Following last year’s wet summer, another bad winter and an exceptionally cold spring, the Park’s birds have generally been having a hard time. The persistent, cold easterly winds held back the departure of winter visitors. On April 9th there were still 64 wigeon on the river waiting to head off to Siberia and over 60 redwings anxious to leave for Scandinavia. Some of the latter were in song, suggesting they were trying to save time by pairing up before moving north.
The poor weather also delayed early nesters. The first grey herons normally lay in February, so by mid-April we can usually show visitors well-grown youngsters in the nests, but this year only one pair had reached this stage. Indeed, most appear to be still incubating, or brooding chicks too small to be visible in the nest. Numbers are also down this year, with only nine nests compared to 16 last year and a long-term average around 20. Of the other iconic birds, Kingfishers were almost certainly flooded out last summer and we have no reports of any sightings so far this year. Nor have we received any reports of Barn Owls, which we know suffered widespread mortality nationally in March.
So far birdsong has been sporadic, with mistle thrushes (at least six pairs) and green woodpeckers (two or three pairs) most vocal. Great spotted woodpeckers have also been drumming intermittently, but there seem to be fewer nuthatches this year. Given the weather, it would be surprising if many migrants had returned from Africa, but two or three intrepid swallows did appear about the 11th or 12th April.
The unexpected is always exciting and this spring there were two oystercatchers on April 16and two shelducks and a superb male pied flycatcher two days later. These were all passing through, presumably on the way to their breeding grounds.
We would welcome details of any interesting sightings that you might have – please add a comment below or tweet us!
These walks have proved very popular, with over 300 visitors coming to see the herons this year. Reactions include “Wow! How cool is that!”, from a special needs teenager, and “the highlight of my day”, from an elderly gentleman. Here is a photograph we took during one of our visits…
Graham and Janet Harrison, Charlecote volunteers