• David Campbell

Local birding: April 2021

Updated: May 5

I'm shan't pretend that April wasn't a frustrating month. Its usual mashup of weather - the fronts and showers - which usually drive the experience of early spring migration, never came. Instead, it was day after day of northerly winds and near-freezing mornings. With the forecasts offering no inspiration, it was down to any lucky encounters to keep me heading out in search of the next good bird.

April started dramatically, with an immature White-tailed Eagle cruising over my garden late morning on 1st. It came as no surprise that it was a bird released on the Isle of Wight as part of the reintroduction scheme there, therefore not qualifying for any list, but it was a thrill to see nonetheless! Three days later, the raptor action continued with an Osprey flying north over my road, having presumably just arrived off the Channel.

juvenile White-tailed Eagle over my garden

My first Barn Swallow of the year was an optimistic sight over the beach on 6th April, followed by my first spring Willow Warbler near Heene Cemetery on 8th, then Western Yellow Wagtail and Northern Wheatear back at the beach on 18th.

male Northern Wheatear on the beach by Marine Gardens

Here, though, spring is most noticeable offshore and a number of other species made their first appearances of the year. Flocks of Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit passing east past the beach are a highlight of spring migration here, and both species began to move through mid-month, about the same time as the first - and quite overdue! - Bonxie. The final week of the month brought Little and Arctic Terns to seawatches but the highlight was a very distant flock of three Pomarine Skuas moving east on 24th - a coveted prize for the Sussex seawatcher...

Bar-tailed Godwits and Whimbrel (lead bird) passing Marine Gardens

Bonxie from Marine Gardens

My first Little Egret of the year was on the beach on 18th, when two Canada Geese represented another 2021 tick locally! Generally, wildfowl diversity was down on last month, though over 800 Common Scoters flew east on 24th, and there were sightings of Common Shelduck, Northern Shoveler and Dark-bellied Brent Goose. A flock of seven Common Redshanks was notable, while other waders included Grey Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin and Eurasian Curlew. There were also a few Northern Fulmars during the month.

Little Egret on the beach by Marine Gardens

Northern Fulmar off Marine Gardens

I was really pleased to score a Common Greenshank flying inland over Marine Gardens on 26th April, calling loudly as it went. With a longer tail than the bird over my garden last month, a Rose-ringed Parakeet over Marine Gardens on 12th was a different individual. A first-winter Yellow-legged Gull on the sea off the shelter on 10th was another memorable sighting.

first-winter Yellow-legged Gull off Marine Gardens

Not at all common locally, I was pleased to catch and ring a male Common Whitethroat in my garden on April 22nd. A week later, one was in a tree just a few doors down but was probably a different bird. Ringing operations in Heene Cemetery produced 21 newly ringed birds of seven species, with the most surprising catch being an adult European Herring Gull! It left a couple of scratches on my hand as a souvenir... It was a pleasure to watch a Great Spotted Woodpecker constructing a nest on the site's boundary while ringing. (Drumming was also heard off Pevensey Road.)

first-summer male Common Whitethroat during ringing in my garden
adult Herring Gull during ringing in Heene Cemetery
Long-tailed Tit during ringing in Heene Cemetery

The ringing net in my garden mostly remained closed but other notable catches there included Coal Tit and Common Starling.

female Common Starling during ringing in my garden

Small numbers of Eurasian Siskins and Meadow Pipits tracked along the coast this month, with Eurasian Linnets more prevalent. I enjoyed three separate sightings of Common Buzzard moving east over my garden, and three Rooks tracked along the coast on 17th.

With more birders coming down to the Marine Gardens shelter hoping to witness migration, it was inevitable that good birds would be seen when I couldn't make it. Other observers logged Avocet, Black Tern, Little Gull, Red Knot and Arctic Skua, all of which I'll have to try to see in May!

It didn't always feel like spring - let's face it, it never really felt like spring - but the birds still came through. They just felt a little harder won this year! I finished the month with 77 species within half a mile of home for April, bringing me to 93 for the year so far. Let's hope for a warmer May...