Pied flycatchers, redstarts and house martins.

Redstarts and pied flycatchers are back in some local woodlands. They are two species I cannot wait to see each spring. Both seem exotic in colour and song. Tolly and I went to watch them at dawn on Sunday 18th April. We soon found a male pied flycatcher singing near a nest hole. With the females yet to arrive he was singing almost non stop. The temperature at the time was well below freezing and buds were held tight on the oaks. It felt incongruous seeing this black and white gem with feathers extremely fluffed up, in a wintry looking wood while we felt the biting cold air. The black and crisp white plumage makes the male stand out like a little marker in a still, leafless wood.

Nearby a redstart, equally stunning was also singing. We had good views of it atop some birch trees, another male bird waiting for females to arrive. Redstarts are one of those birds I remember yearning to see when I looked through bird books as a child. In West Berkshire we were far from their strongholds in old oak woodland in the North and West of England. I literally dreamt of seeing one and today thousands of sightings later, each redstart feels as fresh as the first.

April has thrown at us a bizarre combination of exceptionally dry days with intense night frosts. This I suspect has held many migrants back, but yesterday three house martins returned to the village. One of them came straight to last year’s nest on our house. After a few visits in the morning it spent the afternoon making the most of the best time of day to find insects and was not seen again until the evening when it came in to roost. Its artificial nest cup was specially positioned so Tolly could see the entrance from his pillow and this morning, his birthday, he had the gift of a newly returned house martin! Hopefully the first of many…

Many people, especially in the south, have seen their first swifts. I have that pleasure to come. People exclaim “the swifts are back”; well, a very small percentage of the swifts are back. Swifts that will breed this year will keep on arriving well into the second half of May. Most years see several obvious arrivals of breeding swifts. Sometimes these can be dramatic with huge increases literally overnight. But for now what is here is the very tip of the iceberg.

As I stand in the garden as the evening cools I look for the first local swift. Evening time is a good time to look for these birds as they sometimes circle before they descend into last year’s nest site. It is a time to savour as the cool air is filled with the rich sound of blackbird song. This is the sound I most associate with seeing my first swift of the year.


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