31 March 2009

Crossover birds

More 'good birding without going birding' in March.

This is a great time of year, because it includes those few days, perhaps even a few weeks, when the various migrant types 'cross over' - that is to say the first of our summer migrants arrive while the last of our winter migrants are still with us.

That means that I can be welcomed on to the Preston Bagot canal towpath by one of the year's early Chiffchaffs (my single favourite thing about spring) and then enjoy the spectacle of 30 or more raucous Fieldfare flying over nearby fields. The Chiffchaff has just arrived, the Fieldfare will soon be heading north, but today they are both with me in this little part of rural Warwickshire.

Elsewhere I continue to see birds wherever I go - a Red-legged Partridge by the A45 / M42 roundabout nr Balsall Common; a Treecreeper landing just feet away from me on a lunchtime stroll (and a second - sadly dead - Treecreeper outside J's office); Lapwing wheeling over fields around Warwickshire, and also low over a Newbury road as I headed down for a meeting; Buzzards pretty much wherever I look (by far our most common raptor around here); and my first Swallow of spring, a notably early specimen on a telegraph wire outside Henley-in-Arden today (31st March). In fact, the Swallow beat my previous earliest Swallow by a full two days.

Bird of the post: Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), the most elegant of the hirundine species, and a proverbial harginger of summer. 31st March is pushing it a bit to claim summer, but it's still a wonderful sign of what's just round the corner.

2 March 2009

Henley-in-Arden miscellanea

Occasionally I get away from my desk for a stroll at lunchtime. Even more occasionally I find a bird (or two) of interest. Last week's finds made it a red-letter week indeed.

First of all, a quick turn down by the river (just downstream of the medical centre, if you know the area) turned up the male Mandarin Duck which had been reported a few days earlier. OK, so it's not exactly a native, and I wasn't the first to find it (that shouldn't matter, but it just does) - but even so, it was a mighty fine sight to brighten up a grey February lunch hour.

Slightly more 'authentic' was the walk I took, a couple of days later, down the canalside from nearby Preston Bagot. There was plenty about - three or four Great Spotted Woodpecker vyed for territory and attention (I suspect it wasn't me they were trying to impress); two Buzzards tried to continue with their circling, soaring courtship while ignoring the irritation of mobbing crows; Wrens hopped through the tangled undergrowth; and Long-tailed Tits flitted pinkly (that may not be an actual word) through the trees overhead.

But the star birds of the day, as so often at this time of the year, were the Siskins, in this case perhaps 80 or 100, my biggest flock of the year. These beautiful little finches fed furiously on alders at the canal's edge, allowing me to watch for many minutes until a passing jogger caused them to erupt in a explosion of pingy squeaks (it's not easy explaining sounds with words, so just bear with me here).

Bird of the week: Siskin (Carduelis spinus), a most exquisite little winter visitor to these parts, most commonly found feeding on alder trees near water.