Sitting here on a dull, breezy morning, with the remnants of the overnight "rain" (a puny 2.6mm - where was the deluge they forecast?) in the air, the blackthorn bushes blooming in the Kingshill Farm orchard remind me that spring has pretty much arrived. And if that wasn't reminder enough, our stalwart team of Tuesday volunteers have now largely swapped roles and slipped seamlessly into their alter egos of lapwing nest monitors. Tuesday was the first day out looking and they found 5 clutches of lapwing eggs; with another few sitting lapwing seen, but the nests not found. This will be a twice a week activity now through into June. It won't tell us how many lapwing pairs we have, nor do we expect them to find every single lapwing nest, but it will give us a good idea what nest hatching success rates are across the reserve, and to some extent, an idea of chick survival rates too. In addition, we have an MSc student, aided and abetted by a contract worker from the Vodaphone "World of Difference" scheme, who will be looking at redshank breeding success. So what with this, and the breeding bird censuses, nest camera monitoring, fox scat transects, mustelid tunnel monitoring + the general day to day reserve work, we're in for a busy next couple of months!
On the bird front, Monday's 2 spoonbills remained through Tuesday, although there was only one present yesterday. The 2nd yellow wagtail of the spring was along the access track y/day, and there were also 2 white wagtails (the European alba race of pied wagtail) on the reserve. A whimbrel flew over calling after dark on Monday and there was a male blackcap in the orchard on Tuesday. A spotted redshank continues to linger around the Flood and there was a small party of summer-plumaged golden plover on Tuesday. Still a ring-tail hen harrier to Tuesday at least + peregrine. Y/days bird batted across the Flood so fast, most birds didn't have time to react. Just as well she wasn't hungry. And marsh harriers are ever more conspicuous - a scan along the northern boundary of the reserve y/day afternoon saw 7 in the air together!
So as a reminder that spring has arrived, along with one of my favourite birds, here's one I took earlier..
A scan over the Flood this morning revealed 2 sleeping spoonbill-shaped blobs. I did hear a report that there were 2 seen y/day, but there were definitely 2 today and they hung around all day as well. The first yellow wagtail of the year flew over and there was also at least 1 spotted redshank and a singing chiffchaff. A total of 7 species of raptor today, including ring-tail hen harrier, merlin & peregrine. A single brent goose is also still knocking around out towards Spitend.
Well, don't actually - it wasn't that hard to predict! But the first wheatear of the year duly arrived along the access track on Saturday. No sign of it today, but I'm sure that there will be others. There was also a chiffchaff reported. Today's highlight was an adult spoonbill on the Flood this afternoon, initially doing that usual spoonbill thing of sleeping, but later on actually doing stuff like feeding! Birds of prey around over the weekend included a ring-tail hen harrier, merlin & peregrine on Saturday, with merlin and buzzard today. The merlin I saw this afternoon was making a mockery of the "anti-crow perch" nails that have been stuck in the fence posts around the Flood, as it was perched on the nail! But then it's not a crow, I suppose.. The winged white-front continues to survive with it's adopted family of Canada geese, at least 2 Med gulls were around tthis afternoon and there was a single rock pipit. There were also 3 ruff half way along the access track, as well as a corn bunting near Kingshill Farm.
...and I missed this one too! I was tied to the office for most of this morning, but escaped late am to do the various checks around the reserve. A quick glance at the "additional sightings" sheet in the carpark revealed that some lucky visitor had connected with our 2nd record of the year at some stage this morning. April is usually a good month for wandering red kites in Kent, so I'm hoping to see one before too long. I had to console myself with a ring-tail hen harrier causing mayhem on the Flood, followed closely by a female sparrowhawk having a similar effect! High tide down at Spitend produced 300 grey plover, 550 dunlin and 85 avocet amongst others. A solitary knot was at Southfleet hide this morning. Migrant waders have been restricted to a ruff half way along the access track today (where there was also a corn bunting) and a greenshank yesterday. Despite checking, expected migrants haven't materialised yet. I would have expected at least a wheatear, a garganey or a yellow wagtail by now, but despite checking the seawall, grilling any groups of teal and scrutinising the first few groups of cattle, there's been no sign as yet. I'm sure one of these species (or maybe a sedge warbler) will arrive over the weekend!
With light winds & sunny skies, I was quite hopeful that today would produce our first yellow wagtail or garganey of the year. Alas, I was disappointed, but the variety of raptors around today made up for it. Both male & ring-tail hen harrier were seen, along with a merlin, at least 3 buzzards, 2 peregrines & 2 sparrowhawks, amongst the "common" stuff like marsh harrier & kestrel. We were looking closely at habitat requirements for black-tailed godwits today & saw what may have been a pair of "our" birds (as opposed to Icelandic birds) on the Flood. Avocets are now starting to display to each other & make nest scrapes, while we also saw at least one sitting lapwing. The "Kyaa" of Mediterranean gulls is now a common sound across the whole reserve.
Part of me is quite happy that spring definitely seems to have arrived, while another part would quite happily welcome a week of rain. Our winter flooding is disappearing fast after an average February and a very dry March, all compounded by this lovely sunny weather! I've got every pump available getting more of our abstraction allowance out of Windmill Creek and spread around the fields, before the levels drop below our cut-off point and i have to shut off the main pump for another winter.