The lark and birders call Spring
This year I reckon I missed the start of Spring by a few days – on account of being squirrelled away in an air-conditioned glass tower for fifty or more hours a week.
However, as soon as I set foot out on the patch on Sunday it was clear that my favourite season had begun. The weather was a bit of a giveaway, but the flora and fauna that were out to play were pretty conclusive signs. Most notably, a number of singing Skylark:
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Shortly after I took this photo, the lark ascended into full song-flight mode. It really does have to be one of the great songbird spectacles and an increasingly rare one in the UK (Skylark is red-listed), and even rarer in London. Wanstead Flats is one of the best, if not THE best, breeding sites for Skylark in the capital. Last year there were seven distinct singing males recorded.
I counted at least three discrete singing males, but didn’t have time to try and count more. I had an appointment to make in Wanstead Park that morning, but first I had one more bird I wanted to see. A female Stonechat – probably a passage migrant – had been seen the day before. On Sunday, however, the female had been replaced by an even more splendid male. It was very flighty – understandable as a passage migrant not used to the surroundings:
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)
I did not have time to get a better photo, but you can see much better photos of it, and Saturday’s female here, here, and here. Worth noting that all three of these local birders have called Spring in their blogs as well.
That Stonechat was my 61st patch-bird of 2015 and I was very grateful to Tony aka The Cowboy Birder for pointing it out to me given my lack of time that morning. I should also tip my hat to my neighbour, Dan Hennessy, who first spotted the female Stonechat on Saturday.
Counting birds, not just crows
I was rushing through the patch to meet another patch birder, the very knowledgeable Tim Harris, Chairman of a local conservation society I belong to, The Wren Group.
Tim was leading the regular local count for the BTO’s Wetland Bird Survey. We counted birds on all the major bodies of water in Wanstead Park, noticing the inevitable significant declines – even from a month ago – of the winter flocks of ducks and gulls, such as this second winter (?) Common Gull (Mew Gull if you are reading this from the States) on Heronry lake in the park:
Common Gull (Larus canus)
Several of us walked and counted our way around the main acres of water bodies in the park, and I was even kindly given access to the Basin lake on Wanstead golf course which was a rare treat for someone who normally just presses his nose up against the railings from the nearby road like a boy at a sweetshop window:
Basin, Wanstead Golf Course
It was during this bird count, when I took a slight detour along the river Roding, that I snapped my 62nd patch bird of the year so far:
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Aside from the Egret and the dwindling ducks, we also spotted several clear signs of Spring, including my first butterfly of the year:
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
… and some Spring flora such as Lesser Celandine (recently discovered to be potentially deadly despite having been eaten and used medicinally for years):
Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
Ode to Spring
To belatedly begin a more literary theme for this post, I am reminded of Wordsworth’s association with this flower. Whilst he may have been more famous for writing about a certain other yellow flower, it is believed he actually preferred the Lesser Celandine to the Daffodil:
I have seen thee, high and low,
Thirty years or more, and yet
T’was a face I did not know. – Ode to Celandine
In fact our great Romantic Poet was believed to have liked the flower so much that it was requested it should be carved on his coffin. Unfortunately, a different flower, the Greater Celandine was mistakenly carved on it instead. Oops!
Aside from the Celandine, we also saw some other flowers that I have started listing and tracking on a map – yes I really am that sad – although I am not bringing it out for display just yet:
I genuinely enjoy all the seasons, but Spring is my favourite (pretty uncontentious in my opinion there I realise) and I am very happy to see it arrive.
Springtime has obviously also been a favourite of poets for centuries, and the Romantic Poets in particular. Rather than celebrating Spring with some other gushingly serious romantic poem, I am reminded of the more light-hearted and rude ‘Ode to Spring’, by Wordsworth’s Scottish contemporary, Robert Burns, which opens:
[WARNING: PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY BAD LANGUAGE OR LEWDNESS]
When maukin bucks, at early fucks,
In dewy grass are seen, Sir,
And birds, on boughs, take off their mows
Among the leaves sae green, Sir;
Latona’s sun looks liquorish on
Dame Nature’s grand impetus
Till his prick go rise, then westward flies
To roger Madame Thetis.
Roll-on the arrival of Spring and Summer migrants!