Just a lovely morning's birding and walking; I simply couldn't have asked for more.
The remnant of a late frost was still on the ground when I arrived just after 7am at Leam Valley, with mist rising from the river and a slight chill in the air. All of this quickly burned off as the clear blue sky and brilliant sun set about their work; by 9am I was in shirt sleeves.
The most notable change from a couple of weeks ago was the number of chiffchaffs calling - the one that greeted me in the car park was the first of five in all. The other notably 'spring-y' birds were a lone willow warbler and two singing blackcaps - the first of which gave me my first decent sighting of one for quite some time (see photo).
Aside from these classic spring sightings, there was bird song and frantic activity to enjoy right the way across the reserve: song thrushes in full voice; a sparrowhawk cruising overhead; a couple of treecreeper (nearly got a photo of one of the buggers at last, see attempt below); and a pair of snipe on the scrape.
A total of 31 species represents a good morning's birding at Leam Valley, but actually my favourite sighting of the morning wasn't a bird at all - it was a small cluster of fritillaries in a little clearing in the woods. These are stunning little flowers, and a huge favourite of mine that I rarely see.
So, a great morning, and set to get better. I went to Brandon for a quick walk with the family, and as usual I dashed off down to East Marsh for a quick look-see on my own. Half way down the track I was pointed in the direction of the day's surprise visitor - the avocet from earlier in the week had returned! I hot-footed it down to River Pool and sure enough, there it was. A wonderful bird wherever you see it, but all the more wonderful in Warwickshire (I might be biased here).
And there was plenty more on East Marsh pool including little ringed plovers (3), snipe (5), oystercatchers (3), a redshank, and a freshly returned common tern.
The grand total for the day reached 51 species, a pretty decent haul for a bit of gentle wandering round two of my favourite reserves.
Bird of the day: Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), it simply has to be. A symbol of hope for the conservation movement and a beautiful elegant bird to-boot.
Flower of the day: Snake's head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris); it is so unusual and beautiful it is hard to believe that it's a genuinely natural and native wildflower, rather than an exotic import or some specially-bred garden centre special. Rather rare these days, so a real gem of a find.
Oh, a just a word on the photographs. The usual hotchpotch, some OK, others little more than record shots. The treecreeper and cetti's warbler are included because I've been trying to photograph these little %^**&ers for years, and these are both the closest I've come - in both cases I couldn't get a clear focus because of intervening foliage (plus slow lenses plus no talent).
The willow warbler was at least clearly visible, if distant; but the award for obliging behaviour goes to the dunnock, who sat about two metres in front of me singing his little heart out while I photographed him. Thanks fella.