Boughton Park and Wierton Hill Farm
High pressure continued to influence, with dry but cold conditions for a day or two, but low pressure then brought more unsettled conditions. In the southeast most rain fell at night or in the late afternoons and the temperature rose into double-figures. By the third week a ridge of high pressure moved slowly northwest across the country and settled weather was appreciated in the southeast, though early mornings were sometimes cold with frost. A cold northerly blew during the last week, which felt wintry for much of the time.
The 30th was chosen for the annual spring Patch Watch, the full story of which, accounting for the 60 species totalled, will be available be read elsewhere. It commenced at 3.30 am and I completed thirteen-and-a-half-hours in the field before calling it a day. Nowadays, Bob spends a proportion of his visits sky watching rather than walking around the area and today this proved extremely profitable. He saw his first, and only the second Little Gull record for the patch, as an adult flew N with other gulls. He also saw the first Swift of the spring and another seven species that I failed to see before he departed, a short while before I returned to the reservoir for a lunch break at 12.30 pm. They included another three House Martins, two Swallows and a Sand Martin, four LBB Gulls and peak monthly counts of 32 Woodpigeons and 11 Carrion Crows. We both heard a Tawny Owl hooting and my sightings included the possibility of a third Nightingale in song, the continued singing of the Garden Warbler, an unexpected GBB Gull flying NE and right at the end of the day seeing a Wood Warbler, was a rewarding pleasure, but a little disappointing not to hear it singing.
By the end of the month a total of 74 species had been recorded, four below the thirty-two year mean and the annual total had risen to 86, six below the end of April mean of 92.
Though the light to moderate wind had backed southwest on the 29th it was still cold. Greylag Geese continued to fly from and to the reservoir, with a peak of nine early on and just one pair of Tufted Duck flew in, with three pairs on the lake. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew S, five Herring Gulls NW and one NE. The Garden Warbler sang well again and also showed briefly. The Spindlewood feeders attracted a pair of House Sparrows, a Greenfinch and a Nuthatch, a pair of Reed Buntings was present by the reservoir again and a LT Tit visited the nest site by my parked car again.
It was almost cloudless for much of the visit on the 28th, when the temperature rose from 1° – 9°C during the four hours. At the reservoir there was no sign of any goslings or ducklings but a Grey Heron was present, along with four pairs of Tufted Ducks, two Canada Geese flew in, as did three Greylags to join the five pairs present. Both Nightingales and a Lesser Whitethroat sang and in Gary’s shaw a Garden Warbler sang at length, at the beginning of the mean arrival week, but remained invisible. Along the east bank of the Deer Park at least three Fox cubs appeared for a short while.
During Bob’s visit on the 27th he saw the first three House Martins over the reservoir, within the mean arrival week, and also the first Brimstone butterfly for four years, just within the mean arrival week
With an almost cloudless sky early on the 26th, I decided to complete my early BBS first, reaching the patch by 9.30 am. It remained dry and sunny, with a cold, light to moderate northwest wind and a good number of passerines weren’t singing or kept out of sight. One Nightingale sang and a call was heard from the same territory, a Lesser Whitethroat sang from the southwest corner of the reservoir and a Willow Warbler was again seen near Gary’s. Three and a loose flock of seven Herring Gulls flew SW, the five goslings were still present but just 10 Mallard ducklings were seen. Back by my parked car, a party of five LT Tits, which moved rapidly N along the hedgerow, appeared to be all adults and a sixth adult visited the bramble where a pair is considered to be nesting.
During an early visit on the 25th, it was dull, overcast and damp. Shaving chips had been spread around the reservoir paths, making them far easier to walk on. A second brood of 13 Mallard ducklings was present, along with a brood of five Greylag goslings (mean hatching date 2013/16 is Apr 22nd). A pair of LT Tits, carrying feathers for their nest, moved E along the north bank but Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs were the only summer visitors noted. Two pairs of Tufted Duck were present on the lake, where a Canada Goose continued to incubate her clutch.
It was sunny and bright on the 23rd, with variable cloud cover and a cold north-northeast wind. Though over forty species were noted in the two-and-a-half-hour visit, one Kestrel and calls from a lone BH Gull, were the only representatives from those two families. Few summer visitors were noted but five Common Whitethroats in song may have included one new arrival. A cock Blackcap fed at a Spindlewood feeder and both House Sparrow and Greenfinch were heard calling.
Only a ninety-minute visit was possible on the 22nd, which was dry and overcast, with a cool northeasterly and it proved fairly uneventful, though a Grey Heron flew NE, a Lesser Whitethroat was seen by Gary’s and the car park individual sang.
It was cloudless and still early on the 20th, when I could only manage a shorter visit of ninety minutes, during which I heard a Common Whitethroat singing from a fourth territory, two and four BH Gulls flew S and one NE and a LBB Gull NE was a British race Larus. f. graellsii.
It was less cold and mainly cloudy on the 19th, with occasional sunny spells during the four-and-a-half-hour visit. The car park Lesser Whitethroat was in full song and the pair of LT Tits suddenly reappeared, with a third, carrying moss, near the pump station. Another Grey Heron flew W and the highpoint of the morning was seeing a drake Mandarin on the lake, from which it later flew. A Willow Warbler sang a few phrases close to Gary’s dwelling, two Larus. f. intermedius LBB Gulls flew N, a pair of Greenfinches visited the Spindlewood feeders and a male Swallow flew towards the nesting ‘Canteen’ by Zika’s barn. Two pairs of noisy Jays flew E across the Deer Park, pausing occasionally and the spruce copse was more lively than usual, producing a Treecreeper, a Goldcrest and a Coal Tit.
During the visit on the 18th, in similar weather conditions, two new spring migrants were heard and seen. A Cuckoo called frequently, from around 10am in the rarity hedge area and Bob’s scanning from beside the reservoir, where I joined him, produced two Grey Herons flying SW, one Swallow visiting the reservoir and another flying N but the star players were two Sand Martins, seen flying around the far side for a short while, before disappearing NW. This species is now very scarce here. Both migrants were within their mean weeks, having the same mean date of Apr 16th. Typically, following my disappointing census, two pairs of Tufted Ducks flew onto the reservoir, around which I heard a Bullfinch calling and saw a cock Reed Bunting, as well as watching the Kestrels pair mating, but LT Tits remained elusive. Early on, a Mediterranean Gull called from the direction of the bright sun and again I failed to see it. I did see a Herring and a L.f.intermedius LBB Gull flying S and also only heard one BH Gull calling. Around the reservoir two Nightingales sang and a third was heard to call, three Common Whitethroats sang from three of the usual territories and there was a peak count of 16 Greylags on the reservoir. At least one Early Purple Orchid was in good bloom.
The census on the 17th commenced at 0500, under an almost cloudless sky, with little wind but cold and frosty at 0°, rising to 10°C by noon. It ended at 1330, by which time cumulous clouds were widely scattered in a light, cool, northwest wind. If I’d managed to find such regular species as Kestrel, LT Tit and Bullfinch and Reed Bunting, I’d have reached the mean of 51. Amazingly, 412 birds were totalled, precisely the same as the previous two years, equalling the lowest ever and well below the mean of 538. Of the regular migrants yet to arrive only Cuckoo, so far, will be later than its mean arrival date. Two Tawny Owls hooted and two Little Owls called before dawn, with a third joining in when all three called around noon. Gulls performed well early in the day, one Mediterranean Gull called as it flew S and two were seen later just north of the patch. Totals of 10 Black-headed, five Herring and two LBB Gulls flew either NE or SW. A second Lesser Whitethroat sang from along Peens Lane and 15 Chiffchaffs may have included a few new arrivals but no others were noted. The two pairs of Tufted Ducks had left but a Cormorant visited the reservoir, a third Buzzard was seen circling north of the church and a cock House Sparrow was my first for nearly two weeks.
The visit on the 16th was mainly under cloud cover, with a cool. light westerly breeze at 5°C. The Nightingales didn’t sing or call for my ear but two Willow Warblers and two Common Whitethroats sang, another Blackcap sang a wide range of phrases and the first female was also seen. A pair of Tufted Duck flew onto the reservoir, another pair was present on the lake and the pairs of Linnets and Reed Buntings were also present by the reservoir.
The 14th commenced still, bright and sunny above the low-lying mist, before clouding over. It was a relatively quiet visit, with no new migrants, however, a Grey Heron NW was my first for the month. An additional 10 Greylags and a pairs of Canada Geese and Tufted Duck were present on the reservoir but there was no sign of the Mallard and her brood. A Chiffchaff was seen carrying nesting material in one of the reservoir territories and a pair of Coal Tits was feeding in the northern larches.
Cloud slowly cleared early on the 13th and it became sunny and dry, with no wind and the temperature rose from 3°-10°C during the four-hour visit. A Lesser Whitethroat had returned to its car-park territory on the earliest ever arrival date, the mean being the 24th, two Nightingales sang, one with an incredibly wide open mouth and Bob saw two Swallows flying N. Sadly, the Mallard brood had declined to eight, a total of five BH Gulls flew N, one S and one Herring Gull flew SE. Frustratingly, the parakeet was heard but not seen yet again
Under broken cloud, mild and sunny conditions on the 12th, another Swallow appeared at the reservoir by which the first Nightingale was singing, a day later than the previous years earliest ever date. Other migrants had apparently also arrived, with seven Blackcaps, a Common Whitethroat and another Willow Warbler heard singing. One Greylag Goose was sitting on an island nest and three pairs of Tufted Duck arrived. A pair of Egyptian Geese circled low and appeared to drop down towards the lake, but there was no sign of them later. The duck Mallard still had 12 ducklings, a clump of downy feathers on the bank indicated the fate of the missing one.
A brief visit in the evening resulted in two young Badgers being seen at the traditional sett in the Deer Park and Little Owls called from two different localities.
It was mild and still, with sunny periods early on the 11th, clouding over towards the end of my three-hour visit. A brood of 13 Mallard ducklings was present on the reservoir, to which a Cormorant visited and a pair of Tufted Duck returned. The pair of Kestrels was seen mating again, near the nest box barn. Later, Bob was present by the reservoir when the first Swallow of the year appeared and four more flew N. He also found an Early Purple orchid in bloom along with Cowslips.
The visit on the 10th was marked by the equal earliest date arrival of a Common Whitethroat, first heard singing from the south bank of the reservoir. It was another cold, frosty start under a blue sky; an easterly wind rose mid-morning, bring variable cloud cover. Three 1st year Mute Swans flew NE and frustratingly I failed to see a noisy parakeet species, which called quite frequently from the east-west line of poplars and didn’t sound like a Ring-necked. In one of the poplars a Mistle Thrush was building a nest, a photograph of which shows some barred wire associated with it! There was more frustration as three different gulls flew over, all while I was in woodland, calls of two sounded like Herring or LBB Gulls and the third looked very white, probably a Mediterranean but it didn’t call. Two Blackcaps and eight Chiffchaffs were also heard singing. An additional Buzzard joined the local pair, circling in the air together, very briefly, earlier I’d seen one of the pair on last year’s nest.
The 9th was dull and miserable, with light rain beginning to cease as the three-hour visit ended. A pair of Tufted Duck visited the reservoir. The Willow Warbler was present by the reservoir again and several gulls were seen flying over, including three and one Lesser Black-backed N. On my return visit, a cock Linnet sang by the reservoir and a Grey Wagtail perched on a wire above Wierton Hill.
It was cold, with patchy frost, still and almost cloudless during the early visit on the 8th, when the temperature rose from 1° – 6°C. The local pair of Kestrels was seen mating, as was a pair of LT Tits, the hen of which was tailless. The Willow Warbler may have moved on but a second Blackcap sang from Zika’s dell. Otherwise it was uneventful.
It was cold on the 7th, with the temperature rising from 1°C – 6°C in the four- hour visit. The southwest wind increased from light to moderate strength producing variable cloud cover, after a clear, post-dawn start. A Blackcap continued to sing in the northwest corner, the Willow Warbler performed well on the reservoir island and just six Chiffchaffs were heard. Frustratingly, a Mediterranean Gull, first heard calling, was seen flying S a little way east of the patch. The resident pair of Buzzards called and circled in the wind and later two more circled high of the southern boundary. A Lesser Redpoll fed again at Gary’s feeders and a Coal Tit at the Spindlewood feeders, with a second in the northern larches, where a Goldcrest and a pair of LT Tits were also seen. The Fritillary was in flower, another Small Tortoiseshell was seen and photographed and a large family of young Rabbits fled back to their burrows in the Deer Park.
For me, the song of the Willow Warbler is the real harbinger of spring and I was able to enjoy it by the reservoir early on the 6th, despite the miserably dull, damp conditions, with a cool light to moderate southwesterly. The date is four days earlier than the thirty-two year mean. The pair of Reed Buntings was also seen and two pairs of Greylag Geese flew onto the reservoir, where a drake Tufted Duck was also visible during the return visit. Seeing just two pairs of Mallard and a party of five drakes suggests that ducks may have commenced brooding. The Blackcap was seen and heard again in the northwest corner, where another pair of LT Tits was feeding. Also, some oaks were beginning to come into leaf.
Cloud cover eventually cleared to become sunny and warm later on the 5th, when four drake and three duck Tufted Ducks were present on the reservoir, with two pairs of Greylag Geese and a Reed Bunting was seen by the reedbed. In addition to the pair of Canada Geese at the lake, a small party of six flew NE and another four circled over the area. A hen Brambling was seen in the Spindlewood copse, a pair of LT Tits in the marsh alders was a first for this month, Rory saw a pair of Pied Wagtails on the lawn at Boughton Place and the Blackcap was seen and heard singing again in the northwest corner.
The 4th commenced overcast, dull, mild and still but patches of blue sky brightened the scene after a couple of hours. Nine Greylags were visible on the reservoir, near which calls of Egyptian Geese were later heard from the Deer Park. A drake Tufted Duck visited the lake, the Little Owl was again visible, 10 Chiffchaffs were heard or seen and back by the reservoir the pair of Reed Buntings appeared and a hen Sparrowhawk disappeared into the oak copse, chased by a noisy Carrion Crow.
There was high broken cloud in a light southwesterly early on the 3rd, when the temperature rose from 5° – 12°C during another three-and-a-half-hour visit. The first Blackcap sang from the northwest corner of the patch, four days later than the mean arrival date. Ten Greylags were present on the reservoir, around which the pair of Reed Buntings was seen again. Later, Bob sat there for a while and was rewarded with the sight of a Kingfisher fishing from the island trees and a female Sparrowhawk flying low over his head. Otherwise it was a relatively quite visit, with a single Lesser Redpoll still feeding at Gary’s feeders, two Pied Wagtails in the sheep pasture again and the first Small Tortoiseshell of the spring. Rory also saw a Pied Wagtail on the lawn at Boughton Place and in the late afternoon there was an impressive thunderstorm.
It was cloudless, with a very light southerly breeze on the 2nd, when the temperature rose from 4° – 12°C during the three-and-a-half-hour visit. A few of the species not seen on the 1st were added, including a pair of Tufted Duck on the reservoir, around which a cock Bullfinch and a male Linnet were also present, and in addition a Greenfinch sang near the spruce copse and three Starlings were seen. Several small parties of Greylag Geese flew around the area, with an additional eight visiting the reservoir. Also two Treecreepers were again seen, one of which sang.
The sky was cloudless with a bright half moon and it was still and cold at 0°C before dawn on the 1st, with a light frost. Some cloud drifted over during the seven-hour visit, which became longer than anticipated as a dense mist drifted off the Weald, cleared quite rapidly but then reappeared even more dense for well over two hours. A Little Owl was heard from the churchyard before dawn broke and a Kestrel also called. At least eight Chiffchaffs were heard or seen, and, once the mist had been burned off, the spruce copse produced a Coal Tit, a Goldcrest and a Treecreeper in song, another was seen nearby on an oak in the southwest corner of the Deer Park. A second circuit of the Spindlewood area proved beneficial, as a pair of House Sparrows was present in the damson hedge, a hen Brambling flew into the orchard, a first Peacock butterfly was seen and two Lesser Redpolls suddenly appeared on Gary’s feeders. As I drove away along Peens Lane, a Jay flew over and later three flew onto the patch, as I reached the northwest corner. I was hoping for song from an early Willow Warbler but was rewarded instead by a hoot from a Tawny Owl almost over head, but I couldn’t locate it. A total of 42 species was a reasonable start for the month, though I missed species probably present like Starling, LT Tit, Linnet and Bullfinch.