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Nature columnist discusses arrival of migrant birds

We have experienced a volatile spring with welcome southerly winds often quickly followed by cold northerlies, especially here close to the east coast, writes columnist Ian Misselbrook.

Floristically it has been an early spring with plants responding to mild temperatures.

I used to associate bluebells blooming with the month of May but this year they were fully in bloom before mid-April. Similarly, the rare and beautiful Pasqueflower, which I was keen to photograph, nearly caught me out as I found plants in full bloom on April 5, much earlier than I expected. Cowslips are now fully in bloom, but the grass is growing so quickly that they will not remain visible for very long.

Little Ringed Plover. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Little Ringed Plover. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

Migrant bird arrivals reflected the wind direction with many being held back by the northerly winds, but arriving in good numbers as soon as the wind abated or changed direction. Chiffchaffs arrived in mid-March but probably had not come very far as many now over-winter in south-west England. My first sand martins were located on March 18, but these relatives of swallows seem to be well able to cope with strong adverse winds.

However, I am pleased to report that our summer visitors are now arriving in good numbers. Little-ringed plovers, one of my favourite wading birds can now be found on several of our local gravel pits as well as nearby coastal nature reserves such as RSPB Frampton Marsh.

Another beautiful migrant well worth seeing is the yellow wagtail. Someone remarked to me that if you are looking at a green field and see the dandelions moving, then you have probably found yellow wagtails!

Ian Misselbrook
Ian Misselbrook

The reedy dykes and ditches are alive with the frenetic songs of sedge warblers and the more rhythmic, slower rendition of song by the slightly later arriving reed warblers.

Some birds wintering with us have demonstrated a marked reluctance to leave us for their northern breeding grounds. Siskins and bramblings were still visiting my garden in mid-April and there are still thousands of brent geese on the nearby Lincolnshire coast.

Butterflies are struggling with fewer of the species I normally record in April evident, such as orange tips, brimstones and the first broods of holly blue. The cold winds of course are partly responsible, but the main problem is undoubtedly the relentless rain.

The rain and floods are very damaging to wildlife as well as to farming and the production of our food. Land under water for long periods is very inhospitable to wildlife of all sorts from bugs and worms, to small mammals and of course the larger birds and mammals that feed on the invertebrates and small mammals. Expect to see fewer owls, kestrels and predatory mammals such as stoats, weasels and perhaps even foxes.

Yellow Wagtail. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Yellow Wagtail. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

Let us hope that after so many wet months we can look forward to a nice summer.

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