Early spring highlights
Mid-March saw an impressive influx of Garganey across the southern half of Britain, yet I couldn't buy one across my patches despite daily coverage. So, on 24th, I made the most of clear and calm conditions and visited the Nene Washes with the hope of seeing a few.
The washes are superb in early spring as floodwater recedes, concentrating wildfowl to create a real spectacle. This year, the best fields were just east of the RSPB car park at Eldernell – and the birding didn't disappoint. When you add tens of herons and egrets, a large Common Crane flock, swirling groups of Black-tailed Godwits and other waders, Short-eared Owls, many Western Marsh Harriers and Buzzards, plus the odd Hen Harrier, Merlin and Peregrine, then you really get a sense of what a brilliant place it can be for birding.
I had no fewer than 14 Garganey among the thousands of Wigeon and Teal there on 24th, but these were upstaged by a nice male Green-winged Teal, which I picked up asleep at great distance. The latter went on to linger for at least a week (I saw it again on 29th, when there were still at least nine Garganey), but could be very elusive among the throngs of duck and never came particularly close for images. Neither did the Garganey, but it was just a joy to have thousands of duck to scan through in perfect conditions. The washes can be a chastening, wind-battered place in the winter months!
Additionally, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose there was a great local bird, particularly as it lingered for several days (many prove to be one-dayers locally) and showed alongside two Barnacle Geese, another species that remains strangely scarce in Peterborough despite the large feral populations in counties to the south. Two Little Gulls added further interest on 24th.
Away from the washes there were further signs that migration was slowly picking up, although the return of north-easterlies and clear skies for the third spring running didn't help proceedings and the late March-early April period was actually pretty slow for incoming summer visitors. For example, I didn't see my first Northern Wheatear of the spring until 13 April (although there were quite a few over 13-14th).
It was fortunate, then, that the continuing Ring-necked Duck were proving as reliable as ever. With hormones taking hold, both birds were moving around a lot more and paying close attention to the local female Tufted Ducks. From 23rd into early April, both were at BLGP and often encountered on smaller ponds with just a few birds, offering some decent photo opportunities after a challenging winter for getting shots. However, they didn't find each other and I never got the opportunity to see them side by side. The first to leave was the 2cy bird, which I last saw on 4 April; the adult, meanwhile, was still around all month.
A male Aythya hybrid, perhaps a bird I have seen here on occasions stretching back a decade or more, also appeared in late March. It is very Tufted-like, but lacks the lengthy hindcrown feathers, has lightly barred/mottled grey flanks and the black bill tip is restricted to the nail only (as in Ferruginous or Lesser Scaup). As for what it is, I'm not really sure; logic would suggest Tufted × Common Pochard, but could it be Tufted × Ferruginous?
Other than the odd Eurasian Curlew, which is to be expected in early spring, wader passage was slow to get going. That made a group of three Bar-tailed Godwits at Baston Fen on 27 March particularly surprising when combined with the early date for this species, which is a highlight of any day's inland patch birding.
A Grey Plover at Deeping Lakes on 11 April would prove to be the only individual I saw all spring. A male Garganey at Deeping Lakes on the same day, and often in the same view, was a welcome addition to the #LocalBigYear list.
Eurasian Spoonbill used to be a Peterborough area 'mega', but it has become increasingly frequent in recent years as the UK breeding population grows exponentially. In the space of a few years it has become an expected annual visitor, but catching up with one can be tricky. So it proved with an immature that dropped in during a shower at Baston Fen on the evening of 13 April, but then left to the north a quarter of an hour later. Interestingly, it turned out to be the same individual seen by Mike Alibone in Northamptonshire three hours earlier.
Finally, a few other photo highlights from the opening weeks of spring:
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.