Saturday 6 March 2021

Keeping the Powder Dry

I love this time of year. So much promise. And when Sand Martins, White Wagtails and even Wheatears begin to appear on birdy social media, well...

Exciting, isn't it? However, on the basis of umpteen springs of experience please allow me to offer a word of caution: keep your powder dry. Like many fellow birders I am obliged to ration my birding time somewhat, but self-employment allows me a dangerous level of flexibility. It's all to easy to let the prospect of early migrants tempt you into overdoing things. Perhaps you've been there? Rather than expending a steady effort through the whole spring, you get all pumped up with expectation, thrash it too hard, too early, and wind up struggling with disappointment.

It's all about stamina I guess. After last year's late spring gems I have to concede that the finishing line is somewhere in June now. So. I shall aim to plod on steadily, picking up the pace only when conditions warrant. At least, that's what sensible me is saying right now...

I was looking forward to a walk this afternoon. A chilly north-easterly was mitigated at times by a pleasantly warm bit of sunshine, but I was careful to keep expectations modest. I hoped for a few nice birds, but didn't expect them. Migrant-wise, so far this week I've seen two unidentified hirundines (see last post) and 6 Chiffchaffs. Today I added another 3 Chiffs. Because they were at the back of the beach I'm sure they were new arrivals, but sometimes there is a surefire way to confirm it...

Normal Chiff. This one from a few days ago was likewise in vegetation right behind the beach. Almost guaranteed to be a new arrival, but in truth it looks just like any other Chiff that's been hanging out at the local sewage works all winter. However...

...look at this one! All that manky, blackish gank on its forehead is a clagged-up mess of feathers and pollen. Research has been carried out on such pollen-faced birds. Not just Chiffchaffs, but also Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers. Some 19 pollen types have been identified, but mainly the blackish stuff is eucalyptus, picked up in the Mediterranean region. This bird is definitely a fresh-in migrant. No question.

In this shot it's just about possible to see why these encrustations are often known as 'pollen horns'.

At least three of the nine migrant Chiffs I've seen this week have been wearing pollen horns. It's such a buzz to see them here already, a breath of Mediterranean warmth in the early-March chill.

In other news this week...

Four Curlews heading purposefully east.

Redshank is dead common on the Axe, but surprisingly scarce locally.

These two Golden Plovers moulting nicely into breeding dress.

I've had the nocmig kit in action every night this month. And it has paid off already. Nothing spectacular, but a couple of new species for the garden: Wigeon (twice) and Golden Plover. Also Curlew twice (second and third garden records) and the first Coot and Barn Owl of the year. Moorhens seem especially active right now, with about six occurences a night at the moment. I assume they are local birds from somewhere along the nearby River Asker. A couple of spectrovids...

First, Wigeon and Curlew...

And last night's Golden Plover. Just a single call, but a nice clean one...

A few more photos...

Jack Snipe. It's been a long time since I last saw one of these well, so to actually get photos too was a bit special. Significant exposure fail though. Still, silhouettes are pretty cool.

Subtle beauty - this female Pintail was my first this year

'Only' a Linnet, and not even in breeding colours yet, but its cheerful singing was a joyous thing.

This has been a bit of a birdy catch-up post, and if this spring keeps going the way it has been there will be lots of these. In fact I hope so. Still in the pipeline are one or two meatier items though, but I might need a spell of rubbish birding in order to fit them in. In the meantime please accept this absolutely gorgeous Stonechat...


  1. The P900 is doing well Gav. Jack Snipe in flight! Didn't think it possible to be that quick on the draw.
    Earliest Hirundines I ever saw were a pair of Sand Martins on Startops Reservoir while I was fishing. February 9th.

    1. Cheers Ric. One recent spring my first Sand Martins were seen while fishing. Mind you, that was about March 10th, not February 9th! Sitting next to a body of water all day is a great way to see a few decent birds, and I reckon anglers must do pretty well. I'm sure it was an angler who photographed a Yellow-nosed Albatross swimming about on a Lincolnshire(?) lake some years ago!

  2. I didn't know about the dark pollen being of Eucalyptus origin, thanks for that!

    1. And pale (orangey?) pollen mainly citrus if I remember right.

  3. Eucalyptus Pollen on a chiffchaff's beak - wonderful, it really brings home the monumental journeys that little birds take on.

    1. Couldn't agree more, Dave. And the fact that they just get on with it, year in, year out, whatever calamities are happening in the world of mankind, I find very impressive and quite humbling.