The period between 20 April and 10 May is what I always think of as the absolute peak time to be birding an inland patch, with the possibilities that this three-week spell offers about as varied as it gets at any point in the year. But for it to be fruitful, you need promising weather – and 2021 offered a real mixed bag, with some really dynamic spells intermixed with deathly quiet days.
One of the month's hits was Bar-tailed Godwit passage, with the fourth week of April producing the best inland movement of this species for several years. A male at BLGP on 20th was followed by two males at Baston Fen on 21st, then groups of eight and nine at BLGP on 23rd and 24th respectively.
The 24th proved to be one of the best days of the 'peak spring' period, with six Whimbrel and a Greenshank also moving through at BLGP, plus a couple of Little Gulls during the afternoon. This was capped off with a pristine, if brief, Spotted Redshank at Baston Fen in the evening – perhaps the most beautiful of all spring waders. It was a good season for Whimbrel, with BLGP also netting seven on 25th and up to three regularly seen at Baston Fen.
The period of 23-25th proved a truly mega few days for Little Gulls nationwide, with many counties netting record counts. Frustratingly, these unprecedented numbers largely bypassed us, but I enjoyed the views of the aforementioned birds – both pristine adults – on 24th. The only other record was a 2cy on 18th.
This few weeks is also prime time for Black Tern, although it proved a relatively poor spring for the species across the country. A single bird on the calm and overcast morning of 27th was the showiest individual I have seen at the pits, flying by within metres and putting on a great show. A further four followed the next day and were joined by a group of eight Arctic Terns for a time in the evening sun, providing one of those unforgettable spring patch experiences.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, Kittiwake is not a guaranteed bird locally each year, so I was pleased to see my second move through the so-called 'big pit' at Etton on the morning of 4th. It was present for all of a minute or two and was a classic example of a bird that makes you think about what else must we be missing locally each spring.
On 2 May I did a 'big green day' (or, as it was, half day), covering 60 km on the bike and taking in BLGP, Baston Fen, Castor Hanglands and Maxey Pits. In total I managed 105 species, which far exceeded my hopes given I was unable to commit the full day to it. A singing Quail at Baston Fen (also heard on 30 April) was the earliest I've had locally, but the highlight of the day was a singing Firecrest at BLGP. This was a patch tick for me and the first I've seen anywhere locally. It was very vocal but difficult to see when I first found it, and I couldn't hang around as I needed to press on with the day list. I managed to return later in the afternoon and the bird showed much better, but it had gone very dull by that point and the photo opportunities were poor. This was a fantastic example of a bird I'd simply have driven by had I been bird-racing in the car, such are the advantages of birding on a bike. I very much look forward to investing a full day on green 'racing' in 2022.
Passerine movement was largely disappointing during this period, with very little seen. Despite many miles walked or cycled, the only Whinchat I saw all spring was a male that I twitched in horse paddocks at Etton! Wheatear numbers were unremarkable at best and there were no other more unusual surprises to be had. Spring Whinchats really are good value though, aren't they?
Smaller waders started to move in the first week of May, but it wasn't long after this that the wind and rain set in. By 10th, we'd had so much rain that Wader Pit was back to winter water levels. Coupled with a particularly aggressive pair of Lapwings nesting on the remaining bit of shoreline, any arriving waders were quickly seen off. This made for a frustrating May, but not before a nice trickle of Dunlin (including 16 on 4th), as well as singles of Sanderling and Turnstone, moved through.
In an uninspiring few weeks for weather, coupled with the high water levels, it was probably optimistic to hope for much in the way of quality. My second patch Spoonbill was therefore very welcome when it appeared at Baston Fen on 7th, lingering into the next day.
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.