Three cheers for the chiffchaff!

chiffchaff

This week it has really felt like spring with the first singing chiffchaffs today- at least two- one near the Visitor Centre and another near Bernard’s Hide. It's on warmer, sunnier days when you can hear the most birdsong, which has been getting more intense this week- with robin, wren, dunnock, greenfinch, great tit and song thrush making up most of the orchestra. Down on the ground we’ve been seeing a lot of bumblebees slowly buzzing past, as well as our first hoverfly and butterfly (a peacock) this morning in Buggy Corner. But winter still has a grip on us as plenty of siskin are still visiting the feeders and we have good numbers of ducks out on the lakes.

The chiffchaff is traditionally the first spring migrant bird to reach us, and they are pretty accurate about it! Last year they were only a day later- arriving on 9th March. Although the odd chiffchaff does spend the winter in the UK, this is only about one bird in every 1200, so we can assume our chiffchaffs have migrated to us from Africa or southern Europe. Our next spring arrival to look out for will be the blackcap, which we could start to hear in a couple of weeks (in 2019 we heard our first on 16th March and in 2018 on 4th April).

chiffchaff

chiffchaff

As well as plenty of birdsong, in the coming weeks the variety of insects on the wing will increase rapidly, with Buggy Corner a very good place to look. Sited near to Double Decker hide, it is south facing, sheltered and with plenty of logs which warm up quickly in the sun. It will be a good place to look for the first butterflies, with peacock butterfly, small tortoiseshell or brimstone most likely to be seen there at the moment.

While Spring definitely has a presence at Lackford, signs of winter can still be seen on the trails and from the hides as plenty of ducks remain with us- the Sailing Lake is still holding plenty of tufted duck and gadwall, while teal and shoveler can be found in good numbers on the Slough. We had goldeneye reported last on 6th March, and it won’t be long before we lose these beautiful birds as they migrate to their upland breeding grounds on lochs and rivers further north. One difference though- although we still have a lot of ducks, many of them are visibly paired up now and will be thinking about nest-building in the coming days. Coots and moorhens are busy too- you will often see them dragging soggy bits of vegetation up from the bottom of pools and carrying it to the waters’ edge to add to a half-built nest. Keep an eye out too for oystercatcher- this is the time of year when we tend to see them in pairs turning up on the Slough, or- another favourite place- the jetty on the south end of the Sailing Lake. Shelduck numbers are building as well and there is quite a bit of squabbling going on between pairs and single birds on the reserve as they fight to organise themselves!

Great crested grebes are a highlight at the moment- they have returned to us in the past few weeks after spending the autumn and winter along our coasts. Many of them, especially older birds, now have their beautiful head plumage, and they will soon be pairing up and performing their elaborate courtship ‘dances’. Look for these from Bess’s Hide and on Hawker Pool especially, along with little grebe, wigeon and little egret here too. Our grey herons are also in their breeding finery- even if it is a bit more understated- adult herons’ bills turn from a pale peachy pink to a vivid yellow-orange, their head markings get stronger and males grow long, thin plumes that drape down their backs and smaller ones on their heads.

If you do head over to the eastern lakes, you’ll notice the hazel and hawthorn bushes are coming in to leaf, with spurts of bright green foliage opening up, especially on bushes that are in the sun- here’s a photo of a hazel near Ash Carr this morning.

hazel leaves

hazel leaves

Keep an eye out for red kites too- circling above you on thermals, as we have seen them regularly this week on milder days. They are beginning to nest locally and so we are seeing more and more of them each year at Lackford- they especially like the dry, open grassland habitat of Sayer’s Breck. It is a really interesting time to visit Lackford at the moment with the transition between winter and spring well underway. Keep an eye out for early insects and flowers, but take time to appreciate birds such as goldeneye, wigeon and siskin while we still have them!