Tuesday, 4 May 2021

(A complete absence of) April showers: part 1

No month can compete with January for additions to a year list, but April is expected to come a good second as spring migrants arrive in numbers. As my fitness improved, the distance I was prepared to cycle increased accordingly, opening up new possibilities to increase my tally during the month and to target species further afield which I was unlikely to see just mooching around the patch. 

Red-rumped Swallow at St Aldhelm's Head - a highlight of early April
Red-rumped Swallow, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
I figured at the start of the year that restricting the list to birds seen walking or cycling would impose a 'natural' limit on how far I was likely to go of about 10 miles, but resolved not to impose an arbitrary limit, as, if I was willing to make the effort to go further, any new bird would seem a legitimate addition. And there would be a certain natural justice in linking the physical effort expended to the reward in the form of an addition to the list.
Skylark, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
Skylark, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
The month started well with a perched Osprey eating a fish on 2nd. With various reintroduction schemes underway the 'tickability' of Osprey might now be open to question but this unringed bird at Middlebere had the necessary credentials to make the grade. The next day saw me back in Wareham Forest adding two more species: a Marsh Tit sneezing its way around a patch of wet woodland and an early Tree Pipit giving an electronic buzz from an isolated pine. 
Marsh Tit, Wareham Forest, 3rd April
Osprey, Middlebere, 2nd April
I took full advantage of the long Easter weekend with a pilgrimage to the Purbeck Coast on the Sunday. I had arranged to meet Phil Saunders at St Aldhelm's Head around 0700 hoping to benefit from his top bird-finding skills. He had elected for a more sensible means of transport and overtook me in his car puffing my way towards Worth Matravers - but I had already made a good start by then with a Willow Warbler in the half-light of Soldier's Road being my first of the year. 
Grey Partridges, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
Corn Bunting, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
One of my targets at St Aldhelm's was Grey Partridge, a difficult bird anywhere in Purbeck, best seen here in the quiet of early morning before the tourists arrive. On meeting Phil at the car park I was therefore a bit dismayed to see a party of dog walkers already returning from the Head. All was soon forgiven though as they flushed a pair of Grey Partridge into the field next to us! A singing Corn Bunting on the way out to the Head chalked up another target for the day and a smart migrant male Redstart at Trev's Quarry was added to the year list sooner than I expected. 
Redstart, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
Black Redstart, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
We spent an enjoyable couple of hours birding the area and met up with another friend, Steve Smith, checking out the quarried ledges below the Coastguards where a male and female Black Redstart entertained us on the cliff edge. I was about 50 yards away from the others when I heard Phil shout 'Red-rumped Swallow!'. I looked over to see them pointing to a patch of sky which was out of view from my angle so there was nothing for it but to sprint to the their location (not easy after an 11 mile bike ride) and hope the bird was still on view. Fortunately it was, and I managed a couple of record shots of it in flight before we scrambled up from the ledge to the coast path to find the bird perched on a fence.
Brown Hare, St Aldhelm's Head, 4th April
My trusty bike at St Aldhelm's Coastguard, 4th April
Some joggers were approaching the Swallow and we persuaded them to hold back while I attempted to get more photos against the light. One of them tried to snatch their own photo with a camera-phone which was too much for the Swallow and it took off to head inland. Red-rumped Swallow was not even on my 'maybe' list at the start of the year so this was a massive bonus for me as well as a feather in Phil's cap for another excellent find.
Pied Wagtail, Wareham, 5th April
Yellow Wagtail (and Green Sandpiper), Swineham, 7th April
It was still only lunchtime so I bid farewell to Steve and Phil and headed east along the Pilgrim's Way to Spyway Barn, where I locked up the bike and wandered down to Dancing Ledge in the hope of seeing at least one member of Dorset's tiny Puffin colony. It wasn't to be but distant views of a flock of Kittiwakes and a fly-past Whimbrel were both new for the year. A seven tick day which felt like just reward after a 29-mile bike ride, and the latter species bringing up the satisfying milestone of 150 for the year.
Not eligible for the non-motorised year list, as cycling to Portland Castle would have been a bit much at this point so I drove down, but this delightful Pied Flycatcher put on a great show early in the month

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