When I close my eyes and picture Napton in the springtime, I see a vibrant, bustling migration hotspot; a hillside and reservoir alive with opportunity. I see wheatear hopping on every quarry rock; whinchat bouncing on every fence post; bushes dripping with firecrest; and the water alive with the spectacle of a hundred dancing sand martin (with a few more wheatear and perhaps an early wader thrown in for good measure). Unfortunately, when I open my eyes and actually go there, it tends not to live up to this fantasy.
Not that it's a poor place to go birding: far from it in fact. Napton Hill has already thrown up one of the best birds of early spring; one of the aforementioned firecrests. It's just that... well, it's inevitable that if you get very few opportunities to go birding, then you invest each and every visit with the kind of wishful thinking that is unlikely to ever come true.
Having said all of that, and despite today's lack of firecrest and whinchat (not to mention passage waders, rare warblers and even sand martin), I rather enjoyed my little visit to Napton Hill and the nearby reservoir today.
First of all there was the sheer joy of being out and about in the springtime, even if it did feel a little autumnal at times. Second was the satisfaction of being safely back home by the time the forecast rain set in for the day. And third, there were enough birds around to at least satisfy, if not to truly set the pulse racing.
At the top of the hill there were plenty of goldfinch, greenfinch, chaffinch, blackbird and wren. There was loud birdsong all around, including several singing song thrushes (easier to write than to say). On the hillsides there were great tits, blue tits and long-tailed tits aplenty; a treecreeper scurrying through them; a male reed bunting down in the quarry; and a few redwing and largish flocks of fieldfare and starling, presumably preparing to set off 'home' for the summer. Not one but two pairs of buzzards circled overhead, and four singing chiffchaffs confirmed that this was definitely time to celebrate spring.
That sentiment was given a further boost when I arrived at the reservoir and found two male swallows criss-crossing the surface. For all the talk of a return to a 'normal' (i.e. later) spring this year, April 2nd equals my earliest sighting for a swallow across the six years I have kept records. Other birds around the reservoir included: ten mute swans (an unusually high number; I also found 24 in a nearby field); a pair of reed buntings; three lapwings in a neighbouring field; skylarks in the same field; two calling Cettis Warblers; and two pairs of great crested grebes.
Bird of the day: Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica); one of iconic birds of a British summer, newly arrived back from its south african wintering grounds.