spending the winter months in Africa, like Avocets, LRP's are a real and welcome success story in the UK largely due to the creation of wader friendly gravel pits on many of our nature reserves.

In amongst the many Sand Martins there was 1 Swallow (my first of the year) and I also bagged my first singing Blackcap and Willow Warbler

Little Ringed Plover, Tophill Low, 05/04/16

Breeding male Ruff (anon)
Ruff, that most scarce of UK breeding waders are on the move too. The vast majority of these variously plumaged birds will pass straight through en route to northern Europe and its a rare sight indeed to see a male in full breeding regalia like this splendid individual ... not my pic obviously!

Ruff, North Cave, 29/03/16

Alas, most Ruff seen on passage or wintering in the UK are much less exotic looking than that splendid looking bird. These individuals at North Cave Wetlands and Tophill Low are far more typical, unless of course you're lucky enough to happen upon the handful of birds that do breed in this country!

Ruff (left) with Oystercatchers, Tophill Low, 05/04/16

Green Sandpiper, Sutton on Forest, 28/03/16

Here's another wader species one might see on passage at this time of the year, its a Green Sandpiper, relatively common and they love flooded fields and wet ditches - so plenty of scope there!

So that's my early Spring so far, no mega rarities or even anything particularly unusual but hey its great to out and about at this time of year, nature awakening, birds on the move, flowers blooming and so many daylight hours in which to witness and photograph it all! Here's a few more miscellaneous pics from my Spring walkabouts .....
Little Grebe, Tophill Low, 05/04/16

Short Eared Owl on the move, Strensall Common, 02/04/16

Marsh Marigolds, Askham Bog, 31/03/16
Displaying Sparrowhawk, Givendale, 30/03/16
Oystercatcher, Tophill Low, 05/04/16