Getting excited about spring migrants, I’ve been keeping a keen ear pressed to the window during the past two days in the office. Chiff-chaffs now abound, and seconds ago, while writing my column for June’s edition of the Shooting Gazette, I heard the first willow warbler of the year – a major milestone and one of the sweetest, most evocative bits of April birdsong.
There is a cluster of black grouse leks in the Galloway Forest which I have visited for the past couple of years, and willow warblers are so abundant there that the song becomes a constant backdrop; a tinkling, sibilant phrase which is almost intoxicating when heard in such quantities. The RSPB website has quite a good recording, but it is only of a single bird – imagine this layered upon a dozen others with a few blackcock bubbling beneath them all.
After a few months of indecision, I bought Peter Conder’s book on wheatears so that I would be properly clued up when these birds arrived, but having rejoiced to see my first of the spring on the 25th March, I haven’t seen another, despite two or three deliberate forays into wheatear country over the past 72 hours. Perhaps this first bird was an early starter, moving up in the vanguard to reach Greenland or some far-flung Northern breeding site. Perhaps he’s now a thousand miles away, still heading North.
I have no reason to believe that the wheatears won’t return in 2015, but maybe they are deliberately building some suspense into their arrival, making me wonder for a moment whether something has gone horribly wrong so that my delight will double when they suddenly pour in.
I keep an eye on Twitter at this time of year for reports on migrant birds. Twitter is an odd site, sometimes feeling more like a self-help community for the bored and insecure, but there are some excellent users on there with a fine eye for nature. What better use for a “micro-blogging” site than to allow swallows to be tracked across the country, or for ospreys to be followed, observation by observation, as they pass from Africa to Europe.