It's been a little quiet on my patch the last couple of weeks. There was a steady trickle of new arrivals during April but after the 23rd they seemed to dry up. A hunting Hobby hawking insects over the marsh was a welcome sight on the 2nd May and Swift was finally added to the list today, somewhat later than usual. Worryingly I have yet to hear a Cuckoo. These emphatic heralds of spring have become steadily scarcer here over the last few years in line with the national trend. A spring without one would be unthinkable. Turtle Doves used to feed under our bird feeders but these have also all but disappeared locally too. I've checked a local haunt regularly and drawn a blank each time. At least there is still time for them to arrive. On the plus side there seem to be plenty of Whitethroats this year, Yellow Wagtail has been a much more regular sight than in previous years and the marshes are filled with the sound of singing Reed Buntings. The warm sunshine of the weekend brought out a good number of Orange Tip butterflies, my first of the year but we're still waiting for the first dragonfly of the year.
I've also started checking our 28 nestboxes for the BTOs nestbox challenge. Only 14 show any evidence of occupancy so far as against 18 last year and I've only positively identified Blue Tits in them, no Great Tits yet. Sadly during my search of the alder wood I found the body of a Barn Owl confirming my fears of what had happened to 'our' birds in the cold March winds.
We had friends over for the Bank Holiday weekend, one of whom had a shopping list of birds to see. We started on Sunday at Westleton Heath to catch up with Dartford Warbler and quickly found a pair although getting decent views took a little longer. Minsmere was packed to the rafters with people. It's clearly becoming a tourist destination, not just a birding location, as many of the visitors were wandering around without bins. We managed to see the Ferruginous Duck behind South Hide and caught up with various summer migrants such as Wheatear, and Common and Little Terns that were year ticks for me. By the time we visited the cafe at 4.15 the cakes were reduced to a meagre selection such were the numbers through the visitor centre! Our principle target that evening was Nightingale. As far as I can recall Nightingales usually sing most of the day at this time of year at Minsmere but that afternoon they had been stubbornly silent. We heard 2 brief snatches of song coming from the depths of the wood behind the volunteers hut but that was it. We moved back to the bushier parts of Westleton Heath and at last we were serenaded by a bird giving its all from the middle of a dense gorse bush. It seemed within touching distance but it was impossible to see apart from the merest flick of a wing. For me, hearing the song is far more important than seeing the bird. Like the song of the Cuckoo, the spring is not complete without it but my friend needed a view of the bird for her list so it was a little frustrating when it moved off. Dinner was calling and we had to head home.
Bank Holiday Monday found us twitching Turtle Dove. My friend needed Turtle Dove too and a Tweet about 3 Turtle Doves at Beighton had us crossing the Yare at Breydon Water (seeing the 2 White Storks from the car as we drove by) to get to the north side of the valley. A male was purring in a tree across a small field next to the church as we arrived and obligingly flew into a tree above our heads. As it turned out from Tweets from other people that day, we weren't the only people to twitch these birds, a sad indictment of their increasing rarity. With Strumpshaw so close we paid a brief visit there. Again the car park was packed but we managed to find the last space. At reception hide the first birds I lifted my bins to look at turned out to be a pair of Cranes. This must be my best year ever for them and surely reflects a conservation success.