A frustrating run of cold northerly winds seemed to last all month slowing up the arrival of migrants and making this key sea watching period along the Solent very poor.
Small groups of Eider were moving back and forth on the sea early in the month and a female Red-breasted Merganser was still around on the 3rd. Dunlin and Turnstone were also hanging on at the month end. On the WeBS count early in the month there were impressive numbers of Mediterranean Gulls with 298 almost all adults gathering in their normal spot south east of Inchmery Quay.
Brown Hares continued to be in evidence including this obliging individual which trotted towards me showing the rufous colour, long legs, dark-tipped ears and also the tail held low unlike the Rabbit which holds it up flashing the white more obviously.
A small passage of Green Sandpipers moved through early in the month. They are on their way to breed in Finland and Russia having spent the winter in southern Europe or possibly Africa.
The male Dartford Warbler I first found in mid-January was singing for most of the month unable it seemed to attract a partner. I did see it with another male on the 5th and then I finally saw a female with one of the males on the 16th. Both males stopped singing in the last week of April. I’m hoping to find evidence of breeding in May.
The Little Ringed Plover pair continued to split their time between the muddy fringes and the shingle overthrow where they bred last year. They also flew over to De L’Orne Scrape to feed on several occasions. I saw them mating twice around last year’s nest site but it wasn’t until the 29th that they finally settled on a spot and I found the first egg.
Wheatears were fairly thin on the ground this spring with only three sightings so far compared to 12 last year, my first was on the 3rd April.
There were two Spotted Redshank on the 3rd but none were seen after this date. They head off to northern Scandinavia to breed. Greenshank, however, were still around at the month end. Those that linger are more likely to breed in Scotland as opposed to Scandinavia.
Also on the 3rd on the private side of the Park Shore fence the wintering Purple Sandpiper was associating with Turnstones. It seems likely to be heading back to Norway or Iceland soon. On the 16th I saw it again on the beach near Mary Monts with other lingering winter visitors, Grey Plover and Turnstone.
I tried out a new Emperor Moth pheromone lure. People have had good success with these in other places this spring. Emperors Moths are reasonably common in the New Forest but difficult to see well as they rarely land. I attached the pheromone-impregnated rubber bung to my tripod and stood upwind of several decent areas of heather and gorse but it wasn’t until my third try when I was on the beach at Park Shore that I got lucky.
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. This is the first ever record for Needs Ore/Park Shore and also the first ever record for the whole 10km square (SZ49). I saw other male Emperors at Mary Monts on 23rd and at the Wardens’ Hut on the 30th.
The 9th of April finally brought me first Merlin of the year. A large looking female dashed out across in front of me when I was at Wheatear Corner and then landed on the up-turned tree roots on the shingle ridge. She will be heading north soon to breed on the moors in Wales, northern England or Scotland.
The adult Spoonbills headed back to the Netherlands mid-month leaving a second calendar year bird on its own for the rest of the month. His ring NBNZ confirmed a Dutch origin and that he wintered in Poole Harbour.
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.
A Herring Gull mid-month showed an uncharacteristically wide black band on P5 and even a small black mark on P4. Several commentators online felt that this was a classic Yellow-legged Gull wing pattern but the bird in question turned out to have pink legs suggesting that a single feature taken in isolation (wing tip pattern) is not always indicative.
The drake Garganey remained in the De L’Orne area for most of the month but was unable to find a female. He left just after the 16th.
On the 16th 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. I heard Cuckoos on every visit during the rest of the month including a male coming in off the sea at the month end.
Sea watching mid-month produced the first trickle of spring passage, a Common Scoter pair west and seven Common Terns and the first Whimbrels heading east.
Common Tern passage picked up towards the end of the month including a tight fishing flock of 50 birds on the 20th. At times they streamed through at more than 30 per hour and then there’d be three or four hours with very few. The passage of Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit seemed a bit more consistent with counts of 50-70 of each species on two separate sea watches in the final week of the month. Some of the Whimbrel stopped to feed inland in the fields but the Bar-tailed Godwit tended to keep moving.
Sea watching highlights included 2 Arctic Terns on the 23rd and three 1st summer Little Gulls on the 29th.
Butterfly highlights included the first Green Hairstreak of the year on the Broom and Gorse bordering Gravelly Crossroads.
Lots of Speckled Woods flying along the hedgerows now and also good numbers of Peacock and the odd Comma. A butterfly patch tick on the 29th, my first Orange-tip on the reserve.
The Peregrines were seen mating on many occasions during the month but there was no evidence of a breeding attempt. They male and female are away from Gull Island a lot.
A highlight on the 21st was seeing my first odonata of the year, a Hairy Dragonfly quartering near Great Marsh. A few days later I later watched another patrolling the ditch opposite the Shore Hide.
On the 23rd it was great to watch a Hobby flying all of the way across the Solent making landfall before heading over Shore Hide and then on towards Black Water.
My first Little Terns of the year on the 27th were very distant, their amazingly rapid clockwork-toy flight action made identification easy despite the long range. On the same day a single Black-throated Diver headed east, there is a small spring passage of divers along the coast here, mainly Red-throated Divers and Black-throated Divers.
My first Gannet of the year on the 27th was a slight surprise and it came much closer than they normally do.
It’s always a treat seeing the Green-winged Orchids springing up in Spring Meadow during April.
My first damselflies of the year were Blue-tailed Damselflies which I recorded in three different places around the reserve on the 29th.
As I was heading down Gins West Bank on the 29th a Yellow Wagtail called above me, I didn’t see it which is a shame as they are pretty spectacular at this time of year.