Spring has finally sprung (I think!)

Hello birdwatchers

What a traumatic spring we’ve had so far for our migrating birds.

Both incoming and outgoing birds have struggled to make their habitual journeys to their breeding grounds this year. Bird reports have been unseasonably winter-esk with long-tailed duck, smew, waxwings, redwing, fieldfare and siskins still being seen in large numbers; their passage being inhibited by cold easterly winds.  A siskin has been seen gathering nesting material in a garden in Leeds so perhaps it has decided to stay in suburbia this year.

If you’ve not already seen a waxwing then you still have a chance. I’m happy to attempt to point you in the right direction if you contact me but you don’t have much time left. Just remember that there may be fewer birds next winter, if any.

One of the Leeds waxwings

On quite a few days over the past few weeks, our resident birds have had to suspend their breeding activity to focus on more important priorities like refuelling after the freezing cold nights. There’s probably not much point in rushing to lay those eggs anyway as feeding their chicks is synchronised with the emergence of caterpillars and we’re only just seeing our first insects (and leaves for that matter) here in the north of England.

Sunny skies and warmer temperatures over the last week provided enough heat for many insects to emerge from their winter diapause which has urged our spring migrants northwards. This week, reports of swallows,  ring ouzel, kittiwake, common tern and little gull in the north of England has reassured us that spring is really here after all.

As usual, Start Birding has kept calm and carried on throughout the bitterly cold weather apart from having to reschedule a one-to-one session due to heavy snow and subsequently cancel the trip to Troydale in Pudsey a couple of days later. Oh and we did have to reschedule one of our evening classes too.  Despite our beliefs about winter, it is quite unusual to have to cancel trips I’m pleased to say. Usually it is plainly due to safety when conditions are icy but this year many sites were inaccessible because of the heavy and drifting snow.

So where have I been over the last month? It is a while since my last blog and it has been a busy time. Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening indoor classes have continued up to this week when the Wednesday birdwatchers took their first spring evening walk to Harewood to watch red kite, tawny owls and roding woodcock. Tuesday evening classes start on 23rd April with a repeat trip to Harewood (hopefully it will be a bit warmer by then).

Tuesday morning classes began on 5th March meeting at Golden Acre Park. Over the last few weeks we have watched birds around the park, at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Adel Dam reserve, Breary Marsh and Paul’s Pond. There have been siskins everywhere and we have had great views of great spotted woodpecker, mandarin duck, treecreeper and nuthatch. Woodcock has also been seen at Adel Dam two weeks running. This week we had a walk around Knotford Nook at Otley and next week we’ll vist Rodley Nature Reserve. I still have places left on my Tuesday morning session so if you’re interested then give me a ring.

Nuthatch at Golden Acre Park

Male and female mandarin (shame about the stem getting in the way)
Female great spotted woodpecker at Adel Dam

Weekend trips have taken us along the River Aire from Swillington to Fairburn, taking in Mickletown Ings, St Aidan’s and Allerton Bywater and our trip to Woodhouse Ridge and Meanwood Valley Urban Farm provided us with a fabulous firecrest! A really good tick for Leeds. The following day our visit to Temple Newsam was a cold and muddy experience but our close views of nuthatch, treecreeper, goldcrest and tawny owl more than made up for it.

Tawny owl roosting at Temple Newsam

Last weekend we visited YWT North Cave and RSPB Blacktoft Sands. At North Cave, the first chiffchaff had just arrived and a few avocet were settling down to breed. A great crested grebe, obviously feeling comforted by the warmth of the late spring sun, struggled to keep its head upright as it fell asleep. It woke with a start each time its beak touched the water. The deafening noise of black-headed gulls made it difficult to listen for smaller songbirds. A male corn bunting was barely audible above the noise.

Avocets at North Cave

Black-headed gulls

A small flock of fieldfare and redwing stocked up on food before their final departure and a female reed bunting perched nearby watching the emerging insects.

Female reed bunting

Searching unsuccessfully for the newly arrived little ringed plover, all we could produce were ringed plovers settling down to breed.

Ringed plover at North Cave (photo R. German)

We found more avocets at Blacktoft but the spotted redshank gave us the slip. Male marsh harriers were engaging in their display flights and a distant male hen harrier was seen flying over to Alkborough Flats. A couple of marsh harriers allowed us to watch a secret food pass in front of the hide and both male and female perched long enough for us to get some decent views through the telescope. Snipe probed for food along the edges of the lagoons.

Male marsh harrier at Blacktoft

Snipe at Blacktoft (Photo R.German)

On all of our trips, and at our indoor sessions over the winter months, we’ve been learning 16 resident bird songs. My Tuesday and Wednesday birdwatchers are really getting the hang of it now; many of them managing to identify each of the species correctly. With a bit more practise in the field I’m sure everyone will soon get full marks. Well done everybody.

If you’re interested in joining me on my trips over the coming months, contact me for further details on 07778 768719 or email linda.startbirding@gmail.com

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