Cold rain yesterday, wind and sun today - so Spring is still here after all. The wind has made birdwatching quite challenging today, as most birds seemed to be taking shelter.
80 bird species were recorded by 5pm, so they were there if you looked or listened. You could hear Cetti's and garden warblers, cuckoos and bitterns quite easily, but seeing them was a different matter altogether.
For many of today's visitors, the most easily seen birds were swifts. There were hundreds of them, zooming around all of the lakes, picking off the low-flying insects and sharing the skies with some hobbies. Lapwings and oystercatchers were in the field next to the car park, so they didn't demand much effort either. A few lucky visitors watched a marsh harrier with us, while others saw a little egret - both were seen from the car park.
Our common terns have begun incubating their eggs now, and some can be seen on the rafts that we've placed in some lakes especially for them.
Dragonflies, damselflies, demoiselles and butterflies could be found in sheltered, sunny spots, incluing a local speciality, scarce chaser dragonflies.
The other day, I thought it felt like spring. Today has definitely been a summer's day.
There weren't many people about today - was it too hot for them ? - but visitors still managed to record 80 bird species. The last one added to the list was a black tern, found flying and feeding with our common terns. Our first scarce chaser dragonfly of 2010 was found today too.
Searching the edges of the lakes, you can now find families with small babies, particularly coots and mallards. During the week, our first great crested grebe chicks were found, riding their parent's back on Oxholme Lake. Only the stripey heads were visible, but the world must have looked big and scarey, as they kept disappearing underneth a sheltering wing.
There are lapwing chicks running around in the grassland areas, and ringed and little ringed plovers and oystercatchers have chicks too, but they require luck and patient watching to find. Goslings are easier to spot - the oldest ones hatched at Easter, and are now quite big.
Family parties of long-tailed tits can now be found in the hedges, and newly fledged blackbirds under them, begging their parents for more food.
As for the noisy birds, they include sedge warblers and Cetti's warblers, trying to be louder than all the others, common terns screeching as they commute between the lakes, and a bittern, booming throughout today.
I’m beginning to think that spring has arrived, at last. A few early morning surveys in the past week at Fen Drayton Lakes have influenced my thinking.
The first mornings were frosty and still, with mist sitting on the calm waters until the rising sun burned the mist away. Beautiful to look at, and rewarding for getting out of bed so early.
The latest survey morning, Saturday, was calm and much warmer. The effect on the birds was almost deafening, as they all seemed to be singing at once – a brilliant dawn chorus. It was one of those mornings when you just want to sit and listen. Sadly, I didn’t have that luxury – there was more work to do, but that wasn’t so bad.
There were more signs of spring as the day went on – parties of recently-fledged long-tailed tits were noisily working their way along hedges, searching for caterpillars among the hawthorn blossom. Then there was the great crested grebe carrying 3 tiny chicks on its back, their stripy heads occasionally poking out from under the parent’s wing. They don’t come much cuter.
By the end of the afternoon, the collective effort of a handful of visitors produced a list of 92 bird species recorded at Fen Drayton Lakes on that one day. That was a one-day record for the site, yet remarkably, no one could find a couple of resident bird species, and there was a distinct lack of migratory wading birds. There were reports of the latter group from around the region, so why not here? Was there a conspiracy amongst them to keep our tally below the magical 100?
The hawthorn blossom was a weekend feature too – the heady perfume filled the sheltered lanes. There are patches of flowering cowslips in dry areas, and ox-eye daisies will be flowering very soon.
The first damselflies are now emerging from the aquatic stages of their lifecycle, risking life as they fly where hobbies fly. Hobbies are migratory falcons, recently arrived from their winter trip to Africa, and they depend on large flying insects to restore their energy levels before they begin to nest – alder flies, damsel and dragonflies, and chafer beetles will all be devoured.
The weather was grim here on Saturday, but it meant that insect-catchers suchs as swifts, swallows and martins were hunting their food very low over the lakes. It was virtually impossible to count how many swifts we had. 100....200? If only they would sit still and be counted!
Every now and then, a swift would come tearing through the car park at shoulder height, as if they were on a dare to get as close as possible to me or my volunteer helpers. It was incredible. I wonder how many times we said "wow".
The weather was still as windy on Sunday, but warmer and dry, so the insects were shade higher, or perhaps there were just a few too many people in the car park for the swifts to fly so close and low today.
One of the spectacles on Sunday, once the sun warmed up and the insects flew high, was the number of hobbies that were feeding on them, along with high-flying swifts. Other highlights included the marsh harriers and the wheatear by the car park, the cuckoo flying over the car park, and the warbling warblers all around the Lakes.
It's cold. It's wet. It's windy. It must be another Bank Holiday.
It was our Dawn Chorus event this morning too. Despite the weather, a dozen people made the effort to get up early. They put some of the birds to shame. Several people in the group heard their first cuckoo of 2010 before we had set off from the car park.
There were some (short) sunny spells and birds responded by singing well, at least until the next shower reached us. One of our loudest, and most distinctive, birds made a valiant effort to keep quiet, and it managed to hold out until the end of the event. Just as we decided to have our coffee and croissants, a Cetti's warbler burst into song. It was our eighth warbler species of the morning.
One benefit of a dawn chorus in weather like this is that, with few birds singing at any one time, it is easier to hear individual birds and the different songs from the different species.
There were some great non-vocal moments too - the distinctive whooshing sounds made by a mute swan's wings as it flies, the clatter of a wood pigeon's wings as it takes off, and sky-dancing marsh harriers. The roller-coaster display flight of the harriers looked exhilarating. You could imagine them making the most of the gusting winds to rise up over the reeds then plunge down, almost to the level of the reeds, before rising again.