A 6 am start beckoned and I met Andy at Oakenclough in near perfect conditions - a light southerly, and compared to recent weeks, a temperature that felt quite agreeable.
Once again newly in birds were rather limited so we struggled to reach double figures with just 10 birds ringed but the emphasis on quality rather than quantity: 5 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Goldfinch and 1 Tree Pipit.
In most years April 1st is around the normal date for the arrival of the first Willow Warblers so the two males caught today are approximately ten days “late”. Maybe they picked a good time to arrive with predicted temperatures of up to 64°F and fine days for next week. In so many recent years Willow Warblers have arrived into cool and wet weather that continued throughout May and had a detrimental effect upon their breeding success.
Today’s Tree Pipit, our first of the year, was aged as a second year bird (born in 2017). April 14th is bang on the expected date of the first Tree Pipits arriving from Africa.
A Tree Pipit resembles the slightly smaller Meadow Pipit. Both are at first glance unexceptional looking LBJs, streaked brown above and with black markings on a white belly and buff breast below.
The Tree Pipit is distinguished from the slightly smaller Meadow Pipit by its heavier bill, stronger more yellowish, heavier streaking and greater contrast with the white belly. The former also has pink legs rather than the flesh-coloured legs of Meadow Pipit. As the name suggests, Tree Pipits spend more time in trees than ground dwelling Meadow Pipits. Tree Pipits breed across most of Europe and temperate western and central Asia. It is a long-distance migrant and spends our winter in Africa and southern Asia.
The song flight is unmistakable. The bird rises a short distance up from a tree, and then parachutes down on stiff wings, the loud song becoming more drawn out towards the end. It is many years since I heard the song here at Oakenclough where it used to breed in the open woodland and scrub of the late 70’s and early 80’s. The habitat is still suitable now but unless the Tree Pipit regains its former population level it is unlikely to return.
The Tree Pipit's flight and contact call is a buzzing "dzzz" sound, heard mostly during migration. It’s a high-frequency call that becomes harder to hear for us older generation birders. Luckily we can catch them, take a closer look and confirm that the label of “Little Brown Job” is far from the truth.
The morning proved quiet in the way of birding except for the usual five or six Buzzards in the air as the morning warmed. Two Red-breasted Mergansers “over” and a smattering of redpolls proved to be as good as it got with little sign of visible migration. "Otherwise" local birds included a handful of Chaffinches, 1 Jay and 2 Mistle Thrush.
The journey home was quite interesting by way of a Barn Owl hunting across farmland at 11.20am. Many Barn Owls are sat on eggs by now, a scenario that requires the non-sitting bird to spend extra hours in search of food.
Nearby I noted a single Kestrel and also a pair of Buzzards at a nest. The female was clearly visible in the huge pile of sticks close to the top of a tall, uncropped hawthorn hedgerow. Let's hope the conspicuous nest will not become a target for vandals and/or those who would harm the mostly harmless Buzzard.
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