This afternoon I took advantage of the mild, sunny, early spring weather and stole an hour or two in Whisby Nature Park just south of Lincoln. The chiffchaffs had now arrived, whipping the air with their familiar, faintly monotonous, repetitive 2 to 3 note song. A lot of bird books illustrate chiffchaffs as dowdy, yellow-brown birds. But the reality is far different, especially in today's clear, slanting sunlight. Through my binoculars they looked magnificently beautiful in their lustrous yellow-green plumage when I picked them out in the birch trees' topmost branches. They faced one way, then turned 180 degrees to face the other, and sang for all they were worth in order to stake out their territory.
The yellow flowers of lesser celandines and their heart-shaped leaves covered the grassy bank of the drainage channel by the path circling Grebe Lake. The little islands in the lake were noisy with black-headed gulls which screamed and squabbled. A couple of early butterflies took off in jerky flight but it was impossible to identify them. Blackthorn was blossoming along the eastern edge of the lake. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed briefly one of the first swallows or martins to arrive here from Africa. It vanished before I could take a proper look at it. Bird identification can be so frustrating..!
Later I was lucky to see a sparrowhawk coasting over Willow Lake - a few flaps and a glide, a few flaps and a glide. It was a male, its belly barred bright orange. These birds (indeed, birds of prey generally) are increasing in numbers all over the UK - which is great news. Also I just missed seeing what I think must have been a water vole as it dunked into the reedy, still margins of the lake - the ripples spread out in concentric circles, but it didn't reappear. I scanned in vain for a kingfisher on the Dragonfly Lakes. But I did see 5 pairs of gadwall very close-up. In the sunlight these are the most striking and delicately marked of ducks. I spent ages admiring them.
Though I'm not normally one for lists and statistics, I thought it might be fun to count and list the number of bird species I noted today. The total was 35. Not bad when you consider that most of the wintering ducks and geese have now left, and it's still too early for most of the spring visitors. Also, since Whisby is predominantly reed and rush fringed lake and pond, with willow, alder and relatively new birch woods (interspersed with the odd remanant of older oak forest), the traditional bird species of more mature woodland - jay, woodpecker, nuthatch, treecreeper for example - are harder to find. And it's not really the right environment for waders either.
Anyway, here's the list:
Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Magpie, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Dunnock, Carrion Crow, Rook, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Green Plover, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler Duck, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Teal, Goldeneye, Cormorant, Chiffchaff, Black-headed Gull.
I heard a pheasant but didn't see it so haven't included it, nor have I included the brief swallow/martin sighting.