Thursday, 22 April 2021

Early migrants

At first glance February appeared to offer limited prospects for adding to my 2021 non-motorised (walking and cycling only) year list. But with a week off at half-term there was always the chance of sweeping up some species which I had missed in January. Unbelievably, these included Skylark which had somehow evaded me at Swineham in January. The patch also produced the year's first Green Sandpiper and Jack Snipe in February, as well as the two star birds of the month: a dainty adult Little Gull which spent over a week on the Piddle Valley floods, and a lovely winter plumaged Red-throated Diver which treated us to an extended stay on the River Frome.

Red-throated Diver, River Frome nr Wareham, 14th Feb

Red-throated Diver, River Frome nr Wareham, 14th Feb
The Diver, found by Garry Hayman and family, was unusually far upriver towards Wareham town centre, and interrupted the traditional Valentine's Day argument about why one of us no longer gets a card (point of order: the 'one of us' is me) and gave me the perfect excuse to storm out in an apparent huff. But only after donning wellies, waterproofs (it was raining cats and dogs) bins and camera, which, by the time I was ready to leave, had rather dampened the dramatic impact of my strop. Attempting to photograph the Diver well became something of an obsession for the rest of February half-term week. When preening or resting on the surface it could show incredibly well, but when feeding (which was most of the time) it could appear 100 metres or more away and lead the would-be viewer on a merry dance - a merry dance in wellies up and down the Somme-like bank of the Frome which caused my calf muscles to scream on more than one occasion.
Little Gull, Piddle Valley, 22nd Feb

Little Gull, Piddle Valley, 22nd Feb
The Little Gull required much less effort, having been located on 22nd by my friend and fellow Swineham regular Trevor Warwick, who was having a good month as he also discovered a Ring-necked Duck on one of the gravel pits, presumed to be one of the Binnegar birds which I saw in January. I went to look for it and stumbled across a second Ring-necked Duck - obviously the other Binnegar bird relocating. Thanks to Trevor's prompt passing on of news I was able to see both the Little Gull and the Ring-necked Duck on the day of their appearance in the sliver of daylight between finishing work and dusk.
Two female Ring-necked Ducks (with Tufted Duck), Swineham, 13th Feb

Jack Snipe, Swineham, 13th Feb
The Little Gull was still present and performing well on the evening of the 26th and as I watched it I was surprised and delighted to see the joyous shapes of the first Sand Martin and Swallow of the year bouncing over the flood meadows of the Piddle Valley - my earliest records of both species at Swineham. Wareham Forest became a favoured haunt of mine during the lockdown of last spring, and February saw me back there to add Yellowhammer and a bonus Red Kite on 28th as my last new birds of the month, bringing the year list to 129 species.
First Sand Martin of the year - 26th Feb

First Swallow of 2021 - 26th Feb
I haven't kept any kind of year list for, well, years, so it was amusing to be reminded how doing so requires one to do silly things like twitching a local Red-legged Partridge, again thanks to prompt news from Trevor - not an easy bird in these parts. Heading out to Holme Lane to see it brought the added bonus of a Merlin scudding over the gravel pit - a species which had eluded me in January. More worthy of a twitch was the 22-strong flock of another local scarcity, Golden Plover, discovered by Marcus Lawson on 12th a short bike ride away at Holton Lee. I snaffled them up with a late evening two-wheeled sprint, like an unfit, old, slow version of Mark Cavendish. In wellies. On a crap bike.
Golden Plover, Holton Lee, 12th Feb

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