Weather: overcast, cool.
Observers: Kaj, Lindsay, Kaye
Birds: With Ian away running a workshop at Blacktoft Sands, we were of course anxious to see something exciting. There have been quite a few reports of Chiffchaffs arriving in the area, and this was Kaye’s target in a short foray at 9.15. She was delighted to hear one almost straight away, and even more so to get a good view of it only seconds later. The problem now was how to convince Ian – but there was chiffing and chaffing all over the reserve and the others got equally good sightings on more than one occasion. The summer visitors may have started to arrive (incidentally six days ahead of our previous first sighting), but the winter ones are still hanging about – we found a few Lesser Redpolls in the usual area. Wrens seemed to be everywhere, with their characteristic springtime in-your-face singing at full volume. Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins and Bullfinches were likewise singing or calling all over the reserve, though we didn’t see any obvious courtship behaviour. We watched three male Blackbirds, a female and a Song Thrush foraging in the grass at the top of one of the side paths without any sign of territorial rivalry. On the other hand, along the beck path we did at last hear a Blackbird experimenting with a song. Two Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the same area, and could well have been the pair observed last week. There was also a fine male Chaffinch – subsequent sightings could well have been the same bird.
The only clear nest builders were a Magpie flying across the John Lally wood with a twig in its beak, and a Robin with a beakful of moss, that Kaye saw on her way back to the centre.
At the beckside watchpoint, we saw a Blackbird having a very energetic bath, a lone male Mallard, and a party of five Bullfinches, while another Song Thrush was singing in the distance. The Kingfisher was probably sitting there all the time having a good laugh at us (it is, after all, related to the Kookaburra). One was eventually seen well downstream, perched on a branch a little way from the water, but flew off almost immediately.
A passing Carrion Crow, a Pheasant as usual heard but not seen, a couple of frisky Dunnocks, a Collared Dove and the inevitable Wood Pigeons gave us a respectable list of 21.
Mammals: Unusually, we failed to see so much as a Grey Squirrel.
Plants and Flowers: Willow catkins are still flower of the week, with the huge “pussy willow” type on Osiers and Sallows, and less conspicuous green ones among the early leaves of Weeping Willow. Larch leaves are also emerging, and the first Apple buds are breaking. As more Blackthorn comes out, with its bright white flowers against bare black twigs, it’s much easier to distinguish from other early Prunus varieties on greener twigs with tiny leaves. On the Bund steps, Lindsay identified the leafy rosettes as the beginnings of next year’s Teasels. That’s why we thought they looked familiar! Coltsfoots are out in even more areas; White and Red Dead Nettle take a bit more finding, and Kaye made a detour at the end to check that the Lungwort is still in flower. The usual Gorse and Celandines, a few Primroses, Cowslips, Dandelions and Daisies together with the odd garden-escape Daffodil made up the tally.
Insects: Despite the cool, dull weather, Bumblebees were out and about, seldom staying still long enough to identify without capture. We noticed a few 7-Spot Ladybirds along the Tang Hall Beck path, most of them apparently camera-shy.
Amphibians: The Environment Centre pond seems to be full of Newts of all sizes, swimming about lazily in clear water and very easy to find. It’s much less easy to count them but one attempt got as far as 14. The mounds of Frogspawn have not as yet been devoured by passing ducks.