Warmer weather and wind from the south started to bring in migrants from the middle of the week and the warm spring days, cooler nights and light south-westerly winds also produced some misty starts.
Sea watching early in the period produced the first trickle of spring passage, a Common Scoter pair west and seven Common Terns and the first Whimbrels heading east. During the subsequent week a few more Whimbrel stopped to feed inland in the fields around Warren Farm and then small groups followed off shore including a tight flock of 25 heading east on the 16th. Throughout the period increasing numbers of Sandwich Terns were very visible and audible.
Ringed Plover are starting to display around the Sailing Club.
They’ve been in short supply this spring but a Wheatear flicked along Gravelly Beach early in the week. The black ear coverts and lores indicate that it is a male and the wing feathers being paler brown indicate that it is a 2nd year bird (hatched last summer).
In amongst the 20 odd pairs of Black-headed Gulls which are using the rafts on De L’Orne Lagoon there has been a pair of Mediterranean Gulls. They seem to be hanging around and it makes me wonder if they are thinking of breeding here.
I found a Stonechat nest on the 12th. Both the male and the female are birds that Graham ringed and so they haven’t ventured far. She repeatedly returned to the nest area without nesting material and later flew a short distance, shook her feathers and defecated, all of which suggests that she is already incubating.
However, I later saw what I assumed was the nest and it was still empty. I wondered if they had abandoned but on two subsequent occasions I watched from long distance with a scope and both birds return to the area before the female dropped into the gorse while the male stood on guard on a nearby exposed branch. Not sure why she may be taking some time before laying.
The Dartford Warbler was still singing throughout the week and for large parts of the day. I’d been hoping to see a female ever since I first found the male in mid-January. The closest I’d come was seeing another ringed male earlier in April.
I was delighted, therefore, to finally see a female on his territory. I think she must be newly arrived, hopefully they will pair up.
Linnets are breeding all over the reserve with perhaps 30 or more nests. I found three likely nest locations with each female returning regularly with large pieces of nesting material suggesting that they are at the start of nest building. The female does all the nest building while the male accompanies her everywhere. I didn’t approach but I’ve got good directions and photos to enable me to check progress.
This Herring Gull showed an uncharacteristically wide black band on P5 and even a small black mark on P4. These are features which might suggest Yellow-legged Gull but they are also just about within the range for Herring Gull. The red spot on the bill doesn’t bleed onto to the upper mandible and although it’s difficult to say for certain the legs do look pinkish. Mantle colour is difficult to judge but perhaps this is too pale for Yellow-legged Gull. Overall, this suggests that this is a Herring Gull and that a single feature taken in isolation (wing tip pattern) is not always indicative.
The Little Ringed Plover pair spent most of their time feeding on the muddy fringes but regularly returned to the shingle overthrow where they bred last year. This is where I have seen them displaying, mating and sitting briefly. No sign of eggs yet and I think they are getting disturbed by people and dog walkers. Hopefully after the bank holiday weekend they may get a chance.
There are around 50 Avocets on the reserve with 35 on De L’Orne. A few were sitting on the islands although I think this is resting in the warm weather and not incubation. They tend to lag behind Lapwing with egg laying.
The number of White-tailed Eagles on the reserve has dropped significantly. It may be that our established older male has moved away and taken some of the younger birds with him. I saw only one during this period, drifting over the Reedy Ditch on the 12th.
My first Blackcap was singing near the Flycatcher Tree on the 12th with three or four more appearing over the subsequent few days.
At the viewing gate on the 16th a Sedge Warbler flew across in front of me before landing in the bushes at the end of the Main Hedge. Soon afterwards a Lesser Whitethroat started singing before showing itself briefly. This is a favoured spot for Lesser Whitethroat, they bred here last year. A bit like Willow Warblers, Sedge Warblers aren’t easy to see at Needs Ore and I don’t think they bred here last year despite the apparent perfect habitat.
A Bar-tailed Godwit seen flying up the river on the 12th wheeled around and landed briefly nearer to the Sailing Club. It’s almost certainly a newly arrived spring migrant, they are a different population to the wintering birds.
Lots of Speckled Woods flying along the hedgerows now and also good numbers of Peacock and the odd Comma.
The insect highlight, however, was undoubtedly at Park Shore where an Emperor Moth was attracted to a pheromone lure which I had attached to my tripod. He buzzed me several times before settling on my ruck sack and then my head! I managed to cup it in my hands and it stayed for a quick photo. They are very difficult to see well but more common than you’d think although having said that this is the first ever record for Needs Ore/Park Shore and also the first ever record for the whole 10km square (SZ49).
There are at least 10 singing male Reed Buntings mainly around Black Water. Where females were seen there didn’t seem to be any nesting activity yet, no collection of nesting material.
There was also a good arrival of Reed Warblers mid-week with at least nine singing males around Black Water.
Although not singing or calling yet a Whitethroat on the 14th was 10 days later than my first last year, yet it was still the earliest seen by anyone on the reserve, another indication that spring is a little later this year. Two days later there were a few more Whitethroats about and with some of them singing.
It was great to hear a Willow Warbler singing mid-month around Black Water. This is a declining bird especially in the south and they haven’t bred at Needs Ore for five years or more.
Greater Stitchwort is now flowering in the hedgerows.
The Peregrines were seen mating again mid-month. She still seems to be spending lots of time away from any nest which makes me think that she hasn’t laid any eggs yet.
Oystercatchers are now clearly paired up with at least six pairs around Black Water, Venner and De L’Orne. There are lots more on the spit and Gull Island which will be counted in the next few weeks.
The drake Garganey is still present now appearing to split his time between the Gins and De L’Orne Flood. Females can be elusive but over the four weeks of his stay (he first appeared on the 19th March) if there was a female around then someone ought to have seen her by now.
Lapwing nests on both the Gins and on Wigeon Fields were found predated, both were empty of eggs where there had been four eggs in each six days earlier. Badger and Fox are suspected.
At the end of the week I heard my first Cuckoo calling and as I walked along Warren Lane it flew across in front of me. This is two days earlier than last year.
Further up the lane Cuckooflower was flowering in Spring Meadow, so named as it often flowers in the same week as the Cuckoo arrives.
Five months after I first saw it the Purple Sandpiper remained on the beach near Mary Monts with other lingering winter visitors, Grey Plover and Turnstone. There are still at least two pairs of Pochard on Venner and Pullen. Despite being a very uncommon breeder in Hampshire they look likely to breed here again this year.