Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter birding

Easter's always a favourite time of year for me, because of course it falls during the spring migration period. A little earlier this year than some, and certainly a little colder, but still a great chance to get out there and try to catch up with a few migrants.

In fact, though, my two birding highlights of the long weekend didn't involve new arrivals at all. The first came on Saturday, in the unlikely surroundings of Welford Road, Leicester Tigers' rugby ground.

Now, over the years, I've got some reasonably good ticks while watching sport, with the best probably being an Osprey drifting over the cricket club where I play. But, in many years of watching at Welford Road, or more often at the nearby Walkers Stadium (and Filbert Street before that), I've learned not to expect much more than Feral Pigeons and Black-headed Gulls going overhead.

But, as I stood there around 20 minutes before the kick-off, with 22,000 people packed in for the game against old rivals Bath, my eye was caught by a bird flying diagonally across the stadium, just above the level of the tallest stand. The sun caught it, and I could see that it was a Woodcock, one of the last birds I'd expect to see in the middle of Leicester. I excitedly pointed it out to everyone around me - not suprisingly, most looked at me as if I'd lost my marbles!

Yesterday, as I returned home from looking for Wheatears, Ring Ouzels and Black Redstarts at Beacon Hill (only the former were to be found), a large bird drifted across the road in front of me at a height of around 100ft. For a second I took it for a gull, then realised that it was a Curlew, followed by another.

In the time it took to park safely, they'd landed in a large field where I've often seen them at this time of year (so much so, in fact, that I think of it as the Easer Monday Curlew field). They were a bit nervous, but for 45 minutes or so, I watched them feeding and occasionally doing their wonderful display flight and song, the latter a bubbling, trilling thing of beauty that is probably my favourite ever birdsong.

Whether they breed locally is unclear (they certainly did within living memory), but the Curlews that I see in this particular vicinity are always around six weeks later than the first I see going through the local gravel pits. For me, their appearance is always proof that spring has well and truly arrived.

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