The bright and breezy conditions proved to be a theme of mid-late May, which in turn had a big impact on one of the month's big features for the inland patcher – wader passage.
Out on Deeping Fen, the flooded field at North Drove quickly dried up in the drought-like conditions, although not before it gave me a few great sessions to remember it by (for various reasons, this field will never likely flood again in the way it did in 2020). One of these was on 18th, when a beautiful summer Sanderling dropped in with a handful of tundrae Ringed Plovers.
Strong winds on 22nd produced the best day of the month for waders, with another Sanderling at North Drove alongside Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and three Greenshanks.
That day also produced a few Greenshanks and a couple of different Sanderlings at Baston & Langtoft Pits, including a bright bird which spent time feeding around a single tiny island until pressure from the local gulls got too much and it was tossed eastwards in the relentless gale.
Avocets also took up residence at North Drove and decided to try and nest, although the dwindling water there means they're most likely doomed when it dries up. Ironically, this site (which wouldn't have existed were it not for one of the wettest winters on record) would no doubt have attracted more interesting visitors in a more typical, wetter spring, and would have also retained water for longer. As you tend to find with patching, you can't have it all!
Nicholas Watts' fields on the south side of Baston Fen have been producing a trickle of waders since late April, and this spot also has good numbers of breeding Redshank, Lapwings and Oystercatchers, plus regular Avocets and the odd visit from up to two Garganey. 'Build it and they will come', as they say.
On the sometimes very warm days, the slower pace of birding meant a change of focus at times. Probably the biggest surprise was finding Green Hairstreak at BLGP. As far as I can tell this is not only a site first but also a bit of a range expansion.
The Black-headed Gull colony seems to be having a better year than last, no doubt spurred on by the favourable conditions. As is usual for this site, the first fledged youngsters started appearing in the final few days of the month.
I spent quite a lot of time walking likely spots for unusual 'Acros' during the final week of May, buoyed by an influx of both Blyth's Reed and Marsh Warblers to southern and eastern areas. Just the common species, though ...
All in all, it's been a decent spring on patch. The weather wasn't conducive to any big movements and lots of stuff must have gone straight overhead, unnoticed. On the other hand, the beautiful weather encouraged songsters and good shows of raptors overhead. It's been an amazing year for Garden Warblers, of that there is no doubt. Hearing a Nightingale at the pits again was a red-letter moment. Scarcities such as Cattle Egret, Grey Plover and Sandwich Tern kept me going, and the trickle of migrating waders – always my favourite family of birds – was dynamic enough to keep me interested day to day.
Rediscovering the joys of patch birding has been a real revelation for me this spring. It was an opportunity I wouldn't have foreseen even as recently as February, but I've loved it. Appreciating the intricacies and nuances of a patch, understanding how it works, finding the best spots and observing the advancing spring at an altogether more relaxed pace than I am typically accustomed to in London has made this a truly memorable couple of months.
In this fast-paced, sometimes chaotic world in which our consumption all too often outweighs what we give back, it is so easy to forget what great pleasure the simplicity of watching a local spot can bring through the seasons. It is a highly rewarding pastime. Every slow, unproductive visit makes the good days even sweeter when they come. There is huge satisfaction in finding a locally interesting species (bird or otherwise!) close to your front door, even if it might be common in nearby suitable habitat, on the coast or otherwise.
A great deal can be learned from patch birding and, if you're lucky enough to live close to somewhere accessible and with even a modest array of habitats, I would urge you to give it a go if you don't already. Although re-calibrating individual expectations is an inevitable part of the process, there is little doubt that, in time, you will find that birding can be just as enjoyable within a few miles of home as it can be anywhere else on this planet. That's certainly been the case for me.
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.