FIRST ARRIVALS - 7 April 2015

Easter Tuesday. It's the 7th April and I am up early for a local walk. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and it feels quite warm. I start by the village pub and check the river - no sign of the Kingfisher I had seen 4 days earlier. I walk downstream for a mile along the section of the river Coquet that I survey for breeding birds each year. But that's not my task today. I simply want to walk and enjoy the birds I encounter. Over the next 3 hours I see plenty, but I hear even more including my first Willow Warbler of the year. The soundscape is impressive, especially during the early part of my walk. I expect to hear Wren, Chaffinch and Chiffchaff, but I am encouraged by the frequency of Song Thrush song and to hear the Yellowhammers singing when I walk through arable farmland. I know Sand Martins are back along the river and seeing them near last year's nesting colony is no surprise. However, I am surprised to see only 2 birds. These birds have been back at least one week and I expect to see others. Strange. Then I see my first Swallows. The ancient saying goes that one Swallow does not make a summer, but the 2 birds I see surely herald the fact that spring migration is in full swing. I suspect they are first arrivals.

I have been birdwatching for nearly 50 years, but I still have much to learn even about our common birds. I hear a call I don't recognise coming from a stand of mature deciduous trees. I stop. I am unlearning the lazy habit of dismissing unfamiliar birdcalls as "Great Tit", and I suspect the calling bird is not a titmouse of any kind. But what is it? The call is a single slurred note - quite high in pitch. I search in vain through my binoculars and I start to get frustrated at my inability to find the mystery caller. Then at the very top, the highest point of the tree I spot the vocalist - a Nuthatch. Funny to think that I know the Nuthatch song all too well and and I have been listening to plenty of it in recent days. I hope I can now remember its calls as well.

Mark Winter

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